Thursday, July 31, 2014

Book Review: The Brotherhood of Freemason Sisters by Lilith Mahmud

The Brotherhood of Freemason Sisters: Gender, Secrecy, and Fraternity in Italian Masonic Lodges
by Lilith Mahmud

Other books, notably those of Karen Kidd, have dealt with the subject of Women in Freemasonry, mostly but not exclusively in the English speaking world. This work examines material not as widely known in the Anglophone world. Lilith Mahmud, a talented scholar, takes us into the world of female Freemasons in Italian Freemasonry. It is a title that will inform and challenge the reader.

From the publisher's comments:

From its traces in cryptic images on the dollar bill to Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol, Freemasonry has long been one of the most romanticized secret societies in the world. But a simple fact escapes most depictions of this elite brotherhood: There are women Freemasons, too. In this groundbreaking ethnography, Lilith Mahmud takes readers inside Masonic lodges in contemporary Italy, where she observes the many ritualistic and fraternal bonds forged among women initiates of this elite and esoteric society.

Offering a tantalizing look behind lodge doors, The Brotherhood of Freemason Sisters unveils a complex culture of discretion in which Freemasons simultaneously reveal some truths and hide others. Women—one of Freemasonry’s best-kept secrets—are often upper class and highly educated but paradoxically antifeminist, and their self-cultivation through the Masonic path is an effort to embrace the deeply gendered ideals of fraternity. Mahmud unravels this contradiction at the heart of Freemasonry: how it was at once responsible for many of the egalitarian concepts of the Enlightenment and yet has always been, and in Italy still remains, extremely exclusive.  The result is not only a thrilling look at an unfamiliar—and surprisingly influential—world, but a reevaluation altogether of the modern values and ideals that we now take for granted.

What's Religion and is Freemasonry one?

There has been a recent spike in discussion of religion and Freemasonry in the blogosophere. Having read what's been posted, it seemed to me a topic I wished to weigh in on. While all the posts were interesting to read, I found myself agreeing with most of them, in part. I also found points on which I disagreed with my colleagues. That's fine with me. As the old Quaker aphorism states, "As hard as it may be to believe, I may be wrong and thou may be right." Even if I believe that to be a long shot, it's still a possibility.

First of all, while part of the Masonic World currently has a "religious test" as part of its entry requirements, it wasn't always so. In fact, the very phrase used to justify this religious imposition speaks against there being a requirement. That of course, only goes to show that when Masons want to establish a restrictive rule, they don't let a little thing like the truth get in their way.

In fact, Anderson's famous statement states quite clearly that

"A Mason is obliged by his Tenure, to obey the Moral Law, and if he rightly understand the Art, he will never be a stupid Atheist nor an irreligious Libertine. But though in ancient times Masons were charged in every country to be of the Religion of that Country or Nation, whatever it was, yet ‘tis now thought more expedient only to oblige them to that Religion in which all Men agree, leaving their particular opinions to themselves, that is, to be good Men and true, or Men of Honour and Honesty, by whatsoever Denominations or Persuasions they may be distinguished."

Let's go back and engage in a simple lesson in English. It would seem that Freemasons, at least in the English speaking world have some trouble understanding that language. When Anderson says that "if he rightly understand the Art," that is a clear expression of opinion. It was never meant to be either proscriptive or prescriptive. He stated that Masons expect that all will maintain that upon which all religions agree, and further, to avoid a further expansion of that (perhaps he also practiced the oracular arts and knew someone was going to bullox it up) that this was no more than being good, true, and honest. End of story. What is more, he also said that they should leave their opinions to themselves, which in my reading at least, suggests not only that institutional Freemasonry should keep its nose out of the question entirely, but that Freemasons themselves should keep their mouths shut about the matter. That's not to say Freemasons are not free to share their interests and beliefs with likeminded individuals, but it would seem to me that it parallels the idea that one doesn't seek to proselytize, which where ever you find it is a particularly odious practice.

Now that seems totally reasonable to me. While we are at it, while I am no atheist, no epicurian, to use an older term, it seems to me that Anderson, while he may not have actually been thinking of this (though perhaps he was) left the door wide open to admitting atheists  into Freemasonry. After all, no matter how attached anyone may be to religion, and a belief in God (of some sort), can not atheists also be good, true, and honest people? Therefore, they meet Anderson's original criteria. So, it would seem that the Grand Orient of France, in removing a requirement of a belief in God, was more accurately reflecting the words of Anderson than those who require a declaration of faith. In any case, as it has played out it is more about gatekeeping and politics than it is about faith. I have often suspected that the entire subject became important to the UGLE only as a reason to object to the French. 

Having settled the question of whether or not Freemasonry was intended to have a religious requirement, we can turn to whether Freemasonry is a religion or not.

The biggest disagreement I had with most of the remarks in the blogosphere, is not so much their intentions, although their conclusions are, in my opinion, somewhat compromised by their initial understandings, but is rather in the definitions they apply to the term "religion." Most all of them espoused a definition that was conveniently close to, and doubtless crafted from, a Christian definition of religion; one which mirrors the institutions and understandings of a Christian worldview. Therein lies a significant problem.  You see, not all religions fit those forms, and there is not one universal definition that reflects accurately what a religion is, or what its focus may be.

For example, if Freemasonry applies the demand to believe in God, that causes a serious problem for Buddhists, Jains, and Taoists, whose religions do not stipulate a belief in deity as any Christian would understand it. Further, some religions are more morally relative than is Christianity. As a social scientist whose doctoral dissertation was focused on religion, I would argue that a more accurate definition of religion is "a set of attitudes, beliefs, and practices pertaining to supernatural power." That, and nothing more. Each religion has its own sets of specific beliefs, attitudes and practices. Indeed most of them, including especially Christianity, have multiple and often conflicting sets of beliefs, attitudes and practices pertaining to supernatural power.  For those who have particularly narrow views on religion, "supernatural power" can and does refer to 'god' among other things and people.

If "religion" is therefore "a set of attitudes, beliefs, and practices pertaining to supernatural power," then since Freemasonry does possess sets of beliefs, attitudes, and practices pertaining to supernatural power, whether we are referring to the spiritual perfection of mankind, or the Grand Architect of the Universe, Freemasonry is a religion, whether or not you subscribe to more esoteric practices that interest some Freemasons or not. If one views religion as possessing dogmas and metaphysical teachings, and priests, then Freemasonry may be viewed as either a religion or not, depending on which version of what Freemasonry supposedly is, you either dogmatically accept (like some religions) or believe fervently (also as religions do). I have never met a Freemason who doesn't have (usually strong) opinions on this subject. I often wonder whether all too many of us would be prepared to go into battle and kill for the Masonic principle of Universal Brotherhood if our Grand Lodge dictated that we do so.

My point in this post was not to offend as many different types of Freemasons as possible, although I suspect I may have succeeded in either doing that or confusing them. Rather, I wanted to point out that the entire question is, in my opinion at least, totally irrelevant. It is the wrong question, and that means whatever answers come from the question do nothing really to bring us more light.

Religion is a moving target, and whether some Freemasons, or Freemasonic jurisdictions and obediences would like to claim to possess the one true and correct form of Freemasonry (just like some religions claim about themselves), Freemasonry also has more than one form or version. In short, Freemasonry and religion in general cannot be pinned down to only one thing. After all, the human spirit is multifaceted and too little understood for one size to fit all.

Freemasonry does serve many of the functions of religion for its members, and also, it is very different from what most Christians would consider religion to be. The majority, if not virtually all Freemasons, would argue that it is not a religion. Whether it really matters is probably moot. Religion and Freemasonry is in the eye of the beholder. The bigger question is...

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

World Conference on Fraternalism, Freemasonry, and History: Paris 2015

World Conference on Fraternalism, Freemasonry, and History: 
Research in Ritual, Secrecy, and Civil Society 

The Bibliotheque Nationale- Paris, France 

May 29-30, 2015 

Convened by the journal Ritual, Secrecy, and Civil Society in cooperation with the Bibliotheque Nationale, the first World Conference on Fraternalism, Freemasonry, and History: Research in Ritual, Secrecy, and Civil Society, focuses on the study of ritual, secrecy, and civil society vis-à-vis the dynamics of Masonic scholarship around the world. The conference aims to explore how civil society, secrecy, and ritual have been important elements during different episodes of local and world histories, and indeed still are.

The conference will be held bi-annually in Paris, and hopes to open new doors while promoting multilingual and multicultural scholarship in areas such as, the relations between such Masonic-related subjects as the Companionnage, guilds, friendly societies, and Greek fraternities.

The call for papers is now open, and perspectives on and interpretations of all time periods and geographic zones are welcome. Paper and panel proposals should be submitted to Whitney Shepard, Registrar of the Conference, at Papers accepted for presentation will be published by Westphalia Press in three collections: Vital Masonic Scholarship in the 21st Century, New Research in Secret Societies, and European Scholarship in Secrecy and Ritualism. Additionally, some presentations will be made available for online streaming and video recorded through the American Public University System.

Conference Committee: Guillermo De Los Reyes (Conference Chair- University of Houston), Paul Rich (George Mason University), Daniel Guiterrez-Sandoval (Policy Studies Organization), Pierre Mollier (Editor, Ritual, Secrecy, and Civil Society), Maria Eugenia Vazquez-Semadeni (University of California, Los Angeles), Brent Morris (Scottish Rite Supreme Council), John Belton (Manchester Association of Masonic Research)

Keynote Address by John Cooper, Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of California, President of the North American Conference of Grand Masters- Into the Maelstrom: The Issue of Masonic Regularity, Past and Present Commentator: Alain Bauer
Chair: Guiillermo De Los Reyes

Conference Website

Call for Papers

Thanks to John Slifko, and the Policy Studies Organization.

Rough Ashlar No. 16

My view, which is admittedly not popular among much of the rank and file of Freemasonry in general today, is that the history of Freemasonry was highjacked by the Grand Lodges. If one was guilty of starting the trend, it was taken up on all sides.

It was largely political and about worldly control of the fraternity. Freemasonry was not originally supposed to be about institutional power. It was supposed to be about internal growth, however one chooses to frame that personal process. Now, even that is colored by dogmatic assertions and ideologies. It has been tamed and defanged in the exercise of political muscle and in the attempt to make the fraternity palatable for an increasingly less introspective audience which was necessary to increase membership beyond a limited scope. That's probably not a popular view, but so mote it be.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

In Defense of African Religious Traditions: Brazil, Haiti, & USA

Religious intolerance is something that we all have an awareness of these days. Between the Islamic fanatics in the Mid-East and Africa, to our own homegrown Evangelical Fanatics in Texas (and too often in political office), we've seen the worst that can result from an excess of narrow-minded devotion to an over-testosterone driven deity.

We notice plenty of outcry against religious intolerance, at least when its directed at a mainstream religion, and in the US, that means only one thing - Protestant Christianity.

Mind you, I have nothing really against Protestant Christianity, well, almost nothing. I hate religious proselytization of any kind, regardless of the questionable claim that your god wants you to spread the "good" word, it's just plain tacky. Like the recent FB meme put it, which compared religion to a specific part of the male anatomy, "it's fine if you have one, just don't pull it out and wave it in my face."

What absolutely nobody seems to object to, is disrespecting religions of African origin. It seems that after they floated the idea that America had become post-racial, it started taking on water almost immediately, and sunk while nobody was looking. Unfortunately, the USA, famous for being a nation of immigrants (except for latinos, please) isn't the only place where African derived faiths face a great deal of hostility.

A while back I posted about some hopeful steps forward that took place in Brazil, when Umbanda was declared an intangible cultural heritage by the City of São Paulo. Unfortunately, there tends to be more bad news than good, and lest any reader feel satisfied that the trouble is in Brazil, although I suspect some may secretly and not so secretly opine that oppression of African faiths is a good thing, there's plenty of it going on in the US, as well.

In spite of the hand of friendship the new Pope is extending, a newly appointed Cardinal in Haiti has recycled the old discourse that Vodou, the national religion of Haiti which is of African origin, is a bad thing for Haitians. It doesn't matter that he's black and Haitian, the mindset is of the worst sort, and unbecoming a supposed "man of god." At this stage of our evolution we should be able to recognize that all faiths lead to deity, because all deities are simply human attempts to apprehend the divine. Nobody's faith gets it better than anyone else's.

In Brazil, even as São Paulo declared Umbanda part of the city's cultural heritage, institutionalized bias elsewhere allowed that cultural heritage to take second fiddle to a sports complex.

And while construction workers destroyed historical sites to build a sports club, Evangelical Christians are egged on often by their pastors and on TV, to attack Umbanda and Candomblé temples. In more than one case, they have even murdered the priests. Of course, the church leadership always back peddles when that happens, and tries to claim that the individual was mentally ill.

Even in the US, African religions are constantly subjected to discrimination. For decades, police departments have systematically attempted to criminalize the practice of African derived faiths, and the fact that most practitioners are members of minorities, are poor, and in many cases speak English as a second language, makes them easy victims of institutionalized racism. The former New York City Mayor, Rudy Guliani, that bastion of privilege and obnoxiousness, even harassed Afro-Cuban drummers. 

As these religions continue to grow, society has to learn to behave with tolerance toward other religions. It's a well documented truth that if you are not tolerant toward others, you can expect none to be shown to yourself. 

One may wonder why such intolerance exists. Apart from the obvious answer that while Jesus didn't teach intolerance, most Christian institutions have over the last two millennia. It's easy to point to some of the practices within African faiths which make modern first world people uncomfortable. In the US, most people don't witness the preparation of the animal protein they consume, and they want it that way. Also, Christianity's God generally has become (although for some of its history this was not the case) a Dios Otioso - a distant god. Christianity has gradually intellectualized deity into an invisible one, whose presence exists only in metaphor. As Western society has generally moved away from direct contact with spiritual forces, it has generally become afraid of such experience, and as a result has tried, under the mantle of "science" (which despite being a methodology of research has become a catch word for materialism that has never lived up to its claims of objectivity) has attempted to variously criminalize, ridicule, and turn religious imminence into psychosis. Thomas Szasz summed up Western society's hostility to imminent religion succinctly when he said that "If you talk to God, you are praying; If God talks to you, you have schizophrenia. If the dead talk to you, you are a spiritualist; If you talk to the dead, you are a schizophrenic."

Since African derived faiths deal with the direct interaction of the living with the realm of spirit, most commonly through spirit possession, modern Western materialist society is variously fascinated, appalled, and what is probably at the heart of Western society's hostility toward such faiths, envious.

In this day and age, we need to be working to insist on more tolerance for all, and that most certainly includes African derived faiths. They are after all, the inheritors of humanity's earliest engagement with spirituality.

Below you will find links to a number of articles dealing with these issues.

Ebony: Haiti doesn't have a Vodou problem, it has a Christianity problem!

Marchers in São Paulo protest Religious Descrimination

Evangelicals spread intolerance toward African Religions

Attacks on Afro-Brazilian Religious Practitioners, Temples!

The Temple that started Umbanda razed despite attempts to halt its demolition.

Eminent Domain used in Brazil to shut down Afro-Brazilian Temples, but not Christian Churches!

Candomblé Priestess and family members murdered by Evangelical

Fighting back against institutionalized racist public policy in USA

How Mayor Guliani targeted Afro-Cuban drummers

Friday, July 18, 2014

Masonic Book Fair

12th Annual Masonic Book Fair: Paris
15th and 16th of November 2014
Twelfth Masonic Book Fair

Organized by The Masonic Institute of France

will take place on 15 and 16 November 2014

Organized with the participation of Various Obediences.

9 rue Pinel

75013 Paris

Admission is free. Details of the program schedule will be available in October.

Regnas Redux: Still the Most Amazing Masonic Rings

A while back I did a post about The Regnas Collection, a fabulous business which produces truly unique Masonic (and other) jewelry. While I have no vested interest in the company, and as yet do not own any of their magnificent creations, I am still extremely enthusiastic about them. Their work is superb. They use precious and semi-precious stones, and one of the most remarkable aspects about them, what in fact sets them apart from virtually all other producers of Masonic jewelry, is that they are set up to enable individuals to order custom designed pieces.

The good gentlemen at Regnas have not slowed down one iota. They continue to do wonderful work and this post is nothing more nor nothing less than a blatantly self-indulging look at their site another time. I hope you enjoy their work as much as I do.

Also, I sincerely hope that the next time I write about them, I will showcase the piece or pieces I have had them design for me, as sooner or later I will fold my cards and place an order. You should do the same. Such good work deserves support.

So, without delay, check out their wares. I have a link for their website as well as their facebook page. Both are worth the time, even if you only windowshop. Enjoy a real feast for the eyes. Also bear in mind that for what they do, they are really quite reasonably priced. Be certain to check out their automated custom ring page, which can walk you through the entire process of creating your own customized ring. It really is remarkable.

The Regnas Collection Web Site

Regnas Collection on Facebook

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A Random Sampling of Some (Relatively) Recent Academic Articles on Freemasonry

For far too long, as far as scholarship was concerned, Freemasonry was left to its own devices. While this no doubt pleased some within Freemasonry for whom outside opinions were not welcome, it did Freemasonry a great disservice. Now and then, some farsighted academic would take an interest and write on the subject, but by and large academia considered it a subject not worth investigation.

The result of this neglect was that on the one hand, little objective research into the origins or the societal impact of Freemasonry existed of any professional calibre. On the other hand, it also allowed fable, myth, and too often, outright lies to take the place of knowledge. The truth of this can be seen that today, in that at least in Anglophone circles, what passes for scholarship, with a few worthy exceptions, remains the pseudo-scholarship of 19th century authors who were themselves Freemasons, and frequently invested in either establishing the status quo or maintaining it. 

Sic Transit Gloria Mundi. 

Today, we are on the verge of a monumental change. In the past couple of decades, some adventurous scholars have begun to turn their eyes toward the fraternity, and it is now the subject of a small but growing scholarly study, which is itself beginning to take on the shape of a discipline. It is to be hoped that before long we will see stable departments where such scholarship is a serious academic focus. Keep on eye on UCLA, for one. 

There are great benefits in this for Freemasonry, but as with all growth, there will be some inevitable discomfort. For one, Freemasons will have to recognize that myth will no longer be acceptable as an alternative to documentable fact. At least a few treasured beliefs about the history of Freemasonry will be jettisoned, to be replaced by hard, modern research. While this may be extremely uncomfortable for some, it results in more light. I have always, at least after becoming a reasoning adult, responded to emotional resistance to better understanding of a subject by pointing out that shedding light on historical reality is a worthy, even necessary thing, and it does not decrease the value of what we cherish, if we can also analyze it soberly.

With that in mind, I want to open a small window onto this scholarship by highlighting some relatively recent academic articles which touch on the subject of Freemasonry. They are very diverse, and some represent micro examinations of one or another aspect of Freemasonry. They were specifically chosen, not to touch necessary on topics that would revolutionize our thought on Freemasonry, although some may do exactly that, but rather to demonstrate the diversity of subjects that are coming out of this new scrutiny of fraternal organizations, their role and impact on society, and society's impact upon them. They also do not include some of the larger names in this field of study, as I wanted to highlight some things that might have escaped general attention. This sampling is also miniscule. It doesn't even represent the tip of the iceberg. The idea is to incite some curiosity rather than to serve as a guide to a broad picture of what current scholarship is producing.

As always, there are likely to be a variety of reactions and responses to such attention. While some will doubtlessly react negatively, it should be remembered that such a response will not slow down a process which is by now well underway. I think it wiser, and certainly healthier, to embrace what we cannot resist and enjoy this remarkable moment in time. We will emerge on the other side with a far better understanding of our own traditions and practices, and a renewed appreciation for the impact Freemasonry has had upon the world. 

If you're not afraid to face the eye of the storm, and want some small insight into what is bound to reach our Masonic shores before long, read on.

"Making Degenerates into Men" by Doing Shots, Breaking Plates, and Embracing Brothers in Eighteenth-Century Freemasonry
Heather Morrison
Journal of Social History
Vol. 46, No. 1 (Fall 2012) (pp. 48-65)
Oxford University Press
This article explores the significance behind ritual celebrations depicted in the published drinking songs and toasts that emanated from a freemasonic lodge active in the early 1780s in Vienna. Bacchanalian overindulgence within the exclusive association aimed to create a fraternity that would act together to bring progress to Habsburg lands. Publication of their celebrations aimed to bring the same benefits to the rest of the western world. By excluding women, by acting like apes, by singing and chanting formulaic verses while ritually eating and drinking, men became part of a community and found a new identity. Drunken homosocial celebration provided the antidote to the constructed problem of a contemporary society still dominated by aristocratic women or religious institutions. Masons believed their lodge provided them freedom from societal constraints and a social transparency necessary to uncovering a more natural self. The tension inherent in the form of masculinity in the Viennese lodge's songs and toasts, whereby what may be termed the "high" and the "low" mixed, was the basis of freemasonry's appeal and effectiveness. Belly laughter and base behavior were by no means oppositional to a rational program of societal reform. Through these drinking songs and ritual practices, the association emphasized self-improvement and moral development. Publication of their celebrations aimed to bring the same benefits to the rest of the western world. In a time of transformation in social practices and hierarchies, freemasonry taught brothers how to behave as men amongst fellow men and with women. The idealistic intellectual and bacchanalian sociable masculinities combined to allow members to articulate new measures of social worth.

The Bygmester, His Geamatron, and the Triumphs of the Craftygild: "Finnegans Wake" and the Art of Freemasonry
Laura Peterson
James Joyce Quarterly, Vol. 27, No. 4, Finnegans Wake Issue (Summer, 1990), pp. 777-792
Published by: University of Tulsa

One of the most curious of the many claims made by some Masons about their Craft is that it, like the Hebrew Kabbalah to which it is united, harks back in human history to the creation of the world and the Garden of Eden (as does Finnegans Wake). Also like the Wake, Freemasonry is a compendium of personalities, history, religion, and lore, based on certain unifying principles more easily discernible than those of Joyce's last novel, but irrevocably allied to many of those same principles. Like the Wake, Masonry is cosmic; both the book's and Masonry's inner secrets are known only to persistent initiates. However, there is enough exoteric Masonic material readily available to allow the uninitiated inquirer to trace Joyce's journey through it.

Jayhawker Fraternities: Masons, Klansmen and Kansas in the 1920s
Kristofer Allerfeldt
Journal of American Studies, Vol. 46, No. 4 (November 2012), pp. 1035-1053
Published by: Cambridge University Press on behalf of the British Association for American Studies

In the 1920s, like most of the rest of the nation Kansas found itself the target of the attentions of the KKK. One of its main ways of recruiting was via existing fraternities. Using new archival material this article investigates the response of one of the leading fraternities of the times — the Masons. What emerges is a picture of mixed responses — ranging from mutual hostility to active Klan recruitment within Masonic lodges. In many ways Kansas can be seen as a microcosm of the nation, and as such this study can add to our understanding of what drove up to 10 million American men and women to join this mysterious and now hated body.

"That Grand Primeval and Fundamental Religion": The Transformation of Freemasonry into a British Imperial Cult
Vahid Fozdar
Journal of World History, Vol. 22, No. 3 (September 2011), pp. 493-525
Published by: University of Hawai'i Press

In light of recent research on the role of Protestant Christianity in the British Empire, this article explores the possibility that the British actually carried to India a "religion" besides Protestantism, something that mimicked a religion so closely that it could virtually serve as an alternative to Christianity for purposes of imperial consolidation— namely, Freemasonry. The article posits that British Freemasonry, although it emerged from a Christian environment, progressively de-Christianized itself in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and increasingly espoused a religious universalism, which in turn allowed it to serve as an institutionalized, quasi-official, and de facto "civil religion" for the British Empire in India.

John Marrant and the Meaning of Early Black Freemasonry
Peter P. Hinks
Source: The William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series, Vol. 64, No. 1, Free to Enslave: Politics
and the Escalation of Britain's Translantic (Jan., 2007), pp. 105-116

ON June 24, 1789, at the Feast of Saint John the Baptist, one of the most important days in the Masonic calendar, the Reverend John Marrant, chaplain of Boston's African Lodge no. 459 of Freemasons, delivered a momentous sermon at Mr. Vinal's school in the South End before an audience of black and white Masons as well as non-Masons. Marrant's oration occupies a preeminent place in the history of Freemasonry among African Americans. It was the first printed formal address before the first African Lodge and among the first printed works by an African American in the late eighteenth century.
Marrant's oration broached racial prejudice and slavery in America and condemned them as the antithesis of the fellowship and benevolence Freemasons cherished. More significantly, the sermon identified and extolled the meaningfulness of the African Lodge's founding and the relationship it bore to the deepest virtues and origins of not only Freemasonry but also Christianity as well-virtues and origins that Marrant would clarify in novel contexts.

A Blog of Interest: The Masonic Times of Africa

The Blog of the Masonic Times of Africa describes itself as providing "Masonic news, events and other interesting things from across Africa's Masonic Grand Jurisdictions." They note that they have an "official" Facebook page.

The site reports on Grand Lodges from the following countries, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Congo Brazzaville (République   du Congo), Congo Kinshasa (République démocratique du Congo), Djibouti, Egypt, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissa, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritius, Morocco, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, South Sudan, and Togo.

While none of the posts are extensive, they provide what is admittedly often rare information on Masonic activities in Africa.

They appear to have fairly diverse subjects, as many Grand Lodges are affiliated with the GLNF while admittedly fewer have UGLE affiliations. They also appear to have contacts with the Masonic Press Agency of Romania, The Masonic Times, and the Masonic Times of India.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Archeometer & Alexandre Saint-Yves

Alexandre Saint-Yves, Marquis of Alveydre (1842 – 1909) was a French occultist. His ideas were adapted by Papus. He developed the term Synarchy—the association of everyone with everyone else—into a political philosophy. His Hermetic Metaphysics associated everything with everything else.

Saint-Yves used the term Synarchy in his book La France vraie as a political response to the emergence of anarchist ideologies and movements; Synarchy, as opposed to anarchy.  Saint-Yves hoped for a European society whose government would be composed of three councils, representing the economic, the judicial, and the scientific; a metaphysical chamber bound the whole structure together. These ideas were also influenced by works such as Plato's The Republic and Martinism.

Alexandre Saint-Yves d'Alveydre, gave an important role to esoteric societies which are composed of oracles and who safeguarded the government from behind the scenes. He was involved with a number of Freemasonic and other groups who claimed descent from the Knights Templars.

After Saint-Yves's death, portions of the writings he left behind were compiled into a volume entitled l'Archéomètre. The title was taken from Saint-Yves's name for a color-coded diagram he developed, showing symbolic correspondences between elements in astrology, music, alphabets, gematria, and other things. This book has been translated into Spanish, and was translated into English for the first time in 2007

Saint-Yves's main disciple was the prominent occultist Papus who established a number of societies based on Synarchist ideas. Other followers included Victor Blanchard, Nizier Anthelme Philippe, René A. Schwaller de Lubicz and Emile Dantinne. Saint-Yves' works were also utilized in the development of Theosophy and Rudolf Steiner felt Synarchy to be a major influence.

Joscelyn Godwin is best able to offer some perspective on this massive effort:

"When one opens the heavy folio volume entitled The Archeometer: Key to All the Religions and All Sciences of Antiquity; Synthetic Reformation of All Contemporary Arts, something tells one that it may not quite live up to its ambitions. Unfortunately the work of Saint-Yves d’Alveydre which bears this resounding title is not even the work of his own hand: it is a collection made by Papus (Gérard Encausse) and other “Friends of Saint-Yves” of some fragments from the universal synthesis that the great esotericist was putting in order when death interrupted him in 1909. Although it would be churlish to underrate the devotion of this group, and particularly that of its leaders, Papus and Dr. Auguste-Edouard Chauvet, it must be said that they were worried, up to the last minute, about the principles and the coherence of their compilation. Thanks to the patronage of Count and Countess Keller, Saint-Yves’ son- and daughter-in-law and his heirs, for the elegant edition of L’Archéomètre, with its many illustrations and colored plates.

Nevertheless, the serious scholar will know to refer to another explanation of the system, also called L’Archéomètre, published between 1910 and 1912 in twelve numbers of the short-lived review La Gnose: the periodical that also carried the astonishing articles of the 21-year-old René Guénon. The articles on the Archeometer are signed “T,” the pen-name of the journal’s editor, Alexandre Thomas (also known as “Marnes”). They are thought to be based on information furnished by F.-Ch. Barlet (= Albert Faucheux), another friend of Saint-Yves who had evidently parted company from the official “Friends.” Guénon supplied some very erudite notes, mostly on the Hindu tradition. But all in all, one is at a loss to find any indications of the original source of this imposing and ambitious scheme. Should one regard it as traditional doctrine, as independent revelation, as pure fantasy, or as an inextricable mixture of all these?

For Papus, the work of the man he acknowledged as his “intellectual master” went, like much else, without criticism or question. 

Here we are concerned solely with the enigmatic figure of the Marquis himself, and in the circumstances which led him to construct so profound and so personal a system. There was a time when one might accept some individual’s system as an infallible dogma; but we have seen too many of them! All the same, the Archeometer remains a true summation of the intellectual and esoteric currents of the nineteenth century, just as Saint-Yves himself—more than Papus, Stanislaus de Guaita, or Péladan—is the archetypal “universal man” of the Symbolist (and “decadent”) period. He is the supreme Hermeticist of his epoch.

There is fortunately a third primary source for archeometric studies: Saint-Yves’ own manuscripts, willed by Papus (died 1916) to some public library, and eventually deposited by his son, Dr. Philippe Encausse, in the Sorbonne Library in 1938, as part of the enormous “Papus Bequest” (including several hundred books, many of them from Saint-Yves’ own collection). Our interest here is not in the heap of papers concerning the posthumous edition of L’Archéomètre, but rather in the scruffy school notebooks in which Saint-Yves recorded and worked out his systems, philosophy, schemata, and visions. Sometimes written in a fine, flowery hand, sometimes in a scarcely legible scrawl, these notebooks reveal a part, at least, of the events that preceded the elaboration of the Archeometer as it is found in the printed sources.

The life and work of Saint-Yves have not yet been described adequately in English, which is a pity since he is often mentioned superficially. The reader of French needs only to be referred to Jean Saunier’s indispensable book. We meet him in 1885, aged 43: the author of a mystical book on Life, Death, and the Sexes (Clefs de l’Orient), a huge historical study ( des Juifs), and a few other books on politics and poetry. He was living in a fine house near the Etoile with his aristocratic wife Marie-Victoire (born de Riznitch), his senior by fourteen years; dreaming up developments of his theory of ideal government which he called Synarchy; and beginning to study Sanskrit. At this point, the Archeometer did not exist. We will follow its progress through a series of six “revelations”—for that is how they seemed to Saint-Yves, whether given by more or less mysterious Orientals, by the soul of his wife (who died in 1895), or in response to his prayers and meditations. They are:

1. The Vattanian Alphabet (1885)
2. The Aum (1885-86)
3. The cosmic correspondences of Vattan (1885-86)
4. The Definition of Life (1896)
5. The table entitled “The Heavens declare” (1897)
6. The Triangle of Jesus (1898)"

I will not deign to offer an opinion on this work other than to say that it is as mind boggling as it is fascinating. As Joscelyn Godwin states best, "something tells one that it may not quite live up to its ambitions" and it appears "in a form more fit for admiration than for comprehension."

Still, as I said, it is fascinating, and I cannot fail to share it. Take from it what you will. I know that I will give it all my best shot.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Umbanda and Freemasonry

Over the years I have been aware of interest in Freemasonry among followers of various Afro-diasporic religious traditions. This should not come as a surprise to anyone. Of course, readers of the Hedge Mason have been given glimpses of this before, from occasional posts touching on the connections between Haitian Vodou and Freemasonry, and the interchange between Afro-Cuban faiths and Freemasonry.

For a number of years now, I have had contact with some Freemasons who, albeit cautiously, acknowledged that they are practicing Umbandistas. Those admissions, while pleasing me, did not surprise me. Umbanda is a didactic and diverse tradition, open to truth where ever it may be found. I have no doubt that Umbandistas explored Freemasonry from the earliest days of the 20th Century when Umbanda first evolved from earlier Afro-Brazilian religions, most notably Macumba. Understanding the politics of religion within Freemasonry, it's claims to disinterest concerning the details of its members religious affiliations not withstanding, I also understand how some might wish to be private concerning their religious practice. There remain significant segments of the population in Brazil and elsewhere that hold culturally and racially motivated biases against African derived traditions, and I've no doubt that among them are some Freemasons with power within the traditional Obediences.

Umbanda, it should be noted for readers not familiar with this religion, is not really a single religion. Umbanda is the name of the religion generally, but it is in fact an Umbrella designation for a wide variety of distinct sects or denominations, many of which have quite distinct beliefs and practices, while sharing enough similarities to warrant the use of a general identification as Umbanda. This is much like the diverse denominations found generally among those who call themselves Christians. In fact, Umbandistas, while North American Christians may find it confusing, widely consider themselves Christian as well. This is common in all Afro-diasporic religions, with the exception of the segments which, motivated by cultural and political ideologies, seek to eliminate Christian symbolism in their practice. They are, objectively speaking and with no intent at disparaging their motives, the exception which proves the rule for the majority.

Umbanda, like other Afro-diasporic religions believe in a direct contact with the spirit realms and this includes possession of trained mediums or priests and priestesses by helping spirits. Fairly universally, the different forms of Umbanda have been influenced by Kardecist Spiritism, although to different degrees. Some more recent forms of Umbanda have been heavily influenced by various types of Western Esotericism, including Alexandre Saint Yves d'Alveydre's Archeometry, which had a profound influence on Papus, and hence many esoteric Freemasons.

While most Umbandistas who are Freemasons are reserved in associating their practice of religion with their practice of Freemasonry, at least some are more open about it. The following demonstrates this:

On Thursday, June 16, 2011, A notice was posted of the installation of Loja Maçônica Mista Triângulo da Fraternidade (The Mixed Masonic Lodge of the Triangle of Fraternity), as follows:

Dear Planetary Brothers,
It is with great joy that we announce the occurrence of the inaugural session of Loja Maçônica Mista Triângulo da Fraternidade.

We share the link with photos of the preparations:

A triple and fraternal embrace,

Norberto Peixoto:.
An eternal apprentice of the Royal Art

The Venerable Master of the new lodge provided the following by way of explanation:

TRUTH above all, based on JUSTICE and supported by LOVE.

Mixed Masonry is universal, whose members - men and women - cultivate the study of the spiritualization of the individual, philanthropy, social justice, humanity, unselfishness and the universal principles of freedom, democracy and equality, and fraternity intellectual training.

We recall that the bygone days of the first freemasons, the places where Masons met were originally in churches, regardless of which religion was the temple, preserving untouched the rights of each individual to practice the religion or belief of their choice, keeping equidistant from the different sects or creeds. The essence of Masonic philosophy teaches everyone to respect and tolerate the various religions of its members.

One of the pillars of Masonry is neutrality as to religion and politics. In Masonic temples around the world - in male obediences, female and mixed, we can find people from different religions, political ideologies, races - although there are controversies regarding sex in some quarters. How can they coexist so peacefully? Simple: it is forbidden to discuss these issues in lodge.

A Masonic Lodge can take place anywhere - as they did early on in English taverns - and this basic precept still applies today. I say this because the  Loja Maçônica Mista Triângulo da Fraternidade works in facilities designed to assist the Umbanda Temple Choupana Caboclo Pery - but does not deviate one iota from this principle of neutrality. There will be a not a Mixed Masonic Lodge  of Umbanda but a Masonic Lodge working jointly in an Umbanda temple.

All are welcome: Umbandistas, Catholics, Evangelicals, Protestants, Africanists, Taoists, Shintoists, shamans, etc. Inclusion, convergence and mutual identification unite us. We came to build.

For more information, 

A triple and fraternal embrace,

Ir:. Milton.

V:. M:. Masonic Joint Triangle Fraternity

I have not personally had any contact with this lodge, but share the information to help inform Freemasons in other parts of the world of the wonderful diversity within Freemasonry, especially in the Americas.

Friday, July 11, 2014

An tAilceimiceoir: Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist released in Irish Gaelic

This book The Alchemist is world famous and has been translated into 60 languages, so its time Irish is made one of them. This story fits the Irish language very well. The storyteller tells us of a dream about a treasure and his search for that treasure and the lessons he learned during his search.

Tá cáil dhomhanda bainte amach ag an Ailceimiceoir agus go deimhin féin ag Paulo Coelho. Tá an bunleabhar O Alquimista le fáil I 60 dteangeacha, beagnach, agus tá sé thar am an Ghaeilge a chur leis an liosta sin. Leoga, oireann an scéal seo go seoigh don Ghaeilge.

Eachtraíonn an scéal ar aoire agus é ar thóir stórchiste folaithe a taibhríodh do ina bhrionglóidí. Taistealaíonn sé i bhfad is i gcéin mar a mbíonn sé thuas seal, thíos seal. Is mó ní a fhoghlaimíonn sé le linn na tóraíochta, go háirithe faoi mhianta an chroí agus faoin gcinniúint. Insítear an scéal ar bhealach simplí nádúrtha.

I have no illusions that many of my readers are Gaelic speakers like me, but I couldn't resist commenting on this book's publication.  Anyway, at only € 8.00, it's a steal.

Buy An tAilceimiceoir at

Andrés Petit: Afro-Cuban Religion & Freemasonry

Quimbisa, also known as Kimbisa, is a unique order or rama of Congo origin in Cuba. The widely accepted history of Kimbisa is that it was founded by a Cuban Criollo of Haitian ancestry named Andrés Facundo Cristo de Dolores Petit (1830-1878). Andrés Petit, or Andrés Quimbisa (as both he and his immediate successor were called) is a figure of mythic proportions in Afro-Cuban tradition. He is at once loved and hated by certain segments of those communities. He is said to have synthesized various elements of religious and spiritual practice found in Cuba into a new and uniquely Cuban form. La Regla Kimbisa del Santo Cristo del Buen Viaje (The Kimbisa Rite of the Holy Christ of the Good Journey), as the order Petit is credited with founding is called, combines elements from Abakuá, Spiritism, Masonry, Ocha (Santería), and Catholicism but with a strong and omnipresent Congo foundation. It forefronts religious devotion as much as mystical and magical practices. 

In retrospect, it is perhaps more accurate to describe his role as having codified and formalized combinations already appearing to different degrees among Afro-Cubans during the mid 1800s. He is also credited with saving Abakua by admitting the sons of politically connected whites for essentially the cost of the rituals, and alternately by those opposed to his decision with having sold the secrets of that tradition for profit. The rest of his life and actions, such as can be confirmed tend to present him as an altruistic and seriously spiritual individual, making the claims that he sold initiations for profit unlikely.

While some Kimbisero's practice includes reference to the Yoruban traditions, that of others does not. Indeed, while some claim that Petit was an initiate of the Yoruba religion in Cuba, the only story of his life which references that faith has a somewhat adversarial quality. All Kimbiseros make use of a bilingual liturgy (Spanish and KiKongo) and there are elements associated with the Abakuá, Spiritism, and Freemasonry integrated into ritual and philosophy. The 14 oaths that the neophyte must swear to in his initiation are reminiscent of both Freemasonry and the Abakuá, and there are other elements of the initiation ritual which bear a close resemblance to that of the Masonic initiation.

The hierarchy of the institution seems a blend, taking some elements from Congo religion, some from Freemasonry, and some from Catholicism. While the names of the degrees are closer to the Congo usage - Spanish and Congo terms are used, they do conceptually parallel those of Freemasonry. The Ngeyo or Muanangeyo (Aprentice), the Bakonfula or Mayordomo (Fellow), and the Tata Nganga or Padre Nganga (Master), and in Kimbisa, unlike other forms of Congo religion in Cuba, there is a Maestro or Padre Jubilado - a title equivalent to the Past Master. A special title was reserved historically for the first three generations of the chief leaders of the order, equivalent to the Grand Master, although this too was sometimes spoken of as equivalent to "Pope." That title used the KiKongo term "Mpambia," but the title has been retired, remaining an honorific for only the early leaders of the order.

Ethical behavior is an important aspect of the Kimbisa tradition. Interestingly, and this will seem strange to individuals not familiar with Afro-diasporic religious traditions, all prospective initiates need not only come to their initiation with a sponsor, but they are expected to have been baptized in the Catholic Church. Petit was said to have been a Tertiary in the Dominican Order, and even according to legend, to have received a blessing for himself and his order from the Pope when he visited Rome. The Vatican is silent on the matter.  No small numbers of Kimbiseros today and in the past have themselves been Freemasons.

Today, several legitimate lineages of his survive in Cuba, both as Quimbisa and among the Abakuá. Additionally a number of traditions which incorporate his ideas at least minimally also claim to be Quimbisa. This suggests that he may have built upon pre-existing traditional sources more than is commonly believed today, the origins of which have been eclipsed by the dramatic legend he became. Many who follow Cuban-Congo traditions in the US tend to claim association with whatever appears to be the current fashion, and Kimbisa is one of these.

To have a better sense of what Petit's Kimbisa was like, it would be advisable to read Lydia Cabrera's book entitled La Regla Kimbisa del Santo Cristo del Buen Viaje. This title fairly well captures Peitit's religious vision and that of his spiritual descendents. The only book dedicated solely as a biography of Petit is the short book entitled Andrés Quimbisa by María del Carmen Muzio which, while suffering from brevity is a valuable addition to our knowledge of this individual who played an important role in Cuban traditions at a pivotal period of their development.

Cabrera and Tato Quinones both dedicate some significant space to Petit in their respective books on the Abakuá Secret Society.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Studies in Freemasonry and the Compagnonnage

I often lament the lack of study of the different strands of Freemasonry by those of us who live in North America. It is easy to attribute this to the lack of decent materials. I suspect more often it has to do with either a lack of awareness, or more sadly, the lack of interest.

So I was pleased to see that a powerful work on the subject has been made available to Anglophone audiences, in the form of an English translation of René Guénon's "Studies in Freemasonry and the Compagnonnage." That it has been available since 2005 leaves me, who has personally struggled through the French edition for a couple of years now, with egg on my face.

Not being one to dwell on self recrimination if it doesn't serve a better purpose, I'm prepared to accept my oversight and am eager to delve into reading this gem with great enthusiasm in a language I am better able to juggle.

Of course, I shouldn't be surprised that it has been ignored. It starts with some strong language. In the first two pages it takes the bull by the horns, stating that

"If Masonry is to be faithful to its principles, it must accord equal respect to all religious and philosophical beliefs, and to all scientific or social opinions, whatever they might be, on the sole condition that they are held sincerely. Religious dogmatism or scientific dogmatism: the one is no better than the other; and it is moreover perfectly certain that the Masonic spirit necessarily excludes all dogmatism even when it is "rationalist," and that by very reason of the particular nature of its symbolic and initiatic teaching. But what has metaphysics to do with dogmatic assertions of any kind? We see no relation between them and are willing to dwell further on this point.

Indeed, in a general sense what is dogmatism if not the purely sentimental and very human tendency to present one's own individual ideas (whether these pertain to a man or to a collectivity), with all the relative and uncertain elements they inevitably entail, as if they were incontestable truths? It is but a short step from this to the desire to impose these so-called truths on others, and history shows well enough how many times this step has been taken; nevertheless, on account of their relative and hypothetical - and therefore in a large measure illusory - character, such ideas constitute 'beliefs' or 'opinions,' and nothing more."

Heady material indeed. I encourage Masons with an interest in a challenging and absorbing examination of our craft, to dig in. It should be a bracing and eye opening read.

Guenon is well known in the Masonic world outside of Anglophone audiences, and we would all have a better understanding of what it is we are involved in were we to read his work. Of course, if you prefer your sacred cows to remain well fossilized, avoid it like the plague.

"Studies in Freemasonry and the Compagnonnage" by René Guénon is easily available through Amazon, if you're interested. The price is reasonable.

Diversity, Maturity, and Mythology in the Masonic World

Once in a legendary Blue Moon, the Masonic Blogosphere takes up a common topic. That has happened today with the publishing of what may, depending on which side of the fence you sit upon, be a "feel good" post, or a sadly reactionary one. I refer to the post today on Freemasons for Dummies.

The idea of petitioning the government to rule on one side or another of the old argument of UGLE derived Freemasonry versus Non-UGLE derived Freemasonry is something akin to asking the government to legislate concerning whether Protestantism, Orthodoxy, or Roman Catholicism is the legitimate version of Christianity. Apart from the fact that it just won't fly, more thoughtful Masonic minds will realize it raises the issue of providing legal documentation to support the claim that the UGLE's 1717 "Grand Lodge" is the legal founder of Freemasonry. Of course, we all know that Freemasonry existed before 1717,  even Speculative Freemasonry did, and then there's the little issue of the lack of actual legal documents establishing the foundation of the Grand Lodge of 1717. The first mention of such a Grand Lodge occurs in about 1738. There exist no documents of legal incorporation, and no grounds for the argument that such an organization should hold sole legal claim to a term which had been in use well before that date.

Such legislation would have to deal with such glaring issues, and force the fraternity to separate fact from fable, something it has consistently been loath to do. Then the door would be open to the question of the authority for the foundation of the AASR. I doubt the original "Charter" that the gentlemen of Charleston produced, could it be found, would stand up to the challenge of historical scrutiny.

My point is not to engage in tit for tat. Far from it, I argue that it is time to put petty childishness behind us and start acting like rational adults. Like it or not, and despite the legends that over the last 200 years or so have come to replace rational historic research among many Freemasons, no one Freemasonic obedience or lineage gets sole claim to the name. The petty arguments that somehow non-UGLE derived Freemasons are trying to, dare I say it, hoodwink innocent people are akin to the claims of the conspiracy theorists that Freemasons are reptilian aliens from space, or spawn of the devil. They're not only disrespectful, they are totally ungrounded.  They derive from the time when, during the late 18th and early 19th Centuries, "Master Masons" traveled the country selling degrees and especially the higher degrees. None, including the Gentlemen of Charleston, were any different. They and the UGLE derived groups simply attempted to shift from traveling entrepreneurship to a more sedentary corporate version. I rather suspect that if we could look at all the accounting books associated with Freemasonry over the centuries, we'd discover that the only individual who has made real money off of Freemasonry is David Icke. On that note, it might be interesting to remember that the plethora of petitions to Congress and the President that have filled the internet over the last few years seem to have only one main outcome - they serve as fund raisers or attention for the organizations, groups, and individuals who propose them.

There's little reason to respond to each of the usual objections raised to forms of Freemasonry other than those of the UGLE. They are sectarian in nature and do not stand up to hard, rational scrutiny, which is precisely why their proponents wax so emotional when discussing such matters.

This however, is an opportune moment to raise a call for rational, civil exchange across the aisles. Where is the talk of "brotherly love" and "fraternalism" when the voices of sectarianism are raised? It appears, like politics and religion, to have been banned from the lodge. If Freemasons cannot extend the hand of friendship toward members of different Masonic organizations, we have no right to assume anyone else should take us seriously.  I hate to break it to you, but a lot of people don't.

It is time to sit down as adults and learn to distinguish between fact and fiction, history and foundational mythology. We owe it to each other, and we owe it to Freemasonry. We are not going to agree on everything, and that will no doubt include some significant issues. However, adults shouldn't need total agreement to establish the bonds of friendship and cooperation. And though it is probably more than a little silly not to, we needn't exchange full visitation rights in order to do so. It is not as if everyone is dying to get into someone else's lodge. We who comprise the Liberal, Mixed, Continental and Esoteric Masonic communities (not all the same thing) know what goes on in mainstream lodges far better than most "mainstream" masons know what goes on in ours. I have read numerous versions of mainstream North American rituals, from a variety of Preston Webb rituals, to the versions used in Pennsylvania Lodges, the Royal Arch, and several versions of the Scottish Rite. How many mainstream North American masons know the history of ritual change in the Modern or French Rite, or the histories of the Schroeder or the Adonhiramite rituals for example, much less have read even one of the rituals?

What I am trying to point out is that we need to foster better understanding. It serves everyone's interest and it is in the best interest of Freemasonry. The empire is crumbling, as we all know. Efforts to legislate brand copyright in the US courts, apart from being ludicrous, will be meaningless when there are no members left to care.

As a liberal Freemason, one who has never been a member of a UGLE derived lodge, and who is perfectly happy with his choice, I care about the future of all Freemasonry - as a set of principles, as a code of life and ethics, as a system of self development and education, as a fascinating exemplar of human values, as an institution of which I am a proud member, and while I realize that it will not likely ever regain the numbers it had in the early 20th Century, I am not convinced that it isn't better off being small. I say that because, although it may grow smaller, if we as Freemasons of every ilk, choose to refocus instead of retrench, we can grow in more important ways that have nothing to do with statistics and demographics. If the leadership of the Grand Lodges fails to show wisdom, the intellectual element within Freemasonry in general, needs to take the lead.

We have an opportunity here. I hope we can find more thoughtful ways of responding to diversity than the choice our good brother Hodapp suggests.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Spirit Builders - An Amazing Book on Memphis Misraim

It is a real pleasure to be able to offer a sneak preview of a book that is coming down the pike in a few months. This book offers a glimpse into a lesser understood Rite of Freemasonry, although one about which there has always been much talk and speculation. Not only does this book offer interesting insight into this complex and misunderstood rite, but it is illustrated with some amazingly lush visionary artwork. It seems to me that it deserves a place on every mason's bookshelf, but I suspect that if bought, it will seldom sit on the shelf. It is all the more my pleasure to offer this first peek, as the author is a good man and a dear friend of mine.

Spirit Builders—a Free Illuminist Approach to the Antient & Primitive Rite of Memphis+Misraim, is the first book of its kind to explore in depth,  a radical expression of a little known branch of mystical Freemasonry for men and women, and provide a ritual monitor and guide for those desirous of practicing this avant-garde system.  The expression of this branch of spiritual Masonry is Free Illuminist and the Rite is the Antient & Primitive Rite of Memphis+Misraim (APRM+M).

Book One intends to answer some basic questions concerning the movement of Free Illuminism, and its approach to one of the more esoteric branches of Freemasonry.  It hopes to accomplish this with neither a strictly scholarly approach nor an exclusively personal voice.   The combination of both objectivity and personal reflection are blended so as to make the material more user friendly and to translate some of the more arcane emblems into tangible forms.  Book Two explores the Symbolic Degrees as practiced by one branch of the movement, and Book Three includes the ritual workings for the entire corpus (all 97 Degrees) of the Antient Primitive Rite of Memphis+Misraim.  In its Appendices, this compendious volume also includes essays by other Free Illuminist groups, an Afterword by T Allen Greenfield, the veritable God-Father of the movement, and an Elemental Mass of the Misraim.

Taken as a whole, this book presents and provides the means of accomplishing, the three primary functions of Spirit Building which are; the enlivening of the Scintillating Body through points-chauds (hot points) empowerments, the creation of the Mystic Temple and the building of community by collaboration and mutual support with others working in Free Communion.  This simple, yet profound approach to a mystical and magical system of Freemasonry shares no equal in the vast ocean of Masonic and Gnostic Orders across the globe.

+Palamas is a Bishop in the Coptic Gnostic Church and holds a Free Illuminist Charter for a Research & Philosophical Lodge of Memphis-Misraim.  He is the author & illustrator of Syzygy, Reflections on the Monastery of the Seven Rays, Hadean Press, 2013.  An art teacher for over eighteen years, he is currently pursuing a Masters in English & Creative Writing/Non-Fiction.  Situated on the top of a ridge in Northwest Georgia, he serves with his wife Salome+ in their small parish, the Chapel of the Gnosis.

The book will be published by Transmutation Publishing, and will be available on the publisher's website, at brick & mortar occult bookstores, and through Weiser Antiquarian. The book should be available for purchase by the public in January of 2015. The Hedge Mason will be alerting our readers when the book is finally available for purchase, so if you are a regular reader, you needn't worry about taxing your memory. We will do that for you. In the meantime, enjoy the images.

Revisiting the Ritman Library of Hermetic Philosophy

Some time back, in November of 2011, I did a small write up on the Ritman Library of Hermetic Philosophy, or more accurately,  the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica, which is located in Amsterdam. I haven't revisited the topic in a while, but became aware recently that they now have a Facebook page. If you have any interest in the subject of Hermeticism, then this is a page you want to not only read, but follow.

Their Facebook page has the occasional post in Dutch, but a great deal of very useful and informative posts in English as well. They run the gamut from informative short articles on topics of interest, to brief biographies, announcement of events, and some interesting information about the library and its staff. I strongly urge anyone with an interest to visit it. You won't be disappointed.

Below you will find links, in this order to the Library Facebook page, the Ritman Website, and finally to my post from 2011 about the library.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Space is the Place: Sun-Ra: Philadelphia & Freemasonry

Once upon a time, back in the 1920s, there was a boy in Birmingham, Alabama who was an honor student at the local high school. He was an avid reader,  and something of a loner. He was possessed of a vivd imagination and he fed that by learning all he could. It is said that he reading everything in the library at the local Prince Hall Lodge, including their collection of books on esoteric concepts and Freemasonry. 

That boy was named Herman Poole Blount. He would eventually change his name to Sony'r Ra, and a variant of that name, Ra Le Sony'r appears on the city records as the owner of his home of many decades at 5626 Morton Street, in Philadelphia's historic Germantown neighborhood. That neighborhood was famous as the home of an early pietist sect of Germans, led by Johannes Kelpius, whom AMORC tries to claim were Rosicrucians. Kelpius suffered, perhaps more after his death than during his life, from being misunderstood and underestimated. Perhaps it is a neighborhood curse, because that can certainly be said of Herman Poole Blount, as well.  Although he became famous world-wide under the name of Sun-Ra, while leading his jazz group The Arkestra, he remains today, 21 years after his departure from this plane of existence, far too underappreciated, whether for his remarkable contribution to avant-guarde Jazz, or to 20th Century Esoteric thought. 
The Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians has this to say of Sun-Ra:
"The greatest of all jazz eccentrics, Sun Ra inspires both fascination and controversy. The bandleader's singular, cosmic vision led him to transcend hardship, derision, and obscurity. An unparalleled performer, he led an expansive yet coherent band of as many as thirty players over four decades, and his vast recorded legacy refutes those who deny his talent. Primarily known as the creator of the "Arkestra," his polymorphic big band, Ra could also be comfortably described as a composer, performer, poet, philosopher, and visionary.

Born Herman Poole Blount in Birmingham, Alabama on May 22, 1914, he legally changed his name to Sony'r Ra in October of 1952. After this date, when questioned about his early life, he insisted he was a visitor from the planet Saturn, and only gave vague indications of his past experiences.

Little Herman began playing piano early in life, and could sight-read and compose by age 11. Birmingham hosted many of the era's most famous performers, and the boy experienced the live sounds of, among others, the bands of Fletcher Henderson, Duke Ellington, and Fats Waller. The young prodigy was said to be able to produce full transcriptions, from memory, of big band performances he had witnessed and was working as a semi-professional pianist by his mid-teens.(web 7/4/2014)

Thom Holms notes in his book, American Popular Music: JAZZ, that  "Sun Ra was a great bandleader, able to manage a wide range of sounds and players into an absorbing and unique jazz experience. He should be discussed in the same light as equally provocative and accomplished avant-garde jazz legends John Coltrane, Cecil Taylor, and Ornette Coleman, but he is more often neglected than taken seriously. There are more than 100 recordings of Sun Ra’s music…most produced on his tiny Saturn label, and most not available on compact disc." (2006: 190)

Sun Ra leaned to read music without any training. He did however, acquire more formal music training. In high school, he was a member of several bands and also led his own bands. Some of these bands went on tours, and performed in areas such as Chicago, the East Coast, and the South. He attended Alabama A & M, a black college, where he majored in music education and teacher's training. In the late 1930s he spent time in Indiana and Washington D. C. At the end of the 1930s, he moved to Chicago, where he began his professional career and which was his base of operations for a long period of time. While his music was phenomenal, and he attracted some excellent musicians who were also fascinating individuals and excellent conversationalists, it is his perhaps eccentric esoteric thought that interests us today. 

In The Cosmic-myth Equations of Sun Ra: An Examination of the Unity of Music and Philosophy of an American Creative Improvising Musician (UCLA 1991), David A. Martinelli states that Sun Ra has his own term for what could be called his ethos, world-view, ideology, or philosophy. This term is "equations". Sun Ra has made it clear that he is not dealing with philosophy. He has said "People ask me about my philosophy all the time, but it's not a philosophy, it's an equation". When asked "Has this sort of philosophy been with you ever since the beginning, ever since the (Fletcher) Henderson band?", Sun Ra responded "Philosophy is conjecture. I'm dealing with equations. That's different from philosophy. Philosophy is something like religion, it's a theory. It could be true or not true. But I'm not dealing with theories, I'm dealing with equations". 

Martinelli also indicates that further sources that shed light on Sun Ra's beliefs include Christianity, and Freemasonry and Freemasonry, Ancient Egypt, and Carl Jung's "Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Sky." 

Sun-Ra's " idea of equations is perhaps best described in his poem "A Blueprint/Declaration":

One part of an equation

Is a blueprint/declaration of the other part


Yet differentially not. . .

It is nothing

If it is all

Still there are different alls

The end is all

But all is everything

Yet if everything is all/the end

It denies the other side of the end

For some ends

Have many points leading to their respective selves

And there are/is each/their many points

Leading out from their

Respective selves

(Sun Ra 1985).

Sun Ra viewed himself as existing apart from humanity. Sun Ra felt that he was limited byhumanity Earth, that he was not free. He said, "I see myself as P-H-R-E but not F-R-E-E. That's the name of the sun in ancient Egypt. I'm not really a person at all" and "Some people are controlled by forces on other planets. I am, so I'm not really free" 

Sun Ra's philosophical ideas or equations are difficult for some to take seriously. Those who separate the equations from the music are missing a great deal. Sun Ra's ideas on duality, the pyramids, the Sphinx, the sun, Ufos, the planet Saturn, and the number nine, symbolize the potential unity of humanity, mentally, physically, and spiritually.

While some may not wish to see a connection between Sun-Ra and Freemasonry, however tenuously you may view it, much of his initial inspirations he owed to that Prince Hall Lodge library back in Birmingham. Whatever you may think of his philosophy, and his music, he had a powerful message, and one which is some fundamental ways, reflects some of the more profound messages found in Freemasonry. If this has sparked your curiosity about the man, his philosophy, or his music, watch the video below. You will at least find it interesting.