brotherly love, union, chain, fraternal ties

Brotherly Love

brotherly love, union, chain, fraternal tiesWe have heard over and over that Freemasonry is a Brotherhood. That it is a fraternity. We use the term Masonic Family when referring to the group of organizations associated with Masonry. But it often seems that we use these terms out of habit, without any sense of meaning behind the words that are coming out of our mouths.

I can think of countless lodge meetings that I have attended where we recognize men as Brother Smith or Worshipful Brother Jones. We use the term Brother so often that we become desensitized to its meaning. Soon the word ‘Brother’ becomes little more than a substitute for ‘Mister’ or ‘Sir.’ Perhaps this is a failing of our institution’s protocol or perhaps it is our own fault for overusing this word. But in the spirit of the Christmas season, I’d like to talk a little bit about what the word ‘Brother’ means to me.

A Brother is your next of kin. He is more than a friend, he is your own flesh and blood. A man for which you would lay down your life. In the Masonic lodge, the term refers to the men of that mystic tie, that solemn obligation which we have all taken. This obligation is more than just a formality or organizational oath. The obligation is a pledge to be true to God, to yourself, and to your neighbor. The obligation is our promise to live and act virtuously and to love our fellow man. When we assume this obligation, we are declaring that we wish to be in the company of men who share the same values and ideals. By uniting ourselves with this honorable pledge, we become Brothers of that ancient and honorable clan: the Freemasons.

Unfortunately, we find that throughout history that relationships between brothers have not always been worthy of emulation. Two of the greatest examples of this are found in the Old Testament. We read of Cain murdering Abel in Genesis and when God inquires about Abel’s whereabouts, Cain replies “Am I my Brother’s keeper?” We learn that Jacob was willing to trick his father Isaac in order to obtain Esau’s blessing. We need not look far to see similar actions occurring today. Our Masonic lodges are full of Brothers who resent each other out of jealousy or are too proud to meet each another upon the level. We have arguments and feuds over lodge business and we often neglect our fellow Masons in need of relief.

During the Christmas holiday, Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus who would grow up to become a leader that espoused the ideals of Brotherhood. Of all the lessons that Jesus taught, the most important is undoubtedly his new commandment: love one another. This is exactly what we as Freemasons and as Brothers should do. For if we love one another we will act by the square, we will circumscribe our desires, and we will give relief to our worthy Brother Masons. If we use the word ‘Brother’ not out of habit, but out of love, we will truly be a Masonic family. And by loving one another, we can understand the spirit of that solemn obligation.

One of the tenets of our profession is Brotherly Love and I propose that we all make this theme our focus for the new year. Let us make love a bigger part of the Masonic equation and let us focus on the meaning of being a Brotherhood.

My Brothers, love one another.

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The Spirit of Christmas Describes the Practice of a Mason

christmas104It is this time of year when I stop and take notice of a certain change in the atmosphere around me.  When I accidentally cut off a stranger on the road I do not get back the raised fist or digital sign language of contempt.  No blaring horns, no verbalizing scorn with four letter words, no cold shoulder darken my path. Instead I am greeted with a smile and best wishes by perfect strangers; women open doors for me and even dogs wag their tail at my presence.

It’s Christmas and the spirit of the holiday has taken hold of most homo sapiens.

Chris Thomas in an article titled, ORIGINS OF THE CHRISTMAS SPIRIT, Having A Real Spirit of Christmas Throughout The Year, quotes Thomas S. Monson:

“Giving, not getting, brings to full bloom the Christmas spirit. Enemies are forgiven, friends remembered, and God obeyed. The spirit of Christmas illuminates the picture window of the soul, and we look out upon the world’s busy life and become more interested in people than things.”

Thomas goes on to say:

“Having such a spirit doesn’t have to be something that is seen or noticed by everyone. It can be as simple as continuing with one’s work while the teacher’s not in the room or conducting oneself at work as if they were being watched, even while the boss is away.”

“Philippians chapter 2, verses 3-5 state, ‘Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.’

“Note that these verses don’t encourage one to belittle themselves but rather to recognize the worth of others as well as oneself. The spirit of Christmas truly involves being a character with integrity, one that is selfless and humble and above all, loves.”

Our Daily Bread, describes the Christmas Spirit this way:

J. I. Packer goes to the heart of this matter in his book Knowing God. He writes, “We talk glibly of the Christmas spirit, rarely meaning more by this than sentimental jollity . . . . It ought to mean the reproducing in human lives of the [temperament] of Him who for our sakes became poor, . . . the spirit of those who, like their Master, live their whole lives on the principle of making themselves poor—spending and being spent—to enrich their fellowmen, giving time, thought, care, and concern to do good to others . . . in whatever way there seems need.”

These descriptions, this Christmas Spirit are how a Mason governs himself 365 days a year.  Oh there are a few bad apples in the pile, I guess.  But by and large a Mason is or strives to be honest, kind, giving, patient, understanding, tolerant, patriotic, gentle, forgiving and charitable.  These are attributes which puts a Mason in a year round Christmas Spirit.

I am often asked what effect does becoming a Mason have on the individual. And my answer is that one becomes a new person, with a new outlook on life.  Masonry is a way of life but that way of life is not limited to a certain time of year.  That is really what it means to become a Mason.

When you enter that door for the first time you are in darkness, seeking light.  When you have found light you have started your rebirth into the world of constant learning and constant striving to polish that rough ashlar. Freemasonry is a journey not a destination but it is the process of performing a new way of life that makes a man a Mason.

Remember that spirit that followed immediately after 9/11?  We were all one, united in one purpose, one spirit, one common bond.

From my home state of Massachusetts, The Gloucester Daily Times put it this way:

“There was a true spirit of camaraderie, a sense that we were all in this together, all on the same side, from our own neighborhoods, throughout our local communities, and across the country”

But then the newspaper goes on to lament:

“Sadly, that spirit has long since been lost over the last seven years; in fact, it was lost within a few months after the attacks. Unfortunately, we now seem as divided — politically, economically and ideologically — as we have even been. And that’s not only on the national level.”

Outside the Craft, the spirit is short lived.  It is there after some national traumatic event; it is there at Christmas time but it soon fades and soon we are back to a dog eat dog world.  Not so with a Mason. His world is Christmas time year round.

So let us salute the peace, harmony and tolerance that Masons throughout the world contribute to their world and everybody else’s world.

AND A HO, HO, HO TO Y’ALL!

Christmas and Freemasonry

winter Solstice, holy Saints John, John the Evangelist
Holy Saints John,http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sol_Invictus John the Baptist, John the Evangelist, sol invictus, winter solstice, Freemasonry, holiday
The Holy Saints John

At its surface, the Christmas holiday has no intrinsic connection to the fraternity of Freemasonry. What I mean by that is no where in the degrees does it link itself to any particular holiday in its practice, in particular the Christmas holiday season.

There are, however, certain celebrations that have become a part of the fraternity which are linked to one of the interesting symbols that resides at the heart of the practice. Without any specific reference, Masons are said to come from a Lodge of the Holy Saints John, the specific why and how of this connection is lost in the sands of metaphorical time, but some connection infers a balance to the celestial equinox (from summer to winter and back again).

Through this link, winter is said to be represented by the Saint John the Evangelist, whose feast day falls on December 27th.

This Holy Saint John has an interesting symbolic significance, in that, as John the Baptist (who represents the other Holy Saint John) was the precursor to the coming Christ, John the Evangelist is said to be the first disciple at the Lake of Genesareth who recognized the Christ and believed that he had risen.

solstice

Of the Saint it is also said that he was the only disciple of Christ to not to forsake him in the hour of His Passion at the foot of the cross. John the Evangelist is also called the Apostle of Charity, which may be in part, his connection to Freemasonry in addition to his unwavering resolve and purity of his love of the divine.

In creating the original construct of the two Johns, the conclusion that I came to was that they struck a balance between zeal and knowledge.

The Baptist who was the precursor of the Christ living in his zeal for the coming son of God and the Evangelist as the representation of knowing that the Christ was the son of God. Only in piecing the component of knowing did it become clear to me that it was not about the degree of knowledge gained, but the degree to which the Evangelist trusted his intuition, to know what was before him.  An interesting parallel comes in the book of Matthew where this very lesson is communicated to Peter from the Christ who says in Matthew 16:15-17

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.”

This is somewhat out of original context, but illustrative of revealed knowledge based on experience, on learning.

John the Evangelist came to that knowledge by his experience with the Christ.

Another way of looking at this experience is coming from darkness to light, an awakening, and if you take it further, the dawning of awareness. This awareness sits squarely with the idea of Sol Invictus, or the conquering sun which overcomes its captivity of night from the summer solstice and again begins to vanquish the night in its ever increasing minutes of daylight.

alchemical_fire

Looking at some of the other symbolic connections, the Evangelist is said to relate to the alchemical symbol of the up pointed triangle which represents fire, where again we can see a link to light and knowledge. When we combine the alchemical sign of the Baptist with that of the Evangelist, we create the star of solomon, and the duality of fire and water, further, the duality of light and dark and summer and winter.

Pope Adrian I

Further work attributed to John the Evangelist are the Epistles of John, and the book of Revelation, though his connection to them in later centuries has been contentious, as much of his life from 2000 years ago is lost to time.  Within the church his feast day is first mentioned in the Sacramentary of Pope Adrian I near 772 A.D.

The message of the church, and something each of us can take away from John the Evangelist is to “Apply thyself, therefore, to purity of heart, and thou shalt be like Saint John, a beloved disciple of Jesus, and shalt be filled with heavenly wisdom.”

The feast of the Evangelist is little remembered today, except within Masonry where it is celebrated by a few lodges that still practice the Table Lodge ritual where brothers gather together to celebrate it with toasts to those brothers present and absent.   in the past, it was considered a feast day of high importance for Freemasonry because of its proximity to the holidays and the presence of lodge members being close to home. Because of this, It gave those brothers a festival to meet under to punctuate the closing of the year. Meeting like this though is something less convenient in this modern day as most with families travels abroad to celebrate the holiday.

Because it is celebrated less does not diminish the importance of the day, nor the symbol itself, as in the modern ritual we are reminded that we come from the Holy Saint John’s in Jerusalem, and as such we should pause and reflect on just what that means.  John the Evangelist gives us an important lesson to pursue knowledge and wake from the darkness and renew our commitment to the awakening light of the Victorious Sun.  Even taken out the Christian metaphor, we can salute with Sol Invictus, as knowledge is re-awakened from its cold wintry defeat.

Through the lens of symbolism, John the Evangelist gives us a means to find resonance with the holiday of giving and compassion to the fraternity of brotherly love, relief, and truth.

Happy Holidays!

Freemasonry the Reality, a review.

Freemasonry - The Reality

Freemasonry – The Reality

Tobias Churton is a prolific Masonic author and one I’ve come to hold in high esteem.  For many, he may not be a regular household name as his work (and residence) come from abroad in the U.K. and in an dense American marketplace of books, his work is less well known here.  Nevertheless, its importance is megalithic which is very much evident in his re-released book Freemasonry – The Reality.

Churton is not just a Freemason writing on the fraternity, he also happens to be a scholar and professor at Exeter university, Lecturer in Freemasonry and Rosicrucian’s at the Center for the Study of Western Esotericism.  Churton’s published works span the breadth of western mystery traditions encompassing the early Gnostics, Rosicrucian’s, and Freemasons, which pull together many of the offshoots and ideas that went into the composition of the groups today.  Churton’s work however is less about dazzling aggrandizement of a mysterious past, focusing instead on the known and with a meticulous hand, reconstructing the holes of the fraternities formation.

In Freemasonry – The Reality, Churton leaves no stone unturned and with his meticulous hand reconstructs the modern day mystery tradition from its most extreme foundational stones buried in the footnotes of history, following each loose thread back into the whole garment of the present day craft.  But in this work he also refuses to hold back any punches in his analysis that our present manifestation of the craft is every bit a result of our manufactured past, from the clever arrangement of James Anderson and the constitutions of 1720 and the marrying of the “Speculative” with the “Operative” tracing back the foundation of Masonries earliest of ideas to the early Renaissance work of author Pico Mirandola and the Oration on the Dignity of Man.

One aspect that stood out to me in crisp detail was the way in which Churton pulls together in several seemingly unrelated bits of history and finds their common connection that brings them into a coherent theme.  From early meeting notes, names on a register, royal archives on the guilds, and diary mentions, each of these bread crumbs become the framework by which he assembles the whole work.  By digging deep into symbols that at one time held great significance, and in his work he re-illuminates them so as to demystify and put them back into a proper perspective.  Case in point, the pentagram, reminding the reader of the earlier Masonic appellation (under Robert Moray) to represent AGAPA (or the Greek word agapein), or love, a geometric perfection.

In the end, the work is extensive and covers thoroughly the origins of Freemasonry and delves specifically (as the name implies) into the reality of the its formation and pre-history.  It is not an easy read, or to be taken casually.  Rather Churton’s work is something to be savored and consumed slowly and with great thought, because every page is a sequential feast of Masonic history waiting to be consumed.

Freemasonry – The Reality is published by Lewis Masonic and is available on Amazon.

The Realization of Truth

purest form of worshipOne of my favorite scenes in any movie occurs at the climax of the classic film Ben-Hur. During the scene where Jesus is carrying his crucifix through Jerusalem, he collapses underneath the weight of his burden. As Simon of Cyrene is ordered by the Roman soldiers to pick up Jesus’ cross, Judah Ben-Hur (played by Charleton Hesston) pushes through the crowd to give the man they call ‘King of the Jews’ a drink of water.

What I find so beautiful about this scene is that it is the purest form of worship. At this moment, Charleton Hesston’s character is devoid of dogma or religious opinion. He knows that he is witnessing a moment of great realization and does not try to rationalize it or explain it. He only feels the power of the event and offers his praise for the gift of enlightenment which he is receiving.

While the movie is portraying a fictional aspect of the story of Jesus’ crucifixion, it is also providing the piece of the story which is so desperately yearned for when reading the Biblical account of the event. None of the Gospels speak of any assistance given to Jesus during his crucifixion. They are all in agreement that Mary Magdalene remained faithful to him at the end, but we only read of the disciples betraying Jesus. Judas Iscariot had betrayed him and Peter had denied knowing him. Certainly the others would continue proselytizing men to become Christians later, but where were they at the darkest time for their Lord? Were they too busy writing down what they saw and forming the doctrine for their new religion? It is an easy thing to speak of faith, it is another thing to actually have it.

The character of Ben-Hur has nothing to offer the man in suffering, whom he has come to regard as the messiah. However, he throws himself before him with the only offering that he can provide. This is a beautiful action and properly displays the pure realization of truth. In that moment when we discover truth, we can neither define nor rationalize our feelings. We can only find ourselves on our knees in wide-eyed awe of our new understanding.

In many ways, it reminds me of the Masonic process of coming to light. I was only able to truly accept a great realization once in my Masonic career and that was during my first degree. This was because I had no idea of what to expect, I thought of nothing and only focused on the moment. When I was brought to light, it was a truly transcendent moment and it really did change the course of my life. However, after the first degree I had an idea of what to expect and was simply too busy trying to anticipate my next step rather than accept the truth as it came to me.

Perhaps that is the greatest challenge facing the craft today. Are we too busy anticipating the next step in the fraternity’s future and developing a plan to fill our lodges with members? Are we too concerned with the mistakes that the organization has made today and how to fix them? Do we put too much effort into making sure that the recitation of ritual is perfect without understanding the truth which it teaches? Do we rush to research the ritual’s deeper meanings in order to fill volumes rather than letting the realization come to us?

Masonry embodies pure worship. It only offers lessons which are left to its initiates to decipher. It has no dogma and is not concerned with the particular beliefs of its individual members. Perhaps we as Masons must be like Ben-Hur. In our moment of realization, we may have little to offer Masonry, but let us offer whatever we can to the fraternity with sincerity. It is not for us to define the fraternity or propound upon its value to the profane world. What we must do is recognize its truths not with words, but with action.

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Mark Koltko-Rivera on Masonic Central

lostsymbol

Author Mark Koltko-Rivera joined Masonic Central on Sunday, September 27, 2009, to talk about Dan Brown’s book The Lost Symbol.

With the release of The Lost Symbol, many have had the opportunity to read though the work and see the results of Dan Brown’s non-Masonic contribution to the mythology of the fraternity.  Like his past work, Without a doubt The Lost Symbol is a layered thriller that can be analyzed on many different levels to find a variety of different meanings, not surprisingly, not unlike Freemasonry itself.

This week we welcome Brother Mark Koltko-Rivera, author of the forthcoming book, Discovering The Lost Symbol to help us deconstruct some of the underlying ideas of Brown’s book and to look at some of the things that Brown got wrong.  Specifically we plan to look at evidence for an actual Masonic message encoded into Brumidi’s famous fresco, “The Apotheosis of Washington”, a message that it appears Dan Brown missed; the round about source of Brown’s idea about apotheosis (humanity becoming gods), and the Masonic connection to that source; Further, we plan to talk about the psychological underpinnings for Dan Brown’s immense popularity, and the implications that has for both Freemasonry as a whole and individual Freemasons.

The Apotheosis of Washington
The Apotheosis of Washington

Br. Mark Koltko-Rivera is the author of the forthcoming book, Discovering The Lost Symbol: Masons, Magic, Mystery Religions, and the Thought that We Could Become Gods. He holds a doctoral degree in counseling psychology from New York University. He is an elected Fellow of the American Psychological Association, and has been recognized for his scholarship regarding the psychology of world-views, humanistic psychology, and the psychology of religion. Within Freemasonry, Brother Koltko-Rivera is an active member of the Blue Lodge, the Scottish Rite, and the York Rite. His papers on Freemasonry have appeared in The Philalethes, the Scottish Rite Journal, and Heredom. He provided the Masonic content (and the conspiracy fiction) for the recent Wiley publication, Cracking Codes and Cryptograms For Dummies.

A second edition of his Freemasonry: An Introduction should also appear in 2010. He also writes the blogs “Freemasonry: Reality, Myth, and Legend” and “Freemasonry 101.”

Looking for more on The Lost Symbol?

The Lost Symbol – a review
The Lost Symbol – it’s the symbol of the symbolism. – The Masonic Perspective
The Lost Symbol – The Road Best Not Traveled

Relative is relative

Relativity is relative
Relativity is relative

Things have been quiet on the inter-webs in recent weeks as we start the slow descent down the calendar page to the holidays.  Especially as most of north America is under the first major winter storm, I write this as my balmy So Cal thermometer outside tells me its 33 degrees (appropriate, I know).

A question someone asked me recently is if Masonry is relevant today in this age before I could break into the usual elevator speech, I paused for a second to think about the question, and further, to consider the implication of the immediate yes that was already starting to roll off my tongue.

Just like the weather, relativity changes with time, activity, and interest. Relativity seems to go up and down running hot at times as some controversy or exciting event is taking place, or cold in periods of little activity or action.  That ultimately, relevance is relative.  And in those nanoseconds of answering the question, the thought went to the higher outlook to ask is it relative in an age that itself questions its own relativity.

With so many variables, how can one possible answer (let alone assimilate) the question.  Relative is relative.  Each individual member, through his own thoughts and outlook, holds the answer.  Is it relative, and if so why?  But, if your mind drifted to no, then why not?  Because it is a member run organization (like the Boy Scouts) relativity is a self generated energy, that is as imaginative as a lodge (or an individual member) can be, then so too will the fraternity be just as imaginative.

Relative becomes our relativity.

A very good friend and brother said to me once that to be interesting you need to be interested, and this applies to all aspects of life, home, work, family, faith, and fraternity.  Imagine your relative shift with a subtle adjustment of interest.  The relativity of the idea takes on the qualities of your outlook, relativity matches your relativity to the subject.

The short answer to the question asked of me was yes, Freemasonry is relative, for the simple reason that I see it as so.  It’s important to me and vary valuable, and that my relativity of it is relevant.

Publisher and Br. Michael Poll of Cornerstone Publishing on Masonic Central

studyEver stop to think for a few moments where some of your favorite Masonic books and imprints come from?  Or how certain books get published (or don’t end up in print)?  What about e-books, or that really rare hard to find text that you heard mentioned once, but can’t seem to find?

This week on Masonic Central we step out side of the electronic publishing world and into the traditional publishing one as we host a very special guest in publisher and author Michael Poll, who is the owner of Cornerstone Book Publishers and its retail site Lost Word.

Missed the live show?  Listen Now!

Br. Michael’s dedicated work to the Masonic community has included services such as: original content and reprint publisher, used book seller and search service, and gift item and ephemera supplier, all the while remaining a small family run store.  In addition to his work in publishing Masonic books, he has published two of his own including Masonic Words and Phrases, and The Freemasons Key – A Study of Masonic Symbolism.

In addition to several lodge memberships, Michael is also a Founding Fellow and 1st Vice-President of The Masonic Society, a Fellow of the Philalethes Society and a contributor to Heredom, the publication of the Scottish Rite Research Society.

Join us as we meet and talk to Br. Michael Poll this Sunday, December 6th, starting at 6pm PDT / 9pm EST. We encourage your questions and comments to the show by calling (347) 677-0936 during the program.

The show goes live promptly at the hour. On Blog Talk Radio at 6pm PST/9pm EST.

Download the program.

Listen to Masonic Central on Blog Talk Radio

When the better angels of our nature prevail

How difficult is it to imagine two enemy combatants coming face to face on a smoke swept battle field, deep animosity boiling within towards one another, such that minutes before both exchanged volleys of gunfire at one another in the hopes of ending the others life with prejudice.

And then, as if struck by a lightening bolt from the heavens, the bitterness and drive that had sought to make one the survivor and the other a casualty of the brutal warring between them dissolves; amidst the strum and drang around them they find themselves able to meet on a level that transcends the uniforms they are covered with and sides they hold allegiance to.  The lightening strike that they are struck by comes as if from a divine power, an instant transcendence from their brutal human nature such that this divine bolt strikes and with such a force brings them both to a level that neither can truly fathom from the brutality that they are surrounded by.  The two men are transcended from the barbaric engines fueled by the nature to win into the better angels of their nature.

From the bolt that struck them, they realize that they are family.  More specifically, that they’re Brothers.

better_angels_of_our_natureMichael Halleran (better known around here as aude vide tace) explores just this transcendence of our nature in his forth coming book Better Angels of Our Nature: Freemasonry in the American Civil War.  Br. Halleran’s approach in this book is not another reexamination of fraternal lore, instead he explores the evidence, providing a critical examination of Masonry in the armies of both North and South, illuminating how Masonic fraterniza­tion worked in practice on both sides of the line.

And, by his own admission, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Freemasonry in the American Civil War, is the first academic study of Masonry’s role in the War Between the States.

Why this is important makes for an interesting story.  Several months back I had the opportunity to sit in a presentation given by Brother Halleran on the subject and was enthralled at the stories that he described of two enemy combatants who, upon realizing they were brothers, did what they could to exercise their mystical tie.

From the evidence in the book, the tales that take shape include the

Confederate GeneralL Lewis A. Armistead

Confederate GeneralL Lewis A. Armistead

extraordinary funeral of Lt. Commander John E. Hart to the oft-told legend of the death of Confederate General Lewis A. Armistead at Gettysburg.  Throughout Better Angels examines primary source material to determine and construct what actually occurred.  Other areas that Brother Halleran examines are Masonry in regimental lodges, among prisoners of war, and Masonry in battle.

At its heart, Better Angels details the response of the fraternity to America’s greatest calamity, documenting in many instances the war was not only one of brother against brother, but of Brother against Brother.

Having had the opportunity to see Br. Halleran’s presentation and witness first hand his evidence consisting of images of soldiers, their masonic ephemera, and the degree to which these soldiers held Masonry to the heart, it became apparent to me that truly the better angels of their natures prevailed.

hartletterhead

In the months leading up to his extraordinary book being released, you can find a sneak peek on his publishers website at Alabama University Press and on Br. Michael’s own website at http://michaelhalleran.com.

Look for it to hit the shelves mid March of 2010.