Monday, June 30, 2014

CLIPSAS New Leader is Based in the United States

Louis Daly, the first American at the helm of CLIPSAS. 

For the first time in history a New Yorker was elected President of  CLIPSAS. Louis Daly was elected yesterday at the forefront of the largest Masonic liberal organization in the world of, structure which gathers Masonic Obedience from Europe, Africa, Asia, North America and South America. 

Another twist occurred during the election process of new members of the Bureau of CLIPSAS was that small Obediences managed to impose their candidates successfully (during the reunion in Santiago de Chile the large Obediences said they will not be driven by the small ones). The Bureau's Vice Presidents are from Uruguay, Morocco, Switzerland, United States and France. The Secretariat General remains in the hands of a Frenchman as well as the Vice Presidency for ECOSOC.

Congratulations to the Venerable Brother Louis Daly!

Thanks to John Slifko and the Official blog of the Woman's Grand Lodge of Romania.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Rough Ashlar No. 15: Truth and Other Masonic Conundrums

Increasingly, it seems to me that the majority in Freemasonry today, are incapable of using reason, or applying their masonic teachings, at least when it comes to their interactions with other Freemasons. It is the 21st century, folks. Wake up! You don't get to determine who is or who is not a Freemason based upon your own definitions of the term. This is true just as you do not get to determine who is or is not a Christian based upon your definition, nor who is an American, based upon your biases. Get over yourselves. You are individuals and members of an institution which is now a shadow of its former self. In other words, grow up!

Freemasonry is in serious decline.Deny it all you want, but it is all but dead. If it were a patient in an ER, they'd be calling in the priest to perform the last rites. We cannot afford to continue the old arguments over who is or is not entitled to be called a Freemason. That argument belongs to the 19th century not the 21st.  To put it in the most polite and Masonic language possible, get the... over yourselves.

Someone who says it with a lot more decorum then I do said this:

"Freemasons have long loved to hate other Freemasons, especially ones whose similarities are far more apparent to non-combatants, than their alleged differences.

Fervency and zeal are more often associated with superstition, ignorance, and hypocrisy, than with reason, understanding, and virtue.

Why is it that various systems of Geometry co-exist harmoniously, whereas slightly different systems of Freemasonry are embroiled in quasi-religious wars of annihilation?"

Peter Renzland, 
Toronto Society for Masonic Research

To put the lid on the coffin, although this reference relates to academia rather than Freemasonry, Henry Kissinger is credited with commenting about academic debates that "The bloodiest battles are fought in academia precisely because so little rides on the outcome."

Please have the civility to note that Brother Renzland is responsible only for his quoted remarks. He was kind enough to allow me to quote him, but the rest of these views are totally mine. If you object to my remarks, complain to me, not him. I am more than ready to respond. I am tired of hypocrisy.


Eoghan Ballard

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Freemasons: Amnesiac Saint John's Men

Once upon a time, in an ancient kingdom, Freemasons knew who and what they were. That was before the grey, amnesia inducing fog of fish fries and Grand Lodge hegemony made Freemasons forget why they really existed. We probably shouldn't speak in Masonic contexts of the Lost Word, but the Lost Purpose.

What they were, and what we should still be, according to all those knowledgable sources, are Saint John's men. As Tobias Churton, in his book "The Mysteries of John the Baptist: His Legacy in Gnosticism, Paganism, and Freemasonry" notes,
"There are in the world 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." The problem is, that while all of those sources go on to tell us about Saint John in relation to various Orders, and obscure and venerable middle eastern religions, they never get around to offering more than incidents and accidents when it comes to Freemasonry and the Saints John.

In looking for something to post in honor of Saint John's Day, I found that there really is very little available that isn't repetitive or simplistic, that isn't directly related to Freemasonry. So, I found myself turning to Ars Quatuor Corantorum. I found that for the most part, that august journal shed more heat than light on this topic.

In France, and by extension, Haiti, Saint John's Day is celebrated with bonfires. That however, reflects little more than that they continue what is a general practice in Celtic and some formerly Celtic countries.

Whether such practices played a ritualistic role in operative Freemasonry in Scotland is thus far unknown to me. Perhaps it is a topic some masons in Scotland might be motivated to take up. It is one of the many fascinating questions I continue to be plagued with.

And so I continue my search. I just don't find the legends of Templars and Hospitallers informed enough to provide much satisfaction. In any case, I'm more interested in what that association translated into in terms of ritual and content. Until then, hints and allegations will have to suffice, and I will have to continue to look for the angels in the architecture.

Friday, June 13, 2014

A Cauldron of Masonic Growth: 18th Century Bordeaux

The history of Freemasonry in Bordeaux begins in the 18th century with the creation in 1732 by three Irish sailors, the first lodge called L'Anglaise. The founders of this first lodge Martin Kelly, Nicholas Staunton and John Robinson were Irish Jacobites from Youghal, in County Cork, who like other Irish and Scots who had followed James II into exile established Freemasonry in France. Étienne Morin trading between the Antilles and Bordeaux, in 1745, founded the Scottish lodge of Bordeaux, Les Élus Parfaits. It is certainly one of the first French Workshops working beyond the degree of Master. Half the lodges of Saint Domingue originated out of Bordeaux. The quality of Freemasons who assist in this creation - all prominent members of the three already existing lodges in Bordeaux - shows that he already enjoyed a good reputation.

Famous citizens of Bordeaux were introduced to masonry, such as the philosopher Montesquieu, Elisha Nairac, who made ​​a fortune in the slave trade, the politician Emile Fourcand, and the architect Victor Louis. Masonry became popular among Bordeaux's financial leaders through the auspices of René-Marie Floc'h, a notable of Breton origin. Finally, it was Montesquieu, who represented the arrival of Freemasonry in the midst of commerce. On August 29, 1740, the lodge Le Français was created for parliamentarians and for those who could not speak English, but most likely also as a result of some French Catholic pressure. Later this lodge would give birth to the La Parfaite Harmonie in 1744. L'Amitié or L'Amitié Allemande followed in 1746. Le Français and  L'Amitié Allemande dominated local Masonic activity and spawned many lodges in the future Gironde.

By the end of 18th century Bordeaux could claim more than 3,000 masons in a city of 110,000 inhabitants. These Lodges had become a meeting place of the Bordeaux elite and actively disseminated the ideals of Enlightenment thinking.

In 1742, the steward of Guyenne, Claude Boucher , send a report to the Minister as follows:

"He introduced here a kind of society under the title of free-mason's brotherhood that has become popular ... The novelty pleases many in this country and there are a number of honest people who've entered this brotherhood, even officers of Parliament. As sworn, under severe penalties, not to reveal the secrets of the order, it was not possible for me to penetrate, which made ​​me very suspicious."

In 1761, Martinez Pasqually after moving to Bordeaux is affiliated with the lodge Le Français and went on to found a Coën Temple. In 1764, Le Français became La Française Élue Écossaise, signifying with that name that she had a new chapter of higher grades. But due to the order of the Masonic Obedience in 1766 abolishing all constitutions relating to degrees higher than the first three grades (apprentice, journeyman and master), the chapter was suspended.

A new obedience appears in 1773, Le Grand Orient de France and at the initiative of Vicomte de Noé, then mayor of Bordeaux  this new Obedience installed, against the advice of the Maréchal Duc de Richelieu, the Steward of Guyenne, who wanted to open his own lodge.

During the 1789 Revolution, Freemasonry in Bordeaux sides strongly with the freedom movement chosen by the nation. During the Terror, it stops its activity for more than a year, for fear of persecution. This however, is only temporary. Freemasonry became an essential element of Bordeaux society at the beginning of 19th century.

The large number of masons in Bordeaux at the end of 18th century suggest that Lodges represented a privileged meeting place of Bordeaux elite of the day. Nearly half of its members were traders and brokers, nobles, naval and military officers, lawyers the clergy made up the remainder.

The growing number of lodges came to be associated with international trade networks. Protestant trading was dominant in European exchanges including the French and Masonic relationships came to replace confessionnal links, profession and family as a moving force.

From November 1783 to October 1784 , Count Cagliostro, visited Bordeaux as a guest of the Marquis de Canolle. He tried without success to establish a lodge of the Egyptian Rite in Bordeaux.

The Château de Mongenan which is now a museum with furniture of the 18th century preserved in state contains a collection of masonic materials of the 18th century, displayed in a room that was used as a Masonic temple from 1750 to 1898. This temple was an itinerant temple.  In this room there is a painting that was installed on the ceiling and which acted as the starry sky when the scenery of the temple was put in place.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

UMURM: Third Anniversary of the Treaty of Barcelona

(June 12, 2011)

(To read a detailed analysis of the Charter in Spanish download the PDF)

The Modern Philosophical Rite Bodies meeting on June 12, 2011 in the Valley of Barcelona agree to set up a organization for the purpose of cooperation, consultation and coordination between them which will be referred to as the

Unión Masónica Universal del Rito Moderno  (UMURM)
[Universal Masonic Union of the Modern Rite]

and which will work with full respect for the freedom and independence of the individual philosophical bodies that compose it.

It is based on the principles of absolute freedom of conscience and thought, based in Barcelona, ​​and chaired by SGIG Supreme Conselho do Rito Moderno do Brasil, José María Bonachi Batalla, this Universal Masonic Union of the Modern Rite (UMURM) act for the benefit of those who participate with the following objectives:

1 - Promote and disseminate the customs of the Modern Rite.
2 - Foster ties and harmony among its members in order to practice a truly Universal Freemasonry.
3 - Establish a plural forum for dialogue and exchange towards creating a true Union Center regardless of territorial, obediential, or ritualistic specificities.
4 - Facilitate rapprochement between the various Philosophical Bodies of the Modern Rite by mutual recognition without any discrimination.
5 - Develop a cooperative exchange on issues of joint reflection between their bodies.

The UMURM shall at all times be open to any body who practices the Philosophical Modern Rite in the Five Orders of Wisdom,  which seeks admission, once their initiatory descent has been adequately documented.

The Universal Masonic Union of the Modern Rite (UMURM) incorporates the creation of an International Academy 5th. Order Modern Rite, with two main tasks:

1 - To be a Laboratory of thought to reflect on the meaning, philosophy, values, and ethics fundamental to the Modern Rite.
2 - To be an Academy of the Rite with the capacity to investigate and disseminate materials so that it can assume the role of a true conservatory of the Modern Rite, and finally advise any Supreme Council General Grand Chapter or other Philosophical body that requests it.

This Academy will operate without territorial or obediential limits, without normative rules, respecting the absolute independence of each of its members.

This Academy will be open to any Sovereign Power or Independent Chapter, but also in a personal capacity to any holder of the 5th. Ord. of Wisdom of the Modern Rite, stating his desire to be part of it and possession of documentary proof of their titles.

The original structure of the UNIVERSAL MASONIC UNION OF THE MODERN RITE, was as follows:

President of the Union of the Modern Universal Masonic Rite: José María Bonachi Batalla, Sovereign Grand Inspector General of the Supremo Conselho do Rito Moderno
- Brazil, which proceeded to make the following appointments:
Joaquim Villalta, First Order V, Grade 9, Secretary General
Alvaro Marcos, First Order V, Grade 9, General Counsel and Rules

International Academy of V º Order of Modern Rite.

Victor Guerra, First Order V, Grade 9, General Coordinator of the Academy of V º Order of Modern Rite
Hervé Vigier, First Order V, Grade 9, Coordinator of the Department of History and Symbolism of the International Academy of V º Order of Modern Rite.
Jean van Win, First Order V, Grade 9, Coordinator Masonic Research Department of the International Academy of V º Order of Modern Rite.

The Signatory Powers of the Founders of the UMURM were:

• Supremo Conselho do Rito Moderno do Brasil
• Gran Capítulo General de España – Supremo Consejo del Rito Moderno para España
• Sublime Conseil du Rite Moderne pour la France
• Gran Capítulo General del Gran Oriente de Colombia

The as of July 2013 the member organizations within the UMURM are:

• Supremo Conselho do Rito Moderno - Brasil
• Gran Capítulo General del Gran Oriente de Colombia
• Sublime Consejo del Rito Moderno para el Ecuador
• Grand Chapter General of the Modern Rite for North America and the Caribbean.

French Rite: Lodges

In North America, one of the biggest obstacles to communication across Masonic borders is ignorance of the other. The USA is large enough that we have a habit of forgetting the rest of the world exists, or trying to do so. However, other parts of the world have played a role in making the US what it is today. Freemasons in the US view the rest of the Masonic world with ambivilence when they don't treat it with outright hostility. That makes so little sense. The Freemasonry of France has an important place in Masonic history and when viewed as "the enemy" all we gain is ignorance. It played a real role in the development of Masonry in this country and apart from old dusty legends of it as a threat, the reality was more constructive than not. It's time to put aside antiquated animosities and take a look with the intent of learning something.
 Loge Maçonnique Le Réveil de l'orient

One very unthreatening step that people can take is to see, quite literally, the presence of Freemasonry there. There's a rich history and a lot of beautiful material culture associated with Freemasonry in France. When we look at photographs of Masonic Lodges in France, apart from seeing some nice architecture, we also see the common heritage. There is more that is common between French and American Freemasonry than there are differences. So in this post, along with a very small taste of history, some photos from the other side are presented.  Open the eyes, and maybe minds will follow.

According to traditional wisdom, the first Masonic lodge in France was founded in 1688 by the Royal Irish Regiment, which followed James II into exile. It was known as "La Parfaite Égalité" and was located in Saint-Germain-en-Laye. Historians think such an event is likely, despite a lack of surviving documents.  The same can be said of the first lodge of "English" origin, "Amitié et Fraternité", founded in 1721 at Dunkerque. The first lodge whose existence for which contemporary documents exist was founded in Paris, circa 1725. It met at the house of the traiteur Huré on rue des Boucheries. It brought together Irishmen and Jacobite exiles. It is quite probable that it was this lodge that in 1732 received official patents from the Grand Lodge of London under the lodge-name "Saint Thomas", meeting at the sign of the "Louis d'Argent", still on the rue des Boucheries.

Lodgeroom in Porrentruy
In 1728, Philip Wharton, 1st Duke of Wharton was recognized as "grand-master of the Freemasons in France. Wharton lived in Paris and Lyon from 1728 to 1729, and in 1723 had already become grandmaster of the Grand Lodge of London. His nomination as French grandmaster, prior to the transformation of the "Grand Lodge of London" into the "Grand Lodge of England in 1738, was an important event for French Freemasonry and its independence from British Freemasonry. He was succeeded as grandmaster of the French Freemasons by the Jacobites James Hector MacLean and later Charles Radcliffe, Earl of Derwentwater.

Dinant - Breizh
In December 1736, the chevalier de Ramsay pronounced a discourse in which he suggested a chivalric origin for Freemasonry. This idea later influenced the creation within French Freemasonry in the last half of the 18th Century of a large number of Masonic Upper Degrees, which later regrouped around different Masonic Rites.

Chamber of reflection, Lilles
In France today, there are at least 11 Grand Lodges, few of which recognize the legitimacy of the others. In June 2005, the Grande Loge Nationale Française and the Grande Loge de France took steps to improve their fraternal working relations by signing an administrative protocol to cooperate with each other at a level below official recognition.

This last point is a practical one. There are ways to approach dealing with things which will allow the bureaucrats at Grand Lodge levels, who usually are more hindrance than help, to
Temple in Royan
get out of everyone's way and begin using some common sense. When looking at the politics surround Grand Lodge Freemasonry, I am reminded of a quote I read, attributed to Henry Kissinger, who is not someone I would otherwise quote. He was referring to his experience in the academic world prior to his appointment by Nixon as Secretary of State. He said, "The bloodiest battles always occur in academia, precisely because so little rides on the outcome." In the context of Freemasonry, the outcome might just be more light than heat. For once.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Scottish Rite Town Hall in Philadelphia

Out of a number of Philadelphia's architectural treasures were lost to the parking craze of the 1980's, the Scottish Rite Temple, which was also known as Town Hall was located at 150 North Broad Street (Broad and Race Streets). The Temple was built in 1926 and designed by Horace W. Castor (1870-. It is one of those lost treasures of which I hold fond personal memories. The soaring, stone walls of the Scottish Rite Temple fell to the wrecking ball in 1983 to make way for Parkway Corporation's poorly designed garage and headquarters. The latter unlike the beautiful Scottish Rite Temple, is unfortunately still with us.

The Scottish Rite Temple was most often called Town Hall when it was an active venue for entertainment from at least the 1950's until shortly before its demolution in 1983.

I never attended any events directly related to the Scottish Rite there, but I did attend a number of concerts there, especially in the 1960's.

The Architectural style of the Scottish Rite Temple was called variously Classical Revival, Beaux Arts, or Art Deco. It should be noted that at the time that an agency of the City of Philadelphia demolished it, it had an eligible status for placement on the National Register of Historic Buildings. It was constructed of Limestone with Steel Reinforcement, and Terra Cotta.

During the time when the  Philadelphia Orchestra was under the batons of both Leopold Stokowski and Eugene Ormandy, they recorded at  the Scottish Rite Cathedral which had a 1,692 seat auditorium with bright resonant acoustics that made for "high fidelity" recordings.

In the late 1950's after especially during the 1960's, big name acts often performed there. In 1957, Tom Lehrer and Josh White performed there. On November 17th, 1955, and March 1, 1959, Ray Charles performed concerts there. Bob Dylan performed there no less than three times in the fall of 1964. The Doors and Nazz performed there in June, of 1967.

I went to one of the Dylan concerts in 1964, and while I cannot recall the full set list of that concert, I do recall hearing him sing "Mr. Tamborurine Man", "It Ain't Me, Babe", and "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright." However, the Live Show Archive lists the set he played at The Scottish Rite Temple on October 25, the year before, as including the following:

1. The Times They Are A-Changin'
2. Girl from the North Country
3. Who Killed Davey Moore?
4. Talkin' John Birch Society Paranoid Blues
5. To Ramona
6. Ballad of Hollis Brown

7. Chimes of Freedom
8. I Don't Believe You
9. It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)
10. Mr. Tambourine Man
11. Talkin' World War III Blues
12. A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall
13. Don't Think Twice, It's All Right
14. Only a Pawn in Their Game
15. With God on Our Side
16. It Ain't Me, Babe
17. The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
18. All I Really Want to Do

I remember the Doors concert as being even more impressive than Dylan.

Among others who performed there were Todd Rundgren, Keith Jarrett, Charles Lloyd, Ron McClure, and Jack DeJohnette.

Ironically, one of the things I remember most clearly was that my brother and I sat so far up in the nosebleed section that I felt actually scared for the first few minutes.

My last recollection of the old Scottish Rite Temple was not as fond. I walked past it while it was being demolished, and had a flood of recollections, and felt profound sadness at seeing such a beautiful building being torn down. Not even world class architecture is a match for the lack of vision that most government bureaucrats possess.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Nicola Aslan: A Brazilian Mason

Nicola Aslan - (1906-1980)

Born on June 8, 1906, on the Greek island of Chios, Nicola Aslan, however, was the son of Italians - Peter Aslan and Josefina Carneri - and considered himself a "citizen of the world", since they thought that Italians have the ability to fit in everywhere, taking root in any land that welcomes them, where their children are born and they choose as their homeland.

Although born on the Greek island, he share the Italian nationality of his parents for a prosaic reason: the island of Chio was under Turkish rule at the time of his birth, and the practice then prevented the nationalization of foreigners; so the children of foreigners had to take their parent's nationality.

Nicola Aslan and his brother were entrusted to the care of their maternal grandfather, Salvador Carneri with the advent of the First World War (1914), when the professional demands of his parents separated parents and children for 5 years. It was only possible for them to reunite in 1919. The postwar difficulties were enormous for the family of Nicola Aslan but despite the hardships and sufferings, he managed to finish the equivalent of a Master's degree, it not being possible for him to fulfill the paternal wishes who wanted formed in dentist or doctor. He was Intelligent and witty, however, and at 17 years got a good job in the Imperial Bank (Banque Imperiale Ottoman), at which time he already spoke Greek, French, Italian, English and Turkish.

After 23 years with the political difficulties of the Turkish regime, he lost his job, and found no opportunities in the Turkish capital, Ankara, Nicola Aslan emigrated to Brazil in 1929, penniless but full of hopes. Without knowing the language, the difficulties of adjusting were huge, but he learnt Portuguese by reading newspapers on trams, performing activities in commercial offices, giving French lessons, culminating (professionally) with a career in commercial representation.

In 1941, he married Dona Guiomar Barroso Aslan, who gave him sons Italo Barroso Aslan (former Grand Master Adj. GOIRJ Do) and Aslan Licy Drumond.

He joined Freemasonry in 1956, at 50 years of age, in Lodge Evolution, in the Orient of Niterói. This Lodge had originally belonged to the Grand Orient of Brazil, but later came under the control of the Grand Lodge of the State of Rio de Janeiro.

He became Exalted Master Mason on 01/03/1957, completed all of the Masonic Degrees filossofismo, having completed Grade 32 on 05/15/1972.

He was widely known as a supporter of Masonic Culture, which he devoted himself to, participating in many major events related to it. He was elected several times for different positions, and also received numerous honorary degrees (enough to complete about three pages).

After only two years within Freemasonry (1958), he wrote a work of great importance in Brazil and was recognized as one of the greatest and most renowned Masonic writers and lexicographers of the Portuguese speaking world, and his work GREAT Encyclopedic Dictionary  "HISTÓRIA DA MAÇONARIA, Cronologia, Documentos" (History of FREEMASONRY, Chronology, Documents) published by Editora Espiritualista Ltda. has been praised by the Masonic Academy of Letters has been compared to the work of Albert Mackey.

In 1972, he helped found the Masonic Academy of Letters, eventually coming to occupy Cadeira No. 06, whose patron Gonçalves Ledo, left an enviable library!

Nicola Aslan died on May 2, 1980.
Source:  O Pesquisador Maçônico Nº: 27 / Nov.-Dez./2003, Informativo Cultural Bimestral da SOCIEDADE DE ESTUDOS ANTHERO BARRADAS e ARLS Renascimento Nº: 08 – Cabo Frio (RJ); Registrado na ABIM sob o Nº: 060-J, Rua Nicola Aslan, 133 – Braga.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Eugenio Oliveira Former Grand Master of the Grand Orient Lusitano (GOL) Dies

The former Grand Master of the Grand Orient Lusitano (GOL), between 1996 and 2002, Eugenio Oliveira, died yesterday.

The current Grand Master of the GOL, Fernando Lima, speaking to the press expressed that "this is a very sad day" and that Oliveira "will always be remembered as a great freedom fighter, I hope that his example be followed."

Born August 30, 1932, in what was then Portuguese India, Eugenio Oliveira pursued a military career obtaining the rank of colonel in the Portuguese military.

Involved early in opposition to the Salazar regime, he participated in several actions, of which the most notable have been the assault on the headquarters of the 3rd Infantry Regiment, in Beja, on the night of December 31,1961, which became known as the Coup of Beja.

As a result of his involvement in this action, at which time he held the rank of captain, he was arrested on January 2, 1962 and expelled from the army on the same date. When he was released from the Fort of Peniche, on May 18, 1966, he found himself "without profession, library, cars, guns or even driving license," as he wrote in his own memoir.

After April 25, 1974 he was reinstated in the military, to the rank of major, having joined the Commissão de Extinção da PIDE/DGS and participated in the containment of paratroopers troops on November 25, 1975.

His ties with India eventually resulted in the founding of the Casa de Goa in 1987, which he chaired until 1991.

The funeral will be held at Masonic palace at a date to be announced by the Grand Orient Lusitano.

Information courtesy of the TSF Rádio Notícias.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Landscapes and Legends: Iona and Heredom

Eilean Idhe (Iona)
The question of how Freemasonry as we know it today came into being stumps Masons as much as it does non-Masons. Until recently, we had mostly volumes  which contained almost as much speculation and wishful thinking as fact. That 19th century scholarship had its limitations is nobody's fault. With the exception of the more dogmatic author's they did the best they could with what they had. If we do not welcome what contemporary academics have to offer however, that will be nobody's fault but our own. 

A well honed aversion to fact is actually a problem freemasons share with a large part of our population today; a preference for myth and legend over documented fact.  It's difficult to deal with modern research that overturns treasured myths about the foundation of an institution with which one has a deep, heartfelt connection. However, when that institution is dedicated to seeking light, by which we mean, or should mean, both knowledge and understanding, then we have an obligation to look our fond delusions in the eye and banish them. 

Sìdh Chailleann (Schiehallion)
Sometimes, however, we have nothing really solid with which to replace our myths. At that point, we need to embrace the poetic and visionary of our traditions while acknowledging the limits of our sight. Facts sometimes get blurred in the mists of ages past.

Scotland is the original home of what we understand to be modern Freemasonry. We are blessed with a number of documents concerning real Freemasonry in Scotland before 1717. However, modern Freemasonry contains in it's foundational myths, material which we are unable to verify. It also contains legends, which are grounded in the understandings of the time at which our existing institutions were created. These understandings are further complicated by the literature written about them since. I am not referring to 21st century scholarship, but that of the 18th and 19th centuries in particular. One such institution is the Royal Order of Scotland.

This post does not intend to question either the value or intentions of that august order which has existed since at least 1741. Rather, it seeks to raise some points, and mostly, speak about some myths concerning the origins of Freemasonry in Scotland. Unfortunately, I do not have many answers to the questions concerning the original sources of Freemasonry in Scotland. There are a few clarifications that can be made, and they also leave open many more questions. 

I hold little hope that some of these myths may be confirmed as fact. My motive stems from an abiding interest in Freemasonry, and also the history of Scotland and the Gaelic world. If it is possible to raise a few points and in the process, inspire some curiosity to look anew at these issues, and get those interested in them to introduce some newer scholarship into Masonic discussions, then that would be wonderful. There may be some out there able to bring new insight to the subject.

A real problem in looking at Masonic writing on this subject is that it is inevitably in English. 19th century Masonic literature suffers from a dearth of accurate knowledge about Gaelic culture. Inevitably, when it lacked sound information, the impulse then was to fill in the gaps with uniformed speculation.

Scota, the Egyptian-Irish Queen
Mackey’s Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, in seeking to flesh out the origins of Freemasonry in Scotland turned his sights on a group called the Culdees (>Gaelic, Céili Dé) Earlier Medieval legends, which may have some some basis in fact, associated the Early Irish with Egypt, though perhaps not as they suggest. The Céili Dé may have had monastic connections with early Egyptian Christianity. A legend speaks of an Egyptian Queen, Scota, who travelled to Ireland. The Medieval Story He asserted, with no real documentation to confirm such a claim that "in A.D. 546 St. Columba, an ordained Culdee Priest founded with a college or fraternity of Operative Masons, an abbey at Derry Ireland. Seventeen years later in 563 he with 12 Brethren called the Apostles of Ireland, founded a monastery at the Isle of Iona in Scotland." He then went on to state that the Royal Order of Scotland (ROS) maintained was its descendant and Freemasonry as we know it today from the Grand Lodge of England descended from the Royal Order of Scotland.  In one grand leap of imagination he claimed a direct link between the early Irish Christian church and modern Freemasonry.  He then informed us that the two patron saints of the Culdees were Saint John the Baptist and Saint John the Divine. 

Myth makers go on to link Heredom with both the mountain of Schiehallion  (Sìdh Chailleann) which lies at the approximate geographic center of Scotland, as well as Iona, with the birth of Scottish Freemasonry. While it makes wonderful legend, mysterious and romantic, there is alas, no documentation to confirm it. The lack of documentation, combined with a healthy dose of Templar legend is alluring. 

As much as I would love to place the origins of modern Freemasonry on Iona, or at Schiehallion, Gaelic language traditions are remarkably silent. While Gaelic remained the predominant language among the community on Iona, throughout the 19th and into the early 20th centuries, they retained relatively few traditions concerning Saint Columbkille, the original founder of Iona's monastery, and virtually none concerning Freemasonry. 

None of these inconvenient truths refute the Scottish origins of modern Freemasonry. Nor do they prove that there is no connection between Iona (or Schiehallion) and Freemasonry. They simply mean we do not have the evidence. The obvious connection was the documentable association of Iona with the royal institutions of Scotland. The fact that Iona is identified as a holy place long before Christianity adds both romance and credibility to its possible influence. Before it was known as the center for St. Combkille, it was known, among other names such as Ì nam ban bòidheach (the isle of beautiful women) and Inis nan Druidhneach (The Druid's Island). The Norse name for Iona,  Hiōe means Island of the den of the fox. Strabo called it Eo, which suggests an association with the Yew tree, sacred to the Druids.

Monastary At Iona
The monastery of Iona, founded c. 563 played a significant role in the Christianization of the Picts in the late 6th century and of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria in 635. It became a major center of learning, and its scriptorium produced highly influential documents, including quite likely, the original texts of the Iona Chronicle, the source for the early Irish annals. The monastery is often associated with the distinctive practices and traditions known as Celtic Christianity.

The ancient burial ground, called  Rèilig Odhrain (Oran's cemetery), contains the 12th century chapel of Naomh Odhrán ( St. Oran, Columba's uncle), contains a number of medieval graves. The abbey graveyard contains the graves of many early Scottish Kings, as well as kings from Ireland, Norway and France. Iona became the burial site for the kings of Dál Riata and their successors.  In 1549 an inventory of 48 Scottish, 8 Norwegian and 4 Irish kings was recorded. The documented burials there include:

Cináed mac Ailpín, king of the Picts (also known today as "Kenneth I of Scotland")
Domnall mac Causantín, alternatively "king of the Picts" or "king of Alba" (Donald II)
Máel Coluim mac Domnaill, king of Scotland (Malcolm I)
Donnchad mac Crínáin, king of Scotland (Duncan I)
Mac Bethad mac Findlaích, king of Scotland (MacBeth)
Domnall mac Donnchada, king of Scotland (Domnall Bán or Donald III)

So, while it is necessary to recognize that the Masonic literature concerning these matters is unquestionably legend rather than fact, that does not mean that the truth is not enshrined in these stories. The proofs are lost in the mists of time. Denying they hold the truth is as much a folly as holding these myths without question. If someone would only seek more light. As the old folks in my youth said when they saw someone working, Báil ó Dhía air an obair (God bless the work)...

Thursday, June 5, 2014

The 2014 Esoteric Book Conference

Another year rolls around and those interested in such matters look toward Seattle, Washington and the Esoteric Book Conference. This year the conference is being held in the University District, and advance booking for hotel accommodation is being offered by The Hotel Deca, who has special rates for the conference. Information on bookings and on tickets for the events are available on the Conference website listed at the end of this post.

A short list of participants include Amodali, Anima Nocturna, Brittany Levi, Erik Davis, Gerard O’Sullivan, Ph.D., Vice President for Academic Affairs and Professor of English and Theological Studies at Neumann University in Aston, Pennsylvania, Jesse Bransford, Liv Rainey-Smith, Stuart Südekum, Dr. Richard Kaczynski, and John Dorfman,  among others.

Some of the presentations, lectures, and performances include Drinking from the Haunted Well: A mystical exploration in the Fairy Land of A. E. Waite; The Calendrier Magique: Tradition, Transgression, and Humor in Fin-de-Siècle Occult Paris; The Rite of Mars, a rock opera, and The Eleusinian Mysteries and the Cult of Eleusis.

Tickets for the 2014 EBC are now available!

Tickets are required to attend the presentations. The Book Fair, and Art Show are Free and open to the public.

Deluxe Tickets ($120) include Saturday and Sunday presentations at the University of Washington and an exclusive invitation to the Saturday night performance, where you can socialize with conference attendees and share libations with many of the presenters, book vendors and artists featured at the Esoteric Book Conference. You must be 21 or over to attend the event. Deluxe Admission holders will also receive a a limited edition Esoteric Book Conference item TBA.

Standard Admission ($80) includes Saturday and Sunday presentations at the University of Washington.

One Day Pass ($50) entitles you to attend either Saturday OR Sunday presentations.

Deluxe Upgrades ($40) are intended for vendors or conference volunteers, who wish to upgrade their Standard ticket to a Deluxe. They include the Saturday night performance portion of our event and are available on a first come, first-served basis due to limited availability. Day pass admissions may also purchase the upgrade. They DO NOT qualify as standalone tickets, they only serve to upgrade an existing Standard or Day Pass Admission.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Temple in Memory: Masonic Meditations

It is easy to believe, if you have spent any time observing contemporary Esoteric communities and traditions, of almost any stripe, that there exists a mysterious alchemical process whereby whenever anyone has a new or creative idea, the ethers take ahold of it and by the time they have a chance to share this new technique or vision with another, it has magically been converted into an ancient and timeless tradition. Gnostic and Hermetic traditions, being the closest in those circles to Freemasonry are no exception to this occult phenomenon. At least that is my independent judgment. Of course, the same may be said of Freemasonry itself, where when all else fails, it is possible to raise Frederick the Great from both his coma and his death bed to sign a charter for your fledgling obedience.

One such time honored technique of magical practice is that which today is commonly identified by the name of Pathworking. It is a fanciful term to describe a meditation based upon visualization. It is one technique, which if not originally grounded in Hermetic arts, is certainly in harmony with Hermetic principles. The basic concept is that if you can visualize forcefully, you can enter into an inner experience convincingly enough that for the duration of the exercise, you actually experience the events you visualize, or at least an emotional or spiritual equivalent of them. Any child who has ever daydreamed, or any avid movie buff, has experienced this, so there is no outlandish claims in this, at least on the surface. The fact that I had already been married for the second time before this word was first seen publicly in print, apparently does not affect its hoary antiquity as a technique.
To go beyond that, of course requires the assumption of metaphysical components or impacts deriving from these practices. I make it a habit to offer two observations whenever such matters come up in public. The first is to assert that I do not attempt to influence nor debate anyone else's belief or skepticism concerning spiritual matters. The second is to quote, depending on your adherence or non-adherence to certain conspiracy theories, either Shakespeare or Bacon,  "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

My skepticism of the antiquity of the technique not withstanding, there is some justification for its adoption in Western Mystic traditions, and even for its use by Freemasons. Of course, we have to ignore the fact that when the first Grand Lodge convened in London in 1717, they clearly stated in the documents, which you can see today if anyone ever finds them, that Freemasonry is only a social club, and besides initiation ceremonies filled with obscure symbolism, its only legitimate purpose is to read treasurer's minutes and to hold fish fries. Cigars and Single Malt may be consumed on premises only if you are in Scotland.

So, why would I claim that there's some legitimate connection between Freemasonry and the modern esoteric practice known as Pathworking? Quite simply due to the ancient, still remembered by at least a handful of people, practice known as "The Palace of Memory." That is the name of a technique first enunciated by the ancient Greek orators to assist in recalling lengthy speeches.

The long and short of it is that the technique refers to mentally associating elements of your lecture or speech with items or locations in a building you have imagined. This can also be used to remember or contemplate any other materials you may choose. This location may be your home, a public building, or even a path through the woods. In the examples we will discuss below, we will suggest the Chamber of Reflection and the Masonic Temple.

Let me first note that while I am not suggesting that any Masonic Obedience that I know of currently has formal teachings relating to meditation, apart from the active stage of initiation in those rites where the Chamber of Reflection is part of the initiation, which may legitimately be considered a contemplative process of intellectual and psychological meditation, I consider it a useful thing for Freemasons to consider, perhaps privately and quietly if they are members of obediences that pride themselves on being BBQ masters only. 

Further, one need not be committed to any form of spiritual or metaphysical practice to justify the exercise. If you are purely a materialist in outlook, a Masonic meditation can be adapted to some rather practical outcomes. An active visual meditation based upon the concept of the Palace of Memory may be used to aid an individual in memorizing ritual, or exploring the symbols used in Masonic practice and teaching. Imagine creating your own mental movie in which the ritual may be carried out with commentary provided by your inner voice, or in which the symbols come to life and explain themselves, or if that is too fanciful, where you can view them as if in a hologram while reviewing their meanings. All in all, it's a dramatic technique that remains a lot cheaper than producing your own educational videos.

If you are of a more metaphysical turn of mind, you can enact the rituals in full in your imagination, creating an experience on whatever higher plane you consider to be real, and strengthening, if your belief system includes such things, a masonic egrigore. If you are working with a lodge where the members are open to such ideas on any level, and not restricted by more intrusive regulations, you may well find that such a practice has practical implications for the energy and vibrancy of your more brick and mortar meetings when they occur. At the least they may inspire a more spirited participation when you meet for the "real" thing.

I realize that such an idea may appear fanciful to some masons, and that is fine. In spite of the attempts of some obediences to micro-manage what is acceptable practice, I feel that Freemasonry is at a juncture where some creativity in how we approach masonic education is called for. Since in our day and age, even quite mainstream psychology, thanks in large part to the imaginative work of Carl Jung, whose grandfather after whom he was named was Grand Master of Switzerland during his lifetime, recognized the value of contemplative practices including a variety of meditational forms, such an idea needn't be merely the reserve of the more esoterically minded Freemason.

Lastly, lest I be accused of "borrowing" other people's ideas, allow me to recommend a couple of published resources where such ideas, in one form or another are developed. There is an excellent little book, available as far as I know only in French, and only electronically, entitled "Meditation Maçonique: Le Secret du Ritual de Méditation Maçonnique" by Franck de Magellan. The other, which is more of a traditional application of Cabbalistic techniques, is available in English. It is Jean-Louis de Biasi's "Secrets and Practices of the Freemasons: Sacred Mysteries, Rituals and Symbols Revealed." I leave it to the individual reader to address for themselves the merits of these author's views of Freemasonry. However, I am interested in the practical techniques presented by these authors in the broadest interpretation possible as potential tools in personal education and in seeking more light. Fiat Lux!