Thursday, August 16, 2018

In Memorium: John Slifko

Today I received word of the passing of one of my dearest friends, my most fraternal brother John Slifko.

Those who knew John knew he was no stranger to the world of Freemasonry. Those who did not know the man or his character may not have not realized that he frequently played a role behind the scenes to avoid controversy and to assure positive outcomes in any venture to which his name was attached. The path he trod was always guided by the highest ethics.
In his career he brushed shoulders and maintained relationships with some significant figures in American Cultural life. He maintained a communication with and interviewed Burl Ives, and was the personal secretary to Manly P. Hall for some time. He maintained close ties with people and organizations involved with Freemasonry and esoteric studies in Europe, North America, and Latin America.

John Slifko was an expert in urban planning and Freemasonry. He graduated from San Francisco State University in 1987 with a Bachelor’s degree in Urban Studies and Geography. In 1989, John Slifko received his Master’s degree in Urban Planning from the University of California, Los Angeles, and more recently received a Doctorate in Geography from the same institution. He served with Councilwoman Ruth Galanter from 1988 to 1989 as a Planning Deputy for Los Angeles International Airport. John also worked as a Legislative Aide and a Field Representative in Congress for eight years.

As Founder and Co-Director of the Roosevelt Center for the study of Civil Society and Freemasonry, John Slifko raised funds to support scholars and gave lectures, and tirelessly promoted the academic study of the fraternal organization of Freemasonry. He was a member of the Association of American Geographers, the American Historical Association, The John Dewey Society, and the Academic Society for Research into Freemasonry and Fraternalism. John Slifko volunteered for The Midnight Mission, which takes the homeless off of Skid Row and rehabilitates them into self-sufficient members of society. He contributed to the UCLA Foundation’s endowment, supporting the educational endeavors of the university.John Slifko was an active stock trader from 2000 to 2006, investing in green technologies. 

In his spare time, he pursued the study of geographical mapping and exploration, as well as archeaoastronomy, the study of how past cultures understood the sky. He also participated in Healthy City, a California information portal that helps residents connect to health and social services and community data.

He was active in the quest to bring the Modern or French Rite to North America in recent years and instrumental in the work to bring about the foundation of the Higher Orders of Wisdom in North America and the Caribbean. It was in fact at his prompting that I chose to create the Hedge Mason Blog. He was active in the foundation of and the promotion of Project Awe, (Aesthetics of Western Esotericism) - Where Art meets Magic.

While he struggled with failing health against great odds over the last few years, he never dwelt upon his problems and continued to struggle relentlessly for those causes about which he felt passion and loyalty. He was a devotee of the Blessed Virgin and it was perhaps no surprise, as his wife Belinda noted, that he left this world on the day the Church celebrated the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (August 15)

Freemasonry has lost a true crusader and a gentle soul to the Eternal East.

His family urges people who wish to do something in his memory to make donations to The Hirsberg Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

The Evolution of the Vth Order of the French or Modern Rite

Recent years have been witness to a kind of rediscovery of the French or Modern Rite, which despite being a great unknown was the foundation of what would later evolve into various Masonic ritual "manifestations" both good and bad. Undoubtedly, the proliferation of the so-called High Degrees and heterodox systems, often lacking in coherence and sometimes contrary to the original aims of the Order, the intrusion of extravagant and visionary fashions, grotesque messianic systems, pseudomystical rituals and other varied fauna, led French continental masonry, and specifically the Grand Orient of France, to the creation of a "Grand General Chapter of France" in order to bring order and give uniform coherence to the chaos that was 18th Century Continental Freemasonry.

From time to time, history provides us with clear minds in various fields of art and knowledge. One of the transcendental figures to approach this structuring was Roëttiers de Montaleau, who along with Graffin, Salivet, Saurine, Millon and many other of those 81 founding members (note the number 81), gave form to the Orders of Wisdom, previously called Superior Orders, the intent of which was and continues to be that of coherently grouping the teachings, bringing together all the historical currents of the so-called Scottism, which I have developed extensively in other articles and essays.

Alexandre-Louis Roëttiers de Montaleau
The original founding idea of ​​1784 that simply intended the making of a V Order that contains "all the physical and metaphysical degrees and all systems, especially those adopted by the Masonic associations in force", remains a hard task to master. it came to be realized progressively and, curiously, was forgotten in some cases, or unknown in others, either by laziness, ignorance or egocentric overeagerness.

The French Rite of the Moderns that Roëttiers de Montaleau called in one of the reorganization proposals as the "Primitive Rite" affirming with this qualifying adjective the source of the French Rite, a name adopted to differentiate it from others created later and also implemented in France. I will leave for another occasion my modest analysis about the misuse that has been given to a supposed "Primitive Rite" in other parts of the world.

Now let's return to the true concept, that Primitive Rite, the French Rite or Rite of the Moderns, which compiled after the three symbolic degrees represents an authentic Academy and Conservatory of masonic degrees of the Enlightenment and the accumulated knowledge of multiple ritual systems.
This ambitious, but necessary regulation on the one hand academic and on the other administrative, is still alive today, and its genesis was intended to present a vision of the future as indicated by its first Statutes and General Regulations of March 19, 1784.
It is not simply a compilation or "Ark of the Covenant" of the first and historic 81 degrees distributed in 9 series, but meant to accommodate the greater masonic knowledge it contained, thus incorporating and conserving the culminating degrees of all the different systems and Rites.

That is the ultimate goal of the V Order: to reunite what is dispersed at the highest level of initiation. That's how it was and that's how it is today.

(Translated from the Spanish of Joaquim Villalta)

Joaquim Villalta, Vª Orden, Gr. ·. 9, 33rd
Director of the International Academy of the Fifth Order - UMURM
Member of the Sublime Council of the Modern Rite for Ecuador
Vice-president of the Circle of Studies of the French Rite "Roëttiers de Montaleau"
Honorary Member of the Lusitano Grande Orient
Honorary Member of the Colombian National Grand Orient
Honorary Member of the Traditional Grand Lodge of Paraguay
Very Powerful Sovereign Grand Commander of the Supreme Council of the 33rd Degree for Spain of the Ancient and Accepted Rite (R de C)

Saturday, August 4, 2018

New Modern Rite Links

The Universal Masonic Union of Modern Rite – UMURM, was created under the 1st International Congress of Supreme Councils and Major General Chapters of the Modern Rite or French Rite, held in Barcelona, Spain, on 11 and 12 June 2011.

Its purpose is not to become a supra structure, but rather a body of “research, dissemination and interaction” exclusively for the Philosophical or higher degrees Organizations that wish to join, regardless of any discrepancies of “recognition” taking as a fundamental basis of “regularity” and initiatory “legitimacy” as long as this can be properly demonstrated.

The Academy of Vth. Order

Is a body of the Universal Masonic Union of Modern Rite, UMURM, which limits members exclusively to SS.·.GG.·.II.·. Rite, “Vº Ord. ·., Gr.·. 9 “, attached freely and voluntarily, exclusively from the Philosophical Powers officially empowered to confer this degree in the traditional manner and regularly.

It is headed by the Director, who in turn coordinates various research and development projects, as well as analysis in the fields of history, ritual, philosophy, symbolism and society.

In compliance with our tridivisa “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”, it organizes, produces, provides and promotes written material about the true origins of speculative Freemasonry in general and the Modern or French Rite in particular. Members are part of the academic team and are committed to support in fulfilling these tasks, for which they are accredited.

The UMURM has a blog with a good number of interesting a^ticles related to the French Rite and the Higher Orders of Wisdom. Please giqe them a look.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Genderbending Freemasonry

These are strange times, indeed. The United Grand Lodge of England has taken what for Male Craft Freemasonry is a dramatic move. Without wishing to be cynical about it, I suspect they realized that failure to address the issue as they did most likely would result in a devasting legal decision against them. Certainly, the wording of their directive was written by a team of lawyers.

The UGLE, announced that Freemasons in good standing who choose to undergo gender reassignment must still be received as Masons with full rights to attend lodge and should further be treated with kindness and respect. From the perspective of simple humanitarian behavior, this might not seem an unreasonable expectation. It however must have been a decision that caused endless debate and not a few sleepless nights, at least for the Grand Master. For most people under 50, the variety of gender identities people claim today seem no big issue. Such is not the case for many older people, and the conservative character that all too often dominates the Masonic community, especially in North America, where it often is reactionary, has not made adjusting to modernity pleasant or smooth sailing for the fraternity. Male Craft Masonry might uncharitably be called "the Brotherhood of the Ostrich" for so often burying its head in the sand.

While I have no sympathy for the more backward leaning attitudes of the Craft, I do understand that the discomfort and confusion is real. I may not personally be completely at ease with the myriad new gender identities, and especially surgical sexual changes, but then, the idea of cosmetic surgery disturbs me nearly as much. In anycase, if it's not my choice, who am I to judge? The point is that Male Craft Freemasons have regularly worked themselves up into frenzies over the idea that biologicaliy females might be made Freemasons, much less more modern gendered people. So, I find it to be the height of irony that in the paragon of Male Freemasonry, the UGLE, the gender barrier is now broken, not by accepting naturally born biological women, but by a much more controversial issue, at least for most Masons, gender reassigned individuals.

I suspect and this is speculative, that there are several reasons for this. The first, already hinted at is that it was initiated in response to a real and no doubt specific legal threat. Another probability is that it was easier to detach this decision from the traditional male-only stance of UGLE Freemasonry. There are no rules in the constitutions of Freemasonry that specifically address sex changes. However much chagrin this may cause, oddly enough, it is likely not as hard a pill for most Male Craft Freemasons to swallow as acceptig biologically born women. Further, the numbers are likely to be far fewer.

Of course, as a brief browse through online forums has confirmed, there is a predictable measure of distressed reaction among Masons. In one or two places, I actually noted some supportive commentary, but the opposite was more common. What surprised me most is that the entire matter was much more low key than I expected. That may change momentarily of course. However, it felt to me like people were waiting to exhale.

It's a seismic change. We will know in time how cataclismic a change it will be. It presents problems for leadership. Will they force, even if gradually, the membership in various states down the same route? Will they dig in their heels? Will some take the fateful move of denouncing the UGLE and rescinding recognition? That latter is not likely, but still possible. More likely, the ostrich will win the day as people try to pretend nothing happened.

Of course, the writing is on the wall. It is necessary for the Craft to move into the 21st century. Regardless of how many of the old guard fall on their own swords, women will inevitably follow.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Rough Ashlar No. 24: Obligations

Recently I have had several conversations with brethren of various obediences and jurisdictions on the matters of both oaths and obligations. These have led me to contemplate the differences between our masonic obligations stated and unstated, obvious and implicid.

For most the conversation seems simple and straightforward. They have sworn oaths and mostly these are interpreted in literal and unequivocable terms. They must follow the rules of the institution and must keep the secrets they have sworn to maintain. In today's Freemasonry, it would seem, if one contemplates anything related to the craft these are not among the things one considers. Yet, I would suggest that they should be. Indeed, they deserve to be on the top of the list.

As masons, we have certain obligations and foremost among those obligations ought to be to question them all.

 No, I am not suggesting that masons should not take their obligations and oaths seriously. Quite the opposite, I am suggesting that oaths and obligations that are not examined, questioned, and measured against our values both personal and masonic, are not being taken seriously. Socrates, is credited with saying that "the unexamined life is not worth living." I would suggest that the unexamined oath is not an oath at all.

As masons, we are expected to work on our rough ashlars. But it should be understood that we have collective as well as individual rough ashlars. Our masonic institutions are not perfect, nor are our rules and regulations carved in stone. They have changed and evolved both on paper (officially) and in interpretive practice (informally) for as long as Freemasonry has existed. Today there are many different Freemasonries, each with variations in oaths, regulations, and different definitions of what a "Masonic Secret" is.

Personally, I am not particularly preoccupied by the issue of Masonic secrets. We who are masons are familiar with those of our particular obedience, or at least, based upon my own informal surveys of  the matter, what Freemasons imagine them to be. In truth, there exists no Masonic Secret that has not been published, often multiple times.

But I am concerned with this: it appears that far too many masons assume that their oaths mean they have to accept things the way they are and that to challenge the status quo is tantamount to breaking their oaths. Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth.  Our Masonic institutions are far from perfect and have never been static.  it is our responsibility, I would suggest, to examine our institutions and if they are found to fall short of our higher standards, then we are obliged to work to improve them.

We are all entitled to different views on specific issues. I'm not going to point to any issue in particular. Rather, I wish to highlight what I would consider a "meta-issue." If we as a fraternity aim to seek more light, to smooth our rough ashlars, and to become better, than we have an obligation, I believe, to attempt to seek the same collectively. We must attempt to push our collective body to improve itself. We must seek to know ourselves, and strive to improve ourselves. We must not content ourselves with the narrowest of definitions concerning our Masonic obligations.

We cannot be content with the status quo.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Book Review: Masonic rivalries and literary politics

It seems to me as good a way as any to turn the lights back on here at the Hedge Mason to highlight a book that will stimulate thought. This title comes from the pen of Marsha Keith Schuchard, who brought us insight into Masonry and Cabalism in Jacobite Scotland.

Masonic rivalries and literary politics: from Jonathan Swift to Henry Fielding – May 17, 2018
by Marsha Keith Schuchard

Freemasonry had a major influence on politics and literature in eighteenth-century Britain, but many historical accounts have been limited by an overly Anglo-centric focus, which omitted the importance of Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and Europe in its development. The persistent “conventional wisdom” that the fraternity was non-political ignored the intense Jacobite-Hanoverian and Tory-Whig rivalries that continued from the 1690s. The assumption that Freemasonry generally espoused a rationalistic Enlightenment agenda omits the Hermetic, Cabalistic, and chivalric themes that infused the Écossais (Scottish-French) higher degrees which expanded rapidly in Europe and eventually in Britain itself. These rivalries and polarizations were reflected in the Tory-Jacobite writings of Jonathan Swift, Alexander Pope, Moses Mendes, Eliza Haywood, Chevalier Ramsay, and many others, while Whig-Hanoverian authors such as Daniel Defoe, Jean-Theophilus Desaguliers, “Orator” Henley, and Henry Fielding supported the loyalist agenda of the Grand Lodge of England. By providing a detailed, chronological account of these developments, this book fills many gaps in eighteenth-century Masonic history.

Marsha Keith Schuchard, Ph. D has written extensively on eighteenth-century Cabalistic and “illuminist” Freemasonry and its influence on Swift, Ramsay, Swedenborg, and Blake. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia.

Table of content
Chapter 1 - The Ruined Temple and the Flight of Knights (1685-1691)
Chapter 2 - Freemasons, Rosicrucians, and Radical Clubs (1691-1703)
Chapter 3 - Jacobites, Williamites, and Disputed Architectural Traditions (1695-1703)
Chapter 4 - Judaized Scots, Jacobite Jews, and the Problem of “False Brothers” (1702-1712)
Chapter 5 - Building Castles in the Air, at Home and Abroad (1710-1716)
Chapter 6 - The Swedish-Jacobite Plot and the Grand Lodge of London (1716-1719)
Chapter 7 - Scottish-Swedish Masonic Traditions and English Innovations (1719-1722)
Chapter 8 - Atterbury, Wharton, and “Combinations of Workmen” (1722-1723)
Chapter 9 - Chinese and Cabalistic Threats to the Grand Lodge (1723-1724)
Chapter 10 - Masonic Rivalries and International Ramifications (1725-1726)
Chapter 11 - A New King, Yet Old Corruption (1727-1730)
Chapter 12 - International Expansion of Chivalric Masonry (1730-1732)
Chapter 13 - Masonic Politics and “A Babel of Religions” (1732-1733)
Chapter 14 - Outbreaks of “Hyp” at Home and Abroad (1734)
Chapter 15 - Riots in Britain, Wars in Europe, Charges of Masonic Conspiracy (1735-1736)
Chapter 16 - Rival Claimants to the “Higher Order” and “Ancient Footing” (1737)
Chapter 17 - Two Young Pretenders to the British Throne (1738-1739)
Chapter 18 - Masonic Cabalists and the Opposition Cabal (1740-1742)
Chapter 19 - Mock Masons, Royal Arch Rebels, and Invasion Fears (1743-1744)
Chapter 20 - Rebuilding the Temple in the North (1745)
Chapter 21 - Early Jacobite Victories, Apparent Hanoverian Triumph (1745-1746)
Chapter 22 - Rival Grand Masters, Beheadings, and Boastings (1746-1748)
Chapter 23 - Disappearance of One Young Pretender, Emergence of the Other (1748-1750)
Epilogue - Schisms: Antients versus Moderns, Royalists versus Republicans, Nationalists versus Imperialists (1751-1788)

The book is available on Amazon.