The Perfection of Humanity: A Work in Progress

The Perfection of Humanity: A Work in Progress

What if perfection isn’t what you think it is? It is a term that every Freemason can relate to as part of their understanding. The zeal to achieve perfection is a core value of the masonic practice. Many instances of the word turn up in masonic language.

In the Scottish Rite, the combined degrees of 4 to 14 are called the “Lodge of Perfection.” In the Egyptian Rite, we find the “Rite of Perfect Initiates.” When we think of perfection, the idea has positive connotations. Achievement, completeness, evolution, excellence, fulfillment, integrity, and so on. People sometimes wear the title of perfection as a badge of honor.

What does perfection mean, really?

When I was younger and taking piano lessons, my music teacher’s studio wall was framed with a picture that said: “Practice doesn’t make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect.” That was a tall order! Later, I discovered the view is very different. The merit of perfectionism is called seriously into question outside the music studio. For example, in the book Gestalt Therapy Verbatim, Fritz Perls writes that if you are “cursed with perfectionism, you are absolutely sunk.”

This contrast of views can be quite perplexing, since there appears to be truth on both sides of the equation. Perfectionism can apparently be a destructive trait or a good trait. The danger with using the word perfect is that it seems to imply completeness. One of the meanings of the word perfect is “absolute and unequivocal.” There’s a certain arrogance built into the word.

IMG00025-20100812-1145Trying to be perfect assumes that you know what perfect would be.

What if perfection is more like a verb? Is perfection a means to an end or the end itself? How is the idea of perfection portrayed in Freemasonry?

The Seed of Perfection

Man has always been fascinated by the mysterious perception of life and its purpose. As the hunt for the truth advances, more individuals are starting to focus on perfection of mind, body, and soul.

Manly Hall writes:

All humans have within them the seed of their own perfection. It is not bestowed; it is revealed. Man is a god in the making, and as in the mystic myths of Egypt, on the potter’s wheel he is being molded.

Manly Hall suggests that the perfection of potential is within us. We, of ourselves, are not that perfect, but there’s something within us that is. The true seeker on his journey ever strives for that hidden secret lost within — that seed of perfection.

The Buddha named Six Perfections to work on before illumination will manifest through us: 1) magnanimity, 2) selflessness, 3) patience, 4) fiery striving, 5) meditative quiescence, and 6) wisdom. The perfection of wisdom arises when the first five perfections have been attained. The masonic teaching focuses on the development of character and virtue as part of the training. Attention is given to “building in” certain patterns of right living, thinking and conduct. The Greeks, Persians, and Indians all had narratives of how to perfect the individual. These are ancient paths — tried, tested and proven.

statue-1593706_960_720Therefore, it appears that the divine plan for man can be both perfect and imperfect. The divine impulse that moves us all on the great Way through life, might be considered a perfect process. However, the product of this perfect system is yet to be fully manifested. It is truly a “work in progress.” It is a piece of labor that we must work on continually.

Annie Besant in her book Outer Court calls the process “spiritual alchemy.” She says:

Imagine the spiritual alchemist as taking all these forces of his nature, recognizing them as forces, and therefore as useful and necessary, but deliberately changing, purifying, and refining them.

It is so interesting to reflect on what it might mean to purify each of our faculties. What would it mean to guide others through this process of spiritual alchemy; to educate, to nurture, to listen and not always get the last word in? I walk with you, my friend, on this path of love and light back to the divine.

When the service for the divine spills over into assisting the perfection of humanity, it could be so uniquely lovely.

Service: The Highest Ideal

What is service? The word service is somehow elusive to me because it evokes different personal ideas in each of us. But anyone involved in a true service activity knows it is far from personal. It is about others and the grand design. It is not about “what’s in it for me” or the separate self. When we see everything in relation to ourselves, so will our spiritual vision be limited, isolated, and narrow.

Service is when our heart begins to beat in unison with the heartbeat of the divine plan, the divine tracing board, not our separatist mind.the_rough_ashlar_2

I ponder these obligations every time I think about the allegory of King Solomon’s Temple. I recently read a wonderful article about the legend here. The symbolism suggests that true perfection can never end with physical perfection. It is only the means to the end which is spiritual perfection.

The Temple must not only be built, but it must also be spiritualized, often described as “a Temple not made with hands.”

Albert Mackey tells us:

The speculative mason is engaged in the construction of a spiritual temple in his heart, pure and spotless, fit for the dwelling-place of Him who is the author of purity.

When we look at each other through this glance, we hear an echo of a heavenly realm. All here and now. I wonder about what it would be like to build and live in such a sacred community.

Too often the outer court, with its distractions and fleeting pleasures, demands our attention in ways that leave us enthralled within the walls of ourselves, and the veils of the mundane, forgetting our true perfect master. A call, if not responded to, a knock if ignored, causes the doors of inner perception to close, at least for a time.

What would it be like to see the deepest jewel in one another’s soul? What would it mean for divine faculties to come and take over, replacing all that is egotistic with all that is eternal? Will the perfection of humanity always be a work in progress?

A pile of rocks ceases to be a rock when somebody contemplates it with an idea of a cathedral in mind.   

—   Antoine De Saint-Exupery

 

Crossing the Language Barrier to Make that Daily Progress in Freemasonry

Crossing the Language Barrier to Make that Daily Progress in Freemasonry

When I was a very new Freemason, I unintentionally allowed the language barrier to create errors in two of my early papers.

In one paper, I referred to the “broached thurnel” as “Freemasonry’s lost immovable jewel.” In the other paper, I referred to the “fulminate,” used to create a bright flash during a crucial point in an initiation, as “an old Freemasonic tradition,” strongly implying – because I believed it was – that it was no longer used in Freemasonry anywhere.

I was wrong on both counts. I’ve seen the broached thurnel is almost every French Lodge I’ve visited. While I’ve never seen a fulminate used in a French Lodge, I did see one in a store room there and was assured that some Lodges in Paris do still include it in their work.

It really doesn’t matter that other largely-English language scholars have made the same mistake about both of these items, that I could cite their works and still turn out quite a thorough paper. That I was wrong because I didn’t know I was wrong doesn’t explain it away.

Ignorance not only is no excuse; it’s dangerous. Freemasons are the shock troops in the war against ignorance. It is not a good thing for a Freemason to spread ignorance rather than fight it.

Neither paper ever was published. I doubt they ever will be, and with these errors born of ignorance, that’s a good thing.

I’m not aware of any Masonic tradition that does not direct Freemasons to make a daily progress in Masonry, which generally is reckoned as spending part of each day learning something about the Craft that the Freemason didn’t know before. In addition to the seven liberal arts, early 20th Century Masonic scholar Roscoe Pound, in the April 1915 edition of The Builder, identified five areas appropriate for Masonic Study: Ritual, History, Philosophy, Symbolism, and Jurisprudence.

Certainly, for Freemasons in Anglo-centric countries, it’s no real problem to find Masonic works in English. However, making that daily progress only in one’s mother tongue, cuts a Freemason off from progress to be gained in other parts of the world, and necessarily, renders their efforts in isolation to become isolated, provincial even. That leaves the Freemason open to the sorts of errors that I made and, worse, stunts that progress.

I believe it is incumbent upon Freemasons to open their daily progress enough to include works from other languages.

My observation is that English-only Masonic readers seem to be OK with pictures sourced from other language cultures. Images based on engravings by Louis Travenol, better known as “Léonard Gabanon,” of French Blue Lodge Masonry long have been popular illustrations in English-language Masonic books and papers, particularly in general works about the first three degrees. Daniel Beresniak’s very popular Masonic picture book “Symbols of Freemasonry” was first published in 2000 but clearly uses delightful images sourced from French Freemasonry.

Images, it seems, don’t become trapped behind the language barriers but words do.

And yet, there’s plenty in French Masonic scholarship in particular to motivate an otherwise English-only reader to blow the dust off a French-to-English dictionary or keep a browser window open to Google Translator. When I realized my errors in those two papers were caused by my ignorance of French Masonry, it didn’t take me long to find the works of Swiss occultist Joseph Paul Oswald Wirth, who wrote extensively about the Blue Lodge. More recently, I’ve been studying Philippe Langlet’s 2009 “Les sources chrétiennes de la légende d’Hiram” (comes with a very cool CD) and Joseph Castelli’s 2006 “Le Nouveau Regulateur du Macon – Rite Français 1801.”

One of my personal favorite works in French Masonic scholarship is Maurice Bouchard and Philippe Michel’s “Le Rit Français d’origine 1785,” published this past July. That was a follow up to Michel’s “Genèse du Rite Écossais Ancien et Accepté,” the most recent edition of which was published in February and also resides on one of my shelves.

Michel’s most recent work details what also is known as the “Primordial of France” (Rit Primordial de France) or even “canonical” (canonique) French Rite so widely worked in France today. It isn’t often a Masonic reader can read which paragraphs of a rite are connected to what passage or receive an explanation of how any rite was reconstituted, complete with columns, tables, symbols. And if the English reader allows the French language of the work to be a barrier, then the reader won’t get any of that at all.

I’m not suggesting that no efforts have been made at cross-cultural/language research in Freemasonry, because there has been a limited – though notable – amount of that. Lilith Mahmud’s “The Brotherhood of Freemason Sisters,” about gender history in Italian Freemasonry, was published by University of Chicago Press in 2014.

A very good sequel to Margaret Jacob’s 1991 “Living the Enlightenment: Freemasonry and Politics in Eighteenth-Century Europe” and the UCLA History Department Professor’s 2006 “The Radical Enlightenment – Pantheists, Freemasons and Republicans” is her 2011 “Les Premières franc-maçonnes au siècle des Lumières.” That book, co-authored in French with Arizona State University’s Janet Burke, was published in French by the Presses Universitaires de Bordeaux, prefaced by noted French Masonic scholars Cécile Révauger, Jean-Pierre Bacot, and Laure Caille.

Masonic works in languages other than English certainly are readily available, especially online. Detrad offers the very best in French language Masonic work, I’ve had delightfully opportunities to drool over books in their brick-and-mortar location next door to the Grand Orient de France in Rue Cadet, Paris. An entire paper was written in 2008 about Spanish-language Masonic books printed in the U.S. The Spanish language Masonic research journal “Revista de Estudios Históricos de la Masonería” actively produces Masonic works in that language.

The tools are there to do this work, the individual Freemason just needs to do it.

Yes, overcoming the language barrier as part of one’s daily progress in Freemasonry is work, and it’s far from easy. However, no one who is work shy should become a Freemasonry – no more than anyone who becomes a Freemason should become lazy. The results are worth it but actually doing that work is its own reward. The work is, after all, the thing.

 

 

 

Under the Banner of Universal Co-Masonry: The Institution of Polaris Lodge

Under the Banner of Universal Co-Masonry: The Institution of Polaris Lodge

It is the custom of Freemasons to gather to lay the foundation stone or dedicate and consecrate certain places in time-honored ceremonies. For example, on September 18, 1793, President George Washington, a Freemason, laid the cornerstone of the U.S. Capitol and was assisted by the Grand Master of Maryland Joseph Clark, in a Masonic ritual.

The newspaper of the day reported: “On Wednesday, one of the grandest Masonic processions took place, for the purpose of laying the corner-stone of the Capitol of the United States, which, perhaps, was ever exhibited on the like important occasion.” george-washington-cornerstone-laying

Following Masonic tradition, such sacred work was accomplished on September 23, 2017, when Universal Co-Masonry instituted Polaris Lodge in Dallas, Texas. The ceremony was conducted on that Saturday morning at 11:00 a.m.

The Most Sovereign Grand Commander Magdalena I. Cumsille presided and granted Dispensation to the Dallas brethren to form Polaris Lodge. Addressing those assembled, the M.S.G.C. stated:

Since time immemorial, it has been custom among Freemasons to dedicate certain places, persons, or things to Divinity, in order to prepare them for a specific role and purpose. Today, honoring that ancient tradition, we are assembled here to birth Polaris Lodge: the first of many Lodges to be instituted under the banner of Universal Co-Masonry.

Brothers from all orients of Universal Co-Masonry united fraternally to dedicate the Lodge that arose from the continued labors of so many. The name Polaris PolarisInstitutionwas chosen by the Brothers of the new Lodge, which is the name of the celestial body also referred to as the North Star or Pole Star.

Polaris is famous for remaining virtually still in the sky while the entire northern sky moves around it. That is because of its location which is nearly at the north celestial pole, the point around which the entire northern sky turns.

As Freemasonry is an ancient craft of Builders, Polaris has long been an important point of orientation. Before the invention of the compass, builders laid out the north and south lines of their foundations by observing the heavens. Of particular usefulness was Polaris, which allowed for the alignment of a perfect North and South line. Freemasonry venerates the great builder, King Solomon of Israel, who raised a sublime Temple, which he dedicated to God. During the ceremony, the M.S.G.C. explained: 

It is important to remember that true enlightenment can never be achieved except in the Spirit of Brotherhood, based on unity in Spirit. King Solomon is one of the main characters in the annuals of Freemasonry, and he had this in mind when he concentrated the attention of the whole nation in building his Temple….

When the Temple was finished, the King said: “I have surely built Thee a house of habitation, a place for Thee to dwell forever.” (I Kings 8:13)

Statehouse Time CapsuleFollowing the tradition of the Ancient Israelites, the Temple was consecrated with corn, wine, oil, and salt to launch a new unit of brotherhood into the United Federation of Lodges.

In addition to its usefulness to the Craft in building, Polaris has long been regarded as a guide and orientation point to travelers across the globe. Brother Albert Mackey, expounded on the importance of Polaris in his book, “An Encyclopedia of Freemasonry,” by stating:

The North Star is the Pole Star, the Polaris of the mariner, the Cynosaura, that guides Freemasons over the stormy seas of time.

For two thousand years, sailors and travelers have used this star as a means of navigation. Brother P.D. Newman, in his work, “Freemasonry and the Art of Moral Navigation,” wrote: 

The North Star then, both literally and symbolically, is that guiding light by which a traveling man may find his way back home, that is, back to the center.

With the institution of this new body completed, the Brethren assembled then celebrated the occasion with a festive banquet. 

Congratulations to all of the Brothers who have dedicated their time and efforts in the formation of the new Lodge. May the light of Polaris shine forever as a guide for the builders of the Temple of Humanity.   

A United Endeavor: Universal Co-Masonry’s Five-Year Plan

A United Endeavor: Universal Co-Masonry’s Five-Year Plan

Robert Kennedy once stated, “Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence, but it is the one essential quality to change the world.”  We, as Freemasons, know something about changing the world, but how serious are we about completing the work we are called to do? Do we possess that “moral courage” necessary to stand up to ignorance and change the world?

Universal Co-Masonry is taking the steps to create a better world through the implementation of an innovative Five-Year Plan. The plan was released during the Honorable Order of Universal Co-Masonry’s Annual Summer Workshop at its headquarters in Larkspur, Colorado held from August 5th through August 12th of this year. Brothers arrived from Lodges throughout the Americas to attend the workshop, a semi-regular tradition in the Order for more than a century. 

Universal Co-Masonry’s Most Sovereign Grand Commander, Brother Magdalena I. Cumsille announced an ambitious and detailed Five-Year Plan to accomplish the task at hand. Speaking to those assembled, she stated, “It is our duty as Masons to make a better world for, not only ourselves, but for those that come after us.” In his address which followed, President Matias Cumsille issued this call to action: “Let it be a united endeavor: a place where Freemasons toil together in the great work.”

The work of the Five Year Plan is separated into seven divisions of labor, including: 1) Expand the Masonic Philosophical Society, 2) Establish the Masonic Publishing Company, 3) Institute the Masonic College of Arts and Sciences, 4) Found the Masonic Order of Service, 5) Implement the Order’s Energy Initiative, 6) Finalize the Order’s Technology Initiative, and 7) Commence the Order’s Historical Document Preservation Program.MPS Logo

The Masonic Philosophical Society

The first step in the Five-Year Plan is to expand the reach of the existing Masonic Philosophical Society  (M.P.S.) to include additional online platforms. The mission of the M.P.S. is to destroy ignorance through the advancement of research and understanding of the sciences, arts, and humanities. Utilizing online video conferencing technology, the M.P.S. will be better equipped to fulfill its mission across the globe. Since the commencement of the first online study center, individuals from around the world have been able to participate in the educational opportunities, including men and women from India, Madagascar, Germany, Spain, England, and Canada. “We are planning on establishing a European online M.P.S. study center, as well as a new physically-located M.P.S. Study Center in Asia,” explained President Matias Cumsille. 

The Masonic Philosophical Society was founded in January of 2009 to provide interactive educational opportunities for adults beyond the nationally required post-secondary schooling.  Since 2009, the M.P.S. has expanded its operation to include 25 centers in North and South America. With more than 60,000 members, the M.P.S. has created a worldwide movement and community. To learn more about the Society, follow the online M.P.S. Journal, interact with the global community, or inquire about membership, visit the M.P.S. website or the M.P.S. Facebook page.  

The Masonic Publishing Company

Another ongoing project expected to get an evolutionary boost in the next five years is The Masonic Publishing Company: an innovative and independent publisher of books. MPC Meme“Its objective is to publish rare, esoteric, occult and philosophical books,” President Matias Cumsille added. 

Created to bring new light to the great enigmatic works of the past, M.P.C. books include new material added by Freemasons to inspire modern inquiry. The M.P.C. is the proud publisher of a selection of books which have been handpicked to inspire our readers to reach their fullest potential. One might call it a Must-Read List for Seekers of Wisdom, including members of the Brotherhood of Freemasonry, which encircles the globe. 

The Masonic College of Arts and Sciences

Another step in the Five Year Plan is the formation of a Masonic College to provide education for seekers throughout the world. The Masonic College of Arts and Sciences (M.C.A.S.) is a private liberal arts college which will offer educational courses based on the synthesis of Ancient Wisdom and Modern Science.

The College is oriented specifically for those individuals in search of higher understanding beyond that found in traditional universities and dogmatic institutions. M.C.A.S. endorses the Integrated Approach to its studies and discourages Reductionism – the approach used in an overwhelming majority of higher educational institutions.

“Initially, courses will be online, and we will offer two undergraduate degrees, both founded on the Seven Liberal Arts and Sciences,” President Matias Cumsille stated. “We will be working to ensure the accreditation of the college through the Colorado Department of Higher Education in the next five years.”

Further Steps in the Five-Year Plan

Other initiatives in the Five-Year Plan include the formation of the Masonic Order of Service, detailed in an earlier blog, an Energy Initiative to make the Order’s headquarters more self-sustaining through the installation of solar and wind power, and a Technology Initiative to update the structure of the Order for dissemination of Masonic studies. The final step of the Order’s plan is to preserve historical documents as part of the Order’s Historical Document Preservation Program.


 “Let us begin the Work. We cannot wait, for time is a gift rarely used wisely.” 

— Most Sovereign Grand Commander, Magdalena I. Cumsille

Finding the Middle Path: Esoteric and Non-Esoteric Freemasonry

Finding the Middle Path: Esoteric and Non-Esoteric Freemasonry

There are two groups in Freemasonry, the so-called “Esoterics” and “Non-Esoterics,” who too often do not get along. They should. After all, they need each other.

This, to my mind, is best illustrated by an image I have observed floating around the Internet for a decade. It’s the High Priestess card in the Rider Waite tarot deck with the Kabbalistic “Eitz haChayim” (עץ החיים) or, in English, The Tree of Life, superimposed upon it.

My own version of it is pictured above, along with a box of cigars. Because, as in the statement often is attributed to famed psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. It does not really matter if Freud ever said or wrote that. The point is that things are not always metaphors or symbols for something else.

That said, I think it’s equally possible for them to be and not to be – all at the same time.

My observation of the High Priestess Card and Tree of Life pairing is that individuals, especially those esoterically inclined, who see the connection for the first time, generally experience a kōan moment. That is to say that their minds are completely blown. There is a good deal to be gained in such a moment, i.e. when the mind is absolutely blank. That seems to be the aim of a good portion of esoteric study, inside Freemasonry and out. The aim being to assist the neophyte in unraveling hidden or higher truths deep within themselves and stretching outward to farthest reaches of the Universe.

The image itself supposedly originated with an unknown individual, possibly the late Paul Foster Case, who noted that if you draw circles around the pomegranates on the card and then draw lines between them the image drawn resembles the Tree of Life. The problem is that the tree of life cannot actually be constructed through the process. As is the case with many of these studies, this exercise breaks down under non-esoteric scrutiny.

There are no pomegranates on the card to represent the lower Sephirot, namely Yesod and Malkuth. Thus, the High Priestess’ knees and toes, along with one end of the crescent moon, must be pressed into service. A circle around the cross at the center of her chest also is required. Without those pomegranate-free circles, there is no Tree of Life on the card. The decision to accept any part of the picture, in an exercise to connect an image, leaves us open to circles, squares, and other doodles on the card.

Tree of Life

The Kabbalistic Tree of Life

In my observation, the esoterically inclined Brother may declare that, simply by making that perfectly reasonable observation, the non-esoterically inclined Brother is just not open to the experience and not worthy of the special knowledge imparted. The non-esoterically inclined Brother may reply that the whole thing is nonsense and then try to turn the subject toward something practical, such as an upcoming fundraiser.

That, in turn, frustrates the esoterically inclined Brother, who sees the upcoming fundraiser as meaningless compared to the exploration in search of answers about life, the universe, etc. The Brothers with opposing viewpoints might even start squabbling at this point, each implying that the other should be more like themselves.

That argument generally leaves those individuals in the middle thinking both of the original points is valid and worth considering. They may wonder why those on either side cannot get along.

To be clear, as a historian in Freemasonry I have endured my own share of being annoyed with esoterically inclined writers who, to my mind, flippantly make up historical events to bolster their own writings. Quite recently, I heard an operative alchemist claim that medieval architecture originated with the Templars, stating it as a fact without supporting documentation, something more academically minded Templar scholars would have no trouble refuting.

Robert Lomas and Christopher Knight, who were big deals when I came into Freemasonry about a decade ago, have been seen by some to invent things to bolster the message and lessons they want to get across.

Which, I think, is the point. For esoteric writers, the focus is on the message or lesson they are trying to teach not necessarily about the complete historical accuracy of the facts underlying their arguments.  They may ignore some historical data or information if it is seen as cumbersome, irrelevant, or diminishing to their argument. 

Non-esoteric writers may prefer to establish their messages and lessons in well-documented and verifiable historical analysis. To do otherwise, may seem to these writers as “making up history.” They also might express a certain irritation that esoteric books far outsell non-esoteric tomes.

Both points of view are valid, but both sides also often also forget to take a hard look at themselves.

I suppose it might be helpful, even this late in the blog, to define the term “esoteric”, which is no easy thing. Merriam-Webster lists the popularity of the word “esotericism“as being in the bottom 30 percent of popular words and defines it as “the quality or state of being esoteric.”

Spheres Dante

The Concentric Spheres of “The Key to Dante’s Divine Comedy,” by Augustus Knapp

The same source defines “esoteric” as pursuing something “designed for or understood by the specially initiated alone” (my emphasis) or “requiring or exhibiting knowledge that is restricted to a small group.”

To be “non-esoteric,” in Freemasonry and without, would be not to be part of that specially initiated group or to not have that knowledge restricted to the small group. Or, I suppose, to reject all that.

Brothers on both sides live in the same place. They really do, but they fail to recognize the concentric spheres spheres that share the same center – which make up that place. In Freemasonry, there are those who labor in the Inner Order, they who keep the Light; and those who labor in the Outer Order, they who keep the lights on.

There is no point in making sure the power bill is paid to keep the lights on if there is no Light to keep; and the Light cannot very well be kept if the power bill is not paid to keep the lights on.

There are Brothers who prefer the Outer Order. They enjoy the sumptuous banquets, the social functions, and getting out into the world to show how good Freemasons can be. The Outer Order excels at financial planning, in setting aside trusts for the future, for that is where the Outer Order lives. They are careful to remember the past and plan for the future.

The Brothers of the Inner Order live in the Now. They see Freemasonry as a body of individual seekers of Light, an heir to the ancient mystery schools, and a system to impart morality, ethics, and the benefits of mutual service. The Inner Order tends to dismiss the past as unimportant and reckons the future will take care of itself. For them, clarity and correctness about the past and future is a secondary concern to the now.

Ancient Mysteries

Ancient Mystery School Symbolism

Then there are those achingly tolerant Brethren, “hybrids,” who can pass between the spheres and see value in both. They historically have been in the minority in Freemasonry but, in my observation, their numbers are increasing. I see them as Brothers deeply rooted in the center. I wish there were more of them.

I am not the first to observe this disharmony between the spheres. Bro. Robert Davis, in his 2010 paper “The Path of the Esotericists Among Us,” pointed out that “no sincere adept’ would force truth on someone not prepared to contemplate it. “We all know Masons who believe with all their heart there is nothing spiritual about the rituals of Masonry,” Bro. Davis wrote. 

There are those who claim there is nothing to learn beyond the ritual words. There are even more who are appalled when it is suggested that Kabbalistic, Alchemical, or Hermetic associations might be made from a study of the Degrees of Masonry. Never mind that every aspirant is told before he receives the very first Degree that Masonry is a course of hieroglyphic instruction taught by allegories. Oh well. As obvious as this may seem to the esoteric minded among us, there is little to be gained by arguing with those who aren’t listening.

I would add to Davis’ point that there *is* a middle path. It is worth seeking, and Esoterics and Non-Esoterics need to tolerate, if not respect, each other.

Until we can all be there, I continue to hope that Brothers of the Inner and Outer orders will learn to respect and tolerate each other. I hope that they will try – please try – not to encroach too much into the opposite sphere. At least not until they are ready to do so harmoniously and fully recognizing that the Brother in the opposite sphere who does not get you and who is not open to your experience is the Brother who makes sure that you do and are.

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.