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.