Building Janus is another catechism primer from Coach John Nagy. Building Janus is where the Master Mason builds insight. Nagy tells us that, “in Roman Mythology, Janus is the god of Bourne, Passages and the rising and setting Sum. In general, he was the patron of all beginnings, concrete and abstract.”
What does the Third Degree do for Masons? Well, Nagy tells us that it directs Masons into “learning how to learn.” He says that it “assists them in recognizing things that most ordinary thinkers would not.” “Men are prepared to see things that unprepared men cannot.”
Nagy speaks about the Bourne, the passage, and how Masonic study opens doors. “Masters (Master Masons) perceive Doors unseen by others, “he says. He goes on to say, “Masters open Doors locked to others. Masters Pass through Doors impassable by others.”
But to make this journey, to travel in foreign lands, to experience new ideas, a Master Mason must prepare himself for travel. “Improperly prepared Masons venturing into such lands are likened to individual hands making effort to clap against nothing.”
Nagy explains to us the eight foreign lands a Mason is introduced to. To make these journeys a Master Mason needs to “pay attention to the ritual and do the Work required of him.”…for those who are Properly Prepared and who possess suitable proficiency, Traveling never ends.”
From there Nagy tells us, “The working Tool that is my favorite is the one that exists within a truly Raised Mason. That Working Tool is his Ordered brain.” Nagy speaks strongly here about bringing men to Order from Chaos. He tells us of the benefits of the three degrees:
“Masons trained by Entered Apprentice Work are less likely to strike out personally at other people when it is pointed out that the quality of their work lacks Integrity.”
“Masons trained by Fellow Craft Work are less likely to accept the illogical, irrational and unsound premises and conclusions that lesser trained people offer up as credible.”
“Fully trained Masons recognize specific Patterns that denote others who have been brought to Order from Chaos. They also recognize those people who are still in Chaos.”
Coach Nagy is a very spiritual man. He shows us that in his Ordering Catechism.
John “Coach” Nagy
“The second task is understanding how both the internal and the external worlds interrelate. The foundation of this understanding is also laid by doing the Work spoken of in the first two degrees.”
“How do Masons benefit from this knowledge? They accurately perceive the interconnections of both worlds and between both worlds.”
“The third task is to apply these understanding Metaphorically toward worlds conceived by imagination that lie beyond those known by humankind’s physical experience. Such ability allows Masons to obtain and communicate deep and profound truths with others who are likeminded.”
Now that is most profound.
But, “Ritual provides to Masons only the barest of bones. What is received by one’s efforts is only the beginning of Mastery.”
More Work is required, says Nagy. What follows in the book is explanations of The Widow’s Son and The Master’s Word.
Nagy tells us, “The more I explore the Allusions offered by Masonry, the more expansive and interconnected I find my world.”
A most interesting chapter is the one on the symbolism of the Lion in Masonry. And again Nagy urges his reader to pause and meditate on the meaning of such symbolism.
“Masons pausing to Perpend what is before them have an advantage over those Masons that don’t. It takes a certain amount of discipline to remove oneself from the game and reflect upon its different aspects. Insight into any game often depends upon Perpending elements not considered by those who do not take the time to pause.”
The history of the symbolism of the Lion in society through the ages is most interesting and reflects on why Masonry has included it in its ritual.
Nagy points out, “During the Greek and Roman period, the Lion was the Symbol of the fallen hero. It also was often used as a guardian figurine for Gates, Temples, and Buildings. In Christian art, the Lion represents the Redeemer. The Lion is also Emblematic of the Gospel writer Saint Mark the Evangelist. The Lion symbol was also used in medieval heraldry and is still currently used on seals, flags, shields and banners and is also depicted on the flag of Jerusalem.”
The fallen hero, eh? Now refer to the Legend of Hiram Abiff! How do we raise the fallen hero?
Nagy goes on to further catalog the use of the Lion during the Lion period in the 1700’s. “During this time, British artisans and craftsmen took to carving Lions’ masks on the knees of cabriole legs and the arms of chairs and settees, and Lion’s paws on furniture feet. This was the same period when the ‘Lion’ was carved into the foot of the Third Degree.”
But Nagy isn’t through with the lion. He points out the popularity of Sphinxes in ancient Egypt. “In ancient Egypt, Sphinxes were placed at the entrances of Temples to guard the mysteries, by warning those who penetrate within, that they should conceal the knowledge of these mysteries from the uninitiated.”
This Lion symbolism goes a long way to explain the meaning of the strong grip of a Master Mason.
Nagy concludes his book with a chapter on Speculative Masonry and why the term Speculative may be a misnomer.
I have to say that this is my favorite Building book by Coach Nagy so far. This is where the Master Mason gets down to the nitty-gritty. This is where our request for some meat is answered.
Nagy reminds us that Masonic Ritual is just a road map. It is up to us to take the road map and explore all the ramifications and applications that can broaden our world and truly make us better persons. This is where true Mastery begins.
Once again Coach Nagy advises us to think, to contemplate, to explore and ask questions and seek answers. Building Janus is the GPS to new discoveries. But we, as Master Masons, must learn how to learn and do the Work necessary to obtain the prize – those deep and profound truths that enable us to travel to foreign and uncharted venues. This is the real secret or mystery of Masonry, and Building Janus is the book for every Master Mason to take on his journey.
You can order your copy of Building Janus at the link below:
There is a Past Master in Boerne, Texas who is a master craftsman. He is probably the only one you will find that designs and creates Masonic knives, knives of many different sizes and styles. His name is Jim McBeth and he is McBeth Knives.
His house is in a sparsely populated area called “The Hill Country” in Texas, an area steeped in American Cowboy, Native American and Mexican heritage. McBeth’s office reflects that heritage with western art and sculpture everywhere. And on the wall is his membership in The Former Texas Ranger Foundation for the support he has given that organization.
The Former Texas Ranger Foundation
But it’s not the office where knives are made. McBeth has transformed his garage into a large workshop with many heavy pieces of machinery that he uses to craft his knives. It is a labor of love for McBeth. He insists that only the finest, high-grade materials be used for his knives.
He makes his own knife pins making sure that there is a design inside them. He uses pins” with “Mosaic” patterns when possible. The material used for these pins include rods of Brass, Copper, Stainless Steel and Aluminum. McBeth often arranges the various sizes of these rods in patterns to create a ‘mosaic’ for each particular knife.
McBeth only works with the highest quality steel knife blanks, ordering only high grade 440c stainless steel “blanks”. Damascus patterns include Ladder, Raindrop, Twist, Herringbone just to name a few. The “blanks” that he uses are made from multiple bars of 1095 Carbon steel and multiple bars of high Nickel 15N20 steel creating between 175 and 250 layers in whatever pattern the “maker” decided.
The handles are crafted from various types of exotic woods. Some of these “Exotics” include Cocobolo
Scottish Rite Knife
Rosewood, Zebrawood, Canarywood, Red Heart, Bocote, Leopardwood, Amboyna, Rosewood Burl, just to name a few. You can have a Masonic Emblem embedded in the Handle.
McBeth takes scrupulous steps, as you can see in the video, in the sanding and buffing process. Each knife must meet his high standard of appearance, quality, and use.
And let’s not forget about the sheath. A High-quality leather sheath, hand-crafted and hand-tooled by
Damascus Steel Masonic Knives
professional leather workers here in the U.S., comes with each knife and a Concho of your choice, Masonic or otherwise, is added if you wish.
A McBeth knife is one of a kind. You won’t find anything like it in stores or flea markets. It makes a wonderful display item as well as a working tool. Many McBeth knives are purchased for gifts and if you need a further custom touch to a gift, McBeth will take that additional step needed to see that your gift is extra special. In a request for a gift for Past Grand Master Jerry Martin of the Grand Lodge of Texas, he made a special carrying case which uniquely displayed the gifted knife and sheath.
Grand Master Gift
To contact McBeth knives or place an order you merely need to go to http://www.mcbethknives.com/
Once again we visit the great Masonic artist Ryan J. Flynn. There is little that you can write anymore that does justice to what this Brother is doing with and for art. You have to see it to believe it. So Phoenixmasonry Live’s December 2016 program SHOWS you what words cannot do justice to. And as he shows us his creations, his description of how he does it will truly amaze you.
“Freemasonry is not a brand name; it is not Nike, it is not Starbucks. Freemasonry is an ideal, an organization of men who, when gathered together, strive for the absolute best in all of us, and they settle for nothing less. I fervently believe that Masonic works of art should strive to meet the same ideal.”
“I pledge that you will never see me settle for average, plain or quick. I will never brand something with a square and compass and call it “Masonic.” To call something “Masonic” means that it is a direct representation of the Craft, and thus should be educational, symbolic and meaningful; something that I strive to do in all my work. Of course, having a shirt embroidered with my lodge is something I would love to wear, but this, although adorned with our symbols, is merely Masonic in name and not substance.”
“Substance is what drives good art, and it is what drives me to create works that truly honors the Craft that I so love dearly.”
Phoenixmasonry hopes that this video will be a permanent part of your library and that you will carry Flynn’s message of appreciation of Masonic art to your Brethren.
On November 17, 2016 Deputy Grand Master of the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Texas F & AM Michael T. Anderson spoke at Jewel P. Lightfoot Lodge No. 1283, Grand Lodge of Texas AF & AM upon the invitation of Worshipful David Bindel. Worshipful Bindel remarked that he thought this could be a historic moment being that this might be the first time a Prince Hall Grand Lodge Officer addressed a Lodge of the Grand Lodge of Texas.
The Lodge opened on the Third Degree at 7:15 PM with a procession of Lodge officers and visitors marching into the Lodge. The Lodge was promptly taken from Labor to Refreshment whereupon Worshipful Bindel announced that this Special Communication was one of a series labeled “Building The Temple,” whereby the Lodge focuses on engaging in dialogue to construct something useful and grow together in Masonic light and in our appreciation of each other.
Without further ado, Worshipful Bindel introduced DGM Anderson reciting his brief Masonic biography after which he gave him the floor.
DGM Anderson began his address by admitting that he had not prepared a formal presentation. He then proceeded to speak from the heart starting his remarks with the importance of the Altar in the Lodge. He went through the meaning and moral teachings of the Three Lessor Lights and the Three Great Lights. Anderson asked those assembled where else could they find an organization that taught such high moral standards.
Anderson spoke about how when he was young, he was a bit on the wild side, and that it was the lessons of Freemasonry that made him into the man he is today. He told us all that he rarely read the Bible when he was young and rarely went to church, but that Freemasonry and the study of its morality, not only made him a better man but led him to studying the Bible and a regular attendee at church.
Anderson stressed the importance of the Masonic philosophy that it is the internal not the external characteristics that recommend a man to be made a Mason. He was emphatic that this one tenet of Freemasonry was responsible for bringing together men of many different walks and stations in life. Can you not see how much more peace and harmony there would be in this world if this tenet was universally adopted, he asked?
He spoke briefly on Prince Hall Freemasonry saying if you want to know about us look at me. I am a product of what we are all about. In contrasting the number of years Masters and Grand Masters serve in each Grand Lodge, he said that he thought five years was the right number for the time of service. The first year, he said, the Master tip toes around not wanting to offend anyone. In the second year he begins to formulate his programs and the stamp he wants to put on his Lodge. Then he has three years to implement his vision. Anderson said he served ten years as Master of Pride of Mt. Pisgah No. 135 but he only intended to serve five. But after five years, some of the Brethren of the Lodge came to him and implored him to continue otherwise many would become inactive.
Taking questions from the Brethren, he articulated the importance of the 24” Gauge. He remarked that eight hours in the service of God did not involve going to church, but rather was all about helping others, doing God’s work in the world. He further expounded that if a man doesn’t work he doesn’t eat. Anderson told us that he had taken a lot of jobs in his life he didn’t much care for but that it put food on the table.
Another question had Anderson expounding on the symbolism of the Point Within A Circle. Anderson said that the point was you and I and the circle was God, that which had no beginning and no end. In our journey through life, if we listen, if we have an open mind, if we are attentive, then we will touch God and God will touch us as we venture out to the outer edges of the noble life.
There were a couple of questions that followed about what can we do as Masons to promote peace and harmony in the world. It seems to many that we are becoming more and more divided and at odds with each other. Anderson went right back to the theme that it is the internal not the external that a Mason looks at in another. It was at this point that Past Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Texas, Elmer Murphy, rose and came out to Anderson and put his arm around him and related an old story in his family about a Black man who helped his father to pick up body parts after an explosion at a chemical factory. He was a big man, Murphy said and then something about his being in the Navy. I loved that man, I heard him say.
I don’t even know if I have that story right since I was concentrating on what I saw before me rather than what was being said. Here was a PGM of the Grand Lodge of Texas and the DGM of the most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Texas arm in arm reinforcing the concept that it is the internal not the external part of a man that is important. And when PGM Murphy completed his tale he hugged DGM Anderson, whereupon every Brother in the room rose to give them both a thunderous applause.
Back in 2006 both Grand Lodges did not recognize each other. In 2007 a Compact of Recognition was signed, but without intervisitation and Masonic intercourse. Just last year those last barriers were removed. And this evening witnessed further progress in Masonic closeness.
The speech being over introductions of all visiting Brethren were made. It was duly noted that we had a Brother from the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Maryland, and a Cuban Brother who was a member of a military Lodge in South Korea.
Worshipful Bindel then presented DGM Anderson with a gift of a gavel and a certificate that made him an honorary member of Jewel P. Lightfoot. Lodge was left to expire at midnight and we all took off for the Komali Mexican Restaurant.
At the restaurant, we satisfied ourselves with good food and libation. But most of all we experienced that Masonic tenet of Brotherly Love and Affection. There were many toasts offered and many new friends made. When we finally parted it was midnight and I returned home with the knowledge that this had truly been a historic occasion.
There are some interviewees that make life difficult for you. Sometimes it is like pulling teeth to get them to open up and expound on a question.
Michael Schiavello, an experienced broadcaster, writer and author is not one of those. When you ask him a question he takes off and runs with.
Here is an author who has blended the esoteric thought of Freemasonry with the practical application of its philosophy. Schiavello reminds me a lot of Dr. John Nagy with his Life Application and his questions at the end of each chapter. Nagy, however, writes strictly for Freemasons while Schiavello writes for Masons and non-Masons alike. And that is what makes this book so universal. It deals with universal truths time proven from Masters of ancient times to the current age. Freemasonry is a way of life. And Schiavello writes a primer on how to live the noble life. He urges us and shows us how to pay equal attention to our spiritual side as well as our earthly side. He promotes a life of Balance.
Freemasonry makes good men better and this is one of the few books that will actually show you how that can be done using the symbolism of the Craft. This is not only a must book for Freemasons it is a handbook for anybody and everybody, Mason and non-Mason alike. There is no doubt in my mind that Know Thyself: Using the Symbols of Freemasonry to Improve Your Life will become a classic standing tall with the works of Wayne Dywer, Mitch Albom. Scott Peck and Neale Donald Walsch.
Recently, the Bee Hive attended a third degree ritual aboard the The Blue Ghost, an Essex class aircraft carrier out of Corpus Christi Bay in Texas. The event was hosted by Oso Naval Lodge No. 1282at the Museum on the Bay on Saturday, September 10th, 2016.
Master Mason’s Degree
Known as “The Blue Ghost,” the Lexington is one of 24 Essex class aircraft carriers built during World War II for the United States Navy. The ship, the fifth US Navy ship to bear the name, is named in honor of the Revolutionary War Battle of Lexington. She was originally to have been named Cabot, but she was renamed while under construction to commemorate USS Lexington (CV-2), lost in the Battle of the Coral Sea in May 1942.
The Lexington was commissioned in February 1943, and served in several campaigns in the Pacific Theater of Operations, receiving the Presidential Unit Citation and 11 battle stars for World War II service. Like many of her sister ships, Lexington was decommissioned shortly after the end of the war, but was modernized and reactivated in the early 1950’s, being reclassified as an attack carrier (CVA), and then an antisubmarine carrier (CVS). In her second career, she operated both in the Atlantic/Mediterranean and the Pacific, but spent most of her time, nearly 30 years, on the east coast as a training carrier (CVT).
She was decommissioned in 1991, remaining active longer than any other Essex-class ship, and was donated for use as a museum ship here in Corpus Christi. Lexington was designated a national Historic landmark in 2003. Though her surviving sister ships, Yorktown, Intrepid and Hornet carry lower hull numbers, Lexington was laid down and commissioned earlier, making Lexington the oldest remaining aircraft carrier in the world.
I head up Route 358 from North Padre Island to the Crosstown Expressway and then onto Route 181 in Corpus Christi, Texas. As I cross the bay on a high arching bridge, there she is, The Blue Ghost in all her magnificence. Coming off the bridge I wind my way around to ground level and park a block away. I walk towards my destination. A double sized golf cart waits for me at the bottom of the ramp. Soon I am on my way up the long ramp that will take me on board the retired aircraft carrier, the USS Lexington, The Blue Ghost. I am here to witness a Third Degree on the Lexington by a very special Degree Team.
I think back to the meaning of Lexington to me. Lexington seems to end up following me or I it wherever I go.
I was born and raised in Lexington, Massachusetts the birthplace of the American Revolution. It was this Lexington for whom the USS Lexington was named. It was here on April 19, 1775 that Paul Revere rode into Lexington with other riders and proclaimed, “The British are coming, the British are coming.” I went to church 100 feet from the Lexington Green where the first battle of the American Revolution was fought on that day. My mother was secretary of the church. She also worked weekends at the Buckman Tavern beside the Green as a historical story teller to visitors. The Buckman Tavern is where The Lexington Minute Men gathered on that early morning of April 19, 1775. I would become Master Councilor of Battle Green DeMoaly also just off the Green. Much later I would return to Lexington’s Simon Robinson Lodge as Master of Paul Revere Lodge with the Paul Revere Colonial Degree Team to exemplify the Third Degree and participate in a Tri Table Lodge.
The Degree Team
This night I would witness the Third Degree by a team of Masons from the Grand Lodge of Texas AF & AM drawn from all over Southeastern Texas who were Grand Lodge award winning Ritualists.The host Lodge was Oso Naval Lodge No 1282. Grand Master, MW Wendell P. Miller was in the East for the Second Section of the Degree. District Instructor PM Mike King was the producer of the degree and sat in the West for the Second Section.
For the reenactment of the Legend of Hiram Abiff, the players were all dressed in ancient costumes. Upon the giant wall behind the South was a huge video screen which the Grand Lodge used in conjunction with the Lecture and the Charge. In addition to these two, there was also an Apron and a Bible presentation.
The degree was flawless and very well done. Long pieces of ritual were recited from memory without mistakes and with great flourish. At its conclusion, the Grand Master was presented with a few gifts as mementos of the occasion among which was a very decorative flag.
After the Degree, we gathered to greet new friends and touch base with old ones. Most of the Brothers present were not familiar to me which gave me a good opportunity to make new friends. Many pictures were taken including me with the Grand Master.
MW Wendell P. Miller & PM Frederic L. Milliken
Grand Master Presented A Flag
What was most impressive to me was the fact that you don’t often see a Grand Master performing degrees at the local level. Grand Masters are too involved with Administration and Ceremonial functions to actually do ritual in a Degree. And few remember their ritual from long ago. Not this one, MW Wendell P. Miller did not miss a word of a lengthy ritual part.
All too soon it was time to say goodbye. Hugs all around and back out into the night and onto the deck of the Blue Ghost we went. From that vantage, there was a beautiful view of Corpus Christi all lit up in the night. We took the same cart back down the ramp and dispersed.
As I left the Blue Ghost late at night, I turned back and snapped a couple of pictures that really gave meaning to the Lexington’s nickname. Once again, I had celebrated Freemasonry in fine style!
They are known as The Knights of The Masonic Roundtable or simply as The Masonic Roundtable. They are five innovative, hard working, and extremely nice Masons who got together in 2014 to spread Masonic light around the world via their weekly show.
Phoenixmasonry (and Freemason Information) is delighted to have had the opportunity to meet the Knights and publish this interview so we can all get to know them better.
Elena Llamas, Director of Public Relations for Phoenixmasonry: Hello, Knights, thank you for this interview. It is an honor and privilege to interview you. It has been two years since you got together and you are going strong, meeting every single week. Is it fair to assume that you will be around in the foreseeable future? I hope so!
Jason: Hi, Elena! Thanks so much for spending some time with us. The hosts of TMR always told each other that we’d keep going until the show stopped being fun. We’re still having a blast, so things are looking good!
Robert: Agreed. It’s become a highlight of the week for me.
Elena: That’s great! Why the name Knights of the Masonic Roundtable? And how did you get started? I understand Jon’s love for technology, gadgets, and Masonry was the starting point.
Jon: It was! Being a self-proclaimed Android nerd, I followed a site called Droid Life which introduced a live show talking all things Android that week (new phones, new announcements from manufacturers). What was neat was that they also added commentary very organically, and you could tell they knew their material. I figured someone should do a similar show but for Masonry. I didn’t anticipate that someone to be me!
I was such a huge fan of other Masonic podcasts, such as The Winding Stairs, and Whence Came You? and blogs like the Millennial Freemason, and although I had “friended” most of them in the past, I did not really know them well. On a whim, I asked all of them if they would be willing to try it out as an experiment. Ego stroking worked in my favor.
Robert: It sure did, Jon. Ha!
Juan: When I first heard Jon explain the concept and when I found out that Robert was also on board, I didn’t need to hear anything else. I saw it as an opportunity to continue learning about the Craft and sharing that knowledge with other Brothers.
Jason: We wanted the show to be a roundtable discussion, so we kept the “Roundtable” name and The Masonic Roundtable was born. We added in the Knights as a homage to the York Rite (Knights Templar, specifically), of which four out of the five hosts are members.
Robert: We’re working on Jason. 🙂
Jason: Yes, I’m the host with the vintage Knight Templar triangle apron hanging up in his studio who isn’t a member. Oh, the irony!
Elena: I noticed it! Jon had a great idea and, in turn, you all have been part of the inspiration for Phoenixmasonry’s own show, airing soon, which will be different from yours, of course, and also online.
Jason: We can’t wait to see it! The fraternity desperately needs new sources of quality, well-researched Masonic education. We’re looking forward to seeing what Phoenixmasonry comes up with.
Elena: Thank you! You have certainly laid such a standard for others! Tell us about your logo. Is this your design? And please explain its meaning.
Jason: Yes! This is our trademarked design. The logo is absolutely critical to the show’s branding. Juan came up with some early designs for the artwork and I added the symbolism and other enhancements. I try to pack as much symbolism into my designs as possible while keeping them minimalist in style.
Elena: That certainly was accomplished with the logo.
Jason: The essential design elements of our logo include the following:
First, you’ll notice the circumpunct: represented by the outer rings and the dot in the middle of the square and compasses, which is an admonishment to ourselves (and our viewers) to manage time wisely. Our time on the Earth is finite. It is our duty to God to manage the time that we have as best we can. The circumpunct has historically represented Deity, and its inclusion in our design emphasizes the centrality of our duty to God.
Second, the triangle, which interlocks with the circumpunct, represents the three tenets of Freemasonry: brotherly love, relief, and truth.
The five five-pointed stars represent the five original Knights of The Masonic Roundtable. They also allude to the five orders of architecture.
Jason: Each order of architecture is unique in its own way, adding a very specific kind of beauty to the building a given column adorns. Each of the five hosts is unique in his own personality and perspective, and each host adds a flavor to the show that would be sorely missed otherwise.
Elena: I agree.
Jason: As stars produce light, the representation of the hosts as stars alludes to the entire point of the show, which is to spread Masonic light and knowledge everywhere we can. As stars bring light, we attempt to do the same by sparking constructive Masonic discourse.
Elena: What beautiful symbolism!
Jason: Finally, the words “MORE LIGHT,” which appear in the bottom of the design, allude to our sign off, “Keep searching for more light!”, which is our admonishment to our viewers and listeners to keep the discourse going long after the episode ends. Every Mason has a duty to use his/her time on this earth to learn as much as he (or she) can.
As you can see, this design is the very heart and soul of our show, which is one of the reasons why we turned it into a set of lapel pins we sell on our website to cover our production and hosting costs. We packed even more symbolism into the pins by using specific colors as an homage to the Royal Arch (red), Cryptic Council (purple), Allied Masonic Degrees (green), Scottish Rite (white), and Blue Lodge (blue) bodies of Masonry.
Elena: The pins are lovely! You are on your 130th episode. I spent a lot of time on your YouTube channel and was so impressed by the range of topics you discuss. I recommend readers set aside a weekend or two for a Roundtable marathon. Your topics vary from what a Masonic political party would possibly be like to in depth discussion on Masonic studies, interviews with Masonic personalities, and discussion on different currents within Masonry and other religious observances. Do you have a system for coming up with each week’s topic?
Jason: We start with topics we ourselves want to discuss. We have a backlog of topic ideas (and potential guest hosts/experts to bring onto the show to complement the topics) that we pull from. Our best show topics, however, have come as suggestions from our listeners. We love taking listener recommendations for topics. Our episodes on Racism in Freemasonry, Essentials of Lodge Leadership, the Kabbalah, and Masonic Ciphers were all requested by listeners. We get new suggestions each week, and never tire of hearing topics about which listeners would like to learn more. Some of our topics span episodes (like our four-part series on the four cardinal virtues), but most of our episodes are standalone.
Elena: I have noticed that you are very responsive to questions and comments from your audience.
Jason: Social media is my favorite part of each episode!
Juan: I agree with Jason. Social Media, when used adequately, can be a very versatile tool. There have been many times when we have a particular opinion on a topic, only because we have ignored some alternative explanations. All it takes is a Brother to share his view on our Facebook page and now we have a new perspective to consider.
Robert: It’s always fun and nerve racking to be put on the spot with a position you’ve decided to take on the episode when a listener who is watching live decides to ask you right there on the show about what you just said. I love it. It’s an exercise in logical discussion and that’s what is truly different about this program and why I think it’s gotten the success it has.
Nick: Coming from the blogging world, I still get comments from posts I wrote years ago. I think that is useful and helpful. Since The Masonic Roundtable is a topical show by design, I definitely like the questions that keep coming in, even from episodes we did from a while back. It keeps my mind humming with new thoughts and new perspectives.
Elena: You start out each episode with a bit of trivia, Masonic news, conversation, and more. It is a great way to keep your viewers updated and interested while having fun.
Jason: It took us a lot of trial and error to find the right balance of special segments and discussion. If you go back to our early episodes (please don’t judge too harshly!), you’ll find much more inconsistency in the format. Over time, we’ve refined how we do the show (largely due to feedback we receive from our listeners). We’ve got the format down pretty solid nowadays, but we can always change it up as our audience’s needs evolve.
Elena: You film from your personal offices, living rooms, and sometimes even hotel rooms. You must have worked out a system for making sure your families give you time every week for the show. Jason’s cat isn’t having any of that (see image below).
Juan: In my home, I have a dedicated Art Studio/Office space that is separate from the rest of the house. My family knows that Tuesday Nights I am recording TMR and they know to stay away from the Studio (It’s too messy in there anyway).
Elena: With a weekly show, plus your non-Masonic jobs and other Masonic endeavors, how do you manage to remain enthusiastic about the show, week after week?
Jason: It’s difficult. From the very beginning, we had to make a conscious effort to make the show a priority. I’ve had plenty of nights where I would have much rather gone to bed early then stayed up late doing the show. Every Wednesday is a big struggle for me at work because I’m dragging from staying up late the night before. But what I’ve personally found is that the discussions I have with the other hosts and the interaction we get from those watching live makes the sleep deprivation totally worth it. There’s a reason we keep coming back every week; that reason is that our listeners are amazing.
Robert: It is definitely a struggle sometimes. There will be times (frequently) I’m “live from mobile masonic command”, as the fellas have called it. As you’ve said, with work, kids, families it gets a bit nuts. I’ve blown off Masonic meetings to do the show at times but the District Deputy Grand Master meetings are the ones I can’t miss and why I am sometimes driving and doing the show. The listeners have not complained about the noise in the car…which I am deeply appreciative of. 😉
Juan: I enjoy doing the show and I love my Fellow Knights, but there are times when I may have had a rough day and don’t feel particularly motivated. All it takes is for me to let the Brothers know how I feel and they cheer me up, just in time to sit in front of the camera and forget the difficulties of the day. It’s the cheapest therapy in town, if you ask me.
Elena: Are you invited to Lodges and Masonic events as a group to talk about your show? I think you are a great example of how technology and Masonry can combine to produce refreshing and new possibilities.
Jason: We have had the privilege of speaking individually and collectively across the country, both virtually and in-person! In June, I was invited to do a virtual presentation in a lodge in Wisconsin. It was a great instance where we were able to use technology to enhance and promote Masonic education! On a larger scale, we were invited to be the featured speakers at the Pennsylvania Academy of Masonic Knowledge in March of this year. We streamed the entire event live–a first for the Academy–and had an amazing turnout!
Juan: The Pennsylvania Academy of Masonic Knowledge event was an amazing experience, but we recognize that it is a little more difficult to bring all five of us to speak at an event (It’s possible though). However, we get invitations to speak at Lodges individually on a regular basis. I’m one of those strange creatures who really enjoys public speaking and I love doing it to spread Masonic Education. Getting to sit with Brothers from around the Country is a great privilege of our profession.
Robert: It has been wonderful to share fellowship with lodges all around the country. I think we really had an amazing opportunity and experience when we all were in PA for the Academy.
Jason: Brethren tuned in from as far away as Texas! The event itself included individual presentations from each of the hosts and a combined presentation at the end. Best of all, you can still go back and watch the entire event on our youtube channel! It’s just another way that we were able to use technology to expand the reach of Masonic education.
Elena: If a lodge wanted one or more of you to come speak, what would they need to do?
Jason: The first step, like everything in Masonry, is to ask us! We’ve got a calendar of speaking engagements listed on our website. I’m personally happy to do presentations virtually any time I can fit them in, and if you’re near the Washington, D.C. metro area (or want to do something virtually) you might be able to get me and Jon as a 2-for-1. If I can help contribute to your lodge’s commitment to providing quality Masonic education to its members, then I’ll do so in any way that I can!
Robert: True story. Just ask. I maintain a page on the Whence Came You? website, and I try to get those dates to Jon, since he does most of the website work. He does a great job. We will travel far and wide to share fellowship and have discussion with the brothers.
Juan: If a Lodge wanted to invite us as a group, TheMasonicRoundtable.com is the place to go. If a Lodge wanted to invite me personally, they can do so through TheWindingStairs.com or through Facebook. My presentations are usually related to the practical side of Masonry. How to Apply Freemasonry to our everyday lives.
Elena: You provide an amazing and unique Masonic service.
Jason: Thanks so much!
Elena: The sound and video on your shows is always top quality, your settings are always well put together (as in, not a mess), you are always well groomed and wide-awake. Us viewers appreciate your effort and presentation. There is nothing worse than trying to plow through a poorly produced video with audio problems, with a distracting background, or unprepared hosts.
Robert: I totally agree. How many times have you started listening to an old .mp3 file and the quality was horrible? You know people make podcasts like that still? In 2016! When we decided to make the show an audio podcast as well, yes it wasn’t always so, we wanted to make sure we didn’t have this same problem. For the audiophiles out there, 320 kbps stereo is where I wanted to go. That’s what I did on Whence Came You? However, after playing around with cost / benefit we settled on 192 kbps stereo. I think it’s easy to listen to and it sounds like we’re there in your car, or your house or wherever you listen to us. It’s a crucial element. You could have a great show but if the audio is tinny etc. I know I’m not even going to give it one minute of my time. We didn’t want to ever have that as a problem for our listeners.
Jason: Post-production of our show is huge. We record it live, and started the show thinking we’d do video only; however, our audience begged for an audio-only version and after a couple of weeks we gave in. Good thing, too, as most of our audience listens to our audio-only podcast these days. We don’t do any post-production on the videos at present, but RJ is the man when it comes to making our discussions sound as good and clear as possible on the audio podcast.
Elena: After watching so many of your episodes, I walked away with a sense that all of you are very inquisitive, very respectful of your guests and topics, and well rounded and diverse as to points of view. The variety you provide as a group is unique and a real innovation in Freemasonry.
Robert: Whoa! Innovations!? We can’t have any of that. (Jokes) Being respectful is what we do as part of being Freemasons. While many of the topics and discussions we have on the show are highly charged and many more could not even be discussed in lodge, we’re not in lodge. We ask ourselves “How would a Mason discuss this topic?” Juan has been instrumental in keeping us grounded.
Juan: We are there for one another. We share a common interest, but don’t always share on the same opinions. The diversity of opinions helps us get out of our comfort zone and evaluate things from a more objective viewpoint. I like it when we present our Brothers as many facts as possible and allow them to formulate their own conclusions. We refuse to shy away from difficult subjects, so we have to be careful that our opinions are expressed as just that, our opinions.
Elena: Thus, your shows are more about exploring and discussing topics than about explaining each of your positions on the subjects. You don’t seem to want to teach or preach as much as you do propose, introduce your topics, and learn from your guests and issues.
Jason: We’re not experts, nor do we purport to be. We’re here to encourage Masons to arrive at their own conclusions vice imposing our personal worldviews on our listeners. We try to structure our discussions in such a way that there’s no right or wrong answer. We’re all here to learn, not only from each other, but from our listeners as well. That’s why we place such a heavy emphasis on audience interaction.
Robert: To be fair, there are times where I and others will openly disagree. I’ve gotten grumpy on a few episodes. But it’s usually on a topic in which there is heated debate. Again, something about the compasses keeps me out of trouble. As for teaching, well, I think we are all teachers already. And since our show is a discussion, it helps to think about it in terms of a bunch of teachers sitting around with other teachers, who would be the listeners, talking about these topics. We’re not out there getting preachy.
Juan: I’ve come to accept our level of responsibility grows proportionally as the size of our audience grows. Like that old sage, Ben Parker, once said “with great power comes great responsibility”. Although we have to be clear in our message, I don’t think we need to hit our listeners over the head with forced opinions. We are here to discuss, not to convince.
Jon: I try to apply the liberal art of rhetoric every show.
Elena: Do you have a large non-Masonic following?
Robert: The analytics and data show we have a huge following. I’d defer to Jon at this point. But I would point out that the non masons we do have usually are courting the fraternity and later join. We get letters all the time that say things like “ …I joined because your show finally gave me the push I needed. I receive my EA degree next week!” It’s humbling to say the least.
Jon: Facebook and Google analytics don’t have an “is mason” metric, so it’s a little hard to determine those who have taken the degrees and who haven’t. Get on it, Google!
Elena: Do you have other demographic data as to your followers? Age, region, that sort of thing?
Jason: Jon’s the Masonic data expert. He’ll give the best answer on this one!
Jon: Yup. Me again. Although all ages, genders, and areas listen to the show, our largest audience is men, 25-35, in the United States. That tells me that the connected generation wants to hear more about Freemasonry and younger Masons want to have more masonic education. I’d love for Grand Lodges to make our show irrelevant (Ok, maybe not quite, but close).
Elena: Ha, ha. Interesting data, thank you! Individually, you have some very interesting projects. Let’s start with Jason. You are a blogger. You have The 2-Foot Ruler: Masonry in Plain Language blog. Tell us about it.
Jason: Ah yes, the 2-Foot Ruler. It began as a play on the Masonic working tool known as the 24-inch gauge. I began the blog with the intention of trying to explain the Craft in plain language so that non-Masons could understand us a bit better, but I’ve found that–at least for me–it’s difficult to write with consistency. That’s why the blog has languished as I’ve gotten more involved with TMR, the Midnight Freemasons, and other projects. I typically only write about things about which I’m very passionate. This is why you’ll see a number of my blog posts dedicated to topics of religious anti-masonry, marriage equality, homosexuality in Masonry, and transgender equality. For me, writing is cathartic. Even if my opinions or pieces don’t influence policy at the Grand Lodge level, I still feel as if I’m contributing to positive discussion through my writing.
Elena: That is great, Jason, thank you! Robert, you are the managing editor of the Midnight Freemasons.
Robert: Yes, years ago, when I started with “Whence Came You?” podcast, I read a piece called “Freemasons and Beer” and I ran across the piece on this website called “The Midnight Freemason”. It was run by Illustrious Bro. Todd E. Creason who is a famous Freemason in and of himself, having published half a dozen books. I asked for permission to read his piece on the show and Todd approved, but he had never heard of the a podcast before. We struck up a mentor mentee relationship of sorts. Eventually he got too busy and “The Midnight Freemason” was going to go dark, as we say. I stepped up to the plate. He gave me everything I needed to run the site and here we are. We changed the name from “The Midnight Freemason” to the “Midnight Freemasons”. We went from just one author, Todd, to having half a dozen to having thirteen or fourteen at one point. We have over a million views and climbing. I may be biassed but I think it’s the best Masonic blog out there. Three new articles every week. It’s really an online magazine. Consistency is the name of the game and I think we have achieved that.
Elena: That is amazing consistency, yes! Jason, you are also a regular contributor to the Midnight Freemasons blog.
Jason: Yes! I’ve been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to share the blogosphere with RJ, Todd, and a bunch of other deeply insightful Masons who make up the writing cadre of The Midnight Freemasons. I was talking to RJ at one point about a long piece I was writing on Christian Anti-Masonry, based partially off of an experience I had with a narrow-minded individual in a coin shop. He suggested I write the piece as a guest contribution to The Midnight Freemasons, and things snowballed from there. As my 2-foot Ruler posts waned, I devoted more time to my work with the Midnight Freemasons.
Elena: Juan, you were a professional artist prior to producing Masonic art. Shortly after joining Freemasonry, you developed a collection of Masonic Art and Custom Masonic Aprons. How is that project going and where can people view and purchase your work?
Juan: Shortly after becoming a Mason, I began working on a collection of Masonic Art for me. I set out to create the kind of work I would love to have hanging on my office walls. The collection has now grown to include paintings, fine prints and hand painted aprons, which can be purchased by visiting www.TheWindingStairs.com/Shop.
Elena: Your artwork is part of private and corporate collections in the United States, South America, The Caribbean, Europe and Australia now.
Juan: I feel very fortunate that I was able to pursue my dream of being a professional artist. Before I created any Masonic artwork, I had been living off of my art for over 6 years. I have displayed my work in New York, Las Vegas, California, Florida, and Puerto Rico. From there, and through my online sales, I now have collectors in many countries around the world. I feel very honored to be able to say that.
Elena: Congratulations, Juan! You are also the host of The Winding Stairs Freemasonry Podcast. Tell us a bit about that project.
Juan: I describe The Winding Stairs as being dedicated to Masonic Education and the art of self improvement. I strongly believe that many Brothers miss opportunities to improve their lives, because they are not given the proper instruction of applying the lessons of Freemasonry to their personal lives. I try to bridge that gap through my podcast episodes, videos, and online courses.
Earlier this year I started a project within The Winding Stairs, called Applied Freemasonry. In this program, I give Brothers exclusive access to in depth lessons and tools to help them find the practical aspects of Freemasonry. It includes a weekly video conference where we help each Brother individually find real life solutions to the problems they may face in life, by using the teachings of Freemasonry. It is almost like a virtual mentorship session, every week. I am very proud of this program and what it is doing for the Brothers who have joined it. You can learn more about it by visiting www.TheWindingStairs.com/mentorship
Elena: What a fantastic service! Nick, you are the lead blogger on The Millennial Freemason blog. Can you share something about your blog?
Nick: I was raised in March of 2006. Being a Mason for a decade now, I have gotten to see and experience a lot of online Masonry, including this site. When I started in Masonry, we were in the bad old days of Masonry on the Internet. Most lodge sites were either 5 years behind on information or filled with construction worker gifs and bad patriotic MIDIs.
I never really intended to blog for as long as I have. When I started the blog, it’s main focus was my time at the Annual Communication of the Grand Lodge of Minnesota as Junior Warden, just months after I had been raised. I think it was more therapy than anything else. People were still maintaining LiveJournals, knowing that most weren’t being read.
One day, after writing a few blog posts, Jeff Day, who ran the blog aggregator “King Solomon’s Lodge”, noticed my site. He asked if he could include it and not thinking of it, I said, “sure.” That was the watershed moment. Now, I was getting comments daily, posts were hitting the thousands of hits in a day, and my voice was being amplified.
I have been lucky. Many of the past bloggers, all great content creators, have disappeared. It was the golden age of Masonic blogging but only a few of us are still here, like Tom Accuosti of the Tao of Masonry. And, because I’ve been blogging for so long, I sometimes feel like the old guy on the Masonic Roundtable, which is good in a way; Masonry without a grumpy Past Master would just not be Masonry.
I hope I can keep at it because of the friendships I’ve made. It’s also still a way for me to keep sane in an otherwise topsy turvy Masonic world. It’s just a nice way to stay connected. Masonic blogging still has a place and I hope to be a strong part of it.
Elena: Looks like you will, after all this time! Robert, you produce and host the weekly Podcast/internet radio program Whence Came You?
Robert: It started in 2011. I’ve been writing, hosting and producing the show for more than 5 years now. We have over 250 episodes. It started out as an idea to just do one show. That’s it. Is Freemasonry secret or not? I read a paper on that subject, hosted it and put it out on iTunes. Once I saw how many people downloaded it, I started producing it every other week and now it’s every week. So here we are, over 250 episodes, over a million downloads and it’s been ridiculously successful and so rewarding to hear from the fans of that show. The show has grown organically from the start. Now we have a whole WCY team, largely behind the curtain, but they are there. Adam Thayer is my guest host and book reviewer, Matt Dobbrow is our digital media archivist and study group coordinator, Ill. Steve Harrison is our guy for The Masonic Minute, Bill Hosler is developing a ROKU channel for us and some other tech stuff, and Frater O is our anonymous esotericist. We have a lot of fun and it’s another endeavor to spread the light of Freemasonry all over the world.
Elena: That sounds like a great team! Wait, did you say anonymous esotericist? Your information on The Masonic Roundtable website says you are also a photographer and an avid home brewer, AND you are working on three Masonic books!?
Robert: I am! I think we are all working on Masonic books, that is every Freemason who writes. I’ll believe myself when I finish one of them. Photography has always been a love of mine. I did it professionally for some years when I lived in Orange County, CA. But, when you do something for a living, the hobby becomes the burden. I still enjoy photography but now I use my phone to document everything, my SLR is packed away. As for the beer? Who doesn’t love Zymurgy?
Elena: What aspects of Freemasonry are you writing about and why in three different books?
Robert: My main project is something which has been in the works for three years and has consumed tons of time. It’s largely a book on Occult Anatomy but like nothing that’s ever been done before. I’m co-authoring the book with a good friend and brother. The hope is that it will be a book for all, not just Freemasons. The other two books focus on the Craft specifically. One will be a collection of my unpublished essays and the other is a book on Anxiety and Depression, something I’ve struggled with for the last ten years. That book ties into the craft as well, albeit loosely. It is a book I would hate to market to just one group of people, namely Freemasons.
Elena: That is wonderful, Robert. It is evident that each of you is a lover of technology, online advancements, and social media. You make great use of the programs available!
Jason: We’re constantly looking for innovative ways to leverage technology to expand the reach of Masonic education. We’re blessed to live in a world that is, for the first time in its history, truly connected. As technology continues to evolve, we hope to evolve with it. Who knows? Maybe one day we’ll all be sitting in a virtual lodge meeting together from our respective bedrooms. UGLE, the Grand Lodge of Ireland, and the Grand Lodge of Manitoba in Canada have all set precedent for a virtual Masonic experience. I think we’re on the cusp of seeing virtual lodges become normative, and I’m excited to see that happen.
Nick: I have met so many friends, including my now co-host Jon Ruark, through the many Internet hotspots I frequented, including the Sanctum Sanctorum and the Masonic Society forum. Internet Masonry has been good for me and good for the Craft as a whole because it forces us to see outside of the four lodge walls. The world is wide but flat in this new era.
In my opinion, one of the biggest issues in Masonry today is what I term, “provincial Masonry.” Masons, particularly new Masons, leave because they aren’t exposed to new and different styles of Freemasonry. It’s somewhat by design. The lodge serves as locus for Masonic activity and many brothers like that. But this lack of travel breeds insularity which, for new Masons, tells them to conform to a local style or be left outside. I’ve chatted with so many brothers who have stayed because of Internet Masonry. It’s powerful and strengthens a bond that would have otherwise broken.
Elena: Lodges, Grand Lodges, and Masons should take notes. Writing is obviously another interest you all share, in addition to your great enthusiasm and dedication to Freemasonry through technology.
Robert: We do love to write. It’s therapy.
Jason: RJ nailed it here. Writing is cathartic. It’s a way for us to express ourselves and get heard, even if our opinions don’t translate into policy changes at the Grand Lodge level.
Elena: You are definitely being heard! Jon, I need to ask a silly question. You have two cats, Tesla and Edison. I am sure this isn’t the first time someone asks you this: do they fight a lot, given that scientists Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla had a rather famous disagreement?
Jon: Ha! Edison’s the younger one and they do tumble around quite a bit still, but I still root for Tesla as part of a redemption for history! AC/DC!
Elena: How funny.
Elena: Thank you again, Knights, for this interview! Phoenixmasonry hopes to catch up with you at a later time to see what is new with the show and hosts. It was a true pleasure to interview you and good luck with year number three of this wonderful show! Don’t forget to tune in to catch The Knights of The Masonic Roundtable live every Tuesday night at 10pm ET.
Below are more interesting biographical facts on each of the Knights, more photos, and the links to all their sites:
Jon T. Ruark is a Past Master and charter member of The Patriot Lodge No. 1957 in Fairfax, VA. His Masonic interests lean toward the esoteric and philosophical aspect. He lives in Virginia with his wife, 4 children, and 2 cats; Tesla and Edison.
Jason M. Richards is the Senior Warden Acacia Lodge No. 16 in Clifton, VA, where he was raised in 2012. He is also active in the Allied Masonic Degrees and the Royal Arch. His favorite Masonic research topics include the history of American Freemasonry, the sociocultural impact of Freemasonry, and the history and evolution of Masonic mythos. He is passionate about the way Freemasonry presents itself to the outside world and, to help promote a healthy image of the fraternity, works regularly with the Grand Lodge of Virginia Committee on Public Relations. He lives in Virginia with his wife, child under construction, cats, and ever-expanding collection of bow ties.
Juan Sepúlveda is a member of Orange Blossom Lodge No. 80 F. & A.M. in Kissimmee Florida. A member of the Orlando Valley of the Ancient And Accepted Scottish Rite, S.J. He is a professional artist and public speaker focused on helping men in their pursuit of excellence. He is passionate about history, Masonic education and allegorical teachings.
Nick Johnson is a lover of codes, symbols, esoteric craziness, and “secret” stuff; he became interested in Freemasonry and its symbols as a young man. With the help of his grandfather, Bro. Nick joined Corinthian Lodge No. 67 in Farmington, MN in the spring of 2006 and served as Master in 2010. He is also a Past High Priest of Corinthian Chapter No. 33, RAM, Past Illustrious Master of Northfield Council No. 12, R&SM, the current Grand Chaplain of the Grand Council of Cryptic Masons of Minnesota, and Past Commander of Faribault Commandery No. 8. He’s also involved in AMD, Knight Masons, the York Rite Sovereign College, and is a member of the Royal Order of Scotland. He lives in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul area with his wife and kids.
Robert Johnson is a Freemason out of the First North-East District of Illinois who serves as a District Education Officer and will be following up in October as a District Deputy Grand Master. He is a Past Master and current Secretary of Waukegan Lodge #78. He’s also a member of the York Rite bodies, AMD and the Scottish Rite. In addition, he produces video shorts focusing on driving interest in the Fraternity and will write original Masonic papers from time to time. He is a husband and father of 4. He works full time in the executive medical industry. Also, he does not have any cats.
Phoenixmasonry is thrilled to have had the opportunity to interview the multi-talented artist, Ari Roussimoff. His Masonic themed paintings are phenomenal, as are his painted Masonic Aprons through which he hopes to revive an interest in the largely lost art form. It is our hope that Masons and non-Masons alike will take an interest in his work, if they haven’t done so already, as it is well worth the time!
Ari Roussimoff’s art has been shown in places such as The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Nicholas Roerich Museum, and the Chancellor Robert R. Livingston Masonic Library and Museum. Ari’s paintings are colorful, daring, culturally rich, spiritually rounded, geometrically stunning, and a clear reflection of a profound character.
Elena Llamas, Director of Public Relations for Phoenixmasonry (EL): Thank you, Ari, for this interview. Please tell us about your background.
Ari Roussimoff (AR): Thank you, Elena, for inviting me. I have been impressed for years with the Phoenixmasonry site and what it is doing to promote the culture and history of Freemasonry. As to my background, I am one of those people who cannot be pinned down to one specific place. My family and ancestors have lived in Russia, Ukraine, Poland and even Moldavia among other countries. Although I was born in Germany, the Russian and other East European cultures have always been close to my heart, as much of my artwork reflects this.
Literature, music and art were on the daily menu in my home. Over the years I have been privileged to live and work in both Europe and America.
EL: Where do you feel most at home?
AR: For the most part, I am at home inside my head and also in my heart. But certain places are quite special to me.
In Europe, Zürich, Switzerland where Mother Nature is at its finest, Amsterdam, Holland with its great collections of Old Master paintings. Any place Rembrandt lived is great.
In the United States, Miami Beach, Florida with its vivid, tropical color is fabulous. I painted its festive carnivals, cafes and crowds. Sometimes I’d even add a little nod to Freemasonry.
For example, in my panoramic Beach Café painting, I included a merry group of Shriners crossing the street while nearby stands a bearded lady holding her little son’s hand.
Another favorite place is Southern California. When based in San Diego, I’d visit Hollywood and fantasize about the great historic film world of days gone by.
A painting I did of Hollywood Boulevard features many of the classic movie stars congregating in front of the old Masonic Temple (now a television studio where they film the Jimmy Kimmel show).
Featured in the very front of my picture is silent movie legend Harold Lloyd wearing his Imperial Potentate’s Al Malaikah Shriner Fez. There are other masons in there as well: Harpo Marx, Clark Gable, John Wayne and Oliver Hardy.
EL: When and how did you first become interested in art?
AR: My father was a writer. So I grew up in a cultural European household. The first artist that spoke to me was Van Gogh. I discovered him at age seven when watching a television documentary devoted to his life and work. Van Gogh became an early passion.
Since then, I’ve collected many books on him and have hunted down his paintings in museums throughout the world.
At fourteen I discovered Rembrandt. My second passion in art. By the way, I started drawing at age three and did my first oil at seven.
[I] also started to exhibit as a child. Luckily, I had parents who supported my love of art.
EL: How wonderful! Did any current or artist in particular inspire or influence your work?
AR: As an artist, you become a sponge of sorts, soaking up influences from many sources. My breath is taken away by the Old Masters. Rembrandt, Leonardo da Vinci, Rubens, the list is endless. Leonardo was the ultimate artistic genius. Each of his paintings are hypnotic.
Some of my other loves include Byzantine art, Russian and other folk arts, Van Gogh and numerous of the moderns. Too many to mention.
“This photograph of me was taken around 1990. Salvador Dali once said that an artist should look like his work. Sounds fine to me. In this photo, I am holding a 19th century Italian Paper Mache Commedia dell’arte mask. The coat I am wearing was once worn by the great Russian Opera singer Feodor Chaliapin. He wore the coat while performing as Ivan the Terrible in Rimsky-Korsakov’s Opera, “The Maid of Pskov” in Paris. I cherish this coat with its unique theatrical history.” – Ari Roussimoff
EL: And as a teenager, you were invited to lunch with Salvador Dali and his wife Gala. What was that like?
AR: At the age of fourteen I was being managed by Theodore Karr, a representative of the Shorewood Art publishing company, a noted publisher of lithographs by some of the greatest artists in Europe.
A meeting was arranged for me to meet the great master Dail for lunch at a restaurant in the Hotel St. Regis in New York, where he lived for half the year. Our small group consisted of Dali, his wife Gala, Mr. Karr, my father and myself. Naturally I was very nervous when introduced to Dali. My knees were trembling. Surprisingly, Dali’s personality was completely different from the “crazed” image he promoted. Handsomely dressed in a three piece suit, holding a beautiful cane, Dali was polite, soft spoken and to me, he seemed a bit sad.
Then there was Gala. There was a quiet, but hostile dynamic going on between Dali and his wife. Dali’s command of English was far better than how he presented himself during filmed interviews. Oddly enough, he talked mostly about movies. He liked Hitchcock and John Wayne films. Early on Dali had collaborated with the Spanish surrealist filmmaker Luis Buñuel on two avant garde movies and in later years he worked for Alfred Hitchcock in designing a scene for “Spellbound.” Dali told us he hoped to yet do another film. Toward the conclusion of our lunch, Dali pulled out a portfolio from which he gifted me a signed artist’s proof lithograph. A man in the restaurant had recognized Dali and approached our table to ask for an autograph. Immediately, Dali turned into the eccentric madman he usually portrayed. He propped himself up, soldier like. His eyes bulged and his voice became amplified, with his language having changed into the familiar chaotic Dalinian jargon of English-French-Spanish. He graciously complied and gave the man an autograph. Upon the man’s retreat back to his table, Gala shot up off her chair and berated her husband loudly in French. Customers in the restaurant were glaring. Quite embarrassing! After we left the place, Mr. Karr attempted to explain that Gala’s rant, saying that she resented Dali drawing attention to himself, creating a spectacle. That pretty much describes my encounter with Salvador Dali.
EL: That’s an amazing story! Thank you for sharing it with us, tell us about your relationship with Masonry.
AR: I have always appreciated the great achievements of humanity while also being very much aware of the shortcomings. There isn’t a thing about the human condition that cannot be found in the Bible. Since much of my way of thinking is of biblical origin, I understood that humanity was given the ability by God to rise up to advance itself and achieve wonders to benefit one’s self and mankind.
Art played a significant role in leading me toward Freemasonry. I never felt Art was limited to esthetics. For me it became an expression of the soul. Art is a universal language. French, German, Spanish, Greek, Russian, Polish or African. Any genuine work of art transcends its ethnic origins, and translates into a universal language that speaks to all.
Walking through the streets of Los Angeles, New York and through Europe, my eye often fixated on old buildings that incorporated mystical looking designs. Often I wondered if these were Masonic decorations. My curiosity about Freemasonry started taking form.
I began to read up on the subject and absorb the philosophy and the rich culture accompanying it. What struck me early on is that some of the iconography I had known from early Christian art, such as the All Seeing Eye of God was an important essential component of Freemasonry, as is the Holy Bible. Then I was surprised to recognize similarities between Masonic symbolism and some of the mystical imagery that had been appearing in my own pictures for years.
Fascinated with the moral philosophies of Freemasonry, I was awed by the abundance of illustrious members, the great philosophers, leaders, authors, artists, musicians, philanthropists, scientists, inventors, poets, physicians. Mozart, Goethe, Voltaire, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Booker T. Washington, Kaiser Wilhelm I, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Pushkin, Oscar Wilde, Mark Twain. In my triptych that currently hangs in the Livingston Library there is a tribute to quite a few illustrious individuals who have been Masons.
Just a matter of note, in comparison to music, literature and entertainment, there were relatively few artists who were Masons.
There were numerous fine engravers. The most important sculptors and painters included Bartholdi, Hogarth, Mucha, Grant Wood, the great German expressionist Lovis Corinth (who did illustrations of lodge ceremony) and the Cubist master Juan Gris (he served as Master of his Lodge in Paris).
My keen interest eventually led me to the point where I wanted to do a film on Freemasonry. With that project in mind, I visited the wonderful Chancellor Robert R. Livingston Masonic Library & Museum of the Grand Lodge of New York in Manhattan. Their collection of materials is awesome. And everything was generously put at my disposal for study. This was in 2002. Although this particular film project has not as yet materialized, this was my road to joining. It has been an ever inspiring journey.
EL: Your work is a very skilled and inspiring contribution to the smaller body of Freemasonic art. Currently, you have art on display inside the Grand Lodge of New York building. Is there anything you would like to share about the exhibition?
AR: Yes, my paintings called Hiram’s Apron and King Solomon’s Vision, which have become widely known, were the first to be exhibited at the Livingston Masonic Library & Museum.
Currently, the museum is displaying my triptych titled Parable Of Light and Dark which consists of three paintings, which tell a symbolic story about Freemasonry through the past, present and an eye toward possibilities for the future. The first piece is called Foundations. It depicts the beginnings of Freemasonry, starting with Hiram and the building of the Holy Temple. The composition then moves upwards to Medieval times with Knighthoods and Cathedrals paving the way towards modern times.
At the very top in Foundations, I depict art and culture with portraits of Mozart, Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, Pushkin and Voltaire.
The middle painting is called Eclipse. The idea behind ‘Eclipse’ is that within any darkness, there is a light of inspiration that can, if recognized for the possibilities it offers, lead one to a positive path.
The last painting in this group is called Rebirth. Hiram and King Solomon appear at the bottom amidst the ruins of a city. The King, like Noah years before him, sends a dove out into the future. Inspired by Masonic fundamentals, the future is represented by builders constructing a new and improved civilization.
EL: Profound symbolism. It is nice that you always include your thoughts on each painting on your website and social media. Tell us about your painted Masonic Aprons. What inspired you to make them, what do you hope to accomplish through them?
AR: Painted aprons are a lost art within Freemasonry.
During the 18th and early 19th centuries, many Masonic aprons were beautifully hand painted and also embroidered. Some were folksy in style, others elaborate. Eventually came the standardization of aprons and the painted ones were relegated to the pages of history.
For my part, I wish to bring this lost Masonic tradition up into the here and now and also hopefully into the future.
My painted aprons are never imitations. They are highly symbolic, as I instill in them the classic ideals and virtues of Freemasonry. But I do this as a modern artist, with the voice coming from my soul.
Being signed artworks, it is not necessary for my aprons to be worn. They can be displayed on a wall. I am happy to say that my painted Masonic aprons are in fine collections throughout the world. And I very much love making them.
EL: Your aprons are incredible! You also do special Masonic portraits where you combine painting with photography. Tell us about that.
These are pictures I do on commission. I integrate portrait photography with my painting. Likenesses can sometimes be tricky and problematic. Even a great master like Rembrandt had occasional problems in this department.
The story goes that a man commissioned Rembrandt to do a portrait of his wife (or daughter). Upon seeing the final painting, the man was displeased because he did not see a likeness and demanded his money back. Ha. Ha. Can you imagine?!!
What I do can be called mixed-media portraits. No one will ever complain about a lack of likeness. The process consists of first, the client gives me a favorite photograph of themselves or whoever they wish me to create a portrait for.
Next, I have the photo enlarged and transferred onto a canvas of the desired measurements.
The last step is for me to paint a complete composition surrounding the photo, which I do not alter. The painted elements will reflect elements in that person’s life or imagination.
Voila! Never an issue regarding likenesses. A Lodge commissioned me to do one of the retiring Grand Master of California. It was gifted him during a special presentation ceremony. And I did one as my personal gift for the retiring Grand Secretary of New York, a wonderful man.
By the way, these pictures are also made for non-masons. I’ve created them for weddings, anniversaries, births, people’s parents. Anything someone might like to have.
EL: I read that, for you, art is a spiritual experience. Would you share with us something about the process of bringing forth such wonderful images? Spiritually speaking, what is it that you experience?
AR: For me the act of painting is like praying.
It originates in my heart and my soul.
Spirituality in art is not limited to the confines of one or another religion. It is at the very core of all life.
Painting, like prayer, is a spiritual experience. Magical in many ways. And I am certain that being a painter is what God intended for me to be.
Otherwise I’d be doing other things. Too many people depend only on the limitations of their eyesight. They’re not able to touch base with the soul. Hence the four eyes in some of my paintings.
EL: I love your four eyes theme!
AR: In this self-portrait, the two pairs of eyes have a mystical meaning.
It is my belief that one should try to develop two sets of eyes.
One set represents our innermost self: the heart, passions and spirituality. This is the soul. The other set are those of the mind: logic and intellect. All four eyes together can give one excellent vision.
In art, it isn’t required that an artwork depict a religious subject in order to be spiritual. That special spirit is very much embedded within any true work of art. Spirituality can be felt in florals, landscapes, portraits, figurative or abstract compositions and whatever. Same holds true for music, literature and all other arts.
EL: On your website, linked here at the end of this interview, in addition to Masonic subjects, your art is presented in three other categories: Old Russia, Jewish life, Phantasmagoria.
AR: These are among the subjects I have painted throughout my life.
Art has been my lifelong passion. It is easiest to categorize works by subjects. There is also a general section called “Newest Works” featuring a cross section of paintings and also an interview. We are preparing to update the site. There are lots of new additions and improvements coming!
EL: I can’t wait to see what you’ll do next! You are also an award-winning director of motion pictures and have created sets for Broadway shows. You have done costume design, performance art, and have hosted a three-part television music program on MTV.
AR: All the arts are related. Being primarily visually oriented and a lover of classic movies, it had long been a desire to also express myself in film.
My first feature was a surrealist horror film featuring a cast of underground stars, even several Andy Warhol superstars. Federico Fellini, the brilliant Italian filmmaker, saw a rough edit of some of the early footage of bikers, and his admiration brought us further funding.
My best movie was the documentary Freaks Uncensored: A Human Sideshow which took years of research and dealt with the history of physical human anomalies throughout the ages. My significant other of many years Vivian Forlander wrote the screenplay and I directed it. It opened at the Anthology Film Archives in New York, to standing room only crowds and has been released on both VHS and DVD.
As for MTV, I hosted a special three-episode Russian style spoof of the MTV hits countdown. It was called MTV-ski and I was the Russian V-J, all dressed up in fur hat and rubaschka, peasant blouse. My old performance group went under the name “The Trans-Siberian Cossacks”, We performed in theaters, discos and art galleries.
As for the stage, I was chosen by impresario Ralph Mercado to create sets and paint a mural for an Eastern European show he was importing from Argentina.
“LIVE APPEARANCE AT NYC’S LIMELIGHT DISCO (1991)
Here I am on stage in 1991 with my old performance troupe “The Trans-Siberian Cossacks”. We are doing a live multi-media show at the Limelight Club in New York City. While our group lovingly exhibited Russian style, the name cossack was used metaphorically for individualism and inspired rebelliousness against status-quo trends (the initial meaning of cossack was rebel). We performed our uniquely circus-like shows in theaters, art galleries and discos. Venues ranged from the Limelight to Howard Guttenplan’s Millennium Film Workshop. This was a great way to incorporate elements of theater, painting, music and film. Cast members would often be interchangeable (based on locations). Performers included: Big Bob Bear, Clayton Patterson, Valerie Caris, Taylor Mead, The Magnificent Lori “W”, Vivi-Vixen and Brooks Rogers. In this photo at the Limelight, Clayton Patterson is the man holding the flag and the Queen of house music herself, Screamin’ Rachel is doing her wild thing in the far right, under the big screen (where we presented excerpts from one of my films).
It has been quite a few years now since I have retired “The Trans-Siberian Cossacks” (although occasionally, I get an urge to resurrect them). Even nowadays when giving a talk on my paintings, I like incorporating various elements. It makes for a more stimulating and also fun presentation.”
EL: In a way, the group has been resurrected in your work. Ari, what else would you like to mention that I didn’t ask?
AR: Just this week, I completed a Masonic composition which I call Pyramid Of Light.
Currently I am putting finishing touches to a painted apron. There are a multitude of paintings stored inside me, each competing against the others to make its way out and onto canvas first. And I haven’t a clue which one it will be. Freemasonry, with its great teachings of morality and positive energy, provide me with tremendous inspiration. I hope to do many paintings in that direction.
EL: The readers and I are hoping too, Ari, I am sure.
EL: Let’s end this interview with some of your amazing paintings. Thank you very much for letting us pick your brain. We would love to check-in with you periodically to let our readers know what you are up to.
Brother John “Corky” Wheeler Daut passed away July 11, 2016 at the age of 88. In his earlier years he was Superintendent of the Department of Solid Waste for Houston, Texas. Later he was to open his own business, Daut’s Repair Service, repairing small engines and sharpening saws. Towards the end of his life he operated Pine Island Pen Works specializing in the manufacture and sale of wooden writing pens.
But he is best known for “The Small Town Texas Masons E-Magazine”that he published every month. It was a prodigious undertaking that included Masonic articles from all over the world. From Masonic News to esoteric studies to writings from the Old Masters and everything in between, the magazine covered the thought and the going-ons of Freemasonry. He wrote the last edition just weeks before his death. He also published a newsletter-magazine for his own Lodge, Waller Lodge of Pine Island Texas where he touted, “We Are The Largest, ‘Small Town Texas Lodge’ Web Site, On The Internet, Over 100 Pages of Masonic Information and Education.”
He was raised to a Master Mason in the Cedar Bayou Lodge #321 at the age of 64. Later he joined Humble Lodge #79 but demitted from both when he moved to Pine Island Texas. There he joined Waller Lodge #808 and became its Master in 2005. Along the way he affiliated with Hempsted Lodge #749 and became its Secretary.
Brother Daut’s enthusiasm for the Craft and his outreach to Masons all over the world from a small Texas community makes his accomplishments all the more laudable. He showed the world what can be done when your heart is in the right place and you possess and display the peace and harmony that Masonry teaches you.
“Well done, thou good and faithful servant! Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord!”