Saturday, January 08, 2011

Atheists and Freemasonry

In a previous post, "Universal Freemasonry", I wrote about the possibility of an atheist becoming a Freemason. Of course, most American Masons would vehemently disagree with my opinion on the matter. Despite this there exists within the liberal Masonic community a sizable population of atheists. While I do not find this to be objectionable, what I do disagree with is the propensity of these Brethren to use the Craft as a platform to promote a militant form of atheism. A recent example of this involves the Grand Orient of the USA. On their website it is announced that the GOUSA has made its first female initiate, one Margaret Downey. The article draws particular attention to her activities promoting atheism.
According to the GOUSA's website FAQ:
"The GOUSA is not concerned with the religious, metaphysical, or philosophical beliefs of its members. A person’s character, not his/her personal and private theological beliefs, is the primary focus of the GOUSA."
Why then is the GOUSA making such hay of the fact that they have initiated a prominent atheist? If one of the primary tenets of their organization is "freedom of conscience" then the fact that Sister Downey is an atheist should be of no import. In fact, it should not even be mentioned, and certainly not advertised as some sort of accomplishment. Whether they intend to or not, the GOUSA is at the very least giving the appearance that they promote atheism, which is in direct conflict with their own concept of "freedom of conscience".
Too often it seems that liberal Masonic bodies use the concept of "freedom of conscience" to promote a radical anti-religious agenda. This has happened in the past with some of the larger liberal bodies, such as the Grand Orient of France, which has seen its members protest visits of the Pope to France while dressed in full Masonic regalia. Thus I suppose that it should come as no surprise that the GOUSA would follow suit. Nonetheless, just as mainstream American Masonic bodies do not promote any one religion over another even while requiring some sort of religious belief, liberal bodies should certainly not promote an agenda of non-belief, even while lacking a requirement for a belief in deity.
Freedom of conscience should go both ways. If one wishes to be free from religion, then that is perfectly acceptable. However, this does not mean that religion should be frowned upon, and those who wish to practice it should be held in the same regard as those who don't, particularly within a Masonic organization. As I mentioned before, one of the purposes of our Craft is to "cause true friendship to exist among those who might have otherwise remained at a perpetual distance". It is only through truly following the concept of "freedom of conscience" that this can be achieved. So mote it be!

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Another New Year...

Here it is, another New Year and another chance to start afresh. In 2010, I was making a pretty good go of it for the first couple of months, but alas, a rash of circumstances caught up with me and curtailed my blogging momentum. Truth is, 2010 was not the greatest year for me, in the Masonic sense. Having returned from Afghanistan, I really wanted to increase my Masonic activity by visiting and possibly becoming active in the local Lodges. Unfortunately, despite my good intentions, I only managed to make one Lodge meeting here in Alaska and one in my home Lodge. I did, however, meet many fine Brethren so I was not utterly without the fellowship of the Craft.
As I begin this my 12th year as a Mason, I am resolving to start anew and truly immerse myself in the Craft. Like a foreign language, the lessons of our Fraternity can dim in our memories without proper practice and use. We need to constantly recharge our batteries through interactions with our Brethren, attendance at Lodge meetings, study and myriad other ways. I am resolving to do these things and more, with greater vigor and enthusiasm. Hopefully, a positive side effect of this will be more inspiration for blogging. At this point, I am not promising anything, but I certainly hope to be more active on the blogging scene this year. So mote it be!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

More Light!

It's high summer here in Alaska, and even though the days are supposedly getting shorter, it seems the sun never really goes down. This abundance of actual light has led me to ponder more upon the metaphorical Light we as Masons are seeking.
One of the main places where we are set upon the path to this Light is through the Masonic ritual. The ritual, which binds us together as Brethren, inspires us and gives us direction in our quest. Indeed, each time we move up a Degree, we state that we are seeking "more Light in Masonry". But here in the United States, it seems that our Brethren from the past have bequeathed us a system that limits this ability.
Throughout the mainstream American jurisdictions of our Craft, the ritual has been standardized, and with a few exceptions, is more or less the same everywhere. There are differences, to be sure, but by and large, a Brother experiencing the Degrees in California will experience much the same ritual as a Brother in Georgia. Things are decidedly different in other parts of the world, however.
In many jurisdictions overseas, within the same Grand body a seeker can find any of a number of different variations on the Masonic ritual. Each one, while teaching the same basic lessons, offers a unique path towards Masonic Light. Thus, a Brother is given the opportunity to choose the path that best suits his temperament, rather than being subjected to the "one size fits all" approach that prevails here.
With today's advanced communications, Brothers are being exposed to Masonic ideas from every corner of the globe. Now more than ever, inquisitive Brothers are finding that the Masonic experience is not limited to the narrow vision of mainstream American Grand Lodges. Perhaps it is time that American jurisdictions relinquish the stranglehold they have upon the Masonic ritual, and allow the practice of different Rites. By so doing, they will only be increasing the ability of the Brethren to seek that Masonic Light, of which we are all in search. So mote it be!

Monday, April 19, 2010


According to the counter, my blog has now received over 1000 views, so it seems that at least someone is reading this. It is gratifying to know that people find interest in my writings, and I hope that I have helped to spread Masonic Light.
I started out this year with a pretty good record, managing about one posting a week for the first few weeks of the year. Then life happened. I redeployed from Afghanistan to Alaska and have been extremely busy ever since. Between readjusting to normal life, finding a place to live and driving 3600 miles through the United States and Canada with my wife and six children, I have had very little time to devote to the Craft. Now I am mostly installed, waiting for my household goods to arrive, and hopefully I will have more time.
In my absence from the blogging scene, there has been a great deal of controversy in the Masonic world revolving around events in Arkansas. A great deal has already been written about this affair, and I will not add any further comment except to say that I find the actions of the Arkansas Grand Lodge despicable, embarrassing and unmasonic in the extreme. I offer my solidarity and support to Brother Derek Gordon and hope that whatever fate he suffers serves as a call to action for Brethren everywhere to fight against injustice in our Fraternity. We as Masons need to send the message that bigotry and intolerance have no place in our gentle Craft. Perhaps Grand Lodges need to be reminded that they exist to serve the Masons of their jurisdiction and not the other way around.
In the next few weeks I hope to resume an at least semi-regular posting schedule. Thanks for reading!

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Masonic Tarot Decks

Tarot cards are a rich mine of symbolism, and while not specifically Masonic in nature, they nonetheless contain much that is applicable to the Craft. There are two particular versions of the Tarot however which are explicitly Masonic.

The first of these is “Le Tarot Maçonnique” by Jean Beauchard. Brother Beauchard is a member of the Grand Lodge of France. Since the GLDF practices the European version of the Scottish Rite, the symbolism of his Tarot deck is based primarily upon this system. As you can see from his version of the High Priestess, the cards are vividly colored and drawn in a very unique style. While some of the cards may veer slightly from the traditional Tarot symbolism, they contain a great deal of material for the contemplative Mason. Each card is like a mini tracing board, and the Masonic and Tarot symbolism combine to form a powerful set of imagery to aid in the Masonic initiatory process. This deck is somewhat difficult and expensive to find as it is currently out of print, however it can be ordered from overseas here.

The second Masonic Tarot deck is known as "The Square and Compasses Tarot" and was designed by W. Bro. PC Brown. His deck is based on the Emulation workings, including the Holy Royal Arch and Mark Master degrees. According to W. Bro. Brown, this deck was designed to reflect the earliest Tarot decks as well as enhance the Masonic symbolism inherent in them. While simpler artistically than “Le Tarot Maçonnique”, this version has its own elegance and is no less symbolic and thought-provoking. In fact, American Masons may find this deck slightly easier to work with, as the symbolism contained in it is closer to the version of the Craft that we practice here. Despite this, any Mason can learn a great deal by meditating upon this deck. The Square and Compasses Tarot doesn't seem to be widely available here in the United States, but it can be ordered from England here.

In and of itself, the Tarot is a powerful tool and worthy of deep study. When it is combined with Masonic symbolism this power is only enhanced. I would highly recommend both Masonic Tarot decks to the contemplative and curious Brother. By studying and meditating upon them, a Brother can make great strides in his Masonic journey, helping him to obtain ever greater amounts of that Light we all seek.

So mote it be!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Controversy in Pennsylvania-Ballot Reform

As many of you are undoubtedly already aware, there is quite a controversy brewing in Pennsylvania over a slate of ambitious reforms proposed by MW Thomas Sturgeon. While I certainly have an opinion about what is occurring there, this is an internal matter, and as such, it is not for me to make any suggestions as to how the Brethren of Pennsylvania handle the proposed reforms. The controversy does however draw attention to several important ideas, which are important for all Masons to consider.
One of the proposed reforms involves balloting. In most jurisdictions, one black cube is enough to deny a petitioner entry into the Fraternity. MW Sturgeon is proposing to change this requirement to three black cubes.
We are taught that harmony within a Lodge is extremely important. It is so important, in fact, that even an otherwise worthy candidate should be rejected if his acceptance would endanger this. As a result, unanimity is required to grant a candidate admission. Of course, if a candidate is objectionable enough to merit the casting of a black cube, then the matter should never even come to a vote, and the process should be stopped during the investigation. In theory this system should be held in high sanctity and never abused. In practice, however, this is not always the case.
To illustrate this point, I offer the following example from personal experience: an upstanding young man presented a petition to the Lodge. His father, a Past Master was the sitting Lodge chaplain. The investigating committee performed their duty and gave this young man the highest recommendation. When the time came for the vote, however, he received one black cube, and thus was rejected. Not surprisingly, the Lodge was stunned. If the candidate was truly unworthy, why did the Brother who dropped the black cube not bring his concerns to the Master during the investigation stage, thus sparing the candidate and his father the embarrassment of a negative vote?
As with many things, however, there was more to this case than initially met the eye. Even though Masonic tradition holds that no discussion should be held concerning a ballot, the Brother in question, in a fit of pique, made known his reason for rejecting the candidate. Apparently he had a conflict with the second signer of the young man’s petition. Instead of resolving the conflict in a Masonic fashion, he used the ballot box to exact his revenge. The unfortunate candidate was only incidental to the whole affair. As a result of this, a Lodge that was badly hurting for leadership and new blood lost an excellent candidate and an active Past Master.
Admittedly, cases such as the above are rare. They should be nonexistent. When an errant Brother abuses the ballot box, he not only puts his ego above the future of our Fraternity, but he also shows that he has obviously not taken to heart the lessons that it teaches. Thanks to the one black cube rule, any Brother with a chip on his shoulder can unjustly deny a candidate, and by custom, nothing can be done to stop him. Furthermore, since no discussion is allowed, this act of cowardice can be completely anonymous.
By increasing the number of black cubes required, the chances of this happening are greatly reduced. Rarely will two or more Brothers conspire in this fashion, especially if the reason for rejecting the candidate is completely un-Masonic as in the above case. Implementing this type of reform protects the sanctity of the balloting process rather than violating it as some claim.
Sometimes reform in our Fraternity can be painful. The shrieking choruses of “We’ve never done it that way!” or “This violates tradition!” can be enough to discourage even the most intrepid efforts. Despite this, reform can be worthwhile and even desirable. Ballot reform is one such instance. By instituting a rule requiring more than one black cube to deny a candidate, the sanctity of the ballot is only reinforced. In a perfect world, this would not be necessary, but sometimes even Brother Masons can let their passions get the best of them. With these reforms in place, worthy candidates will hopefully never be denied due to the un-Masonic actions of an egotistical Brother.
So mote it be!

Post script: Luckily, this story has a happy ending, if not for the original Lodge. The candidate waited the requisite time and then resubmitted his petition to the Lodge of his second signer, which happened to be about 40 miles away. He was of course accepted, and he and his father both are active there. In fact, the young man in question progressed through the chairs and is now a Past Master himself.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Masonically Inspired Studies-BOTA

“When the ears of the student are ready to hear, then cometh the lips to fill them with Wisdom.”-the Kybalion

In my previous post, I mentioned that Freemasonry has led me to study various esoteric topics. One avenue of study of which I would like to make particular mention involves several of those disciplines.

About two years ago, while reading about our Craft, I came across a mention of Brother Paul Foster Case, and the organization he founded, Builders of the Adytum. Surprised that I had never heard of this, I was instantly intrigued and began delving deeper. Soon I found that this Brother, who had formerly been involved in the Golden Dawn system, created his organization in order to teach some of the important doctrines of the western mystery tradition, particularly those related to qabbalah and tarot. Furthermore, I discovered that BOTA was still extant with an active presence on the internet, and offered their teachings via a correspondence course. At around the same time, I began to see quite a bit of positive discussion about BOTA on the various online Masonic fora that I frequent. I immediately signed up and began following the courses. While my study has been off and on due to a busy life, I have found their teachings to be extremely interesting and worthwhile.

The first course which they offer is entitled “Seven Steps of Practical Occultism” and helps the student lay a foundation for future esoteric studies. While the lessons seem to be somewhat simple, I can attest that the teachings they impart have real power, and if practiced diligently can lead to tangible results. This course leads into “Introduction to Tarot” where the student is given an overview of the Major Arcana of the tarot in preparation for further study in the next course “Fundamentals of Tarot”. In “Fundamentals” the student receives deeper instruction in the symbolism and actually begins working with the cards by coloring them. This is done in order to make the cards more personal as well as to impress one’s own unique vibrations upon them. I have only progressed partially through this course, so I do not know what comes next, but from what I understand, the further courses are quite extensive, and involve several years’ worth of material. If they are anything like what I have already experienced, I can only imagine the wealth of knowledge and practical experience that they will provide.

As I mentioned before, sometimes our Craft can lead us down strange paths that we may never have previously considered. Before I joined our Fraternity, I never would have thought to find myself immersed in such esoteric material, but Freemasonry has awakened in me a burning desire to seek after and study the mysteries. Along the way, my life has been greatly enriched and my mind opened to new horizons that may have otherwise been obscured from my view by the clouds of darkness. Rather than wane, my excitement and enthusiasm for our Craft, and the knowledge it points to has only increased. I hope that this continues for the rest of my Masonic life.
So mote it be!