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

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

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

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

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

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5) Implement the Order’s Energy Initiative, 6) Finalize the Order’s Technology Initiative, and 7) Commence the Order’s Historical Document Preservation Program.MPS Logo

The Masonic Philosophical Society

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

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

The Masonic Publishing Company

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

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

The Masonic College of Arts and Sciences

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

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

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

Further Steps in the Five-Year Plan

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


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

— Most Sovereign Grand Commander, Magdalena I. Cumsille

Finding the Middle Path: Esoteric and Non-Esoteric Freemasonry

Finding the Middle Path: Esoteric and Non-Esoteric Freemasonry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tree of Life

The Kabbalistic Tree of Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spheres Dante

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ancient Mysteries

Ancient Mystery School Symbolism

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

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

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

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

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

Lovecraft: A Dark Place to Find Light

Lovecraft: A Dark Place to Find Light

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

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

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

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

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

LovecraftBirthPlace

H.P. Lovecraft’s Childhood Home

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

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

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

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

VITRIOL

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

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

LovecraftGrandFather

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


 

The Wisconsin Persecution

The Wisconsin Persecution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It hadn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Success and the Crafty Freemason

Success and the Crafty Freemason

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

 

Who Owns Freemasonry?

Who Owns Freemasonry?

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

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

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

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

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

I can almost hear the crickets.

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

Uh-huh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck putting the chains on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

That word is “shee.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

York Roll unrolled a little

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The corporate name remains the same.

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

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

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

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

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

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