Aquila, better known in Masonic parlance as the Roman Eagle, was considered in ancient times to be a symbol of strength, courage, and immortality. The signa militaria[i] of the Roman military under Gaius Marius (104 BC), the war standard was made of silver or bronze and served more as a holy war relic than mere militaristic emblem of the Roman Legions.
Wells, in his Masonic short talk of 1915, says of the eagle that as it was adopted by the Romans upon their banners it
…signified magnanimity and fortitude, or as in the ancient Sacred Writings, swiftness and courage.
In antiquity, the Romans were not the first to make use of the eagle as an emblem of war, as, Wells cites, the Persians, under Cyrus the Younger[ii], had borne the Eagle upon their spears as a standard.[iii]
In a more modern parlance France, Russia, Prussia, Germany, and the United States have each in turn adopted the Eagle, variously, as a National symbol of identity adorning the U.S. dollar, today, in a style reminiscent of its depiction on similar Roman coinage from when it was adopted into western material culture.
Albert Mackey in his Encyclopedia of Freemasonry says of the eagle that it is a symbol of great antiquity calling into reference Egyptian, Greek, and Persia symbolism where the bird was sacred to the sun.
Among the Pagans it was an emblem of Jupiter, and with the Druids it was a symbol of their supreme god. In the Scriptures, a distinguished reference is in many instances made to the eagle; especially do we find Moses (Exodus xix, 4) representing Jehovah as saying, in allusion to the belief that this bird assists its feeble young in their flight by bearing them upon its own pinions, “Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself.” Not less elevated was the symbolism of the eagle among the Pagans. Thus, Cicero, speaking of the myth of Ganymede carried up to Jove on an eagle’s back, says that it teaches us that the truly wise, irradiated by the shining light of virtue, become more and more like God, until by wisdom they are borne aloft and soar to Him.
While Mackey goes deep into the meanings behind the eagle, the suggestion that the Masonic Apron is more noble than the Roman Eagle implies that its receipt is an honor, greater than being a member of the famed Roman Legion which may lend itself to some pull to particular military association with Masonry today. An interesting consideration of the Roman Legion was their early and then later composition.
In the early period of the empire, the legion was composed of levied soldiers who supplied their own equipment that would form as needed disbanding when not. Essentially, to serve meant you were a citizen of the empire. When the Rome army began to experience inadequate staffing because of income or property qualifications of its citizenry, Consul Gaius Marius removed the prequalifications of service (wealth and social class) allowing all free people of the empire eligible for the army. This change created the first volunteer professional standing army. That openness to everyone regardless of class of social standing is a parallel we find amongst the ranks of Freemasonry today.
Some suggest that the Roman Eagle was a European Trade Symbol coming from the Hanseatic League. A confederation of merchant guilds that stretched from the Baltic to the North Sea and inland during the Late Middle Ages and early modern period (c. 13th to 17th centuries), the Hanseatic league evolved to protect economic interests and diplomatic privileges along trade routes, cities and countries where its members did business. . One Masonic source says of the Hanseatic League that,
…its members had their Headquarters at Lubeck, and adopted the Arms of Lubeck which at this time was the Roman Eagle and appears on the Seal of the Hanse. They also called themselves Knights of the Holy Roman Empire.[iv]
The Leagues coat of arms is of a double headed eagle, rather than an Aquila eagle, so this connection to the Apron seems less legitimate other than its being a pre-enlightenment trade guild, similar to the guild of the Golden Fleece.[v][vi]
An interesting parallel in the Hanseatic League connection is the guilds factory rules which one could find Masonic parallels including:
No man older than fifty years or younger than eighteen winters could be received.
Anyone who committed what had been forbidden was to be cast out, and driven from the community.
No one should have a woman within the burgh
be absent from it for three nights
These rules helped the league work in foreign countries as they “… formed among the alien populations in which they were placed semi-monastic establishments”[vii]
Yet, in this double headed eagle, we can still find some parallels to draw with the Roman Eagle.
Mackey says of the emblem,
The Eagle Displayed, that is, with extended wings, as if in the act of dying, has always, from the majestic character of the bird, been deemed an emblem of imperial power. Marius, the consul, first consecrated the eagle, about eight years before the Christian era, to be the sole Roman standard at the head of every legion, and hence it became the standard of the Roman Empire ever afterward.
As the single-headed Eagle was thus adopted as the symbol of imperial power, the double-headed Eagle naturally became the representative of a double empire; and on the division of the Roman dominions into the eastern and western empire, which were afterward consolidated by the Carlovingian race into what was ever after called the Holy Roman Empire, the double-headed Eagle was assumed as the emblem of this double empire; one head looking, as it were, to the West, or Rome, and the other to the East, or Byzantium.
He goes on to enumerate the orders of knighthoods that adopted the double headed eagle including, The Prussian Order of the Black Eagle and the Order of the Red Eagle, both, Mackey says, are “outgrowths of the original symbol of the Roman Eagle.”
Of the double headed eagle, Mackey goes on to say that its adoption was probably first introduced as a symbol into Freemasonry in 1758. He says,
In that year the Body calling itself the Council of Emperors of the East and West was established in Paris. The double-headed eagle as likely to have been assumed by this Council in reference to the double Jurisdiction which it claimed, and which is represented so distinctly in its title.
The most ornamental, not to say the most ostentatious feature of the insignia of the Supreme Council, 33 , of the Ancient and Accepted (Scottish) Rite, is the double-headed eagle, surmounted by an imperial crown. This device seems to have been adopted some time after 1755 by the grade known as the Emperors of the East and West; a sufficiently pretentious title. This seems to have been its first appearance in connection with Freemasonry, but history of the high grades has been subjected to such distortion that it is difficult to accept unreservedly any assertion put forward regarding them. From this imperial grade, the double-headed eagle came to the “Sovereign Prince Masons” of the Rite of Perfection. The Rite of Perfection with its twenty-five Degrees was amplified in 1801, at Charleston, United States of America, into the Ancient and Accepted Rite of 33, with the double-headed eagle for its most distinctive emblem. When this emblem was first adopted by the high grades it had been in use as a symbol of power for 5000 years, or so. No heraldic bearing, no emblematic device anywhere today can boast such antiquity. It was in use a thousand years before the Exodus from Egypt, and more than 2000 years before the building of King Solomon’s Temple.
The quote, which is quite extensive, gives a sort of psudo-parrallel to antiquity linking the Scottish-Rite double headed eagle to the Babylonian era through a pair of terra cotta cylinders[viii] that depicts a proto-eagle in the form of a lion headed bird.
The long quote reads:
The story of our Eagle has been told by the eminent Assyriologist, M. Thureau Dangin, in the volume of Zeitschrift fur Assyriologie (1904). Among the most important discoveries for which we are indebted to the late M. de Sarzec, were two large terra cotta cylinders covered with many hundred lines of archaic cuneiform characters These cylinders were found in the brick mounds of Tello, which has been identified with certainty as the City of Lagash, the dominant center of Southern Babylonian ere Babylon had imposed its name and rule on the country.
The cylinders are now in the Louvre (see below) and have been deciphered by M. Thureau Dangin, who displays to our wondering eyes the emblem of power that was already centuries old when Babylon gave its name to Babylonia. The cylinder in question is a foundation record deposited by one Gudea, Ruler of the City of Lagash, to mark the building of the temple, about the year 3000 B.C., as nearly as the date could be fixed. The foundation record was deposited just as our medals, coins and metallic plates are deposited today, when the corner stone is laid with Masonic honors. It must be born in mind that in this ease, the word cornerstone may be employed only in a conventional sense, for in Babylonia all edifices, temples, palaces, and towers alike, were built of brick. But the custom of laying foundation deposits was general, whatever the building material might be, and we shall presently see what functions are attributed, by another eminent scholar, to the foundation chamber of King Solomon’s Temple.
The contents of this inscription are of the utmost value to the oriental scholar, but may be briefly dismissed for our present purpose. Suffice it to say, that the King begins by reciting that a great drought had fallen upon the land. ” The waters of the Tigris,” he says, ” fell low and the store of provender ran short in this my city,” saying that he feared it was 3 visitation from the gods, to whom he determined to submit his evil ease and that of his people. The reader familiar with Babylonian methods that pervade the Books of the Captivity will not be surprised to learn that the King dreamed a dream, in which the will of the gods was revealed by direct personal intervention and interlocution. In the dream there came unto the King “a Divine Man, whose stature reached from earth to heaven, and whose head was crowned with the crown of a god, surmounted by the Storm Bird that extended its wings over Lagash, the land thereof.” This Storm Bird, no other than our double-headed eagle, was the totem as ethnologists and anthropologists are fain to call it, of the mighty Sumerian City of Lagash, and stood proudly forth the visible emblem of its power and domination. This double-headed eagle of Lagash is the oldest Royal Crest in the world.
As time rolled on, it passed from the Sumerians to the men of Akhad. From the men of Akhad to the Hittites, from the denizens of Asia Minor to the Seliukian Sultans, from whom it was brought by Crusaders to the Emperors of the East and West, whose successors today are the Hapsburgs and Romanoffs, as well as to the Masonic Emperors of the East and West, whose successors today are the Supreme Council, 33, that have inherited the insignia of the Site of Perfection.
Interesting in its attempt at drawing a parallel to antiquity, in a modern context, it is challenging to find the same level of depth to so abstract an emblem, especially one that is superior to the other. But, a final consideration to include would be a symbolic one, for which we turn to Cirlot, from his Dictionary of Symbols[ix].
In his work, he suggests the symbol of the eagle as a symbol of height “… of the Spirit, as the sun, and of the spiritual principals in general” suggesting it linked to the symbolism found in Egyptian hieroglyphics, where “the Eagle represents the letter A–the first—pertaining to the warmth of life, the origin, the day.”
Cirlot writes “…the eagle is also identified with the father figure” representing heroic nobility. And, in religious terms, In the Vedic tradition, the eagle as the Messenger or in other art forms as “the emblem of the Thunderbolt.”
According to St. Jerome the Eagle is the emblem of the Ascension and of prayer. Since it can fly higher than any other bird, it is regarded as an expression of Divine Majesty. It is said to dominate and destroy baser forces. Thus making it the symbol of Imperial power.
Truly, the Lambskin Apron is greater and more noble emblem of strength, courage and power than the imperial symbol of powers, Aquilla, the Roman Eagle.
The following comes from a piece I wrote in 2007 on the Masonic Traveler blog. It addressed, at that time, question of Freemasonry being a religion. While the ideas may have evolved some over the years, the message in it seems to still bear resonance in light of the question rearing its head once again.
Is Freemasonry a Religion?
What perplexes me is why does it matter? Why does answering the question even matter any more to the cackling hens of the I’m right your wrong neener neener neener bunch. They have their opinion, and to them, were just wrong and ALL going to hell. So, here is my hat, I’m coming into the ring….
The quick observational answer is no, Freemasonry is not a religion, in that it does not teach FAITH. It does, however, strive to bring a philosophical and allegorical set of ideas forward and, in that sense could be construed as one which requires the observer to separate the two from one another. Faith is separate from Religion.
1. a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.
2. a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects: the Christian religion; the Buddhist religion.
3. the body of persons adhering to a particular set of beliefs and practices: a world council of religions.
4. the life or state of a monk, nun, etc.: to enter religion.
5. the practice of religious beliefs; ritual observance of faith.
6. something one believes in and follows devotedly; a point or matter of ethics or conscience: to make a religion of fighting prejudice.
7. religions, Archaic. religious rites.
8. Archaic. strict faithfulness; devotion: a religion to one’s vow.
9. get religion, Informal.
a. to acquire a deep conviction of the validity of religious beliefs and practices.
b. to resolve to mend one’s errant ways: The company got religion and stopped making dangerous products.
[Origin: 1150–1200; ME religioun (<>This is NOT faith, though the two share some defining terms.
1. confidence or trust in a person or thing: faith in another’s ability.
2. belief that is not based on proof: He had faith that the hypothesis would be substantiated by fact.
3. belief in God or in the doctrines or teachings of religion: the firm faith of the Pilgrims.
4. belief in anything, as a code of ethics, standards of merit, etc.: to be of the same faith with someone concerning honesty.
5. a system of religious belief: the Christian faith; the Jewish faith.
6. the obligation of loyalty or fidelity to a person, promise, engagement, etc.: Failure to appear would be breaking faith.
7. the observance of this obligation; fidelity to one’s promise, oath, allegiance, etc.: He was the only one who proved his faith during our recent troubles.
8. Christian Theology. the trust in God and in His promises as made through Christ and the Scriptures by which humans are justified or saved.
9. in faith, in truth; indeed: In faith, he is a fine lad.
[Origin: 1200–50; ME feith]
Freemasonry does not proclaim a belief not based on proof. It is a system of ethics, but then so are the Boy Scouts. It does proclaim a confidence in a person, the candidate who is forming his ashlar. But it does not suggest a belief not based on proof.
Note the difference in word origins, religion comes from the latin root meaning to tie, fasten, bind. Faith’s origin is to trust.
The Masonic Religion
The difference here is that in all of the writings in the past refer to Freemasonry in some way as a “religion” NOT as a faith. The problem today is that the fundamental argument that Freemasonry is a religion confuses the two and presumes that any religion must also be a faith. The difference here being that that assumption is false and the two are not dependent on one another.
Pike does say that Freemasonry is perhaps a representation of all religion in a passage from the 10th degree p161/162 saying:
Masonry is not a religion. He who makes of it a religious belief, falsifies and denaturalizes it. The Brahmin, the Jew, the Mahometan, the Catholic, the Protestant, each professing his peculiar religion, sanctioned by the laws, by time, and by climate, must needs retain it, and cannot have two religions; for the social and sacred laws adapted to the usages, manners, and prejudices of particular countries, are the work of men.
But Masonry teaches, and has preserved in their purity, the cardinal tenets of the old primitive faith, which underlie and are the foundation of all religions. All that ever existed have had a basis of truth; and all have overlaid that truth with errors. The primitive truths taught by the Redeemer were sooner corrupted, and intermingled and alloyed with fictions than when taught to the first of our race. Masonry is the universal morality which is suitable to the inhabitants of every clime, to the man of every creed. It has taught no doctrines, except those truths that tend directly to the well-being of man; and those who have attempted to direct it toward useless vengeance, political ends, and Jesuitism, have merely perverted it to purposes foreign to its pure spirit and real nature.
I suggest that Pike backs this up by saying on p.160, that the key is toleration, and without it, it becomes a pissing match for my faith is bigger than yours.
Toleration, holding that every other man has the same right to his opinion and faith that we have to ours; and liberality, holding that as no human being can with certainty say, in the clash and conflict of hostile faiths and creeds, what is truth, or that he is surely in possession of it, so every one should feel that it is quite possible that another equally honest and sincere with himself, and yet holding the contrary opinion, may himself be in possession of the truth, and that whatever one firmly and conscientiously believes, is truth, to him–these are the mortal enemies of that fanaticism which persecutes for opinion’s sake, and initiates crusades against whatever it, in its imaginary holiness, deems to be contrary to the law of God or verity of dogma. And education, instruction, and enlightenment are the most certain means by which fanaticism and intolerance can be rendered powerless.
Perhaps in its practice, but not as a dogmatic belief system with specifics to salvation.
Is Freemasonry tolerant of all faiths? Yes. Does that frighten, distance, and otherwise disenfranchise all fundamentalist ideologues? You bet your ass it does, which is why every organized dogmatically proscribed faith HATES and denounces Freemasonry.
Freemasonry is the religion of not being a religion. The faith of all faiths. It says no one faith is right, and no one faith is wrong, which is diametrically opposed to what any fundamentalist body wants to tell you is right.
With the recent decision by the Grand Master of Florida on the exclusion of Pagan, Wiccan, or men of other “non traditional faiths” based on the Charges of a Free-Mason, I thought it a good time to look at these mysterious Masonic charges and try to put them into a historical context.
Anderson’s Charges, originally written and published in 1722 (with a revision in 1738), have their origins in a series of General Regulations, drafted in 1720 as a method of conduct in lodge. Interestingly, nowhere in the General Regulations is there mention of God, Moral Laws, or any other pre-qualification of divinely inspired per-requisite to membership.
The original Charges of a Free-Mason from The Constitutions of the Free-Masons (1734), was originally published by James Anderson A.M., and became the first Masonic text published in America by Benjamin Franklin in 1734. As a text, the Charges have a long history of precedence in Masonic policy, being an unspoken yet de facto baseline of how Freemasons operate. No two U.S. Grand Lodges have officially adopted the same set of Masonic Landmarks as part of their rule and guide, yet all use them, in part, as a source in their historical constitutions. So too is this true of the original Anderson Charges. The Charges themselves have a contentious history in American Masonry being argued and redrawn several times since their original publication by Albert Mackey and Roscoe Pound, to name a few.
Concerning GOD and RELIGION. A Mason is obliged by his Tenure, to obey the moral Law; and if he rightly understands the Art, he will never be a stupid Atheist, nor an irreligious Libertine. But though in ancient Times Masons were charged in every Country to be of the Religion of that Country or Nation, whatever it was, yet ’tis now thought more expedient only to oblige them to that Religion in which all Men agree, leaving their particular Opinions to themselves ; that is, to be good Men and true, or Men of Honor and Honesty, by whatever Denominations or Persuasions they may be distinguished ; whereby Masonry becomes the Center of Union, and the Means of conciliating true Friendship among Persons that must else have remained at a perpetual Distance.
Our interest here is in the phrase “…obey the moral law” which suggests that, if followed, the individual will “rightly understand the art” being neither an Atheist nor irreligious Libertine. But, one has to question how one rightly understands it, given that the notion of a moral law is vague as it changes with the social changes of the times within which it is interpreted.
To look at it from a modern perspective the Free Legal Dictionary defines a moral law as
The rules of behavior an individual or a group may follow out of personal conscience and that are not necessarily part of legislated law in the United States.
Moral law is a system of guidelines for behavior. These guidelines may or may not be part of a religion, codified in written form, or legally enforceable. For some people moral law is synonymous with the commands of a divine being. For others, moral law is a set of universal rules that should apply to everyone.
But the idea of a moral law has an older source, namely in the philosophical works of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke. Certainly there are others whose contributions of thought led to these two, but Hobbes and Locke’s philosophy were the most influential at the times of Anderson’s writing and likely the source of the Ancient idea of a Moral Law.
Thomas Hobbes notion of a Moral Law evolved out of his idea of a Natural Law. He suggested that a law of nature is natural and inherently known by everyone as it can easily be deduced by innate mental faculties such as reason and philosophy. His moral philosophy was based upon an iteration of the Golden Rule, in Hobbes terms, “Do not that to another, which thou wouldst not have done to thy selfe.”
What makes this statement different from the Golden Rule is that Hobbes version suggests an action (or inaction) so as to avoid being on the receiving end of someone else’s retribution.
But, it seems doubtful that this was the singular philosophical driving force to Anderson’s writing. Originally published in 1651, Hobbes’ philosophy appeared in his work Leviathan which went on to become a part of the foundation of Western Political Philosophy, especially on the formation of social contracts. This is interesting given that belonging to a membership based organization is based precisely on this kind of social contract. It should be said that Hobbes, in considering his social contract, was a proponent of absolutism for the sovereign, or in more modern parlance, in favor of an absolute ruler over society such as a king. Seeing individuals outside of said society, Hobbes believe those poor unfortunates were in, what he called, a state of nature which made them “…solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short” In this state of Nature, Hobbes believed that man was in a continual struggle, living in fear, ignorance, and in intense discomfort and it was this social contract that man could overcome the effects of the natural law and live in a higher state.
In Leviathan, Hobbes writes:
Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of war, where every man is enemy to every man, the same consequent to the time wherein men live without other security than what their own strength and their own invention shall furnish them withal. In such condition there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.
So with Hobbes the idea of overcoming the natural law though social contracts would lead to better society building and community building. But English social philosophy didn’t stop with Hobbes, especially as we grow closer to the time of Anderson’s Charges.
Following Hobbes, John Locke laid out his ideas in his work Two Treatises of Government, published in 1689. In these Two Treates, Locke lays out the idea of a civil society based upon Hobbes suggestion that every man begins in a state of nature and in need of a social contract. Where Locke differs is in saying that all men created equal in that state of nature by God. In the second Treatus, Locke makes the case for the only form of legitimate government as one with the consent of the people. Locke felt that any government not governed this way was worthy of being overthrown.
While it is interesting to imagine how Locke’s work on establishing a democratic civil society may be at the heart of the original general Regulations and Anderson’s Constitution (both, remember, call for the election of leadership within a democratic framework) to find a link to his philosophical ideas on a Moral Law comes from a lesser known work by Locke, written in 1689, titled An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. In it, we can read on a multitude of aspects concerning moral rectitude, moral actions, the law of nature, and the foundation of being a Moral Being. Of note, Locke was writing as a Christian and saw the basis of a Moral Laws in the fashion of a carrot and stick means of motivation. What that means is that, as Locke saw it, God punishes those who fail to follow a religiously motivated moral law while rewarding those who do.
Locke’s view of the Moral Law stands out in the greatest relief when we look at his work The Reasonableness of Christianity, written in 1695,where Locke finally defines the basis of his idea of the Moral Law saying,
Thus then, as to the law, in short: the civil and ritual part of the law, delivered by Moses, obliges not christians, though, to the jews, it were a part of the law of works; it being a part of the law of nature, that man ought to obey every positive law of God, whenever he shall please to make any such addition to the law of his nature. But the moral part of Moses’s law, or the moral law, (which is every-where the same, the eternal rule of right,) obliges christians, and all men, every-where, and is to all men the standing law of works. But christian believers have the privilege to be under the law of faith too; which is that law, whereby God justifies a man for believing, though by his works he be not just or righteous, i. e. though he come short of perfect obedience to the law of works. God alone does or can justify, or make just, those who by their works are not so: which he doth, by counting their faith for righteousness…
This passage both defines the Moral Law, at the time of Locke’s writing, and sets a framework by which men of all faiths could be recognized as capable (obliged) to reflect the moral law through works.
This brings back Anderson’s Charge when he writes
But though in ancient Times Masons were charged in every Country to be of the Religion of that Country or Nation, whatever it was, yet ’tis now thought more expedient only to oblige them to that Religion in which all Men agree, leaving their particular Opinions to themselves
This seems to parallel part of Locke’s idea of a Moral Law as a biblical foundation for this general degree of worship. In Reasonableness, Locke points to the Gospel of John, in verse 4:21-23, as Jesus speaks to the woman from Samaria, the passage reads,
Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
It seems that a reader could take this idea of common worship in one of two ways. First, in the overt Judeo Christian context as Locke proposed citing the woman of Samaria parable. Or, as Anderson saw fit to broaden the context of the parable so as to be inclusive of a more general Moral Law creating what he describes as a “Center of Union, and the the Means of conciliating true Friendship among Persons that must else have remained at a perpetual Distance.”
It would be doubtful that Anderson’s view of the moral law deviated significantly from Locke’s philosophy given the degree to which Locke’s other ideas of a civil society have permeated into Freemasonry, at least in principals, but Locke’s ideals were limited to social societies within which there may not be men otherwise “…at perpetual distance,” especially in a landscape of various religious denominations and potentially divergent faith traditions. In a broad sense, these various denominations and faith groups would be a part of the composite of his civil society and outside of the test of adherence to his idea of a Moral Law. Rather, Locke’s writing on the Moral Law seems to suggest that anyone who adheres to its ideal of works is following the prescribed practice and that it is his opinion as a Christian that those who do so under a Christian pretense will receive additional rewards.
This may create some present day discomfort at between moralizing memberships for any faith other than Christian. But it certainly does not preclude differing faiths, at least not upon any philosophical argument, from the Fraternity accepting members from faiths other than Christianity. Perhaps that was the basis for the Florida decision, to finally take a stance and push out those not of common faith, and put specific definition to the meaning behind the Moral Law, a decision that would insist an all or nothing stance for other like bodies to step in line or dissolve relationships. Either way, it creates a situation of absolutism that seems fundamentally contrary to Anderson’s Constitutions.
Perhaps Pike got it right when he writes in his first degree observation in Morals and Dogma when he says,
The Wisdom and Power of the Deity are in equilibrium. The laws of nature and the moral laws are not the mere despotic mandates of His Omnipotent will; for, then they might be changed by Him, and order become disorder, and good and right become evil and wrong; honesty and loyalty, vices; and fraud, ingratitude, and vice, virtues. Omnipotent power, infinite, and existing alone, would necessarily not be constrained to consistency. Its decrees and laws could not be immutable. The laws of God are not obligatory on us because they are the enactments of His POWER, or the expression of His WILL; but because they express His infinite WISDOM. They are not right because they are His laws, but His laws because they are right. From the equilibrium of infinite wisdom and infinite force, results perfect harmony, in physics and in the moral universe. Wisdom, Power, and Harmony constitute one Masonic triad. They have other and profounder meanings, that may at some time be unveiled to you…
To reconcile the moral law, human responsibility, freewill, with the absolute power of God; and the existence of evil with His absolute wisdom, and goodness, and mercy, – these are the great enigmas of the Sphinx.
Joseph James is an actor and filmmaker with a long list of projects with an eye towards the fraternity. Having already produced several films with overt Masonic tones including The Masonic Map and Templar Nation, James is on the cusp of his latest release with his film The Freemason, taking us again into the mysteries upon the silver screen. In this installment of Sojourners, James gives us an insider’s look at the making of his latest Masonic feature, The Freemason, replete with all the tinsel the fraternity can bring to it. Of all his skill and craft, James brings an earnestness to his filmmaking imbuing his work with his love for Freemasonry.
Greg Stewart (GS) – Let’s start with the basics; who is Joseph James? How long have you been a Freemason and what bodies do you belong to?
Joseph James (JJ) – Several of my great grandfathers were Freemasons. When I was about 14, I became interested in Freemasonry and started reading about it. At that time, there was not a lot of information online about how a person could become a Mason, so I didn’t know how to proceed, but it was always something I wanted to do. After growing up in Utah, I moved to Portland about 2004 in order to expand my clothing company. I had a car that needed some repairs. I noticed the mechanic working on my car was wearing a bright blue Masonic ring. It was perfect opportunity for me to ask him if I could become a Mason. He introduced me to one of the oldest and most established lodges in Portland, and I’m now a life time member of that lodge. I joined the Scottish Rite and am now a 32nd Degree Mason. I also joined the Portland Al Kader Shriners and served as the Temple Outer Guard in the Divan before moving to Hollywood with my wife and newborn son. I am a member of multiple lodges in several states, and I am a member of the York Rite and a lifetime member of the Grotto.
GS – If you remember, what initially interested you in the fraternity?
JJ – Besides learning that I had ancestors and relatives who were Masons, I was impressed by the fact that so many great men and leaders were Masons. Men I truly admire, such as the Founding Fathers, great entertainers and philanthropists. I was interested in doing charity work. I also wanted to learn some of the secrets of Freemasonry going back to Solomon’s Temple and the Knights Templar.
GS – Did your ideal of the fraternity prove to be the case upon joining or was it different? What was your initial impression with it?
JJ – Yes, becoming a Mason was just as enlightening and challenging as I thought it would be.
My initial impression was very positive. My mentors were a 33rd Degree Masons named Bill Larson, Clyde Brown and Webber Harrington (all of them have since passed away). Clyde and Webber were also members of the Grand Cross Court of Honor. Larson was one of the only members in Portland who knew all 3 Lectures given during initiation. He challenged me to learn them. I was able to memorize the EA and Master Mason degree. Bill and I did the lectures together for many candidates. Everything I learned from Bill and the other Masons fortified my positive feelings towards Freemasonry.
GS – I’ve known you for some time (back to the MySpace days of social media I’m guessing), and back when you made a run on a reality TV program. Since then what have you had going on? Every now and then I’d see you pop up on line working on one project or another, so it’s obvious to me you’ve made it to some degree. How is it you came to make your new film, The Freemason?
JJ – I really enjoyed performing as an actor in the 32 degrees of the Scottish Rite. People I worked with told me that I was a good actor and that I should consider trying to pursue a career in that field. I auditioned for a film called Extraordinary Measures, which was being shot locally in the Portland area, and I booked a role as a background actor. I was in several scenes with Brendan Fraser. That’s when I decided to become an actor. My wife and I packed up everything we owned in a U-Haul and headed to Hollywood with our newborn son. In Hollywood, I landed small roles in everything from feature films to live television, short films, TV pilots and reality TV. Working on set for up to 15 hours a day convinced me that I wanted to produce feature films and be an actor as well. Utah has a great movie history, going back to the classic westerns of John Wayne up until today’s Sundance Film festival.
Since I grew up in Utah, I knew that every kind of landscape and terrain is available to film makers at a fraction of the cost of a Hollywood production. So my family and I moved back to Utah, and I started working on my first film, The Masonic Map. I wrote, directed and starred in that film. In my second film, called Templar Nation, I hired a professional screenwriter and two experienced actors, Erik Estrada (Chips) and local actor Richard Dutcher (God’s Army). I was able to hire Sean Astin to work on my latest film, The Freemason. I funded all of the films myself and I have employed hundreds of amazing, talented professional here in Utah.
GS – So what was your driving motivation behind making this film?
JJ – I wanted to create the most comprehensive, in depth film about Masonry ever made. I wanted to show as much of an actual initiation in a real Masonic lodge as possible. I wanted to share with the world some of what Freemasonry is really about. We were able to film much of the movie in the historic Salt Lake City Masonic Temple, in the actual initiation rooms. I want public and potential candidates to break through the barrier of uncertainty and join. Most of them do not know that we cannot solicit new members, therefore thousands of potential Masons never join simply because the don’t know how.
Some of the of the most influential Freemasons here in the U.S have seen the film and feel that every Mason should see this film as well as people who are considering joining.
GS – I found it interesting, the elements you put into the movie. Do you think it went too deeply into the “secrets” of Masonry?
JJ – Bill Larson (a well-respected 33rd Degree who delivered the E.A, F.C. And M.M degree for many years ) taught me that the two most important things we must never reveal: the tokens and the passwords. The parts of the ritual we show in the film are compelling but incomplete–the entire ritual is not shown. I believe our non-mason audience is very curious about our initiation rituals as well as the 32 degrees in the Scottish Rite.
We were respectful but tantalizing, so that anyone with a true interest in Masonry would learn just enough to want to learn more.
I admit that we also dipped into some of the speculation we’ve all heard about Masons influence regarding politics, banking, the military, law enforcement as well as wealthy business owners etc, as a dramatic tool. I feel like we didn’t say anything that is not true or anything that would leave a bad or incorrect impression of Masonry. The feedback I’ve gotten from Masons all over the world that have heard about the film or seen the trailer gives me confidence that we found the right balance between showing too much and not enough.
GS – I like the quick abstract in the film of the history of Masonry is when Cyrus and Detective Leon Weed (actors Randy Wayne and Sean Astin) are reconstructing the crime scene. Their exchange almost feels poetic when talking about the fraternity. Where did that come from?
JJ – Sean Astin gets the credit for that. We were at a warehouse shooting [the scene] from the original script. Sean said that he [had] a great scene in his mind and that we needed to write it out and film it before the end of the day. He wanted to know more about the initiation so that we could help the general public understand the initiation ritual more clearly. He told me to go buy a book about the initiation, so I drove to a local bookstore and bought a copy of a book that revealed some of the ritual but it did not cross the line. He and I then wrote out that scene in 2 hours, filmed it and added it to the film. I will never forget a quote from the director of photography, Thor Wixom, after the scene he said “that is now my favorite scene in the movie”.
In writing that scene, Sean wanted to help non-Masons understand the physical orientation of the rooms in the Masonic Temple and what that meant. He also wanted to express the strength of the Masonic vows when there is a reference to being killed if you reveal sacred information. And also, there is an element of Cyrus beginning to catch on to the real motive for the murder.
GS – Later on in the film, Cyrus and the Grand Master have an exchange that really dramatized the power of the 2b1ask1 proposition. What was the thought behind it?
JJ – That came out of my experience becoming a Mason.
Most people think that the Masons recruit people or that you have to have a family member vouch for you. Some people also believe that you have to be a certain type of person (successful or wealthy) to become a mason. No one seems to believe how simple it can be, as simple as asking. I do believe that when people realize that, it may lead them to do as the film says: Ask One. And from there they may become Masons.
GS – It feels like you came at many of the issues of Masonry, even the notion of women Freemasons as Rana (playd by Alex McKenna), the daughter of a Mason, having resentment (almost an implied jealousy) over his activity in it. In a broader stroke, it feels in many ways that you encapsulated the process of the beginning, middle and end of becoming a Mason, even as it’s interjected into the plot lines. It really feels like a part of the story. Did that take a lot of time to construct? How did you go about weaving the two together (the story and the Masonic ritual elements)?
JJ – We wanted make sure people understand what critical role women have in Freemasonry. For instance, there are Women’s only branches of Freemasonry such as The White Shrine, Jobs Daughters, The Bethel etc. These organizations do a lot of charity work and they have their own initiation ceremonies as well. I have also talked to people who are involved in Co-Masonry which has both women and men as members. The famous statement, “behind every good man is a good woman” When I was in the Divan for the Portland Shriners, the women were just as organized and effective at raising money for the Shriners Hospital as well as coordinating events and running the day to day operations for Blue Lodges, The Scottish Rite and The Shrine.
GS – Without giving anything away, the end takes a distinct and dark turn. I have to say it was almost disturbing given the sentiment it encapsulated. Was that the end you had in mind when you started shooting?
JJ – The ending in script and the ending we decided to go with were different.
There was a district difference but If I elaborate on it so much it might reveal to much about the plot. The final scene was also written by Sean and me the night before we shot it. Sean and I wrote it during an all-nighter after we had already completed a 12 hour workday. He called me to his hotel and we sat up all night talking about it, acting it out, working it over and over again…At 5 am we were both exhausted mentally and physically. However, the final scene was not finished yet. We needed to eat, so we went to a local Denny’s at 5 am, and there we were, Sean typing furiously on his laptop as customers walked past and looked him over, no doubt wondering, “Is that Sean Astin, and what the hell is he doing at Denny’s in Salt Lake City at 5 am?”
After we finished eating the new ending was finished. The sun was up and went back to the set to work another 15 hours with out any sleep. But it was worth it. Most of the people who have seen the film think that ending is not only shocking but it also it ties everything together giving it a sense of closure. The feedback we have receive is that Sean’s performance is authentic and stunning. If I give any more details than that it might reveal the plot. We also shot the original ending which will be available on our “Extra Bonus Features” along with some special features and a 30 minute behind the scenes look at the making of the movie.
GS – I have to ask, did Astin (or anyone on the set) express any interest in the fraternity as the film wrapped?
JJ – Yes, there were many inquiries. By the end of the film, most of the cast and the crew were much more interested in Freemasonry and wanted to know more. Sean said that he wants to continue to learn more and more about who we are.
GS – When you made the film, did you start your own production company or did you fire them to produce and make the film?
JJ – Each time I make a new film I start a new production company.
GS – Where any of the other actors or production folks Freemasons?
JJ – Yes, my friend Howard drove all the way in from Montana to help with the production. He was there during my initiation in Portland, Oregon. There were also several other Masons on the cast and the crew that helped along the way but primarily the cast and crew were professionals who make movies for a living.
GS – Let’s pull out to a wider shot, what do you see as the potential of Masonry in film?
JJ – I’m hoping that it emerges as a worldwide foundational film that can unite brothers from various countries. I will be dubbing it into different languages so that people who do not speak English can still watch it. I also see the potential for the people who want join to watch it and gain a deeper understanding if the principles and history that have kept Freemasons around the world connected for a greater cause such as charity work as well as preserving history that could possible go back as far as Solomon’s a Temple in Jerusalem. Freemasonry is a force for good in the world and I hope that people who see the film will recognize that the movie explains and defines what Masons stand for.
GS – I’ve always had half dozen ideas on quasi-Masonic stories or scripts in my head. Do you think there is subgenre of movies waiting to be made about Freemasonry?
JJ – Yes, the history channel and the discovery channel etc. have put together some solid documentaries and re-enactments of Masonic history as well as the Knights Templar who were almost eliminated under false pretenses on Friday the 13th, 1307. Many of our founding fathers were 3 dimensional, intelligent people whose lives were greatly influenced, but not controlled by masonry.
GS – Do they always need to be the protagonist, or is there space for them to be the antagonist too?
JJ – Nobody is perfect, we all make mistakes, and certainly not every man who is a mason has lived up to the highest standards we set for ourselves. Certainly, some have used their knowledge, prestige or influence improperly, or even in a bad way. Any organization with millions of members across the globe will always people who are not contributing positive actions and who are not helping their organization in any way.
Regarding a 90 page script for a feature film, the story is not going to be very interesting or complete without opposition to the protagonist, and certainly that opposition can come from a Mason. I don’t think we can all be painted with the same brush, either good or bad. Mason are all individuals, and we are all “rough ashlars” trying to become “perfect ashlars”. It is a lifelong journey. I am definitely a rough ashlar, however I am always attempting to become closer to a perfect ashlar even though it is not possible.
GS – What are your thoughts about Freemasonry seeping into television programs such as Sleepy Hollow or Vanished (2006)? From your perspective, is this a good thing for Freemasonry?
JJ – One of reasons I decided to make movies about our Fraternity is because there have been false allegations, myths and outright lies about who we are and what we stand for. It has been that way for hundreds and possibly thousands of years. I think that Freemasonry has been portrayed in negative light in books, movies, and TV shows for a long time it will continue. The reason why is because to truly understand Freemasonry you have to experience it and meet the Masons who run our lodges and temples, [the people who] raise millions of dollars for charities and who are normal, average people who enjoy helping other and connecting with new friends, business associates and others with the same goals preserving our history and while moving forward into future.
One thing that does concern me a little is that movies always have elements to them that are not real and in most cases, the Freemason are a prime target for others to speculate without evidence and portray our organization in way that is simply inaccurate. There will always be some distortion regarding what we as masons are really about.
GS – So what’s next? Where can we find the Freemason when it’s released?
JJ – The film was just released as an “Exclusive Pre-Worldwide Release” so that the supporters and fans who have been waiting for months can be some of the first people in the world to own the DVD.
The film will also be released on iTunes, Hulu, Amazon, Vimeo on Demand, and possible Netfilx and Redbox. For now, the best way to order the DVD is to go to our website www.thefreemasonmovie.com where we also have special deals on full size theatrical posters, a 30 min “Behind The Scenes” with bonus features including deleted scenes and trailers, sn interview with Sean Astin, Richard Dutcher (Grandmaster Sheldon Lombard) and myself.
GS – Will it play in any theaters that we could come an see it?
JJ – The film was in theaters for a short time. Now we are having public and private screenings for any group or organization interested. Interested parties can contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
GS – Any guesses for when we can expect it on the online providers?
We have just made the movie available on Vimeo OnDemand, iTunes, and the DVD can be purchased through thefreemasonmovie.com or on Amazon. A link to the Vimeo OnDemand can be found on our homepage. We’ll be releasing a special edition in the coming weeks that features bonus materials and subtitles.
GS – And lastly, a question I like to ask our sojourners is who or what influences you to do what you do?
JJ – My objective when I started making these films has remained the same the entire time. And that is to simply inform the public about the nobility of our ancient fraternity and to dispel false perceptions.
Big thanks to Joseph for taking the time out to sit down and talk with us about his new film. I watched and liked it and think other people will too. The Freemason is definitely not what you would expect from a Masonic murder mystery and it definitely kept me guessing up to the end. I, for sure, am looking forward to your next project.
Chris Hodapp posted today about a petition to prevent (prohibit, bar, ban, make illegal by presidential power?) clandestine Grand Lodges. Note – the post is now archived.
The text of the petition, which you can read at petitions.whitehouse.gov, says:
Grand Lodges of Freemasons began in 1717, in London, England. All Grand Lodges in the world must have a direct lineage to this Grand Lodge to be Masonically legal. This process in proving legitimate origins has been upheld in the case of Supreme Grand Lodge Modern Free Accepted Masons of the World vs. Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Georgia Docket no. 14374, United States Court of Appeals Fifth Circuit. Other courts have established this precedent as well. There are only 94 legal Grand Lodges in the United States, the Prince Hall Grand Lodges, and the State Grand Lodges, all having legitimate origins from the Grand Lodge of England, but more than 450 fraudulent Grand Lodges exist, unregulated, committing extreme hazing and fraud on unsuspecting men. Stop the fraud.
Hodapp closes his post with an appeal to “Sign the White House petition…by August 4th. to be considered by President Obama, the petition requires 100,000 signatures (with roughly 400 at the time of my writing).
Your decision to sign is your own. But, before you put finger to keyboard to commit your pixelated signature I thought it would be good form to consider some of the aspects included in the petition itself.
All Grand Lodges in the world must have a direct lineage to [the Grand Lodge of England] to be Masonically legal. I suppose, in a broad context, which would be the case assuming that the UGLE is the chief franchiser of the Masonic Brand. But, since when is the President the arbiter of brand recognition? I’m sure the Supreme Court could weigh in on the matter, but ownership aside, it seems like a Masonic disagreement would be outside the scope of their jurisdiction. Lineage is only important to those who believe it to be so. Would saying all protestant churches are breaking Christian law by not following the lead of Rome?
Historically speaking, it sets the 1717 foundation of the Grand Lodge system as the chronological benchmark for legitimacy. Given that the foundation of a “grand lodge” out of severally existing lodges suggests that the incorporation of the fraternity is where our lineage begins.
The petition mentions a civil case from 1954, Supreme Grand Lodge Modern Free Accepted Masons of the World vs. Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Georgia. That proceeding as essentially about:
This action was instituted by appellee, a Georgia corporation, to enjoin appellant, an Alabama corporation, from engaging in conduct alleged to constitute unfair competition against appellee, and from holding itself out as a Lodge of Freemasons or as a member of the Masonic Fraternity. It was further prayed that appellant be enjoined from using the name ‘Supreme Grand Lodge, Modern Free and Accepted Colored Masons of the World.’
History and jurisprudence was the outcome. I’ll leave it to you to decipher the legalese. My take, neither site had a writ or warrant, instead “…both plaintiff and defendant trace their legal origin to a charter issued by a state court [in 1890].
Two actions involving conflicting claims of rival colored Masonic organizations were consolidated for trial. The first was an action for conversion in which a cross-complaint was filed asking damages for fraud. The second action was one brought by the Hiram of Tyre Grand Lodge against the Sons of Light Grand Lodge to enjoin the latter from conducting a grand lodge of colored Freemasonry in California. fn. 1 The trial court found against Light in both actions. Thereupon Light attempted to appeal from both judgments. However, this court heretofore granted a motion to dismiss the appeal in the conversion case on the ground that the judgment [94 Cal. App. 2d 28] was not final, an accounting being required. (Most Worshipful Sons etc. Lodge v. Sons etc. Lodge, 91 Cal. App. 2d 582 [205 P.2d 722].) The present appeal deals only with the injunction action and the first action will be disregarded.
While not delving into the legalese, the outcome, in so far as I can discern from that legal action was:
The position of the courts as regards rival fraternal organizations is well stated in Cuney Grand Lodge v. State (1926), 142 Miss. 894 [108 So. 298, 302]: “The court cannot judicially know what the principles and degrees of free Masonry are, or of any particular brand of doctrine known as free Masonry, if there be differences of organization and principles. That is a matter with which the state is not concerned so long as [94 Cal. App. 2d 35] no fraud is used to deceive a person solicited to join or be received into these orders.”
 The injunction in this case went too far. It should have been limited to prohibiting defendant, its officers, agents, servants and employees from representing that its grand lodge and its subordinate lodges were or are the only bona fide grand lodge and subordinate lodges of Freemasonry in California, or making any representation or performing any act which would tend to confuse, in the minds of the public, or prospective members, its organization with plaintiff and its subordinate lodges, or by misrepresentation to attempt to lure away plaintiff’s members…
The findings of Cuney Grand Lodge v. State State said:
State may forfeit charter of fraternal corporation soliciting members by falsely representing that they will be received into regular Masonic lodges throughout the United States, and may restrain re- ceiving members by such means pending trial of forfeiture proceedings. Cuney v. State, 142 Miss. 894, 108 So. 298 (1926) page 31.
So, where does that leave us. I suppose it means if an organization solicits members “by falsely representing that they will be received into regular Masonic lodges” the state can withdraw their incorporation. But, what if no claim is made? And who has the time, or money, to enforce these kinds of actions when it would be an uphill battle to prove who owns the Masonic trademark. But, at the same time, it seems a petition like this deliberately hurts other organizations that may share the name Freemasonry, which takes us into a whole ‘nother debate on what it means to be clandestine. Why lose the trees for the forest when the real issue is violence and hazing.
What the petition comes down to is a plea to stop malicious and dangerous hazing. So, in light of that, I’ve created a petition to make hazing of any kind illegal. Perhaps you’ll consider adding your signature to this petition instead.
Prince Hall Freemasonry, traditionally called “Black” Freemasonry by some, is of direct lineage from the Grand Lodge of England (1717).
The Lodge that Prince Hall and the 14 others were made a Mason in was Lodge No. 441under the Irish Constitution. 1784 is the year that Bro. Hall requested and received a charter from the Grand Lodge of England, making African Lodge No. 459 a subordinate lodge to the Grand Lodge of England.
African Grand Lodge existed until 1847-48, at which time it’s name was changed to the MWPHGL of MA. This is the first recorded instance of his name being used in the GL title. (Thanks to Br. Lilly from the MWPHGL of NC for the keen eye and correction) More on Prince Hall Freemasonry on Wikipedia.
Prince Hall Freemasonry is nearly as widespread as “regular” Freemasonry in the United States. It has grown within many communities as a social institution with a very large following in many cities. The separation of Prince Hall and Regular Freemasonry in America is likely an out-cropping of early ideas of slavery in America, which carried into the Jim Crow laws of the early 20th Century. The backward ideas of separation and unequally, like many institutions, pervaded Freemasonry too, and continued the ideas of separate but equal. With the passage of time, and the implementation of the Plessy vs. Ferguson ruling, the ideas of mixed race meetings and membership has been slow in coming, but it is changing. In-roads were made to visit one another and relations were established.
Today, as the barriers continue to be torn down, the further integration of Prince Hall and regular Freemasonry continues. Granting a full charter in 1996, the Grand Lodge of England finally resolved all the roadblocks for full recognition. All regular state Grand Lodges have eradicated all prohibitions to membership from men of all races, making them open to men of all colors, creeds, and outlook. The only requirement being a proclaimed faith in God. There may be still some apprehension (from both sides) to openly admit that there has been some willing separation, but the invisible walls that have kept many apart are beginning to evaporate.
One of the biggest roadblocks to recognition is ritual differences and practices within a lodge. Freemasonry, being very firm on it’s ritual and it’s conduct, varies from state to state and jurisdiction to jurisdiction, so recognition is spotty across the board, but firm locally. Here is a great link to recognition between states.
So what does that mean. Looking at Freemasonry as a whole, it is not a racially biased institution. In my state California, there is full recognition of Prince Hall Freemasonry as being “regular” as decided though Grand Lodge legislation in 1995. Mutual recognition was agreed upon that year “completing the circle that Prince Hall started in 1784.”
There are states that have not reached that same conclusion for their own reasons, none of which I can proclaim knowledge of here. However both Freemasonry and Prince Hall Freemasonry are open to men of all races and welcomes them to share their light. Racism is not tolerated within the body of Freemasonry.
I use this as a preamble to a video published by Masonic Awareness at the Speed of Light. In the video, Charles M. Harper, Sr. introduces and talks about his book, Freemasonry in Black and White which explores the difference between recognition and amity within the confines of Freemasonry – essentially separate but equal bodies coexisting at common cause.
Masonic tradition informs us that the lamb skin apron is more ancient than the Golden Fleece. Ancient being the operative word, just what exactly does that implication imply and how is the Golden Fleece remembered in more contemporary times as it may relate to the apron given to the newly raised entered apprentice?
In Greek tradition, the fleece of the Ram Chrysomallus, was the object of Jason and the Argonauts expedition.
The mythological story of the Golden Fleece begins in the telling of the story about Phrixus and Helle who were the children of the goddess Nephele (a cloud nymph) and Athamus. The two part ways allowing Athamas to remarry Ino, who, in turn, becomes jealous of her step children, Phrixus and Helle, hatching a plot to do them in. Ino destroys a seed crop and then sends messengers to consult with the oracle at Delphi on what to do. To put her plan into motion, Ino persuading the messengers to return from the Oracles with prophecy that to restore the fertility of the fields Phrixus would need to be sacrificed.
Nephele, seeing the ruse, sends a golden ram to rescue her children, losing daughter Helle in the process as she falls into the Hellespont (known today as Dardanelles, which is a narrow strait in northwestern Turkey connecting the Aegean Sea to the Sea of Marmara). Phrixus, makes the trip safely arriving at Colchis where he marries the daughter of King Aeetes. In celebration of the rescue and the marriage, Phrixus sacrificed the winged golden fleeced ram to Poseidon returning its soul to the deity in turn creating the constellation Aries.
In his appreciation, Phricus gives the pelt (the Golden Fleece) to Aeetes, the king of Colchis, who placed the in an oak tree defended by bulls with hoofs of brass and breath of fire. It was also guarded by a dragon with teeth which could become warriors when planted in the ground. Here it remained until Jason and his band of Argonauts arrived to claim it.
So goes the story of the Ancient Golden Fleece. Thought to be the oldest of Greek poems, Argonautica Orphica, and the telling of Jason’s quest to capture the Fleece appears to originate somewhere in the 5th or 6th century CE. The Hellenistic epic Argonautica dates to a period of the 3rd century BCE.
Wells, in his Builder article on the subject, mentions a knightly order called the Order of the Golden Fleece which was a celebrated Order of Knighthood in Austria and Spain, founded by Philip III, Duke of Burgundy and the Netherlands, at Bruges, on the tenth of January, 1429, on the occasion of his marriage with Isabella, daughter of King John I. of Portugal.
This Order was instituted for the protection of the Roman Catholic Church, and the fleece was assumed for its emblem, from being a staple commodity of the Low Countries. The founder made himself Grand Master of the Order, a dignity appointed to descend to his successors; and the number of knights, at first limited to twenty-four, was subsequently increased.
Contests arose between Spain and Austria as to the possession of this Order of Knighthood, which were finally adjusted by introducing the Order into both countries. In Austria the Emperor may now create any number of Knights of the Golden Fleece from the nobility. If Protestants, the consent of the Pope is required. In Spain, Princes, Grandees, and personages of peculiar merit are alone eligible to membership in this Order.
It’s said that the Duke’s stated reason for founding the Order was:
for the reverence of God and the maintenance of our Christian Faith, and to honor and exalt the noble order of knighthood, and also …to do honor to old knights; …so that those who are at present still capable and strong of body and do each day the deeds pertaining to chivalry shall have cause to continue from good to better; and .. so that those knights and gentlemen who shall see worn the order … should honor those who wear it, and be encouraged to employ themselves in noble deeds…
An interesting biography exists on the Order through an association, La Confrérie Amicale de la Toison d’Or, dedicated to preserve its history. It says of the Order that the the meaning behind the use of the Fleece goes deeper than merely being a Hero’s Quest, saying,
It is clear from the icon of Jason on the early Golden Fleece insignia that the daring voyage of the Argo to bring back the sacred Golden Fleece from the edge of man’s known world touched Philipp deeply and helped inspire his dreams. The Argonauts were few in number, carefully selected for their nobility and talents and dedicated to the most noble of causes that also held religious and humanitarian importance. It is these values that we see in the statutes of the Order of the Golden Fleece.
Given the use in the degree as an ancient symbol, it seems unlikely that the knightly order is the point of reference within the Masonic degree. More likely is the mention of the fleece in the aspect of the Hero’s Quest, including allegories to jealousy, selfishness and sacrifice.
Wells goes on, saying,
The legend of the Golden Fleece, for which the Argonauts searched, is like the story of Masonry, a search for that which was lost. It is familiar to most readers of poetry and myths, and is interesting as being among the first known voyages of discovery.
Interestingly, Jason went on the quest for the Fleece in order to reclaim his kingdom from Pelias, an almost Biblical parallel to the story of Moses suggesting a deeper borrowing of Greek tradition in the writing of the Old Testament narrative.
Albert Mackey, in his Encyclopedia of Freemasonry and its Kindred Sciences (1914), says of the Fleece that it is “…evidently not to the Argonautic expedition in search of the golden fleece, nor to the deluge…but to certain decorations of honor with which the apron is compared” suggesting instead that the “…Order of the Golden Fleece was of high repute as an Order of Knighthood. It was established in Flanders, in 1429, by the Duke of Burgundy, who selected the fleece for its badge because wool was the staple production of the country. It has ever been considered…one of the most illustrious Orders in Europe” making it the “the highest decoration that can be bestowed upon a subject by a sovereign of Great Britain. But the Masons may have been also influenced in their selection of a reference to the Golden Fleece, by the fact that in the Middle Ages it was one of the most important symbols of the Hermetic philosophers.”
Interesting here that Mackey traces the distinction of the Fleece to the chivalric order and not the more widespread mythology of the ancient world. One line of thought that deserves greater exploration is the importance of the Golden Fleece to the Hermetic philosophers and what, if any connections that bears to Freemasonry.
As an aside, there is some (Masonic) suggestion that the Golden Fleece story suggests the bringing of sheep husbandry, grain, or wisdom to Greece from the east or the panning for gold with sheep’s wool in the ancient world.
The Golden Fleece has made its way into the material culture such that it exists in several iterations in film and in video games. In the World of Warcraft MMORPG universe as a unique drop trinket that “May cause extra gold to drop whenever you kill a target that yields experience or honor and is a sign of wealth and status amongst the Saurok.” which perhaps supports the notion of it being a symbol of authority and kingship. It also made an appearance in the game God of War II where it can be seen hanging from the mouth of a cursed Cerberus that had devoured Jason.
The quest for the fleece was also the subject in the 2013 film Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters. In the film, the teen Argonauts quest to find the Golden Fleece (with the power to heal anything) to rescue their diefic haven from oblivion.
In a more modern parlance for those wanting to undertake the quest for the ancient wool, artists Piotr Khrisanov and Jakov Matusovski have recreated the mythical Golden Fleece in Sochi, Russia. The monument aims to bring back the symbol of prosperity to the Black Sea town near where Jason and his crew went searching for the fleece in Caucasus. Made of bronze and covered in a layer of gold, it’s suggested that it weighs roughly 5 tons. A sister monument will be erected in the Greek city of Volos, which is believed to be where the Argonauts had set out for their campaign.
However you look at the Golden Fleece, in past or present telling, it still remains an emblem younger than the apron of a Mason.
 THE ORPHIC ARGONAUTICA – Pseudo-Orpheus 4th c. CE or laterm translated by Jason Colavito (2011)  Argonautica Orphica – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argonautica_Orphica  The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Argonautica, by Apollonius Rhodius  Excerpts of The Presentation of the Apron by Br. John W. Wells, from the Builder Magazine October, 1915
Fred Milliken is a man who needs little introduction, least wise to anyone who has had an ear to hear the heartbeat of Masonry for more than the last 15 years. With a finger, hand, foot and toe in just about every corner of the digital space, Fred either knows what’s going on or someone who does. Never afraid of tackling the wrongs in the craft, some might say that Brother Fred Milliken is Quixote-esque in his championing of what many see to be the status quo of an immovable force. But unlike Quixote, Fred see’s the challenges before him as opportunities to inspire and inform others rather than tilting insistly at allegoriphical windmills. If one thing can be said, Fred is unafraid of Change. To the contrary, he embraces it as easily as a man takes in a breath of air. If ever there was a valiant knight in shining armor who took on every dragon beset before him, Fred would be that knight. In every instance from which I’ve had the vantage of seeing the results of his work, Fred Milliken has demonstrated that he is the epitome of a just and upright Mason. A brother to me, I find his story fascinating. I think you will too.
Greg Stewart (GS)You’ve been in Masonry for some time; what has your Masonic journey been?
Fred Milliken (FM) Well it really starts with joining DeMolay in Lexington, Massachusetts on an invitation from my lifelong friend. Here I got to see the world of Freemasonry through the eyes of Dad Advisers and through meeting at a Masonic Temple.
I entered the line and became a Master Councilor. One of the really interesting events that my DeMoaly Chapter participated in was the state ritual competition when I was Senior Councilor. Pitted against many other Chapters from all over we made the first cut, the second cut, the third cut, the fourth cut and in the runoff won the coveted state prize of DeMoaly ritual champions for the state of Massachusetts. Those skills I learned were pivotal to my success as a Master in Freemasonry. I learned how to speak before a crowd, how to memorize ritual and how to organize a Lodge.
Much later (30 years later) when I was working in Plymouth, MA, I asked to join Plymouth Lodge. I was appointed to office and went up the line. When I became Master I had five Past Master Councilors and five Past Masters from Simon W. Robinson Lodge in Lexington install me and my officers. As Master, I invited the DeMolay Chapter from Brockton, MA, to perform the DeMolay Degree for us.
It wasn’t long before I joined Paul Revere Lodge in the city in which I lived. Paul Revere was in another Masonic District. I can remember doing the First Degree Master’s ritual on a Monday night for Plymouth Lodge and the next night, Tuesday, doing the Senior Deacon’s Middle Chamber lecture for Paul Revere Lodge. One of the first things I did upon joining Paul Revere Lodge was to become a member of the Paul Revere Colonial Degree Team which performed the Third Degree in Colonial costume attaching a patriotic message at the end of the degree. All of us were required to also adopt the name of a Revolutionary War Mason. When I joined the team all the really famous names were already taken so I researched my own name. After doing some research at Grand Lodge I chose Brother William Munroe from my home town of Lexington, Massachusetts. Lexington was the birthplace of the American Revolution when on April 19, 1775 Paul Revere rode into town hollering, “The British are coming, the British are coming.” There to meet him in the early morning hours was Captain Brother William Munroe of the Lexington Minute Men who was on an all night vigil on the Lexington Common. Years later William Munroe would become the first Master of Lexington’s first Lodge and he would journey to Grand Lodge to get his charter from Grand Master…Paul Revere.
The Paul Revere Colonial Degree Team traveled … everywhere. And we were always well received.
As Master of Plymouth Lodge I brought the Colonial Degree Team to Plymouth Lodge where we performed before five different Masters and three District Deputies, one delegation being from Rhode Island. I had to hire a police officer to control the traffic, parking and the crowd.
In due time I became Master of Paul Revere Lodge and one of the first things I did was to take the Colonial Degree Team to Simon W. Robinson Lodge in Lexington. It wasn’t just a performance of the Degree Team, however. It was also the first Tri Table Lodge in the state. Three Lodges got together with permission from the Grand Master to perform a Table Lodge together. So there were three Junior Wardens in the South, three Senior Wardens in the West and three Masters in the East. We started at 4:00 PM with the degree and finished the Table Lodge at 11:00 PM on a Saturday.
But our biggest trip was one which I started working on as Master and didn’t bring to fruition until I had stepped down from the East. And that was the Paul Revere Colonial Degree Team’s longest and farthest performance to Monroe Lodge in Bloomington, Indiana. On a Friday afternoon we flew 18 Colonial Degree Team members into Indianapolis where we were met by a Past Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Indiana in a small bus and transported to Bloomington. After a stop at the Shrine Club for a steak dinner and welcome we were transported to the state DeMolay Chalet for billeting. The next morning we were picked up and transported to the Lodge for Breakfast followed by a bus tour of Bloomington. We performed the Degree Saturday night raising one Brother to the sublime degree of Master Mason and flew back to Boston Sunday afternoon.
Now there is a lot more to tell…but there are other questions waiting to be answered.
GS – That’s an incredible early journey, I have to ask does the Masonry you do today match what your ideal of it was before you joined?
FM – Yes and no. It does in my own personal Lodge and Grand Lodge because I have chosen them because they do match that ideal. But in other jurisdictions across the U.S.A. it clearly does not. Today many Grand Lodges are out of control and overstepping their bounds at every turn.
GS – At some point in your Masonic career, you demitted from your, then, ‘regular’ grand lodge to join a Prince Hall system. What motivated you to move over?
FM – When I moved to Texas from Massachusetts I naturally transferred from the Mainstream Grand Lodge of Massachusetts to the Mainstream Grand Lodge of Texas. After joining a Lodge near my house I stated to travel. I love traveling as a Mason, meeting new Brothers and sharing ideas and thoughts. About the third Lodge I visited demonstrated to me a problem in Texas Mainstream Masonry which has been reported to me many times over by Brothers in other Southern jurisdictions. After the meeting we all gathered in the dining room for some fellowship with coffee and cookies. I was having a discussion with a group of Brothers around a large table when one Brother piped up,
Do you know what the difference between Masonry down here in Texas and up where you come from is?
I took the bait and said no.
We don’t allow no niggers in Lodge down here.
Now this wasn’t out in the boondocks somewhere. This was in an affluent suburb of Dallas.
Later, a friend of mine who I had corresponded with on one of the Masonic forums was getting raised to the sublime degree of Master Mason. So I trekked the 40 miles to his small town to help in his raising.
About three months later he got in touch with me all upset.
They are making racial jokes in an open tyled Lodge. I don’t know what to do. I cannot condone this outrage, yet some of these Brothers are my bosses at work, some are in my church and others are leaders in the community. If I make a big stink my life will be hell.
So I told him, keep your mouth shut and stop attending Lodge, if you want. I’ll make the big stink for you.
I wrote to the Grand Lodge of Texas and explained the situation without mentioning names or location, asking them if they would please get back to me with some plan of action to curb this abuse. No reply came.
At the time I was the feature writer on [Stephen] Dafoe’s Masonic Magazine and I wanted to publish the story there. Dafoe said that absolutely no names or locations could be used because of possible legal retaliation, but otherwise the story was a go. So the story went out.
Now somehow, who the article was directed at leaked out – but as it was just a floating rumor and could not be directly placed in our court. Finally a Brother from England wrote the Grand Lodge of Texas and demanded an answer and posted his question and answer he received publicly. Here was the response of a Grand Lodge officer who must, even to this day, remain nameless.
The respected and well known Grand Officer of the Grand Lodge of Texas said, and I paraphrase his remarks
Masons are all about toleration. We as Brothers have learned to tolerate different lifestyles, religions, political affiliations etc. Racism is just another point of view. As Masons we are obligated to tolerate this view even though we may not accept it. That’s what we are all about as Freemasons.
And that is when I demitted from my Texas Mainstream Lodge and applied to Prince Hall. Now you know the rest of the story.
GS – That’s a terrible story, with a conclusion that still seems to be playing out in slow-motion today. But I’m curious, why Prince Hall and not a Co-Masonic Lodge? Were you willing to leave Masonry all together if Prince Hall didn’t offer you up a home?
FM –I chose Prince Hall because even while in Mainstream Masonry I was outspoken for the admittance of African Americans to all American Grand Lodges. And that was what the quarrel with the Grand Lodge of Texas was all about, its treatment of African Americans. So, I thought, what better place to continue the fight than right there with many of them.
If Prince Hall didn’t take me, then I could maintain my Massachusetts affiliation and practice Freemasonry on the Internet only.
GS – Thus far, what’s your experience been like with Prince Hall Masonry? Do you find many differences or more similarities?
FM – The Freemasonry is remarkably similar. The Texas Prince Hall ritual is almost exactly the same as the Massachusetts Mainstream ritual with one word here or there changed and additional ritual added. One would not feel uncomfortable at all, ritual wise, coming into a Prince Hall Lodge from a Mainstream Lodge for the first time.
Style wise you will notice a difference. Prince Hall Freemasonry tends to be a little more religious. Christian Prince Hall Masons are vocal about Christianity and about politics. But don’t be fooled, all views and all religions are readily admitted and none are disparaged. You have to remember the history of African Americans. Back 200-250 years ago Blacks, free or slave, were not allowed to congregate except maybe in New England. There were no Black picnics or BBQs, no club meetings, no horse races and no Black Grange nor sports events. The one exception was the Black church. Here African Americans were permitted to congregate without interference. So to the church came the politicians, Freemasonry and meetings and social events of every kind. Everything operated out of the church because that is the only place Whites were comfortable letting blacks assemble.
Consequently African Americans did not, until recently, recognize a sharp division between church and state. Hence many aspects of Black society intermingled in the same venue producing a giant mixing bowl that seemed to bring all aspects of society together into one big recipe rather than to have separate distinctions.
Thus, until recently, almost every Prince Hall Freemason came out of the church. That is, he was a church member recommended by a Brother. That’s where everything emanated – from the church. African Americans do not hesitate then, when 100% of a Lodge is Christian, to express that Christianity. Who would object? The vast diversity you find in Mainstream Masonry is not prevalent in Prince Hall. But times are changing and that is not so true anymore.
GS – How So? How is it not so true anymore, from your observation?
FM – Well, when I came into Prince Hall Texas in 2006 I was one of a few White men visible in the Fraternity. Today I see many, many more Caucasians. I saw almost no Hispanics in 2006. Today I see a small cadre of Latinos. Same with Asians.
Prince Hall has traditionally been mostly Christian, Protestant and heavily Baptist and AME. Today I can point to a number of Muslims, some Catholics and some spiritual men with no organized religious affiliation.
The other big distinction that I see is that Prince Hall Freemasons meet with their female counterparts. The Heroines of Jericho (HOJ) and the Order of the Eastern Star (OES) meet in Grand Session in the same building and at the same time that Blue Lodge holds its Grand Sessions. The women are included in many local Lodge social and charitable undertakings. Both sexes within the Prince Hall Family work very closely together.
GS – So then, what bodies do you still carry dues cards for?
FM – In Texas PHA, I carry dues cards for all the York Rite Bodies and Blue Lodge. When I was in Massachusetts I was a member of the Scottish Rite and briefly a Shriner. I have not continued these affiliations in Texas because I do not have the time to belong to everything.
GS – So, let’s flash forward to more recent times. You were the appointed director of Phoenix Masonry, the on-line archive of Masonic texts, artifacts, and materials. Where do you see Phoenix Masonry going in 2014 and beyond? Any big plans you can share?
FM – Phoenixmasonry started as a website only, and one that featured mainly the old Masters of literature in the library and Masonic antiques in the museum. Even before I signed on as Executive Director, President, and curator, David Lettelier was posting my articles. The 21st century article section kept expanding after I signed on. Some “newer” books were added. Upon becoming Executive Director I turned Phoenixmasonry on to Social Media.
First it was a Facebook Page, then Twitter and lastly Rebel Mouse. After that I opened a Prince Hall Section to the website. The first thing posted in this new section was the six part YouTube video series of the William H. Upton Unity March & Memorial Dedication conducted by The Grand Lodge of F. & A. M. of Washington State and The Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Washington State. What a great story. If you don’t know it William Upton, Grand Master of Mainstream Masonry in the Grand Lodge of Washington State recognized Prince Hall in 1898. After he stepped down the next Grand Master rescinded the recognition. In his will PGM Upton demanded that no marker be placed on his grave until the two Grand Lodges once again recognized each other and coexisted in peace and harmony. Well it took until 1990 for that recognition to occur. And in 1991 both Grand Lodges met at the cemetery and in a special ceremony installed a headstone on the grave of PM William Upton. The videos show this ceremony.
The years went by, and as we came closer to the present the Museum was transported to Utah and set up in its own special housing. David stepped down from the Presidency portending a gradual turning over of the reins to youth. And that is what the future portends. David and I will gradually fade into the background and new fresh, young blood will take over management. Where they take Phoenixmasonry remains to be seen but it will always be a place of universal Freemasonry.
GS – For as long as I’ve known you, you’ve always had your ear to the Masonic web, how did that happen? Do you have any favorite haunts on the web that you still frequent?
FM – It all started with surfing the web in the late 90s. I came upon a Masonic E-forum called Masonic Light run by Jeff Naylor out of Indiana. Chris Hodapp was one its early members. I became a regular poster and when that kind of petered out I moved over to The LodgeRoom.com run by Stephen Dafoe who was also a regular on Masonic Light.
Over time I became one of the Moderators of the [Lodge Room] site. Theron Dunn and I used to have an ongoing head to head debate. I was the first interviewee on Dafoe’s Radio Free Mason in March of 2005, something I would repeat on Masonic Central a few years later.
I joined the Knights of the North but after about a year left charging that they were all talk and no action. When Stephen Dafoe pulled out of the Lodge Room forum, his moderators took over and renamed it The Three Pillars. I bowed out from that responsibility and stuck around for awhile but ultimately the position of the site [became one] that one could not criticize a Grand Lodge no matter what it did or did not do, leading to a parting of the ways. I switched over to MasterMason.com and became a moderator but ultimately the same problem cropped up and I faded away to use my talents elsewhere.
I formed my own Masonic Blog the Beehive and merged that with Freemason Information upon invitation by Greg Stewart.
I pretty much stick to Freemason Information, MyFreemasonry and Phoenixmasonry as well as The Phylaxis Society where I am a Fellow. Facebook is now a primary Masonic Source. I don’t need to haunt any locations because people are sending me stuff all the time.
GS – So where does eMasonry stand today? Do you have any observations or insight on the pulse of the eMasonic world?
FM – Masonic blogs, forums and Yahoo groups are out. That is, they are passing out of existence.
Outstanding Masonic websites still have a following, such as Freemason Information, MyFreemasonry and Phoenixmasonry. Freemasonry on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are in. It’s an ever evolving change in tastes. Tomorrow it will be something different perhaps in an entirely different form.
GS – Switching gears here, I know that the subject or Prince Hall and mainstream recognition is very close to you. Given your position as having been in both denominations of Masonry, do you still see them as two branches of the same family tree or do you think the two have grown and evolved into their own separate entities?
FM – Both mainstream and Prince Hall practice the same Freemasonry. In this aspect they are two parts of the same tree.
But, at the same time, they are their own separate entities.
Traditions, ways of doing things, Masonic government, and the Masonic approach to society have evolved over the years into just two different ways of doing the same thing. Those on the Mainstream side that call for Prince Hall to merge into Mainstream are too late. They should have welcomed Prince Hall into their ranks when over and over again Prince Hall requested such a merger 200 or more years ago. The two now have grown apart as any society would do after more than 200 years of separation.
They are like two Christian denominations that split apart and went their separate ways. After more than 200 years apart, forcing them back together would be a big mistake.
But they can and will, when allowed, exist side by side in peaceful coexistence. And they have since the first recognition to stick permanently was accomplished in 1989.
GS – You mention the recognition that happened in 1989. Which was that?
FM – 1989 is an important date in the Prince Hall Community. It was the first lasting recognition of Prince Hall Freemasonry that stuck – and stayed – by the Grand Lodge of Connecticut.
There were other recognitions in years past that were short lived and did not last. Today 42 states recognize Prince Hall. Look how far we have come since 1989. I am proud to have taken a teeny weenie part in all that. (You can see a up-to-date list of Prince Hall Masonry Recognition on Paul Bessel’s website)
GS – With that in mind, is recognition still an issue? Was it really ever?
FM – No recognition is no longer an issue as has been proven by 25 years of peaceful coexistence in all but a few states. That Mainstream and Prince Hall Freemasonry can exist side by side in the same state without incident cannot be challenged. The brotherly love and peace & harmony among regular Masons is now an American reality.
Those 9 states that are left who refuse to recognize Prince Hall no longer practice regular Freemasonry. The race issues aside, look at the Grand Lodge of Florida’s attempt at excluding non Christians. No Prince Hall Grand Lodge, no matter how vocal it’s Christian expression, would ever do that. This separation that exists in these 9 states is no longer a recognition issue. It is now an issue over the corruption of Freemasonry into something it was never intended to be. Those 9 Mainstream states no longer practice Freemasonry.
GS – Elaborate on that. What is it you think they practice?
FM – It’s not just the refusal to recognize Prince Hall, although that plays a part. It is also the refusal to admit African Americans. I remember vividly the battle with Victor Marshall and Gate City Lodge No 2 in Atlanta with the Georgia Grand Lodge who were ready to expel a Black man who “accidentally got raised” to be a Georgia Mainstream Master Mason. It was then we learned that the Georgia Constitution had a bylaw that prohibited non Whites. Freemason Information was in the forefront of that push back. We all have testimony that when Black Mainstream Master Masons from New York visited Florida that Masters refused to open Lodge and instead held Masonic educational sessions until said Black Masons left.
It is also the refusal to admit non Christians. Such thinking, long held quietly in the breast of local Masons who black-balled every non Christian who applied, became widely exposed when the Grand Lodge of Florida expelled Corey Bryson and Duke Bass for non Christian religious beliefs. Freemason Information was right there in the midst of this fight reporting all the details.
And the third big damning characteristic of these infamous 9 Grand Lodges is their refusal to follow Masonic convention or even their own Constitutions. The Grand Masters have taken over their Grand Lodges with total totalitarian rule. They expel Masons without a trial and close down Lodges without a reason or explanation. THEY GOVERN WITH FEAR.
In civil society when democracies rig elections and ignore the rule of law, they become Banana Republics, democracies in name only. When these 9 Grand Lodges govern their Grand Lodges in the manner described above, they become rogue Grand Lodges, Freemasonry in name only.
Not only do they give the rest of us in the Masonic community who live by the book a bad name, but they exist only because we have no national Masonic identity, no set of rules that would apply to all Grand Lodges in the United States.
GS – Why do you think the 42 other states still recognize them?
FM – The rest of the 42 states recognize them because of the tradition of standing together and not interfering in another Grand Lodge’s business and because, like politicians, they know if they stand by the indiscretions of their Party members, all the other members will stand by them when they step off the reservation. The problem with this is there is no check on the abuse of power in Freemasonry. In civil society we have The Constitution and the Supreme Court. What do we have in American Freemasonry?
GS – Wouldn’t that be taking it a bit to far? Is it, after all, an “at will” association meaning that we choose to be in and a part of it Given that it’s not a part of our day to day lives, like government, do you think most members are THAT actively engaged as to want to contribute like that?
FM – There must be SOMETHING to hold American Grand Masters responsible and accountable to acceptable Masonic practices. Otherwise Freemasonry in the United States is whatever a Grand Master and a Grand Lodge says it is, and you end up with 51 versions of Freemasonry, and sometimes Freemasonry out of control. There is a difference between differences because of tradition and differences solely for the purpose of an agenda that ends up corrupting the Craft. There is an urgent need in the United States for an American Masonic identity that binds all states and all members of the Craft in one common purpose and outlook.
This need not be some cumbersome bureaucracy added onto American Freemasonry. It could be as simple as a national Constitution and Freemasonry in the United States could be overseen by existing Masonic apparatus – the Conference of Grand Masters and the Masonic Service Association of North America.
Let’s look at an analogy – professional Major League Baseball. In the 20s you had the Black Sox scandal precipitated by abuses of the owners. In addition team owners were doing whatever they wanted with no standardized practices. Finally baseball realized it could not operate this way anymore, that the total freedom and separateness was dooming the national pastime. So the owners got together and appointed a Commissioner of baseball that still exists today. It keeps all the teams operating under the same set of rules and practices thereby eliminating corrupt and hurtful practices.
Like baseball teams, American Grand Lodges should not be able to do whatever they want. Now we perhaps don’t want a Commissioner of Freemasonry but we could continue on with a National Constitution with any administering or adjudication performed by the Council of Grand Masters with the help of the MSANA. This solution is simple, not adding any bureaucracy and keeps the sovereignty of each state Grand Lodge.
GS – You make an interesting point, one I’d like to come back to someday. But, let’s shift gears here and talk about your out of lodge work in the craft.You’ve written quite a bit over the years, about a lot of things, is there any one piece, or collection of pieces (Masonic or otherwise) that stand out in your mind as ground breaking or game changing?
FM – Well, I can think of four pieces that really stand out in my mind. One is a rather obscure piece titled Ballot Reform in which I make the point that we should no longer allow one Brother to hold the entire Lodge hostage to his personal prejudices. The way out of this enigma is something for you to find out by reading it. I will not spoil it just as I wouldn’t tell you who did it before you read a murder mystery nor explain the details of a good movie you have not yet seen.
In Of Revolutions and Reforms I make the point that before you market a product you best be sure the quality is up to snuff. I also say a lot of other stuff you can read about at your leisure.
Then there are the two papers I delivered in Alberta, Canada
First was World Peace through Brotherhood where I make the claim that if the majority of the world were Freemasons there would be no war. Again there is a lot of other stuff in more than 20 pages of point making if you want to look it up.
Lastly there is the intriguing Native American Rituals and The Influence of Freemasonry. Here I point to all Native American rituals that mirror Freemasonry as having been borrowed from the White Man – EXCEPT ONE – for which there is no rational explanation of how it got here (North America) or who designed it or how it happens to resemble a Masonic degree.
GS – So, given your history and experience, what do you see as the future of Masonry? Where do you think its heading?
FM – Take a look at the progression of human communication. First there was mostly hand written letter writing. Then came the telegraph which was more a message medium than a communication one. Soon after came the telephone and we could talk, voice to voice, to one another. Then along comes the Internet and we are all introduced to E-Mail. Not long after texting became the preferred method of communication which is really a personal telegraph in everybody’s hands. And today with venues like Skype and a webcam we can do it all!
So goes Freemasonry. From Lodge meetings attended by large numbers in person we have evolved into eMasonry that is trending now towards virtual Freemasonry. Soon we will have actual degrees being conferred in electronic Lodge rooms where all can gather from their smart phone or computer and see each other in a private (tyled) room. Just as personal communication is becoming more impersonal so is Freemasonry. Lodges are lacking attendance while web Masonry hums!
Look for more of the same. Today people value convenience and the ability to pop in and out just as quickly as a virtue. This is not your grandfather’s world. A 9 to 5 world no longer exists. Because of that Freemasonry will follow wherever technology goes. Already the rising stars in Freemasonry are the Masonic techies!
GS – So then, this leads me to wonder about the elephant in the room – membership has always been this invisible/silent specter for all moralities of the craft. Given your experience in both the Prince Hall world and mainstream world, do you see this is a universal issue between all branches?
FM – Yes, it is a universal issue in all branches of Freemasonry and I place the blame squarely upon Grand Lodges. Membership is the life blood of any organization and the way we replace ourselves. Without new blood we wither and die.
GS – Why do you think that is?
FM – Look at the answer above in the future of Masonry. Grand Lodges are still trying to operate in the modus operandi of yesteryear. They are all still driving model T cars. They can’t understand why people would rather text than write hand written letters. And that has been the problem from the start with Grand Lodges. When the world wide web first exploded across America they refused to participate in it and some even banned their members from becoming involved in it Masonically. It was like pulling teeth to get GLs to create a web page. A masonic forum, where Freemasonry was openly discussed, was considered heresy.
And now, as we are changing even more in our methods of communication, Grand Lodges have failed to come along. They are always lagging one step behind.
If we could find a Grand Lodge that would sell its building and operate out of a movie [theater] one to up to four times per year, with a live broadcast only available to you through your computer by a password protected (tyled) site, we might be getting somewhere. If, on a smaller scale, local Lodges could hold all their meetings in the same manner, then perhaps we would be on top of technology promoting it, instead of lagging behind, discouraging it.
If you can sit home and go to church from the favorite room in your house you ought to be able to do the same with Freemasonry. Personal meetings would then be confined to social affairs like BBQ’s, banquets and taverns.
GS – But, do you think that would change the tone of the lodge experience, or even masonry itself?
FM – While touting E-Degrees and all that modern technology brings us, I’m still old school enough to think that degrees should be done “in the flesh.” And you would want to do banquets and celebrations likewise. But other than that I think that Masonic Lodges meet too often and I compare them to the all news networks on TV. These networks, if they have no new news to report, have to make up the news just to keep broadcasting.
Masonic Lodges that meet often have to make up things to do in order to have their meeting. They do a very bad job at that. Many hurt their cause rather than help it.
My ideal Lodge would meet quarterly and gather for celebrations, trips and banquets as scheduled. Those four Lodge meetings might have a degree; always have a dinner and often a guest speaker. In my mind it is better to do a bang up job once in a while rather than a mediocre job more often.
Does that change the tone of Freemasonry? You bet. It gets rid of boring business meetings where you decide how many rolls of toilet paper to order with bad coffee and stale donuts afterwards. Business can be done online and by an Executive Committee with a quick Lodge sanction.
GS – Over the years, there has been drum beats for everything from a Masonic Congress, a national Grand Lodge, lifting territorial jurisdiction restrictions, break away Masonic lodges and even start-up Grand Lodges. Why do you think they have had only limited success, if any at all?
FM – If an organization is to exist across territorial bounds, if it is to be a movement open to everybody, everywhere, who meet certain basic qualifications, then it must have structure, it must be able to govern itself. Without structure there [would be] chaos.
My problem is that the structure that Freemasonry has chosen for the United States is woefully inadequate. This is no longer 1776. Our nation today has evolved into a centralized federal government of immense power. It long ago gave up the Articles of Confederation and evolved into a Constitutional federalized Republic. But Freemasonry has remained stuck in the 1700s.
This does not suit our modern mobile society. Today, unlike the 1700s, you could grow up in New York, go to college in Illinois, get your first big job in Texas, a promotion in California and then retire to Florida. And everywhere you go Freemasonry would be different. Sometimes radically different. Take it from someone who has experienced this first-hand, both in Northern and Southern Freemasonry.
We have 51 little fiefdoms with 51 variations of American Freemasonry. THERE IS NO AMERICAN IDENTITY TO FREEMASONRY IN THE UNITED STATES. And that’s a shame. People today don’t think of themselves as New Yorkers or Nebraskans or Arizonians. They think of themselves as Americans. But Freemasonry prohibits the adaptation of that concept to the Craft.
GS – So what do you think would remedy that?
FM – For awhile I was for a National Grand Lodge. But some wise Brothers pointed out that if states Grand Lodges are screwed up, think about the politics and control a National Grand Lodge would do. Also Prince Hall tried a National Grand Lodge and it didn’t last.
I am now of the opinion that there needs to be a national Masonic Constitution. This would not interfere with the sovereignty of each state Grand Lodge but would bind each one to some basic, general cornerstones. That would provide a national identity for the Craft in the United States and would eliminate the corruption of Freemasonry that can happen when separate entities remain apart for an extended period of time.
GS – What do you mean by corruption? Do you mean in a tangible way, as in a literal systemic corruption or in an intangible way such as in its ethos of corruption?
FM– No, [I mean] a corruption that alters and changes things. Like the English language as it is spoken.
Contrast the way English is spoken in England, America and Australia. It all started out the same, but separation over time introduced idiosyncrasies and a flavor that distinguished each version from the other. And that is really because they were apart for such a long time.
Now take 51 Grand Lodges and leave them to their own devices, totally separate and apart for a long period of time and you end up with 51 versions of Freemasonry. That’s corrupted Freemasonry. It would not be unexpected within the world, that is English Freemasonry or Australian Freemasonry, to be different. But, within the same country?
In a highly mobile society all you are doing is confusing people. And you end up with innovations like no Blacks allowed, Christian only, the Grand Master is God, cowboy hats and jeans, one year Grand Master terms, three year Grand Master terms, voting in Grand Lodge, no voting in Grand Lodge, a Grand Lodge line, no Grand Lodge line, an appointed Grand Master, five Landmarks, nine Landmarks, 13 Landmarks, no Landmarks at all and on and on and on.
Given enough time and you can find a Masonic Grand Lodge in the USA that is no longer Masonic.
GS – On that somber note, let’s talk about something more tangible. I always like ask what, or who, was your greatest Masonic influence? Who do you look up to in the Masonic world?
FM – There is no doubt in my mind that I owe an enormous debt to Stephen Dafoe.
Dafoe nurtured my writing and taught me how to do it right. He gave me a column in his magazines The Fourth Part of A Circle and Masonic Magazine. He encouraged me to keep at it and when I botched it up he showed me how it would read better.
Dafoe was instrumental in providing an all expenses paid trip to Alberta in 2005 for both me and my wife where I got the royal tour and the chance to address Alberta Lodges with two papers I had written. And a special thank you is due John Hayes who also joined Dafoe in welcoming me to Alberta and who was kind enough to board me and my wife at his house. There is nobody that did more to mentor me than Stephen Dafoe and I am eternally grateful.
And then there is also the encouragement and home for my writings provided me by David Lettelier. David was the one who offered me the post of Executive Director of Phoenixmasonry and I have grown immensely with Lettelier at my side.
GS – You mentioned writing in two places, in addition to the Beehive column, where you have written Masonic articles? Where else have you or do you now write?
FM – I started out by writing posts on Masonic forums in the 90s. When Theron Dunn and I went head to head those posts could be lengthy. That developed into articles for those sites. After Theron died my main antagonist became Grayson Mayfield. It was at this point that Stephen Dafoe took me under his wing and invited me to write articles for “The Fourth Part Of A Circle” and “Masonic Magazine.” After forming my own Blog “The Beehive” I merged it with Freemason Information. I also guest wrote at some other popular Masonic blogs. Then I began writing for Phoenixmasonry. Today I still write for The Beehive but I also write for my Grand Lodge publication “The Texas Prince Hall Freemason” where I am Associate Editor.” And I write for the Phylaxis Magazine where I help with editing and where I hold the office of Visual Archives Director. In March of 2014 I delivered a major paper to the annual session of the Phylaxis Society in Albuquerque, New Mexico. They presented me, as they do with anyone who delivers a paper, the award of the cup of knowledge.
I write in and for other fields of endeavor, owning some other websites, but as I like to keep the different aspects of what I do separate from one another, those shall remain in the dark here.
GS – It might be good to touch on one last thing about you and your Masonic journey, and that is your conversion to Catholicism. How difficult is it to be a Catholic Mason today?
FM – Well first of all for all those judgmental Catholics out there, I was not a Catholic who joined Freemasonry. I was a Mason who joined Catholicism. And I had two close Catholic Brothers in my Lodge who were by my side every step of the way. And my Priest, Father Jack, thought Freemasonry was great. At my first confession he said there is nothing bad about Freemasonry. Come into the church with full sacramental rights. You are most welcome.
The problem is that Father Jack isn’t in every Parish and I don’t always get the same approval. So I don’t push the subject. I don’t avoid it but I don’t go out of my way to mention it either. My conscience is my guide.
There is much acceptance of Freemasonry within the Catholic Church even though its official position is otherwise. It is going to be a long term re-education project. But I don’t intend to miss out on either world because some people have got their facts all wrong.
GS – Since you brought it up, your conversion to the Catholic Church, what was it that led you to that conversion?
FM – A number of things led me to become Catholic. Since my wife has always been a Catholic, I was exposed to it all the time.
After worshiping as a Protestant for many years I came to realize that they were worshiping the Bible. For a Protestant everything is about scripture and scripture answers every question and solves every problem.
I would rather worship Jesus, so I converted to Catholicism.
We often talk about the mysteries of Freemasonry. Well, there are also the mysteries of Catholicism. In practice Catholicism can be quite mystical. Protestantism tries to explain the unexplainable with reason and logic. It is a church of the Word. Catholics have the mystical experience of the Eucharist. It is a church of the Sacraments. The ritualism and pomp and circumstance of Catholicism remind me of Freemasonry.
Given all that it still was a difficult leap to make. What pushed me over the top was this story.
I cannot tell you why, but when I was still a Protestant I began going to a Catholic healing services in a neighboring town in Massachusetts. After communion we would approach the front where there were groups of three – a Priest, a nun and a deacon or lay leader. They would surround you and after asking you what problems you had. They would lay hands on you praying – faster and faster, ending in a great crescendo. Many would collapse on the floor in what we call being slain by the Spirit. I never was.
A friend of mine, we worked together and I brought him into the Lodge, was diagnosed with pancreatic and liver cancer and given six months to live. He was a non practicing Catholic. I recommended he go to one of these healing services. He went, but I could not go with him as I had to work. I asked him how it went and he said well I don’t believe in all that mumbo jumbo, especially the fainting part. So I was surprised when he said he was going into Boston for a healing service led by a Priest who had just come in from Ireland. His report back was quite different this time. He said you won’t believe it, but I passed out for 20 minutes.
Within a month he had to go back to the doctor for a progress examination. His liver and pancreatic tumors were all gone. What was, he had been told, a 98% chance of dying within 6 moths now was a complete cure. That was 15 years ago. My friend is still alive.
GS – That’s an amazing story. I always feel in awe over mystical experiences like that. Before we wrap up, is there any other important piece to the Fred Milliken story that needs to be put on the record?
FM – I can’t leave this interview without mentioning how I became Squire Bentley.
When I first started out on the Internet I used Squire as a pseudonym because I feared censorship by my Grand Lodge. Today I no longer have that fear and have dropped the Squire camouflage in most applications.
I was invited by the Fellowship Players a Masonic drama club from Fellowship Lodge in Bridgewater, MA, to try the part of Squire Bentley in the Carl Claudy play A Rose Upon The Altar. That is a very emotional part and was a challenge I was up for. I can especially remember two performances. The first was before the local Knights of Columbus and their wives. And the second was before a delegation of visiting Masons and their wives from England. That performance was open to the public and members of my family came. Performing in this play was one of my passions in Freemasonry.
And right beside me as I write these words is my Squire Bentley lantern, a present from Stephen Dafoe.
Fred, as always, my respect and appreciation to you for your wisdom and time. I can say, every time I speak or listen to you, I learn something new – both about the fraternity and about you. You can read more from Fred “Squire Bently” Milliken at the Bee Hive.
Editor’s note – Fred has since stepped down and retired from the position of Executive Director at Phoenix Masonry and no longer occupies that position saying of it “It was a great moment in my life and I would not want to ignore it or sweep it under the rug”
The topic of Masonic Music came up recently in a sub reddit forum with the posting of the Grand Leveler video from up and coming artist Apathy. The gist of the discussion came down to what was art, and more particularly, what elevated Masonry in its art.
In one of the exchanges, Mozart’s Magic Flute was used as an exemplary example of the ideas of Masonry elevated in an artistic endeavor.
The argument aside, it made me wonder “How many of today’s Masons have actively sought out the Masonic connections in Mozart’s Great Work, let alone sat down to watch the three hour epic?”
So, not that a Google search wouldn’t facilitate this, here’s your chance.
And, if you need some enticements, I’ve brought in some commentary from just a couple of sources on the opera to give it some context and flavor to induce interest. Interestingly, look for the Vernunft, Weisheit, and Natur over the doors.
And, if the German Aria throws you, here is a German to English translation on what they’re saying.
Both Mozart and the opera’s librettist, Emanuel Schikaneder, were devoted Freemasons, at a time when the Masonic order was frowned upon by the authorities and mistrusted by the public. Its meetings were mysterious to outsiders and the order was believed to be connected to the principles of the Enlightenment, so established political leaders were a little nervous about it. The emperor of Austria even restricted the number of Masonic lodges allowed to operate in the country.
So, while Mozart’s drama fell into the general category of “magic opera” — works based on folk tales, with plenty of stunts, scene changes and spectacular stage effects — it was also a political statement in disguise. Mozart and Schikaneder crammed all kinds of veiled Masonic symbolism into The Magic Flute, and people have been trying to figure the whole thing out for more than 200 years.
Given the story, the numerous symbols and Masonic references, and the musical treatments Mozart employs, it is hard to dispute that Freemasonry played a huge influence over the creation of The Magic Flute. However, it is important not to view the work simply as a Masonic treatise. Much more than that, Freemasonry is used as a foundation stone from which the truly great elements of the opera spring.
So, rather than try and reinvent the wheel and re-explain something so well researched and commented upon already, I suggest rather sitting back and enjoying the Magic Flute in its totality, from this UGA Opera Theater production of The Magic Flute.
Not much I can say about this video, other than to comment that it seems to really come from the heart takes a serious and respectful approach to the fraternity in a very modern and contemporary way. It definitely belongs in the sphere of the Masonic nexus of the material culture.
Even if you’re not a fan of the genre of the music I think you’ll find some depth in the message.
From the YouTube Credits:
Apathy – “The Grand Leveler” produced by Smoke The World
From the album “Connecticut Casual” (June 3rd, 2014)
On Dirty Version Records
Video by Reel Wolf Productions
Special thanks to the officers and brethren of Coastal Lodge #57 in Stonington CT & Bro. Jim Johnson