Archive for the ‘degree’ Category

Masons reveal Zombie Preparedness Plan

April 1, 2010 4 comments

Okay, the post title is a bit sensationalized, but we finally have proof of our theory that high-ranking Masons really have codified the methods that they have used since the Middle Ages  for killing revenants (i.e., zombies and vampires) in their secret rituals. What we have discovered is not so much a preparedness plan as a procedure manual that describes the methodology.

I’d like to say that I hacked the secret files to the Grand Lodge of Connecticut, because it sounds so dramatic, but the truth is more mundane. When I was down at the offices recently, one of the admins had left his PC on, and I noticed the passwords on a sticky note at the top of his monitor. When he stepped out for coffee, I just copied them down. Yeah, so not Kim Possible, but it worked. When I got home, I fired up my laptop and started browsing the folders. I skipped over the usual stuff on the Kennedys, the NASA/Zeta-Reticuli connection, public water flouridation, and found it hiding at the very end under Zombies.

Here is a link to a PDF file right on the Grand Lodge site that describes the ancient Masonic zombie-killing techniques.
EDIT: The higher-ups at the Grand Lodge have taken down the link, but I saved a copy which I’ve uploaded to my Google Docs. You can see or download it here: Zombie Expulsion.


The secret lesson of Hiram and the Ruffians

Freemasons & Zombies: The Conspiracy

Freemasons reveal zombie preparedness plan

For those of you who are reading this on your phones and can’t open the PDF file, I’m reprinting the text below.

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The secret lesson of Hiram and the Ruffians

March 19, 2010 6 comments


One of the great things about the internet is how people with seemingly nothing in common can exchange ideas without ever actually meeting in person. Such is the case when I recently began exchanging emails with an amateur historian, an epidemiologist, and a professor of sociology. At first, it seemed that our only common bond was that we all share an interest in Freemasonry; however over time it developed that we all had some questions about our gentle Craft that have never been satisfactorily answered. As we began discussing the dilemma, we also found that we were able to integrate our various fields of knowledge in order to work through the problem. In doing so, we believe that we have managed to solve one of the most puzzling  issues in the early history of the fraternity.

We now have some serious evidence pointing to the origins of what is commonly known as The Hiramic Legend in the Master Mason degree.

Some brief background: Early Freemasonry had only two degrees, the Entered Apprentice, and Fellowcraft (i.e., Fellow of the Craft). This situation was extant before the 1717 formation of the Grand Lodge of England, and continued for some years afterward. Yet, sometime in the mid-1700s, records show that various lodges seemed to have begun performing some variation of this legend. The origins of the drama are unknown, but is often attributed to being some kind of morality play. The drawback of this theory is that the legend draws on the Biblical story of Hiram Abiff; in the Old Testament, Hiram is a relatively minor character. More confusing is the rather obvious paradox in which the Masonic legend deviates so drastically from the actual Old Testament story: in the OT, Hiram Abiff comes to help King Solomon build his famed Temple, and when finished, goes home to his family with some considerable payment. In the Masonic drama, however, Hiram is shown to be struck down before the completion of the Temple by three Fellowcrafts, who then attempt to hide his body in a makeshift grave out in the dessert. This is the most extreme departure from Biblical scripture recorded in any of the dozens of Masonic ceremonies, and it stands to reason that there is a purpose for this. By taking what we know about Masonic history from that era, and placing it within the context of the social and cultural aspects of the time,  we believe that we have discovered that purpose.

To understand the social context, we need to consider that the early 1700s was the beginning of the Industrial Revolution; prior to this period, most people lived an agrarian-based lifestyle. However, as more factories were built in and around the cities, larger populations were drawn into the urban areas, and by the mid-1700s, larger numbers of people left the farming communities to see work in the factories. Not surprisingly, the population explosion led to issues of public hygiene: the spread of disease, the disposal of wastes, and the proper internment of the growing number of the deceased.

Although we can trace Freemasonry back to the late 1400s and early 1500s, it wasn’t until the early to mid 1700s that we see the rise of organized networks of Masons, via the formation of Grand Lodges. There are no records as to why several London lodges decided to formalize their arrangement, but it wasn’t long before other lodges joined the network — and it was a network, as the lodges we more able to freely exchange information, including the variations of their rituals and ceremonies. It is significant to note that during this period, There were still only the two degrees in Masonry;  “Master” Masons were those who were literally Masters of their lodges. Likewise, the degree ceremonies were relatively simple and the basic ceremonies were essentially the same in each lodge, although many lodges had their own particular set of “lectures” for the candidates.

At some point in the early to mid 1700s, we see records of lodges adding a type of morality play to the degree ceremonies. The main character varies in some of the earliest versions, but by the third quarter of the 1700s, that character was solidified as Hiram Abiff, and the stories became more consistent. Interestingly, they all contain similar elements: A character is beset by three assailants, and is then murdered; each assailant using a different weapon and attacking a different part of the character’s body. In many variations, the Hiramic legend specifies that Hiram is struck across the throat, in the chest, and in the head. The assailants (often referred to as the “Ruffians” in North America) strike with tools commonly associated with Masons: A square, a rule  (sometimes called the 24 inch gauge), and a mallet or setting maul.

While Masons often assume that the assailants use those particular tools as a way to tie in to the tradition working tools in the various degrees, as we unearthed more information about the underlying social context, it became obvious that this line of reasoning has it backwards; that is, the legend itself is an instructional play that uses these tools as a way to reinforce knowledge to which only a few were at one time privy.  And while we can not yet account for the reasoning behind using the character Hiram Abiff (except that he is a relatively minor character in the OT, and the change of storyline would be easily forgotten), we believe that the traditional lessons taught by this drama — about his integrity and bravery in the face of death — intentionally overshadow the real lessons that needed to be passed down to the new generations of Masons living in the crowded cities and urban areas. In this light, it is the Ruffians themselves who are the teachers and exemplars.

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… gang aft awry

November 23, 2008 Leave a comment

Sometimes when you look at something on paper, you’re completely convinced that it’s going to be a disaster, but when you actually have the experience, it turns out to have gone rather well.

On Sunday night, WB Jim calls me up. “You know that Master Mason degree that we’re helping with over at Unity 148 on Tuesday? We’ve got a problem. I need you to be King Solomon.”

Oh man. I’ve got less than 48 hours to prepare, and I’ve got a pretty heavy workload for the next couple of days, plus a visitation the night before. Was I supposed to study in my sleep? Ah, but such is the life in any Masonic lodge, and we are always prepared for these small incidents when real life interferes with what we would like to do, right?

Over the next two days, it got even better. There’s no rehearsal, and we need a Senior Warden, too. Oh, and we can’t get together all of the Craftsmen that we need. And, uh, several of the candidates aren’t going to make it.

Man, could it get any worse?

By the time Tuesday night came around, I learned even more. I was expected to serve as Worshipful Master from after refreshment, through the drama, and then into the closing. This was a Past Master’s night, and some of the PMs hadn’t been to lodge in over 10 years. And in addition to the lodge we were helping, we had brothers from three or four other lodges filling in – all of which had their own little customs and ways of doing things, and we had about 15 minutes to get ourselves ironed out.

Yeah, that’s what I thought, too, at first.

Fortunately, the Craftsmen – what few we had – were headed up by WB Frank of Frederick-Franklin 14, arguably one of the best ritual lodges in the area. WB Frank and I took a few minutes to go over some details, and since we’d worked together in the past, it was just a matter of communication. The SW, Bro. Doug, came from Silas Deane 147, and we only needed a few minutes to fill him in. I had thought that the SD was to be WB Jim from my own lodge, for part of the degree, but ended up being RW Gary, Grand SD and GL officer in this district, who seemed rather unfazed by the confusion in the temple.

The lodge opened, and it was interesting to see the older Past Masters of this lodge in action. If this were a Carl Claudy story, I’d be mentioning how they took over the room and how things moved along flawlessly, and how impressive it was to watch Past Masters at work. However, anybody who has read this blog knows that I’m only mentioned in the same sentence as Claudy when at least one of the other expressions in that sentence is “in contrast to.” There were some stumbles and memory lapses, to be sure, and I think that some of that could have been prevented by a rehearsal. But after a few minutes to warm up, most of the PMs managed to get into gear, and the degree moved along well- all the more impressive knowing that some of these men had not done this in years.

Before long, it was time for refreshment and the Hiramic drama.

Personally, I really hate not being well rehearsed and well prepared for degree work. Part of is it a desire to make a good impression on the candidates, and part of it (perhaps the bigger part, if I’m being honest with myself) is simply pride and ego. So I have to admit that when I assumed the East that night, I did get a bit flustered, and it took me a few minutes to find my center. But at some point it came to me; I lost my earlier feelings of annoyance and frustration, and WB Frank and I simply followed each other’s cues. The next thing I knew, I was at the gravesite and the degree was almost over. Too soon, too soon!

One more surprise, though was being able to hear the ritual style of somebody I’d looked up to for the last several years. RW Carl, the Chaplain for Unity, when he wasn’t reminding me about my hat, proved to have a melodious speaking voice, and an incomparable memory. It’s funny; I’ve known Carl for about five years on several committees, but never sat in lodge with him until this year, and have never heard him really have any speaking parts until the other night. I really enjoyed listening to him. Also enjoyable was watching WB Harry, the outgoing Master of Unity, perform a lecture that is normally done by the newer members. I’m sure that both he and Carl will make fine Stewards one of these days.

While I would never advocate “winging it” as a ritual style, sometimes it can’t be helped. Afterward, scarfing cookies in the kitchen while trying to decompress, we decided that it had actually been a pretty good degree after all, and we were all just a little bit proud of ourselves for having done a great job.

Beyond the Valley of When Bloggers Collide

October 16, 2008 Leave a comment

Nothing much to report, except that last night Friendship had a Moving Party Move Up Night in which Bro. Eric assumed the Oriental Chair. Eric has taken on more responsibilities over the last year, and it’s going to be a pleasure watching him as Master.

As expected in Friendship, all of the officers did a great job in their parts. I’m always proud to see our newest members step up to take smaller parts, and last night, I noticed that everyone who did so made the effort to put some animation and – dare I say it? – enthusiasm into their various parts.

We split up the Middle Chamber (aka: the Staircase) lecture, with four brothers stepping in to assist the JD. We’ve done this before at Friendship, and personally, I prefer this. In the US, it’s common for some lodges to put a large burden on a junior officer to memorize this one, 30 minute long lecture filled with arcane usage and words known only to sesquipedalians. The problem that I frequently see is that the poor guy is so focused on the memorization that most of the time the lecture ends up being monotonous. And while old-timers might see one’s ability to memorize 20 pages as a pre-requisite for serving as Master of a lodge, I can think of at least a few other skills that would be more useful.

From Visiting Bros

And it was nice to see one of our old friends who made an hour-long trip to support Bro. Eric, even though he had to be wheeled in on a hand truck.

The Show

June 21, 2008 Leave a comment

Rick: Excuse me Doug E Fresh…
Doug: Yes?
R: Have you ever seen a show with fellas on the mic
with one minute rhymes that don’t come out right?
They bite.
D: They never write.
R: That’s not polite!
Am I lyin’?
D: No, you’re quite right.
R: Well, tonight on this very mic you’re about to hear
Both: We swear, the best darn rappers of the year.
R: So!
D: So!
R: Cheerio!
D: Yell –
R: Scream –
D: Bravo!
B: Also, if you didn’t know,
this is called ‘The Show.’

Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick, The Show

So, I just finished rambling on about how I thought that long degrees with lots of information and lectures were a good thing, both for the candidates and for the brothers attending lodge. For the candidates, it’s an immersion experience; they are – or should be – awed by the amount of information in the initiatory experience, and although they can’t possibly absorb everything, it should at the very least present them with an overview of the teachings of the Craft. And for the older brothers, seeing good ritual work done allows them to gain new perspectives as their own life changes coincide with the various moral teachings available in the various lectures.

I’ve been to degree ceremonies that have gone on until very late in the evening, usually because of extended dramas or lectures that one doesn’t normally get to see in a typical Connecticut lodge. Sometimes the ceremonies go so well that few brothers leave early; nights like that point out that good ritual ceremonies really do have value for everyone, not just the candidates.

Sometimes, however, I find myself at degree ceremonies that last until very late – but not because of the rituals or lectures. Rather, it seems to be a factor of people wanting to make a large production out of the evening, for what are probably the right reasons – but perhaps missing the point in the execution. For degree work, certain situations just seem to cry out for something special: A good friend, a son, a grandson, a favorite nephew, even (as I’ve seen) a father of a member – especially if that member is the Master – are circumstances that anyone would want to make especially memorable.

But. . .  isn’t being initiated or raised not memorable enough?

I’ve been to several degree ceremonies – and they are always the EA or the MM degree – at which there have been several Grand Lodge line officers, Past Grand Masters, several District Deputies, and a number of representatives from the appendant bodies. It’s very nice to see such a show of support, and admittedly I was impressed the first few times I’d seen a wide array of Grand Lodge representatives at a degree. But now I’m beginning to wonder what the lodge has in mind when the officers plan on this type of arrangement. I mean, do any of them realize how long it takes to get 7 or more purple aprons out of the room, properly lined up, escorted back into the room, and then formally introduced?

Never mind, that was a rhetorical question.

There really isn’t any answer because the more purple aprons there are, the longer it takes to line them up by year, get their names, line them up again by rank, add a couple of names for the guys still sitting in the lodge room, line them up again according to the latest protocol, get the names of the late arrivals, pass the names to the Marshal who has now despaired of matching the names to the correct titles, have them walk back into the room in only the vaguest semblance of order, and then read the hastily scrawled names off of the 3 x 5 index card, after which they will be escorted to the Master’s station to shake hands and to be offered a hard, uncomfortable seat in front of the lodge, instead of one of the nice, comfy seats on the sidelines.

The candidates, of course, never get to see any of this. In fact, by the time the candidates actually get to meet the phalanx of officers, they are often too tired or overwhelmed to appreciate the trouble to which the lodge has gone, ostensibly on their behalf. They don’t know anything about officers or Grand Lodge officers or protocol until the end of the night, when the Master is compelled to call upon them, the Grand Lodge officers, for closing remarks.

And does anyone realize how long it takes to get 7 or more purple apron types to get through their closing remarks?

Never mind, that was another rhetorical question.

The real point that I’m trying to make is that we, that is, the more experienced Masters, sometimes forget that the initiatory experience is already overwhelming; too often our inviting large numbers of Masonic VIPs who have no connection to the candidates turns what should be a moving and solemn experience into a spectacle. I once overheard an older member at another lodge tell a couple of newly raised MMs how lucky they were to have been part of what he termed “an historic occasion” at their lodge. After he walked away, the new MMs turned to each other and shrugged. “Whatever,” they seemed to say; not, I’m sure, because they didn’t care, but because they had no context, no frame of reference by which to understand the circumstance of having 2 PGMs, four District officers, and half a dozen poobahs from the local Scottish RIte Valley.

If you are one of those people of the cynical persuasion, you’d begin to think that the reason that lodges have these kinds of  spectacles events is to give a big ego boost to the WM. I’m going to stop short of that assumption and instead, charitably suggest that Masters are not thinking in terms of the candidates themselves. Rather, they are thinking in terms of making the degree ceremony an experience interesting enough to draw out the brothers who might otherwise stay home.

And this reasoning I can understand; part of our job success as Master of a lodge is to get the brothers to participate, or at least, to show up. But there are other ways to get them interested:Have a special dinner, say, a cookout or a surf & turf or some other theme night. Have a few visiting brothers do one of the lectures. Have the degree in costume. There are dozens of ways to make a degree night interesting for everyone that would not make it overwhelming for the candidates – or for the 80+ year old members who have to drive home.

Getting back to my original point, I sometimes wonder if having good, well-performed ritual work wouldn’t be enough of an incentive to attract the brothers who are the fence-sitters, the people who might come if only they thought it would be worth spending a few hours down at the old lodge. By “good,” I mean officers who actually study and rehearse their parts, and who have learned to put some feeling and character into their ritual work, and who can make the quality of the work itself the spectacle, rather than the quantity of the visitors.

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Past Master’s MM Degree – 2008

June 4, 2008 Leave a comment

Every year, the next-to-junior Past Master of Friendship Lodge gets the the unenviable task of gathering together a large group of his predecessors for the purpose of putting on a Master Mason degree. We typically hold two sets of degrees, one in early spring and one in the fall, and the Past Master’s degree is performed at the Master’s discretion. Some choose to do it early to give them more time to study for their own degree.

If you’re having deja vu, it’s because I first wrote that two years ago, and again last year. This is obviously a sign that I’ve been blogging too long.

Last year, we did this degree in the Fall. This year, we did it in the spring because the WM has slacked off needs more time to prepare before he can do it well. I understand; the MM degree is long, and Friendship Lodge adds another dramatic section to the Connecticut version of the Hiramic Legend, which adds to the memory work. In our state, some lodges choose to add sections to the degree that give more background, which helps the candidates to better appreciate the lessons of the story. A number of them add the same section that we do, and one of my lodges, Frederick-Franklin 14, adds yet another section which serves to give even more insight into the character of Hiram Abiff.

Anyone who has run an event comprised of all Past Masters can well understand the metaphor “like herding cats.” Some check their email daily, some weekly, some never. Some were going to be gone for the scheduled week, probably because it was close to the Memorial Day holiday. Some wanted minor parts, some weren’t going to make it for dinner, some wanted parts, but weren’t sure if they were going to be there at all.

Of course, it didn’t help matters when, not for the first time, I scheduled a rehearsal on Mother’s Day.

Lucky for me, I had just done this degree at my other lodge, so unlike last year, it was still fresh in my memory. One of my occupational hazards is that I’m often seeing, coaching, or participating in different degrees each week, and sometimes one degree will get stuck in my head and remain there for a couple of days. This becomes a problem when in the middle of a lecture or charge, I suddenly blank out and forget which degree I’m on. Fortunately, it wasn’t a problem for me this year, and I somehow managed to get through the degree without any mental infarctions.

The junior officers put on a huge meal: a very tasty surf & turf dinner that was heavy on the cholesterol, for which they made no apologies. It didn’t seem to faze the dinner guests, and when I walked in I saw wall-to-wall smiling faces. How we all managed to stay awake after such a lavish feast is beyond my ken.

I took the East for the first section of the degree, and WB Richie took the West. We traded seats for the dramatic portion, and at the end of the evening had raised three new Master Masons. Those of you who are reading this, hoping for one of my little humorous tales of something gone wrong, are going to be disappointed, I’m afraid. We had an excellent crew of Past Masters, and by all accounts the evening was a success.

It was, however, the first year that I actually felt like a Past Master, myself. Last year the whole PM thing was still new for me, and I was still getting the hang of being the District Grand Lecturer. This year, though, I had more of a sense of how removed I am from the Oriental Chair. I’m not sad or melancholy, quite the opposite: I’ve had a long time now to look back and to think about what I liked, and what I might have done differently. The weekly phone calls from the current Master Worshipful Jim serve to remind me that my opinion and advice are still valuable, and I have come to appreciate that.

Past Masters need not devolve into moss-backed old turtles once they leave the chair.

Revenge of When Bloggers Collide

May 2, 2008 Leave a comment

“[. . .] whereby Masonry becomes the Center of Union, and the means of conciliating true Friendship among Persons, that must have remained at a perpetual distance.”

There is supposedly an old Chinese saying (are there ever any new Chinese sayings?) that runs something like: “If you save somebody’s life, you are responsible for them forever.” I left my friend 3M of Northeastern Corner in the fraternal care of Bros. Eric, Kevin and Kyle some concerned brothers of Friendship Lodge who wish to remain anonymous, on the night before the Grand Lodge Annual Communication. While his life was not in danger, his reputation certainly skated on some thin ice as a result of several incidents involving car batteries, kitchen utensils, a visiting dwarf-tossing team, and a large luggage rack. I was informed of this the next morning by Bro. Kyle, who, with the aid of a cattle prod and the aforementioned luggage cart, was able to minister to the needs of our brother who was led astray. For valor above and beyond all reasonable expectations, not to mention courage in the face of violations of several safety reglations, Bro. Kyle not only wins the Mason of the Month award, but now would seem to be responsible for 3M’s reputation for quite some time to come.

Proving that he did not learn to leave well enough alone, 3M invited us halfway across the state, down to St. John’s No. 6 in New Jersey Norwalk on Thursday, May 1st, where he would be sitting in the East for the first time to confer an EA degree. So, Thursday night saw Bros. Kyle, Eric and Kevin the anonymous brothers barreling down the Merritt Parkway in their officer’s tuxedos, as Kevin and Kyle had offered to sit in as Stewards. Yours truly followed up about 20 minutes later, having come right from work. The photo of 3M and I shows that while I was smart enough to remember to bring my tuxedo with me, I had forgotten the black bow tie, so I wore a festive blue one that I’d had in my pocket. I had also forgotten my apron case, which my traveling brothers graciously picked up for me.

Worshipful Du Jour

More embarrassingly, though, was that I had forgotten to bring a white shirt. I probably could have gotten away with wearing the grey work shirt if I’d remembered the black bow tie. Fortunately, it’s not as if I have an important position where people would notice that kind of thing about me.

3M assumed the East with only a few minor newbie fluffs, and my counterpart in District 1, VW Bro. Lem and I commented several times on how well he was doing. Most of the other chairs were filled by PMs of St. John’s, and the several younger officers that filled in the Junior officers chairs did admirable work. They initiated three candidates, all younger men (which, from my perspective, is anyone under 45). 3M graciously allowed Bro. Kyle to deliver the long-form apron presentation lecture, and Bros. Eric and Kevin to perform the first section lecture in the Friendship Lodge “walk around” style. Afterwards, we were treated to a rarely seen second section lecture by WB Paul Chapin from Federal 17. I was able to sit on the sidelines and simply observe, which is a rare occurrence for me lately. It also assured 3M that I would not spoil his EA degree by accidentally delivering something from an MM or FC degree.

Owing to the long drive ahead, we didn’t hang around long after the meeting . . . much. A few cold refreshments and cigars did manage to make the rounds, though, and a few of us had a great time ribbing – and congratulating – 3M as we developed an impromptu tailgate party.

More to the point, though, is this: A month ago, except for me, nobody in Friendship Lodge knew 3M. A month later, he now has several friends and acquaintances – some of whom were willing to give up a night in which they could have been doing almost anything else, to drive halfway across the state just to cheer him on. As I walked to my car, I watched half a dozen younger officers and new Masons chatting away, trading stories and jokes, and making promises to get together again soon.

And that is one of the beautiful things about our fraternity: the ability to remove that “perpetual distance” which separates men.

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