This being St. John’s Day, I thought it appropriate to mention a few things.
First, this is typically the time that lodges in the Northeast US “go dark” for the summer. Now, there’s some disagreement on whether the expression “to go dark” should be used in this case, since the lodges will reopen for business in a few months. Some old-timers associate the expression to mean that a lodge turns in their charter and closes for good. If the lodge still has a charter and officers, then there’s some “light” available, and the lodge can not be totally dark. That said, I’ve noticed that the expression is so widely used, that even if it may be wrong, it’s not going to make a difference because everybody will be using it anyhow. You know, similar to the expression “I could care less;” it’s obviously wrong, but the usage is so widespread that nobody even thinks about it anymore.
Irregardless*, many of my friends in other parts of the US and UK have asked why we close at all during the summer. I’ve been told (although without any substantiating evidence) that it was the farmers needed the time off to tend their fields. Now, I grew up in rural parts of Connecticut, and while I claim no experience or expertise in this subject, I’m beginning to question if indeed, the farmers actually needed this time. As I drive past fields and pastures, I don’t see very much activity going on in July and August. In fact, the few local farm stores I pass are either closed or selling produce that obviously didn’t come from their fields. Do the crops need tending? Of course they do, but is there anything more labor intensive that happens during the hot months?For that matter, a quick perusal of the area Grange chapters seems to show that they are open during the summer. You’d think that if the professional farmers could manage to till the weeds (or whatever it is that they do) and get to a monthly Grange meeting, then the suburban Freemasons could manage a night off.
Hopefully some more agriculturally educated brothers can enlighten us.
It’s interesting to note that historians are also not in agreement on when the longer summer vacation for schoolchildren started. Again, while we are told that it was to help with the farming, historians of the Colonial period in the US tell us otherwise.
My own theory on this is that most lodges in the Northeast US were formed after the Industrial Revolution, and in the days before air conditioning and wine coolers, most of the members simply didn’t want to bother scheduling meetings when the children were out of school. Family trips, beach days, and other vacation days simply made it too difficult to get all of the members at a meeting; better to just not have them for a couple of months, and pick things up in September.
Something else of note is that this marks the week that The Tao of Masonry web log was first published in 2006. Initially started as a way to track events and keep people informed during my year as Master of Friendship Lodge No. 33, I turned it into a public
sideshow for my ego collection of my thoughts on Freemasonry. The early to mid-2000s was probably the Golden Age of blogging, and I’ve listed several hundred blogs by Masons either on the blogroll or on my RSS feeds. While blogging is still a thing (as evidenced by the number of excellent bloggers listed on the Ashlars to Ashes aggregate), it’s also a little sad that most of those blogs from the early years have “gone dark” themselves. I think that the Dummy Chris Hodapp, and Millennial Nick Johnson may be the only other Golden Age bloggers still regularly writing.
Since it’s my 10th bloggiversary year, I’m including some links to a couple of old posts from that time. And enjoy your summer, whether it’s light or dark.
* Irregardless. It’s a perfectly cromulent word.
I started 2015 with every intention of getting at least one post a month up, and I actually did pretty well, only faltering in the last two months of the year. But I averaged more than one a month, so I’ll call that a win.
Last year was an interesting one for me. I completed my York Rite degrees, and even though I haven’t written much about them (okay, almost nothing, really), I can’t stress enough how they were worth waiting for, and that any Craft Masons who have an interest in the history or ritual of Freemasonry should definitely look to their local Chapter for the next leg of their journey.
Writing about that reminds me that I really haven’t been active in any of those bodies lately, owing in part to some work commitments, and to some more recent and unanticipated family commitments. I suspect that one of the reasons we see so many retired guys in the Craft, and more in the York Rite is because it’s difficult for younger guys to make the time to get involved in all the different aspects.
Freemasonry in Connecticut is beginning to settle down from the last few fractured years, after a major turnover in our Grand Line. The bigger lesson in all this has not gone unnoticed by Grand Lodges in other jurisdictions: progressive Grand Lines may be the easy way to go, but they are only as progressive as the will of the Craft allows.
We had some interesting things in Freemasonry, too, at least, in the online world. Facebook alone had several hundred conversations on which way you should wear your ring, and the topic shows no sign of slowing. Also popular on social media were discussions about Masonic bling, with the designs of our working tools becoming more stylized and less traditional looking — a trend that some people aren’t completely happy with.
And speaking of online Masonry, I’m glad to see that our Grand Lodge has thought to get a virtual lodge started; it won’t be the first, but hopefully this will be a trend that will become more common, and will be one more way for brothers to connect, who would otherwise have remained at a perpetual distance.
Many of the brothers in the online community — most of them tending to the younger side of our membership demographic — were disappointed by the actions of the Grand Lodges of both Tennessee and Georgia. Tennessee, which had on their books a prohibition against homosexuality, saw proceedings against a member — a Past Master with a good record — after he posted photographs of him and his (male) spouse after a wedding ceremony. Georgia, not to be outdone, saw the outgoing Grand Master send out an edict which made both homosexual activity and “fornication” offenses subject to Masonic discipline. The real outrage (again, online) happened after the Grand Lodge of Georgia had their annual communication and passed that edict into Masonic law.
The last year also saw some nice activity on some blogs and podcasts. Whence Came You, The Masonic Roundtable, and The After Lodge Podcast were particular standouts for group podcasting, and show no signs of slowing down. On the written side, I’m glad to see that The Millennial Freemason and The Midnight Freemason still turning out thoughtful pieces, and have been joined by a new Mason on the block, Fresh from the quarry.
Naturally, I have these and other fine resources listed at Ashlars to Ashes. Go visit some of them.
Before I wrap this up, I should note another new blog that appeared at the end of the year: The Past Bastard, an Onion-ish site for humorous pieces and satire. Well, I certainly hope they are satire, although after reviewing some of the activities of real Masons from the last few years, I’m beginning to think that the line is becoming very thin, indeed.
The Grand Lodge Annual Communication is coming up shortly — a little late this year, and hopefully not as contentious as the Semi-Annual session back in October. I expect to be attending the parties and gatherings the previous night, and I’m hoping that I can get enough time from work to attend to actual meeting the next day.
One of the items that has been overlooked in last year has been the quiet success of the first internet-only lodge in Connecticut, and quite possibly in the entire US. Similar to Castle Island Virtual Lodge, our new lodge has no physical presence, which means that it embodies one of the other connotations of the word “lodge:” not the building, but the membership.
While you might think that the lack of need for a building would make it pretty easy to set up an internet lodge, it has, in fact, taken well over a year of planning, researching, and developing by a small group of some of the more progressive members of our fraternity. One of the issues was finding a secure network platform that would allow more than two dozen visitors. While several of the Grand Lodge committees meet online, they usually do so via Google Hangouts, which is limited in the number of video connections.
The most difficult part of the process was not the website, but convincing other Freemasons that not only is an internet lodge more than just a novelty, but that it can be a good alternative to the conventional lodges. CIVL has long since proved that the security of such a lodge is viable, but there were several other issues that needed to be resolved. Not surprisingly, most of those were the non-technical issues.
By far, the most contentious issue was that of degree work. Lodge members, not being able to be in the same room together for degree work, recorded some of the best ritualists in the state performing all three degrees, plus the various lectures and charges. Those videos are stored on a secure server, with DVD copies. Candidates, after having paid their degree fees, will then receive a pass code to download each degree, or, if desired, to have a DVD delivered in Netflix style. They can then watch the degree ceremony, after which they will have the opportunity to prove themselves before going on to the next degree.
Those opposed to such an arrangement insist that video degrees will lack the personal touch that helps conventional lodge members to bond. Another point is that having a candidate simply sit through a screening would take away from the initiatory experience, and leave the candidate with little reason to return.
On the other hand, proponents of virtual degrees point out that the videos are much better quality than the work seen in most lodges, and that if a candidate has a large screen TV with a home theater setup, the experience might well be superior to the conventional way. Another point is that the One Day Classes have already removed the participatory nature of the degrees by presenting them as a spectacle; if one can become a Mason by watching others on a stage, then why can’t one become a Mason by watching others on a video screen?
Scottish Rite officials have declined to comment, but have been rumored to be watching the situation closely. Likewise, the Grand Lodges of several states have quietly contacted the officers of our new lodge with questions about scripting and producing similar videos for use at their One Day degree festivals.
Fortunately, the progressive minded thinking for which our Grand Lodge has been known prevailed. Connecticut has two research lodges, a European Concept lodge, and now, an internet lodge, which will (hopefully!) be announced at the upcoming Grand Lodge session.
For those interested in what our modern and forward-thinking brothers have been working on:
Network Lodge No. 502 AF&AM
Welcome to the Freemasonry of the Future!