Internet Masonry (or better called eMasonry) has grown in epic proportions in contrast to its brick and mortar real world counterpart of lodge Masonry. Why is this one may wonder outside of the usual distractions of modern life? One answer could be in the virtual life Masonic, the online world where grand lodge boundaries blur and disappear while social interaction takes place between flashing pixels hastily entered keystrokes. Is this online collective the future of Freemasonry? In this installment of the Sojourners, I talk to Blake Bowden who is the Founder and Site Administrator of the online community MyFreemasonry, one of the up-and coming online forums for Masons to discuss all things Freemasonry. The forum is a Mecca of discussion on current and past events and a safe forum for discussing new ideas about the ancient fraternity. Formerly the Masons of Texas forum, the Lone Star state site has grown beyond its already broad borders to encompass a bigger landscape of Masonic study and interactivity, much of which stemming from the keyboard and computer of Brother Blake Bowden.
Greg Stewart (GS) –Tell me about yourself, who is Blake Bowden?
Blake Bowden (BB) – It all started back in June 20, 1975, in a dusty west Texas town called Odessa. After enjoying the picturesque scenery of dust and tumbleweeds for five years, my family decided to relocate us to Gonzales, Texas, where I spent most of my time during my adolescence. There weren’t many activities for young kids in Gonzales, so I spent much of my time tinkering with computers and electronics. I remember the excitement I experienced the very first time I logged online. This wasn’t the Internet, but a dial-up BBS. My cutting edge 300 Kbps modem beeped squealed and even though call-waiting would kill the connection, it provided me a link to another world. Since then I’ve joined the Craft and now have the privilege of being the Administrator of My Freemasonry.
GS – How long have you been in Masonry, what bodies, groups or orgs do you belong to within the craft? Which do you spend the most time in?
BB – I was initiated December 2007 and recently finished up my term as Worshipful Master of Gonzales Masonic Lodge No. 30 A.F. & A.M. I’m also a member of the York Rite and Scottish Rite, however Blue Lodge is where I spend the majority of my “Masonic” time.
GS – What first drew you to Masonry?
BB – Growing up I remember my Mother describing what a wonderful man my Great Grandfather was. One day I was going through a little chest and ran across a funny looking coin. When I asked her what it was, she replied that it was his “Masons” coin. As time progressed, movies such as National Treasure caught my eye, but Masonry was still on the back-burner. It wasn’t until 2007 that I decided to take the first step in becoming a Mason.
GS – Did your first impression prove to be true or did it change? How so?
BB – The teachings of Freemasonry have not only met my expectations, but also surpassed them. What did change is my opinion of Grand Lodge. For some members, especially those in the hierarchy, Freemasonry is nothing more than a political game.
GS – How did you find your way into eMasonry and what led to the creation of the original Masons of Texas forum?
BB – Before I petitioned for the degrees of Masonry, I scoured message boards and watched YouTube channels for hours on end but the problem I discovered was that most of the information was anti-Masonic. I had to filter through the usual nonsense like Freemasons are devil worshipers or members of the Illuminati so I decided to do something about it. We started as a YouTube video promoting Freemasonry in Texas, then a district wide discussion forum using phpbb. After that I launched Masons of Texas and went statewide.
GS – So, the forum originally starting as Texas Mason, how did it evolve?
BB – One of the biggest issues I’ve encountered has been with the Grand Lodge of Texas A.F. & A.M. Back in 2007, their website was archaic, hard to use and offered next to nothing for those seeking to become a Mason. That’s where we stepped in. If you had a question about a particular law we had someone available to answer it. If you needed assistance finding a Lodge in your area, someone would be there for you as well. We were an independent website – not a mouthpiece which made the Grand Lodge nervous. For the first time Texas Masons were discussing taboo topics such as extending relations with Prince Hall Masons, dealing with racism within a Lodge or if it were possible for a homosexual to become a Mason, etc.
I’ll never forget being forwarded an email from our Grand Secretary who labeled our site “Anti-Grand Lodge”. I won’t detail my response, but I did receive an apology directly from Grand Lodge.
GS – Was that the reason to change to My Freemasonry?
BB – I wanted to bring the success we had with the Masons of Texas website to more Masons. I also felt that we’d hit a cap in both participation and membership so Masons of Texas was retired. My Freemasonry will continue to grow, but keep a lookout for Masons of Texas to be reborn later this year.
GS – Forum participants can be hotly protective about their home on the web, was there any internal discussion in the forum about the change?
BB – We actually changed our name a couple of years ago to “Freemason Connect” and it flopped. Most of our members were from Texas and preferred that it remained a site focused on Texas Masonry. Since then our membership has become more diverse so last year I decided to re-launch as My Freemasonry and so far the response has been phenomenal.
GS – With the forum in mind,do you think eMasonry has changed the landscape of how we view fraternal interactions? Was it for the better or the worse?
BB – Absolutely! For example I have numerous Prince Hall Masons with whom I interact with on a daily basis. Chances are that wouldn’t happen without Freemasonry being on the Internet. Bridges are being built, misconceptions are being addressed, and thoughts and ideas are being shared across all spectrums of the Craft.
GS – As the forum founder, administrator and moderator in chief for one of the larger Masonic messages boards on the web, what are your observations about eMasonry? How has evolved?
BB – I’ve noticed that Lodges and Grand Lodges are finally moving away from their circa 1999 GeoCities-class websites and developing quality ones.
GS – One of the trends with forums has always been freshness. What do you do to keep things fresh for returning visitors?
BB – This is the number one issue facing Masonic sites. If you don’t offer your visitors fresh content, they won’t come back. That’s why many of the early Masonic websites are stagnant in both content and membership. To keep things fresh I solicit articles from our members and once approved, they are promoted to our homepage. I also have our site pull RSS feeds from other Masonic websites, which not only brings new content to ours, but also sends traffic to theirs. Another is making the site personal. Whether you’re looking for a recipe, seeking family advice, discussing the latest movie, or even requesting a simple prayer for something you’re going through, we’re there.
My Freemasonry isn’t just about Masonry, but the Mason.
GS – This may get into the speculative realm, but how do you see the online world of eMasonry juxtaposed to the real world of lodge masonry? Do you think the former can operate or function in the same capacity as the latter? Why or why not?
BB – When it comes to Masonic Education, nothing beats eMasonry. I’ve learned more about the Craft being online than I ever would in Lodge. So many Masons are content with the business as usual mentality, which is why many Jurisdictions continue to see a decline in membership. Lodge meetings shouldn’t be just about paying bills or passing out fundraiser signup sheets and until Lodges start teaching Freemasonry and not going for the record of having the shortest meeting times, their memberships will continue to decline. That being said, nothing beats a handshake and a friendly smile that you receive when attending a Lodge meeting.
GS – Would it be to the fraternity’s advantage if it did embrace eMasonry?
BB – Yes, as they should compliment each other.
GS – Given your proximity to so many web-masons, do you get any feeling of a common theme or resonance from them by way of trends, questions, or movements?
BB – I believe that many Masonic websites and those who administrate them have become burned out. One could spend years building up a website yet gain just as many users in two weeks with a Facebook page. Is Facebook the same as a full-blown website? Of course not, however people are already checking on their Facebook and/or Google + so why not take advantage of it? I consider social networking an essential tool for our site, not a replacement. For example, every post on our site can be “Liked” and visitors can skip the registration process using their Facebook accounts. If something doesn’t drive traffic to our site, I kill it and move on.
As far as trends, I see eMasons branching out and utilizing social media more vs. launching full websites.
Most users don’t realize the time and effort required to run a successful website. Not only do you have to provide fresh content but fight off spam bots, update software, deal with hosting providers, communicate with developers, install plug-ins, test mobile app compatibility, pay developer fees, sign app certificates, fix broken links, copy articles across social media, admin social media comments not to mention the hundreds of emails we receive each week. I wouldn’t trade it for anything though.
GS – Do you see the interactions of eMasonry as building blocks to more lodge interaction or another distraction/detractor to an active lodge life? Is there a point of balance between the two or an enhancement that you think could be made out both?
BB – I believe it’s possible that the younger generation could become distracted as they may get more out of Masonry online than what their Lodge offers. The younger generation is hungry for knowledge and Masonic education but it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find a Lodge that provides it. I recommend using eMasonry as a tool to improve your Lodge. For example, I encourage all of our members to find an article, essay, poem or even some trivia and share it at their stated meetings.
GS – With the booming social media trends, how do you see My Freemasonry in that mix? Does it have much interaction beyond the occasional mention or link?
BB – My Freemasonry has a Facebook, Google +, Newsstand, Twitter and YouTube channel and their sole purpose is to drive traffic to the site. If I have an article, I post an excerpt with a link back. We also have mobile apps that keep our users connected while on the go. The key to a successful site, namely a Masonic one, is content and utilizing numerous methods to deliver it.
GS – Who or what gives you the inspiration to do what you do? What is the driving force behind your work?
BB – Making a difference. It brings a smile to my face when I receive an email from someone needing help to petition a Lodge and months later they’re sharing their initiation date. Just a couple of years ago the communication between Prince Hall and “Mainstream” Masons in Texas was virtually non-existent, now the floodgates are wide open. My Freemasonry isn’t successful because of me, but the thousands of blogs and posts created by our members.
Blake, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me and share your thoughts. I definitely appreciate it and I know many reading it will appreciate the resources you’ve created for them on the web.
You can join the conversation on the web by visiting MyFreemasonry and interacting with the many conversations taking place about all aspects of the the life Masonic.
The question of What is Freemasonry has been one I’ve tried to answer myself for many years. In a recent column, Tim Bryce took a stab at the elusive answer in a very astute and concise fashion coming to the ultimate conclusion that Freemasonry is a fraternity as “… an environment of companionship dedicated to the social development of its members.” While I don’t think his conclusion is to far from the mark, how he got there bares some consideration.
Did his conclusions go far enough?
In his conclusion, Tim says that Freemasonry is, at its core, a fraternity – debunking the notion of it being a club, philanthropy, religion or a corporation. So, allow me to begin by considering what exactly a fraternity is.
The word fraternity has it’s origins in Old French, fraternité , with even older use from Latin, fraternitatem, which was defined as brotherhood. Rightly so, the notion of the word frater, as Tim says, was the Latin equivalent of the word brother, a term still used in some esoteric groups in present day.
The notion of the term fraternity has even older origins dating back to antiquity in the notion of the mystery cults of Rome (such as the Mithraic rites) evolving through the centuries to the trade guilds later to be embodied in American Culture through open organizations of association, at least so the Encyclopedic entry in Wikipedia would suggest. That same article says that the American social enterprise that became Democracy was essentially an outgrowth of this notion of fraternity in that religious freedom gave cause for ideological association giving rise to a “nation of joiners” that Alexis de Tocqueville (1830) and Arthur M. Schlesinger (1944) saw fit to characterize American as.
But, that exploration may take us to far afield. I will say that the de Tocqueville and Schlesinger’s conclusion has been challenged in more recent scholarship not as outgrowths of democracy but as institutionalization’s of civil society and the need for public engagement – an idea that turns the no religion or politics onto its head given the depth to which both are, today, the main focus of our present society.
As a fraternity, Tim’s conclusion is that while not a club, philanthropy, religion or political action committee, Freemasonry is a place where, and I’m paraphrasing here, moral men meet on common ground to act rightly to one another. He concludes saying that men gathered like this for no more reason than to associate so.
While I can’t find a disagreement on that conclusion, one has to ask gather to for what end? Personally, that conclusion has the taste of a mutual appreciation society, where members merely gather to congratulate one another on rank promotion and fine regalia acquisitions while debating on the cost of linen cleaning and the use of pasta sauce. This might sound glib, but if that were the case, why include the initiatic trappings to make an individual a Mason in the first place? It is in that rituals, and the ideas behind them, that I see the difference in there mere aspect of being a fraternity of self congratulators.
But, let’s take some time to analyze the elements Tim suggests the fraternity is not. To do this, I we need to invoke an old Hindu parable on avoiding dogmatism.
In the parable on how to define an elephant we might find a good approach to how to define this conundrum of what Freemasonry is by describing its parts, or more precisely, the elements that Tim says Freemasonry is not. The Hindu telling of the parable goes something along these lines:
A number of blind men came to an elephant. Somebody told them that it was an elephant. The blind men asked, ‘What is the elephant like?’ and they began to touch its body. One of them said: ‘It is like a pillar.’ This blind man had only touched its leg. Another man said, ‘The elephant is like a husking basket.’ This person had only touched its ears. Similarly, he who touched its trunk or its belly talked of it differently. In the same way, he who has seen the Lord in a particular way limits the Lord to that alone and thinks that He is nothing else. – Ramakrishna, an Indian mystic of the 19th-century
The conclusion of the parable is that no one individual is capable of defining the elephant by merely describing its parts. That only in the summations of their totality was any consensus possible as to what, exactly, the elephant was, and even then a deaf man could still draw other conclusions rendering even further definitions. Ultimately, the moral is that while we seek to define something, the only way to do so is by adequately and completely describing its parts.
In his piece, Tim gives us several of components saying that Freemasonry has variously been defined as a club, a corporation, a religion, a political action committee, and philanthropy. To each of these he says that they miss the mark in defining the institution coming to the conclusion that it is merely a fraternity of association where these elements may, or may not, take place. I argue that, to the contrary, Masonry is all of these things at various levels and at the same time while cloaked in the old fraternal notion of a fraternal society of common cause.
Is Freemasonry a Club?
While a seeming antiquated notion today, at one point in the 20th century clubs were about as diffuse as the subjects they gathered to associate about. Garden clubs, chess clubs, book clubs, motorcycle clubs, car clubs, hunting clubs, gun clubs, card clubs… the list could go on and on. DMOZ, the open source directory, lists 132,542 clubs and more than 10,000 organizations. In some respects, Freemasonry is one just another one of these affinity clubs.
Is Freemasonry a Corporation?
The U.S. Small Business Association defines a corporation as “an independent legal entity owned by shareholders which means that “the corporation itself, not the shareholders that own it, is held legally liable for the actions and debts the business incurs.” In Tim’s piece, he rightly states that a corporation is profitable in nature, which is the argument he makes for why Freemasonry is not a corporation. Yet, without some profit, the organization cannot grow or anticipate any developments that might necessitate some capital investment (a new lodge, educational materials, new jewels, and so on). At some level, even as a non-profit organization Freemasonry should function as a 501(c)10, which the IRS describes as:
A domestic fraternal society, order, or association must meet the following requirements:
It must have a fraternal purpose. An organization has a fraternal purpose if membership is based on a common tie or the pursuit of a common object. The organization must also have a substantial program of fraternal activities.
It must operate under the lodge system. Operating under the lodge system requires, at a minimum, two active entities: (i) a parent organization; and (ii) a subordinate organization (called a lodge, branch, or the like) chartered by the parent and largely self-governing.
It must not provide for the payment of life, sick, accident, or other benefits to its members. The organization may arrange with insurance companies to provide optional insurance to its members without jeopardizing its exempt status.
It must devote its net earnings exclusively to religious, charitable, scientific, literary, educational, and fraternal purposes.
It must be a domestic organization, that is, it must be organized in the United States.
So then, in this configuration, essentially, Freemasonry, under the Grand Lodge system, is a Corporation that does not take a profit, dedicating its net earnings exclusively to religious, charitable, scientific, literary, educational, and fraternal purposes. This may not apply at the lodge level, but I would suspect that most TempleBoards function as corporations to manage the infrastructure investment of the lodge building. Does this make Freemasonry a corporation? I would say yes and no in that while not a “corporate body” with the many denominations of Freemasonry, at its management level, it is a corporation where the lodges annually elected leaders (Worshipful Masters) to vote at shareholder meetings annually in the Grand Lodge communications electing new corporate leadership.
This corporate idea is probably most observable in the Shrine and in the Scottish Rite, both of which having many nonprofit corporations under their dominion.
Is Freemasonry a Religion?
Tim makes another point in his piece that Freemasonry is not a religion, and while nearly every tract written, published and produced repeats this mantra (right down into the very landmarks of the institution) it does promote a religious lifestyle. Further, it embraces a wide acceptance of religious thought (empirically) seeing all faiths as equal by 1) acknowledging all faiths and 2) embracing them in common cause in the lodge.
Interestingly, the early Unitarian preacher William Ellery Channing (d.October, 1842) would say that “there is but one thing essential in religion and this is the doing of God’s will” but in doing so in communion, in the same sermon he says:
It is not with the voice only that man communicates with man Nothing is so eloquent as the deep silence of a crowd A sigh a low breathing sometimes pours into us our neighbour’s soul more than a volume of words There is a communication more subtle than freemasonry between those who feel alike How contagious is holy feeling.
The point of making this reference is that while Freemasonry does not espouse a religious practice, it certainly exudes a devout religious timbre that its religious tolerance allows to resonate through its many parts.
Is Freemasonry a Political Action Committee?
This was an interesting inclusion and one that I had not considered before in conjunction to Freemasonry. The purpose of a PAC, says Opensecrets.org, is the “raising and spending money to elect and defeat candidates” representing “business, labor or ideological interests.”
While no Masonic PAC exists (you can check yourself by consulting PACRONYMS, which is an alphabetical list of acronyms, abbreviations, initials, and common names of federal political action committees (PACs) identifying committees when their full names are not disclosed on campaign finance reports. My search yielded no Masonic named organizations)
What is interesting is what defines a PAC. At the Federal Level, a PAC is an organization that receives or spends more than $1,000 for the purpose of influencing a federal election. Politics is that flip side of the coin to religion as taboo topics to discuss in lodge, a point Tim makes succinctly. But another point that Tim makes is that while Freemasonry believes (and actively promotes) patriotism, citizenship, and good government, its history also boasts a healthy degree of civic activism, especially in it’s fraternal political patriarchs in the likes of Famous Freemasons George Washington and nine of the original signers of the Declaration of Independence. Even the Boston Tea party, while unverifiable, was planned in a ‘community center’ that sported a square and compass above its door.
Does that make Freemasonry a Political Action Committee? Probably not, but what it does suggest to me is that the gathering of like minded individuals given to common cause of idealism and faith, could still organize an activity of a political nature outside of the regular opening and closing of a lodge room in the same way they could plan a fishing trip together or organize a lodge movie night.
Is Freemasonry a Philanthropy
Tim makes a good point here in saying that Masons help others within their capacity to do so, without mandate, and peripheral goal. While I see this as fundamentally correct, I think he equates the notion of philanthropy as holding weekly cupcake sales or canned food drives. While I don’t mean this as a slight to Tim, I think when you look at the many charities that Masonry in some way started, influenced, or contributed to; one can’t help but be overwhelmed by the idea of just how much philanthropy is at work behind the scenes. Remember, too, one of the chief articles of incorporation is to give to charitable causes, a task often instituted at the Grand Lodge level. But some other past examples of tremendous Masonic philanthropy include the George Washington Masonic National Memorial, built with millions of contributions,subscriptions and donations, in an era of much higher income disparity, to the present day Shrine Hospitals for Children and Scottish Rite Speech and Language programs.
While institutionally, neither of these two examples predicates the reason for being as an organization, both are examples of a deeply invested attribute of Freemasonry, namely brotherly love, which, by its Latin name, is Charity. So while masonry itself may not be philanthropic, its does encompass the notion of a love towards mankind in its expression of brotherly love (hence the maxim brotherly love, relief, truth). In some sense, philanthropy is the very thing that Masonry is trying to instill in those who seek out that common cause.
So What is Freemasonry?
This brings us back to the ultimate conclusion then of what the fraternity is to those who have sought it out. Is it the sum of its parts or the individual definitions of its pieces? How can it be none of the things Tim described when, in its operation and its roots it is, essentially, all of those things? To quote from Tim’s piece:
Freemasonry, therefore, is not a club, philanthropy, a religion, or a PAC. Using symbols from ancient operative Masonry, Freemasonry is a place where men meet “on the level” (to promote equality), act “by the plumb” (rectitude of conduct), and part upon “the square” (to practice morality).
To the contrary, I would suggest that Masonry is a club that, ultimately, promotes philanthropy and religion in the same way a PAC or a corporation functions to grow and promote its own prosperity and agenda. That, the ideas of the fraternity do go back centuries, but go well past the common vernacular of the 17th century to their more ancient usage in antiquity to the mystery cults of association by common cause. The only difference is in how we choose to see ourselves – as the individual that the corporate body represents, or as the incorporation of the idea itself in the individual?
Can Freemasonry, like the elephant, be defined in its totality based upon the descriptions of its parts? Or is it a philosophical idea merely codified in its organization for its conduct? I think Tim got it partially right, but I don’t think you can sum the totality of Freemasonry without rightly considering its parts.
What do you think? Leave your thoughts on What Freemasonry is in the comments below.
Once, when thought came to me of the things that are and my thinking soared high and my bodily senses were restrained, like someone heavy with sleep from to much eating or toil of the body, an enormous being completely unbound in size seemed to appear to me and call my name and say to me: “What do you want to hear and see; what do you want to learn and know from your understanding?”
You whom we address in silence, the unspeakable, the unsayable, accept pure speech offerings from a heart and soul that reaches up to you.
Synopsis –This first section of Hermetica is, in essence, a creation mythology to provide an explanation on the creation of the physical world and its link to the philosophy of this teaching. The lesson comes through a discourse of meditations between Hermes Trismegistus and the creative force calling itself the mind of sovereignty, the one and only authority, represented by Poimandres, a force said to be with us everywhere. This emanation of sovereignty is described as a divine being unbound in size and said to be “an endless light, clear and joyful…a vision to be loved.”
In this vision of light, the story of creation unfolds within which it says darkness takes form to become in opposition to the all encompassing light. The darkness resembles the roiling of a snake becoming “something of a watery nature” producing a wailing roar as it coalesces. Out of this light and darkness, a fire breaks forth from the waters becoming suspended in the air between the dark water below and the endless light above, as a spirit from word so that only earth and water remained below. The fire was “stirred to hear by the spiritual word” of its creation which moved between them.
Poimandres explains that he, this endless aspect of light, is god which existed before the water and says that the word (fire) which separated the light from water was its emanation as a son (sun) as the light giving word from mind. This process, it says, occurs in man in that “what you see and hear is the ‘word of God’ but that our mind (thought) is the highest aspect of God; that together they are a union of life undivided and indivisible from one another, that they are one and the same aspect which is the principle of existence of beginning without end.
From this light were created craftsmen who were to be the creators of life which where made in the aspect of god in fire and spirit. These aspects of creation were “crafted in seven governors” who would make the “…sensible world in seven circles” governed by fate, which is to suppose an invisible force which governs their interactions.
The light, as Gods word, “made union with the seven craftsmen” creating life “‘bereft of reason’ so as to be mere nature,” wild and uncontrollable without mandate as they were the emanations of the mechanisms of fate by which they operate.
Another creation of the Mind of God was the son, its own child, who wished to make craftworks in the manner of the seven craftsmen but given all authority over the other craftworks. Nature would come to be the son of god’s bride together governing creation.
Poimandres explains that, because of this, mankind is two-fold – mortal in body but immortal in spirit (or essence the text using essential man), but still mortal and a subject of fate.
From the union of son and nature, nature gave birth to seven men who themselves were craftsmen representing the aspects of earth, water, fire, soul, mind, light, and life. This creation sundered the counsel of god rendering them into two twin aspects – one male and one female, who were charged with the task of propagating and create further giving them will to choose immortality or death through recognition of all that exists. From this choice man was given the ability to transcend his creation in light to be created again the text saying “Life and light are god and father…so if you learn that you are from light and life… you shall advance to life once again.”
It is in this recognition of creation that a resurrection, or reincarnation of sorts, takes place which is a process unseen and hidden to those who embrace the chaotic watery nature of envy, greed, violence, and irreverence. Enlightenment comes in the release of the “material body” which allows our “alteration” (transformation) to occur where our past manifestation “vanishes” to rise up and flow back to its source (light) eventually reaching out to a place that Poimandres calls the ‘ogdoad’ which is a nirvana like state of Heaven in union with the creating light. This ogdoad is the “final good for those who have received knowledge to be made God” achieved by enlightenment which comes from the leaving of “corruption” so as to “take a share in immortality.”
As an ancient religious text, it is very much a creation mythology which sets up a framework by which it puts the universe into operation striving to make sense of the life and creation going on around us. Tempered with the creation of life is its conduct which is relegated by Fate. The text begins with an emanation of light, balanced by darkness, represented in both the darkness appearing like the “roiling of a snake” into water separated physically (and spiritually) by the word (or breath) of god as represented in the boundary of fire. This layer of transformation gives us a glimpse of the alchemical process of transformation which is governed by fire and tempered for us to embrace or reject that which ultimately decides our outcome by fate. The acceptance of this outcome, which is not predicated on scripture or theological “beliefs”, is based on the principle of our acceptance of our origin and the necessity of our conduct to do, and be, good. This suggests a parallel in the teaching of the Golden Rule with the thought of its benefit to all who are bereft of “evil, wickedness, greed, and violence” which are the baser attributes evident in all men. From this practice, and an acknowledgement of origin, man walks in light and returns to it upon his calling from fate, a process Poimandres suggests governs as gate keeper at a distance, resorting to man’s demons as motivation to change lest they be, instead, trapped in the fire of transformation.
The outcome of this understanding comes from our desire to transcend the material universe and return to the source of light which is our metaphorical source of creation. To do this, man must evolve (learn) to transcend fate and slip into the “cosmic framework” which is, in essence, the good. To do this man must take on the nature of the eight craftsman (seven created by God, and one created as its son) and seek to emulate their desire and zeal to create, moving out of the roiling waters of chaos as he overcomes his lower nature breaking free of the seven circles of craftsman (and cycles of birth) so as to communicate to others this message to become a progeny of good. The goal of this process is to return back to the ogdoad which we must consider as the idea of a reunification with the Mind of god. This idea of the Mind of God as our source has existed for a time immemorial in that the ogdoad can be traced to the religious workings from the Old Kingdom in Egyptian antiquity where its religious practice was seen as the highest heaven within which Ra, Hathor, and Thoth were the pinnacle deities. We also find the idea of the ogdoad in Gnostic Christianity in the first century of the Common Era as proposed by the theologian Valentinus as the super celestial space above the 8 spheres of the heavens, literally as the heaven above heaven.
Interestingly, this first monograph of Hermetica gives us a link to the creation of the universe in seven spheres (the seed of life) and seven more in the craftsmen (the flower of life). In this symbolism, it gives us a link to the notions of creation in the seed, flower life that, if left to progress further it would be emblematic of the progression to the tree of life – from seed to fruit to tree. The seed and flower, said to construct a form of sacred geometry and give us the basis of forms from which we can create the platonic solids that are the building blocks of life it self.
Creation myths abound in the many world religions and this version in Hermetica is not unique within that patterning. One need but read the Biblical account of Genesis to see its striking similarities as attempting to establish some answer to the universal question of man – “why are we here” and “where did we come from?” Its essence is that mankind is created in both a form of good and evil represented in dark and light, a similar balance as found perhaps in the Chinese symbol of the yin and yang or even in the Masonic checkered flooring. Our responsibility is to transcend the baseness of that darkness as it is our inheritance from our watery origins, so as to seek and see the light as well as to teach others about its source to return to find our way back to our divine origins. The text speaks to our nature as being the sons (and daughters) of god, from his craftsman son. This, in turn, grants us the quality of being craftsman too; responsible for our own developing creation and the construction of the world around us so as to break away from the firm grip fate allowing us to slip into the cosmic framework within which we inhabit with the universe as creators. We need to seek to be craftsman and build a better firmament from which to find understanding.
All mankind has this capability, but perhaps not the means to see the being of Poimandres or to have the vision of Hermes of such a being without beginning or end, which is the raison d’être of this teaching so as to enable us learn and communicate these lessons to those we meet – which is the simple idea to be good and reverent which enables us to have the vision of a clear and joy filled light. To get there we must undergo the fire of transmutation, which is our quest as a craftsman for the knowledge of constructing for ourselves the space for understanding.
At the conclusion of this passage, the prayer is an important cleansing of the mind and an acknowledgement of our purpose. That prayer reads:
Holy is God, the father of all;
Holy is God, whose counsel is done by his own powers;
Holy is God, who wishes to be known and is known by his own people;
Holy are you, who by the word have constituted all things that are;
Holy are you, from whom all nature was born as image;
Holy are you, of whom nature has not made a like figure;
Holy are you, who are stronger than every power;
Holy are you, who surpass every excellence;
Holy are you, mightier than praises.
It is a good start to begin our path of crafting our journey to light and our quest for enlightenment.
So Mote It Be.
 The name Poimandres had an early understanding to mean “Man-Shepherd” (perhaps a shepherd of men). But, more recent understanding on its etymology suggests that the name is actually derived from the Egyptian phrase Peime-nte-rê meaning “Knowledge of Re” or “Understanding of Re” more commonly understood as the Egyptian creator deity of Ra.
As another year comes to a close and and the future looms on the horizon, I wanted to take a moment out of the holiday season to say thank you to all our friends, brothers and readers who have happened by this humble blog in the past year.
It seems most apt to look at Br. Robert Burns tune Auld Lang Syne with a deeper meaning, especially as I have met and made so many new friends (both brother and non) that to each of them I offer a “cup o’ kindness” and say thank you for your friendship, fraternity, and fidelity.
And, to that growing light on the horizon, I look forward to what the new year brings; its challenges and triumphs. I hope you will join us on this path to the brighter future in light.
Auld Lang Syne
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And days o’ lang syne?
For auld lang syne, my jo,
For auld lang syne,
We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.
And surely ye’ll be your pint-stowp!
And surely I’ll be mine!
And we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.
We twa hae run about the braes,
And pu’d the gowans fine;
But we’we’ve wander’d mony a weary foot,
Sin auld lang syne.
We twa hae paidl’d i’ the burn,
Frae morning sun till dine;
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
Sin auld lang syne.
And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere!
And gie’s a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll tak a right gude-willy waught,
For auld lang syne.
Masonic tradition has had a rich application of the notion that it is imbued with a Hermetic philosophy with very little explanation of what that means. At no time, in the teachings of the fraternity, is a candidate or member handed a pamphlet, booklet or tract explaining what Hermetic has to do with masonry or how it pertains to the rituals of the degrees. Further, no philosophical or religious tradition is said to be the linchpin of Masonic teachings and the esoteric institution of which they have obligated themselves. The only glimpse of that teaching comes in the ritual use of the Bible as the Volume of the Sacred Law which can vary country to country, tradition to tradition, and initiate to initiate as the volume is suggested to be the book the candidate holds as holy.
The closest that this tradition of Masonry comes to teaching the meaning of the Hermetic art can be found in the teachings of the Scottish Rite, which for many years gave out to its members a large bound tome of Albert Pike’s Morals and Dogma instructing the candidate to read it, as able, so as to better understand the degrees. But, because of its complexity, Morals and Dogma more often served as a door stop than a doorway to greater wisdom.
More recently, Pike’s 900 page manuscript of the occult sciences has been replaced with Rex Hutchens’s A Bridge to Light, which is a good and useful tool for the literal understanding of the degrees, yet still lacking in much greater depth than to suggest you, the reader, to go and research the greater meaning of the obtuse symbolism.
Perhaps this is an intentional lesson in resourcefulness for the true student, but for a greater understanding of the esoteric teachings it served as to great a bridge over the wisdom than as a path for the aspirant through the teachings.
Having followed the many paths of the esoteric science, one idea that repeatedly comes to the fore is that it is of a Hermetic philosophy. Pike uses the term liberally in Morals and Dogma saying in the 28th degree
The Hermetic Art is, therefore, at the same time a religion, a philosophy, and a natural science. As a religion, it is that of the Ancient Magi and the Initiates of all ages; as a philosophy, we may find its principles in the school of Alexandria and the theories of Pythagoras; as a science, we must inquire for its processes of Paracelsus, Nicholas Flamel, and Raymond Lulle.
So what exactly does the Hermetic Art mean to being a Mason?
The great teacher of the Hermetic Art is said to be Hermes Trismegistus better known as the Thrice Great Hermes of whom Pike makes a parallel to Grand Master Hiram in his third degree monograph.
Who is Hermes, and why would his teachings be of any importance to a third degree Master Mason?
Through this series on the Hermetic Arts, I will explore those questions and try to create an association between the principal Hermetic text and the Hermetic principals which have wound their way into many esoteric teachings, but in particular those of Freemasonry. To facilitate this understanding, we need to examine the principal Hermetic text from which the teachings of Hermes Trismegistus originate – Hermetica: The Greek Corpus Hermeticum and the Latin Asclepius.
While some may construe its teaching as religious, we need make our focus on it as the source materials from which much of the Western Esoteric Mystery traditions have drawn their teachings. Yet, because of what it teaches, it would be impossible to interpret its writing without acknowledging it as religious text, complete with a creation myth, commandments of adherents, and ceremonies of inclusion for those who choose to devote themselves to its teachings, a practice that would be difficult to separate Freemasonry from in its religious practice of ceremonial ritual. Masonry, like most other mystery schools, has adopted aspects of the work, such as it has from other esoteric workings including tarot, magick, Kabbalah and of and New Thought ideas of life mastery. In this undertaking of exploring Hermetica, our focus need be on its teachings so as to better improve the human condition towards those we come into contact with, which is at the heart of the Hermetic philosophy.
While the text of Hermetica contains what its authors suggest are certain truths, I leave to you their validation and weight, when taken in consideration of your own belief traditions. In some instances, they may give you a path to better understanding your own beliefs or give you another way to look at what was before now an assumption of truth. Over time, it has been said that Hermetica held aspects of religious mythology, early millennial Hellenistic religious ideals, Neo-Platonism, Sufism, Islam, Judaism, and Christianity but it is my belief that as the texts originated in an early period of the Common Era, their ideas stem from an older tradition that dates into late antiquity and perhaps the earliest of monotheistic Egyptian rituals of initiation and veneration. Evidence of origin is difficult at best except when you consider its origins by lineage which, as Free Masons, we can find some heraldry to them as its modern day companions in practice.
At various intervals, Freemasonry itself has been called a hermetic science with seldom a satisfying explanation of what that means. In part, the use of this type of language could be taken in scientific terms to imply a closed loop system of wisdom teachings – a self contained system, without influence or coloration to any other philosophical or religious tradition save what itself promulgates as the allegorical and symbolic lessons it teaches.
Yet, at various points in the Royal Art, of which Masonry has expounded itself as, includes moralistic teachings that, at their core, utilize Christian verse and meaning drawing upon Biblical allegories from the Great Book while introducing ideas from traditions that seem to spring from outside the age within which the Bible was conceived.
A few examples of this include the trans formative process in alchemy and the Jewish Mysticism of found in the Kabbalah which were later elaborated upon by writers of the great tradition of Free Masonry most notably in the works of Pike and Wilmshurst whom both injected their own ideas, by interpretation, into the tradition. So true is it with this undertaking that one must suspend the idea of what it is we believe the Great work of Freemasonry teaches to explore another possibility. From this exploration we can hopefully come to understand the later developments of the ancient idea of philosophical tradition not enclosed within itself – not as a hermetically sealed philosophy but a broader tradition of the philosophy (and perhaps religion) of Hermetica itself. It is through a close reading of the Hermetic texts and an analysis by which we can produce an exegesis through a juxtaposition of the philosophy that comes from Hermetica and the lessons taught in the degrees to find, if it exists, a harmony between the two and reach a firmer understanding of what being a Mason means and how it, perhaps, colors our underlying ideas of morality, truth and faith. Is the link between Hermetica and Freemasonry an accident that occurred in the attempt to mythologize a simple tradition of initiation and mystery play theatrics that has been carried forward religiously for centuries? Upon closer interpretation of Hermetica, this does not seem to be wholly the case.
Sadly, there is no direct evidence of its association or of any such intention other than to compare the rituals of masonry and some of the possible conclusions that may be drawn from them in parallel to the Hermetic writings, in particular in the three craft degrees. But, this is a speculative science, so then we must speculate and attempt to find parallels where we can. In the mean time, while we ponder the deep questions, of origin, source and meaning it is my hope that hope that we will discover a richness of tradition and possibly a new means to understand our own faith in a system of morality taught by symbolism and allegory. That discovery, I believe, comes in understanding the ancient text of Hermetica.
But, before we begin to examine the text of Hermetica, our first stop must need be with the well known Emerald Tablet, a codex of sorts said to codify the teachings of Hermes into a singular distillation of the main points of Hermetica itself.
As we progress ahead, you can be the judge of the Emerald Tablet’s points and their relevancy when compared to their supposed source material.
The tablet, as a translated work, can be found in its oldest documented source from the Kitab Sirr al-Asrar, The Book of the Secret of Secrets, which is a 12th century translation of a 10th century Arabic text which included subjects on many areas of interest to the contemporary mystery school student including ethics, astronomy, magic, and alchemy. Elements of the text are believed to have circulated well before their compilation into the Kitab by several hundred years.
This portion of the greater text is a compendium of advice for rulers, believed to be a letter from Aristotle to Alexander the Great. The work has had many translators over the centuries ultimately producing the work we read below.
The Emerald Tablet of Hermes – Contemporary Rendering of Latin text
[It is] true, without a lie, certain and most true,
That which is below is as that which is above, and that which is above is as that which is below, to perform the miracles of the one thing.
And as all things were from the one, by means of the meditation of the one, thus all things were born from the one, by means of adaptation.
Its father is the Sun, its mother is the Moon, the Wind carried it in its belly, its nurse is the earth.
The father of the whole world [or “of all of the initiates”?] is here.
Its power is whole if it has been turned into earth.
You will separate the earth from the fire, the subtle from the dense, sweetly, with great skill.
It ascends from earth into heaven and again it descends to the earth, and receives the power of higher and of lower things.
Thus you will have the Glory of the whole world.
Therefore will all obscurity flee from you.
Of all strength this is true strength, because it will conquer all that is subtle, and penetrate all that is solid.
Thus was the world created.
From this were wonderful adaptations, of which this is the means. Therefore am I named Thrice-Great Hermes, having the three parts of the philosophy of the whole world.
It is finished, what I have said about the working[s] of the Sun.
Image: Thrice Great Hermes Trismegistus, pen and ink rendering, from original source material with adaptation.
Remember back at the beginning of 2013 when Mercedes-Benz ran an ad featuring Willem Dafoe as the devil seductively attempting to buy the soul of a young man for the price of a car? In the ad, you may recall, the devilish antagonist (Dafoe) attempts to seduce a young man to trade his soul for a life of glitz, celebrity and excess that comes from owning a spiffy new Benz.
If you haven’t seen the new commercial yet, have a look for yourself of what change looks like.
(The video has since been taken offline)
Just in case you missed it in the spot, you can clearly see the devil’s new ring at the bottom of this post.
The devil, however, was no red pajama wearing horned jape with a pitchfork and pointy tail. Rather, Mercedes portrayed him as a suave, well coiffed debonair gentleman (albeit with pointy fingernails) who also happens to be wearing an easily recognizable Masonic ring.
Right as the commercial starts, the Square and Compass was almost immediately noticeable (albeit in a quick flash on the screen). Seeing it used this way took more than a few by surprise. The original video published on YouTube has been taken down but you can still find it with a quick search.
Recently, the ad, featuring Kate Upton, Usher and of course Willem Dafoe, from February’s big football game, made its way back on the air waves this time, noticeably, without the use of the Freemason symbolism. It appears that Mercedes-Benz has removed the square and compass from the original commercial.
How, or why the square and compass came off is a bit of a mystery. After a brief search, I couldn’t turn up any press release or announcement saying it was being revised. Maybe this kind of change isn’t the sort of thing you state publicly?
Perhaps the change came from a deluge of comments and messages to Mercedes-Benz on Facebook the day the ad appeared.
Maybe it was the petition that was started on Change.org (Mercedes-benz: Remove the Masonic Ring shot in your Super Bowl commercial titled, “Soul”. ) asking the iconic world wide brand Mercedes-Benz to, respectfully, remove the sacred symbol and stop a vicious cycle of linking Freemasonry with Satanism. With more than 2,800 signatures on the petition to date, whose to say if the auto manufacturer and felt the pressure to remove the tell tale symbol of Freemasonry.
But, change it they have.
Now the commercial, in both its long and short form, no longer bears the distinctive emblem of the fraternity prompting us to say:
Thanks Mercedes-Benz for breaking the cycle of linking Freemasonry and Satanism.
Now who can say that the Freemasons still dosen’t hold some sway…
Old Ad, New Ring, at 00:12
And, from later on in the extended cut commercial at 01:19
Can America celebrate Labor Day without celebrating the Laborer?
Could there be a connection between Labor Day and Freemasonry through which they share an intersection in the forgotten halls of history and why we celebrate this national American holiday?
The U.S. Department of Labor defines the Labor Day holiday as a day
…dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.
As a day to recognize the common laborer in America, Labor Day can be traced to 1882 when it was first proposed as a holiday by machinist Matthew Maguire who proposed the idea while serving as the secretary of the Central Labor Union of New York. In just a short time the momentum to make the day a National Holiday grew to a crescendo on the heels of the violent conflict between rail workers and the US military in 1894.
Stemming from, essentially, an unfair control of labor and housing, the Pullman Strike began as the result of a refusal to include reductions in housing costs for the laid-off workers forced to live in the company town of Pullman, today a suburb of Chicago in Illinois.
a model community, a total environment, superior to that available to the working class elsewhere…[from which] he hoped to avoid strikes, attract the most skilled workers and attain greater productivity as a result of the better health, environment and spirit of his employees.
When laid off workers, who had been forced to live in company housing, were let go the company who owned the town (and the housing therein) refused to lower their rents on company owned properties. The result of the layoff and unaltered rents created undue hardships for the laid off workers and their families who had few options because of the sudden loss of income. Company owner George Pullman refused to address the issue, or go into arbitration over it, prompting a wildcat strike with the local Pullman Palace Car Company.
Gradually the work stoppage grew into a national strike organized by the American Railway Union reaching its height when it became a national boycott that included train stoppages through the efforts of close to 250,000 workers in 27 states disrupting national transportation lines, and consequently mail delivery.
With a growing strike, the Federal Government under President Grover Cleveland, procured a court injunction and moved in with the Army to end the boycott and alleviate the obstruction of trains which (carrying mail) ultimately cost $80,000,000 in damage due to riots and sabotage. In the end 13 strikers lay dead and another 57 wounded.
At its conclusion the U.S. Army, with its court injunction, broke the blockade of trains in Lockwood, Montana, precipitating the end of the strike.
In the end the union was dissolved, the trains were moving, mail began to flow, the American Railway Union leader was imprisoned and American workers were given Labor Day as a national holiday six days following the collapse of the strike.
Interesting to note, President Grover Cleveland, with the full support of Congress, unanimously voted to create the Labor Day holiday we celebrate today in a conciliatory gesture towards American Labor.
In its foundation, the national celebration of the holiday was to exhibit “the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations,with the Sunday before the Holiday a Labor Sunday, dedicated to the spiritual and educational aspects of the labor movement.”
So how does Freemasonry factor into the complex composition of the creation of this national Holiday?
The Masonic Connection
As it turns out, the city of Pullman,and its parent company, the Pullman Palace Car Company, were founded by Freemason George Pullman, a member of Renovation Lodge No. 97, in Albion, New York.
Pullman established Pullman Palace Car Company in 1862 with the goal of building luxury train cars with all the amenities of the day.
In support of his early factory, the Pullman Company constructed a company town, uniquely named Pullman, within which some 4,000 acres housed 6,000 company employees and their dependents, many of whom were at the center of the Pullman Strike and the creation of Labor Day.
In one entry about the town, it is suggested that employees were required to live in the town even when cheaper housing was nearby. Reading the Wikipedia entry on the Pullman Company, its easy to see today how the conflict of corporate and worker interest would conflict. It reads:
The company built a company town, Pullman, Illinois on 4,000 acres (16 km²), 14 mi (23 km) south of Chicago in 1880. The town, entirely company-owned, provided housing, markets, a library, churches and entertainment for the 6,000 company employees and an equal number of dependents. Employees were required to live in Pullman, despite the fact that cheaper rentals could be found in nearby communities. One employee is quoted as saying “We are born in a Pullman house, fed from the Pullman shops, taught in the Pullman school, catechized in the Pullman Church, and when we die we shall go to the Pullman Hell”. Alcohol was prohibited in the town, as George Pullman found it a distasteful habit for his workers; though it was available in the company’s Hotel Florence, primarily for the benefit of the hotel guests as it was generally too expensive for laborers.
Pullman, a member of Renovation Lodge No. 97, Albion, New York, in his construction of the city of Pullman converted the swampy southern Chicago landscape into a planned industrial town complete with facilities for a Masonic Temple. The temple housed Palace Lodge No. 765, A.F. & A.M., Pullman R.A.M. Chapter, and Woodlawn-Imperial R. & S.M. Council.
Such was Pullman’s association with Freemasonry that in 1894 he was given a Masonic Cornerstone laying ceremony in honor of his father, Lewis Pullman (also a Freemason), which hosted two hundred Masons from Albion, Medina, Holley, and Lockport who processed along the Main Street for the cornerstone ceremony at Pullman Memorial Universalist Church of Albion, New York, today part of the Unitarian Universalist tradition.
The Labor Connection
On the other side of the labor dispute was labor leader Eugene V. Debs. Also a man of great passion, Debs was a man possessed with the welfare and well being of the worker who was greatly involved in the developing American labor movements making five runs for the White House under the Socialist Party, his 1912 run receiving 5.99% of the popular vote on a working man political ticket. While not a Freemason, Debs was an interesting luminary becoming, the most well known socialist living in America. As the organizer behind the Pullman Strike and boycott, Debs served a six month jail sentence for violating the federal injunction.
While Debs has no Masonic connection, what is interesting to note are his many associations that were grounded in the foundation of fraternal brotherhood namely in the trade unions which you can see carry the earmarks of that mystical chain of union in his own motto of “Equality, fraternity and justice.”
Personal ideals aside, Debs held memberships in several national unions including the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen, Brotherhood of Railway Firemen, the Industrial Workers of the World, and, of course, the American Railway Union. Through those affiliations, you can get a sense of his passion for epitomizing what it means to be in fellowship with those you are in union with.
Ultimately, Debs passion was the betterment of the working class based on fairness, the basis for which he found in his saying“Those who produce should have, but we know that those who produce the most – that is, those who work hardest, and at the most difficult and most menial tasks, have the least.” This could, perhaps, summarize his involvement with the labor movements. Today, Debs work is remembered through a Terre Haute Indiana foundation founded in his name, The Eugene V. Debs Foundation, whose mission is to “keep alive the spirit of progressivism, humanitarianism and social criticism epitomized by Debs.“
From these two, Pullman and Debs, we can see parallels in passion for brotherhood and, while at odds with the promulgation of those passions, both at the nexus of recognizing the importance of Labor in America. Pullman, a Freemason, saw at some level the importance of the spiritual need to belong to a fraternal chain of union and Debs the physical political manifestation of that ideal in the real life condition of workers in brotherhood raising the common lot of those whose blood and sweat continue to serve the growth of American prosperity.
From their intersection of history, the Pullman and Debs conflict gave us the Labor Day holiday so that while we take a much appreciated rest at the end of summer we can celebrate the esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations whose efforts have given us this day to be celebrated.
Astin takes on the lead role of detective Leon Weed, who is investigating a ritualistic killing of an elderly Mason. The Freemason marks Astin’s second return to Utah since appearing in the locally-produced film, Forever Strong(2008).
Executive Producer Joseph James, himself a Master Mason, hopes to satisfy the public’s insatiable appetite for the craft’s esoteric realms by allowing outsiders a glimpse into some of the secret society’s mysterious rituals. James explains that “The Freemason is the first film of its kind to highlight actual initiation practices,” including a ritual experience that will surely thrill both Masons and non-Masons alike!
Astin, you may remember played the iconic Samwise Gamgee in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
In his piece, Mark skillfully reminds Mercedes-Benz of the atrocities during the holocaust that befell European Freemasons under the Nazi regime using Satanist Masonic propaganda like their commercial (see below) to put to death many members of the fraternity.
While I doubt Mercedes-Benz is purposefully linking Freemasonry and Satanism, by including the Masonic square and compass in such a manner could not be taken in any other way and is a thumb in the eye to the history of the fraternity. For context, all one need to do is examine the connection between Anti-Masonic Nazi propaganda and it’s horrific effects on the fraternity in Europe.
Mark and I both strongly urge you to let Mercedes-Benz know how offensive the commercial is which you can do on their online comment form or on their Facebook Page, or sign the petition on Change.org.
Tomorrow, during the television broadcast of the Super Bowl, Mercedes-Benz will officially unveil its commercial for the all-new CLA-class automobile. It’s a terrific commercial. Unfortunately, it also is a monumental libel upon Freemasonry.
You can see the commercial for yourself here. The commercial features the talented Willem Dafoe (shown above) in a great turn as Satan.
(the video has since been taken off-line)
No, Dafoe’s character is never actually named Satan, but the soundtrack features the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” (available here with lyrics in the notes). More to the point, Dafoe’s character presents the protagonist with a contract to sign, a contract which has already been executed under the seal of “the Master of Devils and Demons” (translating the Latin, seen below). No reasonable person could see the commercial and think that Dafoe’s character is anyone other than Satan or one of his minions.
Here’s the thing: Satan is depicted as wearing a Masonic ring—on his left ring finger, yet!—easily visible at several points in the commercial, some of which feature close-up shots of Satan’s hands (two shown below).
(The pointy fingernails, à la the Devil in the film Rosemary’s Baby, are an especially nice touch, don’t you think?)
The implication is clear: Mercedes-Benz links Freemasonry to Satan. (Yes, I know, this particular ring shows that the Devil hasn’t gotten very far in Masonry, but that’s not the point.)
There are, of course, those who would say we should just ignore this in the spirit of good fun. Except that it’s not good fun to have to answer to people who think that Freemasons are devil-worshipping Satanists.
Last Wednesday night, I attended the Special Communication of the American Lodge of Research, at Masonic Hall, in New York City. (Facebook page here.) Those in attendance heard a paper on the topic, “Freemasonry and the Holocaust,” by Brother C. Moran (which will appear later this year in the published Proceedings). During the presentation, I was struck by the parallels between the situation of the German Masons in the 1930’s, and our Masonic situation today.
To a surprisingly large extent, these Masons faced the same outrageous accusations that Masons today are faced with: that Masonry is an international conspiracy, and so forth. The Taxil hoax occurred only about forty years or so before the Nazis came to power, and many people throughout Europe believed that Masons worshiped Lucifer. Sound familiar? All of this helped to create a climate where thousands of thousands of German and other European Masons would be imprisoned in concentration camps—and many murdered—by the Nazis during the Holocaust.
The Mercedes-Benz people, knowingly or not, are perpetuating a dangerous myth by linking Freemasonry with Satan. I think we should complain about this—in great numbers. The following is the text of the e-mail that I am sending to Mercedes-Benz through their online comment form. Feel free to adapt it for your own comment, if you wish:
During the 2013 Super Bowl, Mercedes-Benz /plans to show/showed/ a television commercial, titled “Soul,” about the new CLA. It features a character portraying Satan, who clearly wears a Masonic ring in plain sight on his left ring finger.
This linking of Freemasonry to Satan is no joke. It was rumors like this that set the stage for the imprisonment and murders of thousands of Freemasons in Europe by Nazis during the Holocaust. The false rumor that Freemasons worship Satan is alive and well among millions of Americans today. Mercedes-Benz is adding fuel to the fire of that defamation with this television commercial.
Surely, to sell cars, Mercedes-Benz would not jokingly link Jews to Satanism (another popular rumor during the Nazi era). It would be good to not jokingly link Freemasons to Satanism either.
There are over a million Masons in the United States. None of them are pleased about this.
Mark Koltko-Rivera Master Mason Winter Park Lodge #239 Free and Accepted Masons (Florida) The American Lodge of Research (New York)
Masons need to stand up to people who make outrageous slanders and libels against our community. Let’s do that here.
Masons need to stand up to people who make outrageous slanders and libels against our community. Let’s do that here.
This is a gem from the past every bit as a relevant read today as it was nearly 100 years ago at the dawn of the 20th century when it was written. The piece speaks to the application of Masonry to the age it exists in, the zeitgeist or spirit of the age, that it should come to embody. I highly recommend giving it a thorough read.
The Builder Magazine
by brother Roscoe Pound
Professor of Jurisprudence in Harvard University
Five Lectures Delivered under the Auspices of the Grand Master of Massachusetts Masonic Temple, Boston.
A TWENTIETH-CENTURY MASONIC PHILOSOPHY
WE have long outgrown the notion that Masonry is to be held to one purpose or one object or is to be hemmed in by the confines of one philosophy. If we are taught truly that the roof of the Mason’s workshop is nothing less than the “clouded canopy or starry-decked heavens,” nothing that goes on beneath that capacious covering can be wholly alien to us. Our Fraternity is to be of all men and for all men; it is to be of all time and for all time.
The needs of no one time and of no one people can circumscribe its objects. The philosophy of no one time, of no one people, and much more of no one man, can be admitted as its final authority. Hence it is no reproach to Masonry to have, along with lessons and tenets for all times, a special lesson and a special tenet for each time, which is not to be insisted on at other times. Truth, after all, is relative. Vital truths to one time cannot be put into pellets or boluses to be administered to all times to come. If the Craft is to be perpetual, it must appeal to each time as well as to all times; it must have in its traditions something that today can use, although yesterday could not use it and tomorrow need not. We are a Craft of workmen. It is our glory to be engaged in useful service. Our rites and usages are not merely a proud possession to be treasured for their beauty and antiquity. They are instruments imparted to us to be used. Hence we may properly inquire, what can we make of this wonderful tradition of which we are the custodians that will serve the world of today?
One is indeed rash who essays a philosophy of Masonry after such masters as Krause and Oliver and Pike. But I have tried to show heretofore how largely their philosophies of Masonry grew out of the time and the philosophical situation at the time when they severally thought and wrote. Thus Preston wrote in the so-called “age of reason,” when Knowledge was supposed to be the one thing needful.
Krause wrote moral philosophy, so-called, was a chief concern in Germany, and he was primarily a leader in the philosophy of law.
Oliver wrote under the influence of Romanticism in England, at a time when German idealism was coming into English thought.
Pike wrote under the influence of the reaction from the materialism of last half of the nineteenth century and under the influence of the nineteenth century metaphysical method of unifying all things by reference to some basic absolute principle.
In the same way a present-day philosophy of Masonry will necessarily relate itself to present-day modes of thought and to the present situation in philosophy.
Consequently we may predict that it will have four characteristics.
1. Its metaphysical creed will be either idealistic, monistic, or else pragmatist-pluralistic. Although my personal sympathies are with the latter view, so that in a sense I should range myself with Preston and Krause rather than with Oliver and Pike, I suspect that our twentieth-century Masonic philosopher will adhere to the former. He will probably hold, to quote Paulsen, that “reality, which is represented to our senses by the corporeal world as a uniform system of movements, is the manifestation of a universal spiritual life that is to be conceived as an idea, as the development of a unitary reason, a reason which infinitely transcends our notions.”
Hence he will probably range himself with Oliver and Pike. But he will despair of comprehending this reason through knowledge or through tradition or of completely expressing it in a single word. And so, if by chance he should be a pragmatist, the result will not be very different, since the philosophy of Masonry is a part of applied philosophy and the results count for more than the exact method of attaining them. Moreover in the three following characteristics, idealist and pragmatist will agree, merely coming to the same results by different routes.
2. Its psychology will be voluntaristic rather than intellectualistic; that is, under the influence of modern biology it will insist upon giving a chief place to the will. It will have faith in the efficacy of conscious human effort.
3. What is more important for our purpose, its standpoint will be teleological. To quote Paulsen once more: “Ethics and sociology, jurisprudence and politics are about to give up the old formalistic treatment and to employ instead the teleological method: purpose governs life, hence the science of life, of individual as well as of collective life, must employ this principle.” In other words, as it would have been put formerly, the philosophy of Masonry will be treated as a part of practical rather than of pure philosophy.
4. It will have its roots in history. This is the distinguishing mark of modern philosophical thought. The older philosophies conceived of reality along the lines of mathematics and of the physical sciences. Today we endeavor to interpret nature historically. As Paulsen says, we essay to interpret it “according to a logical genetical scheme.”
Such are the lines which modern philosophy is following, and such, we may be confident, are the lines which the philosophy of Masonry will follow, unless, indeed, some philosopher of the stamp of Krause, capable of striking out new paths in philosophy at large, should busy himself with this special field. Can we construct a philosophy of Masonry that will conform to these lines ? In attempting to answer this question, I should lay down three fundamental principles at the outset:
We must not be dogmatic. We must remember that our ideal is the ideal of an epoch, to serve the needs of time and place.
Nevertheless we must seek an end. We must have before us the idea of purpose, since we are in the realm of practical philosophy.
We must base our conception of the ideal of our Masonic epoch and our idea of purpose upon the history of institutions. Thus we get three modes of approach to our immediate subject.
Let us first turn to the current philosophies and inquire what they may do for us. How far may we build on some one or on all of them? What does Masonry call for which they can or cannot give?
The oldest and perhaps the most authoritative system of philosophy current today is absolute idealism, in many forms, indeed, but with a recognizable essential unity.
This philosophy puts life in a world of thought. It thinks of the world of experience which we perceive through our senses as appearance. Reality is in the world of thought. But these are not two distinct worlds. Rather they are related as cause and effect, as that which animates and that which is animated. It regards God, not as a power outside of the world and transcending it, but as that which permeates it and connects it and gives it unity. It regards reality as a connected, a unified whole and conceives that life is real in so far as it is a part of this whole. Hence it conceives we must turn steadfastly and courageously from the superficial realm of appearance in which our senses put us, and set ourselves “in the depth of reality”; we are to bring ourselves into relation with the whole and to develop ourselves from within so as to reach the whole. To use Eucken’s phrases, each life is to “evolve a morality in the sense of taking up the whole into one’s own volition” and subjecting “caprice to the necessity of things,” that is, to their necessary inner interconnection. In this theory of life, the central point is spiritual creative activity. Everything else is but the environment, the means or the logical presupposition. Man is to be raised above himself and is to be saved by spiritual creation.
This philosophy of scholars and for scholars is not a philosophy for Masons.
Indeed Pike said of his idealistic system of Masonic philosophy that it was not the Masonry of the multitude. And for this very reason that it is essentially aristocratic, the old idealistic philosophy is fighting a sure though obstinate retreat in our democratic age. There are periods of creative energy in the world and there are periods in which what has been created is organized and assimilated. In the periods of creation, those to whom spiritual creative power is given are relatively few. In a period of assimilation they are few indeed. In such a time, to quote Eucken, the life pictured by the idealist “tends to become mere imagination.” “The man imbued with [its] spirit . . . easily seems to himself more than he is; with a false self-consciousness talks and feels as if he were at a supreme height; lives less his own life than an alien one. Sooner or later opposition must necessarily arise against such a half life, such a life of pretense, and this opposition will become especially strong if it is animated by the desire that all who bear human features should participate in the chief goods of our existence and freely co-operate in the highest tasks. . . And so the aristocratic character of Immanent Idealism produces a type of life rigidly exclusive, harsh and intolerable.”
Another type of philosophy, which has become more and more current with the advance of science, has been called Naturalism. This philosophy rejects the spiritual life entirely, denying its independence and holding it nothing but a phase or an incident of the existence revealed by the senses. There is no spiritual sphere. Of itself, the spiritual can create nothing. Nor is life anything in itself.
All things are valued in terms of biology and of economics. Nothing is intrinsically valuable. Truth means only correct adjustment to the environment; the good is that which best preserves life; the moral is that which makes for social life; the beautiful is a form of the useful.
Self preservation is the real inspiration of conduct. I need not argue that this is not a philosophy for Masons, who have faith in God for one of their landmarks. Whatever else we may be consistently with a naturalistic philosophy, we cannot be Masons. For if there is any one test of a Mason it is a test wholly incompatible with this rejection of the spiritual.
Closely connected with naturalism are a variety of social philosophies which have come to have much vogue and in one form, socialism, have given rise to an active propaganda involving almost religious fervor. These philosophies reject the individual life, and hence the individual spiritual life. So far as the individual will is regarded it is because of a social interest in the individual social life. As political or social philosophies some of these systems have very great value. But when they are expanded into universal systems and make material welfare in society–a very proper end in political philosophy–the sole end of the individual life, when they reject the spiritual independence of the individual by making “the judgment of society the test of truth” and expect him to submit his views of good and evil to the arbitrament of a show of hands, when they ignore individual creation and think only of distributing, they run counter to Masonic landmarks, so that we cannot accept them and continue to be Masons. For we hold as Masons that there is a spiritual part of man. We hold that the individual is to construct a moral and spiritual edifice within himself by earnest labor, not to receive one ready made by a referendum to the judgment of society. Understand me. I do not assert that modern social philosophies are to be cast out utterly. In law, in politics, in social science some of them are achieving great things. But we must think of them as applications, not as universal systems. The problem of the individual life, the demands of the individual spiritual life, which they ignore, are matters of vital concern to the Mason, and he calls for a philosophy which takes account of them. To quote Eucken once more, we cannot assent that the “world of sense is the sole world of man” nor can we “find life entirely in the relation to the environment, be it nature or society.” [Eucken won the Nobel Prize in Literature 1908 for his work Naturalism or Idealism?]
By way of revolt from naturalistic and social philosophies a modern movement has arisen which has been called aesthetic individualism. It is distinctly a literary and artistic movement and for that very reason ignores the mass of humanity and falls short of our basic Masonic requirement of universality. But it demands a moment’s consideration as one of the significant modes of modern thought. In aesthetic individualism, we are told, “the center of life is transferred into the inner tissue of self-consciousness. With the development of this self-consciousness, life appears to be placed entirely on its own resources and directed towards itself. Through all change of circumstances and conditions it remains undisturbed; in all the infinity of that which happens to it, it feels that it is supreme. All external manifestation is valuable to it as an unfolding of its own being; it never experiences things, but only itself.”[ From Life’s Basis and Life’s Ideal – The Fundamentals of a New Philosophy of Life By Rudolf Eucken] Hence to the aesthetic individualist the end is to “make all the relations and all the externals of life as individual as possible.” He is not to sacrifice the present to the future; he is to reject everything that subjects the development of life to universal standards; he is to ignore all those conventions that fit men into the social order and instead is to cultivate a free relation of individual to individual. To those who accept this doctrine “what is usually called morality is considered to be only a statute of the community, a means by which it seeks to rob the individualist the end is to “make all the relations and all the itself.” This philosophy of artists and for artists is too palpably impossible for the Masonic philosopher to require further discussion.
If we turn from these disappointing modern theories of the end of life to systems of applied philosophy, we may do better. Here the idealists have a more fruitful program.
Where Hegel regarded all things as the unfolding of an idea either logically or in experience, the recent followers of Hegel, who are the most active force in recent social philosophy, say rather that all social and political and legal institutions are manifestations of civilization. To them the idea which is unfolding in all things human is not some single metaphysical principle; it is the complex idea of human civilization. Our institutions are resultants of the civilization of the past and of attempts to adapt them as we received them, to the civilization of the present. Our task as members of society is to advance civilization by exerting ourselves consciously and intelligently to that end. Every man may do this in some measure in his time and place. So every man may, if he will, retard or obstruct civilization in some degree in his time and place. But from the fact that he is a man and as such a factor in society actually or potentially, he is charged with a duty of exerting himself to maintain and advance civilization, of which as the ultimate idea, society is a mere agent. So far as we may, we must each of us discover the principles which are presupposed by the civilization of today and we must exert ourselves consciously to mold institutions thereto and to regulate conduct thereby. The universal thing, the reality is civilization among men. To paraphrase a well-known formula, God is the eternal, not ourselves, that makes for civilization. Here, then, we have a modern system that comports with the fundamental of Masonry and with our philosophical demands. It recognizes the spiritual side of man as something which civilization both presupposes and develops. It has a God. It is not for a scholarly or artistic aristocracy. It is of and for all men as partakers in and, if they will be, agents of a universal human culture.
Moreover it meets our first requirement. It is not dogmatic. It recognizes that civilization is something that is constantly advancing and hence is changing. It realizes that civilization, for that very reason, is a matter of time and place and hence that the principles it presupposes at any time and place, which we take for our ideals, are ideals of an epoch and principles to serve the needs of time and place. And yet all these stages transient forms of human culture merge in a general and a constantly growing human civilization which is the reality both in ourselves and outside of ourselves.
2. Again the new idealism of practical philosophy meets our second requirement. Even though its adherents recognize that they have no absolute formula for all times, for all places, for all peoples, they have an end, they put before us a purpose. Each of us and all of us are to make for human civilization. Each of us by developing himself as a civilized, in the real sense, as a cultured man according to his lights and his circumstances can find reality in himself and can bring others and the whole nearer to the reality for which we are consciously or unconsciously striving–the civilization of mankind. The knowledge which Preston sought to advance, the perfection of man at which Krause aimed, the relation to God which Oliver sought to attain and the harmony and through it control of the universe which Pike took for the goal, may well be regarded as phases of and as summed up in the one idea of human civilization.
3. How far does this new idealism, or as its adherents call it, this neo-Hegelianism, meet our third requirement? Has it a sound basis in the history of human institutions generally and the history of our institution in particular? Here at least the Masonic neo-idealist is upon sure ground.
Anthropologists and sociologists have shown us that next to the family, which indeed antedates society, the most primitive and most universal of social institutions is the association of grown men in a secret society. The simplest and earliest of the institutions of social man is the “men’s house”–a separate house for the men of the tribe which has some analogies among civilized peoples of antiquity, e.g. the common meal of the citizens at Sparta, the assembly of the men in the agora in an ancient Greek community and the meeting of the Roman citizens in assembly in the ancient polity of the Roman city.
In this men’s house of a primitive tribe is the center of social life. Here the most precious belongings of the community, its religious emblems and its trophies taken in war, are preserved. Here the young men of the tribe gather as a visible token of their separation from their families and their entrance upon the duties and responsibilities of tribal life. Here the elders and leaders have seats according to their dignity and importance.
Women and children may not enter; it is the house of the grown men. This wide-spread primitive institution develops in different ways. Sometimes it results in what are practically barracks for the fighting men of the community, as at Sparta and among some primitive peoples today. Sometimes it becomes a religious center and ultimately in substance a temple. Usually it becomes the center of another stage of social development, that is, of what anthropologists call “the puberty initiation ceremonies” and thence of still another stage, the primitive secret society. And as these societies develop, replacing the earlier tribal puberty initiations, the men’s house, as the seat of these organizations, becomes the secret lodge. Hence in this oldest of social institutions, rather than on the highest hills and in the lowest dales of our lectures, we may find the first Masonry.
It is a natural instinct, so sociologists tell us, that leads men of the same age, who have the same interests and the same duties, to group themselves accordingly and to separate to some extent from other groups. In obedience to this instinct, we are told that four classes of the male members of a tribe set themselves off:
The boys who have not yet arrived at puberty;
Mature men on whom the duties and responsibilities of tribesmen rest, and
Old men, the repositories of tribal wisdom and the directors of the community.
On the attainment of puberty, the boy is taken into the men’s house and as it were initiated into manhood. In due time he becomes tribesman and warrior. In process of time his eldest son has himself reached manhood and the father becomes an elder, retired from active service. Thus the men of the tribe become in substance a secret association divided into two or three grades or classes out of which, we are told, as a later development, grow the degrees of primitive secret societies. For the passage from one of these classes to another almost universally among primitive peoples is accompanied by secret initiatory ceremonies, and among almost all primitive peoples, the initiatory ceremonies at puberty are the most solemn and important event in a man’s life. Usually they are more or less dramatic. They begin with some sort of ordeal. Often there is a symbolic raising from death to life to show that the child is dead and that a man has risen in his place. Often a great deal of symbolism is employed and there follows something very like a lecture, explaining the ceremony. Always they involve an impressive instruction in the science and the morality of the tribe and an impressive inculcation of obedience.
In time these initiatory ceremonies degenerate or develop, as the case may be, into tribal secret societies pure and simple, and with the progress of civilization and the rise of political and religious systems these societies also decay or lose their character. Thus eventually, out of this primitive institution of the men’s house, which on one side has grown into political organization, on another side, through the initiatory ceremonies, no less than six institutions are developed among different peoples. First there are political, magical and more or less fraudulent secret societies, which are extremely common in Africa today. Second, there are clan ceremonies, becoming in time state ceremonies and state religions. Antiquity abounds in examples of the importance which men attached to these ceremonies. For example, the dictator Fabius, at a critical moment in the campaign against Hannibal, left the army in order to repair to the proper place and perform the clan sacrifices as head of the Fabian gens. Third, there are religious societies, with elaborate ceremonies for the reception of the novice.
Such societies exist in Tibet and among the Hindus in striking forms.
Fourth, there are the mysteries of antiquity, for example, the Egyptian and the Eleusinian, or sometimes a mixture of the third and fourth, as in the case of the Essenes.
Fifth, there are trade societies on the fraternal model, such as the Roman collegia and the trade and operative guilds.
Finally there are purely charitable associations, such as the Roman burial societies. Each of these, it will be noted, develops or preserves some side of the primitive tribal secret society.
The political and magical societies develop or preserve their political and medical traditions; the clan ceremonies, their function of promoting solidarity by ancestor worship; the religious societies, their moral and religious functions; the mysteries, their symbolical instruction; the trade societies, their function of instruction in useful knowledge; the charitable societies, their function of binding men to duties of relief and of mutual assistance. All preserve the memory of their origin in a tribe of kinsmen by the fiction of brotherhood which they strive to make real by teaching and practice.
The relation of Masonry to this development of societies out of the primitive men’s house, as described by non-Masonic scholars with no thought of Masonry, is so obvious, that we may no longer laugh at Oliver’s ambitious attempts to find Masonry in the very beginning of things. But apart from its bearing upon Masonic history, this discovery of the anthropologists is significant for Masonic philosophy. For in this same men’s house are the germs of civilization; the development of the men’s house is a development of civilization, and its end and purpose and the end and purpose of all the legitimate institutions that have grown out of it have been from the beginning to preserve, further and hand down the civilization of the tribe or people. In our universal society, therefore, the end is, and as we study our old charges and our lectures we see it has always been, to preserve, further and hand down a universal, human civilization.
Thus we are enabled to answer the three problems of
1. What is the end of Masonry; for what do we exist as an organization? The answer of the Masonic neo-idealist would be that our end in common with all social institutions is to preserve, to develop and to transmit to posterity the civilization wrought by our fathers and passed on to us.
2. What is the place of Masonry in a rational scheme of human activity? What is its relation to other kindred activities? The answer would be, that it is an organization of human effort along the universal lines on which all may agree in order to realize our faith in the efficacy of conscious effort in preserving and promoting civilization.
What other human organizations do along lines of caste or creed or within political or territorial limits hampered by the limits of political feeling or local prejudice, we seek to achieve by universality–by organizing the universal elements in man that make for culture and civilization.
3. How does Masonry achieve its end? Our answer would be that it makes for civilization by its insistence on the solidarity of humanity, by its insistence on universality and by the preservation and transmission of an immemorial tradition of human solidarity and of universality. So conceived, this tradition becomes a force of the first moment in maintaining and advancing civilization. And in this way we connect on the one hand with the practical systems of Preston and of Krause. The ideal of the eighteenth century was knowledge. The ideal of the nineteenth century was the individual moral life. The ideal of the twentieth century, I take it, is the universal human life. But what are these but means toward the advance of human culture? And on the other hand we connect also with Oliver and with Pike. For they were idealists and so are we. Only they sought a simple, static idea of which the universe was a manifestation or an unfolding. We turn rather to a complex and growing idea and claim to do no more than interpret it in terms of the ideals of the time and place.
My brethren, we of all men, owe it to ourselves and to the world, to be universal in spirit. Universality is a lesson the whole world is learning and must learn. But we ought to know it well already. We ought to be upon the front bench of the world’s school, setting an example to our more backward school-fellows. Wherever in the world there is a lodge of Masons, there should be a focus of civilization, a center of the idea of universality, radiating reason to put down prejudice and advance justice in the disputes of peoples, and in the disputes of classes, and making for the peace and harmony and civilization that should prevail in this great lodge of the world.
Moreover, the idea of universality has a special message to the Mason for the good of Masonry. Every world organization hitherto has been wrecked ultimately upon its own dogmatism. It has taken the dogmas, the interpretations, the philosophy of its youth for a fixed order of nature. It has assumed that universality consisted in forcing these dogmas, these interpretations, this philosophy upon all times to come. While it has rested serene in the ruts made by its own prosperity, the world has marched by it unseen. We have a glorious body of tradition handed down to us from the past, which we owe it to transmit unimpaired to the future. But let us understand what in it is fundamental and eternal, and what is mere interpretation to make it of service to the past. Let us while we have it use it well to make it of service to the present. Yet let us fasten upon it nothing hard and fast that serves well enough to make it useful today, but may make it useless tomorrow. As the apprentice stands in the corner of the lodge, the working tools are put in his hands and he is taught their uses. But they are not his. They are the tools of the lodge. He is to use them that the Worshipful Master may have pleasure and the Craft profit.
The Grand Master of the Universe has entrusted to us the principles of Masonry as working tools. They, too, are not ours, they belong to the lodge of the world. We are to use them that He may have pleasure and the Craft of humanity that labors in this wide lodge of the world may profit thereby.