Wednesday, February 8, 2017

A Mindful Masonry: Cogitating on the Craft

Sometimes life gets in the way and plans of tasks to do that get put off for days, end up put off for longer. Such is the fate which temporarily befell this blog. It is time to breathe a little life back into it, and as a reminder that we should always remain aware of our goals, our behaviors and actions, and all too often for most, the gap that separates these, my first post in far too long is concerning an interesting book that arrived not so long ago which offers some techniques relevent to my comments.

The subject of spirituality within Freemasonry is a perrenial topic. It tends to give masons who neither know what masonry is or why they became one, a sense or vertigo, It is a topic which won't go away and one which has resulted in both excellent studies of the human psyche, and ridiculous excursions into fantasyland.

One aspect of having an abiding interest in this is that I have noted that Freemasonry, as out of touch as some masons may be, as a whole picks up trends in popular spiritual exploration and attempts to find a place for these practices in its search for the apotheosis of the masonic seeker. This is how Freemasonry over the centuries has adopted Gnosticism, Cabala, Alchemy, even Vodou and other African derived traditions.

It should have occured to me that some industrious beekeeper would have turned his hand to adopting the current fad of Mindfulness meditation to Freemasonry. Sure enough, not so long ago, it happened.

Now, mind you, I am not criticizing this nor making fun of it.  While I have not jumped on the bandwagon of Mindfulness training for some, I believe, sound reasons, I certainly utilize practices that parrallel and aim for the the same or similar outcomes. None the less, unless you are the sort who wants to, and can afford to buy every book remotely related to the subject of Esoteric Masonry, you may wish to decide if this is worth your time and money.

The answer, for me, is a resounding maybe. I say maybe,  not because I find flaws within the work, nor that I wish to suggest that the concepts and practices offered here are not likely to benefit everyone who puts them into practice. I think they will, if used as presented. However, many members of the craft are more interested in a dash of theory and a smathering of nice graphics. If that describes you, save your money. This book is practical and very much a hands on guide to applying certain meditative techniques to the symbolism inherent in Freemasonry.

To set the stage for this book, although it was only published last year, its roots stretch back a half decade to an anonymous guide published on the internet by C.R. Dunning. To also make clear why I chose to give this book the attention I am here, I need to note one of the frequent issues I have with such titles in masonic literature. They too often tend to have a victorian veneer whether honestly earned or not, or either know a great deal about Masonry, or at least one version of it, and nothing about spiritual practices, or the reverse, knowing a great deal about spiritual practices while totally misapprehending the craft.

That, thankfully, is not the case in this book.

Bro. Dunning has been a counselor and professional therapist, and so he brings a range of skills to
this project, and it shows. He limits himself primarily to the symbolisim of the blue lodge, as many will feel is appropriate, and he does it well. His  bases his inspirations and guidence upon a sound understanding of masonic symbolism and avoids, as he states clearly, a reliance upon historical assertions, which he rightly notes have in the case of masonic literature far too often been "poor, misleading, and even blatently false[.]" Rather than making such claims, he clearly describes the rational and psychologically grounded basis for his application of masonic symbolic tools as tools of self discovery.

Nor is this a boring read. Jim Tressner's forward sets the stage by noting that a role model of his was fond of say that "I would be very dissapointed in any of you who went for a walk in the woods expecting to see an elf. I would be even more disappointed if you were surprised when you did see one."

As he notes, "This book is not a tour through the vague mists of Avalon. It is a practical, reasonable guide to development...Follow the exercises and younwill see results. Leave it on the shelf, and nothing will happen...You may even figure out what to do if you see an elf."

Link to Contemplative Masonry order page.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Alchemically Stoned: The Psychedelic Freemasonry of PD Newman

I have for a good number of years now harped on the subject of the need within contemporary Freemasonry for something dynamic to happen. The fraternity isn't dying, it's lying on the gurney waiting for the ER doctor to confirm that the corpse has already died. The surviving brothers, variously bemoaning its demise or recalling fondly its better days as if in preparation for the final burial. What none of them seem willing to do is to consider trying something new. God forbid!

So, esoteric studies are out, experimenting with different rituals is out, most certainly admitting women is out, and a number of states still resist allowing people of color in, as if it were still 75 years ago. What none of them want is to explore any option that might make the institution of Freemason, horror of horrors, remotely interesting. Indeed, Freemasonry must remain milk toast or vanilla, and given what I said about the racial issues still rife in US masonry, the metaphors are not unintentional.

Well, leaving all that aside, one young mason has done something quite radical and quite interesting. No, we're not talking about changing the membership of the lodge or even expanding the rituals of US Freemasonry. P.D. Newman has done the unforgivable. He has used his imagination, and has explored in detail a subject relating to the esoteric foundations of Freemasonry that probably no other modern Freemason has even considered. He has researched the subject in depth and is now on route to publishing a book on his findings. They are highly controversial. They will shock, stun, disturb, and annoy many. It is just the sort of work that might resuscitate the corpse, and he needs your help!

Back in 2012 I wrote a brief article for this blog concerning my own intuitive awareness that the
acacia, that significant symbol in Freemason was an entheogenic plant, one of our plant guides that can open the human psyche to religious visions, and that it quite likely was responsible for doing exactly that in some historically and culturally significant occasions. It may well be argued, as I suggested, based upon other sources, that it was responsible for the story of the burning bush in the old testament bible. In that entry, linked here, I drew associations within the myths of Freemason, and the story of Hiram.

That article, perhaps more than anything else, stimulated my subsequent contacts with P.D. Newman. Bro. Newman has been for some time fascinated with the subject of entheogen use and has for no doubt longer than our communications been exploring the subject in relation to his study of esoteric foundations of Freemasonry.

My own thought at the time was that Freemasonry may have inadvertently retained older spiritual knowledge that the brethren were unaware of, buried within the inscrutable legends of the craft, faithfully retained but never having been understood. Bro. Newman would disagree with that assessment, and has set out to prove that the early Freemasons most certainly did know what they
were talking about.,

Bro. Newman has started a gofundme campaign to publish his book. I have to share this here because apart from anything else, it proves me wrong - there are some people with brains in mainstream masonry. (For those of you with the famous freemason disability of having no sense of humor - that's called hyperbole!) Really, this is exciting stuff, and whether you approve of his interests or disagree with his findings, you should still support it because it represents perhaps the first example of really creative, outside of the box scholarship among North American Freemasons in a long time. Really. It's just the sort of thing that might actually lead to more young people joining the local lodge! And yes, like it or not, esoteric freemasonry is back!

From the gofundme page:

The sprig of acacia is an important symbol within Freemasonry, but unbeknownst even to the fraternity's own initiates, the acacia is rich is more than just symbolism. "Alchemically Stoned: The Sprig of Acacia and the Psychedelic Secret of Freemasonry" explores the actual use of acacia-produced DMT by early Freemasons as early as 1762. It challenges everything we think we know about the origin and nature of the Masonic fraternity.

With a foreword from Clark Heinrich and an introduction by Dr. David Harrison, "Alchemically Stoned: The Sprig of Acacia and the Psychedelic Secret of Freemasonry" will be an essential addition to the libraries of psychedelic enthusiasts and Freemasons alike.

To check out Bro. Newman's Gofundme site click on the link below:

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Some Wisdom for a Traveler

Robert Frost (1874–1963). Mountain Interval. 1920.

1. The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Mysterious Indiana Masonic Revolution?

Page 1
There isn't a great deal to report on in this story yet, but watch for more to unfold. It sounds as if a revolution is afoot. Worshipful Masters in Indiana have been receiving a "seditious" letter in the mail, which seems to be asking them to lead some sort of insurrection against the management of the Grand Lodge. It urges Worshipful Masters to lead the lodges in taking over Freemasonry in that State.

Page 2
There seems to be no immediate information available as to who is sending these letters and no suggestion has been made thus far as to how they have the mailing addresses of the WMs of that state. The obvious conclusion is that is some sort of an inside job. Of course, who else would care if Freemasonry dies or not in these days? I can think of only two parties who would be truly motivated to see Freemasonry survive. Those are Freemasons themselves, and apart from Freemasons, David Icke. After all, David Icke stands to loose most if Freemasonry disappears.

Page 3
As far as I can see, Masons online are making fun of the effort, and it is unlikely to generate as much light as it does heat, but I suspect someone is going to take it quite seriously.

page 4
For some time I have been suggesting that change needs to come to Freemasonry if it is to survive. I have also suggested that if Freemasonry has a future, it will end up being a much slimmer model, one with either no Grand Lodges, or with Grand Lodges that have essentially been turned into the hand maidens of the local lodges, and which are lean but not mean. It would seem that such an idea has some takers.

page 5
While it may be hard for some to imagine that this effort would likely result in actual change, it is quite likely that so long as there is any sort of Freemasonry left, there will be calls to action like this one. Where ever you as an individual Mason may think the solution lies, unless one of these calls to action achieves success and a wide response, the number of people involved in Freemasonry will continue to shrink until it is zero.

page 6
Perhaps it is not considered newsworthy by some because they think it improbable that such an effort will bear fruit.

At the very least it highlights if not corruption, then a tendency for unaffordable and irresponsible oppulence, and just how out of touch with reality the Grand Lodge leadership has become. In fairness to the officials in Indiana, it is unlikely that the leadership of Indiana's GL is very much different from those of the other Grand Lodges.

Whatever you may think of this, from where I sit, it is very big news, precisely because someone actually cares enough to do it.

This should be interesting to watch.

Thanks to Colin Peterson, Adam Bauer, and Chris Hodapp

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Freemason Leads Coup d'Etat in Brazil

American "news" outlets, which most recognize are now no more than propaganda machines,  are already incapable of reporting accurately on what happens in the US. For the most part they simply do not report on what happens elsewhere in the world at all. Such was the case this past week when what amounts to a Coup d'Etat occurred in Brazil.

Dilma Rousseff, loved by some and highly criticized by many in Brazil, was none the less the legitimate and duly elected president of that nation. She is a woman, and one with strong leftest ties, in a country where an overwhelmingly non-white population and a fifty percent female demographic makes a figure with those credentials unsurprisingly quite popular.

One might wonder why her opponents had to resort to an impeachment procedure to gain power. Well, we have the answer. The "interum" president, who was obviously not elected to office, and who has alleged ties to US spy agencies, a 70 year old Brazilian Freemason, has appointed an all white, all male cabinet.

It should be noted that the last time Brazil, a nation which, if you will forgive me for repeating myself, is largely made up of people of color, indeed it has the largest black population of any nation in the world after Nigeria, had an all white, all male government was over 30 years ago, and that was a military dictatorship which, perhaps unsurprisingly, had support from the US government.

Even commentators in Brazil's center-right mainstream media, which have been extremely critical of Rousseff's administration, such as the large national O Globo, note that this government is looking like a return to the past.

A number of the members of Temer's new government have been linked to a variety of scandals. Three are under investigation by authorities, and another four have been mentioned in a wide ranging corruption investigation led by the Federal Police, popularly referred to as the "Car Wash." They may even be implicated in criminal activity. Temer is quite likely ineligible by Brazilian law to run for public office because he has recently been convicted of violating campaign finance laws

Despite Freemasonry's tendency to be supportive of its own, in this case Freemasonry in general, and Brazilian Freemasonry in particular, should be swift in condemning what is happening. It looks like the makings of an old style dictatorship. And we know the only way these men could gain control of the government in today's Brazil is by an illegal Coup d'Etat, which is precisely what they have done under the fairly transparent guise of a questionable "impeachment".

Many Brazilians lost their lives in the past opposing precisely this sort of governance. It is to be hoped that Brazilian Freemasons will not willingly play a role in bringing it back.  We will be watching to see how Brazilians and especially Brazilian Freemasons will respond to this assault of democratic principles.

NB: This addendum is essential, since perhaps unsurprisingly, a few have already attempted to critique this post suggesting that I am blinded by leftest thinking and writing in support of a political figure they abhor and consider guilty of all evil in the world. Personally, I have no allegiance to Dilma. I am not allied to any Brazilian political institution nor to any international political movements. If she is corrupt, she should be voted out of office, and if her opponents have enough support, they should push for earlier elections. However, the only reason this impeachment has been pushed through is to aid a blatant attempt to steal the control of government away from the people, and to effect a Coup d'Etat. I am less concerned with who is in office than I am with how they get there. This is no way to do it, and if Dilma was perceived as corrupt, then replacing her with yet more corrupt individuals does not serve the public good.

Friday, April 15, 2016

The Eternal East in the Magic City

Recently I supervised a class of students on a visit to the Historic Miami City Cemetery. This was the first municipal cemetery in Miami, Florida founded in 1897, on ten acres of "rocky wasteland" about a half mile to the north of what was then a fledgling city, sold by Mrs. Mary Brickell to the city for $750. That would be worth nearly $22,000 today.  To put that in some perspective, a 1.25 acre parcel of land near where the Miami River meets Biscayne Bay sold for approximately $100 million in 2014.

While it is a modest cemetery, spanning only 10 acres, and for someone like myself who spent his childhood in places of greater age, such as Philadelphia, and much greater age still, such as Ireland, it seems new, it is none the less a fascinating place to visit, filled with a great deal of local history. I will not delve into the history which would only interest those who are from Miami. However, for a small graveyard, it contains a significant number of grave stones which demonstrate that for a city boasting a mere 120 years, it has a strong history of connection with fraternal orders of every sort.

In the few short hours I spent in this site, I counted no less that 30 stones which belonged to either Freemasons or "Woodsmen of the World" and at least a handful that from their iconography were also Odd Fellows. Beyond that, there were Women who were members of the Order of the Eastern Star, and at least one grave bearing a woman's name which also bore the Masonic Square and Compass. Since I know there are several feminine lodges in the Miami area, it is likely she was a Freemason.

It should be noted here, that as with most cemeteries in Southern US cities, this one is segregated by race and religion, containing Catholic, Jewish, Protestant, and Black sections. While these areas predominate, there are a few exceptions to the segregation. One of Miami's Prominent early citizens and his family are buried in the Catholic section, although his wife was understood to have been of mixed race, a couple of the cities earliest black residents were also buried in what became identified as a "protestant" (white) section before segregation was established more formally, as was at least one famous Miccusukee Indian, Jack Tigertail, whose image graces the seal of the City of Hialeah, a few miles north of this graveyard. As an aside, Jack Tigertail was murdered, apparently the victim of a business deal gone bad, meeting his maker due to a dispute over the price of egret plumes. He left behind a wife and three daughters. He was buried in an unmarked grave. Being Native American he didn't have the resources to pay for a stone, and nobody else felt it necessary.

The first Jewish (Kosher) Butcher to live in Miami, Phillip Ullendorff, who passed away in 1923 is buried in the walled Jewish section of the cemetery, and his headstone proudly proclaims his masonic status.

One place, interestingly enough, where race or religion did not seem to exert any influence were in the military graves. There, blacks, whites, jews, and gentiles might be buried in common. This of course is ironic since it was not until after WWII that the military ceased to be segregated itself.

However, as suggested by the existence of a woman's grave bearing the Square and Compass, "mainstream" Freemasonry is far from being the only, or perhaps even the predominant form of Freemasonry represented in this cemetery. Quite a few headstones found in the Black section of the cemetery proclaim the active presence of Prince Hall Freemasonry in Miami. These stones, in fact none of the stones I saw, give any indication of what the mason's affiliation was, so while it is easy to assume that in most cases, they would represent what is popularly considered "regular" Freemasonry, there is no way without doing some extensive research, to determine what their obediences or jurisdictions were. In the case of the Black Freemasons (and I choose to use the term black in preference to African American because much of the early population of Miami of African ancestry were from the Caribbean rather than North American in origin) there were many jurisdictions to choose from and not all would have been what is described today as "regular" Prince Hall.

One of the graves of Freemasons in the Black section which is in the worst condition of any of the Masonic graces, is that of Fred Dean, who lived from 1894 to 1924, a mere 30 years, proudly proclaims his status as a 32° Mason.

There are a number of tomb stones, as well as mausoleums which are the worse for wear. Some mausoleums have over the years replaced their original fancy bronze or ironwork gates with cement, due to repeated vandalism. Of course, tombs also suffered from the effects of several serious hurricanes over the past century. As a result, it is difficult to determine at times whether a stone was the victim of weather or the callousness of humanity.

Among the most interesting stones are those associated with the Woodsmen of the World. This fraternal organization was founded in 1890 in Omaha, Nebraska, by Joseph Cullen Root. Root, who was a member of several other fraternal organizations including the Freemasons, founded Modern Woodmen of America (MWA) in Lyons, Iowa, in 1883, after hearing a sermon about "pioneer woodsmen clearing away the forest to provide for their families". Taking his own surname to heart, he wanted to start a society that "would clear away problems of financial security for its members.”
It was responsible for the erection of numerous distinctive tombstones depicting tree stumps across the country before 1930. Since 2015, it has been known by the name WoodmenLife. There are easily a dozen or more Woodsmen of the World stones in the Miami City Cemetery, including one which is included in the old walled Jewish Segment of the graveyard.

A few stones sported the three rings which signify membership in the Odd Fellows, and others have symbols which appear to be related to the Order of Knights of Pythias.

Whatever their affiliations, they have all gone to the eternal east, and it would appear that any petty, dogmatic, or sectarian biases relating to their membership in fraternal orders expired with them. Now that is something we shouldn't need to die to experience.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Rough Ashlar No. 23: A Rhetorical Question

Allow me to offer an initial warning: if you haven't figured it out already, if you are a bit stuffy, or adverse to the idea that Freemasonry should be open to critique, then you probably want to give the Hedge Mason a pass. Also note, perhaps more than usual, this post is somewhat rhetorical in tone. I have a very simple intention here. I wish to ask Freemasons in the United States, although the question is a relevant one for Freemasons anywhere, but this is directed specifically at Freemasons in the United States, as the details should make clear, to consider something carefully.

Every so often, Freemasons rouse themselves from their slumber long enough to contemplate if only for a moment, why their membership numbers are in the toilet. Usually, the responses, when there are any voiced, take the form of either the observation that after 1960, society somehow changed and young men stopped joining fraternal organizations, or something akin to that. Seldom does anyone address why that is so, but when they do the usual response is a more detailed and vaguely sociological explanation that leaves nobody any wiser. Another response is to offer an historical analysis of the decline, again offering no real explanation. The next stage of the response, much like the traditional stages of denial, offers a list of methodologies for correcting the problem. It seems the common wisdom that we need to advertise, we need to not advertise, we need to hold massive group initiation days (sort of like President Day car sales) or we don't because they never work. In fact, we need to do everything we can to repackage and remarket our "product" without actually making any adjustment to the product itself. After all, we are perfect. Younger generations just need to realize that.

Folks, did it ever occur to anyone, that people don't buy products that are past their expiration dates? People do not look at the most bruised, wormy apple on the fruit counter and say, "how cute! I think I'll take this one." They just don't. 

Let's have a look. Two Grand Lodges currently are coming out of their hate closets and banning gays. Two Grand Lodges out of the entire country have seen fit to make public declarations condemning this and taking action against it. Two. One more rather cautiously suggested to their membership that it should know what they will want to do. Of the rest, one can feel the pressure of the inflated lungs collectively holding their breaths. 

But that's not all. Today, I read about a law case against the Florida Grand Lodge for maintaining a Jim Crow statute on its books. Really folks? 

So, let me get around to asking that question. If you don't offer equal access to the public, we can't share our masonic experience with our friends of different races, different gender preferences (much less different genders) and in many places, Florida included, of different religions, or no religions, and we get to spend most of our time attending financial meetings because we don't really approve of esoteric freemasonry, or metaphysics, and we can't really explore a variety of rituals, or discuss politics, or discuss religion, or pretty much any other current event, and we can't really deal with the issue of personal improvement unless it conforms to the official GL scripts whether they serve the intended purpose effectively anymore or not, then what is it within Freemasonry that is supposed to attract new members? 

While this question may have the appearance of a rhetorical one, and on the surface, it is just that, it also is meant as a serious question. No, it is not my intention to simply speak ill of Freemasonry. Lately, it doesn't need my help to do that. Nor am I looking to have any of you send me your responses. Although you are more than welcome to do so, it's not that sort of question. It is a question that I think each mason, especially now, needs to be asking themselves. The individual to whom the answer to this question should be directed is the reader; each and every one of you. If you don't like the answers, what are you going to do about it?