Sunday, August 2, 2015

Thinking Outside The Box

In the last post, I shared an image I received online from a friend and brother which I thought offered a brilliant image and idea, although it only expressed the barest essence of that idea. That idea was that Freemasons need a wake up call.
Freemasons do need a wake up call. All of us. As I see it, while I find much more to commend Liberal or alternate Freemasonry to the UGLE derived variety, I can see many of the same institutional problems in both Continental and Insular Freemasonry, although admittedly the descendants of Insular Freemasonry in the United States tend to be less friendly toward their brethren in other branches of the fraternity than the Continental Masons are.

While I realize other Masons' mileage may vary, my view is as follows. We Masons do need a wake up call. We are the inheritors - all of us - of a wonderful tradition. It in essence, whatever its ultimate origins, and however it came to us, is a set of instructions for self improvement. By following these instructions, which as we all know, are delivered through symbols and rituals, we can indeed make ourselves better. 

Somewhere along the way, however, almost all of Freemasonry has lost its way. Certainly, we still have access to those teachings, and now and again, one or another of us, endeavor with varying success to apply them to our own lives. We do it however, rather fitfully. We have as a group become sidetracked by uniforms, and the self same rituals, and worst of all, by the chimeras of power and division. 

We seek the power of offices and we have made our fraternity safe and comfortable and alas, largely unchallenging. We have allowed our institutions to become servants to politics, both originally of empire and state, and ultimately of a less purposeful and self deluding politics of the lodge and grand lodge. The distortions of our histories which helped justify these efforts have become gospel to us, and we use them to keep a wedge between our own form of Masonry and those of other obediences. 

So we become obsessed by the minutia of our traditions. We study and research, and from time to time we go forth and do battle with other groups, which today means mostly throwing insults at perceived enemies online, convinced that the "other" Mason is all the horrible things we have claimed of him, or worse yet, her.

And we hope that the great numbers of the past will return. We assume if we pitch the same lines often enough, but maybe update the graphics, that a new generation will become enamored of what we have. We have invested a lot in our Masonry. We have studied its forms, we have become fond of it. And yet, we cannot see the writing on the wall; we are essentially not being honest with ourselves. Freemasonry is slowly fading like an old ghost.

Now, I happen to find Freemasonry as diverting, as stimulating, as worthy of study, and as beneficial as the next Mason, so saying these things is not an attempt to disparage the fraternity.  The issue is we need to think outside the box. It is perhaps no accident that the forms of word lodge in other languages may be translated by several words into English. Those words include house, store, and box.

We need to think outside the box.

In essence, we need to think beyond the lodge; the Masonic lodge, our lodge, any lodge.

To those responsible for getting the message out, for education in their lodges,  to those who represent our current version of advertising - Masonic books and blogs, since like politics, and religion, we like to pretend that we don't discuss such matters, we need to explore other ways of sharing the essential message of Freemasonry, of why it called us and of how it has benefitted us.

But however we seek to reach out, we have to turn away from the tried and true approaches and be more creative. Here's the wake up call - We have fallen asleep. The truth we have to wake up to is this: The Freemasonry of years gone by has gone. Tomorrow's Freemasonry, if there is any, will be different. And all of them will share the same secret, because if we are doing things right, the mystery of Freemasonry is constantly reborn, in a distinct, but perhaps familiar form for each generation.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

A Masonic Wake Up Call

I came across a wonderful graphic today online through a friend of mine, and decided to share it with everyone, because I think the message is very much on target today.

Translated it states that "I think that the Masons of today, we do not need light to illumine us, we need a bell to wake us up!"

Mil gracias a R .·. L .·. Francesc Ferrer i Guardia n° 1821.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Project AWE: Where Art Meets Magic


Welcome to Project AWE (Aesthetics of Western Esotericism) = Where Art Meets Magic = Magicae artis occurat

Project Awe invites the public to join them in search of new and inspiring art evidence demonstrating esoteric ideas across time

Project Awe is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization on a mission to explore forgotten connections between Hermetic-Cabalist traditions & Art. Using the esoteric "key", AWE provides new dimensions to understanding & experiencing cultural icons of Western European heritage. Join us in search of new and inspiring evidence demonstrating esoteric ideas across time in the arts from Leonardo Da Vinci to Mozart.

project AWE offers Invisible Museum Tours an art journey to museums led by artists, scholars, & experts in the fields of Art, History, & Esotericism creating unforgettable experiences that change the way we look and interact with art.

The name for these unique tours was inspired by the concept of "invisible college" mentioned in German Rosicrucian pamphlets in the early 17th century.  This society's common theme was to acquire knowledge through experimental investigation.  "Invisible College" seems to have existed in member's minds & hearts rather than in a physical location.

project AWE promotes creativity in visual, literary, and music arts. Programs and collaborations are supported by grants

Project Awe engages via various media including:
public lectures, workshops, conferences, tours, TV series, translation work, publications, art exhibitions, recitals, & performances.

project AWE launched the Young Artist Program (Y.A.P.) to create a support system for young talent & to raise scholarship funds helping the students transition to Art College – making it possible for their dreams to become a career.

“A man that looks on glass,
On it may stay his eye
Or if he pleaseth, through it pass,
And then the heaven espy.”
— George Herbert, 1633

Friday, July 17, 2015

Life Experiences – Ruaraidh MacThòmais: Cisteachan-Laighe

Life experiences; they shape us, and our understandings and actions. They alter how we view and interact with the world. I still recall exactly where I was in that moment nearly half a century ago when I had the realization which Ruaraidh MacThòmais speaks about so eloquently in this poem concerning the death of culture, of language death and its impact on those who experience it personally. Though he speaks of painful experience, such experiences may help us forge our path through life in unique and even positive ways. Taking our personal experiences as fodder for a life lived with meaning should be something for which we strive.


Duin' àrd, tana
's fiasag bheag air,
's locair 'na làimh:
gach uair theid mi seachad
air bùth-shaoirsneachd sa' bhaile,
's a thig gu mo chuinnlean fàileadh na min-sàibh,
thig gu mo chuimhne cuimhne an àit ud,
le na cisteachan-laighe,
na h-ùird 's na tairgean,
na saibh 's na sgeilbean,
is mo sheanair crom,
is sliseag bho shliseag ga locradh
bhon bhòrd thana lom.

Mus robh fhios agam dè bh' ann bàs;
beachd, bloigh fios, boillsgeadh
den dorchadas, fathann de'n t-sàmhchair.
'S nuair a sheas mi aig uaigh,
là fuar Earraich, cha dainig smuain
thugam air na cisteachan-laighe
a rinn esan do chàch:
'sann a bha mi 'g iarraidh dhachaigh,
far am biodh còmhradh, is tea, is blàths.

Is anns an sgoil eile cuideachd,
san robh saoir na h-inntinn a' locradh,
cha tug mi 'n aire do na cisteachan-laighe,
ged a bha iad 'nan suidhe mun cuairt orm;
cha do dh' aithnich mi 'm brèid Beurla,
an liomh Gallda bha dol air an fhiodh,
cha do leugh mi na facail air a' phràis,
cha do thuig mi gu robh mo chinneadh a' dol bàs.
Gus an dainig gaoth fhuar an Earraich-sa
a locradh a' chridhe;
gus na dh' fhairich mi na tairgean a' dol tromham,
's cha shlànaich tea no còmhradh an cràdh.

Ruaraidh MacThòmais (Derick Thomson) from Creachadh na Clarsaich/ Plundering the Harp (Macdonald, 1982)


A tall thin man
with a short beard,
and a plane in his hand:
whenever I pass
a joiner's shop in the city,
and the scent of sawdust comes to my nostrils,
memories return of that place,
with the coffins,
the hammers and nails,
saws and chisels,
and my grandfather, bent,
planing shavings
from a thin, bare plank.

Before I knew what death was;
or had any notion, a glimmering
of the darkness, a whisper of the stillness.
And when I stood at his grave,
on a cold Spring day, not a thought
came to me of the coffins
he made for others:
I merely wanted home
where there would be talk, and tea, and warmth.

And in the other school also,
where the joiners of the mind were planing,
I never noticed the coffins,
though they were sitting all round me;
I did not recognise the English braid,
the Lowland varnish being applied to the wood,
I did not read the words on the brass,
I did not understand that my race was dying.
Until the cold wind of this Spring came
to plane the heart;
until I felt the nails piercing me,
and neither tea nor talk will heal the pain.

Ruaraidh MacThòmais (Professor Derick S. Thomson) was a poet, publisher and editor whose impact on the Gaelic language has been immense.

MacThòmais was born in Steòrnabhagh, Leòdhas (Stornoway, Isle of Lewis), in 1921 and grew up in the nearby village of Pabail (Bayble). Following graduation at Aberdeen University and wartime service with the RAF, he studied at Cambridge and Bangor University. In 1948 he was appointed Assistant of Celtic at Edinburgh University. Ruaraidh MacThòmais died in Glasgow, 21 March 2012.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Wilmshurst Revisted: Two Overlooked Republished Classics

A few years back there was an intensified interest in enlightened material within mainstream United States Freemasonry. As a result, a number of worthwhile blogs and even podcasts were developed and had a couple of years of life before sputtering. Some are still around, but despite some flag waving, we aren't seeing the numbers reversing.

This is a shame, because even though I believe that the alternatives to UGLE derived Freemasonry have the potential of reinvigorating Freemasonry, I also think that despite its misunderstanding of Anderson's intentions, its refusal to admit women, and its deplorable performance vis a vis integration, UGLE derived Freemasonry retains traditions and knowledge worthy of praise.  I also would gladly see it revive itself and become vibrant and relevant in this century. If any approach to its rituals could help in achieving that goal, I think that reflected in the writings of William Leslie Wilmshurst can lay claim to being such.

One of the authors of the first half of the 20th century who most deserves a second chance, in my opinion, and in the opinion of others, including Dr. Robert Lomas, is Walter Leslie Wilmshurst. Wilmshurst wrote about a dozen works, some were short essays while others were somewhat longer.  As with any author, some are better than others. His critique of some aspects of Freemasonry reflected his own biases, but his works of the spiritual aspects of Masonic practice deserve a place in all Freemason's library.

A few years ago, Plumbstone reissued two of his most important works in revised and annotated versions, including extensive notes clarifying his points and theories which might not be easily understood by most British and American Freemasons. These books include his "The Meaning of Masonry," and "The Masonic Initiation."

A good sampling of several of Wilmshurst's texts may be viewed on Lomas' Website.

Walter Leslie Wilmshurst (22 June 1867 – 10 July 1939) was born in Chichester, West Sussex, England.  He was initiated as a Mason in the Huddersfield lodge in 1889, having moved to the town to become a solicitor, for a time becoming president of the Huddersfield Law Society. He died in Huddersfield, in West Yorkshire, England. He was the founding master of the Lodge of Living Stones in 1927, and served as W.M in that lodge in 1928-1930 and 1937-1938. The Lodge of Living Stones was formed in 1927 in Leeds, Yorkshire, to promote a deeper interpretation of the system of Freemasonry than is usually to be found in the English Constitution.

It still meets on a monthly basis in Leeds to discuss and promote these same ideas and to help the development of any brother Mason who finds its principles resonate with his own internal "tuning fork."

According to their website, there are currently twenty-four full members of the Lodge and thirty Associate members.

The Annual Unpleasantness of July 12: The Orange Order Now and Then

The Orange Order gets back in the news every year around July 12th. Most recently it is because a major figure in the Orange Order has been charged with attempted vehicular homicide. A teenager, Phoebe Clawson was trapped under a vehicle after an incident in Ardoyne, Belfast.
In what can only be viewed as equivalent to policemen keeping their jobs after murdering innocent, unarmed victims, a prominent Orangeman has been granted bail after appearing in court accused of attempting to murder two people knocked down by a car during a riot in Belfast.

John Aughey (61), was released on the condition he adhered to strict bail restrictions. Phoebe Clawson (16) was trapped under the vehicle after the incident at the Ardoyne in north Belfast on Monday night. Police and nationalist residents moved swiftly to lift it off her. She is in a stable condition in hospital having suffered multiple broken bones.

Mr Aughey, from Brae Hill in north Belfast, is charged with her attempted murder and faces the same count in relation to another pedestrian allegedly struck by his vehicle. The incident unfolded during a loyalist riot at a sectarian interface between the nationalist Ardoyne area and the unionist Woodvale area. The lawyer questioned the appropriateness of the charges, claiming the alleged offenses were of a dangerous driving nature, not attempted murder.
Aughey, dressed in a black and white polo shirt, spoke only to confirm he understood the charges during the low key hearing.

About the Orange Order:

The Loyal Orange Institution, more commonly known as the Orange Order, is a Protestant fraternal organization based primarily in Northern Ireland. It also has a significant presence in the Scottish Lowlands and lodges throughout the Commonwealth and United States. It was founded in County Armagh in 1795 – during a period of Protestant-Catholic sectarian conflict– as a Masonic-style brotherhood sworn to maintain Protestant dominance. Its name recalls the Dutch Protestant king William of Orange, who defeated the army of King James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. Its members wear Orange sashes and are referred to as Orangemen. The Order is best known for its yearly marches, the biggest of which are held on 12 July which have long instigated violence.

It's foundation should be contextualized by the understanding that during the period in which it was created, in 1791 the United Irishmen were founded. The United Irishmen was a self-consciously non-sectarian organization, which included both Protestant and Catholic Irish intent upon gaining independence for the nation. It's founder, Theobald Wolf Tone was a Belfast Protestant. The United Irishmen had many ties at the time to Freemasonry, and it was only after the brutal suppression following the failure of the uprising in 1798, that Freemasonry began to be considered an anti-Irish institution in Ireland, which led, not surprisingly to the revisionist claims in some circles that Freemasons who supported the Irish cause were somehow not legitimate masons.

Politically, the Orange Order is a ultra-conservative British unionist organization with links to right wing political movements, paramilitary organizations, and even Nazi inspired organizations and the Klan. It campaigned against Scottish independence in 2014. The Order sees itself as defending Protestant civil and religious liberties, whilst critics accuse the Order of being sectarian, triumphalist and supremacist. As a Protestant society, non-Protestants cannot become members unless they agree to adhere to the principles of Orangeism and convert, nor can Protestants married to Catholics.