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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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The Lost Cymbal – Book Review

September 15, 2009 Leave a comment

Okay, okay, I know I promised a Brownout for the rest of the month – a Dan Brown Free zone.  But I really can’t resist posting excerpts from the Cracked book review.

Note: ‘R’-rated language and adult situations follow:

The novel begins with Robert Langdon being invited to speak at a conference in Washington by a man who will inevitably die in the first few pages. Sure enough, after arriving in the Capitol building, he discovers a gruesome murder scene laden with dense Masonic imagery and blood. Langdon then spends the next couple of pages kicking down doors and looking behind curtains, trying to find who’s fucking with him. He is pissed. “Who do you think I am, fucking Angela Lansbury?” he screams.

Still, Brown’s eye for detail and knowledge of the minutiae of famous historical sites is superb, and it immediately becomes clear he’s still a master at weaving a gripping yarn. A scene where Langdon and his companion visit the Lincoln Memorial and climb up the hollow pant leg, to discover the true Emancipation Proclamation (it’s a huge gold penis) packs more tension and interest than a dozen Nick Cage turdstravaganzas.

I won’t spoil who the true villain of the novel is (let’s just say he’s the CEO of Apple) but the antagonist who features most prominently throughout the course of the novel is a tattooed Masonic thug named Mal’akh. Throughout the novel he uses his secret Masonic powers (polishing, grout work and levitation) to stymie Langdon’s efforts at every turn.

Langdon’s romantic interest this time around is Dr. Katherine Solomon, a specialist in noetic science, which is a field I’m not even going to bother relating here. OK, I lied. It’s horseshit. Regardless of her career, like all of Langdon’s companions, her sole purpose is to ask a lot of leading questions to Langdon as they rush past important pieces of art. She’s also the descendant of King Solomon and has a map to the moon tattooed on her back–facts which may become relevant in later chapters.

The long delay in this book sparked rumors that Brown had developed a case of writer’s block. Others have less charitably suggested that, buoyed by success, Brown had developed a distaste for the formula that made him a success and was raging internally at having to write another such piece. You can see this conflict when in one early scene, a character remarks to Langdon about how much he enjoyed reading about his antics in Paris a few months ago in The Da Vinci Code. When Langdon turns his back the character makes a “jerking off” motion with his hand. Even stranger is another scene set at a cocktail party, were actor Tom Hanks meets Langdon and tells him that he likes the “cut of his jib.” Another character nearby, introduced as Ban Drown, comments: “Can you believe the sheep who keep eating up this shit?” He then shares a high five with Tom Hanks, before they drive off together in a Hummer-limo full of models.

Anybody interested in reading Chris Bucholz’s unexpurgated review can see it at the Cracked Magazine blog: A DaVinci Code Sequel Review.

The glory and beauty of the day

January 22, 2009 Leave a comment

Well, that was easy.

As of our next meeting, Friendship Lodge No. 33 in Southington will offically hold their stated communications on the first and third Monday of every month (July and August excepted), havign changed from the first and third Wednesdays.

Late last year we started discussing the possibility of changing the meeting day because of the difficulties that members were having in parking, due to the several new restaurants that opened in the downtown area, plus several other community events that always took place on Wednesdays. Some of the younger members suggested that changing the regular meetings to Mondays might make things easier because several of the local eateries are closed on that day. Likewise, there don’t seem to be any activities on the town green on Mondays, which means a less crowded parking lot.

There is a certain irony in that the changes to the outside of the building, making it more accessible to the older members, were made by the owner of the building next door, which houses one of the new (and popular) restaurants.

We need a 30 day notice to change our By-Laws, and at our last meeting we had a small pre-discussion about it. When it came time to vote last night, I was actually surprised that between the members present and the emails solicited earlier, nobody objected to the change. Had I been thinking, I should have made at least a token objection, as befitting my Past Master status, but I was too stunned. I mean, come on – nobody?

Actually, a number of members are involved with a local Scottish Rite, and with the local Shrine – both of which meet on Wednesday evenings. Several other members attend other functions that happen to meet on Wednesday nights, which compels them to choose between those functions and lodge. Other members don’t care one way or the other.

Out of curiousity, we did dig up an old By-Law book from 1917, and found that Friendship was meeting on the first and third  Wednesdays at least that far back. Hopefully none of the members from that time will stop by on the wrong night.

Categories: freemason, Masons Tags: ,

Grand Master of poppin’ & lockin’

October 29, 2008 Leave a comment

Not all Grand Masters are heads of a Grand Lodge.

Sci-Fi maven Cory Doctorow’s freaky & fascinating blog Boing Boing has a mention of a brother who is a Grand Master of a different obedience.

HIS NAME is Grand Master Priest Faustus, and I had the honor of seeing him perform at the 215 Festival on Friday at the Society of Free Letts, where he appeared as part of Patrick Borelli and Douglas Gorenstein’s “Holy Headshot” project.

HE IS, frankly, the poppingest, lockingest Freemason I have ever met, and also a contemporary of many of the men who invented things like popping and locking. (He did not invent Freemasonry, however. HE IS NOT IMMORTAL. But he did have an amazing square and compass belt buckle, which started our discussion of The Craft)

There is a little more discussion in the Comments section below the main post, and a follow-up post from later today.

What strikes me is that it’s no longer surprising to see that Freemasons have a wide range of ages and interests. Although one commenter did quip “It’s not your grandfather’s Masonry” (making me wonder if he was quoting my post from a couple of years ago about Masonic Ink), more of the responders – several of them members of the Craft – were quick to point out that Masons are not all a bunch of fossils.

I’d write more, but I’m a little sore from break dancing at the all-night rave over the weekend.



Die, heretic scum! Redux

December 11, 2007 1 comment

Several brothers have now asked me pointedly why I haven’t written anything about the recent split of Halcyon Lodge from the Grand Lodge of Ohio. First of all, I haven’t written anything in almost over a month; even some of my online friends have noticed that I’ve hardly even left any comments lately. This is because I’m getting into the year-end crush at work, and also the year-end rush in Connecticut Freemasonry. In the last month I’ve been to (or have been in) four degrees, three rehearsals, two Grand Lodge meetings, one District meeting, and several regular and special meetings at several different lodges. Somewhere in there I managed to make some family time, get a Christmas tree, do some household projects, do the single parent thing while my wife was on a business trip, and I’m sure I frittered away some spare moments as well; which means that just about every time I sat down to write something, I ended up reading the backlog of messages and then – more than once – dozing off at the keyboard.

The other reason I haven’t written anything about Halcyon, (and now, Euclid and, um, the other one, wherever it is) or the American “Grand Orient” thingie though, is because while the subject has generated enormous quantities of heat in several venues, there has been disproportionately very little light. And frankly, when I step back from the subject matter a little bit, there isn’t much worth writing about.

No, really.

A small group of Freemasons worked very hard at revitalizing an older lodge. During the course of this, they ran into some Grand Lodge regulations that they believed complicated their designs. Unable to work out an amicable compromise with their Grand Lodge, they chose to turn in their charter and go it alone.

Yeah, yeah, I’ve read all about the other stuff. Allegations of financial chicanery, hot-headedness, stubborn Grand Lodge officers, politics, breaking of obligations, revolution against the established order, and disturbing the peace and littering.

Big, fat, hairy deal.

The first Grand Lodge was formed in 1717, and within twenty years lodges began splitting off, which means that it took less than a generation for lodges to develop issues with their overseeing Grand Lodge. Even a quick perusal of the literature shows that schisms in Freemasonry are surprisingly common; and although that latter half of the 20th century has been fairly quiet in that respect in the US and UK, splits and schisms in other countries have made recognition of various Grand Lodges throughout the world a mish-mash. However, it’s interesting to note that even Paul Bessel’s slightly out-of-date website on the various Grand Lodges operating within the US shows well over 200 non-mainstream (i.e., not AF&AM or Prince Hall) Grand Lodges extant. This averages to roughly six unrecognized jurisdictions per state in the US.

The point is that schisms within Freemasonry, and indeed, within almost any organization are fairly typical. To me, though, the more interesting aspect is not the schism itself, but the reaction to the split. In reading the responses on the several blogs and websites that have been carrying such discussions, I’m reminded of the old Emo Phillips joke. I posted this back in August, but under the circumstances, it bears repeating:

I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump off. I immediately ran over and said “Stop! Don’t do it!”
“Why shouldn’t I?” he said.
I said, “Well, there’s so much to live for!”
“Like what?”
“Well … are you religious or atheist?”
“Religious.”
“Me too! Are you Christian or Jewish?”
“Christian.”
“Me too! Are you Catholic or Protestant?”
“Protestant.”
“Me too! Are you Episcopalian or Baptist?”
“Baptist.”
“Wow! Me too! Are you Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Lord?”
“Baptist Church of God.”
“Me too! Are you Original Baptist Church of God, or are you Reformed Baptist Church of God?”
“Reformed Baptist Church of God.”
“Me too! Are you Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1879, or Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1915?”
“Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1915!”
To which I said, “Then die, heretic scum!” and pushed him off.

The thing that makes this joke so funny is that we all recognize that some perversity of human nature makes us less tolerant of a group that is almost like us than, than we are of some group that is very different. But we also recognize that any group that splits off from us becomes a them; this implies some kind of rejection of us; we get defensive and wonder – demand – that they explain themselves in order to make things more consistent with our own world view. This is difficult enough, but we then add to this volatile mix that they have their own reasons for splitting off, and have probably endured a long time – years, maybe decades – in harboring frustration. In order to justify splitting off, they develop a psychological or sociological rationale, which often takes to form of blaming us for actions or situations which they believe to be unfair. The result is generally a situation in which the groups, despite being very close on many other issues, harbor some animosity toward the other for some narrow range of wants or desires.

Certainly a number of my brethren have been reading the web boards and the several blogs – notably Burning Taper – and wondering why there is so much arguing. And frankly, I’ve long since stopped reading the threads on Burning Taper because I’m embarrassed, even mortified by the displays of vitriol from all sides. Personally, I’m of the mind that if you belong to an organization in which you don’t like the management, then make an attempt at trying to change things. If it doesn’t work, and if you can see that it’s going to cause some hard feelings, then get out and go to Plan B while everyone still has the opportunity to make things work.

But I also understand that we hate for people to split off from whatever groups we belong to because that implies that they weren’t happy; people who aren’t satisfied tend to break away out of anger, and others in the original group tend to see it as a rejection of established ways. This prompts the question “What was wrong with the established way?” and from that, any answer is bound to cause some kind of defensive reaction. Perhaps a Martian, unschooled in human nature, might wonder why such splits can’t be amicable affairs, but I think that most of us can well imagine that once we start to develop the “us vs them” mindset, then it’s only a matter of time before the rioting starts.

At some point, one has to take a step back and ask “Is there any evidence that would convince me that the other side is correct?” If the answer is “No,” then chances are that the people of the opposite opinion feel the same way, and the argument is at a stalemate. Go home. Sit down with a book and have a quiet scotch by the fire. Rebuild that old PC in the corner of the basement that you were going to give to your niece. Clean out the garage. Do something constructive… or not. But stop wasting your breath – or your bandwidth – once you understand that nothing is going to change, be it the situation or your mind.

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