Public Lecture: Masonic Tracing Boards and The Ancient Mysteries

I will be speaking at The Chancellor Robert R Livingston Library and Museum, NYC, on February 23. The talk will start at 6:30 pm, and, with questions and perhaps a bit of hanging out after, it should go on until around 8 pm.

I will be discussing Masonic symbolism, and showing a few of my painting (which will be used to illustrate the talk).

If you’re interested to attend, you can find out more details, and RSVP, here.

Esoteric Orders, Magic, and Persevering to Authenticity

Esotericism — or at least the appearance of esotericism — is now everywhere. New Age and occult stores exist in probably every city in the West, as do countless Yoga studios (many of them selling books on Kundalini), and so on. The rituals of occult Orders can sometimes be found in mainstream bookstores and, of course, on the net. We do not have to go far out of our way to learn — at least superficially — about the alchemical process, the Kabbalah, the meaning of the runes, or anything else once considered the preserve of adepts.

What, then, are esoteric Orders for? Continue reading “Esoteric Orders, Magic, and Persevering to Authenticity”

The Failure of Freemasonry: And How to Revive the Fraternity

“Masonic membership in the United States has declined every year since 1959,” California Freemason and co-host, of The Masonic Roundtable, Jon T. Ruark tells us. A survey has been set up to enable Freemasons to report on their experiences of the fraternity, and what they would like more of, find inspiring, dislike, and so on. If you are a member of the fraternity you can fill it out here.

Let’s be blunt. Lodges and Grand Lodges are failing Freemasons — badly. But Freemasons are also failing themselves. And that might be worse.

Some Personal Experiences:

Let me mention a few points in my own Masonic journey that may resonate with you. Not long after becoming a Master Mason, I approached the Master of the Lodge, and asked if I could give a talk on Freemasonry. Until then, all of the talks had been on tax law, men’s health, and I forget whatever else. It struck me that, at dinner, Brothers talked enthusiastically about Freemasonry, but as soon as they went back into the Lodge, the discussion ended. Then it was either hours of the most tedious “business” discussion imaginable, or talks on subjects that had little to no relevance.

I gave a talk on runes and stonemasonry a couple of months later, relating it to Freemasonry — because, after all, my knowledge of the fraternity was not as strong as I would have liked, at that time (2002).

What became almost immediately evident was that even the older Freemasons I had written off as having no real interest in the Mysteries, immediately came alive. Several Brothers approached me after to tell me of their interest in mythology and other related subjects. Several asked the Worshipful Master when I would speak again. I gave a couple of other talks, and another Brother or two also, later, gave talks, and the next Worshipful Master also got the Director of the Masonic library to give the Lodge a tour (many of the brothers didn’t eve know there was a Masonic library and museum in the building where they met — today, I am sure that many still do not).

A while later I left the country. Returning a few years after, I visited my Mother Lodge one evening, quite enthusiastically. But that enthusiasm was soon strangled by the Lodge meeting. Yes, it was great to see some old friends. But the actual meeting consisted solely of “business” — as tedious as anything imaginable. Worse, it went on for an entire four hours. Four hours of nonsense. Four hours of mediocrity. Four hours of something utterly irrelevant to my life. At 10pm we finally went for dinner — some of us. The Masters had to have another, private meeting. By 10:30, hungry, with the Masters still not having arrived, and having not ordered food, I left.

If this were my first Lodge meeting would I have attended again? No. No. No.

Solutions to the Problem:

(1) Freemasons expect the Lodge to be the place they go to learn about Freemasonry. It’s just that simple.

I attend a martial arts class. I go regularly. I pay my dues early or on time, even though, annually, it ends up being way more expensive than my Lodge. But I attend and pay my dues without any hesitation. I want to do both. Why? Because martial arts is the focus of my martial arts class. Freemasonry, in contrast, in not the focus of my Lodge. If my martial arts class behaved like my Lodge, I’d have quit after a month.

Lodges need to do more than keep business to a minimum (though that’s essential). They need to make Freemasonry the focus of the Lodge. Every meeting should have a talk on Freemasonry or a related subject. Other subjects could include: esotericism (e.g., schools of Eastern and Western esotericism), symbolism and semiotics, ancient philosophy, ancient religion, ancient cultures, world mythology, monastic tradition, martial arts, exercise and diet for men.

(2) Educate new Freemasons to be leaders, not managers.

The problem is not, when all is said and done, with Grand Lodges and Lodge Masters. The problem is the Brethren. When meetings are boring, it is because no member has stepped up to the plate to give a talk on something of relevance. That is a fact.

As Seth Godin has pointed out in his book Tribes (probably every Freemason should read Tribes, by the way), leaders act like underdogs. They change things. Masonic hierarchy serves a purpose only if it functions to pass down knowledge. The problem is it has ossified. It’s a fossil. It is worse than useless. No real knowledge is passed down. Instead it serves only to keep new Masons from acting on their own initiative.

New Freemasons need to be strongly encouraged to make use of resources such as Masonic libraries, and to do their own research. Lodges should require that they give a short talk not long after being made a Master Mason — just a few minutes; enough time to require work, but not enough time to overwhelm them. They need to be told that it is expected that all Freemasons will give talks, join in discussion in Lodge, etc. Older members need to hear this too, and should be told to take the lead.

(3) Freemasons need to be rebels.

Simply, it is not up to everyone else to make Lodge interesting. If it isn’t interesting to you, then give a talk on a subject, or bring in someone who can — a Masonic scholar; an author on spirituality, myth, etc.; a martial artist; a physician who can teach about health, diet, weights, etc.

(4) Table Lodges and communal meals.

After even a short talk, Brothers should enjoy quality time, dining or feasting together, to give members a chance to talk, discuss the lecture or fraternity, etc.

(5) High quality ritual, etc.

All ritual tools and paraphernalia should be clean and well-kept. People should have learned their ritual parts well. Things should look good.

Final Words:

I would say that 95% or more of the fraternity is very interested in Freemasonry, ritual, symbolism, myth, etc. So are potential members. No one will join for friendship (people are connected on Facebook), business contacts (LinkedIn) or meals. Just won’t happen (or won’t last if they do). People will join Freemasonry because they want to learn more about Freemasonry, more about symbolism, the Mysteries, and so on. If that is the focus, Freemasonry will be healthy. Maybe the numbers won’t grow. We live in a different time to 50 years ago. But by making Freemasonry the focus of the Lodge, it will lose fewer members, and it will create an experience worth attending and paying for.

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A Masonic-Catholic Rapprochement, And the ‘Fight Against Materialism’

Rome has made a gesture of outreach to “Brother Masons.” Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi — President of the Pontifical Council for Culture — makes the following statement in Il Timone magazine:

…These various declarations on the incompatibility of the two memberships in the Church or in Freemasonry, do not impede, however, dialogue, as is explicitly stated in the German Bishops’ document that had already listed the specific areas of discussion, such as the communitarian dimension, works of charity, the fight against materialism, human dignity and knowledge of each other.

Further, we need to rise above that stance from certain Catholic integralist spheres, which – in order to hit out at some exponents even in the Church’s hierarchy who displease them – have recourse to accusing them apodictically of being members of Freemasonry. In conclusion, as the German Bishops wrote, we need to go beyond reciprocal “hostility, insults and prejudices” since “in comparison to past centuries the tone and way of manifesting [our] differences has improved and changed” even if they [the differences]still remain in a clearly defined way. (Translation: Francesca Romana, OnePeter5)

Notably, Cardinal Ravasi was made a cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI (formerly Cardinal Ratzinger) in 2010, yet he takes a very different view to that expressed by the man once known by the moniker “God’s rottweiler ,” for his enforcement of orthodoxy. Cardinal Ratzinger declared, in 1986, that “the Church’s negative judgment in regard to Masonic association remains unchanged” and that “The faithful who enrol in Masonic associations are in a state of grave sin and may not receive Holy Communion.”

What is important here is that the Church does not seem to be backing away from such statements, but is suggesting a dialogue to find some kind of mutual support in issues of “communitarian dimension, works of charity, the fight against materialism, human dignity and knowledge of each other.”

Common ground

Before moving on, I should point out two observations that I have frequently made about Freemasonry before, and that are relevant here:

(1) The fraternity, or fraternal movement, of Freemasonry can be compared to Confucianism, in that it embodies a spirituality that calls men to improve themselves and to respect society and tradition, but is able to work with, and compliment, the major religion(s) of the society (i.e., Confucianism with Buddhism and Taoism, and Freemasonry with Christianity, etc.).

(2) the “higher degrees” of Freemasonry (which are considered merely optional and historical in the English-speaking world) were, in part, an attempt to re-Catholicize Protestantism in Europe. Hence, for example, the Rose Croix degree is clearly very significantly inspired by Catholicism (as well as by Rosicrucianism). It gave Protestantism back the high ritual associated with the Church, and that ritual was Christian, and it drew even on Catholic history, to a large degree. This doesn’t mean that Catholics can’t object to the substance of Freemasonry, or vice versa. Even with Catholicism, as within any faith, and as within Freemasonry, there will be different opinions.

We should add, also, that in Britain the fraternity has traditionally been closely associated with the Church of England, and in America the early churches were built, it has been shown, by members of Masonic Lodges.

Which Freemasonry?

Far from being monolithic, Freemasonry first began to split into various Rites and Grand Lodges during the 18th century. “Regular” Freemasonry in the English-speaking world may be the largest, and has the stamp of legitimacy from the United Grand Lodge of England (descended from the premier Grand Lodge at London), or recognition thereof and (2) from the fact that it has remained relatively faithful to the original Freemasonry of 1717 A.D. and a little later. That is to say, regular Freemasonry in the English-speaking world requires its members to believe in God (though his religion is up to his conscience).

In contrast, some jurisdictions, such as the Grand Orient of France, have long opened their membership to atheists. Moreover, such jurisdictions have also actively promoted atheism, agitated against Christianity, and have been highly politically active — especially in promoting secularism. (Several liberal Freemasons in France worked for the satirical and anti-religious magazine Charlie Hebdo, that was attacked by Jihadists in early 2015.)

“The fight against materialism”

Europe seems determined to undermine its own civilization. When it is not bashing Christianity (I am not a Christian, but I have eyes to see) as an impediment to women’s rights, etc., it is throwing these same rights away in case it they offend another, non-European religion.

“Europe,” Cardina Ratzinger says in his excellent work Europe: Today and Tomorrow (p.11), “is not a continent that can be comprehended neatly in geographical terms; rather, it is a cultural and historical concept.” Unfortunately, the European Union — which should have united its member states on the basis of culture — chose to turn Europe into a kind of economic and moral-political zone — a kind of Euro-Mart with political correctness, to put it more bluntly.

If a dialogue between Church and Lodge were to be merely a kind of political correctness, in which each embraces the other in the name of tolerance, then it will be, at best, a waste of time. There are differences in the world. We don’t have to accept them all; we should merely respect when those differences are based on intelligently held beliefs (if I may put it that way).

If, on the other hand, the Church and Freemasonry can help each other to “fight against materialism” then the dialogue is well worth undertaking. I do not know what Cardinal Ravasi means by “communitarian dimension,” but if he means Europe as a culture and peoples — and not merely people stumbling through an enormous shopping mall — then so much the better.

What about terrorism?

A couple of weeks ago, the FBI and Joint Terrorism Task Force foiled an alleged terrorist attempt on a Masonic building in Milwaukee. There is, as I have written about in my Crescent and The Compass, a long history of Jihadist anti-Freemasonry, and that part of its ideology is intimately tied to Jihadist anti-Americanism in particular, and anti-Westernism more broadly. Of course, anti-Freemasonry exists elsewhere, such as among the more militant Catholics (including breakaway churches, no longer recognized by Rome). It would be a positive step in the “war on terror,” however, to expel anti-Freemasonry from Western culture, since this, itself, provides cover and — from the extremist’s perspective — legitimization for such Jihadist terrorist-thinking.

Conclusion:

Freemasonry and the Catholic Church are deeply rooted in European culture. They are also anti-materialism. And they are also the targets of Jihadist terror.

Freemasonry and the Catholic Church  do not, and will not, agree on everything, but they can agree that European culture is worth preserving, that the ideas that fuel terrorism can be challenged, and that materialism and “progress” — often destructive to the world’s and Europe’s cultures — should not be considered the only possible way of thinking and living.

Understanding their differences, these institutions can, and should, work together on that basis.

Academic Journal Correspondences Reviews The Crescent and The Compass

Justine Bakker, of Rice University, has reviewed my book The Crescent and The Compass for the online academic journal Correspondences. Since the book was written for a broader audience — not for academia per se — I was surprised to learn that the site was interested in reviewing it at all.

The journal describes itself as an “an international, peer-reviewed online journal dedicated to the academic study of ‘Western Esotericism’.” It’s interests range from Gnosticism to Traditionalism. Bakker herself has focused on the Nation of Islam and African-American religious experience — subjects that appear in the my book. Here is a snippet (if I can use such a non-academic term) of the review: Continue reading “Academic Journal Correspondences Reviews The Crescent and The Compass”