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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul Rich and Susan Sommers

Paul Rich and Susan Sommers Photo Credit: Olimpia Sandoval

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Separate But Equal? The Masonic Society’s 2017 Conference

Separate But Equal? The Masonic Society’s 2017 Conference

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace.