More Light in Masonry: The Allied Masonic Degrees (AMD)

Last night, I was awarded a great honor prior to the filming of The Masonic Roundtable. I received an official invitation to become the newest member of the Perfect Ashlar Council No. 349 of the Allied Masonic Degrees (AMD) in Herndon, VA! For those unfamiliar with AMD, it is an invitational York Rite appendant body of Masonry that limits its membership to 27 members per council (with two exceptions). [1] In essence, in addition to being open only to Royal Arch Masons, a Mason cannot join unless he is invited to do so (a privilege, according to my understanding, often reserved for Past Masters and other Masons with long track records of service to the fraternity). 

AMD_seal

 

The purpose of AMD is twofold: Preservation and research. Throughout the 19th century, the “Antients” issued Craft Warrants to lodges which gave those lodges carte blanche to work any Masonic-related degree they liked. By the end of the 1800’s, many of these degrees had been consolidated into new Masonic bodies such as the Knights Templar and Cryptic Council; however, a number of degrees fell by the wayside. The Grand Council of the Allied Masonic Degrees in England and Wales and the Colonies and Dependencies of the British Crown was therefore formed in the late 1870’s primarily (at least initially) as a means to preserve these degrees, thereby keeping them from being lost to antiquity. [2] The second purpose of AMD is to enable Masons to come together in small groups to enhance Masonry through scholarly research. [3] 

I’m overjoyed to have been invited to join an organization whose purpose comes so near and dear to my heart as a historian. The ability to conduct Masonic research (both empirical and philosophical) has been one of the high points of my involvement with this fraternity, and I’m very much looking forward to learning all I can about the degrees AMD works so hard to preserve. This opportunity will also give me the nudge I need to make time for AMD’s yearly conference entitled “AMD Masonic Week” in Northern Virginia, which takes place each February.

AMDMasonicWeek

To all the brethren of Perfect Ashlar Council No. 349: Thank you very much for this honor. I am humbled by your invitation and very much look forward to continuing my search for more light in Masonry with you all to guide and support me, and to share in my journey. 

JR

[1] The Council of the Nine Muses is limited to nine brethren, and the Grand Masters Council has no membership limit due to its formation under a “roving charter” which enables it to induct men in rural areas of the United States where no AMD Councils exist.

[2] http://thealliedmasonicdegrees.co.uk/history-2/

[3] http://www.amdusa.org/history.html

 

 

 

The Sexualization of Freemasonry: Cheapening the Fraternity?

Every now and then, one of these gems pops up in my eBay feed while I’m trolling for Masonic books, pins, and other assorted paraphernalia:

freemason_pinup1 freemason_pinup2

Whenever I see them, I tend to ask myself why on earth someone–ostensibly a brother Mason–would feel the need to design such a thing. As if it wasn’t enough that the women in these pins are each wearing (well, sort of) Masonic aprons and jewels (Yes, I’m assuming that the pins were not designed by a Co-Mason–even if they were, these ladies are seriously underdressed for lodge. But lodge dress code is a whole different blog post for a different day…), the sexuality of the pins juxtaposed with the Masonic emblems (especially the square of virtue in the first example) conveys to me a distinct cheapening of the values we pledge to uphold and the tools we use to represent those values as Masons.

freemason_pinup_meme

Similar, albeit less graphic, instances of the sexualization of Freemasonry have occurred at various points over the past hundred years. My friend and brother Carl W., author of the Masonic blog The Rough Ashlar, has recently posted examples of this on his blog here and here. While those particular photographs are more humorous than scandalous, they still make me wonder why we need to bring sexuality into Masonry at all. Perhaps it’s an attempt, at some level, to pay homage to our spouses and significant others who put up with the late night degree work and perpetually long-running meetings. But I think we can accomplish that without creating designs that objectify women and cheapen the meaning behind Masonic regalia and working tools.

I’m all about showing my appreciation for all of the Masonic ladies out there especially because, let’s face it, they put up with a lot of late meetings and nights out with the boys. But we need to remember to always emulate the values we so frequently inculcate. Otherwise, we’re just a bunch of fools.

Jester

 

JR

Religious Opposition to Freemasonry: Guest Contribution to The Midnight Freemasons!

I was given the distinct honor this weekend to be a Guest Contributor to The Midnight Freemasons blog. My faith, much like Masonry, is a very important part of my life. Anti-Masonry is also a primary research interest. This article, which outlines my assessment of Christianity and Freemasonry, attempts to distill the arguments I’ve heard from religious anti-Masons into three broad trends. Take a look, and let me know what you think!

JR

http://www.midnightfreemasons.org/2014/07/religious-opposition-to-freemasonry.html

Lodges Are as Varied as the Men Who Comprise Them: Choose the One That’s Right For You!

I talk about my mother lodge, Acacia Lodge No. 16, quite a bit on the show The Masonic Roundtable. This isn’t by accident. It’s simply due to the fact that I absolutely love my mother lodge and its brethren.

One of the most common questions I get from gentlemen who are looking to get involved in Freemasonry is “what lodge should I petition?” My answer has always been, and will likely always be, “the one at which you feel at home.” Of course, I have the luxury of residing in a densely populated area (Masonically) with at least five lodges situated within 15 minutes of my house. Men aspiring to be Masons in areas much less densely populated may have to weigh lodge atmosphere with their commute. In Masonry, a “lodge” is not actually the building. Instead, it’s a group of Masons who, by means of a charter from their specific governing body, are entitled to meet at a given location. So naturally, each lodge has a different atmosphere. In fact, lodges are as varied as the individual men who comprise them, and lodge atmospheres could (and do) change as old members pass on and new members enter into them. This puts the burden on the individual seeker to visit a number of lodges and make his own choice about which one fits him best.

In my case, however, I could say that my lodge actually chose for me. When I was doing my initial research into Freemasonry and deciding whether or not it was an organization of which I wanted to be a part (Spoiler: it was.), my mentor Bro. David Hill, an Acacia Past Master, gave me a petition with “Acacia 16” already filled in. Ultimately, I didn’t end up performing the due diligence I recommend to those seeking to enter the fraternity, but luckily, I couldn’t have ended up in a better place. I came into this fraternity looking for friendship and community, and Acacia’s “country lodge” atmosphere was perfect. The building itself is a historic landmark dating back to the 1870’s, and despite a natural disaster and subsequent renovation (lasting from approximately 2006-2010), the building has retained a great deal of that country charm. The brethren there are warm and overflowing with generosity, and the dress code for lodge is a bit more casual than I’ve seen in other lodges (khakis and a blazer, but no tie necessary). It’s been the perfect home for me for the past three years.

If you’re interested in joining the fraternity, I HIGHLY recommend you visit a bunch of different lodges and decide for yourself which one is right for you. Visiting a lodge is as easy as figuring out who the Secretary happens to be and sending him an e-mail. Most lodges appreciate a little bit of forewarning so that they can have someone available to introduce you to the brethren and show you around before dinner.

For those of you (brethren and non-brethren alike) who haven’t paid Acacia a visit in Clifton, VA, I HIGHLY recommend it. Let me know if you’re interested in showing up, and I’d be glad to give you a tour.

JR

My EA Degree at Acacia Lodge No. 16

My EA Degree at Acacia Lodge No. 16

My MM Degree at Acacia Lodge No. 16

My MM Degree at Acacia Lodge No. 16

Jon, Jason, and Robert at Acacia Lodge No. 16

Jon, Jason, and Robert at Acacia Lodge No. 16

Brother Robert Johnson from the Masonic podcast "Whence Came You?" at Acacia Lodge No. 16.

Brother Robert Johnson from the Masonic podcast “Whence Came You?” at Acacia Lodge No. 16.

 

Freemasonry: As American As Apple Pie

Brethren,

Please forgive me for my absence from the blog–the past six weeks have been a bit insane. I’m now back on night shift at work so I have plenty of time during the day (when I should be sleeping) to ruminate on all things Masonic, and I predict the postings will come at a more regular basis over the next several weeks.

Given that we just passed Memorial Day, I’ve spent quite a bit of time recently thinking about the intersection between Freemasonry and the hallmarks of being a good American citizen [1] Our Masonic connection to our country runs much deeper our simple habit of saying the Pledge of Allegiance at the opening of lodge meetings. Instead, the very obligations, duties, and principles we so frequently inculcate to make ourselves better men automatically lend themselves toward making us better citizens!

It is necessary to first define “good citizenship,” as it pertains to this article. Merriam-Webster defines “citizen” as “a person who legally belongs to a country and has the rights and protection of that country.” [2] From this definition, we could surmise (for our purposes here, at least) that a “good citizen” is one such member of a country who, by his actions and outlook, actively makes an effort to earn those rights and protections offered to him by his country.

As Entered Apprentices, we learn to square our actions and circumscribe our passions. In order to be good citizens, we must restrain our passions and live a moral life. Reasonable discourse is seriously lacking in today’s political arena. Masonry supersedes party lines and political boundaries. Instead, as Masons, our willingness to view government policies objectively (seeing both the good and bad of a given piece of legislation) and engage in self-moderated discourse (outside of the lodge, of course) can serve to promote understanding and harmony at a grassroots level in a time of great political polarity, discontent, and uncertainty. Rectitude of life goes hand in hand with self-moderation. If we are to truly earn the freedoms we’ve been granted as American citizens, we have a responsibility to live moral lives. This morality should go above and beyond simple adherence to our laws. Instead, we have an obligation to actively strive to make our communities a better place for our fellow countrymen.

As Masons, we are taught to constantly seek more light, thus daily increasing in knowledge and virtue. It is imperative that good citizens be well-read and cognizant of the world around them. Part of earning the freedoms with which we’re entrusted as American citizens is making a conscious effort to understand those freedoms and how they differ and/or relate to those (or a lack thereof) offered by other countries around the world to their respective citizens.

The tie between Freemasonry and being a good citizen is so pronounced that Anderson devoted an entire section of his Constitutions of Masonry to that very relationship. According to Anderson, being a Mason is a direct antecedent to being a good citizen: “…[A Mason’s] obligations as a subject and citizen will not be relaxed, but enforced. He is to be a lover of quiet, peaceable and obedient to the civil powers, which yield him protection, and are set over him where he resides or works, so far as they infringe not the limited bounds of reason and religion. Nor can a real Craftsman ever be concerned in plots against the State, or be disrespectful to the magistracy; because the welfare of his country is his peculiar care.” [3] (emphasis mine)

In 1924, the Masonic Service Association of the United States published a series of short books into a collection called the “Little Masonic Library.” [4] One volume, entitled “Masonry and Americanism” sheds light on how Masonic principles can make our country a better place. 1924 was a difficult time for America. World War I had recently concluded, and despite the boom of the roaring twenties, America was still coming to grips with the tremendous loss of life incurred at the expense of the war. The political climate of the period in which this book was written, particularly regarding political discontent, parallels American society today a great deal. “Masonry and Americanism” contends that “Freemason has not one but many principles, which apply to the conditions America faces today. Those principles have heretofore been a passive force, and their influence has been felt in the world through the character of individual Masons. The challenge of the hour is that we make that force active…” [5] Our true challenge today as Masons and citizens, like back in 1924, is to  effect positive change of a wide scale. If we can band together as good men, Masons, and citizens, then perhaps we can illuminate the way for others and make this great country an even greater place for all who reside within its borders.

JR

[1] If you haven’t already done so, please pay a visit to The Midnight Freemasons for a fantastic article on Memorial Day from Bro Brian Schimian.

[2] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/citizen

[3] James Anderson’s “Constitutions of Masonry,” Section II.

[4] I’ve got about five of the 16 volumes that make up the MSA “Little Masonic Library.” I keep telling myself one day I’ll get them all!

[5] “Freemasonry and Americanism,” page 145.

The Masonic Roundtable: Episode 10 – Charity

Last night on The Masonic Roundtable, we discussed the topic of Masonic charity. One of the most frequent questions I get from non-masons is: “So what do you Masons actually do?” I usually respond with something to the effect of “charity and good works,” which then usually begs the followup question “like what?”

The problem I’ve always had with answering that particular question is that Masonic charity is as boundless and varied as the men who make up their respective lodges. Yes, there are a number of “institutionalized” charities at the Appendant Body (e.g. the Shriner’s Hospital for Children [1] or the Knights Templar Eye Foundation [2]) and Grand Lodge (e.g. the Masonic Home of Virginia [3]) level of Masonry, but by and large each individual Blue Lodge makes its own decisions on charitable giving.

Last night’s discussion really gets to the heart of why we, as Masons, take pride in giving back to the community. Take a look!

JR

[1] The Shriner’s Hospital for Children does incredible work. See http://www.shrinershospitalsforchildren.org for more information.

[2] http://www.knightstemplar.org/ktef/

[3] http://www.mahova.com

Dialing Back the Esoteric Elitism

BlueRedPillMasonry

This meme has recently been making its rounds on various social media platforms and reddit threads. Taken from the movie The Matrix, it insinuates that those who join Freemasonry purely for the fellowship, social intercourse, and camaraderie are somehow living in a dream world oblivious to the esoteric mysticism inherent in the organization.

My argument is thus: Viewing Masonry through a contextual framework (or lens) of sociology and the benefits it provides society as a fraternal organization is no less honorable—or scholarly—than viewing it through one of ancient mysticism which may, or may not, have been incorporated consciously into the organization during its foundational years.

I joined Masonry for the friendship. Plain and simple. I was at a point in my life where I desperately craved male companionship of similar caliber to those close, very best friends I made my first week of college. I’m very happy to report that I’ve been able to cultivate friendships on a similar qualitative level through this organization. Given my reasons for joining, I primarily view Masonry as an organization through the contextual framework (or lens) of sociology—it is a brotherhood that applies moral lessons, as presented through various symbols and rites, as an enabling factor for the men therein to be a positive force for good in today’s world.

I have no problem with Masons who live for the esoterics. My personal opinion is that, although the learned men who formed the original tenets of the organization were no doubt versed in Renaissance enlightenment (or the precursor to it) that enacted a resurgence of interest in Hermetic mysticism (among other things), hindsight is 20/20. Yes, of course it’s neat that this particular symbol which has significance to the Masonic fraternity was found on the ruins in [your ancient civilization here]. But remember, Masons have a sordid love affair with symbolism (rivaled only by their love affair with lapel pins). One could practically pull a symbol out of a hat at random, and a Masonic connection could likely be drawn almost immediately.

My passion for Masonic scholarship lay much more along the lines of contemporary sociology. I’m fascinated by the social implications of the fraternity as a living, breathing, evolving organism. The needs and benefits of it have changed substantially since the post-WWI/WWII era membership boom. It now competes with a myriad of other social and fraternal societies that weren’t around even 50 years ago. How then does it stay relevant? What conclusions can be drawn from the difference between how it attracts men in 2014 vice how it did in 1930? What good does it bring society today, and how is that different from the good it brought society 50 years ago? These are the questions I deem more deserving of my personal time and attention, and it is my prerogative to do so.

This article is not an attempt to marginalize the merits of exploring the Masonic connection to ancient mysticism. Rather, the entire point of the fraternity is to increase in knowledge and virtue (keep seeking more light!), regardless of whether you view that “light” through the contextual framework of anthropology (moral lessons that make men better), religion and mysticism (symbols galore), or sociology (what benefit does Masonry bring society?). That said, the elitism recently intimated by a number of Masons obsessed with esoterics does little to foster constructive discourse necessary for Masonic scholarship to flourish.

JR

Background Checks for Petitioners

From Chris Hodapp’s blog “Freemasons for Dummies” (http://freemasonsfordummies.blogspot.com/2014/03/gl-of-kansas-adopts-background-checks.html):

“Michael Halleran, the new Grand Master of Kansas, reports that Kansas adopted a new resolution calling for mandatory background checks of new members at its annual meeting on March 21st. This is after two years of the program being done by edict. The previous two years showed that the program did not scare off potential members or affect membership in any way. This is a welcome change and one that should be adopted nationwide.”

It is difficult for me to agree more with Bro. Hodapp’s sentiments. If we, as Masons, are truly passionate about maintaining our status as an organization of good men who attempt to make good men better, then I see very little harm in adding an extra layer of character verification to the process. As it stands in Virginia, the onus is on the petitioner to self-report any previous convictions or troubles with the law. Granted, Masonic lodges DO investigate every candidate by committee, but it is still the petitioner’s prerogative to report any wrongdoings. And while the petitioner has to be recommended by two brethren in good standing, it’s still possible that he could conceal/omit any past misdeeds from those brethren.

I understand that making background checks mandatory would incur extra costs. In Virginia, a State Police criminal background check will run between $15 – $20 (depending on the type and scope). That said, this added cost could easily be integrated into the petition fee, and would only end up costing lodges money should the petitioner be rejected and the fee returned (unless the lodge in question marked that portion of the petition fee as non-refundable). Costs would likely be incurred at the Grand Lodge level as well as the data from these background checks would have to be stored and treated confidentially. But I sincerely feel as if those costs would be minimal compared with the added protection afforded by the implementation of background checks.

Masonry is an organization that makes good men better. But not every person who wants to be a Mason is a good man. Black balls and self-reporting only go so far in guarding the West Gate. We owe it to ourselves and the future of our fraternity to “trust, but verify” all new candidates.

JR