The Lost Symbol – The Symbol of the Symbolism

Dürer_Melancholia_I

The reason to approach the review in 2 parts is that in the aftermath of National Treasure, Freemasons were well versed to talk about the founding fathers and the Knights Templar.  With the lost symbol, lodges and individual Masons need to be just as prepared to talk about Hermetica, Gnosticism, and symbolism, especially as the book speaks to the wide tolerance of the fraternity to all faiths.

Key points brought up in the book start at the very prologue in the Quote from Manly P. Hall’s The Secret Teachings of All Ages when he quoted “To live in the world without becoming aware of the meaning of the world is like wandering about in a great library without touching the books.” Brown circumvented the patriotic picture of Washington (the man) and went directly to the post war enlightenment that tapped into the ideas of Francis Bacon’s  New Atlantis and Hermetica’s deism (all faiths beginning at one source).

In The Lost Symbol, Pike gets a quick mention, but the Scottish Rite’s deep resonance with the ancient mystery schools was very clear and it is my supposition that those who are attracted to the fraternity following this book will come with those things in mind, and in coming, they will want to talk about and find resonance with the fraternity.


Read Part 1: The Lost Symbol – A Review


So, to the question, is the symbolism right, did Brown get the symbolic connections remotely correct, or did he tap into the wide field of myths and supposition that exists at the foot of the “Masonic pyramid?”  Often, that answer is an individual one, that many tend to think totally out of line with what the modern fraternity represents.  It is more social than esoteric, the symbols are just that symbolic, and no further reading need be made into them.  Or even harsher, that the symbols were important in the past, but today they are meaningless.  I think the answer lies in the school of Masonic thought that you find yourself in.

Some of the Key texts that Brown refers to are the Kybalion, written by br. Paul Foster Case under the pseudonym the Three Mystics, The New Atlantis, mentioned above, by Francis Bacon , a mere 6 years following the founding of the “new world” and the landing at Plymouth Rock in 1620.  He also references Albrecht Durer, the prolific artist of the Renaissance who created many images, including Melencolia I, often seen as the height of the Christian Mysticism in art, as it depicts the confounded and pondering mystic and the materials of his practice.  Each of these are bits and pieces outside the sphere of the three degrees, but still factor large (or should) in the study of Freemasonry.

Holy Saints John
Holy Saints John

One element that Brown focuses on is the alchemical symbol of gold, something in Masonic circles is referenced to as the point within the circle, what Brown calls the circumpunct, that all Masons recognize as being flanked by the Holy Saint John’s and crowned with the Volume of the Sacred Law.

The individual symbols are not so much the concern from the book, but the level of readiness over the ease of disregarding them and the discussion of their meaning.  Is the lodge room ready to talk symbolism and its speculative nature?  Are you, reading this now, ready to dialog with an interested party on the symbolism even on a surface level?

I think all will agree that the book is a work of fiction, but even a work of fiction unless wholly constructed with imaginary creatures and alien landscapes will still speak to and communicate a message, and Freemasonry needs to be ready to speak to that message even if it includes flights of fancy and imagination. 

TLS

Central in Brown’s fiction is Freemasonry’s connection to the ancient mystery schools, and like it or not, that will be the message that those who have read the book will come to the lodge seeking.  Few will likely come away with the greater subtext of the fraternity and the its more visceral purpose, the unification of like minded men, the sincerity of the belief that Masonry teaches something deeper than an inexpensive spaghetti dinner and some handshakes between strangers.

The Lost Symbol will ultimately be a good opportunity for Freemasonry to shine and inspire those new to its doors to seek out more. But it will definitely require us to be on point and be able to answer the questions put forth by those newcomers. Brown mentioned it at the end of his book, the words on the back of the tylers chair at the House of the Temple, “Know Thy Self”, but I would add, in knowing our self, we will know the divine.

The Lost Symbol – A Review

lostsymbol

This review in two parts, one from a lay reader perspective, and one from a Masonic perspective.

The Masonic perspective can be found here.

Dan Brown’s new book, The Lost Symbol,  reminded me of a parable.  A parable is a story embellished with perhaps some grains of reality to convey a broader idea of truth.  Dan Brown in his new book, The Lost Symbol, has artfully woven an update of an ancient parable into a modern suspense novel that features prominently the one group that should be most apt to see the connection, the Freemasons.  Freemasonry, a fraternity “veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols”, is central to the plot under pinning’s, but by its end, merely the back drop by which the modern parable is played out.

Brown, at his finest, is a genius at writing parables.  The The Da Vinci Code is a prime example, the telling of the story of the Christ, but not as a divine emanation of God, but rather a mortal man who walked the earth like the rest of us.  Brown’s novel was a work of fiction then, just as it is now with his release of the The Lost Symbol.  But artfully, he weaves in elements of reality and fact, so as to set his stage onto which the story unfolds, perhaps to give it a greater link into reality, or to simply paint enough real figures into the work so the less (or not real) elements blend in to diffuse with the rest.  The more believable the story, the more real it feels for the reader.


Read Part 2: The Lost Symbol – The Symbol of the Symbolism


In his latest book, The Lost Symbol, Brown brings the story immediately to your feet, sweeping the reader into the air with anti-hero Robert Langdon.  These first steps, however are only after a mysterious initiation with libations from a skull.  Better to start the mysterious early.  With this rapid start, and dubious ceremony, Brown wastes no time in introducing the cast of players and introducing suspicions of who is and who isn’t to be trusted.  It works for Brown’s novels; they are after all suspense thrillers.  With our cast in place, the story then begins to unfold at whip shot pace.

I do wonder if the book was conceived on a walking tour of Washington, as in the unfolding pages, the actions and activities seem to be bullet points on a map of D.C. rather than more well thought out (or conceived) stages.  It seems most of Langdon’s ah-ha moments happen in the less important rooms of these Washington landmarks.  Sub sub basements, kitchens, and church offices hardly seem as sexy as the Vatican library, but their mundane setting is really the same places all of us have time to reflect and think in our day to day life.  This secondary settings may be a clever illusion to the importance of the idea of discover of the inner sanctum to which we each must travel for our own discoveries, but again, this is Dan brown, and he is writing about the allegorical and symbolic Masons, so you must treat the text with just as much symbolic verve.  And brown’s use of these locations give clues to the broader idea of the story too, the chamber of reflection in the U.S. Capitol (inner journey), the Library of Congress (learning, knowledge), and the National Cathedral (where church and state meet).

Science plays an interesting role in this book too, and with another Masonic twist.  The nascent field of Noetic Sciences features large here, but not in a first person the reason de etre way, but in a “this is similar to this” allegorical way.  Religious mysticism (of all religions) is really at the core of this new science, but besides being an early plot point and step stone to link Freemasonry, mysticism, and Noetic Sciences, the new science field really doesn’t come into play, in the same way it did in Angels and Demons.  It was, almost, another symbolic back drop to the whole story, interesting, and connective, but not vital, not the story itself.

dollar

As I mentioned, this review will be split in two, and the goal of the 2nd is to look more at the Masonic connections and connotations.  But as the book itself was about Freemasonry, it is important to note that Brown’s treatment of Masonry was very tender, almost to much so.  Early on, Brown goes to GREAT lengths to debunk and say what Freemasonry isn’t, covering the “is masonry a religion” issue, and even guffawing at the notion of secret geometric grids in the streets of Washington.  Even the infamous MASON on the great seal on the back of the 1 dollar bill gets a quick walk on, only to of been used as a dodge for something else.  Brown really did write this book with the fate of Freemasonry in mind, in parts almost writing as if he were creating one of our own brochures (perhaps off which he copied his passage) saying very strongly in his main character’s voice “In this age when different cultures are killing each other over whose definition of God is better, one could say the Masonic tradition of tolerance and open-mindedness is commendable.” Brown does go out of his way to weave in all manner of Hermetic, Gnostic, Rosicrucian, and Cabalistic ideas into the offering, but not in a way to dominate the reader into submission of belief, but to paint the picture that the ideas of Freemasonry, in their age and wisdom, are not wholly a Judeo-Christian construct, more on that in a bit in part 2.

Like past Brown novels, the story soon out paces the stage settings and takes over as a thriller and this book is no different.  Its pace reaching a fever pitch of intrigue, manipulation, and murder, while embroiled in the ancient mystery of a “Masonic pyramid”.  There are a few gasp moments for the reader, and plot spins that I didn’t see coming until hit square in the face by them.  And the story winds out with a tragic dilemma, which brings me back to the idea that the story itself was a modern retelling of an ancient parable.

:: spoiler alert::

caravagio_abraham

Caravaggio (1573-1610) The Sacrifice of Isaac

The parable I mention is from the bible.  In that sacred text, very early in Genesis (chapter 22 to be exact) Abraham is commanded by God to sacrifice his son Isaac as a show of his allegiance to his faith in God.  In that past parable, the test of faith is tremendous as the eldest born of Abraham is the greatest sacrifice that he can give, and give he does, willing at the command of God.  In the very last seconds, Abraham is spared, his faith proven, and a ram is substituted for his son.  In the climax of The Lost Symbol, that same test of faith is presented, but for a different outcome.  As Abraham was to be the one giving sacrifice, the protagonist of the story, Peter Solomon is in that Abrahamic position, and knowing what the consequences were for the sacrifice he was forced to make, he still chose to not make that sacrifice, choosing to follow his heart.  Symbolically, in a book about allegory and symbol, it stuck me that the story was alluding to a transition from one of Abraham’s blind faith (as an external salvation, doctrinal, dogmatic, and absolute), to man believing in the faith within us, that by our acts and intentions we were communing with the divine, which is a Gnostic outlook that sacrifice, in totality, is not necessary and in the end destructive.

The reason for this conclusion seems to me to be based in the preceding pages as repeatedly the ideas of the Hermetic law were repeated and stressed (As Above, So Below) and the bomb of the protagonist was not one of physical destruction, but of ideological chaos.  To sacrifice the son would still bring chaos, absolute destruction, personally and publically.

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The story wraps up and all the loose ends become tied in the neat bows that Brown manages to make following so many leads and loose ends.  But the way in which the book reached its crescendo, not in a fiery explosion or an earth shattering revelation of biblical purport, was lack luster.  The inclusion of the CIA, the cavalcade of 33rd degree masons and publicity of the who’s-who of Washington seemed to me an interesting plot point, but hardly reason to blow up historical property, and murder several innocent bystanders, but then, this is a suspense novel, and this YouTubian plot device was just as much a stage setting as the Masons themselves (twitter even got a mention to put the story in a contemporary but soon to be outdated setting).

Really, would the world be so traumatized to see people, who are already pretty open about being Masons, being Masons?

In the end, it was a good book, fun, flighty, suspenseful, with a few a-ha and gasp moments.  Was it worth the 5 year wait, I’ll let you be the judge, but it was a nice testament to Freemasonry, and very tasteful in its portrayal of the ancient and honorable fraternity, to which I say thank you to Dan Brown.  I give the book 7.5 out of 10 stars, and can say that I enjoyed reading it, and I think that you will too.

For those who read the book, but are wondering what Freemasonry is about, I recommend this Free E-book “What is Freemasonry?.”

What is Freemasonry? A Free eBook

what is Freemasonry, ebook, text

Download What is Freemasonry?
right click the link and save as.

“What is Freemasonry?” is a NEW and FREE e-book.

An essential guide in understanding the Modern Fraternity.

To download, right click on your mouse and select “save as.”

The goal of this e-book is to make available some of the lesser discussed details of the contemporary fraternity.

Read Freemasonry FAQs.

Many books have been written about Freemasonry’s “occult” symbolism, the assertion of its quasi religious practice, the connections between Freemasonry and the founding fathers, and the bizarre layout of Washington D.C. Each of these texts offer a glimpse into the present tense fraternity, as they ask the same questions that many masons themselves ask.  But those books fall short of answering questions put forth by those without any prior knowledge of the craft.  That is why this book is a must read for anyone asking the question “What is Freemasonry?”

what_is_Freemasonry_ebook
Download your FREE copy NOW!

As the fraternity enters into the 21st century digital age, there needed to be an answer to that question.  There needed to be an easier way to communicate the particulars of what Freemasonry is today, right now, which is at the heart of this free e-book.

What have others have said about this ebook?

I encourage you to download the e-book, read it, and share it with others.  As you go through it, I hope that it will help you to explore the questions put forth in it that describe what the modern fraternity is today and how it exists in the present.

Greg Stewart – Masonic Traveler
email me at: masonictraveler@gmail.com
Freemason Information Digital Masonic Magazine
On Twitter twitter.com/masonictraveler

Tribute to a Masonic Icon

The Prince Hall Memorial will not bear its namesake’s image when it is erected on Cambridge Common this November. No pictures of the indentured servant-turned-abolitionist can be found, nor much description on which to base an artist’s depiction.

And while Prince Hall’s contributions to American history and the antislavery movement are familiar to historians and members of the Masonic lodge he created, he is not a well-known figure.

Read the entire store from The Boston Globe

Masonic Central pod cast Table Talk – Back to School!

Join us tonight for Masonic Central tonight as we host another edition of our Table Talk and catch up on the events and goings on of the fraternity in the last few weeks of Freemasonry.  This is also an opportunity to ask the hosts any questions that you may have about the fraternity, the show, or just call in with your questions and comments.  We always love to hear from everyone out there listening, and tonight is the night to call in!  Some of the topics in the air is a follow up to the social media discussion from last week, the upcoming Dan Brown book “The Lost Symbol”, and an exciting symposium coming together in 2010 in Kansas.

Missed the LIVE program?  Listen NOW!
or Download

Join us for this special hour long program on Masonic Central Sunday, September 6th starting at 6pm PDT/9pm EST. For your questions and comments to the show call: (347) 677-0936 during the program.

Also you can listen to the program live from our home at Masonic Central on Blog Talk Radio and join in with our live program chat, or from our player widget on our website at Freemason Information.

Michael Jackson’s Masonic Resting Place

Michael Jackson is said to be interred in his final resting place today at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California.  But few, outside of certain circles, know that amidst the beautiful statues and reliquaries stands a lonely Masonic memorial, that is in fact one of the largest sculptures on the grounds.

Once upon a time, Freemasonry was huge in Los Angeles, so big in fact that it managed to carve out a section of the now prestigious cemetery to the stars.

Buried on the grounds of the park are celebrities a plenty including: Clark Gable, Jimmy Stewart, Jean Harlow, Humphrey Bogart, Mary Pickford, Errol Flynn, Spencer Tracy, George Burns & Gracie Allen, W.C. Fields, Tom Mix, Clayton Moore, Sammy Davis Jr., Walt Disney, Red Skelton, Robert Young, Lon Chaney, Nat King Cole, Sid Grauman, Louis L’Amour to name but a few.  And for those really paying attention, you may notice a few Masonic Brothers on the list.

There in a quiet and some what isolated corner of the park stands a lone Masonic memorial surrounded by hundreds (maybe thousands) of grave markers decorated not by the signs of their respective faiths but by the Square and Compass.  After looking around for a few minutes, it becomes clear that this portion of the cemetery is a Masonic cemetery.

And, its no surprise, the founder of the Memorial Park himself was a brother of the white apron, whose Masonic history is chronicled in Denslow’s 10,000 Famous Freemasons saying of him:

Hubert Eaton – (June 3, 1881 – September 20, 1966) Originator of the “memorial-park” plan for cemeteries, substituting tablets set level with the lawn for tombstones, providing art collections, historical buildings, etc., thereby revolutionizing cemeteries throughout the U.S. He is known as “the builder” of Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, Calif., which is noted for its collection of stained glass works of American sculptors and recreations of Last Supper and Calvary. b. June 3, 1881 at Liberty, Mo., he graduated from William Jewell Coll. in Liberty in 1902. A chemist, he has been associated with many of the main mining companies of America including Anaconda, Teziutlan Copper (Mexico), Adaven Mining (Nev.). Raised in Euclid Lodge No. 58, Great Falls, Mont. in 1905 and presently member of Southern California Lodge No. 278, Los Angeles. Member of Liberty Chapter No. 3, R.A.M., Liberty, Mo., Los Angeles Commandery No. 9, K.T., Al Malaikah Shrine of Los Angeles and of Shrine Patrol. Served as junior deacon of his lodge.

In 2007, I was able to spend the afternoon at the memorial with my wife, and during that brief excursion, I was able to explore the reverential memorial, and pay homage to my beloved passed brethren.  With so many passed fellow travelers in the shadow of the memorial, and the monument itself, the experience impressed upon me that at one point (in the not to distant past) Freemasonry was HUGE here and really important to these brothers laid to rest around the memorial.

Read more on Masonic Art in Los Angeles.

Rather than go into great detail in describing the memorial, I’ll let the visuals speak for themselves.  But I do want to say that despite all the hoopla of the media circus that will surround Michael Jackson’s final resting place, the cemetery of his choosing is also a quiet memorial to Freemasonry and the brothers who have come this way before.

Click the thumbnail for a larger image.

Social Media & the Non-Profit – How Social Media is vital to fraternities

A few weeks back we explored the ideas of Social Media as it intersected with Secret Societies, creating the shift from restricted knowledge to an open communication in the 21st century -ciphers replaced with pixels and WYSIWYG editors.  Today, Social Media has surpassed the expectations of those who declared it a passing trend and it has become a vital component of any individual or business that wants to build their brand and broadcast their message to an ever increasing audience.

Missed the Live Program?  Listen NOW!
or Download a copy

This is more than Mafia Wars, Bejeweled, or What famous actor are you test.  This is the creation and delivery of a messages and content that readers will grow to trust, will grow to rely upon, and will look to for opinion.

In other words, Social Media is not going away and that both For Profits and Non Profits need to understand the important role it plays in communicating their unique brand message.  Why is participating in Social media important?  By participating, organizations are able to project their own message and content and have conversations with other people about it.

Joining us this week on Masonic Central are two guests who are experts in the field of Social Media and Marketing Communication:

Br. Giles Crouch who has nearly 20 years of marketing communications experience, is co-founded of MediaBadger, a Social Media & Web PR firm. He is an active Mason for 10 years, and is presently Worshipful Master of Ad Astra Lodge in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Br. Glen Gilmore, better known in social media circles as “Trend Tracker.”.  Glen is a social media consultant who is currently listed in the “Top 100 Twitter Elite” as established by TwitterGrader.  He is one of the most followed people on Twitter focusing on the subject of social media.  He serves as the Social Media Director for the New Jersey Hall of Fame.  Glen has been a Mason for over 20 years and is also a member of the Scottish Rite.

Brothers Giles and Glen will compare notes with Dean and Greg on the growing role of Social Media’s message and brand building power and why it is a vital component to every non-profits strategy to connect with the world.

Join us for this special hour and a half long program on Masonic Central this Sunday, August 30th starting at 6pm PDT/9pm EST. For your questions and comments to the guest live on the air call: (347) 677-0936 during the program.

Also you can listen to the program live from our home at Masonic Central on Blog Talk Radio and join in with our live program chat, or from our player widget on our website at Freemason Information.

Organizations lose their relevance when the rate of internal change lags the pace of external change.

Business Writer Gary Hamel of the Wall Street Journal is a bit of an outsider when it comes to religion. His background is much more wall street than the pulpit.  I have no doubt that in his life he has had some experience in regards to faith, but, based on his writing credentials, Hamel is a very serious expert on business.

So what was surprising to me was to read an article that he penned in the Wall Street Journal about a conference that he attended and spoke at for Willow Creek Community Church.  The article appeared in the Wall Street Journal’s blogs section and was filed under the title “Organized Religion’s ‘Management Problem’”.  And, in a nut shell, it analyzed the growing decrease in church attendance and the lack of shake up taking place in the churches at the front of providing the service to the attendees.  Essentially, he addressed the lack of response by churches to the change in attendance comparing it to the business sector, where a business to act in the same manner when faced with the same problem. The analogy was simple, quoting from Hamel:

Organizations lose their relevance when the rate of internal change lags the pace of external change. And that’s the problem that besets many churches today. And guess what?  A lot of secular institutions are in the same boat (Freemasonry). Think about General Motors, Sony, Motorola, United Airlines, AOL, Yahoo, Sears, Starbucks—how have these companies been doing in recent years? Not too well. And not just because of the recession, but because they got stuck in the mud; they fell in love with status quo. Their employees were prisoners of precedent, locked in jails run by the custodians of convention. …Your problem isn’t unique, and it isn’t materialism, atheism, skepticism or relativism—it’s institutional inertia. And if it makes you feel better, it’s not entirely your fault. Like leaders everywhere, you’ve been mugged by change.

The rant that Hamel goes into (his words, not mine) is a good lesson to learn from, and recitation of an old rally cry, that change is necessary, t least in some respect, and that from it, new growth can come. Quoting again from Hamel:

Historically, business leaders and church leaders didn’t have to worry about fundamental paradigm shifts. They could safely assume that their basic business models would last forever. In the case of church, this meant loyal pew-warmers who would show up every week, sit passively through the same unvarying church service, drop $20 into the plate as it passed, and politely shake the pastor’s hand as they headed off for lunch. But business models aren’t eternal—and their mortality rate has been rising. In industry after industry we’ve witnessed profound paradigm shifts . . .

There is a lesson to be learned here.  Does the same business model from 60 years ago apply today? Hamel continued:

The Second Law of Thermodynamics applies to organizations as well physical systems. Over time, visions become strategies, strategies get codified into policies, policies spawn practices, and practices become habits. That’s organizational entropy—and it’s why success is usually a self-correcting phenomenon. And it’s also why the hard thing—the really hard thing, isn’t inventing a brilliant strategy, but reinventing it! Given all of this, the most critical advantage a church (or any other organization) can build is an “evolutionary advantage”—an ability to constantly morph and adapt.

And, drawing from Hamel again:

Moreover, it’s usually necessary to decapitate the old leadership team before an organization can embark on a new course. In other words, fundamental change in large organizations happens the same way it happens in poorly governed dictatorships—belatedly, infrequently and convulsively. And that’s pathetic. It shouldn’t take the organizational equivalent of a deathbed experience to spur renewal. We need to change the way we change. Over the centuries, religion has become institutionalized, and in the process encrusted with elaborate hierarchies, top-heavy bureaucracies, highly specialized roles and reflexive routines. (Kinda like your company, but only more so). Religion won’t regain its relevance until church leaders chip off these calcified layers, rediscover their sense of mission, and set themselves free to reinvent “church” for a new age.

Really, there are some very sound bits in here, that Freemasonry can learn from, or that it can learn from before its to late. I highly recommend you read the article by Gary Hamel, and if you find it worthy, forward it along to your Grand Lodge leadership.  There is still time to adjust the rate of internal change before it lags to far behind the pace of external change and we get lost in obscurity.

Masonic symbolism is skate punk cool.

Skateboards, the mode of recognition.

Skateboards, the mode of recognition.

You never know who you might meet when your out and about.  One of the cool factors of Freemasonry is that pretty much anyone you meet who has the square and compass somewhere on their person is a person you can trust and that that you have an undercurrent of social commonality with one another.

As a quick example, I can’t keep count anymore of how many brothers I’ve met on my commute who fly our emblematic device on their bumper.  And its a good feeling to be the company, even if sitting in traffic.  Its an even better feeling when its in person and the brother that you meet is sporting a ring, lapel pin, or t-shirt.  You know almost instantly that the person with wearing it is an instant friend.

But, that seems to be shifting, especially as the fraternity is mushrooming into the broader material culture and the symbolism is being appropriated for more and more non-Masoninc commercial endeavors and ending up as logos or devices for particular brands.  This was evident a few weeks ago with the Angel and Airwaves logo for their new album.

Br. Hodapp posted up not to long ago a shirt lifted by Old Navy that used a wings up double headed eagle on one of its new shirts.  But yesterday I had the first hand experience of encountering one of these T’s in the field and a startling realization came over me.

Anthony Van Engelen Square and Compass Tee

Anthony Van Engelen Square and Compass Tee

What I realized was the question of whether I could trust the person wearing the device or not as a brother.  The reason the thought rolled through my head was because the mark wasn’t a subtle to headed eagle or a scimitar or star…  No, what I saw was a new shirt out from Van’s Shoes apparel line under Anthony Van Engelen who is one of their Pro Skaters.  A quick search on the web and I couldn’t turn up anything to suggest that Van Engelen  is a Mason, more likely some off shore designer was building an apparel line and thought the design was cool and skater worthy and the picked it up for his “style” (to many years in the apparel/branding industry has jaded me).

So, the broader question I’m left with is that as the  emblems that we use to know a brother in the “regular” world become more common as a design device, can we so easily trust the wearer as a brother, or does it erode the fraternities logos to be just another brand device to sell into pop culture?  The easy answer is that you can still approach someone and ask if they’re a traveler, but does it signify on a deeper level a break down of Masonry’s control of its own means to unite men outside of lodge?

Maybe it just means that Freemasonry will be cooler in the skateboarder world.

What do you think?

Freemasonry in Material Culture – the Freemason DJ Remixers

This originally appeared in July of 2006 on the Masonic Traveler blog.

The interview was relevent then, but more so today as both the footprint of the fraternity and the DJ’s of the same name have grown in those three years.

Their website has changed, but you can now find them on MySpace, and their success has grown, touting now * 5 Consecutive UK Hit Singles, a Debut album ‘Unmixed’ which has gone silver, Grammy Nominations for their Remixes, and an international demand and following, so too has their list of performers that they have remixed Beyonce and Shakira’s “Beautiful liar” that hit the No 1 spot for weeks some 8 months in the UK, Kelly Rowland’s “Work”, as well as others

All of this under the name Freemasons.  I thought it relevant in light of the Angels and Airwaves piece recently to revisit the last time I found something like this.

So, without further adieu, here is the original interview, and some updates on the music of the Freemasons.

Freemasonry is not a thing to be possessed. Nor is it something that is uniquely owned by anyone. As such, the influence and ideas of the ancient fraternity reach even beyond the walls of our ancient institution and seep into society at large. Does one influence the other? I would say yes, and can point to several institutions established on the Framework of Freemasonry. But that is not the purpose of this article.

Freemasonry is not limited to itself and is a part of society at large. One such example of this is the Electronic dance music produced by the DJ Remixers FREEMASONS (aka Freemaison). They are not a Masonic band assembled by a lodge or a Rite, nor is it a free formed band consisting of Masonic brothers. They are a product of the material culture around us.

Coming from the Brighton area in England, they are shaping a larger and larger presence for themselves and the music industry. So far they have worked with and remixed Fat Boy Slim, Marvin Gaye, Faith Evans, Heather Headley, and Jamiroquai to name but a few. Described as “modern disco”, Freemason is becoming a fixed urban name on the music landscape. One item to note, they go by the name Freemsons, but also with another spelling – Freemaison, which I took to translate into “Free House”, which is a liberating expression of their sound.

I spent a short time talking to James Wiltshire who is one half of the DJ collective who has adopted the name Freemasons. While not members of the fraternity, I think you’ll enjoy their answers and see one point that the fraternity has left its mark on our socities material culture.

FRM2
MT: Who are The Freemasons (Freemaisons)?
JW: We are Russell Small and James Wiltshire

MT: How and when did the band evolve? How did you come up with the Name Freemason/Freemaison?
JW: We worked together on previous dance music projects , but about 18 months ago work stated in ernest as we watched the first single grow from a simple Underground level (on 12″ Vinyl originally!!) to a level that was going to gain entry into the UK singles market… As the promotion gathered momentum we named ourselves after The Freemasons Arms at the top of Russell’s road….

Brighton has a long masonic history (one of the largest lodges is just around the corner from the pub in question) … The building where our studio is (again in the same road) used to be an old coach house, and as The Freemasons arms has been a licenced premises for many, many years, perhaps the name of the pub comes from it’s signifigance as a meeting point.
pfreemasonsshakedown2co
MT: Are any of you Freemasons?
JW: If we were, would we reveal ourselves so easily?

MT: How, if at all, does your name influence your music?
JW: Directly, our name probably does not influence our music… However, between ourselves – the creative engine of the project , Our record company (an independant called Loaded, based again in Brighton) and our manager, we are a group of people working hard and together, playing on each others strengths , and supporting each other to further our work and business… That does seem very similar to the ethos of the Freemasons….

Many months ago, when the band was in its infancy, I had to visit
London to remove myself from another project that was, in my opinion going in a direction I felt uncomfotable with. A young singer was involved and various business angles of a new recording were being kept from her, and I was going to have to compromise my beliefs in the way I like business to be conducted….

The meeting was painful and the conversation turned ugly….

On the train back to Brighton that night, I was quite upset to think that my chosen industry should be so full of deceit…. Five men came and sat around me moments before the train pulled off – they had been to a party thrown by the Mayor of London.

As we sped south, I overheard much of their conversation, work, jokes, memories of other nights out and even memories of times served abroad with the army…. One gentleman took a great interest in my laptop as he was thinking of buying his son one for christmas, and was facinated to find out I used computers to make music….. By the time the train was pulling into the station, I had cheered up no end – It’s very inspiring to know that a group of friends who had obviously worked together in some way for years, still had such great respect for each other…. As they left, their last conversations were of meetings at their respective lodges – I had just shared the journey with 5 Freemasons.

We had named our band they day before – Life has a beautiful way of showing you the correct path

MT: How would you describe your music to people who have never heard of you?
JW: Soulful electronic dance music

MT: What is your creative process in approaching your music?
JW: The creative process can take many courses…. It may be a simple musical idea or hook that triggers off an idea for a complete track, or the beginnings of a song … We are both

frm1MT: What do you want to accomplish in creating it?
JW: Sometimes, personally, the act of creation alone can be reward enough… we have both in the past completed a lot of music that has never really gone further than the ears of ourselves and our friends, but anyone creating wishes to have their work appreciated by others – we have been lucky enough to see that happen a lot in recent months… As dance music is designed to be played to an audience, and we have been able to watch the reactions ourselves as DJ’s , we are lucky to see the direct response in people… there is nothing quite like seeing a club full of people whoop and cheer when you play your own records and suddenly they start to recognise it from the introduction…. From a business level, we want to further ourselves and our profile, work with great musicians and singers and create even better music….. we often joke that we have the best job in the world – what we do seems to make people’s days better

MT: Does your audience influence your creative process?
JW: Absolutely, without people dancing and enjoying our music , we would’nt be able to run a successful business…. trends and fashions within music might change, but people will always want to dance, we’ve just got to try and make records that they can dance to

MT: What do you feel are your greatest hurdles? Your greatest strengths?
JW: One of the greatest hurdles at the moment in the music industry is the volume of sales – it now takes just 8,000 copies a week to gain entry to the UK top 20 and that is not enough to support single releases … Illegal Downloads threaten the integrity and quality of all music as if things carry on , there will soon be no financially viable retail outlets …. Working independantly also can prove difficult as the whole machine is now powered in favour of the Major lables…. Our greatest strengths however lie in the fact that we can make master recordings very cheaply now thanks to technology and that our music makes people enjoy themselves – Music can be such a release (as any good art form should be) – it is inspiring to hear from fans that they enjoy our work as much as we do making it.

MT: Any upcoming projects to watch for?fm3
JW:We have just completed a remix of Beyonce’s new single (see above for the video) – She has now reached iconic status within the music industry and we are very proud to have been asked … We have also completed a new single featuring the wonderful vocals of Seidah Garrett (who co-wrote Michael Jackson’s Man In the mirror and dueted with him on “I just can’t stop loving you” … the new single will be followed by a hybrid Compilation and artist album containing the best of our work to date.

My thanks to James who took the time in 2006 to answer my questions, and its good to see that their success has grown.

And their latest release, ironically (perhaps) its title is the ultimate message of Freemasonry
Love is the Answer

Freemason Remix with Kyle Minogue

Freemason Remix with Moby