Burns’ Farewell to Masons

Burns’ Farewell to Masons

Written by Bro. Rob Morris, originally published in “Light and Shadows of Freemasonry”


IT was in the latter part of the gloomy 1786, that Robert Burns, the poet, and the Mason, gathered up his thoughts. He had but little else to gather up, preparatory to leaving Scotland forever. Forever! Terrible word to the expatriated, terrible to the poor exile, who turns toward his country as the Jews turned themselves three times a day praying with their faces toward Jerusalem. Terrible in the highest degree to such a man as Burns, who to the most exalted patriotism added the keenest appreciation of home joys and social pleasures.

Disappointment had set its mark upon Robert Burns. The indulgence of passions that raged within him as the pent-up fires rage beneath the sealed crater of the volcano, had brought to him its legitimate consequences in the upbraidings of conscience, the forfeiture of friendship, and, worst of all, the loss of self-respect.

The restraints of Freemasonry had been neglected, while its social joys were most keenly relished; in other words, our tenets had been faithfully sustained, while our cardinal virtues were neglected. The use of the Compasses had never blessed his hands.  The subtle genius, the unequaled gifts that enabled Robert Burns to conceive and execute The Cotter’s Saturday Night, could not confine him into the ordinary channels of prudence, and even then, he was a doomed man.  

BURNS’ TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS

HEAVY debts had accumulated upon him, such as in that barren, unenterprising country, there was but little chance of his ever being able to cancel. He had been summoned to find security for the maintenance of two children, of whom he was forbidden to legitimate by lawful marriage.

As he disdained to ask or tried in vain to find pecuniary assistance in this his hour of need, there was no other alternative remaining for him but a Scottish jail or a flight from Scotland. He had chosen the latter. After much trouble, the situation of assistant overseer on an estate in Jamaica had been secured for him, by one of his few remaining friends. In his own bitter language:

He saw misfortune’s cauld nor’west  
Lang mustering up a bitter blast;  
A jillet brak his heart at last  
Ill may she be!  
So, took a birth afore the mast
An awre tne sea.

He had said farewell to all the friends, they were not many, and to the scenes very many and very dear to their poet’s heart. This he did while skulking from covert to covert under all the terrors of a Scottish jail. His chest was on the road to Greenock. He had composed the last song he should ever measure in Caledonia. It is fraught with solemn thoughts and words, as the reader will see:  

The gloomy night is gathering fast,  
Loud roars the wild inconstant blast,  
You murky cloud is foul with rain,
I see it driving o’er the plain;  
The hunter now has left the moor,  
The scattered coveys meet secure,  
While here I wander, prest with care,  
Along the lonely banks of Ayr.  

The autumn mourns her ripening corn,  
By early winter’s ravage torn;  
Across her placid azure sky,  
She sees the scowling tempest fly:  
Chill runs my blood to hear it rave,  
I think upon the stormy wave,  
Where many a danger I must dare,  
Far from the bonny banks of Ayr.  

‘Tis not the surging billows’ roar,  
‘Tis not that fatal deadly shore;  
Tho’ death in every shape appear,  
The wretched have no more to fear:  
But round my heart the ties are bound,  
That heart transpierced with many a wound;  
These bleed afresh, those ties I tear,  
To leave the bonny banks of Ayr.  

Farewell old Coila’s hills and dales,  
Her heathy moors and winding vales,  
The scene where wretched fancy roves,  
Pursuing past, unhappy loves!  
Farewell my friends, farewell my foes,  
My peace with these, my love with those;  
The bursting tears my heart declare;  
Farewell the bonnie banks of Ayr.

A TRAVELER ON THE ROAD TO GREENOCK

NOW, all other remembered subjects having been marked by the tears of the poet, the poet himself being on the road to the port of Greenock to the ship that should witness his last glance at his native land, his heart turned lovingly, involuntarily, towards Masonry, for Robert Burns was a Freemason, prepared first in his heart.

In none of the vast folios, where stands the vast catalog of our brethren, ancient or modern, is there a character shaped more truly by Masonic skill than his? Nowhere one, who in the expressive language of the Ancient Constitutions would “afford succor to the distressed, divide bread with the industrious poor, and put the misguided traveler into the way,” more cheerfully than Burns.  

He understood right well, “that whoever from love of knowledge, interest, or curiosity desires to be a Mason, is to know that as his foundation and great cornerstone, he is firmly to believe in the eternal God, and to pay that worship which is due to him as the great Architect and Governor of the Universe.”

Robert Burns, thus, governed himself accordingly. There is many a record in the Lodge books of Scotland that gives prominence to his Masonic virtues, and in the higher Lodge, the Grand Lodge of heaven, we have reason to hope the Grand Secretary’s books also bear his name. None lament the weaknesses in his character more than his brethren, but be those defects in number and, in extent, what they may, his brethren protest in the name of their common humanity, against the inhuman judgments that have been pronounced against him.

If the royal dignity, the divine partiality, the unlimited wisdom of Solomon, First Grand Master of Speculative Masonry, could not preserve that Prince of Peace from the errors of the passions, who shall dare too cruelly to judge the son of an Ayrshire cotter, nurtured in penury and debarred the most ordinary relaxations of his age. “Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed, lest he fall.”  

THE HEART TURNED TOWARD FREEMASONRY

LOVINGLY, then turned the heart of Brother Burns towards Freemasonry. The happy hours, the honest friends, the instructive lessons, the lofty desires! Let the brother who reads this sketch endeavor to place himself in the condition of the poor exile, self-expatriated and almost friendless, and he will understand the keenness of his pangs! There came up a vision of his last Masonic night.

The presence of the Grand Master and his noble Deputy; of a gallant array of gentlemen, the chief-est in all the land; and himself with the first among the equals of those who “meet upon the level” to “part upon the square.” There was the cue, it was enough; sitting down by the roadside, he penciled upon the back of an old letter his Masonic farewell. How many a remembrance of Grand Lodges and Subordinate Lodges and social meetings among Masons is attached to these well-known lines:  

Adieu! a heart-warm fond adieu!  
Dear Brothers of the mystic tie!  
Ye favored, ye enlightened few,  
Companions of my social joy!  
Though I to foreign lands must hie  
Pursuing fortune’s sliddry ba’,  
With melting heart and brimful eye  
I’ll mind you still though far awa’.  

Oft have I met your social band  
And spent the cheerful festive night;  
Oft honored with supreme command  
Presided o’er the sons of light;  
And by that hieroglyphic bright,  
Which none but craftsmen ever saw!  
Strong memory on my heart shall write.  
These happy scenes though far awa’!  

May freedom, harmony, and love  
Unite you in the grand design  
Beneath the Omniscient eye above,  
The glorious Architect divine!  
That you may keep the unerring line  
Still rising by the plummet’s law  
Till order bright completely shine –  
Shall be my prayer when far awa’.  

And you farewell! whose merits claim  
Justly that highest badge to wear!  
Heaven bless your honored, noble name,  
To Masonry and Scotia dear!  
A last request permit me here,  
When yearly ye assemble a’,  
One round, I ask it with a tear,  
To him, the bard, that’s far awa’ ! *  

It pleased God at this crisis to turn the destination of Robert Burns and to spare to Scotland and the world, this affectionate heart. By a train of circumstances, almost miraculous, certainly unprecedented, he was brought unexpectedly to the notice of the literary circles of Edinburgh, then as now, the most classic and critical in the world, and with one consent that society placed him foremost in the ranks of his country’s poets.

CALEDONIA’S BARD

FAME and profit then flowed nightly unto him. His pen was put into constant requisition, his company everywhere sought after, and his talents met with their due appreciation. The Masonic Order added its judgment to that of an approving nation.

The Most Worshipful Grand Master Charters, with every member of the Grand Lodge of Scotland, visiting a Lodge in which Burns happened to be present, graciously gave as a toast:

Caledonia, and Caledonia’s Bard, Brother Burns!

Such rang through the whole assembly with multiplied honors and repeated acclamations.  

But he is gone. On the 21st of July, 1796, Robert Burns died. More than ten thousand persons accompanied his remains to the grave, where a spectator observed:

It was an impressive and mournful sight, to see men of all ranks and persuasions, and opinions, mingling as brothers, and stepping side by side down the streets of Dumfries, with the remains of him who had sung of their loves and joys, and domestic endearments, with a truth and tenderness which none perhaps have since equaled.

He is gone, and here in a distant land, a humble admirer of his genius, addresses his memory in the following lines:  

AMERICA’S MASONS TO ROBERT BURNS

The sun is uprising on Scotia’s far hills  
Day’s labor is opening, the Grand Master wills,  
But Lodge-lights are gleaming in cheerfulness yet,  
Afar in the west where we Masons have met.  

There’s song for the tuneful, kind words for the kind,  
There’s cheer for the social, and light for the blind:  
But when we uprising, prepare us to go,  
With one heart and feeling, we’ll sing thy Adieu.  

A melting farewell, to the favored and bright,  
A sorrowful thought, for the sun set in night,  
A round to the bard whom misfortunes befell, 
A prayer that thy spirit with Masons may dwell.  

When freedom and harmony bless our design,  
We’ll think of thee, Brother, who loved every line:  
And when gloomy clouds shall our Temple surround  
Thy brave heart shall cheer us where virtues were found.  

Across the broad ocean two hands shall unite,  
Columbia, Scotia, the symbol is bright!  
The world one Grand Lodge, and the heaven above.  
Shall witness the triumph of Faith, Hope and Love,  

And thou sweetest Bard, when our gems we enshrine,  
Thou jewel the brightest, most precious, shalt shine,  
Shall gleam from the East, to the far distant west,  
While morning shall call us, or evening shall rest.**


~ Article originally published, LIGHT AND SHADOWS OF FREEMASONRY, in 1852.

* The fifth verse unworthy of the connection and highly un-masonic, which is appended to the above in some of our American Manuals, was not written by Buras.  

** AIR “Flow gently, Sweet Aston.”

*** Main Image: The Inauguration of Robert Burns as Poet-Laureate of the Canongate Kilwinning Lodge

Image 1: Bro. Robert Burn’s House

Image 2: Bro. Robert Burns in Masonic Regalia

Image 3: Burn’s Mausoleum in St. Michael’s Churchyard, Completed in 1815


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. 

[Part I] A Very Esoteric Christmas – The Darkest Hour Is Just Before Dawn

[Part I] A Very Esoteric Christmas – The Darkest Hour Is Just Before Dawn

As Christmas swiftly approaches, parts of the world with Christian roots are becoming enchanted with various traditions centered around the story of Christ’s humble birth, as well as secular and non-Christian related Winter Solstice traditions. Whatever one’s faith or lack thereof, it’s hard to ignore this festive time of year, and the dominant story of the world’s largest religion, woven into the carols, ornaments, and decorations it’s strewn with. 

Yes, twinkling lights, glittering decor, and snowy landscapes saturate the collective psyche, in a celebration that blends themes of warmth, love, hope, forgiveness, destiny, generosity, and a central event with such significance that we use it as the demarcation point of our entire calendar.

Jaroslav_Čermák_(1831_-_1878)_-_Sv._Mikuláš
Saint Nicholas of Myra (270 – 343 AD)  by Jaroslav Cermák

Not only is Christmas the end of every year, but also the yearly anniversary of the end of the old world Before Christ, and the birth of the new Anno Domini phase of the human story. The axis of Western history literally rests on this event which we celebrate every December 25th. 

Yet there is much more to this story than the surface images of Winter festivity and the stable-born divine son, surrounded by star-struck wise men and poor shepherds. Indeed, virtually every aspect of Christmas has deep roots in traditions which preceded their adoption into Christianity and it’s birth story; even aspects of the Christmas story itself may be more mythical than historical. Even Santa Claus, sometimes criticized as a fanciful creation of Coca-Cola, has his roots as Sinterklaas (St. Nicolas), dating back to the Middle Ages, or arguably even pre-Christian European traditions. 

So, what exactly are the roots of the Christmas story, and what should we make of them? Do they invalidate our beloved holiday, or is it possible they might give it even deeper meaning?

Will the Real Sun of God Please Stand Up?

Perhaps most famously “exposed” in the First portion of the Zeitgeist film, it’s long been known among scholars that elements of the story of Christ’s life told in the bible exist in many pre-existing traditions, and that certainly includes the circumstances of his birth. It’s virtually undeniable that aspects of the Christmas story are mythological and astrological.  Biblical literalists may argue that these stories were created by demons to trick mankind, but to most rational people unwilling to make such leaps to preserve their beliefs, the realization of Christmas’s mythology is unavoidable.

Religious history is littered with Christ and Christmas prototypes. Of the many Gods or demi-Gods said to be born on December 25th, some of the most famous are Mithras, Apollo, Horus, Osiris, Heracles, Dionysus, and Adonis. Those whose births were foretold by heavenly phenomena like stars or comets include Yu, Lao Tse, Buddha, Mithra, and Osiris. Those who were said to have been born by divine conception, often to a virgin, include Pharaoh Amenkept III, the sun god Ra, Horus, Atis, Dionysus, Perseus, Helen of Troy, Buddha, Mithra, and even Ghengis Khan. The study of Jesus in comparative mythology is an area continually explored by historians and scholars. Son Gods: Horus, Mithra, Krishna, Dionysus

The figure which probably has the most similarity to the Jesus story is Hinduism’s Lord Krishna, who is said to be: God in the form of a man, the second person of a divine trinity, prophesied by wise men and stars to be born of divine conception to a (possibly virginal) member of a royal lineage (and the prophecy was fulfilled), one who performed miracles, cast out demons, was killed by being hung on a tree, then died and descended to Hell before rising again to visit disciples and ascend to heaven, as witnessed by many followers, and was also referred to as a “lion” of his tribe, plus many other correlations. Their biggest difference, perhaps, is that Krishna’s life is believed to have taken place anywhere from 200-3,200 years before Christ’s. 

However, this doesn’t mean that Christ was never born, or never existed. Indeed, there is some historical evidence that Jesus existed, and even if it’s not strong enough to convince some skeptics, “The majority of New Testament scholars and historians of the ancient Near East agree that Jesus existed as a historical figure. [wikipedia]” The existence of mythological elements of Christ’s story are too often used inappropriately as evidence that he never existed, while they are merely evidence that his story was mythologized in the process of Christianity’s spread into pagan Europe, at the most.

Yule Never Guess How Much of Christmas is Pagan

While the story of Jesus’s birth can be traced to the religious mythologies of various ancient civilizations, much of the traditions of Christmas have their roots in more rural pagan celebrations of the Winter Solstice, particularly from Northern Europe. 

Yule or Yuletide was the Norse/Germanic tradition of cutting down and burning a large log, known as the Yule Log, while feasting for however long it took the log to burn, which could be up to 12 days around the Solstice. Many believe this to be the origin of the 12 days of Christmas. The related Midwinter (Winter Solstice) was also considered to be a time, like Halloween, in which the veil between the spiritual and natural world was thinner, and thus carried religious and supernatural significance. 

The lives of ancient Pagan people are believed to have revolved mostly around the agricultural significance of the seasons’ changes in the Northern hemisphere, and the supernatural significance they also took on, being literally matters of life and death. Winter Solstice was a time where preparations for the coming Winter “famine months” of January and February came to a climax, with the slaughter of livestock that could not be fed through the Winter, as well as excess food which could not be properly stored. It also so happened to be the time of year when the wine and beer made from crops grown during the Summer months was sufficiently fermented to be drank and enjoyed.

The Druids Cutting Mistletoe Jacob Thompson
Jacob Thompson (1806-1879), “The Druids Cutting Mistletoe”

So, due to the presence of excess food, meat, and libations, Christmas traditions that likely sprang in part from Yule/Midwinter include feasting and caroling, the Christmas ham/turkey, gifts, and general fire-side festivity. Even the use of evergreen trees and branches as decorations, revered for their ability to thrive and remain green in the depths of Winter, pre-dates the advent of the Christmas tree in early medieval Germany, with the pagans bringing evergreens into their homes as early as 400 A.D. It seems that what Christmas traditions didn’t come from Egyptian, Greek, Roman, or even Indian mythologies have been inherited from pre-Christian, pagan Europe. 

The similar equivalent of Saturnalia existed in Rome, which was spread to most of Europe during the Roman empire; in this case, elements of social chaos and merriment were also added to the general feasting, gladiator fights, gambling, gift-giving, an early form of greeting cards, and general dis-inhibition. The Roman Saturnalia was not unlike an ancient Mardis Gras on steroids, with people wearing costumes and reversing social roles, allowing slaves to become masters and vice versa, and allowing peasants to rule the cities for the week. The feasting and indulgence is also said to have included orgiastic elements, as well, meaning gluttony may not have been the only vice that was indulged. 

Merry Amalgamation of World Myths and Traditions?

While these revelations may be troubling to some, the truth is that all of these various traditions were incorporated into Christmas for a reason or a variety of reasons. All of them were tremendously meaningful to the people from whom they were received, and like mythology itself, carry symbolic significance. So, perhaps rather than being disheartened that Christmas isn’t what we thought it was, we should be intrigued to discover what greater meanings might be hidden in this patchwork tradition. 

In Universal Co-Masonry, we strive to seek the Light of Knowledge wherever it may lead us, however uncomfortable it may be. So, where might the illumination of Christmas’s symbolism take us? More on that in Part 2, coming soon…


As always, this writing does not represent the official views of Universal Co-Masonry, but is simply the reflections of one Co-Mason. 


Featured Image: “Adoration of the Shepherds” (1622), Gerard van Honthorst. Modern secular historians regard the birth narrative in the Gospel of Luke as a legend invented by early Christians based on Old Testament predecessors.

Baseball: America’s Esoteric Pastime?

Baseball: America’s Esoteric Pastime?

It’s difficult to deny America’s status as a state profoundly influenced by esotericism, and specifically Masonry, from it’s very inception. From the number of influential Masons in American history, to the Masonic design of Washington D.C. and many other capital monuments of individual states, and the blatant esoteric symbolism on the American dollar itself – not believing it is simply being either ignorant of the extent of the evidence, or in denial.

So, what else that is quintessentially American has mostly unseen esoteric, and perhaps Masonic significance? In recent articles I’ve discussed Masonic ties to jazz, said to be the only purely American genre of music, and today I’ll present the case that none other than the Great American Pastime, the sport of baseball, may have been influenced by Theosophists and Freemasons in it’s early history, and might carry esoteric symbolism throughout its structure and rules.

As always, this writing does not reflect the official views of Universal Co-Masonry, but is simply the reflections of one Co-Mason.

The Diamond and the Checkered Green

From the beginning, this all might sound a bit like frantic conspiracy theorizing, even if it’s not particularly conspiratorial per se, if we didn’t first acknowledge the well-known fact that one of the central figures of early baseball coming into its modern form, Abner Doubleday, was a Theosophist, and another important figure in it’s early days was a Freemason by the name of Alexander CartwrightWhether Abner or Alexander were truly the sole or primary progenitors of the game is heavily debated, but even if it arose as more of a gradual evolution from its recreational ancestor Rounders, the many esoteric symbols and numbers are difficult to explain away.

esoteric baseballFor starters, there’s the diamond shape of the baseball field itself. While most major sports are played in bipolar rectangles (think soccer, football, hockey, basketball, etc.), baseball is the only one to take place on a diamond, which strongly resembles a square and compass, especially when viewed from the perspective of behind second base, which would make home plate the circular apex of the compass. Whether inverted or not, there’s clearly a resemblance, and the fact that the square end is in dirt may also be related to the earthly qualities said to be represented by right angles.

To take it even further, many baseball fields have recently begun to be mowed in a checkerboard fashion, perhaps unwittingly adding to the Masonic overtones.

All Freemasons will also begin to recognize some similarities of the shape of the field, placement of the bases, and journey of the batter to elements of a Lodge, which I won’t allude to here very concretely. Many may also be surprised and interested to find that the journey of the batter around the bases, in the historical origins of the game, was in reverse of the direction it runs now. The shape of home plate, where the player both begins and ends, may strike a cord. 

A Game of Threes

Three is a number with mystical significance to many esoteric teachings, and Freemasonry is no exception. The 3° being the pivotal point at which a Mason becomes a Master Mason, and the 33° being the penultimate achievement of Masonry, and many other instances of 3 in Masonic Life and Lodge are themselves, of course, symbolic allusions to the deeper significance of the number three. As it so happens, baseball is a game entirely based on 3, and multiples thereof.

The scoring of baseball occurs in threes: 3 strikes, 3 outs, 9 innings, 9 positions, 27 total outs, and 81 each of either at home games or away games. Of course, 3 and 9 have quite interesting mathematical properties in and of themselves, which is partly why they are considered sacred by so many traditions. Nine times any other number equals something which is numerologically nine, and also which divides the ten fingers into it’s product, to name just a couple of it’s “mathemagical” properties

Take Me Out to the Soul Game

Some have also read even further symbolic significance into the nature of how baseball is played, as a metaphor for the soul’s gnostic journey. By such an account, the pitcher is seen as the demiurge throwing obstacles at the batter, who is the individual soul, who must use exact timing and precision to attempt to hit the ball out of the park, representing the soul leaving the limited world of physicality, and allowing the individual to run through the bases without obstruction, as well as allowing any others on the path to pass through as well, representing what happens when a soul becomes illumined, and is able to illumine others. On the other hand, if they “strike out” by not being successful at least 1/3 of the time, then they must go back into the ancestral realm until they’re “called up to bat” at another incarnation. 

Did baseball’s founders intend this extent of esoteric meaning? It’s difficult to say, perhaps we could expect something like that from Abner Doubleday, as a Theosophist, or Alexander Cartwright, a Freemason; but again, the claim of who originated the modern version of the game is hotly contested. If I’m being honest, aspects of it seem to me like a bit of a reach. It’s possible that the way baseball is played actually is a much more mundane metaphor of meeting life’s challenges. Perhaps it’s both.

Ultimately, it’s up to each individual to decide what they think about all that, but it’s nevertheless interesting Masonic food for thought. 

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

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.

 

 

 

Universal Freemasonry

TO THE GLORY OF GOD

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