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Mason-Ink Displays

October 31, 2008 Leave a comment

Sometimes internet life takes the strangest turns. Despite the fact that I have written a number of essays on various topics of interest to the 23 regular readers who frequent this blog (none of them being from my own lodge, let alone from Connecticut), the single topic search that attracts the most visitors to this blog  – yes, even more than anything to do with religious Anti-Masons, Illuminati/NWO konspiracy theories, our Zeta-Reticulan overlords protectors, or even the Southington Apple Harvest Festival – is “Masonic Tattoo.”

I kid thee not.

About two and a half years ago, I ran across the Masonic Ink web site, and me being just childish enough to think the idea was cool, I wrote a small blog about it, called “Not your grandfather’s Square & Compasses.”  I followed that up a year later when I discovered that some of my brother Masons right here in Connecticut had some pretty cool skin art, not the least of them being the Grand Master himself; Most Worshipful Bill Greene, who graciously allowed me to feature it in the article.

Since then, my visits from web searches on some variation of “Masonic Tattoos” have steadily increased. More impressive, though, is the growth of the Masonic Ink website. Started as an offshoot of “The Master’s Jewel,” a site that sold Masonic jewelry, it had only a few dozen pics a couple of years ago; it now rocks the body mod world with almost 700 pictures in close to 200 galleries. More interesting, though, is that the variety of pictures show a lot of members who are anything but gray-haired, moss-backed, old turtles, testifying to the resurgence of Masonry among the younger crowd.

So naturally, I was pleased when the October issue of our own state publication, The Connecticut Freemason, featured a two-page, full-color spread about the body ink amongst our own brothers, accompanied by a several page article. I was also pleasantly surprised  to learn that several of our own not only wear the ink, but do the artwork: Chriss Finalis, Mark Roberts, and Michael Jay, all of whom have studios in different parts of the Nutmeg State.

Of course, they copped my shot of Grand Master Bill’s tattoo, but I guess it’s understandable, as most of the other Grand Line officers don’t have Masonic Ink. There are, however, several purple-aproned Masonically inked brothers. But you’ll have to read the article to discover who.

I could end this article right now, but that would be one-sided. Last year, I had an anonymous comment on my Grand Tattoo article that appeared to have been left by a brother Mason who objected to the idea of tattoos as intemperate and excessive. While I personally disagree, believing that – as expressed in our charges – it is the internal, and not the external qualifications of a man that is the most important, I can understand that some people grew up in an era which regarded such outward displays as unseemly. And that’s okay, we are a big fraternity, and there is room for disagreement.

Surprisingly, though, our state publication (which receives very little in the way of “Letters to the Editor”) has had some feedback to the effect that some members did not appreciate the featured tattoos, and especially not the full color front page picture. While I know this because I happen to be a member of the committee that publishes The Connecticut Freemason, I would have liked to have been able to discuss the issue with those who objected, if only to offer them equal time to present an opposing viewpoint.

Anyway, one would imagine that, having had a couple of years to think about it, I’d have my own tattoo now, perhaps even displayed in the October issue, right? Unfortunately, no. The truth is that while I’d really like one, I have not yet hit on a design that I think that I would be happy with when I’m, say, 80 years old.

Essentially, this is what has kept me from getting any tattoo; frankly, I’ve had a hard time imagining liking anything enough to want it for the next 20 or 30 years, especially not being able to get rid of the thing.

I have to stop writing now. My wife, who had been reading this over my shoulder, said that she needs to have a word with me. Something about being lucky if I live for the next 20 or 30 years. . .



Masonic Morality & Temperance

October 15, 2007 23 comments

Back in July of 2006 I wrote about a website with a collection of pictures of tattoos with a Masonic theme; generally some versions of the traditional Square & Compasses, but many we very elaborate examples of well-designed skin art. That site, Masonic Ink, now has dozens of pages of such artwork, and hundreds of pictures of various tattoos sent in by readers ranging from young, new Masons up to Grand Masters of the craft. In the last six or eight months it’s become one of the most popular pages on this blog, judging by the Google and other search engine hits. Obviously, the desire to display one’s Masonic affiliation has, for many of us, gone far beyond deciding what kind of ring or pin to buy.

That is why I was surprised and admittedly, a little irritated to read this recent anonymous comment on that post:

An “oxymoron” is a thing which is characterized by inherently incongruous or contradictory elements. For instance, a “smart fool,” a “salty candy,” a “soggy desert,” etc.

A Masonic tattoo is what many would consider an oxymoron because the wearer has chosen to do something that demonstrates a certain lack of the kind of prudence, restraint, moderation and temperance that is taught in Masonic degrees.

Of the three great duties that you, as a Mason, are taught to inculcate, the third charges you to avoid “all irregularity and intemperance, which may … debase the dignity of your profession.” We are assured that “a zealous attachment to these duties will insure public and private esteem.”

But, a Masonic tattoo says to the casual observer, “I’m enthusiastic about being a Mason, even to the point that I am willing to do something incredibly tasteless and intemperate to display my membership, therefore also demonstrating that I have learned nothing of Masonry’s lessons.”

Other examples of this kind of misplaced enthusiasm would include a minister who is so enthusiastic about being a minister that he would would wear his collar anywhere he went, including wearing it into a house of ill repute; or an Eagle Scout who is so proud of being an Eagle Scout that he wears his uniform all the time, even when he is doing something that he should not.

Would you want to be a member of a fraternity whose members do not frown upon, say, eyebrow rings with the fraternity logo? I wouldn’t.

Wow.

I have to admit that my first thought after reading this was “Who died and left you in charge of what is acceptable and tasteful around here?” After a few moments, however, I managed to subdue my passions and read it again. What struck me was how this person – who I’m assuming is a brother – ascribed a “wrongness” to tattooing, without explaining his reasoning behind it. The central theme of his opinion, that a tattoo is “incredibly tasteless” and proves that one has learned “nothing of Masonry’s lessons,” is, I’m sure, based upon some kind of previously held perspective on morality; and truth be told, most of us have some kinds of prejudices and biases based on nothing more than our constant exposure to stereotypical attitudes in our local culture. Further thinking on this led me to wonder what it is about tattooing and other body modification that – supposedly – belies one’s Masonic prudence.

Indeed, it made me wonder about the entire concept of Masonic morality. After all, we purport to teach moral lessons through metaphor, allegory, and symbolism. But what, exactly, is the basis of that morality? And what, exactly, are those ethical principles? And how do we manage to go from general principles of morality to those things that belong within the realm of the individual – tattoos, clothing, piercings, hair length?

In the US, the charge to a Fellowcraft – the second degree of Masonry – one learns that it is “the internal, and not the external qualifications of a man that Masonry regards.” One can’t get much more “external” than a tattoo or an eyebrow piercing. Indeed, I’m reminded of one of those old Carl Claudy-esque tales in which a young, long-haired, scruffily dressed Mason shows up at a crowded lodge meeting, and finding no seat sits on the floor. An older, respected Past Master sees this and walks (slowly, because of of his age, of course) down the aisle. Everybody in the room expects that the PM is going to give the scruffy youngster a stern talking-to, but they are surprised when he – carefully – sits down on the floor next to the young man and introduces himself, and welcomes him to the lodge. Apocryphal as this story most likely is, it demonstrates that some of our members actually do that that part of the charge to heart. Masonry has everything to do with being a good man and true, and little or nothing to do with what amount to individual preferences or tastes.

Coincidentally, there is a recent post over at Beacon of Masonic Light about homosexual lodge members, and personally I’m astounded that this topic even warrants any discussion. Again, as with tattoos or piercings or hair length, where in any of our obligations, allegories or any other part of our teachings does a person’s sexuality have any bearing on their being good, honest, and upright men? Judging from the comments left there, however, it apparently does make a difference to some members. Bro. Dunn’s excellent response to a comment sums up my own perspective on Masonic morality rather succinctly:

Its not about me changing them, its about ME changing ME.

We need to keep this in mind in lodge. Morality is not about what people do with consenting adults in private, its what we do to and for society that shows our morality.

Indeed. Those of us with ashlars needing to be perfected would do well to remember this.

Most Worshipful Grand Tatt

September 6, 2007 1 comment

Time: Wednesday evening
Place: Deep in the Masonic Headquarters (in the room with the comfy chairs)
Purpose: District Grand Lecturer’s Meeting
Agenda:

- Give reports on ritual proficiency in the districts: Check
- Discuss Grand Lodge job description for District Grand Lecturer: Check
- Discuss plans for upcoming seminars: Check
- Discuss ideas for future certifications: Check
- Use phone cam to blog a picture of the Grand Master’s new Masonic Tattoo: Che… wait… what?!


Over a year ago I blogged about Masonic Ink, a website that had pictures of some very cool tattoos. That post continues to get weekly hits as people search for “Masonic Tattoos” and related terms, and when I last checked, the number of pictures had increased almost tenfold since that time. I had been half-convinced to get one of my own, but was held up partly by not knowing what I’d like, and partly by thinking that maybe I was too old for that sort of thing.

Hah!

So, we’re all sitting around after the end of the meeting, having in turn complained about the state of ritual and declaring how it should be fixed, and catching up on what’s happening in the other districts. A few people wave their goodbyes and wander out. I get into a conversation with my counterpart in the western side of the state, when I look up and see the Grand Master showing off his arm. We wander over to see what it is, because you know how these older guys are – maybe it’s a bee sting or a new watch or something, right?

I did a double-take. I have to admit that I was impressed; Most Worshipful Bill Greene had one of the nicest- not to mention largest – Masonic tattoos that I’d ever seen in person. We oohed and aahed while he told us that he originally was unsure of what he would put in the center. If he didn’t get to be Grand Master he would have simply put a “G”, but last year when it seemed inevitable, he went all the way.

Thinking quickly, I grabbed my phone and asked if he’d mind if I blogged it. Since “shy” and “retiring” are two adjectives that are rarely used with MW Bill, he proudly held out his arm. The little camera on my phone really doesn’t do it justice, but it’s still impressive.

Another Lecturer noticed me taking the shot, and asked if I wanted another for the collection. My counterpart in the 4th District – the largest in the state – rolled down his sock to display yet another excellent piece of work.

I stopped by Friendship Lodge on the way home, since it was a regular meeting night. I’d missed the meeting, but knew that most of the guys would be hanging out having drinks and relaxing and solving the other problems of the planet. I showed them the pics on my phone, and MW Bill’s popularity – already good – shot up another ten points. Two or three other officers are now thinking about getting their own tattoos, and I suspect that they may well end up dragging me along.

Looks like I’d better start shopping for an artist.

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