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.

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