fingerprints of the gods, magicians of the gods, Graham Hancock, book review

Footsteps of the Gods

fingerprints of the gods, magicians of the gods, Graham Hancock, book review
Having just finished Graham Hancock’s Fingerprints of the Gods and Magicians of the Gods, I feel as though I’ve been walking in the footsteps of the gods, and it’s made me a believer.

Seldom do I binge watch more than a few TV episodes at a time. When I do, it feels like an information overload that makes the whole thing hard to process and nearly impossible to enjoy. The same could be said for books and reading. When I finish one book on a particular subject I like to move on to another, to cleanse the mental palate and process what I just read.

I thought about this when I picked up Graham Hancock’s Fingerprints of the Gods. Fingerprints was one of those books I’d spent the better part of 30 years avoiding just out of sheer will because, I had thought, it was an alt-history cavalcade and the well-spring of countless conspiracy, cryptozoology and pre-history anecdotes. This hesitancy in picking up Fingerprints was on the heels of an Art Bell fascination and right around the time I became a Freemason.

Still, like the mantra emblazoned on Fox Mulder’s poster — I wanted to believe.

The idea of a pre-history has always fascinated me. I had my own theories from history courses in college. Early on, I considered a minor in Greek and Roman art history, but sufficed myself on being an armchair historian consuming academic and literary explorations of ancient history. Field work on the subject, however, wasn’t in the cards.

But all the while, nagging at the back of my brain (along with Fingerprints maybe) was the notion that the timeline of history couldn’t possibly be sufficient to achieve some of the marvels that spawned out of a few short centuries only to go so silently quiet.

So, I’d passed on Fingerprints… and waited. I waited so long I had, for the most part, forgotten about it and lost myself in studying Freemasonry. Fingerprints of the Gods had receded so far in my head that when I caught a YouTube video with Graham Hancock presenting his ideas and theories, it all came back to me such that, within a week I was out at my local book seller buying a new copy to start reading on the spot.

So, in the span of a few weeks, I consumed Fingerprints of the Gods, feeling as though I was right there with Graham climbing the steps of the Giza pyramid and digging around in the water worn stone of the Sphinx. Reading it slowly, I measured every word of every chapter and gave considerable thought to the ideas he put forth — ideas, I’ll add, that while on the fringe of academic study, are not outside the philosophical reality as they intersect the realms of the history before history. Isn’t that part of the great mysteries of the human species? How did we build the pyramids? Why did we build them?

In Fingerprints of the Gods, Hancock sets the theoretical stage for a cataclysmic event at about the period of Younger Dryas (about 14,500 years ago) that wiped out a civilization more advanced than its contemporary hunter-gatherer counterparts. His theory is that this civilization, in collapse, struck out across the globe establishing megalithic monuments and reorganizing the hunter-gathers enclaves they encountered into porto-civilizations turning them into agricultural-socities. Hancock’s theory in Fingerprints was an earth crust displacement that moved and sizable landmass from a habitable zone into an inhospitable one — destroying in an instant an ancient advanced civilization. Upon its demise, this great civilization fled the disaster zone and seeded themselves around the globe erecting megalithic monuments to memorialize the event and warn subsequent generations of the cataclysm that happened to them and it’s recurrence in the future.

Immediately I was sucked into the text with the mention of an ancient map accurately depicting the coastline of Antarctica. It was compelling, and took me down the rabbit hole I’d so long resisted — loving every word of it. While some of the conclusions were broad in their scope, I had to admit that the conclusions were plausible and worth greater consideration. Why couldn’t a species that’s been on the planet only have created a “modern” society in barely the last 7,000 years. Personally, I don’t take this to mean there were flying machines in antiquity or weapons of mass destruction that wiped out society. But, notion of history before history was just as intoxicating to think about in consideration of the imaginings from the sundry religious texts Hancock sites as parallels to his theories.

Finishing Fingerprints, I was compelled to immediately start reading his follow up book Magicians of the Gods.

Written in the same mesmerizing fashion as his earlier work, Magicians was different. Published 22 years after Fingerprints, Magicians of the Gods felt in one hand a mia culpa (on the earth crust displacement and link to the Mayan calendar 2012 debacle) and a in the other a substantiation on the cataclysm of the Younger Dryas period, illiterated across the globe in the surviving (and reachable) megalithic structures, in particular the nascent discovery of Gobekli Tepe in the Anatolia region of Turkey. As in his earlier work, Hancock paints an even greater detailed picture of the province of ancient antediluvian culture. In Magicians of the Gods, with the aid of science and observational inputs, Hancock adds further mass to his scaffold of an ancient civilization being wiped from the memory of time. I don’t want to give too much away but Hancock’s arguments are compelling and worthy of deep consideration and, dare I say, exploration further.

A point in the work I did find of great interest was a reference in the text to the esteemed Masonic author Timothy Hogan and his observational analysis of marks in Temple of Bacchus in Lebanese megalithic structure at Baalbeck. Another was, much to my surprise, was a broad weaving in of the Hermetic texts, expounding the very oft mentioned “as above, so below” but with great consequence in his meaning. In a very brief encapsulation, resting on Hermetica, the thrust of his hermetic connection is that the universe affects life on Earth, and the Earth reflects the effect of the universe upon it. This reflection is encoded in the megalithic monuments of that share uncanny similarities in their construction and in the sheer mass of their existence from a time before recorded history.

In a general reference, Hancock writes of the cataclysmic events that they were,

…embedded in myths and legends and in mathematical and architectural precepts that would be passed on and renewed again and again by the different cultures that received them, thus boosting the signal and allowing it to remain intact for thousands of years. Even if those through whose hands and minds the signal passed no longer understood its meaning, the weight of sacred tradition, hoary with age would ensure that they were continued to transmit it and would do their utmost to keep it free from interference.

Throughout Magicians, Hancock seems reflective of what on what he’s discovered — different than the tone of the Fingerprints when the reporter turned author was carving out a Hyperborean like view of humankind emerging out of the era of hunter-gathers in the prehistoric Clovis period. Maybe the reflectiveness comes at the realization of what he’s proposing is very real and, again, set in a framework of a very clear and present danger in the annual annual passing through the Taurid meteor showers.

Yet, the cycle of the universe moves slowly, and the mysteries of processional time and the rise and fall of the human species is forgetful — it’s an informational overload at a glacial pace. Hancock’s declaration may be a solitary voice in the wilderness with the message of Fingerprints of the Gods and Magicians of the Gods. But science, it seems, is teasing points of validation to both works, if even in validating ancient comet strikes or finding ancient megalithic sites bedecked in astronomical corollaries dating to near the period of the Younger Dryas event. Hancock made me a believer, or at least validates my suspicions of ancient history and the history before history, whether upon the shores of Antarctica or the now underwater regions submerged in the great flood, a point Hancock brings into full focus with the mystery of Atlantis.

Yes, it’s extraordinary. Yes, it’s a lot to take in. And, no, it isn’t a scientific treatise. Fingerprints of the Gods, and it’s follow up Magicians of the Gods, are fantastical works about the fluid history past, present and future of humankind. And, just as Hermetica (and Hancock in the conclusion) reminds us,

The forces do not work upward from below, but downward from above…All the world which lies below has been set in order and filled with contents by the things which are placed above… The source of all earthly things are on high: those sources pour forth upon us by fixed measure and weight; and their is nothing that that has not come down from above.

Graham Hancock knows it, his Fingerprints of the Gods and Magicians of the Gods illustrates the points. You should probably know it, too. Even if you have to binge read it like I did.

A Deadly Deception?

The following comes from a very bright young woman who is very involved with the Masonic Youth Orders that I had the pleasure to meet on Twitter. You can read her full bio below the article.  I wanted to say that she offers a fresh and interesting perspective on the fraternity from a unique perspective of both being within and without the regular goings on of the Blue Lodge.  After reading her paper, I thought it offered a great deal of value to the community on several levels and she graciously allowed FmI to republish her work.

I think you’ll enjoy reading it as much as I did. – MT

A Deadly Deception?
by Anne M. Stegen

Freemasons on the history Channel

The History Channel gets a lot of things wrong.

That is, they get facts wrong concerning certain details of say, Freemasonry or Masonic symbols. Considering that Freemasonry is the History Channel’s biggest obsession, just behind World War II, this is a rather serious offense. They take an obviously negative attitude towards Masons, connecting them to conspiracies left and right. One special about the alleged 2012 shift even mentioned that Freemasonry is inherently a conspirator in the matter. The program alluded to the “secrets” that Masons have, but gave no evidence to definitely connect the two. That form of ignorance is frustrating. The paranoia that has arisen in the general public is unfounded. There is no plot to create a “new world order.” Masons are not that coordinated. Instead, they focus on making their members better people, and helping their communities. Freemasonry is a benevolent society and is unjustly connected to conspiracy theories and plots for a new world order.

I am not a Mason. I am a woman, but I have extensive observations of the “Craft” of Freemasonry from my father and grandfather’s extensive involvement in the fraternity. My father started in the Blue Lodge, the basic Freemasonry. He was a member of Camelback Daylight Lodge No.75 in Mesa, Arizona. Yearly installations of officers are held and are often open to the public. Camelback Daylight Lodge’s membership consisted of elderly gentlemen, so the Regular Installation of Officers were usually an event with ill-fitting and wrinkled tuxedos, walkers, bolo ties, oxygen tanks, and hearing aides buzzing away, but also warm handshakes, and big hugs for me. It was always astounding to think that these men were accused of plotting world domination.

The fear comes from the unknown. Freemasonry still has some traditions that have been lost to the ages in common society. While ignoring the symbolism, people get hung up on the details—“Why are they wearing aprons?”—and jump to the conclusion that these gentlemen are obviously conspirators. Freemasonry began as an operative masonry guild—thus the aprons—that transformed into a gentlemen’s club that fostered the ideas of tolerance and truth during the Enlightenment. “Speculative” Freemasonry (as opposed to operative masonry) and the Illuminati were formed during the same era, so they are often connected. The Illuminati was formed on the same basis, tolerance and truth, and was not able to continue due to persecution by the Bavarian government. The Illuminati is no longer in existence, despite what Dan Brown says, and it is definitely not connected to Freemasonry. The fear in America that comes from the term “Freemasonry” is based on Americans’ general paranoia of anything they don’t yet understand. My challenge to you, then, is to join the fraternity and judge for yourself.

It is unlikely that such a plot for world domination or a new world order could be conceived in Freemasonry, even in the higher levels of the organization. The Blue Lodge is not governed by an international, or even national leader. In the United States, every state is autonomous. The Grand Lodge of the state regulates and directs the local lodges in their jurisdiction. The many different Grand Lodges are kept in check by a process of recognizing each other. If the Grand Lodge of one area decrees something that is against Masonic teachings, the Grand Lodges of other areas will declare it a “clandestine” Lodge, and members are forbidden from attending lodge meetings there. This system makes it nearly impossible to create a viable conspiracy of the magnitude of a new world order. There are other branches of Freemasonry, such as the York Rite and the Scottish Rite, but to join these appendent groups, one must first be a member of the Blue Lodge. There is no conspiracy within these branches because the Grand Master, the leader of the Grand Lodge, ultimately controls those branches as well. The fabled 33rd Degree Masons are often charged with making malicious plots in the dark smoky room. First of all, smoking is not allowed in lodge rooms. Secondly, these men are just Scottish Rite Masons, still subordinate to the Grand Master. Thirdly, many of these men are also Shriners, the same elderly gentlemen who wear the funny red hats, dress as clowns and do tricks in miniature cars in parades. The finger pointing must stop.

Many people and groups today attack Freemasonry without looking into the truth. Thousands of web sites claim things like “Freemasonry is a Non-Christian Occult Religion,” “Christians Beware – of Freemasonry,” (Keohane) and “Freemasonry proven to worship Satan, as its symbols venerate the sex act.” Bad grammar, poorly constructed HTML layouts, and “telling” photographs of “Masonic” symbols and regalia accompany these sites. The experts referenced have Masonic titles, like 33rd Degree, slapped at the end of their name. Anti- Masonic literature has the same fallacies. The Indiana Freemason web site analyzes one such book, The Deadly Deception: Freemasonry Exposed by One of Its Top Leaders by James Shaw, and finds four outright lies on the front cover alone. The various arguments against Freemasonry are baseless and uninformed.

Yes, Masons keep secrets. When you were little, did you ever have a club? Did that club have passwords that you kept secret from “outsiders”? Did it make you feel special to be a part of that club, especially because it had secret passwords? Apply that same concept to a club for older men, and you get the idea. While a Mason may not tell you what the passwords are, they are not really secrets anymore. If someone is really curious, the Masonic “Ritual,” a book containing Masonic ceremonies is already published in various forms. Charles William Heckethorn (1965), secret society expert, says, “The outside world, who cannot believe that Masonic meetings, which are so jealously guarded against the intrusion of non-Masons, have no other purpose than the rehearsal of a now totally useless and pointless ritual, followed by conviviality [a break for refreshments], naturally assume that there must be something more behind; and what seems to fear the light is usually supposed to be evil.” The ceremony to initiate new members has always been an object of attack because of the seemingly strange things parts of the ceremony. Essentially it involves the reenactment of a story. Various objects and words are used to represent a lesson that the initiate should always bear in mind. The phrase “on the level” comes from one such lesson.

What is the creed of Freemasonry? What do they believe? Much confusion has arisen over the issue, and anti-Masonic groups do all they can to keep it that way. Freemason Roger Firestone articulately answers, “Freemasonry strongly encourages its members to belong to an established religion, although that is not a requirement for membership (only that a candidate profess a belief in a Supreme Being). Masonry is a fraternal organization that encourages morality and charity and studies philosophy. It has no clergy, no sacraments, and does not promise salvation to its members.” Every Masonic activity starts with a prayer (and the presentation of the national flag, when appropriate). John the Baptist and John the Evangelist are the patron saints of Freemasonry, keeping high ideals and high pursuits at the forefront. Freemasonry is not a religion itself, but it strengthens the beliefs and morals of its members.

Members of the fraternity enjoy the privileges of having brothers all over the world. Masons and their families can always call upon other members in times of need. Travelers, the infirmed, those in distress can take comfort when they meet up with another Mason, whether they have known him previously or not. The Masonic family, including the women’s and youth groups, is a tight-knit community. Often a Masonic ring on a man’s right hand signifies that he will meet you on the level.

Freemasonry is dedicated to the betterment of its members, but also its community. Shrine hospitals, the Arizona Masonic Foundation for Children, the Knights Templar Eye Foundation, the Hearing Impaired Kids Endowment, the Amaranth Diabetes Foundation and Scottish Rite hospitals are all beneficiaries of Masonic sponsorship. The South Carolina Freemasonry web site says, “The Freemasons of North America contribute over two million dollar a day to charitable causes.” Local Lodges also have programs to help the nearby schools, hospitals and youth organizations. If Freemasonry had malicious intentions, would not these resources be better employed elsewhere?

Suggesting that Freemasonry is anything but benevolent is ludicrous. Implying that it is involved in conspiracies is ignorant. Americans worried about a new world order should turn their attention to other groups with that goal. And the History Channel needs to get these facts correct. Factual errors and dramatization are unacceptable. In the war for public opinion, Freemasonry should be the benign and prestigious organization that teaches belief in a Supreme Being, high ideals for living, and brotherly love.


Chapter Five: The Reverend James Dayton Shaw,. (n.d.). Retrieved October 29, 2009, from

Conder., B. E. (n.d.). The Hon. Miss St. Leger and Freemasonry. Retrieved October 29, 2009, from

Firestone, R. (n.d.). A Page About Masonry: Questions: Difficult Questions About Freemasonry. Retrieved October 29, 2009, from

Freemasonry is a Non-Christian Occult Religion. (n.d.). Retrieved October 29, 2009, from


Gilmour, P. (Director). (2006). Mysteries of the Freemasons DVD [Documentary]. United States: A&E Home Video.

Heckethorn, C. W. (1965). The Secret Societies of All Ages and Countries (v. 2). New York: General Books Llc.

Keohane, S. (n.d.). Christians Beware – of Freemasonry . Retrieved October 29, 2009, from

What do Freemasons Do (Philanthropy). (n.d.). Retrieved October 29, 2009, from

Upon beginning research for the paper, I contacted Michael T. Bishop, the Grand Mater of the State of Arizona (at the time), for further information and insight. My school deadline did not allow me to wait for a response, but I have since heard back from him. The Grand Master is a busy person, and I would like to sincerely thank him for his time.

My questions to him were:

  • How does Freemasonry help American communities?
  • How has Freemasonry helped America?
  • How does Freemasonry make good men better?

Here is his reply, in it’s entirety:

“The first two questions are much the same. Freemasonry has philanthropies and charitable projects, but its contribution is far deeper and more significant. Jacob Needleman in The American Soul speaks of a strong communal mysticism in early colonial America, especially in Quaker Pennsylvania. He emphasizes the importance of mystical communities in America and the founding fathers’ affiliations with Freemasonry. Many ideals that Americans consider definitive of our nation were introduced by these mystical communities. Today, Freemasonry is perhaps the strongest thread that binds us to our past, to that communal mysticism that seemed so strong 250 years ago. It is a search for truth, which can be translated “a closeness to our Creator.” Freemasonry embraced the philosophy of John Locke (1632-1704) who declared that human beings have natural rights and that reason and rational self-interest motivate people to freely establish governments by their own consent and for their own benefit, a philosophy embraced by the founding fathers. Jefferson would say that these rights are God given.

Freemasonry claims to make good men better, but a friend has suggested that the phrase should be that it makes better men good. To be a truly good man is what we should strive to attain. The teachings of Freemasonry in its ritual are valuable in themselves for their instruction for living a good and moral life, but its lofty goal to seek knowledge, truth, and closeness to God are perhaps more important. It was Freemason George Washington who said that the great aim of Freemasonry is to promote the happiness of the human race.”

Anne M Stegen
Anne M. Stegen

Anne Stegen is a sophmore at Arizona State University. She is studying journalism at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Anne wants to work with non-profit organizations, social media and digital media tools. Anne is highly involved with Job’s Daughters International in Arizona. She works with residential life at Arizona State. She is a Community Assistant at Taylor Place at the downtown Phoenix campus. She is also Vice President of the ASU chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

A book that turned a man into a Mason

OK, maybe the title is presumptive, but I couldn’t resist the hook especially given its coming from the Scottish Rite.

Where it comes from is a review that mentions the iconic Bruce Dickinson, of Iron Maiden fame, and the intelligent and modern Alchemist – Timothy Hogan, both very good company to be in.

You can find the review in the Scottish Rites Holiday Book Review list written by Jim Tresner published in the upcoming November-December 2010 edition of the Scottish Rite Journal.

From the review:

This is a great little book. A non-Mason friend saw it on my table and asked to borrow it. He brought it back two days later, asked some questions, and told me he was going to petition the lodge in his home town. I enjoyed all the essays in the book, but especially XVII, on the E.A. Tracingboard. I am a bit more optimistic (or perhaps a bit more in denial) than Bro. Stewart when it comes to the future of the fraternity, but no one can deny his essays are thought-provoking and powerful.

My thanks to the AASR and to Br. Tresner for the kind review and, from the sounds of it, the soon to be brother it will make.

Imagine what it could do on your coffee table.  The Masonic Traveler is available on Amazon.

The Autobiography of Mark Twain aka Samuel Clemens

An 86 Year Old Book Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Concerning heroes:

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

On writing, which I wholeheartedly agree:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

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

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Copyright © 2010 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

Masonic Central Podcast

From HELL: Masonic Central by Gas Light

Alan Moore Eddie Campbell From Hell panels

In this episode Greg, Dean and several special guests dig into the depths of the film adaption of the Alan Moore story, From Hell. Originally published on March 21, 2010. This show takes a number of twists and turns digging into European freemasonry and the nuances included in the film. If you haven’t seen the film, it’s well worth the time to see and then listen to the show.

Madness, mayhem, mystery, and murder, these are but a few of the terms one could use to define the book, and later film, From Hell.

How often do you get the opportunity to explore Freemasonry by gas light?  Its not Steampunk Masonry, but as close as you can get with the science part of the fiction.

“It’s Dark”…

“Hawksmoor cut stone to hold shadows; a Gothic trait, though Hawksmoor’s influences were somewhat…older.”

“The Dionysiac Artificers?”

“Unmistakably. A Secret fraternity of Dionysus cultists originating in 1,000 B.C., they worked on Solomon’s temple eventually becoming the Middle Ages traveling Masonic guilds. Their ingenious constructions merely symbolized their greater work: the Temple of civilization, chiseling human history into an edifice worthy of God, its Great Architect.”

“…What is the 4th dimension?”

-From Hell, the Graphic Novel

Written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Eddie Campbell (and Pete Mullins), the book version of From Hell is at the for of recent fictional works in print and celluloid that feature the fraternity of Freemasonry in some aspect. From Hell has transformed the benign fraternity into something malignant and nefarious. And, on its ascendancy to the cinema, the seductive spell of aristocracy and secret society takes center stage (pardon the pun) to position the fraternity at the very heart of the Jack the Ripper murders.

Ian Holm from hell

This week on Masonic Central, we take some time to explore the two tellings of the From Hell tale, from the Graphic Novel for-bearer to the present day annotated From Hell (Two-Disc Special Edition) DVD staring Johnny Depp and Heather Graham.

As similar as the two works may seem on their covers, there is a surprising amount of difference between the two works, from the perspectives of the characters, the focus of the story, to the psychology and outcome of the leading villain (a Masonic Knight of the East), as played by Ian Holm.

Two sides of the same creative coin.

on Blog Talk Radio

Mark Koltko-Rivera on Masonic Central


Author Mark Koltko-Rivera joined Masonic Central on Sunday, September 27, 2009, to talk about Dan Brown’s book The Lost Symbol.

With the release of The Lost Symbol, many have had the opportunity to read though the work and see the results of Dan Brown’s non-Masonic contribution to the mythology of the fraternity.  Like his past work, Without a doubt The Lost Symbol is a layered thriller that can be analyzed on many different levels to find a variety of different meanings, not surprisingly, not unlike Freemasonry itself.

This week we welcome Brother Mark Koltko-Rivera, author of the forthcoming book, Discovering The Lost Symbol to help us deconstruct some of the underlying ideas of Brown’s book and to look at some of the things that Brown got wrong.  Specifically we plan to look at evidence for an actual Masonic message encoded into Brumidi’s famous fresco, “The Apotheosis of Washington”, a message that it appears Dan Brown missed; the round about source of Brown’s idea about apotheosis (humanity becoming gods), and the Masonic connection to that source; Further, we plan to talk about the psychological underpinnings for Dan Brown’s immense popularity, and the implications that has for both Freemasonry as a whole and individual Freemasons.

The Apotheosis of Washington
The Apotheosis of Washington

Br. Mark Koltko-Rivera is the author of the forthcoming book, Discovering The Lost Symbol: Masons, Magic, Mystery Religions, and the Thought that We Could Become Gods. He holds a doctoral degree in counseling psychology from New York University. He is an elected Fellow of the American Psychological Association, and has been recognized for his scholarship regarding the psychology of world-views, humanistic psychology, and the psychology of religion. Within Freemasonry, Brother Koltko-Rivera is an active member of the Blue Lodge, the Scottish Rite, and the York Rite. His papers on Freemasonry have appeared in The Philalethes, the Scottish Rite Journal, and Heredom. He provided the Masonic content (and the conspiracy fiction) for the recent Wiley publication, Cracking Codes and Cryptograms For Dummies.

A second edition of his Freemasonry: An Introduction should also appear in 2010. He also writes the blogs “Freemasonry: Reality, Myth, and Legend” and “Freemasonry 101.”

Looking for more on The Lost Symbol?

The Lost Symbol – a review
The Lost Symbol – it’s the symbol of the symbolism. – The Masonic Perspective
The Lost Symbol – The Road Best Not Traveled

Out of the Shadows


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

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

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

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

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

Out of the Shadows revolves around two main themes,

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

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

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

The National Compact or National Grand Lodge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Rroundtree and Bessel start us off with this thought.

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

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

Out of the Shadows answers the question what is recognition?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Territorial Sovereignty

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

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

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

The first four recognitions to remain permanent were:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Lost Symbol: The Road Best Not Traveled

There’s nothing I like better than a good murder mystery. I cut my teeth on Sherlock Holmes, Lord Peter Wimsey, Perry Mason, and Ellery Queen. Nowadays I turn to such luminaries as John Grisham, Scott Turow, Richard North Patterson, and William Bernhardt. And that is what Dan Brown’s Lost Symbol is a good murder mystery, at least superficially.

Actually, the storyline is a good carrier for philosophy—Masonic philosophy and Dan Brown’s philosophy which somehow become intertwined. Brown has more hidden meanings attributed to Masonry than all the members of any American Grand Lodge would have in a lifetime. But, without all the puzzels, Brown wouldn’t have had a good carrier for his philosophy which he tries to convince you is part of Masonry. The philosophy of Noetics is not part of Masonic thought, nor is a Gnostic religion endorsed by Masonry although you can find many Gnostic Masonic practitioners.

This is the first criticism of The Lost Symbol and the most telling. Millions of people unfamiliar with Masonry will pick up the book (or film) and go away believing that the gospel of Dan Brown is the real deal of what Freemasonry is all about. That the United States was founded by Masons who were predominately Deists is not a fact but a hotly debated hypothesis. The idea that Washington DC was modeled on ancient Rome has some merit but giving the impression that it was the totality of the city is just plain wrong. Not to provide any room for Christian/Jewish thought, Christian /Jewish philosophy and Christian/Jewish symbolism is to steer the discussion and the minds of readers into a mode of Masonic/Deists/Gnostic “God is within you and you are God” philosophy which is not generally representative of where most Masons were two hundred years ago nor where they are now.

Read: Freemasonry and the Hermetic Arts

The second criticism of The Lost Symbol is the constant mentioning of a special knowledge that 33rd degree Masons possess and a certain special inner circle within the secret society. Believe me when I tell you that many Evangelical Christians and “New World Order” conspiracy freaks have made these charges for years. Just ask Pat Robertson. I’ve had these people tell me personally, “Well, if you don’t see it, you just aren’t privy to the inner circle.” So we have the profane telling a Mason that they know more about the Freemasonry than a mason does. The Internet is full of these conspiracy theorists who will tell you how satanic and evil Masonry is. We need another supposedly intelligent and celebrated testimonial affirming this loony vision like we need another hole in our head.

And because Masons like things in threes, let me add a third criticism of the book. Why are we, as Masons, so quick to jump on the bandwagon of sensationalism? Why do we believe that this book will be our Savior; that it will bring us all kinds of new membership? Are we that desperate? Is sensationalizing Masonry not corrupting it? Has the message of Masonry and the true philosophy of who and what we are been somehow compromised for the sake of personal profit? And are we just a tad too willing to sacrifice our doctrine for the sake of popularity? If so why don’t we promote a few books with the hidden Masonic meaning of the phallic symbol? After all, sex sells everything from cars to soap.

Lest you think I have been too hard on the book, there is much to be said in its favor.

The science of Noetics that Brown talks about is a serious scientific investigation today. There is a whole school of Quantum Physics that brings science and religion together. There are tests being performed that show that the speed of light has been far surpassed and that the power of thought is energy, an energy that can be created by human beings. This line of inquiry is not far fetched. And it is a development which I feel is the next human frontier. That being said connecting it into Masonry is a stretch, but one that if you don’t take seriously and see Brown smiling all the way to the bank makes a good story.

The way The Lost Symbol is written is a very effective way to get a message across if that is your intent. That is if you have an agenda or a definite message which you want to put forth, wrapping it within a powerful fictional story is always more effective than a dry recitation of philosophical thought written in the manner of a documentary or nonfiction work. Those who have read Atlas Shrugged will recognize this same technique employed by Ayn Rand. John Galt’s long soliloquy at the end of Atlas Shrugged matches the same dissertations of Peter & Katherine Solomon in chapters 131 AND 133 of The Lost Symbol.

The Lost Symbol is a great read and a book that will bring many newcomers to Masonry. I enjoyed reading it. But I have to ask if going down this road and becoming dependent on the growth of the Craft welded to sensationalism is not a corrupting influence, the road best not traveled.

Sex and Rockets – The Occult World of Jack Parsons – A Review

Sex and Rockets – The Occult World of Jack Parsons
Sex and Rockets – The Occult World of Jack Parsons

The occult, in the early part of the 20th century, set the stage for how it has come to be perceived in the 21st Century.  Never has the explanation of the third way come into a mainstream light (except in works of fiction books and film) where it has been readily played up with bright flashes of scintillating energy and half mad megalomaniacs bent on short cutting their way to the realms of the Gods.  Few have gone so far as to suggest the connection between space and the realm of the divine powers except in some of the more bizarre Lovecraftian tales of horror and suspense.  (See The Best of H. P. Lovecraft).  But the ground work of this 20th century occult, while shaped in one part by Manly P. hall was

also shaped in character that was formed by the man Marvel “Jack” “John” Parsons. And this tale, as told in the book “Sex and Rockets: The Occult World of Jack Parsons” by John Carter is every bit science fact of rocket to the moon as it is Aleister Crowley‘s failure in inspiring his new aeon and Babylon working to manifest in his Thelemic following in Los Angles circa 1946.  In Jack Parsons, hubris and vanity were very much a part of his wonder at the idea of sending rockets into space.  But even in his explosive demise, Parson’s legacy on earth has crowned him a father of modern Rocketry with a crater dedicated to him on the dark side of the moon.

Jack Parsons
Jack Parsons

First published in 2004, Sex and Rockets: The Occult World of Jack Parsons is the biography of Jack Parsons.  A self taught scientist and rocketer, Parsons started his career path as a hobby of sorts, fueled in the exhaust of creating rockets to soar into the high earth atmosphere.  This was in the age of fiction and rockets were only the dreams of explorers and fiction writers.  Like all men of vision, however, Parsons worked endlessly to create sufficient thrust to make the rocket work.  In this early life he also found and embraced the works of Aleister Crowley which became his faith, of sorts, by his practice of Thelema.  His devotion grew over time in that he became the head of the Agape Lodge of the OTO in the mid 1940’s which met and practiced in his Bohemian home in Pasadena.  In this period, Parsons regularly corresponded with Crowley, whose agents locally praised him as the successor of Crowley’s New Aeon and great work.

The book spends a considerable amount of time on Parsons life, but also included some interesting details on the Ordo Templi Orientis order that Parsons was at first so devoted to.  As it reads Carter spends considerable time in developing the history of the OTO from 1895 through Crowley’s taking over and the credibility collapse of its founders Kellner, Reuss, Mathers, and Westcott.  The history, as encapsulated in the book, is an interesting read especially as it contextualizes their history with Crowley, but also with their connections in Los Angeles in the early incubation of the occult today.  Unlike Manly P. Hall (the author of The Secret Teachings of All Ages), Crowley sent Wilfred Smith (himself a student of the OTO and Crowley) with the purpose of opening an OTO lodge, which was incorporated in 1934 and met for the first time in 1935.

left to right: Rudolph Schott, Apollo Milton Olin Smith, future JPL Director Frank Malina (white shirt, dark pants), Ed Forman and Jack Parsons (right, foreground). Nov. 15, 1936. Image from NASA/JPL-Caltech
left to right: Rudolph Schott, Apollo Milton Olin Smith, future JPL Director Frank Malina (white shirt, dark pants), Ed Forman and Jack Parsons (right, foreground). Nov. 15, 1936. Image from NASA/JPL-Caltech

It was in this era that Jack Parson’s variously worked at the predecessor of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a variety of explosives companies, Electric companies, and gas stations (notably, even rocket scientists needing to work).  In this mix of engineering academia and occult practice, Parson’s path merged in a John Dee/Edward Kelly fashion with the infamous L.Ron Hubbard (before his Scientology fame).  In this time, Hubbard variously played scribe, confidant, and polyamerious love interest to Parson’s spouse Betty who, Carter writes, Hubbard absconded with along with the start up capitol that he and Parson’s had used to start a business. Crowley even going so far to say of Hubbard: “Suspect Ron playing confidence trick–Jack Parsons weak fool–obvious victim prowling swindlers.” In a letter a few days later he said, “It seems to me on the information of our brethren in California that Parsons has got an illumination in which he lost all his personal independence. From our brother’s account he has given away both his girl and his money. Apparently it is the ordinary confidence trick.”.  Included in the book are the notes Hubbard took while acting as scribe in Parsons ritual workings.

L. Ron Hubbard
L. Ron Hubbard

From his start, it seemed Parsons was destined for something great (magickly or otherwise), but ultimately met his demise in a fiery explosion in his garage turned laboratory/workshop.  Sensing his end, perhaps, Carter reports that the last words spoken by Parsons were “I wasn’t done…“.  This final utterance is cryptic in that his professional life had blurred the line with his occult life leaving us to wonder which work he saw unfinished.  Carter suggests that Parson’s was a man drawn by an over arched Oedipious complex and a life long search for a father figure, both in Smith and in Crowley himself.  At his end, it would seem he found it in neither.

The ruins of Parsons lab 1952
The ruins of Parsons lab 1952

Carter does an ample job in giving life to Parson’s beyond his mundane occupation of jet propulsion and established him as one of the patriarchs of the occult in Los Angeles.  As notable as he is in the scientific community, few know his name in the occult community.  What his tangible contribution is will be up to those who follow in his footsteps, but his early dalliances and their display in the public sphere ushered in the modern perception of the occult and quite possibly the era of the baby boomers and their unknown working of the Thelemic philosophy that Parsons hoped would take hold.  Parson’s, despite his end, explored the paths he wanted to physically and spiritually.  His unfinished work being his legacy, left for us to continue to explore.

I recommend the book Sex and Rockets: The Occult World of Jack Parsons by John Carter, which is available at Amazon.

The Origins of Freemasonry & Revolutionary Brotherhood

I have never reviewed two books together before but there is a good reason for doing so. The Origins of Freemasonry: Facts and Fictions by Margaret C. Jacob and Revolutionary Brotherhood by Steven Bullock are both written by historians who are not Freemasons.  They both write from the same point of view, that is they look at the world through the same discipline that they were trained in.  Both books are a look at Freemasonry’s interaction with society, of the Craft’s effect on the political, religious and economic systems of a nation and the reverse, the effect of the systems on Freemasonry.  In fact in reading both books I felt as if I was back in college in SOC 101. The full title of Bullocks book is Revolutionary Brotherhood, Freemasonry and the Transformation of the American Social Order, 1730-1840.” The Origins of Freemasonry: Facts and Fictions and Bullock are looking at Freemasonry through the eyes of a Sociologist and they are dispassionate, objective observers because they are not members of the Craft. They have no agenda driving them nor do they care if Freemasonry doesn’t come out always smelling like roses. It’s about time we Freemasons got some scholarly work from knowledgeable academics who are not members of Freemasonry.

The Origins of Freemasonry: Facts and Fictions said it best when she penned these words:

“When entering the world of the eighteenth-century Masonic life the historian must assume a willing suspension of disbelief. How else are we to understand why women and men would devote many hours a month, spend lavishly in the process, and covet the opportunity to participate formally in quasi-religious, yet secular ceremonies that we can only dimly imagine as meaningful and satisfying.”

Jacob's Origin of Freemaosnry
Jacob’s Origin of Freemaosnry

Both books deal primarily with 18th century Freemasonry, although Bullock does stretch it out to the pre Civil War period.  Both discuss the origins of Freemasonry and then go on to trace the Craft’s development through the various changes in society and how that influenced Freemasonry.  But also there is the recognition that perhaps the development of Freemasonry influenced the changes in society.  There is the age old question of which comes first the chicken or the egg and both authors are more interested in cataloging the steps of development rather than making a referee’s ruling on who gets the most credit.

The Origins of Freemasonry: Facts and Fictions sticks pretty much to European Freemasonry and Bullock to American (U.S.A.) Freemasonry yet each must venture into the other’s sphere to make the story complete.

The Origins of Freemasonry: Facts and Fictions has five chapters, abbreviated as follows- Origins, Daily Lives, Schools of Government, Freemasons and the Marketplace, and Women in Freemasonry. The book makes a number of good points so let’s look at those.

As a historian The Origins of Freemasonry: Facts and Fictions firmly asserts that the origin of Freemasonry was a transition from Masonic guild to modern speculative Freemasonry. She tells us that early notable Freemasons such as Sir Robert Moray and Elias Ashmole, “may have believed that masonry put him (them) closer to the oldest tradition of ancient wisdom, associated with Hermes, out of which mathematics and the mechanical arts were said to have nourished.” Freemasonry claiming origins from the Knights Templars or Rosicrucians is just fantasy run amuck. As a side comment she addresses the modern demise of Freemasonry because, “Voluntary associations that radically crossed class lines have largely disappeared, replaced by advocacy groups or professional associations.”

She goes on to say that it was new market forces that caused an evolution of guild decline and disappearance.  Only the British stonemasons were able to survive, largely because they had a “richness of lore and traditions” and they were highly skilled.

As commerce and business were conducted in a new manner causing the old guilds to wane, surviving stonemasons guilds took on non laborers for needed monetary gain and thus as a means of survival. Gentlemen Freemasons soon overtook the membership of Lodges and were in charge of their operative Brethren.  “Suddenly, whole initiation ceremonies were created to install the master in his ‘chair’.”

These revamped guilds now half speculative Lodges instituted “degrees” by which its operative and non-practicing Brethren might be distinguished from each other.  There came about a marked gain in literacy and the Lodges performed a great amount of charitable work that society and the government had not yet equipped itself to do.

“In town and city the power of the old guilds to regulate wags and labor had now been broken.  But the collectivist definition of liberty and equality inherent in guild culture could be given new meaning.  It could now pertain to the aspirations of the political nation.  Voters and magistrates could meet within the egalitarian shell provided by the guild shorn of its economic authority and in most cases of its workers.  In the new Masonic lodges urban gentlemen, as well as small merchants and educated professionals, could practice fraternity, conviviality, and civility while giving expression to a commonly held social vision of their own liberty and equality.  They could be free-marketeers while hedging their debts.  By bonding together through the fraternal embrace, they sought refuge from harsh economic realities if bad fortune made poverty seem inevitable.”

Another theme in the book is that manner in which Lodges and Grand Lodges governed themselves not only paved the way for these methods to be adopted by civil society but it was good practice or training for those who would fill those civil roles. In England she says that government and society first started modern democratic reforms that spread to Freemasonry.

“Now seen to be enlightened, Masonic practices such as elections, majority rule, orations by elected officials, national governance under a Grand Lodge, and constitutions – all predicated on an ideology of equality and merit – owed their origin to the growth of parliamentary power, to the self-confidence of British urban merchants and landed gentry, and not least, to a literature of republican idealism. The English Revolution was the framework within which Masonic constitutionalism developed.”

But not so for the rest of Europe.

“The lodges brought onto the Continent distinctly British forms of governance: constitutions, voting by individual, and sometimes secret ballot, majority rule, elected officers, ‘taxes’ in the form of dues, public oratory, even courts for settling personal disputes; eventually the lodges even sent representatives to organized Grand Lodges.”

The last chapter traces women in Freemasonry from the beginnings in the 1740s as Adoptive Lodges started to form through the end of the 18th century. Jacob makes the point that if it was important for men to gain experience in democratic self government through participating in the workings of Lodges and Grand Lodges that it was doubly so for women.  Women in the public sphere at this time had no freedom or ability to influence anything.  It was only in a private venue that women could gain some measure of control over their lives and influence others.

And so Jacob credits the Adoptive Lodges with giving women the start on the road to feminism.  First the Lodge, followed by the Salons and then the Republican Clubs. Jacob takes us through the constant development and refinement of the Adoptive ritual each step along the way women having more control over the Lodge practices.

“Like the salons, then, the lodges of adoption may be presented as entry points to the organizing concepts of the Enlightenment.  The lodges become ‘secret’ places where women’s power and merit grew and were expressed through elaborate ceremonies (many of them published), and where large numbers of women first expressed what we may legitimately describe as early feminism.”

I found the Origins of Freemasonry to be less about the origins and more an 18th century development of European Masonry. The first thing the book could use is a better title. For such a lofty and inclusive work the book was quite short, 132 pages not counting appendixes.  I found Chapter 2 that dwelt on Masonic diaries to be unappealing and not very informative. Jacob says that she put the book together from expanding and revising some earlier essays.  I get the feeling that they might have been lectures or speeches or classroom professorial treatises that were added onto. The writing seemed choppy and the themes sometimes overlapping.  For instance in chapter one, Origins, much time and words were devoted to the thoughts of Chapter three, Schools of government and Chapter five, Women in Freemasonry.  This often happens when you are lecturing and continuing on from week to week in the same vein.  Of course that may not be the case but I just get that feeling.

Yet there were many good points made about Freemasonry and historical observations that were top notch. Margaret C. Jacob is an eminent historian and she knows what she is talking and writing about. This was a nice little scratching of the surface. What it could or should have been is a 500 page exhaustive study. Let’s just say I appreciated the author’s mind but I just didn’t like the presentation.

Revolutionary Brotherhood is a much more extensive work of 319 pages not counting appendixes.  Steven Bullock outlined in the Introduction exactly what the book was going to contain.  After reading the entire book cover to cover that outline is the best summation of what Revolutionary Brotherhood is all about.

“This work seeks to understand the appeal of Masonry for eighteenth – and early nineteenth century Americans and, from that perspective, to illuminate the society and culture that first nurtured and then rejected it.”

“Such an examination makes clear that Masonry, rather than being entirely separate from the world, changed dramatically in conjunction with it. Four major shifts in the fraternity and its context are examined, in chronological sections.  The story begins with the fraternity’s creation in England and its transit to colonial America, where it helped provincial elites separate themselves from the common people and build solidarity in a time of often bitter factional divisions (Part I). These leaders, however, would be overtaken in the Revolutionary period as lesser men appropriated the fraternity for their own purposes, spreading it to inland leaders as well as Continental army officers (Part II). These changes prepared the way for the period of Masonry’s greatest power and prestige, the years from 1790 to 1826, when Americans used Masonry to respond to a wide range of needs, including their hopes for an enlightened Republic, their attempts to adapt to a mobile and increasingly commercial society, and their desire to create a separate refuge from this confusing outside world (Part III). This multiplication of uses involved Masonry in conflicting and even contradictory activities and ideas, a situation that exploded in the midst of a widespread attempt to reform and purify American society based on the principles of democracy and evangelicalism.  The resulting Antimasonic movement virtually destroyed Masonry in the North and crippled it in the South.  The fraternity revived in the 1840s and 1850s but without the high pretensions to public honor and influence that had made it seem so overwhelming to men such as Salem Town (Part IV).”

Bullocks Revolutionary Brotherhood
Bullock’s Revolutionary Brotherhood

What is so eye opening and important about this book is the realization that American Freemasonry was not always this monolithic, never wavering, never changing institution.  Freemasons today sometimes try to paint the Craft as always being this or always being that when in reality Freemasonry was always changing.  And that says a lot about what the future might hold for American Freemasonry as it may very well be going through another period of significant reinvention of itself.

Bullock gets us briefly started in merry old England to lay the background for the exportation of Freemasonry to the American colonies.

“Speculative Masonry developed within the London intellectual and social circles that surrounded Newton, partaking of the same confusions, the same mixing of traditions that marked him and his Masonic friends such as Stukeley and Desaguliers.  The origins of the fraternity lay in the encounter between these cosmopolitan groups and operative Masons’ mysterious heritage and practices. To protect the antiquity they perceived there and the hope for a deeper knowledge of universal truth, early speculative brothers created a powerful organization and a regular series of degrees that reaffirmed the link between the new group and ancient wisdom.”

What Bullock is telling us here which is so fascinating is that while modern speculative Freemasonry grew out of the operative Guilds who had specialized, privileged and private knowledge it did not remain a labor movement but got co-opted by early 18th century English intellectuals who sought to bring back ancient mysteries bordering on the occult and the wisdom of ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome and also by the elites of society and the players at his majesty’s Court and Parliament who were feeling the spread of power among the upper crust.

And this is how Freemasonry came to American as Bullock titles the Chapter on this period, “The Appearance of So Many Gentlemen – Masonry and Colonial Elites 1730-1776.” The two central themes of Colonial Masonry were love and honor.  Bullock tells us, “Colonial leaders saw the fraternity as a means to build elite solidarity and to emphasize their elevation above common people.” Lodge members consisted of those of wealth, political, religious, and business leaders and the professional class, lawyers and physicians being heavily represented. Dues were set high, as much as two month’s wages for the average workman, to keep out the riffraff. In the late 1730s Boston’s First Lodge increased dues  so that it would not exclude “any man of merit” but would “discourage those of mean spirits, and narrow, or Incumber’d fortunes” so that none should enter who would be “Disparagement to, and prostitution of Our Honor.”

Bullock tells us that “for colonial brothers, consistent procedure was less important than keeping out the wrong people.  The key division was, not between Masonry and the outside world (as post Revolutionary brothers would come to argue), but between different social ranks. And “Colonial Masonry did not view fraternal fellowship as a withdrawal into a private world of freedom.  Rather, the honorable met within the lodge to learn the virtue and polite ways, necessary for public honor.”

Thus colonial America was set up as a carbon copy of the class society of the mother country, England and Freemasonry reflected the way society was set up and was practiced just as English Masonry was observed. But as England and America parted ways, each going off on its own, so did Freemasonry in the two countries radically depart from each other in practice.

That lead us into Revolutionary Masonry where we see the effects on society of the quarrel between the Antients (Patriots) and the Moderns (Loyalists).  Here the struggle for supremacy in society was also fought inside the Craft. The Moderns catering to the elites formed few Lodges, most of them in large cities along the coastline.  Pennsylvania chartered only 3 Lodges in its first 40 years of operation and the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts in sixty years of existence chartered only five Lodges outside Boston all along the coastline. In 1753 the Antients had 10 Lodges but by 1771 they had 140. As settlement spread westward off the coastline, it was Antient Lodges that formed in the new communities not the Moderns. By the time Washington was sworn in as our first President the Antients totally overwhelmed and dominated American Freemasonry. Although Antient Masons were not “common folk” but rather what you would call the forerunners of the American middle class, they did add a distinct different more plebian atmosphere to the practice of Freemasonry.

The Continental army contained a larger than usual percentage of Masons and military Lodges which were widely populated throughout the colonies were mostly Antient Lodges. Bullock credits American Freemasonry with providing the camaraderie that kept it from falling apart in rough times. He tells us that army officers through Freemasonry’s ability to combine exclusive honor with inclusive love were able to develop the spirit de corps that helped it survive to win the war.

The dominance of the Antients and victory over the British forever changed American society and American freemasonry.  Gone were the exclusivity of the elites, in was republican thinking.

The next period in Bullocks breakdown was post war Republican Masonry.

“First, the new vision of the fraternity fitted into the widely shared desire to reconceive the character of American society as it emerged from the Revolution. By celebrating morality and individual merit, Masonry seemed to exemplify the ideals necessary to build a society based on virtue and liberty. Fraternal membership and ideology helped bring high standing to a broad range of Americans, breaking down the artificial boundaries of birth and wealth.  Masonry offered participation in both the great classical tradition of civilization and the task of building a new nation.”

The byword of republican Freemasonry became virtue. Education and learning were encouraged and Freemasonry once again linked back to the wisdom of the ancients while at the same time pushing the advancement of science. Freemasonry became supporters of schools for all of society and advocates of increasing knowledge.  Just what a new republican nation needed. Freemasonry melded with the concept of liberty thereby giving it broad public appeal.

It is here that Bullock mentions the contributions of Prince Hall and Hannah Mather Crocker who, in a society becoming increasingly more open, were able to accomplish much for Blacks and women in Freemasonry as the concept of liberty permeated the Craft in a republican increasingly classless society.

At the same time Freemasonry became more closely identified with the Christian religion and some in the fraternity maintained that Freemasonry fulfilled a divine purpose while others went them one better by declaring Freemasonry a sacred institution. It was also during this period that American Freemasonry also increased its commitment of universal charity.

“Masonic brotherhood now included close, even emotionally charged bonds of obligations.  As Royall noted, Masonic fraternity created ‘claims of a sacred nature.’  Such claims, Clinton explained, formed ties of ‘artificial consanguinity’ that operated ‘with as much force and effect, as the natural relationship of blood.'”

But all was not rosy in Freemasonryland.  Masonic Brothers during this period developed a code of “Preference” meaning that Brothers would always choose to do business with each other in preference to a non Mason. Bullock writes, “Masonic ties did more than promote broad moral standards; they actually guided the paths of trade.” However this can be seen as presenting the Craft with conflicting allegiances trying to balance its declaration of operating for the common good while at the same time using Freemasonry for personal gain. By creating an exclusive tight little network Freemasonry started working against its ideals of rising in society by merit and morality.  These would later be seeds sown to Freemasonry’s own destruction.

And so would Freemasonry increasingly involvement with partisan politics. A very high percentage of Masons in this time period held public office. Freemasonry’s ability was in a time of poor methods of long range communication, to provide a network of men who could more easily communicate with each other and to encourage and reinforce republican values of government and intellectual prowess. More than half of Andrew Jackson’s cabinet members were Freemasons coming from many different states. What Lodge members could do in politics is what they were also able to do in business, show “Preference” to each other for their own personal gain.

This period saw the rise of what Bullock calls the “higher degrees” or concordant bodies. Freemasonry increasingly began to see itself as sacred in this period.

“The fraternity, brothers now argued, was not simply an exemplification of universal processes but a sanctified institution whose values and experiences transcended the ordinary world.”

The result was that Freemasons became obsessed with the standardization and memorization of rituals.  Ritual was no longer a means of initiation but rather a scared body of knowledge. Higher degree ritual carried religious overtones with often extreme emotion reminiscent of Evangelical Christianity. This new tact tended to pull Freemasonry inward away from the outside world and make it exclusive and privileged – in knowledge rather than in social class,however.

These factors of favoritism in business and in politics and this new ritualistic based exclusive, privileged, sacred fraternity were factors which increased its numbers and popularity but at the same time were exactly the factors that led to its downfall, to jealousy of the fraternity and eventually outright hatred.  The Morgan affair was just the spark that set it off.

And that is Bullocks last period from 1826-1840.  He calls it “Masonry and Democracy.” He takes us through all the Anti Masonic rhetoric, the newspapers and the Anti Masonic Party.  Not only was this America’s first third party but also the first time in politics that public opinion had been rallied to bear pressure upon an issue and support a political party. Generally Bullocks thesis is that the American people took back their governance and squashed all those who claimed special privilege. Anti Masonry thus became a massive movement to purify America.

“Opponents of Masonry first pioneered new means of agitation, printing, meeting, and politicking to change public opinion on a single issue.  At the same time, and just as important, Antimasons also explored and popularized new ways of thinking that opposed widely accepted beliefs.  By elevating conscience and public opinion as the test of religion and republicanism, Masonry’s opponents helped lay the foundation for the cultural dominance of democracy and evangelicalism.”

For those of you who thought I might have knocked the Jacob book, I recommend that you read both The Origins of Freemasonry and Revolutionary Brotherhood, and that you read them together starting with “Origins” first. That is the way I read them and I can’t think of a better way of getting a better picture of the development of Freemasonry in its early speculative stages.  Only a qualified, knowledgeable historian could give you this kind of insight and we are blessed with two. For to look at Freemasonry through the research and eyes of two eminent non- Masonic historians is really to see Masonry from the outside looking in.  So often we read Masonic authors who look at Masonry from the inside looking out.  There is always, in my humble opinion, much to be learned from an objective, impartial observer who has no vested interest in the enterprise being studied. Both books are well researched and footnoted.  And both will punch some holes in some Masonic myths.  One big observation to note is that Freemasonry is an ever changing society, pulling society this way and that and being pulled by society this way and that. It means that the Freemasonry of the future will probably look a bit different from now.  Everything evolves.  Life is change.  Ask a historian.

But there is a problem with putting all our observation eggs in one basket, the basket of the historian.  It tends to over ride or even negate the contributions and effects of the esoteric – spiritual side of the Craft, that part of Freemasonry which is that private personal journey building that spiritual temple.  Working on one’s soul is a whole different ball of wax and needs not to be left out of the equation.  Happy reading!