The Autobiography of Mark Twain aka Samuel Clemens

An 86 Year Old Book Review

The Autobiography of Mark Twain aka Samuel ClemensLooking for something to read, I went back into my library and pulled out a copy of The Autobiography of Mark Twain which I have had since High School.

I’ve always been an admirer of Samuel Clemens’ work, but I have to admit I balked at taking his autobiography seriously years ago. This time though, I was in the proper frame of mind and wanted to know more about the renowned author and humorist, not so much about the facts and history of his life, but more about his perspective of the times. I wasn’t disappointed.

The book was originally published in 1924 (fourteen years after Twain’s death) and basically consists of sketches describing his life spanning the years from 1835 to 1910, which is known as a very rich period of American history. He describes life prior to the Civil War, his involvement during the war, and the expansion west. I found his narratives of life in the Midwest, both as a child and an adult, particularly colorful and interesting. Clemens did a remarkable job describing life as a boy living on a farm. His description of the foods of the period made me hungry and I could vividly visualize the school he attended and life on the farm.

I’m afraid African-Americans will not be too happy with the book as Twain uses the “N” word liberally, but not maliciously. It was just the way people talked back then. There was no ulterior motive for using the word, nor venom in his language, it was simply a snapshot of the times. Nonetheless, African-Americans may call for the book to be banned from schools if they read it.

As a writer, I found his rich vocabulary, sentence structure, and punctuation particularly interesting. It was much different than what I am used to in the 21st century. Unlike today where we typically try to gorge ourselves on a novel as expeditiously as possible, Twain’s style forces the reader to slow down and savor each sentence. You can tell that it was written by a craftsman intimate with the English language.

His humor is also different. Instead of today’s “in your face” approach to comedy, Twain mischievously takes the reader down an unknown path where he inevitably springs a humorous conclusion on you. It is not backslapping funny, just elegant humor very tastefully presented. His anecdotes are always designed to teach a lesson and cause a chuckle in the process.

I wanted to read his autobiography, not so much to learn about his family history, which he volunteered reluctantly, but more to understand his perspective of the times which I found was essentially no different today than 100 years ago.

He made a few comments that particularly caught my attention; the first was the cycle of life, to wit:

A myriad of men are born; they labor and sweat and struggle for bread; they squabble and scold and fight; they scramble for little mean advantages over each other. Age creeps upon them; infirmities follow; shames and humiliations bring down their prides and their vanities. Those they love are taken from them and the joy of life is turned to aching grief. The burden of pain, care, misery, grows heavier year by year. At length ambition is dead; pride is dead; vanity is dead; longing for release in their place. It comes at last – and they vanish from a world where they were of no consequence; where they achieved nothing; where they were a mistake and a failure and a foolishness; will lament them a day and forget them forever. Then another myriad takes their place and copies all they did and goes along the same profitless road and vanishes as they vanished – to make room for another and another and a million other myriads to follow the same arid path through the same desert and accomplish what the first myriad and all the myriads that came after it accomplished – nothing!

The second observation that caught my attention was his comments regarding success. In the book, he comments on the many bad business deals he had made in his lifetime which cost him dearly. He also missed an opportunity to invest in Alexander Graham Bell’s new invention, the telephone. However, an acquaintance of Twain’s invested $5,000 in the company and was paid back many times over thereby causing the writer to observe:

It is strange the way the ignorant and inexperienced so often and so undeservedly succeed when the informed and the experienced fail.

Concerning heroes:

Our heroes are the men who do things which we recognize with regret and sometimes with secret shame that we cannot do. We find not much in ourselves to admire, we are always privately wanting to be someone else. If everybody was satisfied with himself there would be no heroes.

On writing, which I wholeheartedly agree:

…when the tank runs dry you’ve only to leave it alone and it will fill up again in time, while you are asleep – also while you are at work at other things and are quite unaware that this unconscious and profitable cerebration is going on.

Although Clemens was known to be a Mason (Polar Star Lodge No. 79, St. Louis, MO) there was no direct mention of his affiliation with the fraternity in the book. However, there were a couple of passages that suggested Masonic influence (I believe it was “wrong, cheat or defraud” and something else along those lines). The only other Masonic connection was Clemens’ meeting with Bro. Rudyard Kipling (Hope and Perseverance Lodge No. 782. E.C., Lahore, India, and one of the original forty Fellows of the Philalethes Society). Clemens spoke at length of his meeting with Bro. Kipling while the latter was but a young 24 year old visiting the United States for the first time. In his travels, he made it a point to look up Clemens where he was working in Elmira, New York.

Although they only met for a couple of hours, Kipling impressed Clemens by his breadth of knowledge, causing Twain to write:

He is a stranger to me but he is a most remarkable man – and I am the other one. Between us, we cover all knowledge; he knows all that can be known and I know the rest.

Samuel Clemens was a past master of the anecdote. His autobiography was assembled more as a collection of such stories as opposed to a flowing history. I appreciated his cogent comments regarding the world of the 1800’s. His ability to paint a picture with words and tell a story was like taking a ride on a time machine. I, for one, thoroughly enjoyed the trip, but I’m not sure today’s younger readers would feel likewise as his stories are less about the complexities of life and more about the simple truths of living it.

Most book reviews are printed either just prior to publication or shortly thereafter. I apologize for the slight delay.

Keep the Faith!

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Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at

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Copyright © 2010 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

The Complete Lodge Secretary


The Complete Lodge Secretary

The Complete Lodge Secretary

Lewis Masonic is one of those publishing houses that seem to pull from a limitless well of ideas to produce work that is both timely and informative and their latest book, The Complete Lodge Secretary, is exactly that: timely and informative.

To say its a must have is a difficult for anyone not sitting to the Worshipful Masters left hand side, but this jewel of a resource, written by Gordon G. Hunt, goes miles to explain the minutia of the day to day work on the secretaries desk.

The Complete Lodge Secretary is written principally from a UK perspective, but the lessons and organization it suggests is a valuable resource for anyone who has ever thought about how to organize a lodges, the records management behind it, and the etiquette to be held while in the lodge (Ch 10.7 Misbehaviour in Lodge).  Something I liked is that it went into detail on the unexpected surprises to beware of with helpful suggestions on what to do in their event – the lesson: BE PREPARED!

A strength of the book is that it puts a terrific emphasis on the fact that the Lodge Secretary is manager of the lodge.  By saying that, what The Complete Lodge Secretary says is that no matter what the circumstance or issue, the Lodge Secretary is both knowledgeable and well prepared to resolve it, at the will and pleasure of the Worshipful Master of course.

You can find The Complete Lodge Secretary on Amazon, or from Lewis Masonic directly.

And now, for something completely different…

A brother (and author) of this book sent me a note some time back about his new book, and I’ve been sorely remiss in mentioning it, so I wanted to take a minute and share The Festive Freemason.

Written and illustarted by Br. Steve Chadburn, he is a long established professional cartoonist, author and illustrator. This book is a humorous book of cartoons about being a freemason in the modern world. Much of its work is based on English Freemasonry, masons everywhere will still be able to relate to the situations and enjoy the book.

About the book: The Festive Freemason is the creation of a Past Master in the Craft,who happens to be a professional author, illustrator and cartoonist. The book will hopefully amuse, entertain, and offer a unique insight into how freemasons balance their commitment to families and work. With the duties, obligations and fellowship to be found in Freemasonry.

What better way to see the fraternity than with humor and with mirth.

Br. Steve’s book is available on Amazon – 978-1449981006

The Better Angels of Our Nature

In the wake of the most turbulent period of American History stories about the intersection of Freemasonry and the Civil War have been many and profound – fact and fiction have become impossibly merged until now.  In an eloquent narrative story telling,  Michael Halleran‘s new book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Freemasonry in the American Civil War separates the dime store novel and after dinner yarns from the real and verifiable stories of the American Civil War.

Listen to the Masonic Central Podcast with Michael Halleran on his book Better Angels of Our Nature.

or Download the show.

The reality of the The Better Angels of Our Nature could perhaps be summed to say that when looking at the past, we strive to see it in the best light we can; reality and myth blurring together becoming one.  We remember what we want to remember.  And as this idea filters down from those who so daringly attempt to assimilate and speak about it, the line between what really happened and its retelling becomes even further blurred.  The myth of the story takes a life of its own over the reality of what happened which is lost to the memory of time.  We see it in the news, in the origins of religion, and in the annals of history – the stories of the past evolving and taking on a life of their own giving them greater depth, and consequently meaning, to the both the story tellers and their audience.  But truth is liberating when it comes to the fraternity and the Civil War and Halleran’s new work The Better Angels of Our Nature is a welcome does of reality from a sea of historical myth.

The Better Angels of Our Nature dissects the war in its many facets into a sensible approach to the myths of Freemasonry and its part in the Civil War, from the very top in correspondence of Grand Lodges, first about preserving the union and later to sovereignty of action, to the rank and file interaction of soldiers on the lines spared by a token, a word, or a gesture, and to the gewgaws made by prisoners of war while being held in some of the harshest of p.o.w. camps.  What Halleran captures in his work is not so much the acts of mercy between soldiers (of which he details many), but the agent of that mercy – Freemasonry.

Underlying the details of the book is the idea that the power of the fraternity and its ability to transcend lines acting in a way greater than that of organized religions, such that in times where even local denominations avoided helping those in desperate need, the bonds on Freemasonry, and the invisible connection between brothers, would prevail.  In one instance, Halleran details the delivery of food and  necessities to prisoners, not out of the compassion of similar religion, but out of the brotherhood in the craft all on the simple sign of a gewgaw.  But, as much as the Better Nature leans on the leverage of membership, it almost equally illustrates the aversion brothers had to leverage it for their benefit.  And for those such as Union prisoner John L. Ransom who witnessed Masonry in action noted in his diary the things to do following the war to include: “…visit all the foreign countries that prisoners told me about…wear silk under clothing, join the masons.”

The Friend to Friend Masonic Memorial monument located in the annex of the
Gettysburg National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

One of the prime examples that Halleran uses to dissect the problem of the past and illustrate the point of the layers of mis-telling is the exchange between General Armistead and Captain Bingham, to which Halleran says

“…the legend of Armistead’s dramatic Masonic death scene simply did not happen.” “There was no Masonic huddle with Doctor Bingham, ho hand-off of a Masonic bible, and no meeting with Hancock.”

General Lewis A. Armistead

All of which may come as a shock to the system to any armchair historian, but in painstaking detail, Halleran pieces together Armistead’s wounding, those closest to him, and what they said about those moments on the battlefield and the events immediately following his demise several days later.

Despite the retelling of the greatest Masonic tale of the Civil War, what Halleran does uncover are an even greater number of instances where brotherhood works to save wounded soldiers, save a family from starvation, and in one instance where the war stops for a day to bury a fallen brother in a Masonic service attended by both sides of the conflict.  The Better Angels of Our Nature illustrates the profundity of the fraternity to its practitioner of the age, leaving us with the question if the modern soldier of Masonic affiliation encountered a brother across the lines, would it have the same ability to lay down hostilities to appeal to their fraternal bonds?

Halleran tells a compelling story about the fraternity and the Civil War and how The Better Angels of Our Nature have retold the stories over and over to make them more appealing and sympathetic to the ears of the audiences they were being told to, and by dissecting the facts from the years of fictionalized beliefs, the truth is much richer and comforting once the haze of time is cleared away.  Truly it was the Better Angels of the Our Nature, as a fraternity, that prevailed.

The Better Angels of Our Nature by Michael Halleran is published by Alabama University Press and is Available on Amazon.

The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power

The Family – Jesus Plus Nothing equals P (J+0=P)

The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power

The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power

What would you say if I told you that a secret cabal of ultra fundamental extremists were secretly at the heart of the American government?  And what if I said to you that the very same secret cabal has held power and sway for near on the last century, with its present zenith starting in the  last 50 years, and now at its most powerful, its voice is a capable vehicle to the extermination of several hundred thousand people on the basis if helping those you consider family.  Such a cabal would be a frightening and dangerous monster, especially as each and every would be political player pays some homage to them and their power. And, to make it even more unfathomable, at its reigns is one man, an American Pope if you will, who wields this groups girth and influence with a few words of encouragement and an occasional memorandum in the right places and at the right time.

Before I read the book, I was skeptical myself, but having just finished Jeff Shartlet’s non-fiction, The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power, I was immediately struck by the connections he draws, all based on a who’s who road map of American political power elite today. What made it more interesting was that this power structure didn’t meet in dark smoky alleys, or in secret liars with special knocks and hand gestures.  To the contrary, the members of this cabal meet at the local church down the street (when they attend church) or in your weekday prayer meeting. The Family, is the story of the real American right, whose actions and activities overshadow even the most elaborate fantastical connections of the Illuminati.

The argument that Sharlet presents is that the present day organization behind the


Jonathan Edwards

Fellowship Foundation (the subject of the book) has a traceable lineage to 1735, which started in a less than ubiquitous fashion under a pastor named Jonathan Edwards, socially and ideologically an early architect of “the Great Awakening,” which was an early colonial religious passion movement.  For its time it created a type of zealotry that some of his congregants, reportedly, began to hear voices that instructed them to “slit their own throats.”  For their zeal, Shartlet says that “Edwards staked out a political position as well as a spiritual one, a subtly elitist conception of knowledge as a property to be possessed in different portions according to a divine hierarchy. The wise man of Christ knows that only to some does God give a calling, the power to draw closer to Him and understand His grand plan.” What it seems to of created, however, was a ferocious case of “the emperors new cloths”, as most in the growing following wanted to be an awoken to hear the message. Following these events, Edwards was purged from his congregation in 1750 for the destruction he had wrought on the “Puritan order”, something they would never reclaim. It was Edwards, who’s ideas of an unrestrained Christ could be intimately contacted (and heard) and an unrelenting wild energy which made his religiosity the prime shaper of things to come, especially as his religion looked to rebuild a Jerusalem from the wilderness, the Great Awakening had begin.

Charles Grandison Finney

Charles Grandison Finney

From there, the book jumps forward in time to a spiritual descendant of Edwards, found in Charles Grandison Finney, whose populist revivals across the North East America and Britain led him to construct the first mega church seating 2,500 in 1832 (called the Broadway Tabernacle), and the hand behind the Second Great Awakening. Finney ‘s oratory and presence were such, Sharlet writes, that “‘under my preaching,…judges and lawyers and educated men were converted by the scores.”  Finney’s message found its way into the minds of the most receptive who were “the new little big men of the nation, the petit bourgeoisie, physicians, inventors, entrepreneurs, self-made men, and their wives” wealthier than the old Puritan aristocracy. Interesting to note that this is the period following the Morgan Affair (in 1825) where those self same followers of Finney were leaving in droves the temples of Freemasonry. Finney’s connection to Edwards style of Awakening began in 1821 upon his own decision to either believe or not believe (in a very Shakespearean fashion) and it was in his revelation in hearing the voice of the divine which immediately solidified his as an evangelist.  Finney’s conversion mirrored the conversions experience by Edwards, the intimate relationship with the divine, the aspect of communicating (hearing, feeling, exchanging) in a physical and tactile way with the spirit of the divine.  Essentially, he experienced the “before God, you are nothing” state of being.  The eventual message behind Finney was simple “‘knowing your duty, you have one thing to do, PERFORM IT.'”  Finney’s faith became “faith enacted” the “exerted influence to secure to secure a legislation that is in accordance with the law of God”  Finney’s was both an individual encounter with Jesus and the mass contagion of the anxious pew.

Finney also happened to be a Freemason before leveling his own charges against it, perhaps to pull from the growing discontent following the Morgan Affair.

The history of The Family next turns to Abraham Vereide, a immigrant Norwegian, who next takes the reins of this awakened idea of evangelism crafting it into his own Fellowship Foundation, through a  dubious power struggle, to the contrary, through the simple vision from a divine source to work to help those who are in the best position to help those in need.

Vereide emigrated to America in 1905 and eventually settled in Seattle in 1906/7 where he was given the vision, Sharlet says, that to the big man went strength, to the little man went need.  “‘Only the big man was capable of mending the world,'” said Vereide who realized that “to help such [wretched] creatures, the derelicts, the failures” he would help “those who could help them – the high and mighty – that they might distribute the Lord’s blessings to the little men, whose envy would be soothed, violence averted, and disorder controlled.”

It’s important to say that Vereide was very much pro business, and not a proponent of labor.  It was in his early wrangling of local prominent business men that his calling of a top down change was what was necessary, to make things right.  What he sought, (such that his supporters firmly believed), was the remedying of the economic ills afflicting the nation (this was the period of the Great Depression) which were caused “by disobedience to divine laws” with the ideal solution being a “revival of genuine religion…a return to prayer and the bible”, and if not “we are headed for chaos.”  The leaders of industry were more than ready to steer the entire nation back onto a godly (non union/pro capitalism) path.  It was in this period, and the spread of the movement, that a decided fear of Marxism and Socialism crept into this new conservative Christianity, omitting the ideals in the bible of community (communal-ism) and  social justice.  This was a top down theology, a wealthy mans ideal of Christ, rather than the view of a redeemer, capitalizing on the idea of conviction with out the efficacy of why.

From the the February 18, 1960 Presidential Prayer Breakfast. From left to right – Abraham Vereide, organizer of the prayer breakfast movement; President Dwight D. Eisenhower; William Jones, a California businessman and host of the breakfast. Image from Wheaton College

Vierde’s power grew and his connections expanded all the way to Washington D.C. as Vereide ‘s key business men expanded from the Seattle elite to the Washington State elite, carrying his name and work to those in Federal houses in the east. Vereide ‘s spiritual influence, Sharlet suggests, was such as to break union bosses to the will of the pious business men and focused to eradicate the New Deal of FDR. Sharlet goes into great detail about the close following Vereide gave to the busting of union strikes and his affectionate leanings  towards Hitler’s socialism (this was pre-World War II and the Nazi atrocities and many American business men found resonance with the Nazi socialism movement for its effectiveness in organization and production. Such was the case that entrepreneur Henry Ford, it’s said, had exchanged portraits with Adolf which he hung on his office wall).  Vereide ‘s outlook was very straight forward, that “‘Top Men’ had a responsibility to do for God what lesser men couldn’t. Their failure to take on this burden has led the nation to its terrible position.  ‘Obedience’, concluded Abram is ‘the way to power.'” And that, duty as “obedience,” was/is at the heart of this present tense fundamentalism, but not necessarily an envisioned obedience from Jesus, but from a less distinct organization of key men who are, in a sense, doing the work of Jesus, with the expectation of obedience to their instruction. It’s this formula that led to Vereide organizing the still functioning National Prayer Breakfast which, Sharlet reports, created a networking group of like minded individuals to congregate and network in the very heart of American political power.

In Vereide ‘s time, his organization grew and multiplied into several smaller units branching into “cells” which would grow and disseminate their ideals to those interested in a wide and diverse way some examples cited include prayer circles, outreach organizations, residential homes, and similar prayer meetings abroad. In this same period, Vereide ‘s sentiment and leadership dovetailed with the growing rise of anti-communism (but with a healthy dose of admiration for Nazi socialism) that eventually guided the creation of the red-scare film “The Blob” in 1958, all with the goal of striking the fear of communal work to that of individualism, an ideal that still pervades today.

Following Vereide, Sharlet’s work follows the transition of leadership to Doug Coe, who in taking a greater leadership role, began to grow it into an international fellowship, one that worked intimately with the U.S. State Department (if at times covertly) and did its best to make international connections with the “key men” from around the world, stimulating prayer meetings to discuss the idea of this corporate model of Jesus vs. the communal savior of antiquity. This was the new model Christian Soldier, not evangelizing to the downtrodden, but to the down-trotters, the policy makers and enforcers of the world.

Siad Barre

Their vision became less the body of Christ and more the corporate ideal of his word with the goal of shaping the international world into the Christian model that they want so desperately to shape the U.S.A.  Sharlet details the connections (with evidential reference) to the Somalia genocide under Siad Barre, who was an intimate “Family” member who happened to exterminate hundreds of thousands of people. The Vereide/Coe “Family” organization didn’t provide the means for the Aiad Barre regime, but it facilitated the connections with the U.S. government to facilitate his activities, which in itself is an example of the power behind this “New World Order” (remember, a term Sharlet says was coined by Vereide) organization (the author goes into detail in how the “Family” was tied to the murder of more than 500,000 Indonesians under Suharto in 1965).

Under Coe, Sharlet writes, The Family is of such influence that both conservatives and liberals take their lead citing instances where both Al Gore and Hilary Clinton refer to him in their decision making processes. Gore, Sharlet says, invokes Coe to end a challenge by Senator James Inhofe in 2007.  Its easy to see in the glimpses Sharlet provides of the power that the The Family wields but even easier to see the power in the spaces between the examples.  In 1966, Sharlet explains, Coe instructed the core of the organization to “submerge” erasing all outward appearance of an organization, taking it back to Vereide’s original vision of a “backroom brotherhood,” and today very little outward expression of it exists.

Ultimately, the way in which Sharlet defines the prevailing ideal principals, as evolved from Edwards, Finney, Vereide, and under Coe’s pastoral, a Czarist leadership was as a Jesus plus nothing ideal which is a formula to exclude a dogmatic understanding of the Christ, and stripping him out of the literal text to instead use the literal interpretation of him as an entrepreneurial force to build following under what the ideal of his being would be, if the textual version could be re-written and re-fashioned.  The religious context of The Family became the Jesus plus nothing equation, It was the idealized spirit of the Jesus figure as envisioned by the leadership and communicated down to the duty bound.  What the Jesus + 0 equaled was Power: J+0=P with the power being the loyalty of a duty bound following to the same singular vision.

I highly recommend reading The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power.  It is a rich and complex narrative that at times meanders, but only to make the details of the point that much more sound.  Sharlet leaves no stones unturned (at least of those he could find) and presents the evidence in a manner for the reader to make any judgments for themselves.  The depth to which that he has traced the Family will surprise even the most skeptical readers and give pause to reconsider the ramifications of just such a networked body, a contingent whose ideal of a Jesus plus nothing else, no history, no orthodoxy, no church, nor bible, is a powerful thing.  No matter where you land on this, agreeing or disagreeing with the ideals behind it, I think you will definitely take something away from this book.

You can find The Family – The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power on Amazon.

Freemasonry the Reality, a review.

Freemasonry - The Reality

Freemasonry – The Reality

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

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

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

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

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

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

Out of the Shadows


Alton G. Roundtree is a Past Master of Redemption Lodge #24, the largest Lodge in the Washington D.C. Prince Hall Jurisdiction. He has served his Grand Lodge as Computer Systems Officer, Director of Public Relations, Chairman of the Information Management Committee, Assistant Grand Secretary, Director of the Computer Training Center, Editor of the Masonic Digest and Vice Chairman of the Prince Hall Recognition committee.  He has received numerous awards from his Grand Lodge, including Master Mason of the Year, Journalistic Excellence Award, Perfect Ashlar Award, and many superior service awards.  Presently he is Vice President of KLR Publishing.  He is also President and Editor-in-Chief of the Masonic Globe, a very highly regarded worldwide Masonic magazine.

Paul M. Bessel is Past Senior Warden of the Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia in Washington, D.C.  He has served his Grand Lodge well and often as Chairman of the following committees:

  • Library & Museum Committee
  • Internet Website Committee
  • Masonic Recognition Committee
  • Jurisprudence Committee
  • Masonic Education Committee

His Grand Lodge has awarded him the coveted Valentine Reintzel Award.

He is the Executive Secretary of the Allen E. Roberts Masonic Leadership Center and Past President of the Library & Museum Association, founding member and Past Master of the Civil War Lodge of Research #1865, a “Fellow” of the Scottish Rite Research Society, one of 40 “Fellows” of the Philalethes Society, Past District Deputy Grand Master for Research Lodges in Virginia, a Past Grand Lodge Officer of the Grand Lodge of Virginia, and a Board member of the Masonic Brotherhood of the Blue-Forget-Me-Not. Brother Bessel is known as “Mr. Masonic Computer Man” having founded and moderated E-Mail message groups for Masonic Education, D.C. Masons, D.C. Scottish Rite and others.  He owns and operates one of the largest Masonic information websites in the entire USA

Out of the Shadows revolves around two main themes,

  1. The National Compact or National Grand Lodge
  2. Recognition by Mainstream Masonry

Woven around and through these two themes is the history of Prince Hall Freemasonry in the USA.

The book does have a brief chapter on Prince Hall the man but goes out of its way to make a point that the biography of Prince Hall that most Prince Hall Masons are used to reading including his birth at Bridgetown, Barbados, British West Indies was a figment of Prince Hall author William H. Grimshaw’s imagination and has been disputed by many following Prince Hall scholars including Wesley and Walkes. This assessment will play an important part in the National Compact controversy, as we shall soon see.

The National Compact or National Grand Lodge

The National Grand Lodge, say Roundtree and Bessel played a huge part in the expansion of Colored Freemasonry. For sixty years prior to the establishment of the National Grand Lodge, only three independent colored Grand Lodges had been established that could claim their heritage from African Grand Lodge #459.  These Grand Lodges were the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Boston, Massachusetts; the First Independent African Grand Lodge of North America (Pennsylvania); and Boyer Grand Lodge (New York).  Hiram Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania is usually included but it was irregular until healed at the 1847 convention where these four ratified the National Compact. The National Grand Lodge established nearly all 22 of the Negro Grand Lodges founded between 1847-1878.

Roundtree and Bessel say that the National Grand Lodge was formed for several reasons – to help stamp out irregular and clandestine Negro Freemasonry, to have one ritual for all jurisdictions and to help guide Prince Hall Masonry into an ever-upward accomplishment.

The National Compact never functioned without discord and in essence it did not work well.  But these authors credit the National Grand Lodge with spreading Negro Freemasonry across the better part of the USA.  “Outside of Pennsylvania, New York and Massachusetts, Negro Freemasonry was at a standstill in 1847”, say Roundtree and Bessel. “Not until after the establishment of the National Grand Lodge was an impetus given to the growth of Colored Freemasonry”, they added.

From 1847 to 1877/78 The National Grand Lodge functioned in a manner of questioned competence but few disputed its legality or authority.  But as the years went by many Grand Lodges withdrew from the Compact until by 1878 it was a much-diminished body. Those that withdrew were known as Independent, Sovereign or States Rights Grand Lodges.

It was after 1878 that the controversy over its status became a contentious and divisive issue that is still with us today.  And Roundtree and Bessel are quick to point out that Prince Hall Masons as well as Mainstream Masons have little knowledge of the history of the National Compact, have not studied all the issues surrounding the controversy and refuse to even talk about it.

In a nutshell the controversy centers on whether the National Grand Lodge was legally dissolved and then illegally reconstituted itself thus becoming irregular and clandestine.  This is the position that Prince Hall Grand Lodges take today based mainly on the word of Grimshaw who wrote that such dissolution was voted upon and ratified by the necessary majority at a National Convention and the National Compact was disbanded.  But some of what Grimshaw has written, as we have already seen, has been discredited and basing this conclusion solely on one man’s discredited word is not acceptable policy say the authors. In so doing they say, Prince Hall Freemasonry is treating the National Compact as predominately white Freemasonry treated it.

What Roundtree and Bessel are saying is that while disbandonment was a proposal in 1878 it never was voted upon and approved. While it may have been wishful thinking that took on a life of its own it never really had a basis in fact because it was never ratified.  What the authors say is that, “ It appears that William H. Grimshaw might have taken unofficial resolutions from the Chicago convention that were supposed to be returned to the Grand Lodges for ratification and made them official.” Further investigation performed by these experienced researchers and esteemed journalists point to numerous references in the proceedings of Prince Hall Independent Grand Lodge minutes from 1877 on alluding to the continued existence of the National Compact with no mention of its dissolution.

If this be true then the ramifications are enormous.  If the National Compact was never dissolved, and because it was constituted by Grand Lodges tracing their lineage to African Lodge #459 and thus was their offspring, then PHO today cannot be declared irregular or clandestine. The charge against PHO of reforming itself illegally can be reversed against those PHA Lodges that withdrew from The Compact.  For if they withdrew and reconstituted themselves then they are clandestine. This argument can be likened to a dog chasing its tail – around and around in circles getting nowhere.

Roundtree and Bessel pull no punches in their condemnation of Prince Hall Masonry today when they say in conclusion, “Without the National Grand Lodge some of today’s Prince Hall Grand Lodges might never have existed! They knew no life other than the National Grand Lodge.  They had no other source early in life.  Seemingly, they grew up, left home and denounced their parents. Leaders and members of Prince Hall Grand Lodges speak of the National Grand Lodge with total disdain as something that should never have happened, not addressing or even realizing the fact that it is the source of their existence!  Many histories of the Grand Lodges that declared their independence from the National Grand Lodge make a brief mention of being a part of the National Grand Lodge.”


Rroundtree and Bessel start us off with this thought.

“One could argue that Masonic recognition of Prince Hall Lodges in the United States is late compared to other institutions; however, unlike the integration process of other institutions, Prince Hall recognition in America comes without legislation, new laws, protests, social uprising, demands for rights, or widespread public accusations of racism.  The effort to obtain recognition is not spearheaded by a social action organization.  Public accusations by Prince Hall Masons of Masonic rights violations have not been noted.  Recognition is truly voluntary because no one is begging or demanding.”

“America was a society in which the south and other regions functioned under Jim Crow Laws, Black codes and legal segregation until the Civil Rights Act of 1964. From 1870 to 1964 it would have been a violation of civil law in virtually all of the southern states and some of the northern states to recognize Prince Hall Masonry, which would have encompassed assembling, and the social acceptance of blacks. Recognition was probably not going to happen before 1968 (last of Civil Rights Acts), and not be overturned, because of the segregation laws and racial tension in America.”

Out of the Shadows answers the question what is recognition?

  1. An acknowledgment that the Grand Lodge is regular (not clandestine or irregular) and practices Freemasonry in accordance with established landmarks.
  2. An acknowledgment that each Grand Lodge is sovereign
  3. Opens the lines of communication between the Grand Lodges for fraternal cooperation
  4. Allows members of Lodges in each Grand Lodge to visit Lodges in the other Grand Lodge to the same extent, and under the same conditions, as members of Lodges in any other Grand Lodge that is recognized by them.  The Corpus Juris guidelines for visiting foreign jurisdictions would apply.
  5. In the case of American Freemasonry, it is also an acknowledgment that the two sovereign Grand Lodges (Prince Hall and Caucasian) can exist in the same territory as two separate entities with total control over their respective Craft.

Also explained are the guidelines for determining if a Grand Lodge is regular which both Mainstream and Prince Hall accept. A Grand Lodge must:

  1. be regular in its origin
  2. be truly independent and self-governing
  3. adhere to landmarks
  4. obligations must be taken on or in full view of the Volume of the Sacred Law
  5. it must display the three Great Lights of Freemasonry when it or its Lodges are open
  6. discussions of religion and politics in its Lodges must be prohibited, and:
  7. its membership must be male, and must have nothing to do with mixed or women’s Lodges
  8. its brethren must believe in a Supreme Being

The Book devotes a number of Chapters to recognition looking at the subject from many angles.

It devotes a chapter to Prince Hall writers from Martin Delaney, William Grimshaw, Lewis Hayden, Harry A. Williamson, Harry E. Davis, Joseph A. Walkes, Jr. and many others.

It devotes another chapter to the blackball, its effect on the admittance of Negroes into Mainstream Lodges and some modifications adopted in various jurisdictions to overcome the abuse.

The chapter on Objections to Recognition is most interesting. It starts with 20 FAQ about recognition.  Then it moves into a detailed analysis of The American Doctrine, The Right of Exclusive Territorial Jurisdiction, which we will learn more about later.  Then it lists all the statements about why Prince Hall cannot be recognized as written in the Grand Lodge minutes of various Mainstream Grand Lodges in chronological order.  Just to mention a few:

1818/19 New York– The Grand Lodge of New York issues a decree of non-intercourse with Negro Lodges.

1867 Delaware – A portion of the Obligation in the degree of Master Mason stated that the initiation or visitation: …..”of any Negro, mulatto, or colored person of the United States is forbidden…….This prohibition shall be an obligation and taught in the third degree.”

1874 Texas – Acting Grand Master R.W. Bro. Bramlette devotes considerable space to the Negro, and believes he is by nature unfit material for Masonry, and adds, “No cultivation, and I might say, no manipulation by fanatics can raise him to the dignity of social and brotherly recognition in our Lodges.”

1909 Mississippi – From the Grand Master’s Address: “The Negro in our land is unfit to assume the responsibilities and obligations of Masonry.  It is an open secret that virtue and morality, which are indispensable qualifications to membership, are foreign to the race.  I felt it my duty as your Grand Master to cut loose from any who would dare open the door of Masonry to a people whose standing for virtue and morality is a mockery to civilization.”

1912 Illinois – A Past Master of a Lodge, together with a Past Senior Warden and another member, assisted as pallbearers at the funeral of a Negro Mason.  The Past Master was expelled from the Lodge and the two others were suspended for one year.

1965 Texas – The Grand Master of Texas in his annual address lamented Negro Masons.

“It would appear that in general consensus in this Grand Jurisdiction during the last 128 years has been that members of the Negro race on the basis of anthropological, ethnological, cultural, mental, and social characteristics are not qualified for membership in our Fraternity.”

The chapter on Attempts and Repercussions for Recognition lists in chronological order of all the attempts of Negro Masonry to apply for Mainstream recognition, starting with Prince Hall petitioning Provincial Massachusetts Grand Master Joseph Warren in 1775.

The chapter on Influences on Recognition and Legitimacy explores the white side of recognition and the effect of predominately white writers and researchers on black recognition. Allen E. Roberts, Grand Master Howard L. Woods, Josiah Hayden Drummond, Albert Pike, Albert G. Mackey, William Upton and others are discussed, some having positive and some having negative effects. It also delves into the effect of The Philalethes Society, The Phylaxis Society, The Supreme Council A.S.S.R., COMPUSERVE Masonic forum and Evergreen Magazine of Iowa.  Then it lists in chronological order every black/white visitation that actually occurred that the authors could find, illegal or otherwise.

In the chapter titled Rules Concerning Sovereignty we see as recognition actually started to get approved how various Mainstream jurisdictions grappled with the legalistics of recognition.  It is here we learn more about the discussion of how they actually did it.

Once more we are back to the stumbling block of the The Right of Exclusive Territorial Jurisdiction.The authors tell us that there was three ways that Mainstream Grand Lodges dealt with this issue:

  1. Ignore it or do not try to deal with it. 14 Grand Lodges chose this route.
  2. Focus on the Doctrine of Exclusive Territorial Jurisdiction, not Grand Lodge Code. Here Grand Lodges accepted the interpretation that this Doctrine allows consenting Grand Lodges to coexist.  6 Grand Lodges chose this route.
  3. Amend Grand Lodge Code. 7 Grand Lodges chose this option.

Those that chose option #2 – Interpreting The American Doctrine as allowing coexistence- point to the Mainstream ruling in 1956 of The Commission on Information for Recognition of the Conference of Grand Masters of Masons in North America which established a standard addressing Territorial Sovereignty and printed it in their Commission book of Standards for Recognition. It reads as follows:

  1. Territorial Sovereignty

“That it is an independent, self governing organization, having Masonic authority within the governmental territory over which it assumes jurisdiction – whether country, province, state or other political subdivision: or else shares such exclusive territorial jurisdiction with another Grand Lodge by mutual consent and treaty.”

Another Chapter deals with State Status of Recognition by listing each state and going into detail into the reports issued regarding recognition whether they approved it or disapproved it. Some states show immense detail in their deliberations and proclamations while others are quite sparse. But when the reader is through with this chapter – and thinking about the material from previous chapters –  one gets a good behind the scenes insight into all deliberations, discussions and debate that has taken place over this issue.  Those states that have not yet recognized Prince Hall would do well to look into what their sister jurisdictions went through to move forward into the 21st century.

Some Masons think that Prince Hall recognition is just a recent phenomenon. They might be shocked to learn that Washington State recognized Prince Hall in 1898 and that is a whole story within itself.  Massachusetts recognized Prince Hall in 1947.  Both these recognitions were withdrawn after much pressure was applied from other Mainstream Grand Lodges.

The first four recognitions to remain permanent were:

  1. Connecticut – 1989
  2. Nebraska –  February 1990
  3. Washington State – June 1990
  4. Wisconsin – June 1990

Remembering that Roundtree and Bessel previously stated that recognition probably would not come until the final Civil Rights Act of 1968, it is worth noting that both Connecticut and Wisconsin Mainstream & Prince Hall had been involved with cooperative action with each other for 20 years before finally deciding to recognize each other.  That means their first interaction would have started in 1969 & 1970.

There is much more material about Mainstream proceedings in this book because Mainstream Masonry has kept detailed records and made that material publicly available. Roundtree and Bessel comment on that fact:

“Predominately white Grand Lodge proceedings are generally available in many Masonic libraries, research Lodges, Grand Lodges as well as at the Library of Congress.  Prince Hall Grand Lodges have not systematically distributed their proceedings to other Grand Lodges, libraries, or research societies. Unfortunately, for posterity’s sake, there is no central repository for Prince Hall Grand Lodge proceedings. To research Prince Hall proceedings one would have to view a private collection or contact each Prince Hall Grand Lodge concerned and ask for cooperation.  The most complete set, and probably only set, of Prince Hall Grand Lodge proceedings are in the Iowa Masonic Library (Cedar Rapids, Iowa).”

Roundtree & Bessel end up their saga on recognition with a Case Study and White Paper on the Washington D.C. Prince Hall recognition. Where both authors belong to respective D.C. Grand Lodges and both were involved intimately with the process of recognition this is a further behind the scenes glimpse into the inner workings of two Grand Lodges resolving differences.

The book concludes with a chapter on Demographics. Here you will find charts and graphs showing Prince Hall membership across the nation and African American population statistics.  It is interesting to learn that 50% of all Prince Hall Masons are located in 6 states:  Alabama, North Carolina, Mississippi, South Carolina, Virginia and Texas.

Out of the Shadows also contains over 100 pages of Appendixes.  Here you can learn about every white and black clandestine Lodge in the USA and every court case Prince Hall has ever been involved with and much National Compact information as well as many other items of interest. In addition there is a 13-page glossary of terms and a 27 page Bibliography.

My take on this book is that it is a researchers dream.  If The National Compact and Prince Hall recognition are subjects you want to bone up on, you could find no better source.  What may be irritating to some would be the bias of the authors who are not timid about letting you know what they think along with a good display of facts.

Alas the Demographics were reprints of color presentations in black and white and all but useless.  This book is chock full of information but its production is not what I call classy.  It will never make it to the leather bound classics.  However, for us blue collar types we could care less.  It’s good stuff!

Building Boaz by Dr. John Nagy

I have come to find that modern Masonic literature can be compared to the preparation of food. Some Masonic literature is too light to satisfy the appetite and too bland to excite the senses. Other works on the subject of the fraternity are too rich and overpowering to the palate and leave the reader with a case of indigestion as he struggles to comprehend the knowledge contained within them. It takes an expert chef—or in this case author—to find the right combination of ingredients so that the flavor is complex but not overwhelming and the reader is left full but not gorged.

Dr. John Nagy has found this balance again in Building Boaz, the second volume in his Uncommon Catechism for Uncommon Masonic Education series. Building Boaz focuses on the symbolism of the Entered Apprentice degree using the Inquiry-Response format of the time honored Masonic catechism. It examines the lessons taught to us in Entered Apprentice degree and expands upon these themes in order to unveil a deep, intertwined network of the order’s philosophical precepts.

Building Boaz facilitates the advancement of Masonic comprehension for both the newly initiated Apprentice as well as the experienced Master. The book challenges the reader to form a deeper understanding of the initiatic rituals throughout the book. Dr. Nagy finds a way to connect Masonic ritual with the Bible, the Nag Hammadi Scrolls, Greek mythology, classical literature, and other great sources of moral instruction without making the subject matter cumbersome to even the most novice student of Masonry. This makes Building Boaz a refreshing and insightful review of the first degree of Masonry.

Building Boaz Uncommon Catechism for Uncommon Masonic Education Volume 2 by John Nagy

Dr. Nagy’s efforts have created an educational product which fills a void in today’s Masonic literature. For hundreds of years, the Freemason’s catechism has formed the backbone of the institution’s moral instruction. The catechism has instilled the basic principles of the fraternity in the minds of it’s initiates and served as the gateway to further exploration of Freemasonry’s allegorical concepts. However, in modern Freemasonry we find that the catechism is often seen in one of two opposing viewpoints: archaic and out of date or as the be-all and end-all of Masonic instruction. Building Boaz, like Nagy’s previous work Building Hiram, restores the catechism to its rightful place in Masonic education as both the staple of the Mason’s instructional diet and the springboard to a higher understanding of Masonic teachings. Not only does this format make the information contained within the book easy to comprehend for the reader, but it also allows the book to be used in the lodge for Masonic education without any further digestion. This eliminates the intimidation which many modern Freemasons face when trying to develop an educational presentation for their assemblies.

I will personally be making Building Boaz required reading for all of my future Masonic proteges and encourage all Freemasons to read this book and address the questions that it will cultivate in their minds. I hope that Building Boaz may enhance your Masonic experience as much as it has enhanced mine.

You can purchase the book here.

The Lost Symbol – A Review


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

The Masonic perspective can be found here.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

:: spoiler alert::


Caravaggio (1573-1610) The Sacrifice of Isaac

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

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


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

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

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

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

The Grand Lodge of California

grand lodge of california

The Grand Lodge of Grand Lodge of California is the next stop on the tour of American Grand Lodges.

  • Grand Lodge of California Masonic membership:
  • 68,714  – 2006
  • 66,127  – 2007
  • gain/loss  –  -2,587
  • Data from MSANA

State population: 36,756,666 as of 2008 (estimated)

About the Grand Lodge
During the Gold Rush of 1849, thousands of settlers came to California in search of fortune. Those who were Masons brought their rich traditions with them, soon establishing some of California’s first Masonic lodges in the mining towns of the Gold Country. In 1850 — the same year that California became a state — the Grand Lodge of California was established in Sacramento.

The Grand Lodge of California does not have a listing on Wikipedia.

The site includes a brief history of Freemasonry’s origin there, and includes a fun interactive time line of Freemasonry in California.

Some of what I found on my excursion there:

The Grand Lodge of California website
The Grand Lodge of California website

The Grand Lodge site has a very strong URL ( which gives it high presence in search engine placement for the term Freemason.  Upon a simple search of the term Freemason, the California Grand Lodge ranks as the #3 for that search term.

Visually, the site it very clean and crisp with an immediate appeals to the eye.  Both bright and interactive it has a strong professional presence.  At the first load of the page is an attention grabber flash image of George Washington laying a corner stone that makes a quick transition from black and white to color introducing a number of interactive boxes for the visitor to explore.  In those boxes are several of the elements that Freemasonry promotes including Tolerance, Personal Growth, Family, Philanthropy, Ethics, and Freedom.  Each of the images are click able to display an image and an aphorism to the virtue and a member that exemplifies it.

Overall the layout is straight forward and in the places where it needs to delve deep with pull down menus with links to additional pages.

Visually, the site does not link overtly to the state of California in that the graphics could easily be extended to any other state with a quick change of the name California.  Using the image of Washington in such a prominent position distracts from the prominence being on the state instead emphasizing a small part of Masonic history.

Prominent on the page at the top is a link to news and events which with a quick click hover over opens a list of items to select from (though disappointedly not events).  In the list are several choices of interest to many, including past issues of the California Freemason magazine, press information, and the Grand Masters itinerary.  What I did not find was a calendar of events, at least listed as such, as upcoming activities were listed under “news”.  In the news section I did find an article on the websites award of excellence for its design and content. (Congratulations!)

The site itself is very flexible as it is a custom build with a great deal of development potential.  In many respects the site has been developed out to the extent that it needs to be, as it covers most of what the Grand Lodge needs to communicate including contact info of the Grand Lodge, its leadership, its charitable endeavors and scholarships, public events, and member information.

Informational Content:

The Ca GL site definitely gives you your times worth of material to look at.  What makes the content work is that the various sections are short and to the point for what they communicate.  In some instances, it leaves the reader wanting more (as in the history), but in most it gives just enough to encourage the reader to take the next step, such as the How to become a mason | information section.  It also transitions well from talking about California Masonry and how to become one to a link for “more info”, which takes you to a detailed and smart form for the user to fill in.  Interestingly, it does not put as the priority the request to become a member, rather weaving it into it in to the offering of choices making it less about the conversion and more an informed reader’s choice.

One feature that I do like is that each page carries the navigation to the other pages and makes ones visit there easy to get around.  This is a function of the sites navigation (both the top and the side) that one can jump from page to page as they explore the site.  It also uses the right side to feature ad blocks of relevant items for the visitor to click, such as the upcoming 150th Grand Lodge communication and opportunities to charitably give.  Again, this is a very smart way to entice the visitor (both mason and non) to explore and find out more information.

Something I did not find were a variety of external links to sites not immediately tied to the grand Lodge.  This is good in that it keeps the traffic on the site, but bad in that it does not illustrate partnerships or even California lodge sites.  My guess is that it functions to keep an unbiased position for one site or another and keeps the specter of bias away from any particular site.  This is good and bad in that it keeps bias out (good) but fails to illustrate the breadth of the fraternity in the state, country, or world.  Under the related organizations tab there is a list of many Appendant national bodies and links to their websites.

Generally, the informational content is very good, being both enticing and informative setting the tone that Freemasonry in California is a strong and vibrant institution with lot of history and goings on, always giving enough information to make the viewer want to find out more.

Look and Feel.
As I mentioned above, the site is very crisp and clean, with a smart and professional look, while not being overly conservative or “institutional”.  The use of warm colors (deep reds, warm grays, with spot photos) definitely makes the pages inviting to the eye.  Even the mix of serif and san serif fonts is effective at differentiating between the artistic branding and the content.  There is definitely some thought that has been put into the site, which is very evident in its details.

From a first time visitor’s point of view, I think that the Grand Lodge site would be very well received and make a very valuable impression on them as to the organization.  It is clear, warm, and full of information.  It does not try to overtly convert the reader into becoming a member, but rather seems to take the viewer on a journey into the site and its wealth of information.  And, on every page is a constant link on how to join, which is a suitable conversion point amidst all of the sites content.

The flip side of that equation is the returning visitor or the member’s visit, which is just as meaningful and interesting.  Because there is a frequently updated news section, there is something to continue to come back to regularly and often so as to stay up-to-date on the goings on around the state.  With so much content going in, what seems to be missing is a way to subscribe to the news, which could be easily remedied with an RSS feed from it or a newsletter sign up form, which seems just a step away from connecting the site to its membership.  Because it necessitates the frequent return trip to pick up the news, it runs the risk of not reaching all the members who may come across the site because the updated news is buried three links in on the news & events section.  Moving the news (via a feed or site dynamics) to the front page would easily transform the site from a single destination to a frequent communicator to the membership AND public showcasing all of the activities that they can participate in.  Another alternative is a means to subscribe to the news that visitors can opt into.  Much like receiving a mailer at home, frequent updates would keep the GL in mind as news rolls out.

Overall I think the site handles its conversion well in that in the information it presents, it portrays the fraternity in a very positive, professional, and meaningful way.  It does have a bit of a disconnect from the state in that its use of art seems more a convention of east coast Masonry (Washington and the cornerstone) but once you dig into the site, it loops back in enough of the goings on to illustrate the membership of the state.


The henry Wilson Coil Library and Museum
The henry Wilson Coil Library and Museum

A feather in the cap of the GL of CA is the Henry Wilson Coil Library and Museum which frequently hosts a selection of shows and material of great interest to masonry.  With out going into great detail on the collection they do have a fantastic new website that beautifully illustrates its collection and goings on, which presents it as a must see destination of San Francisco art and history collections.   You can see the Henry Wilson Coil Museum and Collection live atop Nob Hill in San Francisco.

Coming up next – The Grand Lodge of Colorado