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Freemachonry

May 12, 2015 4 comments

Most of the old web boards where I used to hang out with Freemasons from around the globe have quietly gone dark, deserted, or have disappeared entirely, as threaded conversations have moved over to social media sites. That’s not an entirely bad thing, because the social sites like Facebook and Google Plus tend to attract many younger Masons, who in addition to text can now use pictures and video to share their experiences. Facebook groups, for example, are filled with pictures of newly raised Master Masons, shots of their lodge, their rings (worn properly, of course), and various other examples of Masonic displays.

Where we once were  known as “the quiet fraternity,” we now have a host of designs to adorn our cars, hats, jackets, shirts, belt buckles, computer or phone desktops, and pretty much anyplace else we can think of. Some of the examples of artwork that I’ve seen have been excellently rendered in various image creation & manipulation programs, and I’m often amazed at the detail that some of my graphically inclined brothers can put into those images.

One of the trends that I’ve been noticing has been the masculinization (or rather, the hyper-masculinization) of Freemasonry; that is, of the images and symbols that we use. In the last few years I’ve been seeing more drawings and graphics depicting overly-stylized Square & Compasses adorned with skulls, crossed thighbones, and various edged instruments; some of these artistic variations would seem more at home on the back of a motorcycle jacket, or perhaps adorning a 1980s metal band album cover.

From a technical standpoint, some of those designs are pretty cool in the way that they bring together disparate elements, or in how those elements are repurposed or re-examined. Symbols are not immutable; indeed, they change as the culture in which they are found changes. A good example is how the color pink is now more associated with young girls than with young boys, in a reversal from just a century ago. And new symbols pop up into our culture all the time: think about the red octagon that we now associate with “Stop” or the circle with a diagonal line across it, which now denotes “Prohibited.” Those symbols didn’t exist as such a century ago.

But some symbols are inherently associated with certain groups, and here is where I think that some of us (well, okay, maybe just me) are feeling disconnected. Recently I ran across this cool representation of the well-known symbol of Freemasonry: the overlaid Square & Compasses:

Does anyone happen to know the artist?

Let’s ignore for the moment that the skull is used in Templar Masonry and in the Scottish Rite, but generally not in the Blue Lodge. The skull itself has a furrowed, intent looking brow, Terminator-red eye sockets, and a somewhat threatening visage. It’s not the symbol that inspires one to think about their mortality and place in the world, but rather, to convey a sense of danger, or perhaps challenge. And the sepia tones are a nice contrast to the metalized look of our working tools.

The part that really made me think about this trend was the S&C, itself. What is a Square? Essentially, it is an instrument with a calibrated 90º corner and straight edges that allow us to design, sketch, or true up corners to keep them from going out of alignment. This square, while presenting a nice looking bit of metalwork, almost looks like a machine part. What’s with those inside edges, anyway? How can you trace a design on a trestle board with that? Speaking symbolically, is this teaching us to be true and honest?

I’m not sure where to even begin with the compasses. If the square looks industrialized, the compasses have been weaponized. In real life, a set of compasses is to aid in measuring and drawing arcs and circles; the points of which will scribe a faint line in the material on which they are used. But what is this instrument supposed to do? Those scalpel edges aren’t even in the same axis as the legs – they would scrape the hell out of anything you tried to use it on. The tips are further enhanced with stylized barbs and hooks, which would be pretty inconvenient to use as a hand-held tool. And from a symbolic perspective, our own compasses are supposed to keep us “within due bounds” and to remind us of certain Masonic principles, such as Friendship, Morality, and Brotherly Love. To me, these compasses show the complete opposite of those tenets.

This is just one example, but there are many such depictions readily available on Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, and other social media sites. I’m at a loss for an explanation, but I’ve been wondering if for a generation of men who may  have spent more time playing indoors than outside, Freemasonry is how they are rediscovering their own sense of masculinity and what it means to be a Man (capitalized) in a society that has actively sought to eliminate any dangers, real or imagined. Playground recess has been cancelled or restricted in many schools, as has ball-playing and running or racing games. Playground equipment is now designed with the avoidance of possible lawsuits, which means anything more than the swings or slides is now off limits. Even pick-up games in the suburbs are a rarity, having been replaced by child-league sports, overly-supervised by adults. Television and movies often present an ambivalent take on adult men or masculinity, and studios are becoming more fearful of alienating potential viewers by presenting old-school male role models — unless it’s to point out that they are dinosaurs in our modern age.

Have these kinds of influences led the newer generations of young men into turning Freemasonry into not just a men’s society, but a masculinity rediscovery society?

 

 

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The All-Seeing -i-

January 7, 2011 Leave a comment

First of all, I’m excited that Charles Tirrell of Masonic Renaissance has found the time and inclination to get back into blogging. Charles was my counterpart District Grand Lecturer in the New Haven part of the state, then moved on to be an Associate Grand Marshall, and I now see that in April he will be the District Deputy in that area. I extend my heartfelt congratulations, and I know that he’ll do an excellent job.

I like Charles; he’s young and progressive minded, and he’s the kind of person I have in mind whenever I hear the (sadly clichéed) expression “The future of Masonry.” Charles has consistently pushed for our Grand Lodge to adopt new technologies in order to reach — and be relevant to — the newer members of our fraternity. He’s bright, and well-spoken, and modest about his achievements.

And he prefers Apple computer products.

Apparently, I have so little going on in my own life right now that I have taken to ribbing friends about their choice of technology, much in the way many people poke fun at one’s favorite sports team, choice of automobile, or taste in literature. This ribbing is further driven by the fact that for the last year, my office and home networks have been plagued by more computer problems than I’ve ever seen; obviously I’m envious of anyone who is actually happy with their computer, and confess to some distrust at anyone who doesn’t have some anger, annoyance, or irritation with their gadgets.

To his credit, Charles has refused to take the troll bait; although for that matter, I don’t particularly think about Apple products except when I hear from him or a few other similarly inclined friends.

Until yesterday, that is.

Some of you may remember that last year I wrote a post that made light of the similarities between Freemasonry and the GNU/Linux community. I should have remembered that satire is based in reality.

Yesterday, while reading Lifehacker, I ran across a couple of articles about how Apple is introducing a new way to get software, entitled respectively, Why the Mac App Store Sucks, and Why You Might Really Like the Mac App Store In The Long Run. And suddenly, the pictures jumped out at me. Why?

Here’s the logo for the Mac App Store:

There's something oddly familiar about this design...

Umm… does this look familiar to you?

For reference, here’s a couple of random images from a Google image search.

A Past Master’s symbol from some areas of the world.

An older, lesser known version

I mean, of all the possible combinations that the graphic artists could come up with, they riff on the Square and Compasses?

Coincidence? I think not.

Although I’ve long explored the twisted logic of the conspiracy theorists, I don’t have any background with regard to the twisted logic of Apple users. I believe, however, that this bears looking into.

Information Overload

June 8, 2008 Leave a comment

I’ve known my Canadian brother Justa Mason for a few years, and I’ve learned that you can always depend upon him to present a responsible opposing viewpoint to virtually any situation. Actually, what I’ve learned is that you simply can’t stop him from presenting an opposing viewpoint. On a recent post about our Past Masters MM Degree in which I described the dramatic additions to our Connecticut version of the Hiramic Legend that some lodges have been known to perform, he asked a particularly pertinent question:

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.

Tom, I will opine here all this additional stuff does wonders for the member who can show off his memory skills.. and very little for the candidate.

What value is all this extra ritual if he can’t absorb any of it? His mind’s on overload to begin with. Shouldn’t stuff like this be done on a separate night where he can let it sink in?

What is the reason behind subjecting him to all kinds of optional ritual on a degree night?

That’s an excellent point. Most of us assume that if some ritual is good, then more is better, and lots more should be great.

Admittedly, I, myself, have pointed out that our candidates sometimes have a difficult time processing the information presented. I’ve even made light of it by writing, in a post about ritual:

The lectures and speeches are filled with symbolism and instruction, and those of us who have put the time into learning them know just how difficult it can be to deliver them with meaning.

All this just for the candidates?

You mean those new guys standing there in the front of the room with the deer-caught-in-the-headlights look? Those guys?

Yeah, those guys. Those guys can barely remember what to do with their hands and feet, and we’re expecting them to absorb some esoteric lesson, which has often been delivered by people who would have not been allowed speaking parts in the local amateur theater group. On the surface, it does sound like a waste of effort. Why go through the trouble to present such material – done well or not – if the candidates aren’t grasping the meaning?

RW Paul (the latest Nutmeg State Mason to start blogging) has another perspective, one which I’ve heard a number of times:

I am on the side that the extra lectures add value, of course I enjoy ritual and often perform some of the extra parts so my opinion is bias.

I have heard this argument in my district as well. But based on the comments by Grand Lodge that there is a lot lousy ritual being done, I think the lodges that still can perform these eleborate degrees should be proud.

I would much rather sit through extra long well performed degree than a short poorly performed degree.

Connecticut, like most US states, uses some variation of the Preston-Webb lectures in which there is a catechismal section (a Q&A section) and two other sections that elaborate on the symbols and allegories of the respective degrees. Each section can be ten to twenty minutes long, and in my experience generally seem to have been memorized by ol’ Brother Joe who retired to Florida a few years ago, so nobody does them anymore. I’ve seen these sections presented on non-degree nights a few times, but as degree nights typically get a larger turnout, it seems like the energy is better spent having them done when the largest number of people can potentially benefit.

Often, arguments – i.e., debatable points – are presented as a matter of extremes. Paul’s last sentence is an example of this, and Justa’s entire message does the same thing, albeit more subtly. I believe that there is a position between those extremes, however.

First of all, I firmly believe that lodges can deliver extra ritual that is good and well-performed. I know it’s true: I’ve seen it done. That said, one could argue that if they can do a good long degree, then they should be able to do a good short degree, too. Yup, I’ve seen that as well. But there are several advantages to a degree ceremony that pulls out all the stops, for both the candidates and for the other lodge members.

As to the candidates, I could point to the importance of total immersion in the initiative experience to create the most overwhelming feelings of awe which may inspire intense thoughts or associations on a deeper level. I suppose that I could also claim that – like the ‘shotgun’ approach – it’s important to throw as much as possible at the candidates in hopes that something will stick. Personally, I think that it’s rare for most lodges to get motivated enough to perform sections of a degree ceremony on off-nights, especially sections that require a certain amount of dramatic talent. It’s easier to present the material when all of the candidates happen to be in the room. Just the preparation for a degree ceremony tends to inspire the lodge members who are actually rehearsing the parts; I think that it would be difficult for some of them to “get psyched” enough to do inspiring work as a program after a regular stated communication.

But there’s something else that we miss: Yes, the candidates will miss some things with a longer degree. Hell, they’re going to miss things with a short degree. But later on they are going to be watching that same degree performed on someone else, and then they’ll have the opportunity to catch a few things that they’d missed.

And why do we assumed that the ritual ceremony is all for the new guys? What about the regular brothers? I’ve noticed that degree nights have a much larger turnout than regular business meetings. Wouldn’t it be nice if the older members had the opportunity to hear that rarely-done piece of ritual? Most of them might miss it if it were done as a “program” in a regular business meeting.

Let me repeat something that I wrote over a year ago in the post referenced above:

Our fraternity has some of the most morally instructive and spiritually inspiring ceremonies, all of which are delivered from memory at no small personal effort. When did we lose the motivation, the initiative to do it for ourselves?

I’m at the age where I attend almost as many funerals as I do weddings; but for each occasion I have lately discovered that during the ceremony I suddenly “hear” something new. Yes, I may have seen the ceremony and heard the same words a dozen times, but each time I hear something that I never noticed before. Why? Maybe a minister or rabbi delivers a line with more or less emphasis, or maybe because of where I am in my own life’s journey some passage that I’ve heard countless times before will strike me with a new insight. Who hasn’t been sitting at a wedding and suddenly turned to their partner upon hearing a line that reminds you of your love? Who hasn’t been to a funeral and been suddenly reminded of your own mortality? That is the purpose of ritual and ceremony – not only to instruct the new members, but to remind us – the old members – of our previous instruction.

Give this some thought: When did our ritual become less inspiring? When did our degrees become merely a pastime between dinner and desserts? When did you stop noticing something “new” in a lecture?

How many of us have substituted listening for hearing?

If the “extra” instruction is presented well – and not just once every several years – then it benefits everyone, new brothers and experienced members alike.

Turning the Keys with Dr. Robert Lomas

March 9, 2008 Leave a comment

Few modern Masonic authors can generate the kind interest that follows Dr. Robert Lomas. Beginning with “The Hiram Key” and followed up by another half dozen books on the history and symbolism of the Craft, Dr. Lomas has offered up some interesting – and controversial – theories and ideas about the evolution of symbology and the meaning of the symbolic language underlying Masonic rituals and ceremonies.

On Sunday, March 9th, he called us from his home in England and joined Bro. Heath Armbruster of Saskatchewan, Canada for the second The Working Tools podcast. Masonic Media Mogul Cory Sigler (of The Working Tools magazine and social networking site), Justin Budreau (Masonic web designer) and I had a fascinating two hour conversation with Dr. Lomas on topics ranging from the Kirkwall Scroll, to Masonic symbols, to the evolution of symbolism, to Sir Robert Moray, to the inconveniences of tele-presentations. Chris Hodapp joined us partway into the program, asking his usual insightful questions.

Bros. Lomas and Armbruster worked together to create an interesting DVD on the history of Masonic symbolism which they are selling in order to raise money for several Masonic charities. Dr. Lomas gave several lectures which were compiled into a presentation for The DVD, which is selling for $15 Canadian. Anyone interested can contact Bro. Heath at lomasdvd@kinghiram104.com for more details. If the 2 hours Dr. Lomas spent with us is any indication, it will be an excellent addition to any Masonic library.

We should point out that Dr. Lomas, himself, has just published a new book called Turning the Templar Key in which he discusses the meaning of the rituals and ceremonies of the Knights Templar and relates them to modern Freemasonry.

The Talkshoe format worked flawlessly, allowing five or six of us to talk to each other by telephone from various countries and time zones. We were joined by about a hundred real-time listeners, a dozen or so of whom registered in order to use the IM feature. Many of them had excellent comments and questions, some of which were addressed by Dr. Lomas himself.

You can listen to the show (Episode 2), or download the MP3 file for your iPod or other player at The Working Tools channel.

Masonic Ritual – Who is it for?

March 20, 2007 5 comments

Every once in a while, the Past Masters – I should get into the habit of saying we Past Masters, now that I am one – are fond of telling the new officers that the ritual is for the candidates. “No slacking off now, brothers,” we intone, “Remember that it’s for the candidates.” And of course, we tell them that because older Past Masters told that to us; and just like most of the other little things that have become traditions, we continue to pass this truism down, as well.

Ritual.

Do it well.

It’s for the candidates.

Our new Entered Apprentices are told right from the start that there are no more excellent tenets or useful instruction than are laid down in our various Masonic lectures. When properly delivered, these lectures are some of the most inspiring speeches ever handed down. Just the fact that they are handed down is in itself an inspiration to those who understand that fellow Freemasons have listened to the same or similar lectures for the last two and a half centuries. The lectures and speeches are filled with symbolism and instruction, and those of us who have put the time into learning them know just how difficult it can be to deliver them with meaning.

All this just for the candidates?

You mean those new guys standing there in the front of the room with the deer-caught-in-the-headlights look? Those guys?

Really?

Brothers – why isn’t it for us?

Let me ask this again: Our fraternity has some of the most morally instructive and spiritually inspiring ceremonies, all of which are delivered from memory at no small personal effort. When did we lose the motivation, the initiative to do it for ourselves?

I’m at the age where I attend almost as many funerals as I do weddings; but for each occasion I have lately discovered that during the ceremony I suddenly “hear” something new. Yes, I may have seen the ceremony and heard the same words a dozen times, but each time I hear something that I never noticed before. Why? Maybe a minister or rabbi delivers a line with more or less emphasis, or maybe because of where I am in my own life’s journey some passage that I’ve heard countless times before will strike me with a new insight. Who hasn’t been sitting at a wedding and suddenly turned to their partner upon hearing a line that reminds you of your love? Who hasn’t been to a funeral and been suddenly reminded of your own mortality? That is the purpose of ritual and ceremony – not only to instruct the new members, but to remind us – the old members – of our previous instruction.

Oh sure, after the umpteenth time we’ve heard the Charge to the Entered Apprentice or the explanation of The Letter G, we stop paying attention. Well, we almost stop paying attention; that is, we stop listening to the lecture and we focus on how many prompts the acting Senior Deacon needs, or we listen to see if the Senior Warden missed a word, or to feel smug when the visiting Past Master mixes up the paragraph order in an Obligation… that is, if we, ourselves, can even remember how it was supposed to go.

Did you recognize your brothers? Your lodge? Yourself?

Give this some thought: When did our ritual become less inspiring? When did our degrees become merely a pastime between dinner and desserts? When did you stop noticing something “new” in a lecture?

How many of us have substituted listening for hearing?

And more importantly, why?

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