Monday, November 23, 2015

American Historical Society Conference Panel, Jan. 2016: Freemasonry: The World’s First Global Social Network

Atlanta, January 7-10, 2016
Global Migrations: Empires, Nations, and Neighbors

Panel: Freemasonry: The World’s First Global Social Network

AHA Session 86
Friday, January 8, 2016: 10:30 AM-12:00 PM
Room 311/312 (Hilton Atlanta)
Richard Berman, Oxford Brookes University
Navigating the “Republic of Masonry”: Print Culture in Masonic Communication and Connection in the 18th-Century Atlantic and Beyond
Hans Schwartz, Clark University
Ancients or Moderns? Reflections on the Genesis of American Freemasonry
Richard Berman, Oxford Brookes University
Caliban and the Widow’s Sons: Some Aspects of the Intersections and Interactions between Freemasonry and Afro-Caribbean Religious Praxis
Eoghan Craig Ballard, HistoryMiami Museum & Roosevelt Center for Civic Society and Freemasonry

Richard Berman, Oxford Brookes University

Session Abstract
In the 1700s, Masonic lodges and freemasons could be found from the East Indies to the West Indies to the Indian Country of the North American frontier, all across Europe, and throughout the farthest flung colonial possessions of the British, French, and Dutch empires. By the end of the century it had become an important organizing tool and intellectual force in the African Atlantic diaspora as well. Freemasonry was an emergent, self-created social movement of the 18th century Enlightenment which boasted its own faux history, republican ideology, international diplomacy, meta-economy, and extensive organizational structures. Within a few decades of the formation of the Grand Lodge of England in 1717 there were Masonic lodges and grand lodges throughout the Americas, the Caribbean, India and in some parts of Africa. Ideologically and socially, freemasonry connected men across political, ethnic, racial, religions and class borders. It served as a vital fraternal link in the lives of Atlantic seafarers, soldiers, planters and craftsmen and formed a vast network of overlapping networks which greatly impacted social and commercial relations both within and between far flung communities in every corner of the global in which European culture had penetrated.
This panel will seek to explore the role of freemasonry as an international phenomenon, elucidating the nature and implications of the overlapping social, commercial and intellectual networks created by freemasons, white and Black, on both sides of the Atlantic.

ஃ Navigating the “Republic of Masonry”: Print Culture in Masonic Communication and Connection in the 18th-Century Atlantic and Beyond
Hans Schwartz, Clark University

Within a few decades of the foundation of the Grand Lodge of England in 1717 the Masonic fraternity could be found from the East to the West Indies to American Indian country and was a major social movement of the Enlightenment throughout Europe and the European colonial world. In a speech before Paris' Lodge of Nine Muses, Benjamin Franklin referred to this international brotherhood as, "The REpublic of Masonry." One of the most fascinating and little understood elements of freemasonry's successful spread is the manner in which masons, often merchants or sea captains, were able to arrive in ports of call from Batavia to Boston and beyond and easily locate the meetings of this "secret" society. This investigation demonstrates how various types of print culture were created or adapted to the purposes of masonic. Specifically, this presentation will focus on Masonic almanacs and lists of lodges printed and distributed by Grand Lodges in Europe and reprinted in a wide variety of pamphlets and books; the use of colonial newspapers, particularly in Boston, the most prominent hub of British Masonry in the Americas to circulate Masonic news and contact information; and the highly detailed Tableaux of the French Caribbean Masonic network centered in Saint Domingue. This will include the use of print culture in the early republic to promote Black freemasonry emanating from Boston. All of these sources were circulated, exchanged, and reprinted in a manner which linked the widespread Masonic networks of Bostonian merchants, French creole planters, and European seafarers.

ஃ Ancients or Moderns? Reflections on the Genesis of American Freemasonry
Richard Berman, Oxford Brookes University

American freemasonry was created in the mould of the Grand Lodge of London & Westminster, later the Grand Lodge of England, and initially reflected the pro-establishment mores of its founders, providing its affluent upper middling members with an exclusive blend of ‘ancient’ ritual, fraternal association and drinking and dining. But from the late 1750s and 1760s, the organization split, a division not based more on social differences that political differences – loyalist against patriot.
Dr Berman’s paper traces the debt American fraternalism owes to the more egalitarian and inclusive Irish form of freemasonry, pushed not only by the Grand Lodge of Ireland but by the more aggressive Antients Grand Lodge, formed in London in 1751 and shaped by London’s Irish diaspora, especially Laurence Dermott, its pioneering and long-serving Grand Secretary and later Deputy Grand Master.
Antients freemasonry became a locus for the aspirational lower middling rather than the incumbent social and political elites, and developed a powerful social and economic function, providing mutual financial assistance and an accessible social infrastructure for those seeking self-betterment. It extended formal sociability beyond the elites to create one of the first modern friendly societies and, in an American context, took over the mantle of revolutionary Enlightenment politics in the upswing to the War of Independence.

ஃ Caliban and the Widow’s Sons: Some Aspects of the Intersections and Interactions between Freemasonry and Afro-Caribbean Religious Praxis
Eoghan Craig Ballard, HistoryMiami Museum & Roosevelt Center for Civic Society and Freemasonry

After Freemasonry spread across Europe in the 18th century, it was inevitable that its influence should reach the Caribbean. Masonic lodges were founded in France's colony of Saint Domingue as early as 1738. It was not long before men of African descent entered the fraternity. Some of these men went on to hold leadership positions in the Haitian Revolution. It was inevitable, given the wide distribution of African inspired religious practice in the Caribbean, that Freemasonry would interact with African religions. Elements of Masonic symbolism reflect back from the graphic systems employed in Haitian Vodou and Afro-Cuban Palo, a religion of Congo origin. Hand gestures and ritual movements in the Asson tradition of Haitian Vodou have been credited with Masonic influence, and significant elements clearly identifiable as being of Masonic origin, comprise parts of the intiation rituals of Quimbisa, a religion of Central African origin in Cuba. Such exchanges do not reflect a single direction. Recently a Grand Commander General was appointed to the Scottish Rite for Cuba, who is a practicing member of the Abakuá, a tradition originating in the Cross River area of Nigeria, and also one of the founding Babalawo's of Cuba's internationally recognized Yoruba annual divination committee, which is viewed as religious guidance on three continents. In Haiti, a Masonic Rite was founded which invokes certain Lwa or spirits of Haitian Vodou, which are recognized throughout the international community of Vodou religious praxis as Masonic spirits. One of Vodou's most iconographic spirits, Baron Samedi, the Lord over the dead, unmistakably combines Masonic regalia with the iconic skull used in the initiatic Chamber of Reflection. Even in Brazil, the temples of Umbanda, a modern Afro-Brazilian faith, are replete with Masonic elements, and it is not uncommon for freemasons in Brazil to also be initiates in Umbanda.

Panel: Freemasonry: The World’s First Global Social Network

Sunday, November 15, 2015

November 15th: The National Day of Umbanda in Brazil

Many blessings to all my brothers and sisters, and the friends of Umbanda, a religion that despite prejudice responds with joy and love ... A Brazilian religion, a religion that unites three religious cultures found in Brazil: The culture of Africa, the culture of Native Americans,  as well as European spiritualism and Catholicism.

Saravá Umbanda

Saturday, November 7, 2015

A Scholar Who Makes Historical Facts Palatable: Tobias Churton

For some years, since the late 1980s when he released his book The Gnostics, I have repeatedly succumbed to the temptation to read the works of Tobias Churton. Being written for a popular audience, I have justified such self indulgence by asserting that it was to get a quick but relatively accurate overview of material that I wished to study at greater depth and at more leisure. Or else my excuse was that it was a less boring way to acquire a decent if generalized bibliography. Both excuses were true as far as they went, but they were excuses. Having studied at Oxford and being a lecturer at Exeter, his credentials more than pass the most critical academic muster. However, his writing style is eminently readable, which is a rarity among academics in this day and age, and that is what kept me coming back to his titles over the years. Put simply, the man is worth reading.

While not all of his books are specifically focused upon Freemasonry, half a dozen include Freemasonry in the title, and in a few more the subject of Freemasonry more than touched upon. One has to note that his books relating to Rosicrucianism are also by default related to the subject of the craft.

While none of the titles I will mention are new, and while I would hope that most who have read extensively on Freemasonry have at least read a few of his works, I've yet to see a Masonic blog deal with his works as a body. They are extensive enough that they deserve collective mention. They are also intelligent enough to deserve attention. In fact, that may well be why they haven't to date received the attention they deserve from Freemasons. Unlike writers who cater to members of the craft, Professor Churton does not mince words when it comes to the flaws of our institution. That's probably another reason I like his writing, and another reason why all Freemasons should read his works.

In The Mysteries of John the Baptist, he remarks that 'there are two principle groups of people for whom John the Baptist has significant spiritual meaning, though in the case of Freemasons, I should say a group for whom John ought to have spiritual meaning; Masons have mostly forgotten why they were once "St. John's men."' In Freemasonry: The Reality, he discusses what he views as the "real meanings in the now completely misinterpreted rituals and symbols of the craft."
But lest you decide that a scholarly critique should be ignored, keep in mind that as a Freemason and a scholar, he has license to offer that critique and the knowledge with which to back it up.

He also has the knowledge and vision to focus on the deeper truths and to describe them in remarkably clear ways, such as when in his work on Ashmole,  The Magus of Freemasonry: The Mysterious Life of Elias Ashmole--Scientist, Alchemist, and Founder of the Royal Society,  he cuts through the acquired ignorance of a few hundred years, and notes that "the adjective speculative generally referred to an occult activity, or one that involved mathematics or imaginative projection: that is, conjuring.  We have all at some time or another "conjured up an image." The earliest English masonic catechism, in answer to the question "How high is your lodge?" gives the answer "It reaches to the heavens." The lodge was an imaginative projection, "conjured up" by its members to embody a center of the universe."

In The Invisible History of the Rosicrucians, Churton digs deep beneath the surface and uncovers so much that came before the 18th Degree Rose Croix, Before Pernety, even before the Fama Fraternitatis to look at and connect the works of Arab scholars such as Abu Ma'shar al-Balki to the winding thread of history which led to modern Rosicrucianism. In the process of examining the connection between Rabelais and the Fama, he provides a warning which some in the fraternity today should take seriously to heart.  "Let us look to the gates of Rabelais's "Abbey of Thélème." They bear the words "Here enter not vile bigots."... No narrow-minded, pompous churl, no puffed-up hypocrite — especially of the corrupt church and universities — will ever enter the abbey of "Do what thou wilt." To them, the abbey will always be closed, or nonexistent."

His other works of interest to Freemasons include The Golden Builders, an essay entitled Aleister Crowley and the Yezidis which is included in the volume entitled Aleister Crowley and Western Esotericism, edited by Henrik Bogdan, and the book which first drew him popular attention, The Gnostics.

If you are serious about Masonic education, take my advice. Give Albert Mackey a pass and read Churton first.