Recently, the Bee Hive attended a third degree ritual aboard the The Blue Ghost, an Essex class aircraft carrier out of Corpus Christi Bay in Texas. The event was hosted by Oso Naval Lodge No. 1282at the Museum on the Bay on Saturday, September 10th, 2016.
Master Mason’s Degree
Known as “The Blue Ghost,” the Lexington is one of 24 Essex class aircraft carriers built during World War II for the United States Navy. The ship, the fifth US Navy ship to bear the name, is named in honor of the Revolutionary War Battle of Lexington. She was originally to have been named Cabot, but she was renamed while under construction to commemorate USS Lexington (CV-2), lost in the Battle of the Coral Sea in May 1942.
The Lexington was commissioned in February 1943, and served in several campaigns in the Pacific Theater of Operations, receiving the Presidential Unit Citation and 11 battle stars for World War II service. Like many of her sister ships, Lexington was decommissioned shortly after the end of the war, but was modernized and reactivated in the early 1950’s, being reclassified as an attack carrier (CVA), and then an antisubmarine carrier (CVS). In her second career, she operated both in the Atlantic/Mediterranean and the Pacific, but spent most of her time, nearly 30 years, on the east coast as a training carrier (CVT).
She was decommissioned in 1991, remaining active longer than any other Essex-class ship, and was donated for use as a museum ship here in Corpus Christi. Lexington was designated a national Historic landmark in 2003. Though her surviving sister ships, Yorktown, Intrepid and Hornet carry lower hull numbers, Lexington was laid down and commissioned earlier, making Lexington the oldest remaining aircraft carrier in the world.
I head up Route 358 from North Padre Island to the Crosstown Expressway and then onto Route 181 in Corpus Christi, Texas. As I cross the bay on a high arching bridge, there she is, The Blue Ghost in all her magnificence. Coming off the bridge I wind my way around to ground level and park a block away. I walk towards my destination. A double sized golf cart waits for me at the bottom of the ramp. Soon I am on my way up the long ramp that will take me on board the retired aircraft carrier, the USS Lexington, The Blue Ghost. I am here to witness a Third Degree on the Lexington by a very special Degree Team.
I think back to the meaning of Lexington to me. Lexington seems to end up following me or I it wherever I go.
I was born and raised in Lexington, Massachusetts the birthplace of the American Revolution. It was this Lexington for whom the USS Lexington was named. It was here on April 19, 1775 that Paul Revere rode into Lexington with other riders and proclaimed, “The British are coming, the British are coming.” I went to church 100 feet from the Lexington Green where the first battle of the American Revolution was fought on that day. My mother was secretary of the church. She also worked weekends at the Buckman Tavern beside the Green as a historical story teller to visitors. The Buckman Tavern is where The Lexington Minute Men gathered on that early morning of April 19, 1775. I would become Master Councilor of Battle Green DeMoaly also just off the Green. Much later I would return to Lexington’s Simon Robinson Lodge as Master of Paul Revere Lodge with the Paul Revere Colonial Degree Team to exemplify the Third Degree and participate in a Tri Table Lodge.
The Degree Team
This night I would witness the Third Degree by a team of Masons from the Grand Lodge of Texas AF & AM drawn from all over Southeastern Texas who were Grand Lodge award winning Ritualists.The host Lodge was Oso Naval Lodge No 1282. Grand Master, MW Wendell P. Miller was in the East for the Second Section of the Degree. District Instructor PM Mike King was the producer of the degree and sat in the West for the Second Section.
For the reenactment of the Legend of Hiram Abiff, the players were all dressed in ancient costumes. Upon the giant wall behind the South was a huge video screen which the Grand Lodge used in conjunction with the Lecture and the Charge. In addition to these two, there was also an Apron and a Bible presentation.
The degree was flawless and very well done. Long pieces of ritual were recited from memory without mistakes and with great flourish. At its conclusion, the Grand Master was presented with a few gifts as mementos of the occasion among which was a very decorative flag.
After the Degree, we gathered to greet new friends and touch base with old ones. Most of the Brothers present were not familiar to me which gave me a good opportunity to make new friends. Many pictures were taken including me with the Grand Master.
MW Wendell P. Miller & PM Frederic L. Milliken
Grand Master Presented A Flag
What was most impressive to me was the fact that you don’t often see a Grand Master performing degrees at the local level. Grand Masters are too involved with Administration and Ceremonial functions to actually do ritual in a Degree. And few remember their ritual from long ago. Not this one, MW Wendell P. Miller did not miss a word of a lengthy ritual part.
All too soon it was time to say goodbye. Hugs all around and back out into the night and onto the deck of the Blue Ghost we went. From that vantage, there was a beautiful view of Corpus Christi all lit up in the night. We took the same cart back down the ramp and dispersed.
As I left the Blue Ghost late at night, I turned back and snapped a couple of pictures that really gave meaning to the Lexington’s nickname. Once again, I had celebrated Freemasonry in fine style!
They are known as The Knights of The Masonic Roundtable or simply as The Masonic Roundtable. They are five innovative, hard working, and extremely nice Masons who got together in 2014 to spread Masonic light around the world via their weekly show.
Phoenixmasonry (and Freemason Information) is delighted to have had the opportunity to meet the Knights and publish this interview so we can all get to know them better.
Elena Llamas, Director of Public Relations for Phoenixmasonry: Hello, Knights, thank you for this interview. It is an honor and privilege to interview you. It has been two years since you got together and you are going strong, meeting every single week. Is it fair to assume that you will be around in the foreseeable future? I hope so!
Jason: Hi, Elena! Thanks so much for spending some time with us. The hosts of TMR always told each other that we’d keep going until the show stopped being fun. We’re still having a blast, so things are looking good!
Robert: Agreed. It’s become a highlight of the week for me.
Elena: That’s great! Why the name Knights of the Masonic Roundtable? And how did you get started? I understand Jon’s love for technology, gadgets, and Masonry was the starting point.
Jon: It was! Being a self-proclaimed Android nerd, I followed a site called Droid Life which introduced a live show talking all things Android that week (new phones, new announcements from manufacturers). What was neat was that they also added commentary very organically, and you could tell they knew their material. I figured someone should do a similar show but for Masonry. I didn’t anticipate that someone to be me!
I was such a huge fan of other Masonic podcasts, such as The Winding Stairs, and Whence Came You? and blogs like the Millennial Freemason, and although I had “friended” most of them in the past, I did not really know them well. On a whim, I asked all of them if they would be willing to try it out as an experiment. Ego stroking worked in my favor.
Robert: It sure did, Jon. Ha!
Juan: When I first heard Jon explain the concept and when I found out that Robert was also on board, I didn’t need to hear anything else. I saw it as an opportunity to continue learning about the Craft and sharing that knowledge with other Brothers.
Jason: We wanted the show to be a roundtable discussion, so we kept the “Roundtable” name and The Masonic Roundtable was born. We added in the Knights as a homage to the York Rite (Knights Templar, specifically), of which four out of the five hosts are members.
Robert: We’re working on Jason. 🙂
Jason: Yes, I’m the host with the vintage Knight Templar triangle apron hanging up in his studio who isn’t a member. Oh, the irony!
Elena: I noticed it! Jon had a great idea and, in turn, you all have been part of the inspiration for Phoenixmasonry’s own show, airing soon, which will be different from yours, of course, and also online.
Jason: We can’t wait to see it! The fraternity desperately needs new sources of quality, well-researched Masonic education. We’re looking forward to seeing what Phoenixmasonry comes up with.
Elena: Thank you! You have certainly laid such a standard for others! Tell us about your logo. Is this your design? And please explain its meaning.
Jason: Yes! This is our trademarked design. The logo is absolutely critical to the show’s branding. Juan came up with some early designs for the artwork and I added the symbolism and other enhancements. I try to pack as much symbolism into my designs as possible while keeping them minimalist in style.
Elena: That certainly was accomplished with the logo.
Jason: The essential design elements of our logo include the following:
First, you’ll notice the circumpunct: represented by the outer rings and the dot in the middle of the square and compasses, which is an admonishment to ourselves (and our viewers) to manage time wisely. Our time on the Earth is finite. It is our duty to God to manage the time that we have as best we can. The circumpunct has historically represented Deity, and its inclusion in our design emphasizes the centrality of our duty to God.
Second, the triangle, which interlocks with the circumpunct, represents the three tenets of Freemasonry: brotherly love, relief, and truth.
The five five-pointed stars represent the five original Knights of The Masonic Roundtable. They also allude to the five orders of architecture.
Jason: Each order of architecture is unique in its own way, adding a very specific kind of beauty to the building a given column adorns. Each of the five hosts is unique in his own personality and perspective, and each host adds a flavor to the show that would be sorely missed otherwise.
Elena: I agree.
Jason: As stars produce light, the representation of the hosts as stars alludes to the entire point of the show, which is to spread Masonic light and knowledge everywhere we can. As stars bring light, we attempt to do the same by sparking constructive Masonic discourse.
Elena: What beautiful symbolism!
Jason: Finally, the words “MORE LIGHT,” which appear in the bottom of the design, allude to our sign off, “Keep searching for more light!”, which is our admonishment to our viewers and listeners to keep the discourse going long after the episode ends. Every Mason has a duty to use his/her time on this earth to learn as much as he (or she) can.
As you can see, this design is the very heart and soul of our show, which is one of the reasons why we turned it into a set of lapel pins we sell on our website to cover our production and hosting costs. We packed even more symbolism into the pins by using specific colors as an homage to the Royal Arch (red), Cryptic Council (purple), Allied Masonic Degrees (green), Scottish Rite (white), and Blue Lodge (blue) bodies of Masonry.
Elena: The pins are lovely! You are on your 130th episode. I spent a lot of time on your YouTube channel and was so impressed by the range of topics you discuss. I recommend readers set aside a weekend or two for a Roundtable marathon. Your topics vary from what a Masonic political party would possibly be like to in depth discussion on Masonic studies, interviews with Masonic personalities, and discussion on different currents within Masonry and other religious observances. Do you have a system for coming up with each week’s topic?
Jason: We start with topics we ourselves want to discuss. We have a backlog of topic ideas (and potential guest hosts/experts to bring onto the show to complement the topics) that we pull from. Our best show topics, however, have come as suggestions from our listeners. We love taking listener recommendations for topics. Our episodes on Racism in Freemasonry, Essentials of Lodge Leadership, the Kabbalah, and Masonic Ciphers were all requested by listeners. We get new suggestions each week, and never tire of hearing topics about which listeners would like to learn more. Some of our topics span episodes (like our four-part series on the four cardinal virtues), but most of our episodes are standalone.
Elena: I have noticed that you are very responsive to questions and comments from your audience.
Jason: Social media is my favorite part of each episode!
Juan: I agree with Jason. Social Media, when used adequately, can be a very versatile tool. There have been many times when we have a particular opinion on a topic, only because we have ignored some alternative explanations. All it takes is a Brother to share his view on our Facebook page and now we have a new perspective to consider.
Robert: It’s always fun and nerve racking to be put on the spot with a position you’ve decided to take on the episode when a listener who is watching live decides to ask you right there on the show about what you just said. I love it. It’s an exercise in logical discussion and that’s what is truly different about this program and why I think it’s gotten the success it has.
Nick: Coming from the blogging world, I still get comments from posts I wrote years ago. I think that is useful and helpful. Since The Masonic Roundtable is a topical show by design, I definitely like the questions that keep coming in, even from episodes we did from a while back. It keeps my mind humming with new thoughts and new perspectives.
Elena: You start out each episode with a bit of trivia, Masonic news, conversation, and more. It is a great way to keep your viewers updated and interested while having fun.
Jason: It took us a lot of trial and error to find the right balance of special segments and discussion. If you go back to our early episodes (please don’t judge too harshly!), you’ll find much more inconsistency in the format. Over time, we’ve refined how we do the show (largely due to feedback we receive from our listeners). We’ve got the format down pretty solid nowadays, but we can always change it up as our audience’s needs evolve.
Elena: You film from your personal offices, living rooms, and sometimes even hotel rooms. You must have worked out a system for making sure your families give you time every week for the show. Jason’s cat isn’t having any of that (see image below).
Juan: In my home, I have a dedicated Art Studio/Office space that is separate from the rest of the house. My family knows that Tuesday Nights I am recording TMR and they know to stay away from the Studio (It’s too messy in there anyway).
Elena: With a weekly show, plus your non-Masonic jobs and other Masonic endeavors, how do you manage to remain enthusiastic about the show, week after week?
Jason: It’s difficult. From the very beginning, we had to make a conscious effort to make the show a priority. I’ve had plenty of nights where I would have much rather gone to bed early then stayed up late doing the show. Every Wednesday is a big struggle for me at work because I’m dragging from staying up late the night before. But what I’ve personally found is that the discussions I have with the other hosts and the interaction we get from those watching live makes the sleep deprivation totally worth it. There’s a reason we keep coming back every week; that reason is that our listeners are amazing.
Robert: It is definitely a struggle sometimes. There will be times (frequently) I’m “live from mobile masonic command”, as the fellas have called it. As you’ve said, with work, kids, families it gets a bit nuts. I’ve blown off Masonic meetings to do the show at times but the District Deputy Grand Master meetings are the ones I can’t miss and why I am sometimes driving and doing the show. The listeners have not complained about the noise in the car…which I am deeply appreciative of. 😉
Juan: I enjoy doing the show and I love my Fellow Knights, but there are times when I may have had a rough day and don’t feel particularly motivated. All it takes is for me to let the Brothers know how I feel and they cheer me up, just in time to sit in front of the camera and forget the difficulties of the day. It’s the cheapest therapy in town, if you ask me.
Elena: Are you invited to Lodges and Masonic events as a group to talk about your show? I think you are a great example of how technology and Masonry can combine to produce refreshing and new possibilities.
Jason: We have had the privilege of speaking individually and collectively across the country, both virtually and in-person! In June, I was invited to do a virtual presentation in a lodge in Wisconsin. It was a great instance where we were able to use technology to enhance and promote Masonic education! On a larger scale, we were invited to be the featured speakers at the Pennsylvania Academy of Masonic Knowledge in March of this year. We streamed the entire event live–a first for the Academy–and had an amazing turnout!
Juan: The Pennsylvania Academy of Masonic Knowledge event was an amazing experience, but we recognize that it is a little more difficult to bring all five of us to speak at an event (It’s possible though). However, we get invitations to speak at Lodges individually on a regular basis. I’m one of those strange creatures who really enjoys public speaking and I love doing it to spread Masonic Education. Getting to sit with Brothers from around the Country is a great privilege of our profession.
Robert: It has been wonderful to share fellowship with lodges all around the country. I think we really had an amazing opportunity and experience when we all were in PA for the Academy.
Jason: Brethren tuned in from as far away as Texas! The event itself included individual presentations from each of the hosts and a combined presentation at the end. Best of all, you can still go back and watch the entire event on our youtube channel! It’s just another way that we were able to use technology to expand the reach of Masonic education.
Elena: If a lodge wanted one or more of you to come speak, what would they need to do?
Jason: The first step, like everything in Masonry, is to ask us! We’ve got a calendar of speaking engagements listed on our website. I’m personally happy to do presentations virtually any time I can fit them in, and if you’re near the Washington, D.C. metro area (or want to do something virtually) you might be able to get me and Jon as a 2-for-1. If I can help contribute to your lodge’s commitment to providing quality Masonic education to its members, then I’ll do so in any way that I can!
Robert: True story. Just ask. I maintain a page on the Whence Came You? website, and I try to get those dates to Jon, since he does most of the website work. He does a great job. We will travel far and wide to share fellowship and have discussion with the brothers.
Juan: If a Lodge wanted to invite us as a group, TheMasonicRoundtable.com is the place to go. If a Lodge wanted to invite me personally, they can do so through TheWindingStairs.com or through Facebook. My presentations are usually related to the practical side of Masonry. How to Apply Freemasonry to our everyday lives.
Elena: You provide an amazing and unique Masonic service.
Jason: Thanks so much!
Elena: The sound and video on your shows is always top quality, your settings are always well put together (as in, not a mess), you are always well groomed and wide-awake. Us viewers appreciate your effort and presentation. There is nothing worse than trying to plow through a poorly produced video with audio problems, with a distracting background, or unprepared hosts.
Robert: I totally agree. How many times have you started listening to an old .mp3 file and the quality was horrible? You know people make podcasts like that still? In 2016! When we decided to make the show an audio podcast as well, yes it wasn’t always so, we wanted to make sure we didn’t have this same problem. For the audiophiles out there, 320 kbps stereo is where I wanted to go. That’s what I did on Whence Came You? However, after playing around with cost / benefit we settled on 192 kbps stereo. I think it’s easy to listen to and it sounds like we’re there in your car, or your house or wherever you listen to us. It’s a crucial element. You could have a great show but if the audio is tinny etc. I know I’m not even going to give it one minute of my time. We didn’t want to ever have that as a problem for our listeners.
Jason: Post-production of our show is huge. We record it live, and started the show thinking we’d do video only; however, our audience begged for an audio-only version and after a couple of weeks we gave in. Good thing, too, as most of our audience listens to our audio-only podcast these days. We don’t do any post-production on the videos at present, but RJ is the man when it comes to making our discussions sound as good and clear as possible on the audio podcast.
Elena: After watching so many of your episodes, I walked away with a sense that all of you are very inquisitive, very respectful of your guests and topics, and well rounded and diverse as to points of view. The variety you provide as a group is unique and a real innovation in Freemasonry.
Robert: Whoa! Innovations!? We can’t have any of that. (Jokes) Being respectful is what we do as part of being Freemasons. While many of the topics and discussions we have on the show are highly charged and many more could not even be discussed in lodge, we’re not in lodge. We ask ourselves “How would a Mason discuss this topic?” Juan has been instrumental in keeping us grounded.
Juan: We are there for one another. We share a common interest, but don’t always share on the same opinions. The diversity of opinions helps us get out of our comfort zone and evaluate things from a more objective viewpoint. I like it when we present our Brothers as many facts as possible and allow them to formulate their own conclusions. We refuse to shy away from difficult subjects, so we have to be careful that our opinions are expressed as just that, our opinions.
Elena: Thus, your shows are more about exploring and discussing topics than about explaining each of your positions on the subjects. You don’t seem to want to teach or preach as much as you do propose, introduce your topics, and learn from your guests and issues.
Jason: We’re not experts, nor do we purport to be. We’re here to encourage Masons to arrive at their own conclusions vice imposing our personal worldviews on our listeners. We try to structure our discussions in such a way that there’s no right or wrong answer. We’re all here to learn, not only from each other, but from our listeners as well. That’s why we place such a heavy emphasis on audience interaction.
Robert: To be fair, there are times where I and others will openly disagree. I’ve gotten grumpy on a few episodes. But it’s usually on a topic in which there is heated debate. Again, something about the compasses keeps me out of trouble. As for teaching, well, I think we are all teachers already. And since our show is a discussion, it helps to think about it in terms of a bunch of teachers sitting around with other teachers, who would be the listeners, talking about these topics. We’re not out there getting preachy.
Juan: I’ve come to accept our level of responsibility grows proportionally as the size of our audience grows. Like that old sage, Ben Parker, once said “with great power comes great responsibility”. Although we have to be clear in our message, I don’t think we need to hit our listeners over the head with forced opinions. We are here to discuss, not to convince.
Jon: I try to apply the liberal art of rhetoric every show.
Elena: Do you have a large non-Masonic following?
Robert: The analytics and data show we have a huge following. I’d defer to Jon at this point. But I would point out that the non masons we do have usually are courting the fraternity and later join. We get letters all the time that say things like “ …I joined because your show finally gave me the push I needed. I receive my EA degree next week!” It’s humbling to say the least.
Jon: Facebook and Google analytics don’t have an “is mason” metric, so it’s a little hard to determine those who have taken the degrees and who haven’t. Get on it, Google!
Elena: Do you have other demographic data as to your followers? Age, region, that sort of thing?
Jason: Jon’s the Masonic data expert. He’ll give the best answer on this one!
Jon: Yup. Me again. Although all ages, genders, and areas listen to the show, our largest audience is men, 25-35, in the United States. That tells me that the connected generation wants to hear more about Freemasonry and younger Masons want to have more masonic education. I’d love for Grand Lodges to make our show irrelevant (Ok, maybe not quite, but close).
Elena: Ha, ha. Interesting data, thank you! Individually, you have some very interesting projects. Let’s start with Jason. You are a blogger. You have The 2-Foot Ruler: Masonry in Plain Language blog. Tell us about it.
Jason: Ah yes, the 2-Foot Ruler. It began as a play on the Masonic working tool known as the 24-inch gauge. I began the blog with the intention of trying to explain the Craft in plain language so that non-Masons could understand us a bit better, but I’ve found that–at least for me–it’s difficult to write with consistency. That’s why the blog has languished as I’ve gotten more involved with TMR, the Midnight Freemasons, and other projects. I typically only write about things about which I’m very passionate. This is why you’ll see a number of my blog posts dedicated to topics of religious anti-masonry, marriage equality, homosexuality in Masonry, and transgender equality. For me, writing is cathartic. Even if my opinions or pieces don’t influence policy at the Grand Lodge level, I still feel as if I’m contributing to positive discussion through my writing.
Elena: That is great, Jason, thank you! Robert, you are the managing editor of the Midnight Freemasons.
Robert: Yes, years ago, when I started with “Whence Came You?” podcast, I read a piece called “Freemasons and Beer” and I ran across the piece on this website called “The Midnight Freemason”. It was run by Illustrious Bro. Todd E. Creason who is a famous Freemason in and of himself, having published half a dozen books. I asked for permission to read his piece on the show and Todd approved, but he had never heard of the a podcast before. We struck up a mentor mentee relationship of sorts. Eventually he got too busy and “The Midnight Freemason” was going to go dark, as we say. I stepped up to the plate. He gave me everything I needed to run the site and here we are. We changed the name from “The Midnight Freemason” to the “Midnight Freemasons”. We went from just one author, Todd, to having half a dozen to having thirteen or fourteen at one point. We have over a million views and climbing. I may be biassed but I think it’s the best Masonic blog out there. Three new articles every week. It’s really an online magazine. Consistency is the name of the game and I think we have achieved that.
Elena: That is amazing consistency, yes! Jason, you are also a regular contributor to the Midnight Freemasons blog.
Jason: Yes! I’ve been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to share the blogosphere with RJ, Todd, and a bunch of other deeply insightful Masons who make up the writing cadre of The Midnight Freemasons. I was talking to RJ at one point about a long piece I was writing on Christian Anti-Masonry, based partially off of an experience I had with a narrow-minded individual in a coin shop. He suggested I write the piece as a guest contribution to The Midnight Freemasons, and things snowballed from there. As my 2-foot Ruler posts waned, I devoted more time to my work with the Midnight Freemasons.
Elena: Juan, you were a professional artist prior to producing Masonic art. Shortly after joining Freemasonry, you developed a collection of Masonic Art and Custom Masonic Aprons. How is that project going and where can people view and purchase your work?
Juan: Shortly after becoming a Mason, I began working on a collection of Masonic Art for me. I set out to create the kind of work I would love to have hanging on my office walls. The collection has now grown to include paintings, fine prints and hand painted aprons, which can be purchased by visiting www.TheWindingStairs.com/Shop.
Elena: Your artwork is part of private and corporate collections in the United States, South America, The Caribbean, Europe and Australia now.
Juan: I feel very fortunate that I was able to pursue my dream of being a professional artist. Before I created any Masonic artwork, I had been living off of my art for over 6 years. I have displayed my work in New York, Las Vegas, California, Florida, and Puerto Rico. From there, and through my online sales, I now have collectors in many countries around the world. I feel very honored to be able to say that.
Elena: Congratulations, Juan! You are also the host of The Winding Stairs Freemasonry Podcast. Tell us a bit about that project.
Juan: I describe The Winding Stairs as being dedicated to Masonic Education and the art of self improvement. I strongly believe that many Brothers miss opportunities to improve their lives, because they are not given the proper instruction of applying the lessons of Freemasonry to their personal lives. I try to bridge that gap through my podcast episodes, videos, and online courses.
Earlier this year I started a project within The Winding Stairs, called Applied Freemasonry. In this program, I give Brothers exclusive access to in depth lessons and tools to help them find the practical aspects of Freemasonry. It includes a weekly video conference where we help each Brother individually find real life solutions to the problems they may face in life, by using the teachings of Freemasonry. It is almost like a virtual mentorship session, every week. I am very proud of this program and what it is doing for the Brothers who have joined it. You can learn more about it by visiting www.TheWindingStairs.com/mentorship
Elena: What a fantastic service! Nick, you are the lead blogger on The Millennial Freemason blog. Can you share something about your blog?
Nick: I was raised in March of 2006. Being a Mason for a decade now, I have gotten to see and experience a lot of online Masonry, including this site. When I started in Masonry, we were in the bad old days of Masonry on the Internet. Most lodge sites were either 5 years behind on information or filled with construction worker gifs and bad patriotic MIDIs.
I never really intended to blog for as long as I have. When I started the blog, it’s main focus was my time at the Annual Communication of the Grand Lodge of Minnesota as Junior Warden, just months after I had been raised. I think it was more therapy than anything else. People were still maintaining LiveJournals, knowing that most weren’t being read.
One day, after writing a few blog posts, Jeff Day, who ran the blog aggregator “King Solomon’s Lodge”, noticed my site. He asked if he could include it and not thinking of it, I said, “sure.” That was the watershed moment. Now, I was getting comments daily, posts were hitting the thousands of hits in a day, and my voice was being amplified.
I have been lucky. Many of the past bloggers, all great content creators, have disappeared. It was the golden age of Masonic blogging but only a few of us are still here, like Tom Accuosti of the Tao of Masonry. And, because I’ve been blogging for so long, I sometimes feel like the old guy on the Masonic Roundtable, which is good in a way; Masonry without a grumpy Past Master would just not be Masonry.
I hope I can keep at it because of the friendships I’ve made. It’s also still a way for me to keep sane in an otherwise topsy turvy Masonic world. It’s just a nice way to stay connected. Masonic blogging still has a place and I hope to be a strong part of it.
Elena: Looks like you will, after all this time! Robert, you produce and host the weekly Podcast/internet radio program Whence Came You?
Robert: It started in 2011. I’ve been writing, hosting and producing the show for more than 5 years now. We have over 250 episodes. It started out as an idea to just do one show. That’s it. Is Freemasonry secret or not? I read a paper on that subject, hosted it and put it out on iTunes. Once I saw how many people downloaded it, I started producing it every other week and now it’s every week. So here we are, over 250 episodes, over a million downloads and it’s been ridiculously successful and so rewarding to hear from the fans of that show. The show has grown organically from the start. Now we have a whole WCY team, largely behind the curtain, but they are there. Adam Thayer is my guest host and book reviewer, Matt Dobbrow is our digital media archivist and study group coordinator, Ill. Steve Harrison is our guy for The Masonic Minute, Bill Hosler is developing a ROKU channel for us and some other tech stuff, and Frater O is our anonymous esotericist. We have a lot of fun and it’s another endeavor to spread the light of Freemasonry all over the world.
Elena: That sounds like a great team! Wait, did you say anonymous esotericist? Your information on The Masonic Roundtable website says you are also a photographer and an avid home brewer, AND you are working on three Masonic books!?
Robert: I am! I think we are all working on Masonic books, that is every Freemason who writes. I’ll believe myself when I finish one of them. Photography has always been a love of mine. I did it professionally for some years when I lived in Orange County, CA. But, when you do something for a living, the hobby becomes the burden. I still enjoy photography but now I use my phone to document everything, my SLR is packed away. As for the beer? Who doesn’t love Zymurgy?
Elena: What aspects of Freemasonry are you writing about and why in three different books?
Robert: My main project is something which has been in the works for three years and has consumed tons of time. It’s largely a book on Occult Anatomy but like nothing that’s ever been done before. I’m co-authoring the book with a good friend and brother. The hope is that it will be a book for all, not just Freemasons. The other two books focus on the Craft specifically. One will be a collection of my unpublished essays and the other is a book on Anxiety and Depression, something I’ve struggled with for the last ten years. That book ties into the craft as well, albeit loosely. It is a book I would hate to market to just one group of people, namely Freemasons.
Elena: That is wonderful, Robert. It is evident that each of you is a lover of technology, online advancements, and social media. You make great use of the programs available!
Jason: We’re constantly looking for innovative ways to leverage technology to expand the reach of Masonic education. We’re blessed to live in a world that is, for the first time in its history, truly connected. As technology continues to evolve, we hope to evolve with it. Who knows? Maybe one day we’ll all be sitting in a virtual lodge meeting together from our respective bedrooms. UGLE, the Grand Lodge of Ireland, and the Grand Lodge of Manitoba in Canada have all set precedent for a virtual Masonic experience. I think we’re on the cusp of seeing virtual lodges become normative, and I’m excited to see that happen.
Nick: I have met so many friends, including my now co-host Jon Ruark, through the many Internet hotspots I frequented, including the Sanctum Sanctorum and the Masonic Society forum. Internet Masonry has been good for me and good for the Craft as a whole because it forces us to see outside of the four lodge walls. The world is wide but flat in this new era.
In my opinion, one of the biggest issues in Masonry today is what I term, “provincial Masonry.” Masons, particularly new Masons, leave because they aren’t exposed to new and different styles of Freemasonry. It’s somewhat by design. The lodge serves as locus for Masonic activity and many brothers like that. But this lack of travel breeds insularity which, for new Masons, tells them to conform to a local style or be left outside. I’ve chatted with so many brothers who have stayed because of Internet Masonry. It’s powerful and strengthens a bond that would have otherwise broken.
Elena: Lodges, Grand Lodges, and Masons should take notes. Writing is obviously another interest you all share, in addition to your great enthusiasm and dedication to Freemasonry through technology.
Robert: We do love to write. It’s therapy.
Jason: RJ nailed it here. Writing is cathartic. It’s a way for us to express ourselves and get heard, even if our opinions don’t translate into policy changes at the Grand Lodge level.
Elena: You are definitely being heard! Jon, I need to ask a silly question. You have two cats, Tesla and Edison. I am sure this isn’t the first time someone asks you this: do they fight a lot, given that scientists Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla had a rather famous disagreement?
Jon: Ha! Edison’s the younger one and they do tumble around quite a bit still, but I still root for Tesla as part of a redemption for history! AC/DC!
Elena: How funny.
Elena: Thank you again, Knights, for this interview! Phoenixmasonry hopes to catch up with you at a later time to see what is new with the show and hosts. It was a true pleasure to interview you and good luck with year number three of this wonderful show! Don’t forget to tune in to catch The Knights of The Masonic Roundtable live every Tuesday night at 10pm ET.
Below are more interesting biographical facts on each of the Knights, more photos, and the links to all their sites:
Jon T. Ruark is a Past Master and charter member of The Patriot Lodge No. 1957 in Fairfax, VA. His Masonic interests lean toward the esoteric and philosophical aspect. He lives in Virginia with his wife, 4 children, and 2 cats; Tesla and Edison.
Jason M. Richards is the Senior Warden Acacia Lodge No. 16 in Clifton, VA, where he was raised in 2012. He is also active in the Allied Masonic Degrees and the Royal Arch. His favorite Masonic research topics include the history of American Freemasonry, the sociocultural impact of Freemasonry, and the history and evolution of Masonic mythos. He is passionate about the way Freemasonry presents itself to the outside world and, to help promote a healthy image of the fraternity, works regularly with the Grand Lodge of Virginia Committee on Public Relations. He lives in Virginia with his wife, child under construction, cats, and ever-expanding collection of bow ties.
Juan Sepúlveda is a member of Orange Blossom Lodge No. 80 F. & A.M. in Kissimmee Florida. A member of the Orlando Valley of the Ancient And Accepted Scottish Rite, S.J. He is a professional artist and public speaker focused on helping men in their pursuit of excellence. He is passionate about history, Masonic education and allegorical teachings.
Nick Johnson is a lover of codes, symbols, esoteric craziness, and “secret” stuff; he became interested in Freemasonry and its symbols as a young man. With the help of his grandfather, Bro. Nick joined Corinthian Lodge No. 67 in Farmington, MN in the spring of 2006 and served as Master in 2010. He is also a Past High Priest of Corinthian Chapter No. 33, RAM, Past Illustrious Master of Northfield Council No. 12, R&SM, the current Grand Chaplain of the Grand Council of Cryptic Masons of Minnesota, and Past Commander of Faribault Commandery No. 8. He’s also involved in AMD, Knight Masons, the York Rite Sovereign College, and is a member of the Royal Order of Scotland. He lives in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul area with his wife and kids.
Robert Johnson is a Freemason out of the First North-East District of Illinois who serves as a District Education Officer and will be following up in October as a District Deputy Grand Master. He is a Past Master and current Secretary of Waukegan Lodge #78. He’s also a member of the York Rite bodies, AMD and the Scottish Rite. In addition, he produces video shorts focusing on driving interest in the Fraternity and will write original Masonic papers from time to time. He is a husband and father of 4. He works full time in the executive medical industry. Also, he does not have any cats.
Brother John “Corky” Wheeler Daut passed away July 11, 2016 at the age of 88. In his earlier years he was Superintendent of the Department of Solid Waste for Houston, Texas. Later he was to open his own business, Daut’s Repair Service, repairing small engines and sharpening saws. Towards the end of his life he operated Pine Island Pen Works specializing in the manufacture and sale of wooden writing pens.
But he is best known for “The Small Town Texas Masons E-Magazine”that he published every month. It was a prodigious undertaking that included Masonic articles from all over the world. From Masonic News to esoteric studies to writings from the Old Masters and everything in between, the magazine covered the thought and the going-ons of Freemasonry. He wrote the last edition just weeks before his death. He also published a newsletter-magazine for his own Lodge, Waller Lodge of Pine Island Texas where he touted, “We Are The Largest, ‘Small Town Texas Lodge’ Web Site, On The Internet, Over 100 Pages of Masonic Information and Education.”
He was raised to a Master Mason in the Cedar Bayou Lodge #321 at the age of 64. Later he joined Humble Lodge #79 but demitted from both when he moved to Pine Island Texas. There he joined Waller Lodge #808 and became its Master in 2005. Along the way he affiliated with Hempsted Lodge #749 and became its Secretary.
Brother Daut’s enthusiasm for the Craft and his outreach to Masons all over the world from a small Texas community makes his accomplishments all the more laudable. He showed the world what can be done when your heart is in the right place and you possess and display the peace and harmony that Masonry teaches you.
“Well done, thou good and faithful servant! Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord!”
I recently completed digesting Dr. John Nagy’s book Building Hiram. It is another in a series of Catechism Primer formats that Nagy has published for increasing Light in Freemasons. This method of instruction follows what many Masons received as they went through the Degrees. Yet I must admit that since I last had that pleasure 27 years ago, I have not again come across this format until becoming acquainted with Coach Nagy’s work. At first it was difficult to adjust to this style of imparting information, but in Building Hiram it all seemed so natural and I have come to appreciate what the Catechism style has to offer. It makes learning follow a sequence where one building block is added to another and then another, yet at any time one may jump into the middle of the book, randomly picking any page, and jump right in without discomfort.
Building Hiram is for the Master Mason and Nagy says, “The Word before you is what I wish I had been given when I was Raised.”
Nagy goes on to say this for newly Raised Masons and I suppose even those who were Raised many moons ago:
“Should Masons take a step back and reflect on the actual picture painted before them, much more may be gleaned. In fact, further Masonic Benefit occurs only by considering the interconnections between the symbols, the overlap of themes and the rhythm of the patterns continually played out from beginning to end.”
In a paper written by Worshipful Brother Alphonse Cerza titled AND GIVE THEM PROPER INSTRUCTION Cerza says:
There is no question that the Masonic ritual is the foundation of the Craft. In it we find the message that Freemasonry has for the candidate, its philosophy, and its moral teachings. If one knows these lessons fully and complete- ly, he is indeed a wise man. Too many of us are concerned more with perfection of the words rather than securing a full understanding of the spirit and the meaning of the ritual.
Let us not make the mistake of believing that the ceremony of initiation makes a man a Mason. True, this ceremony is vital and necessary, but unless the lessons of the ceremony and the spirit of the ritual is understood it is nothing. For example, for hundreds of years in the ancient world there were a number of associations that we now call the Ancient Mysteries. These organizations had a number of things in common. One element stands out above all others: the belief that the ceremony of the Mystery purified the can- date. This basic belief more than any other factor brought these organizations to an end. Let us learn one lesson from this page of history: The ceremonies of the three degrees are of no value unless they are understood by the candidate and are grafted into everyday life. An informed and enlightened membership is a better and more successful one. This is not idle talk. Brother William H. Knutt, in 1952, at the Mid-West Conference on Masonic Education, gave a report in which it was clearly shown that when the great depression of the thirties came along, the jurisdictions in which the Craft had been offering educational programs lost the least number of members.
The Craft should be put to WORK. That there be perfection in the ritual, that members receive instruction in the ceremonies of the Craft, and that our degree work be retained is of vital importance. No fault can be found with the ritualistic work for it is the foundation of our Order. Fault should be found with the view that we stop our efforts with the conferring of the degrees. We are amiss in our duty to the Craft when we do not properly prepare our candidates and then abandon the newly-made Mason to his own devices. Lodges that devote their entire time to conferring degrees will soon find that quantity is not a substitute for quality. The quality of the membership is determined not only by the careful screening of applicants for the degrees but also in making the new member Mason in fact. This can be done by putting the new Mason to work.
John “Coach” Nagy
And this is what Nagy has consistently done in all his books maybe with a bit of a modification. Instead of putting Masons to work Nagy puts them into thinking and realizing what it all means. He connects the dots so that a Mason can get an idea of the whole picture. He puts all the pieces of the puzzle together so the Mason can now see the big picture.
Nagy works a jigsaw puzzle, one piece goes here, one piece there, then another and in the end you have a picture that forms concepts and paths to betterment and a philosophy.
Nagy tells us, “ One of the sad results that discovered Light gave to me was a picture of Masonry that was filled with gaps. The vast majority of practicing Blue Lodge Masons I’ve encountered have no more Masonic Education than what they learned and did during Degree Work. They memorized and repeated back what had been memorized and repeated to them; they had no real fundamental understanding of the wonderful Light and guidance being offered to them.”
So Nagy sets out to weave a tale of the integration of Masonic symbols, Masonic tools, Masonic illustrations and Masonic concepts into a better understanding of not only what Masonry is all about but how to use Masonry.
He starts with the Ashlars and ends with The Master’s Wages. Along the way we learn in depth about the Stone Builder’s Tools, The Orders of Architecture, The Staircase, The Four Ruffians (yes I said 4), The Ancient Penalties, The 3-4-5 Triangle, The Sacred Triad, The Square and Compasses, The Temple and The Lost Word.
On the Ashlars he says, “There is nothing whatsoever that is added to any stone selected. Removal merely reveals the Beauty that is already there within the Stone.”
On the Stone Builder’s Tools he says, “The Working-Tools are specifically designed to make sure the Work we do as Masons has Integrity. No structure, however, grand, can stand long and well if its Integrity is compromised. Masonic Ritual is a constant reminder of this truth. In fact, it is the structural theme of Masonic Ritual. As a Builder, if you do not understand this, your ability to use what you know may eventually cause your structure to fail as well.”
You are the structure, you are the stone. The Temple is you and your soul.
There is a lot of talk about Wisdom, Strength and Beauty; who represents these three virtues and what they can do for us personally.
If you read this book you will learn who the Fourth Ruffian is, that the Ancient Penalties were not enacted by others upon those who violate their Word but are self-inflicted and occur without fail, what three conditions are necessary to give the Master’s Word, what season is silently represented, What the Sacred triad is, the meaning of ABN, why you descend the winding staircase, what three Tools, when one is missing, still have three, what Officer maintains the etiquette of the Lodge, who was Gomer, what is the Death Triplet, the significance of “As Above, So Below,” how the Word is made flesh, what the Last Wage is, and much, much more. But we don’t want to tell you everything about the book for then you might not read it. And that would be a shame since it is the way in which Nagy connects everything together, the reasoning used to make a whole, that leads to the light bulb coming on for you.
This is by far the best book I have run into for Masonic education of Master Masons both individually and in a group at the Lodge. Its crowning glory is the ability Nagy has to combine many individual teachings and concepts into one big one, to make the whole of Masonry, what constitutes its nobleness, righteousness and virtues into a philosophy. What Nagy does is explain Masonic philosophy by explaining and connecting all its component parts. This philosophy we call Masonry is a way of life. A Freemason cannot live this way of life unless he can understand it. And that’s the job that Nagy does. He articulates the philosophy of Masonry so that Masons are able to practice it because they understand it. For that reason alone this book must be part of your library and the library of your Lodge.
This letter will confirm that on June 8, 2016, the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, AF. & AM., unanimously voted to recognize the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge F. & AM. of Texas.
Most Worshipful Harvey John Waugh, Grand Master, would be pleased to receive your recommendation for his consideration in an appointment of a Grand Representative to Massachusetts near the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Texas.
We look forward to a harmonious relationship with your Grand Lodge for many years to come.
Canadian DDGM Wayne Anderson offers a weekly Masonic Newsletter that is usually an article or paper that he or other brethren have authored. He presents his 800th article with this one below that I thought was so outstanding that it had to be shared. It is written by California Grand Master John L. Cooper III, FPS.
Behold How Good and How Pleasant
John L. Cooper, FPS, on the meaning of the 133rd Psalm in the First Degree
Among the first things that an Entered Apprentice hears at his Initiation into Freemasonry is the beautiful 133rd Psalm. It goes like this:
Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!
It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments;
As the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life for evermore.
This cryptic psalm is at once a challenge for us to enter into a profound mystery, and a promise that if we do so, the results will be a life-changing experience. Let me share some thoughts with you about the 133rd Psalm.
First, what it is not: This psalm makes no religious statement about our relationship to God. There is absolutely nothing in the psalm that implies a connection between “dwelling together in unity” and “life forever more.” The relationship between God and man is the proper province of a man’s own religion, and about that Freemasonry purposely has nothing to say. It cannot be said too often. Freemasonry is not a religion, and is not a substitute for religion: Let there be no mistake about this. While a belief in God is a prerequisite for a man to become a Mason, he must work out his own relationship with God outside the context of Freemasonry itself. We do not have a theology. We do not lead anyone to a relationship with his God, and we do not in any way ask a man to substitute his own understanding of God, as taught by his particular religious faith, for anything he will learn in Freemasonry. Freemasonry deals with our relationships with each other, and the implications that such relationships have on our own lives, and the lives of those we meet along the pathway of life. We insist that a man is responsible before his God for what he does with his life, but we ask each one to seek the important and eternal answers from his own religious faith.
What, then, does the 133rd Psalm have to say to us as Freemasons? It must have meaning for us, or else it would not have such a prominent place at the beginning of our Masonic journey. What do we want an Entered Apprentice to know about the meaning of this beautiful psalm? And does that meaning have anything to say to us who have traveled far in our Masonic journey? I believe that it does, and let me share my reasons.
The first and last stanzas of this psalm are connected, and when read together without the intervening stanza, which is merely an explanatory phrase, the purpose of the psalm stands out much more clearly. Let me read to you the first and last stanzas as one thought:
Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity […] for there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life forevermore.
In the Bible, and in particular in the part of the Bible which Christians call the Old Testament, a blessing is a unique act of conferring a special power upon another. Usually it is thought of as a divine act, that is to say, God granting His blessing upon an individual, or upon a people. But that is not the only usage: It was also a means of handing on power and authority from one generation to another. It was a way of guaranteeing the continuity of a community down through the ages. I believe that the Psalm 133 has this latter meaning for us as Freemasons, rather than any religious significance. And a proper understanding of this can help each of us practice the teachings of Freemasonry in a more effective manner.
The first stanza states the condition which will make the last stanza effective. Without the necessary condition of “brethren dwelling together in unity,” there will not be the necessary result of God’s blessing. If the first condition is not met, the second action will not occur. If a Mason cannot understand the mystery of “dwelling together in unity,” he cannot expect the consequence of God’s blessing upon what he does as a Mason. In simple terms, that is what we are telling the Entered Apprentice Mason when Psalm 133 is recited at his first step in Masonry. The lesson is a simple one, and yet one that will have profound implications. Much of what he will learn in the degrees of Masonry will explain to him how he can build the sense of brotherhood and unity within the Masonic fraternity. And much of what he will learn applies to those in the world at large who are not Masons, but who will also come within the reach of our understanding of “brotherly love.” But a blessing will not accompany it if he does not understand the necessary connection.
What, then, is “unity?” That is the operational word in the first stanza. First, “unity” is not “uniformity.” Freemasonry does not expect a man to cease to think when he becomes a Mason: Quite the contrary. One of the surest proofs that Freemasonry is not a cult is that we insist that each man think for himself. Freemasonry is, by one definition, the search for truth, and each Mason is asked to work out the meaning of truth for himself.
Secondly, “unity” is not “conformity.” Conformity means going along with the rest of the world. In fact, Freemasons have always been non-conformists. In an age when men and women hated each other because of differing religious beliefs, Freemasonry insisted on acceptance and understanding as the foundation for a world-wide brotherhood. In an age when social rank and power determined a man’s station in life, Freemasonry insisted that all were created equal, and that each person should have an opportunity to be all that he or she could be, based upon merit and not upon title and wealth. And in an age when some knew the “truth,” and enforced it upon others with the point of the sword, Freemasonry insisted that truth would emerge on its own if we just were patient enough in seeking it.
What, then, is the “unity” which confers such a blessing? I would suggest that it is the same thing as seeking the good of others around us. If I am seeking what is good for you rather than what is good for me, I have transformed our relationship from one of selfishness into one of selflessness. The bond that holds us together is strengthened when we seek good for each other before seeking good for ourselves. And the practice of this brotherhood – for such it truly is – shapes our attitudes in all our relationships. If I can make the practice of brotherhood the standard of my daily life, then all my relationships are transformed. My relationship with my wife and my children is transformed. My relationship with my fellow-workers is transformed. My relationship with my community is transformed, and my life has suddenly become a blessing for those around me: A means by which God can bless others.
Listen again to the words of this beautiful psalm, but listen with this new understanding:
Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity […] for there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life forevermore.
This is a life-giving promise – not in a religious sense – but in a human sense. Freemasonry tells us that if we live our lives as if others were more important than we ourselves are, that our lives will be enriched by a blessing we could not otherwise know. It is a great mystery, and it was first taught to us when we became Entered Apprentice Masons. And through the years, if we have properly understood it, that mystery has grown in grace and in power until it shapes and blesses us every day, and in everything that we do.
John L. Cooper III, FPS, is the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge F&AM of California and the First Vice President of the Philalethes Society.
Yours in the Bonds of our Gentle Craft
Wayne D. Anderson, FCF, MPS
D.D.G.M. Frontenac District 2015-16
The Lone Ranger writes about the continued abuse of the Grand Lodge of New Jersey. He and his deputies must remain anonymous for fear of reprisal.
It’s a sad day when a number of Masons within a Grand Lodge must go underground to protect themselves.
What gives Super Authority to the Grand Master of New Jersey is a much disputed Landmark which is New Jersey’s Landmark #3 as written in its Constitution. You can see a printout of this below. See also New Jersey Landmark #7. These Landmarks give the Grand Master absolute dictatorial power to do whatever he wants as long as it doesn’t violate another Landmark. It gives him the power to ignore or overrule any of the by-laws, rules and regulations of the Grand Lodge. What this translates out to is tyranny and abuse of power, whereby Masons live in the threat of being expelled and Lodges live in the fear of being closed if the Grand Master’s orders are not being followed.
The following is a newsletter that The Lone Ranger has recently sent out titled IN GOD IS OUR TRUST:
THEN CONQUER WE MUST, WHEN OUR CAUSE IT IS JUST,
AND THIS BE OUR MOTTO:IN GOD IS OUR TRUST
The Star Spangled Banner (4th stanza)
NOLUMUS LEGES MUTARI (WE DO NOT WANT THE LAWS TO BE CHANGED)
We now have over 3,600 Deputy Rangers. Thank you for your continuing interest and unflagging loyalty. Recently, many of you have written to ask why we are crusading against the Elected Line for the removal of the illegitimate Landmarks 3 and 7 and the restoration of Warren Lodge #13’s Warrant and the restoration of the illegally suspended and/or expelled masons from around the State.
You might have seen the edicts issued by our new Grand Master. He has re-arrested the warrant of Warren Lodge, in an effort to deprive its members of their building, continuing the unmasonic, and expensive lawsuit against the Masonic Temple Association of Belivdere (Warren Lodge) and has continued the illegal suspensions and expulsion of brothers who have not been given their U.S. Constitutional right and Grand Lodge Constitutional right to a trial. It appears that he is now joined the “Gang of Four”, now to be known as the “Gang of Five”.
We have been fighting this fight since 2014 and realized that most of you were not “Deputized” when we began, so we are going to review how this travesty has come to be.
The crux of the problem goes back to 1903. The Grand Master had put together the “Wallis Committee”. It was made up of Past Grand Masters who INVENTED Landmarks 3 and 7. You need to know that these so-called landmarks appear nowhere else in any list of Landmarks, recognized or not, anywhere else in the world. To be real Landmarks they have to be of ancient origin, universally recognized and absolutely irrevocable.
They were inserted in the Committee’s report in an attempt to seize absolute power for the future Grand Masters. They would give him the power to do whatever he wanted to do, to disregard the Constitution and By-Laws at will, and to never be held responsible for any of his actions.
In 1903 M.W. Brother Ewan moved that the report of this Committee be received and spread in the proceedings of the Grand Lodge, just as any other report. There never was a vote to accept them and that was for one obvious reason.
I ask you, if you were a Past Master, Master or Warden, would you have voted to give the future Grand Masters the powers of an ABSOLUTE DICTATOR? Of course you would never do it. Obviously, that Grand Master realized it would never go anywhere and he wisely did not call for a ratification vote.
For the next 111 years Landmarks 3 & 7, hereafter referred to as “unlandmarks”, were not abused and caused no problems, with one exception that will be reviewed in a future newsletter. In 2012, less than Grand Master Glenn R. Trautmann started the persecution of the brethren of Warren Lodge because one of his cronies did not like the results of that lodge’s election. He vacated the legal election of the lodge and suspended and/or expelled some of the membership without the trial that is guaranteed by our Constitution. In 2013, less than Grand Master Dorworth, hereafter referred to as “Dorworthless,” arrested the warrant of Warren Lodge and filed a lawsuit that is aimed at the confiscation of the Masonic Temple Association of Belvidere’s property and funds. ((a recognized, legal New Jersey Corporation) This lawsuit was continued by less than grand masters Sharpe, Montuori, and yes, our new less than grand master Kaulfers (shame on you).
Let’s look at the history of Masonic Landmarks:
In 1858, Albert G. Mackey, the foremost Masonic writer of his day, was the first to distinctly enumerate the landmarks of Freemasonry. His “An Encyclopaedia of Freemasonry and Its Kindred Sciences”, published in 1874, lists the 25 Landmarks of Freemasonry. This and other Mackey books became and have continued to be, the recognized authority.
Our current Elected Line and it’s smarmy, subservient legal counsel, better known as the “Evil Legal Beagles”, falsely claim that the powers given to the Grand Master in New Jersey Landmarks 3 and 7 are legitimate because they have existed since 1903. How lame can they get? They can’t even provide any proof of any kind or type showing that these Landmarks were ever voted on, either singly or in their entirety, during the 1903 Grand Lodge Annual Communication. They claim the were voted on in less than past grand Master’s Sharpe’s Annual Communication, but if you were there, you know that was a joke, as he had his “henchmen” walking around the Grand Lodge taking names of anyone who opposed his arrogant rant on the Lone Ranger and his Deputies, and then proceeded to ask that those who agreed with him please stand.You know that there was no discussion and that was NOT a vote. Oh, yes, didn’t the report that less than past grand Master Sharpe had his Grand Historian, Grand Instructor and “Evil Legal Beagle” contrive state that Landmarks could not be voted on, because anything that can be voted in, can be repealed?
They are five spoiled little boys who claim that their fairy godfather gave them special dispensation to do whatever they want to do with or without their parent’s permission. It is nothing less than a naked power grab. In the past they would have gotten away with this abuse because there was no way for us to find out what they were up to. More importantly, there was no way for those of us who had learned what was going on to exposed their abusive disregard of our Constitution. It is the INTERNET that has made all of this possible. The Internet is their second worst nightmare; we are their first.
They have used this lie to usurp sweeping powers to disregard any and all parts of our Constitution. In recent years many brethren have been suspended and expelled without the due process as put forth in our Constitution. Warren Lodge is still under attack by our Grand Lodge. Will you be next? Will your lodge be next?
Just because this mistake has existed for the past 111 years there is no reason, real or imagined,to perpetuate this disgusting abuse of illegitimate powers.
Nowhere in Mackey’s or any other publication on landmarks is the Grand Master given the powers that are enumerated in New Jersey’s so-called Landmarks 3 and 7 as stated in 1903 Wallis Committee’s Landmark Report. It just is not true. As you will read below, the Grand Master’s powers are clearly limited to the recognized landmarks 5,6,7 & 8.
The 1903 Annual Communication would never have adopted these landmarks because they are in direct violation of Landmark 25 (reproduced in its entirety for you to see the truth):
The last and crowning landmark of all is, that these landmarks can never be changed. Nothing can be subtracted from them – nothing can be added to them – not the slightest modification can be made in them. As they were received from our predecessors, we are bound by the most solemn obligations of duty to transmit them to our successors. Not one jot or one tittle of these unwritten laws can be repealed; for, in the respect to them, we are not only willing but compelled to adopt the language of the sturdy old barons of England, “Nolumus leges mutari.” (English translation: “We do not want the laws to be changed.”)
The time has come to demand our Grand Lodge to correct this grievous situation. If the Grand Master and the Elected Line still wants these so-called unLandmark Powers, then they must prove how they can be considered as they are not listed anywhere else or recognized by any Grand Lodge anywhere in the world.
The other 24 Landmarks are enumerated herein. They are reproduced in their entirety as they were originally published in 1858 (1924 edition) in the attached file:
The modes of recognition are, of all the landmarks, the most legitimate and unquestioned…
The division of symbolic Masonry into three degrees is a landmark that has been better preserved than almost any other…
The legend of the third degree is an important landmark, the integrity of which has been well preserved…
The government of the Fraternity by a presiding officer called a Grand Master…
The prerogative of the Grand Master to preside over every assembly of the Craft…
The prerogative of the Grand Master to grant dispensations of conferring degrees at irregular times….
The prerogative of the Grand Master to grant dispensations give dispensations for opening and holding Lodges…
The prerogative of the Grand Master to make Masons at sight…
The necessity of Masons to congregate in Lodges…
The government of the Craft, when so congregated in a Lodge, by a Master and two Wardens…
The necessity of every Lodge, when congregated, should be duly tiled…
The right of every Mason to be represented in all general meetings of the Craft…
The right of every Mason to appeal from the decision of his brethren, in the Lodge convened, to the Grand Lodge or General Assembly of Masons…
The right of every Mason to visit and sit in every regular Lodge…
It is a landmark of the Order, that no visitor unknown to the brethren present, or to some one of them as a Mason, can enter a Lodge without first passing an examination according to ancient usage…
No Lodge can interfere in the business of another Lodge or give degrees to brethren who are members of other Lodges.
It is a landmark that every Freemason is amenable to the laws and regulations of the Masonic jurisdiction in which he resides and this although he may not be a member of any Lodge.
Certain qualifications of candidates for initiation are derived from a landmark of the Order…
A belief in the existence of God as the Grand Master of the Universe….
Subsidiary to this belief in God, as a landmark of the Order, is the belief in a resurrection to a future life…
It is a landmark that a “Book of the Law” shall constitute an indispensable part of the furniture of every Lodge.
The equality of all Masons is another landmark of the Order.
The secrecy of the Institution is another and most important landmark…
The foundation of a speculative science upon an operative art…
Now that you know the truth. There are two more topics that will be reviewed for you in future newsletters. The first is the truth about the continuing persecution of Warren Lodge #13. In the meantime, think about these questions:
Have you wondered just how much of our money has been spent on this lawsuit?
Was the money for the lawsuit or the suit itself authorized by the members of Grand Lodge at any emergent or annual communication?
Grand Lodge has to have spent somewhere in the neighborhood of $100,000, yet there is no accounting for it in any budget Grand Lodge has faked in the past 4 years. Maybe it is time for a real audit?
The second and latest in Elected line abuse of powers is the secret creation of the now infamous Grand Lodge of NJ Ashlar Fund, Inc. Again, we ask:
Did you vote for its creation?
How much was Acacia Lumberton Manor actually sold for?
Where is the money invested?
How much interest has it earned?
Have you seen an audit?
Do you really believe it cost $75,000.00 to set up that corporation?
Thanks to the Internet and a small group of dedicated Deputy Rangers, the Elected Line and their sniveling underlings are no longer to do whatever they want to do without us learning of their dirty deeds. We will keep you informed.
Grand Master, we are watching every move you make; you cannot hide
It isn’t easy for old dogs to learn new tricks, for new ways to be adopted by our elders, for CHANGE to be easily accepted.
As it is so in civil society so is it so in Freemasonry. Ask any Past Master. He will tell you that, “We always did it that way.”
So why should it be any different for Masonic Recognition? It took until 1989 for the first permanent Recognition of Prince Hall Freemasonry by the state of Connecticut. Many others followed yet some waited until after the turn of the century. Today, in 2016, there are still 9 states who refuse to recognize Prince Hall Freemasonry.
All But 9 States Recognize Prince Hall
In Civil Society Integration and Civil Rights were a battle. Martin Luther King is proof of that. Civilly the war has been won, although there are still some skirmishes. Masonically many battles have been won, but the war has not yet been declared victorious. In civil society we have a Federal Government. In American Freemasonry we do not have a National Grand Lodge. The United States federal government was able to mandate integration by law backed by Federal troops. We cannot do that in Freemasonry.
No amount of force can change the hearts of men. And whether civilly or Masonically, we must admit that there are men (and women) who still do not want to change.
So those of us who really and truly believe that “All men are created equal… That they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights,” and that “it is the internal not the external qualifications which recommend a man to be made a Mason,” and that all Masons meet on the level, will need to become a light to the rest of the world.
We will need to let that light shine blazingly bright by our thoughts, words and actions.
And I am here to report on some bright light and to show how Brotherhood can really work.
Recognition has come hard for the state of Texas. The two Texas Grand Lodges signed a compact of mutual recognition on April 23, 2007 but without cross visitation. Inter-visitation was not approved until November and December of 2014. Even then it took time to fully implement.
In October of 2015 my Lodge, Pride of Mt. Pisgah No.135, Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Texas F & AM received Jewel P. Lightfoot No. 1283, Grand Lodge of Texas AF & AM for a visitation.
Jewel P. Lightfoot No 1283 visits Pride of Mt. Pisgah No 135
In December of 2015 Jewel P. Lightfoot received Pride of Mt. Pisgah for a third degree, the raising of an African-American Mason.
Pride of Mt. Pisgah No 135 visits Jewel P. Lightfoot No 1283
Bro. Chris Thompson, Jewel P. Lightfoot No 1283
The two Lodges have developed a sincere affection for each other. Brothers from Jewel P. Lightfoot even attended a Grand Raising at the Grand Session of the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge.
PM Michael Huskisson 1283, GM Wilbert M. Curtis, Eric Brewer 1283, David Villegas 1283, David Bindel 1283, Rick Parker 1218
But that’s not the end of the story.
In April of 2016 I visited Fort Worth Lodge No 148, Grand Lodge of Texas AF & AM. My friend and Brother Hando Nahkur and I had longed to sit in Lodge together for years and finally it came to pass.
Hando Nahkur and Frederic L. Milliken
Fort Worth Lodge No 148 was very receptive to my visit and rolled out the red carpet. The Lodge served an excellent home cooked meal. Afterward, in Lodge, I presented a lecture on the history and traditions of Prince Hall Freemasonry. Near the end of the meeting Hando Nahkur rose and moved that the Lodge give me a fraternal donation. This from a Lodge and Brothers I had just met for the first time. Not only was I not a member of their Lodge and a complete stranger until then, but I didn’t even belong to their Grand Lodge.
Fort Worth Lodge No 148
Now that’s how you bury the hatchet and build bridges.
I returned to Fort Worth Lodge No 148 the following month and presented them with a gift, a 3rd Degree statue. You see, one act of Brotherly Love and Affection deserves another act of Brotherly Love and Affection.
WM Bryan Whit and Frederic L. Milliken
3rd Degree Statute
Both Prince Hall and Mainstream Freemasons need to travel and seek out opportunities to build bridges and to spread the cement of Brotherly Love and Affection – that cement which unites us into one sacred band, or society of Friends and Brothers among whom no contention should ever exist…
We cannot change the world with a snap of our fingers. But what we can do is one Brother at a time, one Lodge at a time, build understanding and mutual admiration. By breaking bread together and participating in Lodge together we can remove the suspicions, the doubts and fears and demonstrate that we are ALL ONE.
By the exercise of Brotherly Love we are taught to regard the whole human species as one family – the high and low, rich and poor; who, as created by one Almighty Parent and inhabitants of the same planet, are to aid, support, and protect each other. On this principle Masonry unites men of every country, sect, race, and opinion, and conciliates true friendship among those who might otherwise have remained at a perpetual distance.
3rd degree statute in the East
A new era seems to have dawned on Freemasonry. The Gay Mason issue has caused some Grand Lodges to pull Recognition from others. The Grand Lodges that are practicing Freemasonry as it should be practiced are not letting those Grand Lodges get away with unMasonic conduct anymore…maybe. It’s just too bad that the those trying to do the right thing have not given equal weight to Black discrimination within Freemasonry. Again, we still have 9 Grand Lodges that do not Recognize Prince Hall.
Freemasonry is the one society or organization that can bring peace and harmony to a fractured, troubled world. It can do so by example and if its membership will truly practice the virtues of the Craft that has for centuries brought men together. Freemasonry, by nature, is not divisive as it brings together those with many differences into one Brotherhood of all men under the Fatherhood of God. It is not exclusive, but inclusive.
As Freemasons, we can, day by day, seek out others, reach out that hand and grasp the hand of a stranger, even a Brother that has not yet made our acquaintance or a Lodge that we have never been to. We cannot change the world, but we can one Brother at a time, one Lodge at a time make a better world.
What we can say here is that Texas Prince Hall Grand Master Wilbert M. Curtis, Pride of Mt. Pisgah Lodge No 135, Jewel P. Lightfoot Lodge No 1283 and Fort Worth Lodge No 148 deserve commendations for promoting peace and harmony and also bringing together those who might otherwise have remained at a perpetual distance.
The first three are categorized as the Trivium, the latter four labeled the Quadrivium. The Trivium, Nagy tells us: “ …is to convey to students an understanding of how Words are used as Symbols. Study of such matters includes the eventual ability to decode and encode meaning and intent using Words as a base.” The Quadrivium “… is to convey to the student and understanding of how Numbers are used as Symbols. Study of such matters includes the eventual ability to decode and encode meaning and intent using Numbers as a base.”
But the larger question I am sure you are asking by now is why is the book titled Building Athens? What does Athens have to do with the 7 Liberal Arts and Sciences?
Nagy tells us:
Masons unfamiliar with the legacy of Athens hamper their Masonic progress. To participate in Masonry at the Fellow Craft Level without having knowledge of Athens’ most famous citizens and, more specifically, their Works is to see and experience Ritual as a shadow show likened to that depicted in Plato’s Cave.
Most of us know about Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and Pythagoras. But how many of us have heard of Anaximenes, Heraclitus, Parmenides and Democritus, to name a few?
John “Coach” Nagy
Actually, when Nagy first envisioned this book it was going to be more of an explanation of the rich symbolism in the Second Degree but the end result took a turn when reality dawned on the Coach.
First, in observing other Masonic writers he noted how some produced the unfolding of layers of symbolism.
“Through this insight, I realized that these Brothers had constructed writings that hid things in plain view through Symbolic Layering. They Masterfully conveyed Light without hiding it. They shared it knowing that Brothers would see Light that profanes couldn’t. Trained Brothers knew what was conveyed.”
Symbolic Layering is one fascinating aspect of this book and one which the reader must discover on his or her own. That led Nagy to his conclusion that Trained Minds are so important to understanding Symbolic Layering and the meaning of Masonry.
I quickly realized that a Mason’s mind must be first ‘readied’ to receive such information before he can benefit from it. I also realized that no matter how I might go about my initial focus, without a ‘readied mind’, my actions would be equivalent to discussing colors with a blind person. No such sharing would have relatable significance.
But how is this done? How are Freemasons readied to receive this information?
“Fellow Craft Masons that diligently invest in the education pointed toward by Ritual physically reshape their ‘Ashlars’, a.k.a. ‘brains’, toward what is required by the Builder. They furthermore reinforce natural affinities that their brains already have and cultivate interconnections that change how reality is experienced. This training transforms each mind’s ability to sort, uncover, discriminate, differentiate, distinguish, decide, detect, project, create, evaluate and a host of other mental talents that would otherwise lay dormant or poorly used if not otherwise nurtured.”
Once again Nagy emphasizes Trained Minds in Trained Masons.
“Information challenged individuals, unable to deal effectively with information overload, become lost within information. Trained Masons know what is pertinent. They furthermore know how to see through illusions offered up as a fact to see Truths hidden within and fallacies veiled in truth.”
So in Catechism form Coach Nagy sets out to retrain our minds in order that we may separate the chaff from the wheat, see the layering of symbolism and discover the meanings of Masonry and its application to our daily lives.
Nagy talks about the great Greek philosophers and their contribution to symbolic thought and the 7 Liberal Arts and Sciences.
In regards to Plato, Nagy tells us that,
Plato was influenced by Socrates, along with Pythagoras, Aristophanes, Protagoras, Homer, Hesiod, Parmenides. Aesop, Heraditus, and Orphism
As we start into the specifics Nagy tells us,
Masonry is a training ground for Symbolic understanding. Without an intimate knowledge of Symbols, Masons become malnourished by the inability to absorb what is presented.
Nagy talks a lot in the book about Shibboleths which he defines as “a word, phrase, motto, slogan, or saying used by adherents of a party, group, sect, organization, or belief, also a widely held belief, truism or platitude which can be a linguistic tool that allows for identification of a specific group based upon pronunciation of specific words.”
The subsequent chapters of the book take each of the 7 Liberal Arts and Sciences in detail.
“Grammar is many things. It is the Strength aspect of the study of Symbols as words. It is a fingerprint, identifying sources with such pinpoint accuracy that no masking can obscure it. It tells its observer the history, culture and attitude of its source. It develops the left Temporal, Occipital and Parietal lobes of the brain thus providing pattern recognition skills to those developed. As a Mason, I recognize that Grammar knowledge allows Masons to Travel in directions that hold back illiterate men.”
“Rhetoric is the Beauty aspect of the study of Symbols as words. Moreover, as only things of Beauty can do, it invites those affected to experience its Beauty by merely taking in what is offered. Any Persuasion that occurs is not forced though; it is not put upon those so invited. It is put forth to partake in and its recipients are wholly responsible for what they do with it.”
“To Master influences such as these, Masons must know what persuades. Rhetorical study cultivates understanding, insight and planning into this. It also requires Craftsmen to know what future such Work shapes. With such training Masters duly Craft its ends. As Centers of Influence, their Work creates Spheres of Influence.”
“Logic is essential in Building anything having Integrity. Non-reason condemns people to unnecessary, damaging and life-threatening conclusions. Ritual informs Masons that Logic is important. Masons must apply Logic in their Work to assure that what they have wrought is both sound and viable in supporting their aims. Sadly, Masons receive only a shadow of what is required Logically to Raise them Above the norm.”
“Logic is the Wisdom aspect of the study of Symbols as Words. Logical abilities allow Masons to discern Truth from fallacy. The power of right reasoning is deemed essential to Masons. Without Logic, Masons cannot comprehend their rights and duties. Without Logical faculty, men are considered insane; viewed as madmen and idiots; and denied admission into the Masonic Order. Lack of Logic also limits Travel.”
“Arithmetic lets Masons see the world in such dramatic detail that they appear to be sighted to the blind untrained. It requires foundational understandings of how Numbers manifest and what can be done with them. Arithmetic is the Strength aspect of the study of Symbols as Numbers. Through Arithmetic, the world becomes a familiar place.”
“How does this happen? Arithmetic study develops the abilities of Masons to recognize relationships and reveal patterns. Its study also forces Masons to understand, confront and deal effectively with concepts related to zero and infinity. Through its Strength, Arithmetic enables Masons to have real impact through development of analogy.”
“Geometry is one of two Wisdom aspects of the study of Symbols as Numbers. Geometry puts dimension to those concepts revealed and accepted during Arithmetic study. It also facilitates dealing with irrational quantities. Geometry trains the mind to imagine things that exist, things that may exist and things that will never exist. It’s amazing how much Geometry is part of our world.”
“Masons studying Geometry bring ordered thinking to their physical world. It also hones their critical thinking; sharpness portable to other disciplines such as Music and Astronomy. Of all the aspects of Masons developed by such study, the one applied toward the measure of man may very well be its most important.”
“Music is intimately dependent upon Arithmetic and Geometry. There is Logic behind its construction. Music has both a Grammar of its own and it is itself the Grammar of sound! Most importantly, its purpose is identical to that of words when employed as Rhetoric, through its use, it persuades. Lastly, understanding of Music supports a Mason’s understanding of Astronomy.”
“Music relates to internal and external motion and requires a firm understanding of how motion Works under certain conditions. Builders who know these basics can then both evaluate and devise systems that employ such motion.”
“Ultimately, the capstone of Liberal Art and Science studies opens up a Mason’s ability to seriously study of Theology and Philosophy. Astronomical information is often times conveyed within such texts and it takes a trained individual to identify when such information is present. This requires all the skills developed by Liberal Art and Science study.”
These are only the chapter headings – a tease. Where you mind really gets challenged is in the catechism of each chapter. There is where the general becomes the specific; there is where the learning takes place; there is where the mind is expanded; there is where you must commit much time and energy.
Once you have completed this expansion of the mind an overview of the big picture illustrates the importance of such study. Nagy tells us:
“To look deeply without toward what constitutes the makeup of your world is to put forth an effort to see and seed the possibility of knowing the very essence of Creation. Of all the actions that Masons can take, except for ‘sincere and searching self-reflection’, this action has the deepest impact. It permeates everything thereafter done.”
Finally, we are told:
“Next to the Entered Apprentice Degree, no more demanding Work in all of Masonry can ever match what is ordered upon Masons within the Fellow Craft Degree. It’s most unfortunate that the Work specified as important to Masons within the Fellow Craft ritual is ‘skipped over’ by far too many Masons as they pursue the title of that ‘next’ degree. Mentoring Master Masons would do well in tempering the enthusiasm of those Fellow Crafts desiring the next level, as well as their own, especially if they have yet to earn the title.”
Leaping over this specific Work has damaging consequences for the Mason, the Brothers who have to deal with that Mason, the Fraternity as a whole and future Masons who Enter and expect proper guidance from Brothers.
Building Athens is not just an information book but a challenge. I consider myself reasonably well informed, no Rhodes scholar mind you, but time and time again I felt a need to consult further research on some of the points Coach Nagy was making and some of the references he alluded to. This is the kind of book you might want to read twice. Once you mind has been expanded it makes much more sense the second time around and you will “get it” finally.
The only question left: ARE YOU READY TO RETRAIN YOUR BRAIN?
I had completely forgotten this gem of a video I had in my collection. It was just sitting there idly until I attended the Festive Board of Lodge Veritas in Oklahoma, where Masonic artist Ryan Flynn was the guest speaker. Flynn, who had studied for a year in Florence, mentioned Brunelleschi’s Dome in his presentation. In fact, Flynn was to comment that the Dark Ages were not so dark in some quarters of Europe, especially Florence.
If you are a Freemason you will find an instant affinity with the art of building, especially a work of art. I warn you that the video is long, but one you cannot stop once you start. It is that riveting. So find yourself an uninterruptable hour and bring the pop and the popcorn before getting started.
In 1418 the town fathers of Florence finally addressed a monumental problem they’d been ignoring for decades: the enormous hole in the roof of their cathedral. Season after season, the winter rains and summer sun had streamed in over Santa Maria del Fiore’s high altar—or where the high altar should have been. Their predecessors had begun the church in 1296 to showcase the status of Florence as one of Europe’s economic and cultural capitals, grown rich on high finance and the wool and silk trades. It was later decided that the structure’s crowning glory would be the largest cupola on Earth, ensuring the church would be “more useful and beautiful, more powerful and honorable” than any other ever built, as the grandees of Florence decreed.
Still, many decades later, no one seemed to have a viable idea of how to build a dome nearly 150 feet across, especially as it would have to start 180 feet above the ground, atop the existing walls. Other questions plagued the cathedral overseers. Their building plans eschewed the flying buttresses and pointed arches of the traditional Gothic style then favored by rival northern cities like Milan, Florence’s archenemy. Yet these were the only architectural solutions known to work in such a vast structure. Could a dome weighing tens of thousands of tons stay up without them? Was there enough timber in Tuscany for the scaffolding and templates that would be needed to shape the dome’s masonry? And could a dome be built at all on the octagonal floor plan dictated by the existing walls—eight pie-shaped wedges—without collapsing inward as the masonry arced toward the apex? No one knew.
The first problem to be solved was purely technical: No known lifting mechanisms were capable of raising and maneuvering the enormously heavy materials he had to work with, including sandstone beams, so far off the ground. Here Brunelleschi the clockmaker and tinkerer outdid himself. He invented a three-speed hoist with an intricate system of gears, pulleys, screws, and driveshafts, powered by a single yoke of oxen turning a wooden tiller. It used a special rope 600 feet long and weighing over a thousand pounds—custom-made by shipwrights in Pisa—and featured a groundbreaking clutch system that could reverse direction without having to turn the oxen around. Later Brunelleschi made other innovative lifting machines, including the castello, a 65-foot-tall crane with a series of counterweights and hand screws to move loads laterally once they’d been raised to the right height. Brunelleschi’s lifts were so far ahead of their time that they weren’t rivaled until the industrial revolution, though they did fascinate generations of artists and inventors, including a certain Leonardo from the nearby Tuscan town of Vinci, whose sketchbooks tell us how they were made.
Having assembled the necessary tool kit, Brunelleschi turned his full attention to the dome itself, which he shaped with a series of stunning technical
Statue of Filippo Brunelleschi near the Duomo Santa Maria del Fiore, looking up at the dome (inset) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
innovations. His double-shell design yielded a structure that was far lighter and loftier than a solid dome of such size would have been. He wove regular courses of herringbone brickwork, little known before his time, into the texture of the cupola, giving the entire structure additional solidity.
On March 25, 1436, the Feast of the Annunciation, Pope Eugenius IV and an assembly of cardinals and bishops consecrated the finished cathedral, to the tolling of bells and cheering of proud Florentines. A decade later another illustrious group laid the cornerstone of the lantern, the decorative marble structure that Brunelleschi designed to crown his masterpiece.
To this day, we don’t know where he got the inspiration for the double-shell dome, the herringbone brickwork, and the other features that architects through ensuing centuries could only marvel at. (Explore the hidden details of Brunelleschi’s daring design.)
Perhaps the most haunting mystery is the simplest of all: How did Brunelleschi and his masons position each brick, stone beam, and other structural element with such precision inside the vastly complex cathedral—a task that modern architects with their laser levels, GPS positioning devices, and CAD software would still find challenging today?
For 40 years, Ricci has tried to answer these questions in the same way that Brunelleschi did: by trial and error. He has built scale models of Brunelleschi’s innovative cranes, hoists, and transport ships. He has scoured the interior and exterior of the dome for clues, mapping each iron fitting and unexplained stub of masonry and cross-referencing them against the archival documents concerning the dome’s construction.
And since 1989, in a park on the south bank of the Arno River half a mile downstream from Santa Maria del Fiore, he has been building a scale model of the dome that’s 33 feet (10 meters) across at its base and consists of about 500,000 bricks.
“Theoretical models are fine for grasping the dome’s geometry,” Ricci says, “but of limited use in understanding the problems Brunelleschi dealt with while building the dome. And that’s what really matters to me: how Brunelleschi put bricks together.”
In the process of putting together half a million bricks, Ricci may have solved one of Brunelleschi’s biggest secrets: how a web of fixed and mobile chains was used to position each brick, beam, and block so that the eight sides of the dome would arc toward the center at the same angle.
Inspired by documentary references to “the star of the cupola,” Ricci started by suspending a star-shaped hub in the center of his model dome. From the eight points of this star he stretched eight chains radiating outwards and downwards to the walls of his model, attached to hooks in the walls, in the corners of the octagonal plan (similar hooks are present in the dome itself).
Next he linked these eight chains with horizontal ropes, which traced arcs along the eight sides of the octagon where the walls were rising. Seen from above, these ropes resemble the petals of a flower.
After last year’s memorial procession ended, Ricci laid out for me some of the evidence for his theory of the dome’s flower, which he considers to be the breakthrough in his conception of Brunelleschi’s method. “In fact, Santa Maria del Fiore means Saint Mary of the Flower,” Ricci notes. “And the symbol of Florence is a flower, the lily.”