Marie Bourgeois Goaziou and North American Co-Freemasonry

Marie Bourgeois Goaziou and North American Co-Freemasonry

The woman to whom Co-Freemasonry in North America arguably owes a great debt of thanks, Marie Bourgeois Goaziou, died 100 years ago this year.

It’s doubtful that North American Co-Freemasonry would have survived if not for her. And, yet, there is not one comment, letter, paper, or quotation of hers that is known. She had to have been an interesting lady. For now, we have to take that on faith.

Like many women in history, what we think we know about Marie Goaziou is based on the men in her life, though we don’t know that much about even them. Her father’s name was John Bourgeois, but we know little more about him than his name. The same can be said for her mother, Marie Lepis[1]. She was born 24 July 1866[2] in Namur, the capital city of Wallonia in Belgium, where the Meuse and Sambre rivers meet.

Nothing is know about her childhood, even if she had siblings, though we do know she could read and write as she later helped in her husband’s newspaper business. Literacy alone would have set her apart from a lot of contemporary working class girls in her time.

We also don’t know what her parents did for a living but we do know that the family arrive to Pennsylvania, via Canada, when she was six years old. By 1883, they were living in the mining town of Houtzdale[3]. Shortly after her 17th birthday, Marie Bourgeois saved Co-Freemasonry in North American almost two decades before it was founded by convincing a young Louis Goaziou, future Grand Commander of the Order, not to return to his home in France.

Goaziou had arrived in Houtzdale from a fairly comfortable life in Brittany and spent the next two years mining coal and hating it. He was the best educated coal miner in the region, but it didn’t help. In midsummer of 1883, 19-year-old Goaziou sold his mining tools and announced to his friends that he was going home on a Monday.

“On Saturday, we had a farewell party at the boarding house with music and dancing,” Louis Goaziou later recalled[4].

Louis Goaziou also recalled meeting Marie at that party, but that seems unlikely. Houtzdale was a small community, and it seems impossible this could have been their first meeting. What seems more likely is that he noticed her for the first time. In the more than two years he’d lived there, Marie had blossomed into an attractive young woman. He was badly smitten.

He walked her home from the party and, that same night, discussed marriage with her and her parents. Marie Bourgeois was firm. She was willing to marry him, but she didn’t want to leave her parents. Louis Goaziou had to choose between going home or remaining in the United States to marry Marie Bourgeois and return to the coal mines he hated. He chose to remain.

They were married in Houtzdale on the 28th of August in 1883.

She could not have known that by convincing Goaziou to remain, Marie Bourgeois also insured that he was around during the chaotic period in 1908 when Goaziou effectively saved Co-Freemasonry in North America. She likely did know that she was entering the hard working world of a late 19th Century coal miner’s wife. The couple had eight children together – half of whom died in infancy and only three of whom made it to adulthood[5]. Of those three, one, their oldest daughter Clemence, died only days shy of her 18th birthday.

Life as a western Pennsylvania coal miner’s wife had a certain predictability to it, but Louis Goaziou was no ordinary coal miner, so Marie Goaziou could have been no ordinary miner’s wife. Goaziou became embroiled in union activism, as well as Anarchist and then Socialist politics, as together the two embarked upon a peripatetic life. By 1885, they were in MacDonald, where he worked loading coal machine and whispered “union” to his co-workers.

He did that too much and lost his job in MacDonald the following spring, sending the Goazious back to Houtzdale. Two years later, they were in Hastings in neighboring Cambria County before returning again to Houtzdale two years after that. Louis Goaziou also joined the Knights of Labor and became active in other radical workers groups.

Louis Goaziou’s health began to fail. He suffered at least one bout of measles and developed lung ailments that would plague him much of the rest of his life. Marie Goaziou presumable nursed him through much of that. It didn’t stop him from fighting for union representation among the miners of western Pennsylvania, despite the efforts of mine owners to starve the family out.

While the family was in Hastings, Louis Goaziou obtained a small Kelso printing press and started the first of a series of newspaper. The earliest were small, little more than leaflets, but they culminated in Union des Travailleurs, published in Charleroi. Goaziou family tradition states that Marie Goaziou kept the books for the newspapers and that the remaining ledgers are in her hand.

In 1902, Union des Travailleurs came to the attention of Antoine Muzzarelli, a French Freemason who was trying to found Co-Freemasonry in North America and was looking for the first Master of the new Order’s first Lodge. After corresponding with Louis Goaziou for about a year, Muzzarelli arrive in Charleroi on the 17th of October in 1903. There he met with more than a dozen men who crowded into the living room of the Goaziou home at 730 Washington Avenue.

That same evening, Louis Goaziou asked his wife if she’d like to become a Freemason. She said, “Yes.”

Two days later, Marie Goaziou became one of the first women Co-Masons in North America when she was Initiated, Passed, and Raised into Alpha Lodge No. 301 in Charleroi, becoming a Charter member of the Lodge. Louis Goaziou probably was in the East that day, only one day after his own Initiation, Passing and Raising. Alpha Lodge’s record is not complete, but Marie Goaziou appears to have remained active in Alpha Lodge, as well as, acting as hostess to a number of Co-Masonic leaders. These leaders included Muzzarelli and later members of the National Council, who often stayed at the Goaziou home when they were in town. In this way, she likely exercised influence, though she lacked authority, so long as her health remained good.

Unfortunately, in about 1906, Marie Goaziou’s health began to fail[6]. She had developed what her death certificate later described as “biliary cirrhosis of [the] liver,” which may have been caused by a severe case of hepatitis: an illness that was at epidemic proportions in the early 20th Century Western Pennsylvania coal fields. In late 1906 into the following spring, Marie Goaziou spent months in hospital and ever underwent surgery, which seems to have brought only little relief. Over the next decade, she was ill more often than she was well and her husband, whom she’d nursed through years of his own illnesses and whose own health remained precarious, now nursed her.

Marie Goaziou died on April 5, 1917 in the family’s apartment over their print shop in Charleroi. She was 50 years old. Her death was reported on the front page of the local newspaper.

It can be difficult at times to nail down one Brother’s contribution to any Masonic Order, but the debt Co-Freemasonry owes to Marie Bourgeois Goaziou is clear enough, even if her own words and ideas haven’t survived. Thanks to her, North American Co-Freemasonry did survive.

[1] Her parents’ names are listed on Marie Goaziou’s death certificate, preserved by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. I have found those names nowhere else, so additional research is needed.

[2] Ibid and her Memory Card, preserved in the Archives of the Honorable Order of American Co-Masonry, the American Federation of Human Rights.

[3] From Louis Goaziou’s dictated brief autobiography, “Written enroute to and at El Paso for Initiation Ceremonies”, also preserved in the Order’s archives.

[4] Ibid.

[5] See page 3 of eulogy delivered at Louis Goaziou’s funeral in 1937, preserved in the Order’s archives.

[6] See Andrée Prat’s “Louis Goaziou (1864-1937)”, published in Cahiers de la Commission d’Histoire, Fédération française du Droit Humain, n°9 /février 2004.

 

The Real Origins of Prince Hall Freemasonry

The Real Origins of Prince Hall Freemasonry

A paradox in Freemasonry, where Brothers are supposed to have a high regard for truth, is that the same Brothers have been known to downplay, ignore, and suppress truth that is found to be inconvenient.

The so-called “clandestine” roots of Prince Hall Freemasonry is one inconvenient truth that author and researcher E. Oscar Alleyne, a member of Wappingers No. 671, which labors under the Grand Lodge of New York, wasn’t afraid to talk about during a recent conference. Specifically (*SPOILERS*), that the first Prince Hall lodge, African Lodge No. 1, wasn’t founded on March 6, 1775 with assistance from a so-called “regular” military lodge. Instead, the date likely was in 1778 and assistance came from a degree peddler (*END SPOILERS*).

It was not unusual in the 18th Century for lodges to independently form on their own and then go looking for a Grand Lodge to provide them with a charter or warrant. In that context, African Lodge’s true origins are nothing to be concerned about. Brothers have been anyway, Alleyne said during an all-too-brief presentation of his paper at the International Conference of Masonic Research Lodges, the ICOM, this past May in Toulon, France.

“Some people don’t like the truth of this story because they think it means that Prince Hall was clandestine or was irregularly made,” Alleyne said.

Getting stuck on that notion misses the greater point: that African Lodge overcame racism, the then current enslavement of most peoples of color in North American, and the war-encroaching international politics to come into being, Alleyne said. “They were able to accomplish something that didn’t seen accomplishable,” he said.

I strongly recommend reading the online version of Alleyne’s paper, including maps and documents I’ve never seen before, because a brief summary is all I can offer here. Alleyne cites as his text John L. Hairston’s “Landmarks of our Fathers: A Critical Analysis of the Start and Origin of African Lodge No. 1,” edited by Alleyne. Hairston, a publisher, author, and researcher, is a demitted member of Harmony Lodge No. 2, which labors under the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Washington, and a member of University Lodge 141, which labors under the Grand Lodge of Washington.

Alleyne started where most Masonic scholars and casual readers start, with the legend that Bostonian caterer and leather dresser Prince Hall. Hall, a free man of color, along with other free men of color in the same city, decided to form their own lodge after being turned away from existing lodges. According to that legend, Hall and 14 others were initiated into Freemasonry by Irish Military Lodge No. 441, under the direction of WM Sergeant John Batt, on March 6, 1775. By July of the following year, African Lodge was organized under a limited permit from Batt, and by 1779, thirty-three Brothers were listed on the rolls of the Lodge. Prince Hall later petitioned the Grand Lodge of England for a warrant or charter, which was granted June 30th, 1784.

That story, told and retold for generations and included on a number of Prince Hall websites, was written in the early 20th Century – not Freemasonry’s shiny era of accurately written histories – by William H. Grimshaw, most noted for his “Official History of Freemasonry Among the Colored People” published in 1903.

“Grimshaw probably was the person who caused the most problems with this story,” Alleyne said. “Grimshaw made up stories about things that didn’t happen.”

Scholars then repeated those stories, which then took on other inaccuracies, others believed it all and, in that “Who Shot Liberty Valance” (When the legend becomes fact, print the legend) way, became perpetuated. Documentation that suggested otherwise was downplayed, ignored and suppressed, all in service to the legend.

Hairston’s extensive research makes a convincing case that the truth isn’t so simple as Grimshaw would have anyone believe and piecing all that together is made difficult because records are lacking, Alleyne said. The true story appears to be that neither Hall nor any of the other 14 Brothers of what would be African Lodge were made Master Masons in 1775 and Irish Military Lodge No. 441 had nothing to do with their initiations or the foundation of African Lodge No. 1.

The Lodge certainly sought assistance more locally. My ears perked up when I heard Alleyne mention Hall’s connection to the Revolutionary War hero Gen. Joseph Warren, who then was Provincial Grand Master of Freemasons in Massachusetts. After all, I’ve long been convinced that Warren was behind the consecration of St. Anne’s Lodge, a female-only Lodge of Adoption in Boston, and the making of Masons in that Lodge. But that’s another paper, expected next year.

Hall approached Warren for a warrant in March of 1775, at the same time Grimshaw alleged the Lodge was founded with help from the Irish military lodge. Warren’s death June 17 of that year during the battle of Bunker Hill shut Hall off from that opportunity, Alleyne said. Hall also sought out several other options, including connections in France.

African Lodge finally made some headway toward organization through Batt, who provided a “permit” to bury their dead and march in processions as Freemasons. However, contrary to what Grimshaw wrote, Batt had no known associations with Military Lodge No. 441 and appears to have been something of a degree seller, a common thing over the centuries. Hall likely understood the truth about Batt at the time but he continued to seek out a way for African Lodge to be “regularized”, which happened with its recognition by the Grand Lodge of England in 1784.

“This is the correct story,” Alleyne said.

 

Lovecraft: A Dark Place to Find Light

Lovecraft: A Dark Place to Find Light

H.P. Lovecraft and Freemasonry. Yes, I’m going there.

A long-serving Brother in Universal Co-Masonry has been known to observe that the stars are always where they are but can be seen only against the dark night sky; and he points out that all light is worth seeking. Lovecraft is some pretty dark stuff and it could be that only the most intrepid will seek the light revealed there.

“H.P. Lovecraft, Providence and Freemasonry” is the title of The H.P. Lovecraft Archive webmaster Donovan K. Loucks’ planned paper during the Masonic Library and Museum Association’s annual meeting over the weekend of September 28 in Providence, Rhode Island.

As the Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon points out on its website, Lovecraft is best known as “a writer of weird fiction,” which is true enough. His medium isn’t exactly horror, though it can be pretty scary. It isn’t exactly science fiction, though it can be geeky and, at times, intangibly technical.

However it’s defined, Lovecraft’s work beckons to the reader’s darkest, most deeply veiled interior places and lays bare what’s really there. If there happens to be light there, it is worth seeking.

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H.P. Lovecraft’s Childhood Home

Depending on how “success” is defined, Lovecraft could be said to have had little of it. Born August 20, 1890 in Providence, Rhode Island, his work was published only in pulp magazines, not much respected at the time. His father died in the psychiatric institution of Butler Hospital in Providence a month shy of H.P.’s 8th Birthday. His mother also died in Butler in 1921.

A pale, gaunt, brooding fellow with a piercing stare and deep, dark eyes, Lovecraft seldom went out before nightfall, suffered what he called “Night Gaunts” when he slept, never graduated from high school and failed a National Guard physical. He at times went without food to pay the postage on his voluminous private correspondence with contemporary literary ne’er-do-wells such as Robert E. Howard, Robert Bloch and Clark Ashton Smith.

Beyond his innate ability to write and edit, Lovecraft had few marketable skills, generally rubbed employers and co-workers the wrong way and seldom had any so-called “regular jobs.” He died in poverty and obscurity, as do many painfully brilliant artists, at age 46 on March 15, 1937.

His work received little notoriety in his lifetime and a decade would pass before it started to be recognized for its literary importance and to be collected into posthumous volumes. In my opinion, some of his best works include “The Outsider,“”Haunter of the Dark,” “The Rats in the Walls,” “The Alchemist” and, of course, the Cthulhu Mythos stories.

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V.I.T.R.I.O.L

In my observation, Lovecraft’s work is wildly popular among some of the more intense Freemasons most interested in all that V.I.T.R.I.O.L. stuff, but the author’s own brushes with Craft are hard to pin down. Lovecraft wasn’t a Freemason and neither was his father. However, his maternal grandfather, who by all accounts was the lone father figure in H.P.’s youth, the businessman Whipple Van Buren Phillips, was in 1870 a founding member of Ionic Lodge No. 28 in Greene, Rhode Island and was reckoned to be a very active Freemason.

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H.P. Lovecraft’s Grandfather: Brother Whipple Van Buren Phillips

Lovecraft’s work stands on its own, it doesn’t have to be read as an exercise in self-reflection but, for the Freemason willing to go there, it’s quite an exercise. The Philosopher Graham Harman, in his 2013 “Weird Realism: Lovecraft and Philosophy” describes Lovecraft’s work as having a unique, if veiled, anti-reductionalist ontology. “No other writer is so perplexed by the gap between objects and the power of language to describe them, or between objects and the qualities they possess,” Harman says.

Yes, Lovecraft was a bit of a racist and he had other personal flaws, as do we all, but I learned long ago not to seek perfection in any artist. The work is the thing and art never apologizes.

I have a preference for the dark stuff, a great appreciation for emblems of mortality and and no real hesitance to reflect upon mortality with an eye toward living life while there’s life to live. That, for me, is the light worth seeking as revealed against the darkness; and why I read Lovecraft.

Loucks’ paper isn’t the only thing going on at the Masonic Library and Museum Association’s annual conference this year. I’ve been a member for years, and I’ve always wanted to go. I can, however, never seem to get the highly complicated, multi-level math to work. However, it’s a very good, if quiet, conference aimed not so much at research but in facilitating research and applying professional library sciences to Masonic libraries. The conference is open to all.

And with that, I’ll leave you with a bit of Lovecraft, from his 1921, “The Defence Remains Open!“:

“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.”


“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents.”


 

Ask Not What Masonry Can Do For You: Universal Co-Masonry’s Call for Greater Service

Ask Not What Masonry Can Do For You: Universal Co-Masonry’s Call for Greater Service

A call to greater service is part of the vision for the next five years detailed during the Honorable Order of Universal Co-Masonry’s Annual Summer Workshop at its headquarters in Larkspur, Colorado earlier this month.

The annual address by the Order’s Most Sovereign Grand Commander (M.S.G.C.), The Very Ills..... Bro... Magdalena I. Cumsille 33o, announced the call to action – illustrating the Order’s unwavering dedication to serve and assist all of Humanity. In a nod to the late President John F. Kennedy, the M.S.G.C. inspired the assembly with the following message: 

“Ask not what Freemasonry can do for you. Ask what you can do for Freemasonry.”

As part of the M.S.G.C.’s plan, the Institution of a Masonic Order of Service is a vital component of the Order’s Strategic Plan for the next five years.  The details of the plan were included in a letter from the Order’s President Matias Cumsille, issued to the Brethren of Universal Co-Masonry during the workshop.

“It has been a long-held sentiment of Masonry throughout the ages that the responsibility of service does not rely on the depth of our pockets but on the working of our hands,” Cumsille said in his letter. “The institution of the Masonic Order of Service is being established to serve our various communities in the physical world,” Cumsille wrote in his letter.

HQ office building

Headquarters of the Honorable Order of Universal Co-Masonry in Larkspur, Colorado.

The new service order will be available to the larger community outside of Universal Co-Masonry to request assistance, Cumsille said. “The needs of our communities are vast, and we are a source of giving hearts and giving hands,” he said.

“Masters of Lodges can work through the Masonic Order of Service to find Lodge activities of this nature as well as individual Brothers who have a passion for this type of service who wish to sign up on their own. Volunteers are required who can supply the hands through which the Masonic Order of Service will work.”

The announcement was part of a larger vision of and for the Order as it heads into the third decade of the 21st Century, a plan for the next five years announced during summer workshop on the campus in the small central Colorado town August 5th – 12th. Brothers arrived from Lodges throughout the Americas to attend the workshop, a semi-regular tradition in the Order for more than a century.

Other announcements during the workshop included the ongoing formation of a Masonic College of Art and Science to provide education for seekers throughout the world and an energy initiative for the headquarters’ campus. On the later, plans were announced to make headquarters 100% sustainable through renewable energy installation, as an example to other organizations to protect the environment, as well as reducing utility costs.

Larkspur

Aerial View of the Headquarters of the Honorable Order of Universal Co-Masonry

Service, as a Masonic ideal, is nothing new in the Order but external service has been less heard of in Universal Co-Masonry since its origins in the late 19th Century, though there examples, instigated mostly by individual lodges, can be recalled in the Order’s history.

For instance, in 1923, a Lodge of the Order in California joined with male-only Orders to build a facility at Berkeley University to provide a facility for the use of children of Masons attending that state university. Over the years, Brothers have participated in local causes, such of food and clothing drives, have funded scholarships and participated in other community efforts. Most recently, individual lodges in the Order have been patrons of the arts and provided money and hands for concerns nearest their premises.

ME Building HQ

Headquarters of the Honorable Order of Universal Co-Masonry

The new Masonic Order of Service will provide the means to better organize those formerly informal and local efforts. Moreover, the new initiative will improve ongoing efforts through a more centralized process, as well as, work with other ongoing initiatives in the Order, Cumsille said in his letter.

“As a United Federation of Lodges, we have an enormous synergy to draw from and, as such, there is a place for every Brother in these institutions, programs and improvements,” Cumsille’s letter stated.

Cumsille urged no Brother to “stand on the sidelines.”

“The members who have joined in the efforts for promote the Great Work in these areas need more Brothers to work alongside them. Those who want to see the world we all envision made manifest, to make perfecting humanity a reality rather than a beautiful sentiment, are asked to join in these efforts.”

Do you think Freemasonry started in 1717? Think again.

Do you think Freemasonry started in 1717? Think again.

There’s been a roiling controversy in Freemasonry for almost a year but unless you’re a Masonic scholar, you may not know about it.

It has to do with the year in which modern Freemasonry, “the revival,” began. Traditionally, that watershed year has been 1717 and the formation of the first Grand Lodge in London. That would mean this year is the 300th anniversary of Freemasonry in the modern era.

Now comes Dr. Susan Mitchell Sommers, professor of history at Saint Vincent College and General Editor of the Journal for Research into Freemasonry and Fraternalism, and Dr. Andrew Prescott (pictured above), FSA, FRHistS, Professor of Digital Humanities, AHRC Theme Leader Fellow for Digital Transformations, University of Glasgow, to tell us that isn’t the right date. We are, Sommers and Prescott tell us, about four years off, that the actual date is 1721.

Prescott dropped that little tidbit during the Tercentenary Conference Celebrating 300 Years of Freemasonry this past September at Cambridge University. He was the last key-note speaker of that conference. Obviously, I wasn’t there but I’ve heard Dr. Prescott caused quite a stir when he effectively blew away the whole purpose of that conference. Oh, to have been a mouse under the podium in that moment.

Sommers gave a version of the paper during the World Conference on Fraternalism, Freemasonry, and History in Paris this past May.

Prescott’s talk at the Tercentenary Conference are similar to those given during the Dr. Charles A. Sankey Lecture Series in Masonic Studies the previous June. In his talk then, Searching for the Apple Tree: What Happened in 1716?, Prescott said the difficulty with the date lays in the account by James Anderson, author and editor of the Constitutions of the Free-Masons.

Anderson claimed that in 1716 four Masonic lodges from London met together at the Apple Tree Tavern in Charles Street, close to the centre of Covent Garden, and agreed to revive the annual feast. The following year, says Anderson, on 24 June 1717, those lodge met again at the Goose and Gridiron and there elected a grand master.

“The traditional and accepted story of the foundation of the grand lodge comes entirely from Anderson,” Dr. Prescott said during his Sankey lecture. “It appears for the first time in the second edition of the Book of Constitutions, published in 1738, 20 years after the event it describes and shortly before Anderson’s death.”

Anderson didn’t mention this story in his 1723 edition and no other publication mentions the event at all, despite the fascination the popular press had for Freemasonry, Dr. Prescott said. “It comes out of the blue in 1738,” Prescott said.

Not everything that Anderson wrote about was undocumented, exactly, Sommers said during her talk in Paris. “We can trace some of the sources Anderson used to write his history and they are all problematic,” he said.

Anderson did his best, she said. “Unfortunately, he also takes liberties when writing his history,” she said.

Which leads to one inevitable conclusion. “Without corroborating evidence, we must discard the canonical story,” Sommers said.

Sommers and Prescott then give, at length, their reasons why 1717 isn’t the correct date and that 1721 more likely is. One detail he points out is the 1721 Initiation of William Stukeley in London, at a tavern called “The Salutation”, which Stukeley later said had been the first initiation in the city in many years and that it had been complicated by the difficulty in finding enough Freemasons in the work the ceremony. “The claim that it had been difficult to find members to attend this lodge to initiate Stuckeley is very surprising if Grand Lodge had been founded four years previously in a tavern that is only two or three minutes walk from The Salutation,” Dr. Prescott observed.

Anyone who wants to read the Sommers-Prescott paper will find it in the newly release QCC publication “Reflections on 300 Years of Freemasonry” newly published by Lewis Masonic.

Dr. Prescott’s observations has Masonic scholars, the world over, all a flutter but most Freemasons are blissfully unaware.

The good news is that, if Sommers and Prescott are right, then we have four more years to plan a celebration of the real 300th Anniversary.

 

Freemasonry and the Ancient Mysteries?

Freemasonry and the Ancient Mysteries?

When I turned that corner in the Paris Catacombs this past May, having already crossed the stone portal into the massive ossuary and read its famous warning, “ARRÊTE! C’EST İCİ L’EMPİRE DE LA MORT (“Stop! This is the Empire of the Dead”), I came into first contact with the remains of the estimated 6 and 7 million people stored there. My mind went entirely blank.

My next thought was recollection of a conversation I had with a California male-only Mason years ago when I still was a Fellowcraft. He was a member of a traditional observance lodge – still quite rare in the U.S. – that wanted to restore traditions removed by a grand lodge that no longer wanted to scare anybody. “Karen,” he said. “I want my skulls back.”

I come from a Masonic tradition that never lost its skulls and other emblems of mortality. So it was and has been difficult for me to more than pity his poverty. Masonically, I was like some folks who scribble out a donation to help starving children in far-off lands they themselves never expect to visit.

In the catacombs, I came to better understand that far-off land and to more fully grok what the skulls are for:

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“Stop traveler and cast an eye,

As you are now so once was I,

Prepare in time make no delay

For youth and time will pass away.”

Many of the more esoteric Masonic writers doubt little at all that Freemasonry is a direct descendant of the ancient mystery schools. It is the same class of writers who will tolerate no challenge, no questions, and no suggestions that they might be mistaken and will dismiss those who bring those challenges, questions, and suggestions as just not being open to the experience. I observe that the majority of their readers are quite satisfied with what light those unchallenged assertions provide.

There are, of course, other writers of sterner academic metal who doubt, with justification, Freemasonry’s direct connection to the ancient mystery schools. These prefer to recognize those ancient mystery schools as metaphysical traditions that were harmonious with other contemporary and so-called “mysteries” but no later than that. Auguste and Alphonse Mariette, wrote in their “Monuments of Upper Egypt“, published in 1890, that ancient Egyptian mystery schools hinted to neophytes their own hidden spark of the divine.

“To the initiated of the sanctuary, no doubt, was reserved the knowledge of the god in the abstract, the god concealed in the unfathomable depths of his own essence. But for the less refined adoration of the people were presented the endless images of deities sculptured on the walls of temples.”

However, even the Mariettes were not fully convinced about that. “Unfortunately, the more one studies the Egyptian religion, the greater becomes the doubt as to the character which must definitely be ascribed to it,” they wrote in the following paragraph on the same page.

Many a neophyte, in as many traditions, have mistaken the symbol for the thing. They as often mistake similarity for proof of connection. Apples and oranges have many points of comparison, being fruits that are roughly round, can be peeled and grow on trees, but they are not genetically connected. Apples and oranges do, however, remain what they are.

Fully understanding the lessons of any mystery school, regardless of its origin, means barriers must be passed. The official website of the Paris catacombs warns that folks with heart or respiratory problems, who suffer from a “nervous disposition” or who are young children, should not make the visit. Clearly, one must be a fit and proper person. Neither the rash nor fearful to apply.

Those who qualify too often face other barriers. Bringing the ancient mystery schools, such as those of Isis and at Eleusis, into full focus can be difficult for those who see everything through Judeo-Christian-Muslim lenses. The mystery school promises nothing about the divine and provides no universal absolutes or pathways to heaven or hell. They tell no one what to believe.

For those who make it past all those barriers, the mystery school does its best to quicken a personal evolution in each individual, to awaken in them a knowledge of themselves, and to prepare them for the more personal lessons will spring up in their everyday lives from places where those lessons had always been; but they’d never noticed before. The mystery school does that, in large part, through symbol and near-dream-imagery ritual to trigger in the neophyte a stark recognition of who they already are, will be and where they were headed.

That’s what the skulls are for.

The idea is that if you know where you’re headed, the end that awaits us all, then you’ll better appreciate and actually live the life you will have and will not be too terrified when it is over. You will have actually lived while you could and will not be plagued in the end by regrets.

The greatest students in those schools become wise through a series of shared experiences but they also recognize in other students a lack of full understanding. It doesn’t seem to matter. Even those who don’t quite get it can still work the same ritual and still pass on the same ideas. It’s quite possible to transmit on wisdom without understanding it.

I’m not convinced that Freemasonry has a direct connection to those ancient mystery schools. However, it is quite clear to me that traditional and orthodox Freemasonry is a mystery school. Among its lessons is the idea, which would have been familiar in those ancient mystery schools, that man is mortal and the more enlightened should, for their own sake, meditate upon their own personal mortality while they still possess the vigor to do so.

Freemasonry does not monolithically teach that. There are those in the Craft who would root out “any form of esotericism” and maintain that Freemasonry “certainly does not deal in spirituality.” And that’s OK, Freemasonry is large enough even for those who don’t want those lessons.

For those who do, the lessons remain, though there may be a struggle to even learn them. My male-only friend and the brothers in his traditional observance lodge did, eventually, get their skulls back after their grand lodge decided it was all part and parcel with “pre-ritual education.” And so it goes.

 

 

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“Memento Creatoris tui in diebus juventulis . . . “

 

 

The Wisconsin Persecution

The Wisconsin Persecution

It isn’t every day that a criminal investigator turns up at the door, any door. When the investigator turns up and wants to see – and then confiscates – a Masonic Lodge’s charter, that’s rarer still.

That happened the evening of Friday, 20 August 1943, at the home of 60-year-old widow Annette Schmitt and her grown daughter, Marcella, on North Franklin Place in Milwaukee. They were far too intimidated by the grizzled detective from the city’s police department to object too much when he took the charter, and them, downtown.

As with most modern examples of persecution against Co-Freemasonry by male-only Masons in North America, no one was physically harmed, and it largely was words, most of them polite. The incident in no way resembled flame wars on Internet Masonic forums and elsewhere online today. Anyone expecting brass knuckles and drive-by shootings will be disappointed, but we are, after all, talking about Freemasons. It simply won’t get that ugly.

However, the Wisconsin persecution of 1943/44, or “the Wisconsin situation” as it was known among Co-Masons at the time, is unique in that the police, a county district attorney, and the Wisconsin Secretary of State’s office were involved. Persecution of Co-Masons under the color of Profane law is, thankfully, quite rare. This is how one of those incidents happened.

It began a few weeks earlier when the Brothers of Lodge Amen-Ra No. 584, who’d been meeting less formally in Milwaukee for a while, decided they’d grown numerous enough to justify meeting in an actual lodge setting. Annette Schmitt, Amen-Ra’s Senior Warden, and her daughter Marcella, Amen-Ra’s Secretary and coordinator for a local vocational school, were designated to find a good place. They shopped around and soon found a space in the Milwaukee Odd Fellows Temple.

The room had raised platforms and, though it was more square than oblong, it was generally arranged enough to be adapted for a meeting of Freemasons and “the carrying out of the ceremonial in a dignified and beautiful manner.” That is how North American Co-Freemasonry’s Grand Treasurer and District Deputy of the Great Lakes District, Sidney Cook, described it.[1] The Brothers had to have been impressed by the floor: terrazzo stone in concrete.

Cook gave formal approval of the room and suggested the Brothers of Amen-Ra secure a two-year lease. The Odd Fellows rental agent accepted a check for the first month’s rent and all seemed to be arranged, nothing appeared amiss.

Perhaps the first clue should have been comments by the rental agent, a “Miss Purdy,” who was a member of the Order of Eastern Star in Wisconsin. It also turned out that the Chairman of the Odd Fellows Board was a past Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Wisconsin.

It isn’t clear how trouble began but someone was interested in making it.

A few days after arranging for the lease, Miss Purdy let Annette Schmitt know that they needed more details about the nature of the work. Annette Schmitt gave Purdy a brochure about Co-Freemasonry, the type of brochure that Co-Masons are known to carry around. Shortly after that, Annette Schmitt said she got a call from a “Mr. Rumple” from the Better Business Bureau who wanted her to come see him. “He is also a Mason,” Annette Schmitt said.[2]

A week after that, on 19 August, William F. Weiler, Past Grand Master and Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of Wisconsin[3] arrived unannounced at the Schmitt home.

“During the conversation, he informed us that we were infringing upon the rights of their Order, that we were a spurious and clandestine organization, that we could not call our organization Masonry, and that we could not work under the lodge system,” Annette Schmitt said in her subsequent letter to Cook. Weiler also named a Wisconsin statute he said Amen-Ra was violating but didn’t provide a copy.

Weiler seemed to think that was that, though it’s hard to imagine why he thought saying it made it all so. Perhaps he felt emboldened by the Schmitt’s response, which was to be thoroughly gobsmacked and to let him know that speaking for their Order, let alone all of Co-Freemasonry, was well above their pay grade. Which, as a Freemason, Past Grand Master and a current Grand Secretary, he should have known.

Perhaps it suddenly occurred to him. Weiler then demanded a meeting between “our Grand Officers,” and told the Schmitts he could set up a meeting with the Grand Lodge of Wisconsin Grand Master Louis D. Potter.

For their part, the Schmitts assumed Weiler wanted to set up that meeting between and their own Order’s Grand Commander, Edith Armour, and they wrote that same day to Cook, following protocol, to see what could be arranged. However, this seems not to have been the case. The male-only Freemasons involved in this episode, as we’ll see, largely ignored Armour and, instead, continued to harass the Schmitts and developed a bit of a fixation on Cook.

Granted, Cook was a Past Grand Senior Warden in Co-Freemasonry and was then Grand Treasurer, but he certainly wasn’t the highest ranking Co-Mason in North America. He also appears to have worked very hard to avoid even the appearance of usurping Armour’s Masonic authority in North America, which explains at least part of the communications issues that were coming.

The Schmitts, possibly to get Weiler out of their home, apparently at least mentioned Cook to Weiler. They may have even provided Cook’s address in Wheaton, Illinois, because Weiler fired off a letter to Cook postmarked 8:30 p.m. the same day. “I have information that your organization, under the name ‘Co-Masonry’ is entering Wisconsin with the intention of establishing lodges or local units,” his letter to Cook said. Weiler asked for pamphlets explaining Co-Freemasonry, as well as copies of the Order’s bylaws, petitions for membership, “and other literature that may be available.” He stated, “it is quite imperative that we have this information at once.”

Cook, when he received Weiler’s letter, immediately complied, sending out the requested literature. He also wrote the Amen-Ra’s Master and the Order’s future Grand Commander, Helen Wycherley, about what was going on. Given the speed at which things were moving, Wycherley may not yet have heard what was going on.

In any case, Cook was more perplexed than concerned. “I suppose we will talk this all over at the end of the week,” he said in his next letter to Armour. “You have had experiences just like this before and know exactly what should be done about them.”

Meanwhile, as Weiler’s and Schmitt’s snail mail inched their way to Cook. Back on August 20th, at the Schmitts home that night, there was a knock at the door.

“Events took shape rapidly, and the police were on our trail even before we had the opportunity to contact you,” Annette Schmitt said in her letter to Cook the following day. “We told Mr. Weiler that we were going to write you immediately.”

Either “immediately” had not been good enough for Weiler or the fellow at the door was acting on his own. The latter seems unlikely but the remaining record doesn’t make it entirely clear.

If he wasn’t acting on his own, Detective Lt. Joseph A. Schalla, then a 32° Mason under the Grand Lodge of Wisconsin, seems an interesting choice to send after the Schmitts on the evening 20 August 1943. Then 43, he was a World War I veteran severely wounded in action in December of 1918[4] and became a police officer in 1928, joining the Old North Milwaukee Police Department. He established his law enforcement cred working in the department’s hold up and burglary squad. He soon moved on to dealing with more hardened criminals, thieves, rapists and murderers, as attested by dozens of news clippings remaining from the period.

In 1952, Schalla would be reprimanded by his superiors for threatening a local news reporter who wanted to publish a story about a local politician that Schalla did not want published.[5] Whatever else could be said about him, Schalla was no one to cross.

The widow Schmitt and her daughter clearly found him intimidating. “We showed him the Charter,” Annette Schmitt said in her next letter to Cook. The Schmitts might have used Amen-Ra’s charter as something of a shield,and it clearly got the police detective’s attention. Schalla also wanted to know how many members the Order had, the amount expected in dues, initiation fees and other information, not all of which the Schmitts could have told him. They recommended Schalla get information from higher ranking Brothers than themselves.

Not getting all his questions answered, Schalla took the Schmitts and Amen-Ra’s charter to the police department. It isn’t certain the Schmitts actually were arrested but it is clear they didn’t feel they could refuse to go. There they were introduced to another male-only Freemason, Chief of Police Joseph Kluchesky[6], who took a good look at the charter but said he didn’t have time to read the brochures on Co-Freemasonry that the Schmitts offered.

The police apparently thought Amen-Ra was a swindling operation, which could possibly explain, more than their Masonic ties, why the two officers had taken an interested. “It was evident that when the complaint was made to the Police Department, it was on that of soliciting, for that seemed to be the basis upon which the investigation was made,” Annette Schmitt said in her letter to Cook.

The police made a photostat copy of the charter but backed down shortly after closely examining it. Either Schalla or Kluchesky commented: “Well, we can’t stop you. Whoever drew up that charter knew what they were doing.[7]” The Milwaukee police exit the story at this point.

Finding themselves free to go, the Schmitts went to a Western Union office and sent a telegram to Cook, letting him know to expect another snail mail to follow-up on the one already on its way. A flurry of mail, much of it crossing enroute, followed but everyone seemed to be caught up by the middle of the following week, during which Armour sent a four-page letter to Weiler describing Co-Freemasonry’s long history in North American and the larger world and describing other cases in which male-only Masons tried to interfere with Co-Freemasonry and failed.

If Weiler answered that letter, there’s no evidence of it and quite a few references in what record does remain suggests that Armour never received a reply.

Despite the police involvement, Cook still was not very alarmed. “Bro. Cook feels that there is no cause for alarm and that the matter will be straightened out satisfactorily in due course,” Ann Werth, a member Amen-Ra Lodge then in Wheaton, wrote to Annette Schmitt on 23 August. “I can imagine that you might have been a bit surprise to have the police visit you!” 

Cook’s own advice to the Schmitts, as well as other Amen-Ra members was:

Should you be questioned further, just give such information as seems pertinent to the case and necessary, using your own good judgment in the matter, as you have been doing.

He also stalled for time, telling the male-only Masons who wanted to talk to him that it would have to wait until the middle of September[8].

While his tone in that letter was soothing enough, Cook was more firm in his next letter to Weiler. Cook wrote:

I question very much whether the establishment of a lodge of The American Federation of Human Rights in the city of Milwaukee would in any way come within the jurisdiction of or conflict with the activities of organizations already established there. However, if  you will be good enough to give me full data as to the basis of your questioning, I shall be glad to cooperate in arriving at an understanding.

If Weiler answered that letter, the location of the reply currently is unknown.

Wycherley wrote to Cook on 31 August, wondering whether Amen-Ra should proceed with its next scheduled meeting on 12 September. “It seems to me that to hold a meeting while the legality is in question would get us in more trouble,” Wycherley wrote. “And since it is little over a week till [sic] the scheduled meeting, I ought to do something at once if it is to be postponed.”

Cook replied that Amen-Ra should tough it out, still speaking with reassurance that little was likely to happen.

Cook also contacted the Wisconsin Secretary of State’s office asking about the statute Weiler claimed existed and that the Milwaukee Co-Masons allegedly were violating. Cook also asked if there were any laws in the state pertaining to meetings by small  groups of men and women for study and ceremony.

Wisconsin Secretary of State, and former Governor, Fred R. Zimmerman replied the following day that he knew of none.

It was during this time that Armour, her first letter apparently ignored, wrote another letter to Weiler. Armour wrote:

Since writing you on August 23, in reply to your inquiry of August 20 regarding the Co-Masonic Order, it has been brought to my attention that you have made claims to our members in Milwaukee as to the prerogatives of the Grand Lodge of Wisconsin, attempting to interfere with their legitimate activities, and have made unwarranted statements as to the character of our organization.

Armour again provided a brief history of Co-Freemasonry in North America and pointed out that just because the Grand Lodge of Wisconsin  didn’t – as it doesn’t today – recognize Co-Freemasonry doesn’t mean Co-Masons aren’t Freemasons and certainly doesn’t negate the legal rights of  Co-Masons in Wisconsin. She again pointed to similar cases over the previous half century in which male-only Masons tried to interfere with  Co-Freemasonry in North America and failed, including a 1907 incident in which male-only Masons maneuvered the arrest of two Co-masons. In that case, the male-only Masons’ efforts failed in the courts, setting some interesting precedents.

The entire effort in Wisconsin was equally pointless, Armour wrote:

Our organization could not possibly harm or damage the Grand Lodge of Wisconsin. Our influence is neither demoralizing nor contaminating. We teach and practice good citizenship. We prohibit soliciting members and we do not permit applicants to join under the impression that they will gain any social prestige or commercial advantages. On the contrary, they are told of the hardship and disadvantages of pioneer work.

Male-only Masons who’ve tried to affiliate with Co-Masonic Lodges have been turned away, “explaining our situation and telling these applicants to remain in their own Lodges,” Armour wrote.

Armour’s 4 September letter, like her first letter, apparently was ignored.

Meanwhile, the check for the lodge’s first month rent for the room that the Odd Fellows decided the Co-Masons couldn’t use had been cashed and there was no getting those funds back. “Looks like we are just out that amount,” Wycherley wrote to Cook on 8 September.

There was no further word that week from the male-only Masons and the Milwaukee Co-Masons seem to have settled down as their 12 September meeting date approached. The unpleasantness appeared to have blow over.

It hadn’t.

The Schmitts received a letter, postmarked on 10 September, from the office of Milwaukee County District Attorney James J. Kerwin, ordering them to a  meeting at 3 p.m. Thursday, 16 September, “without fail” with Second Deputy District Attorney Charles J. Kersten. It was at this time that Co-Masons found out what Wisconsin statute Weiler had been talking about all along.

Wisconsin statute 343.251, long since repealed, made it illegal to “willfully wear the insignia, rosette, or badge or any imitation thereof” of various groups and orders, including “Free Masons [sic].” However, the statute did not define who “Free Masons” are, a topic any Masonic grand officer would be unwise to let Profane courts sort out.

That notwithstanding, the Schmitts were summoned to the District Attorney’s office, which prompted Werth to write a hasty note to Cook alerting him to the latest development. The Schmitts, Werth said, had had about as much of the Wisconsin Situation as they could stand and “they are quite concerned” about being summoned to the district attorney’s office.

Marcella Schmitt called the district attorney’s office in an attempt to put off the appointment so that someone else – anyone else – could represent the Order. It was during that call that Marcella Schmitt received some stunning news. “She said that they [Marcella Schmitt and her mother] had been told they should not hold any meetings and she didn’t know what they should do about the one scheduled for Sunday – tomorrow,” Werth wrote to Cook.

Werth then asked a question that had gone unasked for weeks: Why were the male-only Masons of Wisconsin and Profane law enforcement harassing a widow and her daughter who had no authority to speak for the Order? “Isn’t there some way that Marcella and her mother can get the authorities to work through the Grand Officers instead of riding them about it?” Werth asked in her note. “Marcella was afraid that if they held the meeting tomorrow someone would interrupt them with a search warrant.”

While the record remains incomplete, it seems the Brothers of Amen-Ra did quietly meet in a location other than the Odd Fellows Hall on 12 September 1943 without “someone” showing up “with a search warrant.” Meeting elsewhere might be, at least in part, why that didn’t happen. It could also be that the proponents of this legal action didn’t want to go that far.

When the Schmitts, with great trepidation, turned up for the demanded appointment at the county’s district attorney’s office, they found the deputy district attorney had flaked out on them. The Schmitts were told the deputy district attorney was “in court on an important case.”

“We called again today and the operator said that the case would not be closed before Saturday of this week, which means that we might be able to see him the early part of next week,” Marcella Schmitt wrote to Cook on 23 September, 1943.

The Brothers of Amen-Ra also received a veiled threat from “one of the investigators” to hold no more meetings because “it would be best not to aggravate the situation just at this time.”[9]

The County Deputy District Attorney, Kersten, didn’t become available to meet with the Schmitts until 29 September, almost two weeks after the date he’s originally demanded, and even that meeting was “for a very short time,” Marcella Schmitt said in her letter to Cook the same day. Kersten for the first time made formal what Milwaukee Co-Masons had been scrambling to find out on their own, that a complaint had been made against them by the Weiler as Secretary of the Grand Lodge of Wisconsin and Potter, its Grand Master.

Schmitt noted that Kersten said he wasn’t a Freemason, “was not well-informed on the Masonic Order” and observed that he had trouble remembering the Wisconsin Grand Master’s name.

It was at this point that it was revealed Kersten had been present back in August when Detective Shalla had hauled the Schmitts and the Amen-Ra’s charter to the police department and that Kersten had examined the charter at that time.

That seems to have been all that came out of the 29 September meeting with Kersten as Kersten decided then he would rather “the grand officers”  be present. Perhaps it occurred to him, as it seemed to not be occurring to others, that the Schmitts were not qualified to speak for all of North  American Co-Freemasonry, but it also seems that no one from the Grand Lodge of Wisconsin was at the meeting either. So, he pointedly instructed the Schmitts to contact Cook to see when he could be available for a meeting, which is odd because Cook still wasn’t a high ranking grand officer. Armour, again, was ignored.

Kersten also declined a copy of Armour’s letter to Weiler.

Though he wasn’t present, Cook might have noticed something in Kersten’s realization about the Schmitts. There might be something to gain should Kersten observe the male-only Masons were acting like bullies in their treatment of the Schmitts.

Or, perhaps, Cook just wanted little as possible to do with “the Wisconsin Situation.”

For whatever reason, Cook suddenly was more interested in the Schmitts taking the lead on behalf of their Lodge and the Order. In his 1 October letter to Marcella Schmitt, Cook said he would be too busy to make an appointment with Kersten. Cook wrote:

I suggest, therefore, that you proceed, having no fear whatever of the outcome. One suggestion that I would make to you is that you make for yourself another copy of the Ills. Bro. Armour’s[10] letter to Mr. Weiler, so that if you hand one to Mr. Kersten you will still have one to use in the  discussion.

Miss Armour’s letter answers very satisfactorily the suggestion of ‘borrowed insignia, titles, etc.’ – borrowed from whom and when? All of these  were regularly conferred at the inception of the Order, handed down from the same sources as those from which Mr. Weiler’s organization claims descent and authority.

It’s easy to imagine what the timid and stressed Schmitts thought of that. Probably Cook imagined it, too, which might be why he sent instructions to Wycherley to help steel Amen-Ra’s Secretary and Senior Warden. He also signaled to Wycherley that it was time to be far less passive.

“I was willing that we should temporarily delay our activities to give an opportunity for inquiry, but Mr. Weiler has not seen fit to reply to the letter [from  Armour] of full information given to him, and a good deal of time has passed,” Cook wrote. “I therefore recommend that we proceed with our work and let the inquiry take its course.”

In other words, the October meeting of Amen-Ra should go ahead as planned.

Meanwhile, Armour apparently had a chance to speak with real legal counsel on the matter, which made her even more confident that the Order would prevail in this case as they had in all others previous. “It would seem they do not have a leg to stand on in the matter of Masonic emblems and no legal-minded committee of enquiry could uphold their claim to the exclusive right to such emblems,” Armour said in her 5 October letter to Cook.[11]

The follow-up meeting with Kersten occurred on 6 October lasted about two hours and followed a one-hour meeting between the Schmitts and Weiler. Potter did not attend, which means Kersten didn’t get the grand officers he’d asked for. Both meetings apparently took place in Kersten’s office, which suggests he was interested in the three Freemasons coming to some sort of amicable, not to mention Masonic, agreement.

Kersten challenged the Schmitts to prove that the origins of Co-Freemasonry are the same as those claimed by the Grand Lodge of Wisconsin. The Schmitts, naturally, had no trouble documenting that and again offered up a copy of Armour’s long, detailed letter.

In her letter to Cook a few days later, Marcella Schmitt reported that Kersten seemed to at times to favor the male-only Masons of Wisconsin’s and, at times, the Co-Masons. She also said that Weiler claimed that Co-Freemasonry was being “thoroughly investigated” by the Northern Jurisdiction of the Scottish Rite. Marcella recalled:

He said that the literature he had received proved nothing to him as to our validity and constantly he insisted that we were not entitled to use terminology. When we pointed out that any further questions should rightly be directed to the Very Ills.·.·. Bro.·. Armour, Mr. Weiler said that he would have the courtesy to answer her letter of September 5.

That sudden willingness on Weiler’s part to at least acknowledge a communication from the Grand Commander of North American Co-Freemasonry was an important concession and indicates he realized his position was crumbling. His next move was aimed at getting, likewise, at least one concession from the Co-Masons. Marcella Schmitt recalled in the same letter to Cook:

After we dispersed, Mr. Weiler walked out of the building with us. Although previously he spoke of the many attorneys in his Order, he said that he did not want to prosecute us, that it would be bad if Masonry were to be tried in the courts for too much about it would have to be revealed, that if we proved ourselves regular that would be a deciding factor, but we could not do so because of irregularity at its very inception – admitting women.

The Schmitts certainly had heard that canard before. Timid though they were, they could not have been impressed.

Weiler then hopped on a suggestion he and Kersten apparently made during the meeting, “that we retain the principles of our Order but  change the titles, insignia, etc. – this was their solution,” Marcella Schmitt wrote.

That was not going to happen anymore than the Grand Lodge was going to retain the principles of their Order but change the titles, insignia, etc. It was grasping for straws that Co-Masons were never going to offer.

The Schmitts walked away from the meeting with a dubious victory: “permission” from Kersten that the meetings of Amen-Ra could continue. Kersten also, finally, accepted that extra copy of Armour’s letter that Cook had the Schmitts take with them.

Neither side got everything that they wanted but the rights Co-Masons in Milwaukee had been recognized and preserved. In his letter to Armour on 18 October, Cook said the entire storm might blow over if “the Masons will just quite down.”

Amen-Ra met in October and November without issue and almost another month passed with no update from anyone, including Kersten. Marcella Schmitt wrote to the Deputy District Attorney on 13 December seeking his “assurances that we will encounter no further difficulties.”

The Schmitts received no reply from Kersten and, with Cook’s nod, decided to try again to rent the Odd Fellows Hall for future meetings. However, the rental agent for the hall informed the Schmitts that “the case has not been dropped” and the hall, for which the Co-Masons had already paid still would be denied them.[12]

That didn’t last. There is a gap in the remaining record, we can’t be sure what happened but the Milwaukee Co-Masons were eventually allowed to rent the Odd Fellows Hall for their meeting, starting in February of 1944[13].

Part of Cook’s remarks to the Brothers of Amen-Ra at their January meeting, which he attended, remain. Cook said in his 2 February 1944 letter to Armour:

I reminded them that in a sense they had run up against opposition and resentment not unlike that confronting the founders of the Order who sought to promote the interests and place of women in the affairs of Masonry and the  world. That is was in fact the same intolerance and sex discrimination that was rooted in the attitude of opposition that had temporarily stood in their way in their efforts to establish themselves in a lodge hall. That they were to be  congratulated upon having overcome the difficulty thus far, but that they should continue a vigorous fight for their rights as citizens and as Masons, if such were necessary, for they must continue to emulate the pioneers who sought to establish human freedom without distinction

As for Lodge Amen-Ra No. 584, it continues to labor in Milwaukee.

[1] See Cook’s 2 February letter to Edith Armour, then Grand Commander of North American Co-Freemasonry. Unless otherwise noted, all documents cited in this paper are preserved in the archives of the Honorable Order of Universal Freemasonry, the American Federation of Human Rights

[2] See Annette Schmitt’s 20 August 1943 letter to Cook.

[3] For Weiler’s Masonic credentials, see page 138 of “Official Proceedings of the Grand Lodge Free and Accepted Masons of Wisconsin, 2008”, available online here.

[4] Chicago Daily Tribune 10 December 1918 page 14 and his record with Milwaukee County Chaper of War Mothers of America, available online here.

[5] See editorial page of 9 September 1952 Waukesha Daily Freeman.

[6] He was raised to the sublime degree of Master Mason 12 December, 1921 in Henry L. Palmer Lodge No. 301, according to the October 2010 edition of Templegram, a publication of the Northwest Masonic Center in Wauwotosa, Wisconsin, available online here. In the remaining record, his name sometimes is spelled “Kluchevsky” but Kluchesky appears to be the correct spelling.

[7] The comment is referred to in Wycherley’s 8 September letter to Cook, which does not specify which police officer made the remark.

[8] Annette Schmitt’s letter to Ann Werth 23 August 1943.

[9] Armour’s 26 September 1943 letter to Cook.

[10] “The Very Illustrious Bro” would have been correct, which proves that even the most experienced  Freemason doesn’t always bother with minutia.

[11] This letter seems to no longer exist or at least it has not yet turned up in the archives in Larkspur. The archive does include an excerpt from that letter, which includes this reference.

[12] See 10 January 1944 letter of Odd Fellows Temple Renting Agent to Annette Schmitt.

[13] See cook’s 2 February 1944 letter to Armour.

 

 

2017 World Conference on Fraternalism, Freemasonry, and History (WCFFH)

2017 World Conference on Fraternalism, Freemasonry, and History (WCFFH)

More international Masonic conferences should start with a round table of the world’s best and brightest scholars of the craft talking. Just talking. Shop, mostly.

Which is how the World Conference on Fraternalism, Freemasonry, and History at the Bibliotheque Nationale de France kicked off in May, with what was billed as a “pre-conference workshop.” Several dozen scholars of the Craft met around a huge table in a meeting room in the Grand Orient de France headquarters in Rue Cadet in Paris with GOdF Library, Archives and Museum Director Pierre Mollier heading it all up.

It was an afternoon of something that doesn’t happen very much: scholars of Freemasonry talking across borders. In fact, this could well have been the first time it has happened with so many scholars representing so many parts of the world. More usually, scholars of the Craft concentrate on studies within their own language, often only within their own countries and their resulting work is narrow, as if other studies in other languages and countries don’t exist at all.

“We talk about Freemasonry,” said María Eugenia Vázquez Semadeni, who later in the conference participated in panels and chaired one. “We should be talking about Freemasonries.”

That nod toward the independent and yet concurrent evolution of Freemasonry on different continents and in different countries was in the background as the conference considered it’s topic, which was the influence of Andrew Michael Ramsay, commonly referred to as the “Chevalier Ramsay.” If you’re a Freemason and you don’t know who he is, chances are good you don’t live in France.

“He had a profound influence,” Paul Rich, who along with Mollier was one of he WCFFH conference chairs and is president of the Policy Studies Organization Westphalia Press, said during the round table discussion.

However, the influence Ramsey had was more deeply felt in France, where Ramsey’s work helped create a Freemasonry more romantic and less dogmatic than that which developed in English-speaking parts of the world, Rich conceded. “He has long been unreported upon in America,” Rich said.

However, few in those Freemasonries are schooled well enough about scholarship being done in other parts of the world to even notice that divergence. Which means English-speaking Masonic scholars especially are missing quite a lot, folks at the roundtable seemed to agree. “The finest research being done today is being done in France,” said UCLA’s Margaret Jacob, another Masonic scholar of great note who participated in the conference.

So far as that went, the message that came out of the round table discussion could have been a repeat of the call issued the previous weekend in Toulon from the International Meeting of Masonic Research Lodges, the ICOM: Let there be greater international cooperation in Freemasonic scholarship.

However, the round table discussion just couldn’t end with that conclusion. Instead, the conversation went off in an odd direction. Perhaps it was out of respect for our hosts or perhaps it was because, well, Paris. It was less about international cooperation between Masonic scholars and more about how French Masonic scholarship can save the Masonic scholarly world.

It was one of a number of examples that illustrates how disjointed parts of the rest of the conference became. While the better-organized ICOM was able take the message of dozens of scholars from across the world and develop one single call to action, the WCFFH really didn’t. Of course, there’s no reason why it had to.

Paul Rich and Susan Sommers

Paul Rich and Susan Sommers Photo Credit: Olimpia Sandoval

Some of the heavier hitters had not yet arrived the on the day of the round table. Susan Mitchell Sommers arrived the following day and delivered one of the highlights of the WCFFH, a version of the paper she developed with Andrew Prescott, “Searching for the Apple Tree: What Happened in 1716?” In that paper, Sommers and Prescott present their evidence that questions the traditional 1717 origin date for modern Freemasonry, making a good case that the real date probably was closer to 1721.

Another important panel during the conference examined the current state of women in Freemasonry in Europe and the United States, chaired by Drake University’s Natalie Bayer. This panel simply would not have happened, even in France, ten years ago.

While touching on topics such as comparing women and Freemasonry in 18th Century France, England, and Germany, the panel really lit up Cécile Révauger of Université Bordeaux Montaigne gave a very good break down of how the Grand Orient de France decided to allow its lodges to determine whether to accept women, now more than eight years ago.

That was quite a change for an Orient that once explicitly barred women from membership and may indicate how other male-only Masonic supreme bodies could relax its belligerence against other bodies that do accept women, Révauger said.

“It seems that more and more grand lodges are less willing to hold dogmatic views,” she said. “And more and more of them are willing to allow for inclusion and tolerance.”

I think that piece of hope is as good as any to take away from the WCFFH. If no unified call for action came out of the conference, it certainly was a good opportunity for many of the greatest Masonic scholars in the world to come together and pause long enough to review the history of the Freemasonry as they currently are researching it. “And 2017 is an appropriate time to review how that history has been received,” Jacob said near the conclusion of the round table discussion.

Another opportunity for such a pause is scheduled for May 17-18 in 2018 when a sort of mini-WCFFH is planned at the Historic Whittemore House in Washington D.C. The topic of that conference will be “Not Men Only: Sisters, Sororities, and Ritualistic Societies.” I will blog more about then when I know more about that.

 

Success and the Crafty Freemason

Success and the Crafty Freemason

The Crafty Freemason in Durham, a city in northeast England, gets orders from around the world and is thriving as a real shop in a market that now is dominated by online sellers.

“What makes my business stand out from other regalia businesses is that it is local,” said owner and Freemason Susan Blackett. “People can call in and view products before purchase. I can make things bespoke.”

It’s that personal touch that Blackett says makers her business, which had an open day in March, a standout. Located at 41 Quebec Street, Langley Park, in Durham, The Crafty Freemason offers handmade Masonic products, regalia, accessories and hand-crafted items.

Blackett said the business began when she became a Freemason. She was initiated in October of 2013 in Lodge City of Durham No. 105, which labors under the Order of Women Freemasons. “I was passed and raised by April 2014 and this has been very much instrumental in forming my business idea,” Blackett said.

More recently, Blackett has received the Mark, Royal Ark Mariner and ‘Chapter’ Royal Arch, the latter on Feb. 22.

Already a skilled embroiderer and fabric artist, it was natural that the symbols of Freemasonry began to appear in her art, particularly after she became a Master Mason. In April of 2015, she made a cushion bearing the square and compasses for herself and posted photos to a Masonic group active on Facebook. The response was overwhelming, she said.

“I received a multitude of orders and lots of encouragement to develop this into a business,” Blackett recalled. “I attended a small business course and then set myself up as a sole trader making an array of Masonic related hand crafted items.” The Crafty Freemason opened for business that following August.

That was the birth of The Crafty Freemason, which started life in a small room of Blackett’s home. It was not an easy market to break into and regalia sellers aren’t generally succeeding in brick and mortar shops anymore. Toye & Co. had closed its own shop on London’s Great Queen Street, across from Freemasons Hall, in January of that year.

It was her peculiar skill set in art, ease with her clientele and ferreting out merchandise that has helped her succeed in a difficult market, Blackett said. “As my business progressed rapidly, I listened to my customers and it is they who re-defined the structure and purpose of the business through the requests they made, i.e. for ties, gloves, regalia and all manner of Masonic necessities,” she said. “I sourced items, found suppliers who would offer me quality items to retail and my work space advanced to a larger room in my house.”

When her entire house was taken up in the venture, word of The Craft Freemason spread outside the northeast of England and large orders starting coming in from Israel and Kenya, Blackett said she “realized I had to professionalize my business.”

“I likened it to a plant in a pot,” she said. “It can only grow so far in a certain sized pot if you want it to become bigger you have to plant it in a larger pot.”

The larger pot turned out to be the shop in Durham but there may yet be a need for an even larger pot. “I am gradually building up my products in variety and number to cover all Masonic orders although I’m not quite there yet,” Blackett said.

Photo: Susan Blackett with one of her displays at her shop, The Crafty Freemason, in Durham a city in northeast England.

August in Athens: Summer International Masonic Workshop in Greece

August in Athens: Summer International Masonic Workshop in Greece

If the traveling Craftsman with an eye toward making an advancement in Masonic Knowledge was spoiled for choice with multiple conferences this past spring, another is coming in August.

The third Summer International Masonic Workshop, scheduled from the 23rd to the 27th of August in Athens, is being billed as “a unique opportunity for Freemasons around the world, as well as for anyone interested in Freemasonry, and their families to meet, get acquainted and discuss options and opinions on Freemasonry, while they enjoy a summer break next to an idyllic beach.”

The stated aim of the workshop is “to provide an overview of the most recent topics concerning the Masonic Fraternity, such as the role of Freemasonry in the 21st century, regularity, recognition and fraternal relations, Masonic research etc.”

Organizers are trying to make it very clear that the workshop is not affiliated to any masonic or academic body, is not in any way a tyled event and that there won’t be any associated tyled meetings. Those points are very important to some Freemasons.

The workshop in Greece follows similar conferences in May. There was the International Meeting of European Masonic Lodges in Toulon, the World Conference on Fraternalism, Freemasonry, and History at the Bibliotheque Nationale de France in Paris and the United Grand Lodge of England’s Tercentenary gathering in Montego Bay, Jamaica. The four gatherings are making 2017 one of the most conference-dense in Masonic academic study.

The call for papers at the Greek conference ended May 31 and six guest speakers have been announced.


Susan Mitchell Sommers (Featured Image): Saint Vincent College Professor and General Editor of the Journal for Research into Freemasonry and Fraternalism who, with Andrew Prescott, recently released the so-called “paper heard round the world.” That paper challenges the 1717 Freemason genesis date, maintaining the actual date probably is about four years later. Her paper’s topic is “James Anderson and the Myth of 1717.”


David Harrison

David Harrison

David Harrison: Masonic historian and archaeologist based in the UK and the author ofeight books on the history of Freemasonry, his work has appeared in a variety and magazines. These include Philalethes Magazine, Freemasonry Today, MQ Magazine, The Square, Knight Templar Magazine, Heredom, and New Dawn Magazine. Harrison has also appeared in television and radio spots talking about Freemasonry. His paper’s topic will be “Byron, Freemasonry and the Carbonari.”

 


Remzi Sanver

Remzi Sanver

Remzi Sanver: A Freemason born in Istanbul, he is senior researcher at the French National Scientific Research Center (CNRS) whose best known research is about “Game Theory” and “Collective Decision Making Theory.” He also has been on the editorial board of various international scientific journals and the administrative board of scientific societies. His paper’s topic will be “Sufism at the Crossroad of Two Traditions: Thoughts on Initiation and Islam.”

 


Robert Bashford

Robert Bashford

Robert Bashford: Masonic Researcher and well-known in Masonic conferences since he presented his first paper in 1984, his work on behalf of Irish Lodge of Research No 200 I.C. was acknowledged in 2009 with the presentation of the Lodge of Research Jewel of Merit. His more recent appearances were at the International Meeting of European Masonic Lodges in May, Lodge Hope of Kurrachee and the Manchester Association of Masonic Research. His paper’s topic will be “The origins of the Grand Council of Knight Masons in the year 2553 of Knight Masonry.”

Philippa Faulks

Philippa Faulks


Philippa Faulks: Author, ghostwriter, editor and journalist, her first book, “Masonic Magician: the Life and Death of Count Cagliostro and his Egyptian Rite“, co-authored with Robert L. D. Cooper, included the first full English translation of, and commentary on, Cagliostro’s Egyptian Rite of Freemasonry. Her paper’s topic will be “Count Cagliostro’s Egyptian Right of Freemasonry product of a miracle worker or man of straw?”

 


Valdis Pirags

Valdis Pirags

Valdis Pirags: Freemason, MD, Professor of Medicine at the University of Latvia and the Head of the Clinic of Internal Medicine at the Pauls Stradiņš Clinical University Hospital in Riga. He is a recipient of the Karl Oberdisse Award and the Distinguished Research Award from the Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Sciences. More recently, he has been working on epidemiology of diabetes mellitus in Latvia and creation of the Genome Database of the Latvian Population. His paper’s topic will be “Freemasonry as a Method of Attaining Enlightenment.”


Registration is required. Cost for the event ranges between 500 and 1,000 Euros, depending on the package selected. The costs includes accommodation in a four-star hotel on the Athenian coast.

The Bond of Friendship: Brother Nellie McCool and Brother Ursula Monroe

The Bond of Friendship: Brother Nellie McCool and Brother Ursula Monroe

Friendships often are forged in Masonry but very few are as strong and long-lasting as that of Ursula Monroe and Nellie McCool, both Brothers of the 33rd Degree and members of the Supreme  Council of the Honorable Order of Universal Co-Masonry. “We met in a book store in Colorado Springs,” Monroe recalled during a recent joint interview. 

Their friendship now is in its fifth decade. The two, pictured above with McCool on the left and with Bro. Olimpia Sandoval in the center, have remained close since they regularly attend Lodge and various Masonic functions together. They also live across the hall from each other in separate apartments in the same building in Castle Rock, Colorado, very near the Order’s headquarters in Larkspur.

Ursula as a Berlin Philosophy professor before WWII

Ursula Monroe in 1943


“Friendships in Freemasonry are some of the strongest you will find,” McCool said.

Monroe was born on June 28th, 1919 in Berlin, Germany. She earned her degree in Philosophy and became a college professor. Unfortunately, she, as did many, suffered greatly during World War II.

McCool was born January 25th, 1922 in Lahunta, Oklahoma, and she grew up in Beaver, Oklahoma and Colorado Springs, Colorado with her older brother, Harry McCool.

Nellie's 1945 college yearbook photo

Nellie McCool’s 1945 college yearbook photo.

Shortly after graduating from high school, with the United State’s entry into World War II after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, both McCool siblings became aviators.

Lt. Harry McCool was part of Doolittle’s famous raid over Tokyo and later flew missions over Europe. 

Nellie McCool received her aviation training at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas, where she was among the Class 44-7-Trainees and became a member of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs), achieving the rank of Captain in the U.S. Air Force Reserves. 

“Our motto was ‘We live in the wind and sand…and our eyes are on the stars,” McCool recalled.

Nellie as a WASP

Nellie McCool as a WASP

Ursula’s life took a turn shortly after the war was over. “I married a G.I.,” she recalled. Her marriage to Clifford Monroe brought her to the U.S. and also gave her that first brush with Freemasonry. “My husband was a Freemason,” she said. “I supported him in that. I didn’t know much about it then. I thought it was only for men.”

Through the years, Monroe also indulged a love for travel and experiences. In 1969, she was adopted by the Sioux Red Cloud Clan tribe at Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota in honor of her translation into German a book about one of their Chiefs: Chief Eagle. She was given the name  “Pte Sanaki Napewin,” which translates into English as “She who brings out white buffalo cow.”

“I used to love to travel,” she said with a laugh. “Now I’m too lazy.” She earned her Ph.D. in English and was a professor in the department of Humanities at Colorado College until she retired.

McCool’s life also changed after World War II ended. The WASPs were disbanded, and McCool soon found herself back in school. She attended Colorado College, majoring in Psychology. She later earned her Ph.D. in the field. She became a teacher at several Colorado-area schools, including North Junior High, South Security School, and Harrison Senior High School. Later, she was supervisor of Vocational Guidance for the State Board of Community Colleges and Occupational Education.

Ursula during one of her many travels and experiences

Ursula Monroe on one of her many travels

Monroe’s life took yet another turn in 1972 when her husband died. A few years after that, she met an associate of Manly P. Hall. That associate introduced her to Co-Freemasonry, though it was not her first understanding of the Craft. 

“I was always interested,” Monroe said. “I had to make that first contact. You have to be around Freemasons and know Freemasons before you can become a Freemason.”

She did just that in 1979, Initiated on April 14th of that year in Lodge Amor-Sapientia in Pasadena, California. She was Passed the following 12th of August and then Raised on the 3rd of August 1980. She became Master of Kiva Lodge in Colorado Springs. On November 16th, 1998, she became a member of the Supreme Council and serves with on that body today.

It was a few years after Monroe was made a Mason that she had that fateful meeting with McCool in a Colorado Springs-area book store. “It turned out we were living in the same area,” Monroe said.

The friendship blossomed from there. It wasn’t long after that Monroe introduced McCool to Co-Freemasonry. McCool was intrigued enough to go have a look at the Order’s headquarters in Larkspur, about an hour from her home then in Colorado Springs. “I drove there and had a look at the building,” she said. “It just felt right.”

She certainly was interested, McCool said. “I was very excited,” she said. “I was happy to have found a Masonry that accepted women as well as men.”

McCool was initiated soon after, and ever since, they have been Masonically together. If Monroe goes to a meeting, McCool does, too. If McCool does something related to Masonry, Monroe will be there, too. Brothers in the Order see the two as inseparable, where one turns up the other will soon follow.

Both took part in the funeral of then Grand Commander Helen Wycherly in May of 1993 at the Headquarters Temple in Larkspur. Monroe was Orator that day while McCool was Junior Deacon. Today, both serve on the Orders’ Supreme Council. McCool also became a member of the Order’s Grand Council of Administration when she succeeded John Tzaras, who passed to the Grand Lodge Eternal on October 23, 2009.

“It’s a way of life,” McCool said. “I can no longer imagine not being a Mason.”


 

 

Separate But Equal? The Masonic Society’s 2017 Conference

Separate But Equal? The Masonic Society’s 2017 Conference

Wow, I start blogging and folks chime in for coverage of their favorite Masonic event, which is quite a compliment. Thank you.

Those who’ve asked whether I’ll cover or attend a certain U.S.-based research society’s conference in September have been quite taken aback by my uncharacteristically icy response.

I don’t do icy often or especially well. On this occasion, it’s deserved. I have never, ever – for almost a decade – appreciated the need to push a “separate but equal” idea behind full membership requirements of that society. I find it especially and unnecessarily ugly because it’s done by a society that supposedly has a high regard for Masonic scholarship.

No, I will not be attending The Masonic Society’s conference September 7-10 in Lexington, Kentucky.

Yes, I am aware the conference is in the U.S. and it plans to feature “nationally renowned Masonic speakers, panel discussions on Freemasonry, formal festive board, and tours of the Kentucky Horse Park and Henry Clay’s Ashland estate.” Yes, presentation topics are expected to include “American Freemasons: Three Centuries of Building Communities,” “Admit Him if Properly Clothed: Three Centuries of American Masonic Regalia,” and “Data Driven Masonry.” Yes, there’s even a plan for a drawing for a Kentucky long rifle.

I’ve heard from one Co-Mason who lives in that region and received an email invite from the society to attend the conference. That raised a brow for me. Really? That’s a thing?

That prompted me to revisit the membership page of The Masonic Society, and I see that full membership requirements have not changed.

To be a full member of the Masonic Society, you must be a Master Mason and member of a lodge in good standing chartered by “a recognized Grand Lodge.” By recognized, The Masonic Society is referring mostly to male-only orders, so that your lodge is “recognized” just fine might not apply here. This means that your Grand Lodge must be either a member of the Conference of Grand Masters of Masons in North America (CGMMNA) or recognized by at least three CGMMNA member grand lodges.

That’s not the part that bothers me. If the society wants to have its own little club and restrict membership, I have no issues with that point. Freemasonry itself, after all, is exclusive.

What troubles me is this bit: “All others, including but not limited to Libraries, Masonic Lodges, Lodges of Research, other institutions, and those individuals who do not otherwise qualify for full membership may purchase a subscription to the Journal.”

So, my money is good enough for The Masonic Society, but I’m not. Well, huh.

Why bring it up? I can subscribe to any number of publications in the world put out by male-only bodies that don’t consider me “regular” but see no need to point it out when I subscribe. The Masonic Society supposedly is a research body that is independent, not beholden to any grand lodge or Masonic supreme body, so specifically telling me a subscription is all I may have is a bit glaring. It speaks volumes that the society feels the need to pointedly state that.

It’s my understanding that fees collected by The Masonic Society, including subscriptions, pay for printing its regularly published magazine and to fund its annual meetings, such as September’s conference. I hear the society produces a lot of fine research.

Its beginnings were difficult. The Masonic Society’s birth in March of 2008 was accompanied by far more heat than light. It was born out of a “failed coup” by disaffected Brothers of the Philalethes Society, which regularly publishes its “Journal of Masonic Research & Letters” and celebrated its own Assembly and Feast in Bloomington, Minnesota earlier this month. The Philalethes Society was shaken for quite a while but, to my observation, has since managed to steady itself.

I was around for a lot of the discussion at the time, and it was not pleasant. Amid all that heat, the newly incorporated society’s, membership requirements came up hardly at all. In fact, to my knowledge, I was the only one who mentioned it.

I belong to other research bodies and I’m kept plenty busy. I’m also friends with a number of Brothers in The Masonic Society. I’m not doubting they do good work, at least within their narrow sphere. I just don’t go there. As a Co-Mason, I don’t go where I’m not wanted or respected.

That’s me, my personal take and what I think about it. I’m not at all suggesting that no one attend the conference or that anyone else be offended as I am.

I am suggesting that any Co-Mason or any other “unrecognized” Brother who attends this conference or has anything to do with the society be aware that she or he may be considered or treated as second-class.

I do not intend to ever again blog about The Masonic Society so long as this bit remains as it is. I’m thinking they won’t miss me. And since there is no such thing as bad press, this coverage of the conference should be plenty.

Peace.

 

ICOM 2017: A Call for Globalization of Masonic Research

ICOM 2017: A Call for Globalization of Masonic Research

If any single message could be said to have come out of last spring’s first International Meeting of Masonic Research Lodges in Toulon, France, it’s that Masonic scholars of all nations need to talk to each other.

England and France are examples of two countries where Masonic scholars do excellent work, British researcher John Belton said during his comments at the three-day conference’s close in the main auditorium at Neptune Palace. “But they don’t speak to each other,” Belton said.

John Belton photo taken by Olafur Magnusson

British researcher John Belton, left, during his final presentation at the ICOM

 

And yet the water of Masonic research is all the same water “and there are other rivers besides the Loire and the Thames,” he continued. Belton, whose latest book, “Dudley Wright: Writer, Truthseeker & Freemason” was released last summer, was among a number of contributors at the conference who urged more international cooperation among Masonic Scholars. Such networks have been attempted before but only a few have succeeded.

Those few successes offer models for inclusion of scholarship from multiple continents. Neil Wynes Morse, one of the world’s leading experts in Masonic ritual development and President of the Australia and New Zealand Masonic Research Council, described in his own comments the council’s program that every two years hosts a scholar for a tour of that continent.

Neil-during-his-presentation

Australia and New Zealand Masonic Research Council President Neil Wynes Morse, left, during his final presentation at the ICOM and Louis Trebuchet, one of the ICOM’s primary organizers, looks on.

 

Such a model has been tried over the years elsewhere in the world without much success but the ANZMRC program proves it can work. “You’re halfway there,” Morse quipped. “Thank you for considering the antipodean model.”

The International Meeting of Masonic Research Lodges, ICOM 2017, was the first gathering that now is expected to happen every two years. A mini-conference, one day only, was announced for next spring in Washington D.C., and I’ll blog more about that as more information becomes available. This year’s conference attracted about 2,300 participants and visitors for an extensive program of three plenary lectures and 19 round-table discussions. 

The two dozen internationally known scholars who attended included Belton, Morse, Louis Trebuchet, Pierre Mollier, Margaret Jacob, Oscar Alleyne, Mike Kearsley, Jan Snoek, and Robert Bashford.

Jan Snoek, left, with John Belton during an ICOM presentation photo by Olafur Magnusson

Dutch researcher Jan Snoek, left, during one of his presentations.

Between the conference rooms were exhibitions of about 150 Masonic artifacts owned by the Grande Loge de France and from private collections, that illustrated the roots of the Craft in France. These include tracing boards, symbols, regalia, mallets, banners, maps and original documents.

 

“It was a happy meeting – and maybe better because it was outside Paris,” Belton told conference organizers in what may – or may not – have been a subtle nudge at the World Conference on Fraternalism, Freemasonry, and History at the Bibliotheque Nationale de France the following weekend. “I think the speakers were able to engage with the audience frere a frere in a way that cannot happen when a meeting is academic.”

Belton said he was especially impressed by the exemplification of an 18th Century French Initiation ceremony, complete with period costumes, presented the last day of the conference. Brothers from Saint Jean d’Ecosse Lodge No. 1, the Scottish Mother Lodge of Marseilles that labors under the Grand Lodge of France, presented the ritual accompanied by two violinists and a harpsichordist. “The reconstruction ceremony was awesome because there were brothers and sisters from many continents and many obediences and we were all able to share the same experience,” Belton said.

For those who couldn’t attend the conference and those who could but would like to relive it, an audio download now is available. Please see the conference website for more details.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

Photo Credit: Olafur Magnusson

Who Owns Freemasonry?

Who Owns Freemasonry?

A peculiar and apparently ongoing protest at an online Masonic “University,” of which a sort-of Craft-based activist group reportedly has taken over and is making demands, has raised an unexpected question: Who Owns Freemasonry?

The question came up in The Past Bastard and it’s report this week about a self-described group calling itself the SRJWs or “Scottish Rite Justice Warriors” who have somehow taken over the online “Freemason University.” The SRJWs have issued a list of oddly amusing demands that must be met before “Freemason University” – which, to my knowledge, did nothing to the SRJWs – will be allowed to continue on its way.

If you’ve never heard of Freemason University, go have a look here. It’s an online resource affiliated with the Grand Lodge of Ohio to provide “essential tools for the leaders of our craft.” Modules include leadership and management, ritual and an interesting section called “Further Light.” Much of the material is available free online, free being a very good thing for that daily progress in Masonry.

The fact that I can access the online university suggests the SRJWs need a better hacker.

“They asked us to stop serving green beans and potatoes with baked chicken, and to add some classes on such odd things as the history of the ritual,” University Chairman Doug Darjeeling (who doesn’t Google at all) was quoted by The Past Bastard. “I mean, who thinks of crazy things like that? It’s like they are asking us to teach that the UGLE doesn’t own Freemasonry.”

I can almost hear the crickets.

The Past Bastard reported that it, quite sensibly, pointed out to Darjeeling that the United Grand Lodge of England does not own Freemasonry. Darjeeling reportedly ended the interview, saying that The Past Bastard “needed to educate ourselves before we could even think about reporting on such a story.”

Uh-huh.

If you can’t tell by now, I’m not buying this story. After all, The Past Bastard – “Your Best Source for Masonic News Satire” – is like that.

However, I suppose I can understand Bro. Darjeeling’s confusion – real or otherwise – about the UGLE and it’s supposed ownership of Freemasonry. I’ve encountered quite a few wildly uninformed Brothers who think the UGLE was the first lodge of Freemasons (Edinburgh Lodge No. 1 and Mother Kilwinning respectfully object) and then act on that belief by thinking first implies ownership (proved no barrier to Christopher Columbus).

However, even if we dispense with that, it naturally follows that the true owner of Freemasonry should be named.

To get at that, Masonic scholars have for generations referred to the John F. Tolle decision, an appeal decided by the U.S. Patent Office in 1872 on those occasions when the ownership of Freemasonry has come up. Tolle was a businessman who wanted to use the square and compasses on flour in barrels.

To be clear, both the square and the compasses predate Freemasonry and are tools not exclusive to operative masonry. Thus, Tolle did not see a problem with using the tools to sell his flour. The U.S. Patent Office opined otherwise:

“If this emblem were something other than precisely what it is, either less known, less significant, or fully and universally understood, all this might readily be admitted. But, considering its peculiar character and relation to the public, an anomalous question is presented. There can be no doubt that this device, so commonly worn and employed by Masons, has an established mystic significance, universally recognized as existing; whether comprehended by all or not is not material to this issue. In view of the magnitude and extent of the Masonic organization, it is impossible to divest its symbols, or at least this particular symbol, perhaps the best known of all, of its ordinary significance wherever displayed. It will be universally understood, or misunderstood, as having Masonic significance, and therefore as a trademark must certainly work deception.”

While it does not speak to ownership of Freemasonry, the opinion does speak to who can – so far as the U.S. Patent Office is concerned – use the square and compasses as an emblem that cannot be trademarked for other purposes. Only Freemasons are entitled to it, according to the opinion.

You have to follow it a bit further to recognize who owns Freemasonry. In my opinion, the owners of Freemasonry are Freemasons, each and every one – and none of them. Freemasons, often absentee owners at best, cannot agree to what purpose we all work, but we are really darn sure we are doing it. No one really is at the wheel and all of that may, perhaps, point up the W*, S* & B* of Freemasonry. She is everywhere and nowhere, everyone’s and no one’s.

Good luck putting the chains on.

Rare Manuscript in Jeopardy: The Future of The York Manuscript No. 4

Rare Manuscript in Jeopardy: The Future of The York Manuscript No. 4

A painfully rare and important treasure of Freemasonry is in trouble.

The York Manuscript (MS) No. 4, long in the care of York Lodge 236, itself well within sight of the York Minister, is deteriorating.

There are breaks and cracks along the edges of this precious document, and it can no longer bear close inspection. Very good copies of York MS No. 4 exist, but the original itself is in real danger of passing away. The Brothers of York Lodge 236 are actively looking for advice about how best to conserve the roll.

York MS No. 4 is important to Freemasonry because it is a rare document that describes the ritual and history of operative masonry, to which Freemasonry can claim at least some connection. The roll, however, is also of great importance for the history of women in Freemasonry because this document contains a very critical word that has for generations caused discomfort for a large number of male-only Freemasons.

That word is “shee.”

The manuscript itself, a copy taken from a far older document, dates to 1693 and tells the story of how Edwin, King of Northumbria, was made a Mason at York. While doing that, the document also described how it was done in that assembly.

A crucial portion of those instructions reads (with my italics; please see copy above):

“The one of the elders takeing the Booke and that hee or shee that is to be made mason shall lay their hands thereon, and the charge shall be given.”

The journey to see this document with my own eyes began in March of 2008 when I viewed a very good copy at the Provincial Grand Lodge of East Lancashire in Manchester.

That copy, an image of which is reproduced here, was so good that I mistook it for the original and so described it in my first book

I was alerted to my error earlier this year and soon had an invitation to come to York and see the York MS No. 4 for myself.

Senior Warden Joe Postill, along with Junior Warden and Acting Librarian Graham Kaye, BEM, were my hosts that beautiful spring day in May. York Lodge 236 has been in possession of the roll since it was donated to the Lodge in 1736 by Francis Drake, York’s first historian and author of his own “History and Antiquities of Yorkshire.”

York Roll unrolled a little

York Roll No. 4 is not the only treasure preserved by York Lodge 236. The Lodge also holds portions of York Rolls No. 1 and No. 2, which together provide the earliest references to nonoperative masons in the guild at York. The Lodge also preserves splendid old tracing boards, other artifacts, and even has beautiful editions – with hand illuminated frontispieces – of Robert Gould’s “History of Freemasonry”.

Of course, I was there to see York Roll No. 4, and my hosts did remove it for me from its container and unrolled it a little ways. However, it soon was clear the roll simply cannot bear too much handling, and it was safely returned to its container. I didn’t get to see that critical sentence, detailed above, for myself but I’ve no doubt it’s there. Perhaps, one day, after it is somehow conserved, I will have a chance to do so.

York MS No. 4’s importance to the history of women in operative and speculative masonry in particular, and modern Freemasonry in general, cannot be overestimated.

This crucial roll, along with other very rare old documents, points up a fact that some male-only Masons would prefer be otherwise: that there was no bar to women’s membership in the old operative guilds.

In fact, the exclusion of women was an innovation introduced by male-only Masons eager that there be no women not only in male-only lodges but also none in their own female-only lodges or in mixed lodges elsewhere. While there is no period in modern Freemasonry in which there is not at least one woman Freemason documented somewhere in the world, the Craft was well into its second century before the lodge doors became more generally open to women. It remains a difficult struggle in many parts of the world even to the present day.

For this reason, York MS No. 4’s deteriorating condition amounts to an emergency that needs to be addressed by those who know how. I most certainly hope that happens.

Co-Masonic Order Resumes “Universal” as Part of its Official International Name

Co-Masonic Order Resumes “Universal” as Part of its Official International Name

The Order for decades called “The Honorable Order of American Co-Masonry” now is “The Honorable Order of Universal Co-Masonry.” The decision follows a vote by the Order’s Grand Consistory and Lodges, with 95 percent of the Lodges and 100 percent of the Consistory approving the proposition. The vote was ratified by a unanimous vote of the Supreme Council on April 25th, 2017. 

“Universal has a geographical implication of being all over the globe, but also that we allow membership of all races, creeds, religions, sexual orientations, etc.,” Matias Cumsille, President of the Order’s Corporate wing, the American Federation of Human Rights, said in an email.

The corporate name remains the same.

The word “Universal” was part of the Order’s original name during its beginnings in North America, where the first Co-Masonic Lodge on the continent was founded in 1903. The word “Universal” first appears in Co-Masonic history with the founding of “The Order of Universal Co-Freemasonry in Great Britian and the British Dependencies” by Annie Besant in 1902.

That Order operated under the umbrella the French-based “Maçonnerie Mixte”, today know as The International Order of Freemasonry for Men and Women, Le Droit Humain. The North American Order then was Le Droit Humain’s American Federation.

“Universal” likewise became part of the North American Federation’s name and seems to have intermittently continued into the 1940s. An investigation into why the word “Universal” ultimately was replaced turned up no certain answers. North American Co-Masonry remained part of Le Droit Humain until a separation during a protracted and often contentious legal proceeding in the 1990s.

The Order in North America has since operated as an independent Masonic body, “The Honorable Order of American Co-Masonry,” operating out of its long-time headquarters in Larkspur, Colorado. Le Droit Humain, for its part, established a new American Federation chartered in Delaware.

Over the past decade, American Co-Masonry expanded outside its traditional North American boundaries and today includes Lodges in South America. That expansion made the time right to assume a visibly international identity and resume use of the word “Universal” in place of “American,” Cumsille said.

Photo: Cover of one of the first ritual books used in American Co-Masonry, including the original use of “Universal” as part of the Order’s original name.

Welcome

Welcome

Welcome to the blog.

Look for a new post here at least once a week on topics of interest to Freemasons in general, to Co-Freemasons in particular. This blog is hosted and sponsored by the Honorable Order of American Co-Masonry, the American Federation of Human Rights, so expect lots and lots of news from and about that Order.

It is the intent of this blog to share news, articles and other Masonic information that you won’t necessarily find on other U.S.-based Masonic blogs, websites and news outlets. That need has gone unfulfilled way too long. Rectifying that is the most important thing this blog can do, to broaden the amount of Masonic news and information available to rank-and-file Freemasons, regardless of jurisdiction.

That effort will be brought to a grinding halt if we don’t, right away and right up front, address the topic that just won’t to quit. Currently, the only online topic of discussion about Co-Masonry, at least in the U.S., seems to be about whether it exists (yeah, it has, for well more than a century). There generally follows the ever – forever – tiresome talk about “regularity” and “amity”. Then the word “clandestine” gets tossed into the conversation and what follows usually puts off way more heat than light, especially if no Co-Mason is present to speak truth to ignorance.

I am heartily sick of that topic. I won’t blog about it, unless it somehow becomes news, and any posts about it in the comment section will be deleted. Don’t bring it here and don’t expect me to be moved by any mention of 1st Amendment Rights and etc. This is a private blog, not a public access, and there are plenty of other places online to talk about that worn-thin topic that never goes anywhere.

This blog will do its humble best to go somewhere, to push past that topic and try to move the conversation forward onto other topics.

Make no mistake, there’s a need for that. For instance, most on this side of the pond, Mason and otherwise, don’t know about news in Co-Masonry and female-only Masonry because it isn’t much reported.

For instance, the Honorable Order of American Co-Masonry has darn near tripled in size during the last decade and a new Lodge building is expected to be consecrated later this year.

Oh, and the Order’s name is about to change.

Expect all that in future blog posts.

It isn’t just news about the Honorable Order of American Co-Masonry Masonic that goes unreported. News and information about Freemasonry in Europe seldom falls on our ears. For instance, the Mixed Grand Lodge of France got a new Grand Master last year. In November, Marie-Thérèse Besson, Grand Maîtrese of the of the Feminine Grand Lodge of France gave a lecture in Saint-Gaudin .

Last spring, the Irish Times published an article about the history of women Freemasons and Co-Masons in that country.

Closer to home and earlier this month, there was – in my opinion – an incredibly important and ground-shaking discussion in Philadelphia about the misconceptions between Prince Hall Freemasonry and traditionally African American churches. That event hasn’t been reported much outside of Philadelphia.

Sure, all those events, foreign and domestic, got some attention in the local, nonMasonic press but they warranted not so much as a whisper in the established U.S.-based male-only blogs, websites and news outlets. And there’s no reason why it should. Those sites and outlets prefer to serve only a portion of the Masonic audience. And that’s OK, they have every right to do so.

However, that partial coverage is a very crooked way to navigate through news, articles and information about Freemasonry. It leaves the reader with the inevitable impression that there are only male-only Masons and, therefore, only their news is relevant.

That hasn’t been true for a very long time.

With this blog, I hope to make that crooked way straight. This blog has every right to do that, or to at least try. In any case, the quiet time is over.

Booger.