What Would Your Sentence Be?

What Would Your Sentence Be?

One dark, cold Winter night, in the pine forest near the foothills of the Rockies, a small rabbit runs across a snow-littered meadow. His small feet crunch the rocks as he makes a break for his warren. In the deep silence, a sudden flash and the night becomes day for a brief moment. Seconds tick by as the light rises and slowly fades, an eerie backdrop to the silence. Minutes later, a great tidal wave of energy flattens the forest, the rocks, the warrens, the sleeping life that will continue to sleep. Forever.

In the wake of this powerful destruction, debris falls from the sky, littering the once verdant land with the detritus of its previous inhabitants. Plastic, wood, ash – all drifting in the growing silence. A single white piece of paper, seemingly untouched by the devastation, floats down, swinging wide in the light wind until it reaches the ground. It has the scratches of some writing embedded in its fibers.

What does this writing say?

Feynman 1This is the question that Richard Feynman posed to his physics students on the first day of his new physics curriculum at CalTech in 1961. This question is highlighted in a recent Radiolab episode, entitled “The Cataclysm Sentence” as well as in his collected lectures, called “The Feynman Lectures on Physics.” Rather than teaching his students the history of physics, he wanted them to think critically, creatively, and for themselves.

He posited this question:

If, in some cataclysm, all of the scientific knowledge were to be destroyed, and only one sentence was passed onto the next generation of creatures, what statement would contain the most information in the fewest words?

His own answer to that question is covered in both places; the twist that Radiolab put on this question was to ask writers, artists, musicians, and contemporary scientists –  what would your sentence say?

Feynman’s answer is at once interesting and a cultural legacy. Here is what he said:

If, in some cataclysm, all of scientific knowledge were to be destroyed, and only one sentence passed on to the next generation of creatures, what statement would contain the most information in the fewest words? I believe it is the atomic hypothesis that all things are made of atoms — little particles that move around in perpetual motion, attracting each other when they are a little distance apart, but repelling upon being squeezed into one another. In that one sentence, you will see, there is an enormous amount of information about the world, if just a little imagination and thinking are applied.

We could take time to unpack his response, or we could delve into our own. Or, we could wander around the purpose of such a sentence, and how might a Freemason answer.

What would the purpose of such a sentence be? What sort of creatures would pick it up? I imagine that this thinking was once applied to the study of Lemuria or Atlantis, and what their civilizations had left for us. From Plato, we learn of Atlantis, which existing approximately 11,000 years ago. It is considered a myth, a metaphor, a fact, and all things in between. In truth, we have no writings existent from Atlantis, and only Plato (and his character’s word) that it existed. Lemuria, an even fainter impression of a culture and continent, is said to have existed up to 52,000 years ago, in the Indian Ocean, and fell to ruin by Nature’s hand around 16,000 B.C.E.. In this case, the Tamil’s claim that this land, Kumari Kandam, was the “cradle of civilization” and that it was, like Atlantis, a thriving civilization but to theosophists, it was the place where humanity took form. Again, we have Tamil folklore and speculation by both theosophists and 19th C.E. anthropologists but we have nothing written directly from this civilization.

Colors of Freemasonry Part IIIn both cases, no such miracle sentence was imparted to us, no wisdom floating to us through the ages. We might imagine that Plato was telling us that Atlantis’ sentence was “Don’t get greedy.” From Lemuria, it might be “Experience everything as human,” or perhaps “Become.” As their worlds were ending, did any of them think of another race of humans? Would we?

Feynman’s question was specific in that he didn’t specify “humans,” but creatures. Creatures. This presupposes they would understand whatever language was written down or that they would understand the reference. In the Radiolab episode, the answers that artists and philosophers provided were at once strange, funny, serious, and deep. The idea here is that the sentence “jump starts” the next “human” race, or race of advanced creatures, whatever that might be.

CAITLIN DOUGHTY: For me, it’s something like you will die, and that’s the most important thing.

ESPERANZA SPALDING: …The willingness to respond creatively to fear, without trying to eradicate the source of the fear.

CORD JEFFERSON: “The only things you’re innately afraid of are falling and loud noises. The rest of your fears are learned and mostly negligible.”

MERRILL GARBUS: [singing] Evolving over millennia. We learn to fly. We’re nourished by the fruits of the Earth. Inspired by each other’s music. But we failed as a species. Injured the very hands that fed us, when we chose fear as our ruler. When we could not grasp being mere fractals in one collective being. In the end there was no “we.”

JENNY ODELL:  All of human effort is meaningless, as he puts it. So he says humanity knows nothing at all. There’s no intrinsic value in anything and every action is a futile, meaningless effort. (Speaking of a Japanese farmer who created “Do Nothing Farming.”

ALISON GOPNICK: Why?

REBECCA SUGAR: …And maybe the ultimate goal would be to just devote oneself fully to creating the life that feels the best on this world in the time that we have.

JAMES GLEICK: The moon revolves around the Earth, which is not the center of the universe, far from it. But just one of many objects, large and small, that revolve around the sun which in turn, is one of countless stars mostly so far away that they’re invisible, even on the clearest night. All traveling through space on paths obeying simple laws of nature that can be expressed in terms of mathematics. Oh and by the way, there is no God.

JARON LANIER: I would give them nothing….It’s redundant. Like, all of that kind of information is just the stuff that’s out there waiting to be discovered in nature anyway, so we don’t have to do anything. If people apply themselves they’ll rediscover all that stuff. So it’s not like we’re special. Letting them get it in their own good time might be better for them, so what have we actually added? Perhaps we’ve only taken away.

Since I listened to this episode and looked into Feynman’s life, and subsequently, delved into Physics and thought experiments, and the meaning of humanity, the answer on the piece of paper that I write has to be something that would be unique to the creature reading it. In this, I think Freemasonry, and really mystery schools overall, has the far view. If we’re working to the perfecting of humanity, we know we have a long, long road ahead, and possibly many lifetimes. Freemasonry looks to the soul of humanity itself, and works to ascertain its perfection. What would we leave to the next generation of souls to inhabit the universe? Maybe we can’t even say until we’re at the end of our own existence. My hope is that is farther away than closer.

nosceMy thoughts stray to what I learned from long-dead philosophers in Greece, precursors to modernity, leftovers from Atlantis. They didn’t know me, and their civilization has perished. What did they leave me, to provide me hope to carry on? My sentence would be “nosce te ipsum.” It transcends everything.

I’m curious to know – what would your sentence be?

The Trestle Board

The Trestle Board

By Bro... Paul R. Clark


DR. CHARLES PARKHURST in saying “To call things by their right names is always a direct contribution to wholesome effects” should receive credit for enunciating a philosophical gem. When a manufacturer seeks an economical distribution of his products, he doesn’t call a spade a shovel or “pussyfoot” down some side alley, timidly and fearfully, trying to develop vital facts, lest he uncover unpleasant truths which might materially change his pre-conceived ideas or notions.

Economical merchandising on a national scale is a problem so complex we can’t afford to shrink from the broad highway, lead us where it may. Merchants willingly spend thousands of dollars in developing facts to secure a clear picture of conditions as they are, not as they would like to find them. “A fact is a fact, whether you like it or not.” Unbiased opinions are difficult to get, because “an opinion changes with what you had for dinner.” So, we find merchants seeking facts. When unpleasant truths stalk into the conference room, business men welcome them and call them by their full names, and consider themselves fortunate indeed if they clearly uncover weaknesses in their products or their merchandising plan.

Many successful business men are members of long standing in the Masonic Fraternity. I am persuaded that, if given an opportunity, they might apply some of their hard-earned experience towards the solution of our Masonic problems.

I HAVE a close friend, a Mason, who is a large manufacturer of pianos. He is not lulling himself to sleep with clever slogans or advertisements in nationally circulated publications, nor with prettily worded or high sounding phrases when discussing his problems with his directors or stockholders.

The radio, the automobile, and the moving pictures are great, gaunt realities which overturn old traditions or customs of the piano trade and demand recognition. Turning his back on them, “ostrichizing” them by sticking his head in the sand, or parking his intelligence outside will not get him to “first base.” The changing habits of the present generation, and the new problems of this wonderful, but complex, 20th century are introducing conditions which must be called by their right names.

When pointing out some of the shortcomings of the average Blue Lodge, I am reminded of the story of the boy, returning from college, who nervously says to his father, “Dad, after all, the real thing in college is the social atmosphere. The real values lie in the social opportunities and – “Dad impatiently interrupts him at this point with the rather caustic remark, ‘What did you flunk in this time?'”

Nothing can be gained by denying the fact that too large a percentage of our brothers flunk in Freemasonry, as far as the Blue Lodge is concerned. A pitifully small percentage of those brothers who are Masonically insolvent take sufficient interest constructively to criticize the Craft, let alone discuss and try to find a solution to many of our Masonic problems. Those who haven’t flunked, like Dad, shouldn’t be too severe on the “boys” who might be justly accused of not studying or taking interest in the Craft. The boy who flunks in college is not always entirely to blame. The teachers, the parents, the curriculum, the atmosphere in the home, and the conditions under which he studies, all are contributing factors in his failure.

If newly made Masons, whom I am calling “the boys,” do not attend lodge and therefore do not take a deep interest in Freemasonry, the inevitable conclusion must be that the Fraternity or the atmosphere in the Masonic classrooms may be partially at fault. Supposing we approach it from this angle, not that the fault lies entirely with the Craft, but possibly the major part of the responsibility may lie with our Masonic leaders who do not recognize that conditions have changed considerably in the last twenty years.

SOMEONE has said that the difference between a Mack truck and a 20-mule team is the difference between coordination and persuasion. Human groups, like mules, to produce the best results, have to be organized and coordinated, as well as persuaded. Individual Blue Lodges may be efficiently coordinated fifty years hence, but I have my grave doubts. It seems to me that it is going to be a long up-hill pull.

In the Masonic Fraternity we find that the Blue Lodge, maintaining a separate and distinct identity and organization, to a great extent is a law unto itself. It is susceptible to coordination, but not subject to it. The Master may accept suggestions from the Grand Lodge or be may not, but the line of demarcation between the Grand Lodge and the individual Blue Lodge is quite rigidly fixed. The Blue Lodge requires considerable persuasion, with the hope that eventually the lodges may be coordinated, but it is evident that the latter is not possible without the desire on the part of the individual Blue Lodges. The lack of a national Masonic policy is a great weakness, but the independence of the individual Blue Lodges is a calamity, if considered from the standpoint of coordinating the Blue Lodges in any one state of these United States.

Most of us will admit that the average Blue Lodge is without a safe, sane, and well planned “selling campaign.” Further, it is just as evident that the Master of any individual Blue Lodge, if he has succeeded in vitalizing the lodge, can leave no authorized machinery to carry the policy on into the succeeding years. So the Blue Lodge is like Grandmother’s crazy quilt – it is a patchwork of individual ideas, with no blending or continuity of policies from year to year. The Master can and often does “carry on,” “follow through,” “step on the gas or apply the brakes” at will. This would discourage one of those wooden Indians that stood outside of cigar stores when we were boys – let alone a clear thinking executive or leader who knows that “Rome was not built in a day,” and that the selling of ideas and persuading the Masonic Fraternity is a problem not of a few months but years.

WE MUST build the foundations now and not be discouraged if the temple is not completed within our lifetime. The habits of the crowd, mob psychology, when applied to our Masonic Institution, are rather mundane phrases – and to the Masonic idealist a little unpleasant, if not irritating. Many of our Masonic Daddies are not unlike some parelits, who refrain from discussing social problems with their children. We have a little false modesty, and we feel that there is something wrong with anyone who criticizes an institution as old as the Masonic Fraternity; but we men of lawful age who are well qualified should not shrink from “calling things by their right names.” If we haven’t the backbone to face an unpleasant truth, we are second cousins to a moral jellyfish – nor, then, can we expect to enlist the services of men of recognized leadership and executive ability to guide our lodges.

Historical review, symbolism, and ritualistic repetition have their place in every Masonic lodge; but, when these clog the wheels, even though they are absolutely essential in the initiations of the first three degrees, it is time to consider the psychological effect that these have on he “brothers on the right and left.” Our Masonic diet is unbalanced, and we devote too much time to symbolism and repeating rituals.

Some of our lodges would be better off if the Trestle Board could be misplaced for at least six months of the year. Many Masons, with whom I have discussed this, do not hesitate to face the truth and freely acknowledge the fact that a full Trestle Board is more often a menace than a blessing.

“Grinding out rubber-stamp-Masons” is not unlike letting down the gates at Ellis Island. We found that an unassimilated immigrant was a real menace. A brother who has been raised to the Sublime Degree of Master Mason, unless he absorbs Freemasonry, is far from being a tangible asset to the Fraternity. Yet, how many times we hear men in the ante-room and speakers in the Fast talk about the potential possibilities of these bankrupt Masons?

And, we go blithely on raising Masons and then watching them sink back into Masonic oblivion. This is the nearest thing to perpetual motion that any man ever conceived.

A COMMUNITY with five Masonic lodges of 150 members each is richer and better off Masonically than with one lodge of 750 members. If these five lodges select men because of their social likes or dislikes and then limit the memberships; I wonder if your imagination can grasp the possibilities! The personal touch, the opportunity for developing real Masonic brotherhood in a small lodge of 150 members, composed of brothers who have similar hopes and aspirations and who would mix more intimately, opens up new and unexplored possibilities; nor does this idea in any way violate the universality of Freemasonry. The Grand Lodge certainly does not object to forming new lodges; but, when the Master hugs to his breast the tradition that to be successful the lodge must be big, and that a full Trestle Board and a long waiting list are an indication of goodness and virtue, it seems to me that the Masonic Fraternity is chasing rainbows – and the pitiful part about this is that so few of us seem to realize it.

Can we not see the futility of striving for volume, for big crowds, for a large, unwieldy Masonic mass, few of which are able to appreciate what it is all about? If we padlocked the doors and put the Trestle Board on the shelf for a while and then attempted to draw those who profess to be Master Masons (and who are so technically) back into the lodge, we would get results that would surprise us.

THIS summer a derby was held in Kentucky, at which 80,000 people were present. At this event there were more airplanes than there were automobiles twenty years ago. The American people spend more than $1,000,000 a day on radio equipment and accessories, yet three years ago the radio was an experimental toy indulged in by few people. Can the Masonic Fraternity expect to continue with the same methods that were used successfully by our fathers, in view of the disturbing influences that are being recognized by our schools, colleges and churches from one end of the land to the other?

The average Mason may have a very high code of ethics, but his Masonic obligation to attend the meetings has been diluted by these distracting and disintegrating influences – and we are in competition with some very potent undercurrents which the Blue Lodge must acknowledge. If we stop “grinding out Masons on a tonnage basis,” which takes so much of our time, we can devote some attention to the real worth-while things and bring out the richness and depth of Freemasonry, which have never been really uncovered to the Masonic masses. A lodge with a limited membership would at least have time to develop Masters of Masonry instead of “grinding out half-baked Masons,” who become Masonically insolvent due to this moth-eaten tradition that seems to grip the average Masters to strive for bigness and volume continually.

If we limited our Blue Lodge membership and devoted some of the time now consumed in working the three degrees to selling Masonic ideas to the brothers on the right and left, those who profess Freemasonry might practice it more diligently. We need better Masons, not more Masons. We have every reason to be proud of our achievements, but we ought to be honest enough with ourselves to acknowledge our faults and to try to correct them. Volume production, with no consistent policy to keep our brothers in Masonic intercourse, is a fault which we do not fully recognize; and our failure to accomplish results is blamed on general conditions.

IF THE Blue Lodge’s chief function is to graduate Masons to the so-called “higher degrees,” then I would say, “Let’s speed up the machinery, because it is very efficient and is producing results.” If, on the other hand, the attendance in the Blue Lodge is the barometer of its success, then it is quite evident that we have much to be concerned about. Limiting the Blue Lodge membership may not be the only remedy, but isn’t it reasonable to state that this would allow a lodge graciously to do what every Blue Lodge does to some extent? By following a policy of this kind, it seems reasonable to suppose that we would have greater opportunities for increasing the interest of those who have already joined the Craft and are wondering what it is all about.


– Originally published in THE MASTER MASON – MAY 1926

How did Freemasonry shape President Theodore Roosevelt?

How did Freemasonry shape President Theodore Roosevelt?

The man, the myth, and the legend: Theodore Roosevelt was a larger than life figure whose beneficent impact on the rights of humanity has continued long after his earthly demise. Few figures in American history can match Roosevelt’s archetypal status as a hero, adventurer, statesman, and visionary.


The Early Years: Gaining Strength Through Adversity

Born in New York City in 1858, the boy, named Theodore Roosevelt Jr., was a frail and asthmatic child. Yet, sharing in his Father’s belief that willpower and strenuous living could overcome all infirmities, Teddy transformed himself with discipline and determination into a strong, courageous individual.

His tenacity and idealism would later assist him in weathering dark storms of difficulty, particularly on Valentine’s Day of 1884, when Theodore lost both his mother and wife within a span of a few hours. His mother, Mittie Roosevelt, died of typhoid fever at age forty-eight, in the same house as his first wife, Alice Lee Roosevelt, who at age twenty-three, died following the birth of their daughter, Alice.

TR Rough Rider

Theodore expressed his deep grief with a single, poignant sentence in his journal: “the light has gone out of my life.”

Searching for a way to transcend his personal tragedy, Roosevelt moved forward by working on a Cattle Ranch in the Dakotas. Then he served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy before attaining mythic war hero status for leading the Rough Riders’ charge of San Juan Hill in the Spanish–American War. (Image: Colonel Roosevelt of the Rough Riders, 1898).

Joining the soon-to-be President McKinley as his running mate, they won a landslide victory in 1900, based on a platform of peace, prosperity, and conservation.

Ascent to Power: Freemasonry and the U.S. Presidency

In 1901, Theodore followed in the steps of his hero, Brother George Washington, by knocking on the door of the Temple to become a Freemason. He was initiated on January 2nd in Matinecock Lodge No. 806 in Oyster Bay, New York.

VP TR Letter 3rd Degree

After taking office as Vice President of the United States in March of that year, Bro. Roosevelt was Passed on March 27th and Raised on April 24th. Only five months later, Brother Roosevelt became President of the United States at the age of 42, after the untimely death by assassination of McKinley in September of 1901. (Image: Letter written by U.S. Vice President Roosevelt before receiving the 3rd Degree).

As a progressive leader and political maverick, Brother Theodore instituted domestic policies, which uplifted the common people and removed the barriers to opportunity and prosperity. President Roosevelt titled his domestic program, The Square Deala subtle nod to his Masonic allegiance and education. As a demonstration of action echoing his espoused principles, he described his intentions:

“When I say that I am for the square deal, I mean not merely that I stand for fair play under the present rules of the game, but that I stand for having those rules changed so as to work for a more substantial equality of opportunity and of reward for equally good service.”

Roosevelt was an environmentalist who established national parks, forests, and monuments intended to preserve the nation’s natural resources. His successful diplomatic efforts ended the Russo-Japanese War and won him the 1906 Nobel Peace Prize. Elected in 1904 to a full term, Roosevelt continued to promote progressive policies that promoted equality and justice for the common people.

Freemason_Theodore_Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt’s extensive list of achievements almost defies belief: Harvard University Honors Graduate, Youngest Elected Member of the New York State Assembly, Leader of an Amazon River Scientific Exploration, Famed Historian and Author, Spanish-American War Hero, New York City Police Commissioner, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Nobel Peace Prize Winner, Governor of New York, President of the United States, as well as, famous Freemason.

During his Presidency, Brother Roosevelt combined his affinity for travel with his dedication to Masonry by visiting lodges across the nation and abroad. His words, written and spoken, reflected his Masonic ideals; he emphasized morality, duty, service, equality, charity, self-knowledge, justice, wisdom, merit, and ability.

In an address to the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, Bro. Theodore explained his reasons for joining the Fraternity:

“One of the things that attracted me so greatly to Masonry, that I hailed the chance of becoming a Mason, was that it really did act up to what we, as a government and as a people, are pledged to — of treating each man on his merits as a man.”

Equal Before the Law: Roosevelt’s Feminism

In addition to his other accolades, Roosevelt was a woman’s rights advocate, historian and writer, gifted orator, dedicated conservationist, skilled diplomat, avid outdoors-man, hunter, and mountain climber. Could he also be considered a Feminist? 

Unlike many of his contemporaries, Roosevelt’s belief in the principle of equality transcended gender promoting equal rights for women in employment, opportunity, and equal pay. In his essay, “Practicability of Giving Men and Women Equal Rights,” he argued:

“Viewed in the abstract, I think there can be no question that women should have equal rights with men…. I contend that, even as the world now is, it is not only feasible but advisable to make women equal to men before the law.”

PamphletFrontPageProgressivePartyPlatform1912

Brother Roosevelt later wrote that “women should have free access to every field of labor which they care to enter, and when their work is as valuable as that of a man, it should be paid as highly.” Moreover, in his 1912 Presidential Campaign, Roosevelt took a revolutionary step for the rights of women in equal pay, labor protections, and universal suffrage.

Do these actions and beliefs qualify Roosevelt as a Feminist? By today’s definition and standard, I think it would be a stretch to call him as such, although he did advocate for equal pay for equal work.

However, considering Feminism during his era which is now described as the “first wave” of the larger movement, I would argue that Roosevelt’s stated beliefs and advancement of policies for equal treatment under the law (i.e., equal employment opportunity, equal pay, and equal voting rights) would qualify him as a Feminist. In fact, Bro. Roosevelt was the first major party candidate in U.S. history to campaign in favor of women’s suffrage, which brought the issue to national stage for the first time in 1912. 

Unafraid of Death: Brother Theodore’s Life of Service

Feminist or not, Theodore Roosevelt remained a faithful servant to Humanity till his death. In 1919, he died in his sleep and passed, at only 60 years old, to the Eternal Grand Lodge. Yet, his service and dedication to humanity continue on as examples of Masonic principles brought to life through action – immortal and true.  

“Only those are fit to live who do not fear to die; and none are fit to die who have shrunk from the joy of life and the duty of life. Both life and death are parts of the same Great Adventure.” Brother Theodore Roosevelt


Note: As always, this article does not reflect the official views of Universal Co-Masonry, but is solely the opinion of the author. 

The Masonic Lesson of Subduing One’s Passions

The Masonic Lesson of Subduing One’s Passions

One of the primary lessons of Freemasonry is to learn to subdue your passions. On the surface, some might think this means to dampen and reduce your emotions – to become a kind of automaton. Quite the opposite is the case, however.

As you proceed down your spiritual growth path, your emotions become more intense and poignant in response to external events. The difference, by result of proper training, is that, on the surface, you appear calmer and in perfect control of your emotions, regardless the circumstance. 

An examination of the word Subdue supports this contention. The dictionary definition of subdue is to “bring under mental or emotional control, as by persuasion or intimidation; render submissive.” The Latin derivation of the word is of even more interest as subdue originates from subdūcere, which translates into “to withdraw.” An inference here is that you are withdrawing your emotions from external view.

On the inside, your emotional reactions to external circumstances become more intense – you are able to pick up more subtle nuances in your personal interactions.Controlled Emotional Response On the outside, your demeanor is that of a placid lake in terms of facial expressions and both body and eye language.

In a certain sense, you become detached from your emotions. You are better able to identify your emotional response to situations, analyze that response, and respond in specific, measured ways without bias. It becomes an internal feedback loop that allows you to improve yourself and learn to subdue your passions. Over time, the situations presented become more intense and you find yourself gracefully addressing situations you would not have imagined just months before. One thing is certain; you will continue to be presented ever increasing challenges throughout your life.

Externally, your measured response to situations helps to accomplish very specific goals of which you may not always be aware. Passions or emotions are a universal language conveyed through body language, eye contact, and the timbre of your voice. You continually affect others through that language, provoking them to specific and systematic response. Your emotions, then, afford a tool for assisting humankind in its endeavors.

As you progress through life and the degrees of Freemasonry, your ability to use your emotions as a tool for good grows. Your ability to turn your externally displayed emotions on and off is enhanced, to the point that you react instinctively to situations presented in life. Often, you do not recognize the purpose of your reaction to specific events until after the fact and sometimes not even then.

The Gospel of Matthew 5:39 states, in part: “…whosoever shall smite thee on thy right vslcheek, turn to him the other also…” This biblical passage has, in my opinion, at least three levels of interpretation.

The first, most basic level, encourages the recipient of the smite to ignore the offender. The second, more popular perception inspires the recipient to forgive the offender. The third and most sublime interpretation exhorts the recipient, in the most loving manner possible, to deliberately provoke the offender to hit the other cheek so that the offender might someday come to subdue his own passions. 

Famous Freemasons: Brother Mark Twain

Famous Freemasons: Brother Mark Twain

This article is the first of a series on Famous Freemasons. To read about more famous Masons, visit Universal Co-Masonry’s collection here.

MARK TWAIN

Brother Samuel L. Clemens, aka “Mark Twain”

[November 30, 1835 – April 21, 1910]

“He praised his Maker that he was as he was and went on enjoying his little life just the same as if he really had been deliberately designed and erected by the great Architect1869-cover-of-the-innocents-abroad of the Universe.”

– Mark Twain, Innocents Abroad (1869)


Referred to as the “Father of American Literature,” Brother Samuel Clemens was a journalist, writer, and humorist, more commonly known under his pseudonym “Mark Twain.” Clemens first wrote under the alias as a newspaper reporter in 1863, referencing a Mississippi River term meaning “Mark #2” or the second mark line on a steamboat denoting safe passage depth on the river.

A self-made man who detested social snobbery and privilege, Brother Clemens took up arms with his pen rather than the sword, influencing both his contemporaries and future generations with his articles, essays, and books. Through investigative journalism, satire, and wit, he utilized the written word to dispel ignorance and re-balance the scales of justice.

Initiated into the Craft in 1861, he was reportedly an eager Masonic scholar and applied himself in earnest to the work of Freemasonry. “[Twain’s] application to Masonic studies could scarcely have been more diligent if he had nursed the ambition of becoming the Worshipful Master of Polar Star Lodge at the earliest possible date.”[1] Dedicated to the Masonic virtues of Equality and Liberty, Brother Clemens advocated for women’s rights and against the oppression of mankind, particularly the institution of slavery. He was a humanitarian and used his skills as a writer to further causes of social justice and shine marktwain2light on the inequality, prejudice, and racism of his day.


Famous Works: The Adventures of Huckleberry Fin, A Connecticut in King Arthur’s Court

Quotes: “Always do right. That will gratify some of the people and astonish the rest.”

“It is better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt.”

“Let us endeavor so to live that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry.”mark_twain3


[1] “Mark Twain and Freemasonry,” Alexander Jones, 364.

Member of Polar Star Lodge #79 in St. Louis, Missouri

  • Initiated May 22, 1861
  • Passed June 10, 1861
  • Raised July 12, 1861

What do Freemasons Imagine?

What do Freemasons Imagine?

I grew up listening to the Beatles. John Lennon was one of my favorite musicians. Recently I was listening to his song “Imagine.” As music sometimes does, it triggered a whole chain reaction of questions.

What does it mean to imagine, really? How is imagination related to creativity? Does it guide the Freemason? Is there a masonic message underneath the song’s lyrics for those who have the “seeing eye”?

At first listen, it’s easy to think of the song “Imagine” as a simple tune: a ballad, a vision of peace, a piano-driven melody. But at second listen,  I began to wonder, deep down, if what Lennon describes will really happen. Will the world have a happy ending?  To imagine all people living in peace asks for the giving up of what we often cling to most frantically.

Consider the third verse:

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world…

Possible, really? Imagine a life without material possessions. What are possessions? Well, pretty much everything that we love and cherish and cannot do without. Can we imagine a life without our smart devices? Probably, we cannot. And that’s why John Lennon questions if we are capable of such a triumph.

Even so, I subscribe to the theory that we are poised for a great leap forward in our evolution as humans. This turning point in our history is propelled by technology which is fundamentally transforming not only how we live as a species, but also how we see ourselves at our core. IMG_3216

And, in order to journey into this uncharted new phase of human history, we need Freemasonry more than ever. Why? Because behind all the Masonic work and underlying all its rituals and symbolism there can be found the prophetic vision of a new world. It frames a code and system of moral imagination for those who know that their work and actions transform themselves, and their world.

Brother Foster Bailey writes in “Spirit of Masonry”:

“The prophet of old has told us that ‘where there is no vision the people perish.’ In Masonry the vision blazes forth in the East, and towards the materializing of that vision all good Masons work.”

This begs the question: how do all “good masons” work at imagining?

Imagination: From “Ideas” to “Ideals” to “Idols

The scholar Wendy Wright describes the imagination as:

“the crucial capacity of the human person to create a world – either the familiar world of the everyday or a world not yet visible. Our relentless human search for new ways of being and relating, our dreams of beauty, our longings for mercy and justice.”

Wright claims that imagination is the heart of all creative work, allowing us to imagine the unseen and give form to the new. It is essential to all human activity. It gives us the power to recall the past, and to predict possibilities for the future.

1024px-Inside_the_Temple_of_Aboo-symbol-David_RobertsToday, the job of remembering the past has been well documented by research scholars. In our schools and in our lodges, we study the traditional history as it has unfolded down the centuries. But do we spend as much time attempting to imagine a clear picture of the future? Is there a method whereby ideas can be developed?

In the writings of Brother Alice Bailey, she gives an outline broadly speaking of how ideas pass through three stages.

  1. The idea – based on intuitive perception
  2. The ideal – based on mental formulation and distribution.
  3. The idol – based on the materializing tendency of physical manifestation. (This is when the sensed idea unfortunately becomes dogma).

Bailey says that “once an idea becomes an ideal, humanity can freely reject or accept it, but ideas come from a higher source and are imposed upon the racial mind, whether men want them or not.”

Interesting to consider? Not sure I agree with all of that sentence, especially the word “imposed,” but let us see how this method might work.

Imagine: “A Brotherhood of Man”

Take for example the idea of “brotherhood.” Most would say that in its pure state, the idea itself is from a higher source (Divine). In Early America, the impressed idea took flight as a radical thought movement in surprising ways. Brother George Washington and other early American Freemasons abandoned a European past in which an overbearing authority controlled the flow of ideas. A sense of something new was being imagined and being born in America. St._Paul's_Chapel_Great_Seal_Painting

The early masons “worked” to actualize this masonic ideal. They imagined a liberty from the imprisoning conditions of an oppressive class-ridden society. They imagined equality of society based upon universal education and combating ignorance. They imagined a fraternity, where all men are brothers.

Liberty! Equality! Fraternity! These three words were the outcry and ideals of the best minds of the time.

As such, through the imaginative process, the founders of America began to materialize a sensed idea of brotherhood, even if still a rough stone.

Brother Albert Pike writes in Morals and Dogma (1872):

“He who would become an accomplished Mason must not be content merely to hear, or even to understand, the lectures; he must, aided by them, and they having, as it were, marked out the way for him, study, interpret, and develop these symbols for himself.”

Pike stresses that the lectures and teachings must mark out a way. To develop the symbols is to “mark well,” making them manifest in the everyday world.

Great_Seal_of_the_United_States_(reverse).svgA case in point is The Great Seal, which was designed under the direction of accomplished masons such as Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. The Latin motto that is displayed on the unfinished pyramid — Annuit Coeptis Novus Ordo Seclorum — can be approximately, if poetically, translated as: “God Smiles on Our New Order of the Ages.” It expresses Masonic philosophy at its heart.

Thus, in the founding of America we see the three stages of the imagination process that Brother Alice Bailey describes.

And today? What do Freemasons imagine? Perhaps a better question is: How do Freemasons imagine? Sure, the world is not a Utopia yet.  But I have come to realize that the process of imagination can be a path to discovering what is good, true, and beautiful.  And in the words of John Lennon, “it’s easy if you try.” 

“The heart of human identity is the capacity and desire for birthing. To be is to become creative and bring forth the beautiful.” — John O’Donohue

Was Victor Hugo a Freemason?

Was Victor Hugo a Freemason?

Poet, politician, and playwright, Victor Marie Hugo [1802 – 1885] believed in the inherit beauty and worth of all mankind. He sought to lift the masses out of the darkness of ignorance and vanquish injustice by promoting the virtues of liberty, equality, and fraternity. As the leader of the Romantic literary movement, Mr. Hugo crafted a lasting legacy as one of the most influential and beloved writers of his day.

A humanitarian who utilized the written word to influence hearts and minds, Victor supported social causes to improve the lives of the disadvantaged, including ending social injustice and abolishing capital punishment.

Hugo wrote:

“There is a point, moreover, at which the unfortunate and the infamous are associated and confounded in a single word, a fatal word, Les Misérables; whose fault is it? And then, is it not when the fall is lowest that charity ought to be the greatest?”

As key components to liberating the masses, Mr. Hugo advocated for freedom of the press and self-governance by the people. Every individual was worth saving and their salvation was a possibility, in his opinion, as long as the entire society reformed. What did he request for these individuals foundering in darkness? Light. Hugo stated:

“They seem not men, but forms fashioned of the living dark… What is required to exorcise these goblins? Light. Light in floods. No bat resists the dawn. Illuminate the bottom of society.”

Was Victor Hugo a Freemason? There seems to be conflicting information as to his involvement in Freemasonry. Some writers claim he was a Mason, while others write that he was a Rosicrucian or a Martinist. Despite a lack of written record establishing his status as a Mason, Hugo’s writings contain numerous references to Freemasonry and its philosophies. “God manifests himself to us in the first degree through the life of the universe, and in the second degree through the thought of man. The second manifestation is not less holy than the first. The first is named Nature, the second is named Art,” wrote Hugo. Victor Hugo was reported to support one of Universal Co-Masonry’s founders, Brother Marie Deraismes, stating:

“Carry on the Holy work, Honest people honour you and admire you and it is only right and fair to say so.”

The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Les Misérables, and The Legend of the Ages all contain Masonic ideals, concepts, and principles. The Hunchback of Notre Dame’s Quasimodo character may have been based on an operative Mason who worked on the Cathedral, as recently discovered documents reveal evidence of a hunchbacked sculptor who worked on Paris’ Notre Dame cathedral in the 1820s, while Hugo was writing the book. Legend is a collection of poems by Victor Hugo, conceived as an immense depiction of the history and evolution of humanity – from darkness into Light.

Hugo’s characters aspire towards the ideal of perfection, a seemingly impossible dream is given wings through his masterful writings. Jean Valjean’s fortitude against almost insurmountable odds, Javert’s justice, or Cosette’s enduring faith, each is an example of a Masonic virtue personified. Soldiers of the revolution, Hugo’s characters march diligently towards that glorious victory – overthrowing tyrants, trampling evil, developing virtues, and discarding vice. These legendary stories populated with archetypal figures are Hugo’s immortal gift to humanity, providing examples of divine virtues for mankind’s enrichment and emulation.

Hugo was so beloved by the people that when he died – in 1885 at the age of 83 – forty thousand people spent the night on Paris streets and accompanied his casket, from Arc de Triomphe to the Pantheon. It is estimated that more than two million individuals came to pay their respects to the departed writer as part of the funeral procession.


Famous Works: Les Misérables, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Contemplations, The Legend of the Ages

Quotes:

“There is one thing stronger than all the armies in the world, and that is an idea whose time has come.” 

“From remotest antiquity, the human race has employed architecture as its chief means of writing.” 

“From a political point of view, there is but one principle, the sovereignty of man over himself. This sovereignty of myself over myself is called Liberty.” 

 “God is behind everything, but everything hides God. Things are black, creatures are opaque. To love a being is to render that being transparent.” 

“History has its truth, and so has legend. Legendary truth is of another nature than historical truth. Legendary truth is invention whose result is reality. Furthermore, history and legend have the same goal; to depict eternal man beneath momentary man.” 

 

Universal Freemasonry

TO THE GLORY OF GOD

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