Thursday, July 21, 2011

Fundamental Readings: Books of Masonic Interest
Compiled and Annotated by
W:.B:. Eric W. Vogt, Ph.D., 32° A:.A:.S:.R:., R:.A:.M:.
Societas Rosicruciana in Civitatibus Foederatis VII°
The following list of books, listed alphabetically by author, includes titles by scholarly
authors, most of whom are not Freemasons as well as classic Masonic reference works.
As they are the most impartial of sources, their works are offered in the interest of 
preserving the favorable opinion which many people have held about Freemasonry. 
As with any subject about which people may become emotionally involved with, hype, 
sensationalism, exaggeration, illogical or improbable and undocumented claims of too 
many writers will do more harm than good for those who want as clear a picture as 
possible of the history and nature of the subject. For Freemasonry, a worldwide, loosely
knit organization whose origins are ultimately a mystery, a strong measure of intellectual
caution is even more important. Books dealing with appendant bodies, such as York Rite
or Ancient and Accepted (Scottish) Rite, have been omitted.
Berésniak, Daniel. Symbols of Freemasonry. Paris: Editions Assouline. ISBN 2-84323-033-0. A beautiful coffee-table book with text, it displays and briefly  explains the outward meaning of the symbols of the Craft. Translated from French, it gives a view of the universality of Freemasonry and at the same time, its variety. Inasmuch as it reflects both the diversity of the Craft and its universality, it is a reminder of what our Founding Fathers meant when they coined the motto E pluribus unum for The Great Seal of the United States (about which controversial subject David Ovason has much to say; see entry below). I am unaware of Berésniak’s relationship to the fraternity.

Ecco, Umberto. Foucault’s Pendulum. New York: Ballantine Books, 1990. ISBN 345-41827-1-1295. A wonderful experience with fiction in which the myth and mystique of Freemasonry figures prominently. A real page-turner, but remember it is fiction! Woven into his mystery, Ecco offers two views of Freemasonry in relation to the myriad mythical sequels of the Knights Templar and its reputed relationship with secret or occult societies, whether real or imagined.
Gould, Robert Freke. A Concise History of Freemasonry. London: Gale & Polden, Ltd., 1903. Despite more recent research revealing errors and omissions in his scholarship, this work is still a standard work and is frequently cited. Perhaps too frequently; it should be the terminus a quo, not terminus ad quem for investigators, who are advised to discover if any recent articles of merit may have altered, expanded, refuted or corrected his views on any particular subject.
Mackey, Albert. Encyclopedia of Freemasonry. 2 Vols. Montana: Kessinger Publishing Company, 2000 (reprinted from 19th Century facsimile). ISBN: 1-56459-009-2. A fundamental and famous reference work, rich in history and interpretation – which one is free to accept or not. Highly reliable, even if a bit dated.
_____. The History of Freemasonry.  New York: Gramercy Books: 1996 (reprinted from the 1850s). ISBN 0-517-14982-6. Mackey was a doctor, the son of a wealthy family in Charleston, SC. He practiced medicine briefly, then dedicated himself to Masonic research. This work is dated, in that more historiographical, archival and archeological work has corrected some of his views (these defects are less found in his Encyclopedia). The value of his work lies in the fact that he explores, in forty-four chapters, numerous myths about the origins of Freemasonry, concluding at the end of each chapter that no single theory is sufficient to explain the history of the Royal Art or that many of the theories are pure fabrications. He does not make any definite conclusions about its ultimate origins, leaving the reader to agree with professor Frances Yates who stated in her book The Rosicrucian Enlightenment that Freemsonry’s origins are a “mystery wrapped in an enigma”.
Jacob, Margaret C. Living the Enlightenment: Freemasonry and Politics in Eighteenth-century Europe. ISBN 0195070518. This work is intellectually accessible to the educated, general reader who is willing to spend the time to read her notes and follow her arguments. She directs her scholarly attention to the charges against, or boasts of, some Freemasons, that the Craft was responsible for the French and American Revolutions. She answers both sides of the controversy with a qualified “yes”, hastening to show that it was the already long-standing practice (in every sense) of self-government in masonic lodges that provided a blueprint for the rise of our respective constitutional governments, based on utopian ideas about the perfectability of man and society (at least as goals to strive toward). Any educated Freemason could have told Prof. Jacob that, but it is wonderful to have such distinguished academic testimony of this fact. On the other hand, a careful scrutiny of Benjamin Franklin’s travels and contacts (even in Catholic Spain!) that led to foreign support of the Revolution might push her argument more in support of the commonly held belief.
Mackenzie, K. The Royal Masonic Cyclopedia (Northamptonshire: The Aquarian Press, 1987. ISBN:0-85030-521-7. Very useful, but, as all such Victorian-era works, the contents reflect the idiosyncratic interpretations of the compiler. Still, it contains many entries which are merely factual, such as biographical, historical, literary, etc.; a wealth of data.

MacNulty, W. Kirk. Freemasonry: A Journey through Ritual and Symbol. ISBN:0-500-81037-0. This brief work is exquisitely illustrated and written. It contains excellent reproductions of engravings, posters, paintings and more. It is learned without being pedantic. He asserts, in a balanced and well articulated argument based on examination of the ritual and its symbolism, that the origins of the craft are to be found in Renaissance neoplatonism. MacNulty is a Mason.
Macoy, Robert. A Dictionary of Freemasonry. New York: Gramercy Books, 1989. ISBN: 0-517-69213-9. Another valuable reference, somewhat marred by its lack of clear organizational principles. It combines a few good features of an encyclopedia with a dictionary. Entries are well written.
Ovason, David. The Secret Architecture of Our Nation's Capital. ISBN 0-06-019537-1. Very esoteric and a constant intellectual challenge. The more knowledge of astronomy and astrological lore one has, the easier the book will be. For readers willing to study, it is ever intriguing, Ovason details, and provides important documentation for his argument which is, in essence, that the development of the design and erection of structures in Washington, D.C. was and is according to an astronomically oriented plan, and has been in the hands of Masons through most of its history. The author assures readers that he is not a Mason. The compiler of this list lived in DC for a decade and has confirmed the correctness of his architectural and compositional observations; his interpretation of course, is open to debate, but is quite compelling.
Partner, Peter. The Knights Tempar and Their Myth. Rochester, Vermont: Destiny Books, 1990. ISBN 0-89281-273-7. A responsible, serious, historical examination of the Knights Templar and the myths that arouse from their destruction and disappearance. He treats all masonic claims of Templar origin as fanciful at best and intellectually dishonest at worst. While more academically responsible than those that try to prove the Templar origins of the Craft which inevitably and invariably stretch the meaning of good evidence to cover gaps in documentation, Partner may be too timid about accepting the wealth of evidence suggesting that order’s influence on the development of Freemasonry.
Piatigorsky, Alexander. Freemasonry: The Study of a Phenomenon. London: The Harvill Press, 1997). ISBN 1-86046-265-0. This is a book for specialists in history, sociology, religious studies, anthropology or anyone willing and able to work to understand this opus magnum. The author is a non-Mason. He is a professor of comparative religion at the School of African and Oriental Studies, London. Piatigorsky presents anecdotal data to examine the attitudes of insiders (an emic approach) and outsiders (an etic one) as well as what each thinks the other thinks or declares about the Craft. He arrives at his own highly qualified, narrowly defined, disputable and controversial conclusion that Freemasonry is a form of religion – or can be for anyone on any side of this all-too-common controversy. A Russian emigré, he dedicates much attention to the Craft in Russia.
Pound, Roscoe, LL.D. Lectures on the Philosophy of Freemasonry. Anamosa, Iowa: The National Masonic Research Society, 1915. In this rather slender volume, Pound, a law professor at Harvard in the early 20th century, provides an eloquent and clear framework for Masonic scholars and scholars of Freemasonry to circumscribe their investigations. This framework consists of identifying and defining the fields in which the subject falls: ritual, symbolism, history, jurisprudence and philosophy. He notes that these areas often overlap. In addition, he provides models of four types of Masonic authors: Preston, the educator; Krause, the moralist; Oliver, the traditonalist; and Pike, famous for his interest in metaphysics (see also Leadbeater, below, for interesting contrasts and parallels). On a pragmatic note, Pound offers three questions which each generation of Masons, and indeed each individual, should answer: 1. What is its nature and purpose?; 2. What is its relationship to society and other institutions?; and 3. What are its principles for achieving its goals?
Ridley, Jasper. The Freemasons: A History of the World’s Most Powerful Secret Society. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2001. ISBN: 1-55970-601-5. A well written, thoughtful and researched history book with a wealth of data about Freemasonry and Freemasons in many countries. The greatest defect of this book is its sensationalist title, since it implies that Freemasonry is organized at the international level and also that it is so powerful – the contents of the book, particularly his chapter on the French Revolution, belies this notion.
Stevenson, David. The Origins of Freemasonry: Scotland's Century (1590-1710). ISBN 0-521-39654-9. A non-Mason and professor emeritus of history in the Department of Scottish History at the University of St. Andrews, professor Stevenson presents clear arguments with documentation from primary sources, to suggest that the formative period of the Craft was in Scotland, immediately prior to the formation of the Grand Lodge in 1717 at Apple Tree Tavern in London. His book is quite valuable, if not conclusive, for it helps one gain a contextualized view of the development of an organization that today, due to its esoteric rituals, is out of place and time to most people, an example of a cultural anachronism or atavism. It shows what influences were likely in forming the Craft as we know it today without discarding the possibility of other influences also having been important.
Waite, Arthur Edward. A New Encyclopedia of Freemasonry. New York: Random House Value Publishing, Inc., 1996. ISBN: 0-517-19148-2 (reprinted). Waite’s clumpy prose style is nearly impossible to read, but worth the read if one is seriously interested in a particular entry. His views on Freemasonry were often controversial among his Masonic contemporaries, among whom were his fellow members of the Quatuor Coronati Lodge of Masonic Research #2076 in London, founded in 1888 and still quite active.
Wilmshurst, Walter Leslie. The Meaning of Masonry. New York: Gramercy Books, 1980 (reprinted from a 1920s edition). ISBN 0-517-33194-2. Excellent, especially for Christian Masons or those with a Christian worldview. Somewhat dated in style and is not footnoted; it is therefore not up to the standards of modern academic scholarship. It is, nevertheless, learned and reveals the depth of thought and erudition of its Victorian Era author. It is a good place to start for those interested in getting a good overview of one interpretation of the meaning of the Craft’s symbolism and its value for society and for the individual.
For an example of anti-Masonic fiction during the period of the Anti-Masonic Party’s heyday, read Edgar Allen Poe’s short story, The Cask of Amontillado.
The following books, some by Masons, are specifically not recommended, simply because of their less-than-orthodox scholarship, not because of their attitudes about the Craft. Indeed, some are favorable, but do no favors to the institution due to their sloppiness and often shameless sensationalism:
Baigent, Michael and Richard Leigh. The Temple and the Lodge. New York: Arcade Publishing, 1989. The strongest part of this book is its British perspective of the American War of Independence. It includes a healthy introduction to the role of Freemasonry on both sides of the conflict. However, the authors are a bit too eager to “prove” the theory of the Templar origins of Freemasonry, but are responsible in stating that the story of Freemasonry, if it could be told in its entirety, would reveal a series of accretions, a grafting of diverse elements, some of which derive from the Knights Templar. This seems to be the last almost intellectually responsible book they wrote on the subject of Freemasonry.
Hancock, Graham. The Sign and the Seal. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993. An excellent read by a professional investigative journalist, but readers must be aware that, just as Knight and Lomas (see below), Hancock requires readers to make leaps of supposition with them as he leads them on a search for the Ark of the Covenant! If you like to be an armchair Indiana Jones and are willing to leap over spans of reasoning in the name of indulging in conjectural history (if such can be said to exist), then it is fun to read, and just may be true!
Knight, Christopher and Robert Lomas. The Hiram Key. Rockport, MA:
Element, 1996. A great read, it must be confessed, but truly terrible scholarship. The 
authors ask readers to assume a lot and make great leaps of conjecture and supposition 
with flimsy, non-existent, manipulated, highly selective or exagerated “evidence”. By far,
one of the worst books about Freemasonry to be found among friendly authors, due to
their abuse of the rules of evidence and proofs.
----------. The Second Messiah. New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 1997. Cervantes said that sequels are notoriously bad. This book by Knight and Lomas is proof of his observation. It is a follow up to their prior bad work and builds on it, as they themselves declare. That being the case, be assured it is even worse for its far-fetched theory depends on convenient omission of facts that otherwise would shatter it, and the delusional views of their readership.
----------. The Book of Hiram. London: Element, 2003. It can get worse. This book ought to be borrowed, not bought. The authors may be right in pointing out the ancient symbolic pedigree of the craft, but they long ago lost sight of a fundamental fact of symbolism, asserted by the famous art historian Erwin Panofsky, which is that symbols are like vehicles that travel through time and, while they can be stable bearers of content (“meaning”) which hitches a ride like passengers, new ones can and do get on board.
Leadbeater, C.W. Freemasonry and its Ancient Mystic Rites. New York: Gramercy Books, 1986 (originally published in 1926 as Glimpses of Masonic History). The author was articulate, gentlemanly, interesting and eccentric in an outlandish Victorian way. He boldly asserts his occult tendencies and, unfortunately, sounds as if he were speaking the last, authoritative word on Freemasonry. A fascinating read, despite his extreme eccentricity, he cogently defines the limits that various Masonic scholars have circumscribed around the objects of their study, that is, the limits and standards they have set for themselves and to whom they will appeal: the authentic school (he places academic historians in this category), the anthropological school, the mystic- and the occult school. He also observes that there is overlap (see Pound, above for interesting contrasts and parallels).
Picknett, Lynn and Clive Prince. The Templar Revelation. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997. This book is lunatic fringe fodder that will feed conspiracy theorists for years and unfortunately, the authors of this book who enjoy a large readership. In the same category, I mention their other book, Turin Shroud: In Whose Image? It is to be avoided with equal vigor. In the same vein, Holy Blood, Holy Grail, by Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln.
Robinson, John J. Born in Blood: The Lost Secrets of Freemasonry. New York: M. Evans & Company, Inc., 1989.[1] This book has been immensely popular among Freemasons because it seems to “prove” the long-held, romantic notion of the origin of Freemasonry in the Knights Templar, a theory that became widely accepted due to the efforts of the eighteenth century Chevalier de Ramsey in France. While there probably is some merit to the influence of the Templars in the development of Freemasonry, rather than view them as the sole source of Freemasonry, it is more likely they grafted elements into an existing phenomenon in Scotland. It is a good read, but not solid scholarhip because it overstates a case only suggested by the evidence.
Works of related interest. The following works relate to Freemasonry in various ways: 18th Century topics, comparative mythology, anthropology, etc.
Anonymous. Meditations on the Tarot Robert Powell, tr. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher / Putnam, 2002. 670 pgs. ISBN 1-58542-161-8 [author revealed to be the French theologian Valentine Tomberg (obit 1973) on the website by Bro. Jay Kenney, fellow RC member in CA on his personal website. Bro. Kenney published an article in Ad Lucem VIII, a publication of the Societas Rosicruciana in Civitatibus Foederatis. It is included here due to its value as a powerful primer on symbolism and allegory. No mention is made of Freemasonry, but the connections will be obvious to well informed and well read people.
Decker, Ronald, Thierry DePaulis & Michael Dummett. A Wicked Pack of Cards: The Origins of the Occult Tarot. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996. 308 pgs. ISBN 0-312-16294-4. Discusses in one section the association the Tarot had with Freemasonry, mostly in France, in the 18th century. Mostly  with charlatans, it must be said.

De Santillana, Giorgio & Hertha Von Deschend. Hamlet’s Mill: An Essay Investigating the Origins of Human Knowledge and its Transmission Through Myth.  Boston: David R. Godine, Publisher, 1969. ISBN: 0-87923-215-3. This work is challenging in many ways. It confronts many popular notions about the origins of science, myth, religion, and culture by examining myths from around the world. Very erudite. This is an incredibly rich book. It makes only passing mentions of Freemasonry, but the topic of cultural and symbolic transmission of information are vital to any historical approach to Freemasonry that draws on comparative myth, ritual, symbolism, and so forth. This book is a must, if only becuase it is a model of responsible scholarship. It argues that prehistoric science gave rise to myth, misinterpretations of myth gave rise to religion and that in the modern age, comparative religion and myth are mired down in blinds – because most scholars do not have the broad range of disciplines or range of exposure to crosscultural myth and astronomy, archeology etc. to execute responsible studies. It asserts that myth originally enciphered astronomical information and then spread from a common source to the whole earth. Compelling arguments are presented that refute or mitigate the theory that it is to our commonalities alone that similar myths appear all over the world. There are simply too many identical, discreet details that cannot be explained any other way than that they emerged from some common, late stoneage source and were dispersed. Freemasonry seems to have had some antecedents in widely dispersed cultures. For instance, they reproduce a print of an ancient Chinese astronomical treatise in which Draco is shown, personified, holding a square in one hand and a compass in the other!

Gay, Peter. The Enlightenment: The Rise of Modern Paganism. New York: Norton, 1995. ISBN 0-393-31302-6. Two volumes in one, originally published in 1966 (The Appeal to Antiquity; The Tension with Christianity), these works combined in one volume are fundamental to any study of the the XVIIIth century and the Enlightenment. There is one conspicuous and paradoxical omission. In more than 555 pages of text, notes and bibliography, professor Gay mentions Freemasonry only once – in citing the title of Lessing’s masonic dialogue. The book is strewn with names of famous men long known to have been Masons without any attempt to show the contacts between them that the fraternity is known to facilitated. This serious flaw, by a Yale professor of history, has been corrected by Jacobs (see entry above). This inexplicable omission obscures the ubiquitous presence and impact Freemasonry had on XVIIIth century societies, forms of government as well as intellectual discourse and exchange. One example of how ignorance of Freemasonry’s presence in eighteenth century affairs distorts an historical interpretation is found in Prof. Gay’s labeling of Voltaire as an atheist. No atheist can be made a Mason. Three months before his death,Voltaire was initiated in the presence of Benjamin Franklin, at the Lodge of the Nine Sisters in Paris, on February 7, 1778.[2]
Finally, a word of caution about the various exposés or monitors one may find, either online or in bookstores. Differences from jurisdiction to jurisdiction (Grand Lodge to Grand Lodge) and over time result in discrepancies in ritual wording and practice. As one who has examined visitors Masonically, this bibliographer assures readers that even if one has read exposés, he will not be able to accurately perform convincingly unless he has actually been initiated. It simply is not possible to “crash” a Masonic meeting. Also, as the variety of books above attest, no one person speaks for Freemasonry. Furthermore, even if one possesses an accurate monitor (to say nothing of the dangers of relying on a  cipher), the experience of the ritual is not the same as reading about it. Imagine the experiential difference between eating a cake and reading a recipe!
For more information about Freemasonry, visit this webpage!
What is Freemasonry? One would sooner encounter an onion pit ere he should discover the origins or the pristine meaning of the Royal Art.
Whence came and whither can such a convoluted path lead a seeker after light? Why did Goethe, Voltaire, Franklin, Mozart, Payne, Washington, Churchill and so many other great men join this Fraternity? One must find the answers himself, as they may have. For me, so far, the answer is found in the journey iteself, in peeling away the layers of the onion.

[1] However, Robinson’s A Pilgrim’s Path: Freemasonry and the Religious Right. New York: M. Evans & Company, Inc., 1993. ISBN 0-87131-732-X, is required reading for those interested in the opposition Freemasonry has faced and still faces from the religious right. Robinson became a Mason after spending many years defending them and researching them.
[2] Mackenzie, K. The Royal Masonic Cyclopedia (Northamptonshire: The Aquarian Press, 1987),  p. 761.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A Seattle Masonic Ghost Story? Reader, You Decide.

Submitted for your consideration… – Rod Serling, creator of The Twilight Zone and Night Gallery.

     As any electrician can tell you, when a circuit is closed, the current flows. Switch a light on, and you close a circuit, making electrical current flow and power on the light bulb. Switch it off and you open the circuit, breaking the flow of electricity.
     The following story is true, in so far as the events it relates really did occur. All of the witnesses are young and healthy. Two of them are in their 20s, the oldest is 55, two of them hold Ph.D.s. and, like much of Seattle’s population, two of them are, high-tech experts and who understand circuitry quite well. You get the idea… We all have given due consideration to the event we witnessed, yet remain open minded to reasonable skepticism. You, our reader, may or may not agree with our interpretation: but if you don’t, mere skepticism is insufficient to justify dismissing the testimony of the eye witnesses out-of-hand.
     By way of introduction, just as you must believe that Jacob Marley was dead in order to appreciate Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, you must understand this basic fact about electricity in order to appreciate what five witnesses regard as a possible instance of paranormal activity at 1608 Fourth Avenue West – the location of Queen Anne Masonic Lodge, founded in 1921. The witnesses’ story emerges as much from the facts about the event we are about to relate as it depends upon the value and relevance of such biographical information as remains about our Charter Members.
     Queen Anne Masonic Lodge #242 was chartered in the twilight years of the Edwardian era, between the two Great Wars and before the Great Depression, when Seattle was still riding the wave of prosperity of the Alaskan Gold Rush and was more important and prosperous than Los Angeles.
      One of the Charter Members of Queen Anne Masonic Lodge #242 was Bro. George R. Milstead, who met with the other Charter Members in the Queen Anne Branch of the Seattle Public Library early in the year 1921 to draft our bylaws and begin the process of forming the lodge. Our Charter was granted in June of 1921, amid much public ceremony recorded in the Queen Anne News.
     Judging from his photograph, Bro. George R. Milstead had appeared to be a robust, bald young man with calm, yet penetrating blue eyes. He would be the first Junior Warden, but no one could have known that he would not live to serve his term as W:.M:. when his photograph as W:.M:. was taken. Bro. George R. Milstead passed away before his installation. He would live only long enough to be pleased at his election and to have a photograph taken in September of 1923 to record that he was about to fill that distinguished and honored office for the 1923-1924 year Thus, for the previous year, in sure anticipation of assuming the chair of honor in the East, Bro. Milstead had served as our Senior Warden. As all Masons know, this is a position whose chair is in the West of the lodge room. In the case of Queen Anne Masonic Lodge, this also is the place in which the lighting for the entire room is controlled from a console at the Senior Warden’s podium.
     Now our story – or perhaps Bro. Milstead’s own – can be told. If it is Bro. Milstead’s story, may it give him rest. You decide.
     On the night of Wednesday, February 16, 2011 (A:.L:.6011), five Master Masons, including the current Worshipful Master (in his second term in the East), another twice Past Master, and three other Master Masons, were in the Lodge Room rehearsing Masonic ritual, in preparation for the following night, when another worthy man would be initiated in our Mysteries. During this rehearsal, an odd event occurred – yet not without some precedent, as you’ll soon discover.
     A sixth Master Mason was downstairs and did not witness the event. His role also is significant, as you’ll appreciate presently.
     At one particularly challenging point in the rehearsal, while all five of the Master Masons present in the Lodge Room were standing at least five paces from the station of the Senior Warden in the West, from which all the lights in the Lodge Room are controlled, the current Worshipful Master finished a line – and all the lights in the Lodge Room were extinguished immediately after the W:.M:.’s line: so that it seemed as though the outage had occured on cue.
     The elder Past Master ran to the door of the Lodge Room and bounded down the stairs to ask the sixth Master Mason, an expert building maintenance man, to investigate the source of the outage. He was in the kitchen on the phone with his young son at the time of the incident and throughout most of the aftermath. This brother had been far from the fuse box during the event, and well-away from the instrument which our Past Master had gone down to inspect. Hearing this, the Past Master went back upstairs only to find the lights back on. But how?
     The current Worshipful Master informed the returning twice-Past Master (with all present as witnesses) that after he had run downstairs, the W:.M:. had, to prevent himself from stumbling on the steps at the Senior Warden’s station, inched his own way through near-darkness to the lighting console. Mysteriously, when his hand was still inches from the console and before he could so much as touch the switch – and without any other brother upstairs or downstairs near any electrical controls – the lights suddenly came back on. Still more mysteriously, once the lights had come back on, he could see that the switch had been in the on-position the whole time: an inexplicable contradiction of how electric circuitry works.
     The rehearsal resumed uneventfully and culminated in an excellent initiation the following night. Nothing like this has ever happened at 1608 Fourth Avenue West, to our knowledge. As for precedent, various socially unrelated individuals, Masons and non-Masons alike, none of whom knew of Bro. Milstead, have reported to the twice-Past Master that when they stood near at or near Bro. Milstead’s last Station in the Lodge, his Station in the West as Senior Warden, they felt an odd chill within a certain radius of that station. These individuals revealed their impressions in an off-the-cuff manner, independently and without prompting. They all reported the sensation that they were being watched or watched-over.
     The most severe critics of Freemasonry who also believe in a personal, post-mortem conscious existence, and who would seriously entertain the idea that Bro. Milstead was present, will undoubtedly be inclined to suggest that our deceased Bro. Milstead (or some other spiritual entity righteous in their eyes) had been manifesting his disapproval of Freemasonry by shutting out “Masonic light” during our rehearsal. Yet the following night, no such “disapproving” interruption took place. On the contrary; it was a night of ritual virtually devoid of errors and well performed by all.
     It would appear that if it was our Bro. Milstead who disrupted affairs the night before, he did so to manifest his role as member of a very special category of sideliners to our degree work. We welcome, nay, we would solicit Bro. Milstead’s continued assistance and invite our readers to decide whether what happened was an inexplicable event in electrical circuitry or an unverifiable visit, as the late Rod Serling would have concluded… from The Twilight Zone.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Masonic Scholarship -- Advice for Researchers

In a previous blog posting, I revealed that as a young man, I entered a very quaint "used, rare and antique bookstore" in Columbia, Missouri and asked the owner where the books about Masonic history were -- because I wanted to know "all about it." If you're familiar with any aspect of Masonic history, legend, lore, symbolism or ritual, you'll recognize how naïvely eager I was.

But here I am more years later than I like to think of, and I have read thousands of pages... of very uneven quality and perspectives on nearly every aspect of Freemasonry. And I've done it in sources available to me in two languages. I've published articles of relevance to my guild and to Freemasonry in mainstream academic, peer-reviewed journals.

My conclusion is that it is still one of the more fascinating and least understood areas of Western -- even universal -- culture. I've also given a few talks to my Masonic brothers who have invited me to help them with what they need to know in order to be responsible scholars. If these speaking engagements mean anything, they are proof of goodwill, brotherhood and humility in one stroke.

This blog is intended to help those who would like to learn about Freemasonry, whether they intend to write about it or not. These audiences are easily subdivided at first glance into Masons and non-Masons. Further subdivisions are perhaps less apparent, for there are, in both of these groups, those who are prepared to do academic research. By this I refer primarily, and almost exclusively to those who hold Ph.Ds. Why?

Because, even though once in a while a truly talented person without a Ph.D. comes along with an instinct for the "rules of evidence" and who has excellent writing skills, understands how to proceed in the "literature search" and sift reliable sources from unreliable ones, who knows how to cite sources properly, organize their writing and so forth, serious scholarship is usually only learned under close tutelage. Its methods and conventions are the results of centuries of refinement and are now pretty much universal. While I see major signs of decay around me in the US, particularly in the Humanities, there still are standards and they are upheld at what are known as R1 institutions (where "Research is #1"). Guild standards are recognized and understood by scholars internationally. While most Ph.Ds in all accredited institutions of higher learning do revere, understand and follow their guilds' standards, they are not always closely followed by faculty or valued by administrators in institutions more focused on teaching.

It would seem proper to let educated Freemasons speak about the Craft to the general public, insofar as they are at liberty by their obligations to do so. That is why I created this blog. But the truth is that there are few Masons in higher education nowadays, and the few who are there might just be out to make a sensational buck, despite all they know. The general public is always drooling for something sensational. The more mysterious or scandalous, the better. And of course, no one speaks for Freemasonry. There is no one central defining authority about its meaning or purpose. Odd, isn't it? This fact makes Freemasonry vulnerable to stupid and bigoted attacks. The insiders' view, known as the "emic" perspective, is tainted in the public eye for their being, well, insiders.

The well intentioned non-Masonic Ph.D. is at a disadvantage for obvious reasons as well. The outsiders' view, known as the "etic" perspective, is tainted from the point of view of insiders for being, obviously, outsiders, absent from the culture of Freemasonry, no matter what he or she may have read in documents purporting to "expose all." This disadvantage is heightened somewhat in the case of a woman scholar, since traditional, regular Freemasonry is a fraternity and does not admit women. Nevertheless, there have been and are great scholars in this latter group, men and women, such as Dame Frances A. Yates, Steven C. Bullock, Mark Tabbert, Margaret C. Jacob, David Stevenson and Alexander Piatigorsky.

The difficulty for the serious Mason who has a Ph.D. is that he may be perceived, rightly or wrongly, by his peers in the academy. They might whisper about him. He fears questions like these going through people's minds: "Is that scholarship?"; "There he goes, trying to recruit people!"; "Another weirdo, grinding his axe!" or, more subtle responses such as: "He's writing about what no one else among us here are able to do -- no fair! How can we judge this work when we don't know anything about it?"

Worse still, in our day and age of hyperbolic and agonizing political correctness (a form of McCarthyism aimed from the left or aimed from the last frustrated seethings of feminism amid a post-feminist culture), Freemasons in the academy might be fearful of being viewed as misogynists, especially if they are more successful than their potential critics as scholars in their guilds, never mind that many such men give a lot of scholarship money to females, are happily married and have -- oh, my, daughters!

Finally, there is another group comprised of Masons and non-Masons whom I generally place in the "Masonic ghetto." Both of these groups are usually sans Ph.D. and both are, or can be, dangerous to Freemasonry. The former often deliberately; the latter because of his best intentions to defend or represent it without adequate academic preparation or guidance. My remaining comments are primarily directed at this latter group.

Remember what you learned in high school and college about good writing. Get a copy of the Harbrace College Handbook of English -- a book unhappily no longer required of most freshmen. Become familiar with responsible and irresponsible books about Freemasonry. Review what a thesis statement is. Learn how to cite sources properly and how to quote them. Beware of too many editorial digressions and sermonizing. It's tough to do and I don't know if I always succeed in my blog postings! Outline your argument. In short, besides citing reliable sources to shore up your argument, remember: Say what you mean and mean what you say.

Saturday, May 22, 2010


According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word symbology came into the English language in 1840 as a shortened form of symbolology, which makes much more etymological sense, but evidently was a bit awkward to pronounce for some. Dan Brown's novels, featuring the character known as "the Harvard Symbologist Robert Langford," has made symbology a household word.

In the real academic world, symbology is seldom used to describe those of us who engage in the scholarship of discovery and interpretation in the areas of literary and artistic criticism (not to be confused with book reviews). The term most apt to describe what Langdon does (usually in a puerile way, however) is semiotics. While one does encounter the word symbology in reference works such as we'll examine below, the difference between the two words is itself symbolic of the vast chasm that separates the superficial fictional world of Dan Brown and the real, less glamorous and relatively inaccessible world of serious scholarship. To sum it up, the word symbology does not show up in job descriptions or job announcements.

This blog post is intended to help shed some light on what real symbology entails and to encourage the intellectually inclined fans of Dan Brown to explore genuine sources of information which Dan Br0wn often alludes to or enumerates, but seldom seems to have digested. I shall in a moment offer some titles that will set you on the path to a lifetime of delightful discoveries that will, I hope, lead you far above and beyond what Dan Brown's novels have inspired you to explore.

The most succinct definition of semiotics I can offer is this:

Semiotics studies how humans create, interprete and transmit meaning and even what it means to mean something. The objects of its study are -- anything and everything to which meaning is, or can be, ascribed.

The champion of semiotics is Umberto Ecco, whose academic work A Theory of Semiotics was first published in 1976. However, an excellent primer is Daniel Chandler's more recent work Semiotics: The Basics. Ecco is best known to the public as the author of The Name of the Rose which became a very popular movie starring Sean Connery. He later wrote Foucault's Pendulum -- the latter being the most intriguing fiction dealing with esoterica I have ever encountered, with The Shadow of the Wind coming in close behind.

However, in order to begin to understand or engage in semiotics in an educated way, one needs to acquire the tools.
I suggest beginning with the collection of essays known as Man and His Symbols, edited by Carl Jung. It is a collection of five major essays and a concluding chapter by different authors (only the first chapter is by Jung). One quote alone suffices to show its value as a primer for the study of symbols:

"It is not easy for modern man to grasp the significance of the symbols that come down to us from the past or that appear in our dreams. Nor is is easy to see how the ancient conflict between symbols of containment and liberation relates to our own predicament. Yet it becomes easier when we realize it is only the specific forms of these archaic patterns that change, not their psychic meaning" (p. 156).

In addition to this classic primer, I suggest reputable dictionaries of symbols. They really do exist. I do not refer to those entertaining but sketchy Victorian inventories about what this-or-that means in one's dreams.

Let's look at two serious dictionaries and one encyclopedia. The first is Jean E. Cirlot's work with the straightforward title: A Dictionary of Symbols. It contains enough material for a lifetime of study, particularly if one extends his reading to the works he cites in his bibliography. Imagine finding a citation dealing with the meaning of mirrors only to discover their connection with memory, water, the moon...

The next offering is more an encyclopedia than a dictionary and is beautifully illustrated with hundreds of color plates -- and it isn't expensive. It was authored by Alexander Roob and published by The Hermetic Museum as Alchemy and Mysticism. Jungian in its approach, it includes a responsible treatment of the symbolic system of Freemasonry and has a useful index and bibliography.

Finally, I recommend a dictionary by Penguin called simply Dictionary of Symbols. It is the work of two authors, a fact that gives it advantages and disadvantages. The chief disadvantage is that that quality of information is uneven since there seems to have been no one, controlling editorial mind to mediate between them; at times this results in entries whose information is a bit off the mark (judging from references about subjects I am more familiar with). Ironically, the advantages are also a result of its dual authorship since many of the entries on related subjects complement each other and round out the perspective of the reader.

Even though all these recommendations, except for Jung's work, are reference works, they make for enjoyable and profitable reading. I often spend hours reading entries on related subjects, going from one to another reference work, noting other books to read as I examine the bibliographies.

Finally, don't forget to follow this blog -- or at least post a comment or ask a question.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

How to Become a Freemason

First, why would a Freemason write an article about how to become a Freemason if we don't solicit membership?

This blog posting is intended to clear up a few issues that a man might have about how to join, if he already is inclined to do so. No question about it, we prefer to dissuade men from joining rather than swell the ranks with men who stay for awhile and then, having satisfied their profane and idle curiosity, leave the fraternity. 

If you are reading this blog post and especially if you have been following it, the thought of joining has probably entered your mind. If so, and you aren't quite sure what to do next, you have come to the right place.

You may have already seen some bumper-sticker slogan with a Masonic Square & Compass that reads "2BE1ASK1." While that pretty much sums it up, I don't like "thinking" that is only as deep as a bumper-sticker is thick, so let's put a little substance into that statement.

Let's assume you've done some reading, including some on the internet, which is often highly inflamatory or sensational. If you already know someone who is a Mason and he's approachable, all you have to do is tell him you're interested in joining. Ask him for a "petition" and tell him you'd like to meet the men in his lodge. It's always interesting to us to learn why a man is interested in joining and as you move closer to that moment, you'll be asked that a lot. In many ways, we are "testing" you to see whether you're joining for the right reasons.

Your Mason friend will probably let you know when his lodge has dinner before its meeting and invite you to come by and join them. They may have some other thing going on besides dinner. Each lodge has its own "culture" -- or chemistry. Some are more social than others, some have a lot of sports fans, or hunters, fishermen... and then there's demographics about age and profession, education, and so on. At any rate, let him know that you understand that you can't stay after dinner or whatever the even is because Masonic meetings are strictly closed to all but members. By telling him that, you'll spare him the anxiousness some men feel when they have to tell a non-Mason friend that they can't come upstairs.

Depending on how well you know each other, he may ask you if you believe in a Supreme Being and an afterlife. These are not questions that require lengthy answers and it is highly unlikely that he will probe any further than to find out that you do.

Atheists cannot be Masons. That said, you don't have to be a church-goer or belong to any particular church or have any particular religion. So relax about that, so long as you can honestly answer that you believe in a Supreme Being -- no matter what your conception of that Being might be. One of our goals is to bring men together who might have otherwise never associated with one another -- because religion is a topic that often divides the world in bitter ways.

I remember when I was asked that question. The fellow was an elderly Jewish man, a retired Chicago police officer. When I started to launch into my personal religious autobiography, he cut me off politely and said that for Masons, those details are a person's private business.

The same goes for politics. Sure, we talk politics and religion -- outside lodge meetings. Inside, those two topics are strictly forbidden. It's a divisive subject.

You'll get a petition to fill out with some basic information about yourself. You'll have to pay the initiation fee -- which varies from lodge to lodge, even within the same Grand Lodge. Local lodges in each state in the US are under the oversight of a Grand Lodge.

Once you've filled out the petition, paid your fee (refundable if for some reason you're not approved for membership), your petition will be read in lodge and a committee assigned to meet you. Sometimes they want to meet your wife, to be sure she understands a little more about your involvement and knows about the time commitment. This is typically one or two nights each month, but often lodges have events and dinners for the whole family.

The committee members sometimes meet with you one at a time, depending on local custom or just realities of schedules. They will almost always want to know what you know, or think you know about Freemasonry, how you came to be interested, what you are looking for. They'll let you ask questions. Masons love to talk about the fraternity to people who are respectfully interested, so be sure to make some time and find a place where he can talk more openly.

As you move toward a decision about the organization, it is only fitting that you should seek out reliable books, such as W. Kirk MacNulty's Freemasonry: A Journey through Ritual Symbol. It has beautiful pictures and an educated, well informed narrative that explores many aspects of the ritual, without revealing what cannot be revealed.

The committee makes its report and the lodge ballots or votes on your petition. The approval must be unanimous. When we consider a man for membership, we always ask ourselves whether the fraternity and the man are a good match for each other and whether he will make a positive contribution to the group's dynamics and to the organization as a whole.

I've met a few men whom I have referred to other lodges -- I'll be honest here -- one I recall was a vegetarian and a total non-drinker. That's fine, but we eat a lot of steaks in our lodge and drink wine. I liked the guy. He was talented, but I realized he would be more comfortable in a lodge where I happened to know there were several veggans, so I was honest with him and introduced him to a man from that other lodge.

Once you're approved, you are no longer a petitioner, but a candidate for the degrees of Masonry. You'll be contacted and a date will be set for you to be initiated as an Entered Apprentice, the first of the three degrees of Ancient Craft Freemasonry.

It takes about three to five months to do become a Master Mason and the procedure for preparing for the next degree varies from lodge to lodge. There is always some measure of "memory work" -- material that has to be well learned. I saw a photocopy of George Washington's Masonic record. He was initiated in November, passed to Fellow Craft in December and raised as a Master Mason in January. It made an impression on me because those were the same months in which I had made those same steps.

Perhaps you're interested in joining but apprehensive about joining something that you can't really find out much about until you join -- commit to, in fact. That can be disconcerting, but it need not be. Freemasonry does not ask or require that you forsake your commitments to family, religion or your country. In fact, it encourages you to keep them.

I hope this posting has helped you if you have been sitting on the fence. Either way it pushed you is fine. We want strong, committed members who want to make friends and connections that last a lifetime. I can say without hesitation that my experience in this fraternity has been, next to my family, the most rewarding of associations.

Friday, March 26, 2010

In Search of the Mystic Stream

When I was in my early 20s, prior to going to graduate school where I eventually earned a Ph.D., specializing in Baroque Spanish Drama & Poetry, I went into used bookstore -- Ninth Street Books, if I remember correctly -- in Columbia, Missouri, in search of books about Freemasonry. If I weren't charitable toward youthful and exuberant naïvité, I'd be embarrassed to tell how I approached the owner and told him that I wanted to know "all about" the history of Freemasonry.

From my youthful perspective, his reply was filled with crusty cynicism. Pointing vaguely toward an area on a shelf toward the back of the store, all he said was: "Good luck with that one."

The study of Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque cultural artifacts involves a lot of reading and subsequent pondering about the transmission of culture and the nature of that transmission. It is a rough and rugged road indeed, one fraught with the equal dangers of jumping to conclusions as well as missing details. Often, both errors are due to the difficulty of removing the cultural filters through which we read and interpret the past. Imagine a world lit by fire and recorded by the quill...

The adventure into the past involves the risk of being wrong and so responsible scholars, among whom I like to number myself, will include caveats and disclaimers along with their balanced use of source material. Consider my caveat already expressed and allow me to offer a trail through which we might find the origins of modern Freemasonry, that is, prior to 1717 when the first Grand Lodge was formed in London. Let's work backward from that moment and examine a list of names who seem to suggest linkage in terms of personal relationships, as well as intellectual, spiritual and (to our modern way of thinking) occult, interests.

Dr. David Stevenson, a Scottish historian (a non-Mason), offers a glimpse of the birth of modern Freemasonry through his scholarly examination of the oldest extant minutes from Kilwinning Lodge, dating from the 1590s. The first name that stands out as an educated man associated with the Craft guild is Robert Moray (d. 1602), "master of works" for King James. It is suggested that Moray's esoteric (read "scientific") interests influenced the development of Freemasonry.

Stevenson's account of the origins of Freemasonry in Scotland are not univesally accepted. Prior to his work, Dame Frances Yates postulated that the influential Rosicrucian-related writings and activities of John Dee on the Continent had made their way back to the court of Elizabeth and there exerted an influence that gave birth to Freemasonry. Stevenson does not agree and the problem is probably unsolvable, unless one considers the possibility -- a likely one in my opinion -- that these two points of view only are mutually exclusive if one is looking for "the" birthplace of Freemasonry.

Under Elizabeth I, the name of John Dee stands out as one who also excelled in his knowledge of astrology and the occult. He was her court astrologer, so able, it is said that he predicted the precise date, time and manner of the death of Sir Phillip Sydney.

Chronologically, Dee precedes Moray somewhat, but their careers and influence in the upper reaches of society in England and Scotland definitely overlapped. The question is whether they mingled and if so, where, how and in what context.

The cultural waters of the Baroque are murky enough without asking questions so arcane as those that concern themselves with Freemasonry. But one recent source that dares to venture into those waters and does so with success is John Churton's The Golden Builders: Alchemists, Rosicrucians and the First Freemasons. Churton is thoroughly familiar with Stevenson's and Yates' works as well as with those of Margaret Jacobs, who has published extensively about Freemasonry for the past thirty years. One of her more significant is The Origins of Freemasonry, now in its second edition. 

Next, considering the generation after Dee and Moray, also with sufficient overlap for cultural transmission in England, we find Sir Francis Bacon. His eerily modern work The New Atlantis (1626), coincides with the birth of empirical science and foreshadows the fanciful works of Jules Verne (also a Freemason). The New Atlantis is noteworthy in the context of conjectures about Masonic history due Bacon's use of "Saloman's House" -- a place of learning which his narrator explains thus:

"It was the erection and institution of an order, or society, which we call Saloman's House, the noblest foundation, as we think, that ever was upon the earth, and the lantern of this kingdom. It is dedicated to the study of the works and creatures of God. Some think it beareth the founder's name a little corrupted, as if it should be Solomon's House. But the records write it as it is spoken. So as I take it to be denominate of the King of the Hebrews, which is famous with you, and no strangers to us; for we have some parts of his works which with you are lost; namely, that natural history which he wrote of all plants, from the cedar of Libanus to the moss that groweth out of the wall; and of all things that have life and motion. This maketh me think that our King finding himself to symbolize, in many things, with that King of the Hebrews, which lived many years before him, honored him with the title of this foundation. And I am the rather induced to be of this opinion, for that I find in ancient records, this order or society is sometimes called Solomon's House, and sometimes the College of the Six Days' Works, whereby I am satisfied that our excellent King had learned from the Hebrews that God had created the world and all that therein is within six days: and therefore he instituted that house, for the finding out of the true nature of all things, whereby God might have the more glory in the workmanship of them, and men the more fruit in their use of them, did give it also that second name."

For the complete, online text of The New Atlantis, prepared by William Uzgalis at the University of Oregon, click here.

Bacon's career in turn overlaps neatly with that of Elias Ashmole who is often referred to as the first Freemason of record, since he noted his initiation in his diary. He was also one of the charter members of the Royal Society, along with Sir Isaac Newton and Christopher Wren, who was the architect of the reconstruction of London after the Great Fire in 1666. Wren is often said to have been the first Grand Master, although that seems implausible and unlikely, since there was no Grand Lodge for him to be Grand Master of prior to 1717. Still, the period from 1717 to 1721 is poorly documented and, since he died in 1723, it is at least possible but unprovable.

Once we pass the time of the founding of the Royal Society, we have only to sort out the details of the four years following the formation of the first Grand Lodge. After that, we are in the "historical" period of Freemasonry.

What may we make out of earlier times, prior to even the 1580s? There surely is some gold amid the dross, but there has been so fodder for Masonic publishing ghettoes that the general public will probably remain perplexed and, with reason, annoyed at the lack of any clear picture as to the history of Freemasonry. One day, I may even publish my own private opinions on the matter... in the meantime, feel free to ask!