Dispatches from Maine

Just another person of little note writing about ordinary things. That I reside in Maine is icing on the cake.

08 December 2008

Tours of the Portland Masonic Temple

The Masonic Temple in Portland, Maine has been put up for sale. As a Past Master of Triangle Lodge No. 1, housed in this beautiful temple, I too am sad to see this day come. Unfortunately, the building is simply too expensive for our lowered membership numbers to maintain. The building is owned by the Masonic Trustees of Portland and its head, also the current Master of Triangle Lodge, loves the building perhaps more than anyone else in the State of Maine. He has arranged for an open house on Saturday, December 13th. The facility will be opened to the public from 10am to 2pm with tours of all of its historic halls. At some future day all of this grandeur will be lost to history, so take this opportunity to see what is inside this mysterious and beautiful building. Here is a preview: commercial.

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31 August 2008

A New Season Begins

After a short break from the hectic schedule of a District Officer, the 17th is waking up with a bang! Before the first September event has even occurred I am already scheduled for ten evenings. Pretty wild for there being only twenty-two weeknights available. It is great to see the lodges with so much activity, to many candidates is a good thing. I am more than a little worried about my potential for burnout this year.

I did manage to read a lot of great books over the summer: Committed to the Flames by Morris and de Hoyos, William Preston by Dyer, Freemasonry: Secrets, Symbols, Significance by MacNulty, Knights Templar of the Middle East by Prince Michael, The Magus of Freemasonry by Churton, and a ton of reference materials for my paper and the MEALS Committee. Hopefully, this will provide materials for me to use during my brief Masonic education talks.

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04 July 2008

Why Pay More?

I wanted to write about this earlier, but I wanted to avoid encouraging other bidders. Last week I engaged in a bidding war for a copy of the 1948 cipher, "The Correct Work for Maine." The question is, why would I be willing to pay significantly for a copy of that particular ritual?

Can any of our Maine ritualists answer that question?

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25 June 2008

First Inspection

Here in Maine, the District Education Representative is the right-hand man of the District Deputy Grand Master. I am very fortunate to be working with R.W. Bro. Walter Lamb, who is a big teddy bear and an all around good guy. It is his primary task to examine the records, financials and ritual of ever lodge under his care once per year. This event is a called the "Annual Inspection and Visitation" in our jurisdiction. The Secretary and Treasurer, unless they are new, generally do not sweat the experience at all, but the Master and his officers, whose ritual is being carefully examined, could loose a few pounds due to stress in that one evening.

We attended in the Inspection of R.W. Bro. Lamb's Mother Lodge, Presumpscot Lodge in Windham, this past Monday night. There was a great turnout to see his first Inspection and the two candidates were very attentive. I have little doubt they learned a great deal about the nature of our institution during their Fellow Craft Degree. Perhaps it is a sign of the economic times, but there was a well needed gift to our new District Deputy Grand Master. A Past DDGM, R.W. Bro. Jake Caldwell, remarked that lodges had been cooking a lot of spaghetti of late and poor Bro. Lamb's tuxedo shirt had been taking a lot of pink gunfire from the sauce. To help him endure the saucey onslaught Bro. Caldwell and his wife Judy presented Bro. Lamb a full size cloth bib with flags on the front and the square and compasses on the back. It reminds me why I often wear street clothes to dinner and change into suit or tuxedo before lodge!

This is going to be a great two years!

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24 June 2008

A Contribution to Maine

Working on the Masonic Education and Lodge Services Committee (MEALS) is simultaneously heavy work and a great pleasure. Rarely are we given an opportunity to marshal all so much information in so useful a pursuit. Over the last few months we have been reviewing and updating the "Instructor's Manual." This monumental collection of documents aim to help candidate coaches prepare themselves with suggestions for topics, interpretations of the ritual, and background on our Order and the degrees themselves.

For the most part this task is one of consultation and criticism, only rarely are we able to put something new into the texts. While reviewing the Fellow Craft Instructors Manual I finally had the chance to contribute a bit of new material, which was a real pleasure. As we worked through this document, it was apparent that there was insufficient detail about the symbolism of the "ancient and original Orders in Architecture." The previous paragraph discusses the first three steps in the "flight of winding stairs" and then briefly mentions the Orders in Architecture without additional information. I composed the following additional paragraph, which was accepted by the committee:

There is a hidden message in the first eight steps of the Fellow Craft Degree. Reflecting life around us, our knowledge of the Craft builds upon itself. The first three steps remind us of the three principal officers, which we were taught in the Entered Apprentice Degree represent wisdom, strength, and beauty. The “ancient original orders in architecture” also represent these same three principles. The Ionic column depicts an opened scroll, the very source of learning for the ancients, and represents wisdom. The Doric column is simple and sturdy and thereby demonstrates the essentials of strength. Finally, the Corinthian column is enriched with intricate floral designs on its capital, showing to the entire world its great craftsmanship and beauty. The principal officers, and King Solomon, King Hiram and Hiram Abif, whom they represent, are always depicted with these columns to cement our understanding of these ideas and encourage their application to our lives.

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23 June 2008

Role Changes

Since my last posting I have had a number of new responsibilities added to my Masonic plate. At the Annual Communication in May our Grand Master, M.W. Bro. Robert Landry, appointed me to the position of District Education Representative (DER) for the 17th Masonic District. The 17th is a Cumberland County region consisting of the lodges in Portland, South Portland, Westbrook, Scarborough, Gorham, Yarmouth and Standish. I have never been particularly interested in joining the purple aprons, so named for the color of a Grand Lodge apron, but the job is a genuinely interesting one.

The DER is responsible for assisting with Masonic education in his District. This includes organizing and hosting the Assistant Grand Lecturer with his School of Instruction, giving education presentations to the lodges, and coordinating other speakers. During the past few months, I have offered since my last posting I have had a number of new responsibilities added to my Masonic plate. At the Annual Communication in May our Grand Master, M.W. Bro. Robert Landry, appointed me to the position of District Education Representative (DER) for the 17th Masonic District. The 17th is a Cumberland County region consisting of the lodges in Portland, South Portland, Westbrook, Scarborough, Gorham, Yarmouth and Standish. I have never been particularly interested in joining the purple aprons, so named for the color of a Grand Lodge apron, but the job is a genuinely interesting one.

The DER is responsible for assisting with Masonic education in his District. This includes organizing and hosting the Assistant Grand Lecturer with his School of Instruction, giving education presentations to the lodges, and coordinating other speakers. During the past few months, I offered a few interesting programs including: “4th Night” for Deering Lodge and “Masonic Etiquette” for Harmony Lodge. With any luck the renewed Grand Lodge Speaker's Bureau will provide an opportunity for a variety of speakers to get involved with Masonic education the District.

Another appointment given to me by M.W. Bro. Landry is as a member of the MEALS Committee, where MEALS is an acronym for Masonic Education And Lodge Services. Is responsible for managing the DERs and providing materials to the lodges to help them with administration and education. The committee is presently reviewing our "Candidate Instruction Manual," which gives candidate mentors educational ideas for each of the three degrees. Since the manual includes references to Masonic history and ritual development, the review is taking me the better of eight hours for each section. At our last meeting we spent over two hours just reviewing and approving revisions to the Fellow Craft Degree manual. The experience has been educational as I am constantly forced to pry references from my head to back up, or undermine, assertions made in the manual.

I hope, over the next two years, to be able to give Masonic Light back to my District after all it has given to me.

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23 March 2008

District Meeting

What a day! On Saturday the 17th Masonic District, essentially the Cumberland County region for Maine Freemasonry, had its annual meeting. The Grand Master was in attendance along with more brass than you could count with fingers and toes. Since the event was being held at my Mother Lodge, Deering Lodge No. 183 in Portland, Bro. Chris DiSotto and I ran the dinner. The cooking began at noon and we were able to offer people a choice of prime rib, salmon or an entirely vegetarian pasta dish. Feeding 100 people in a single sitting was a new accomplishment, leaving the entire kitchen crew exhausted by 7:30pm. We were very happy with the results.

The meeting itself was considerably more engaging than I remembered from the past. The District Deputy Grand Master, R.W. Bro. Kenneth Caldwell, ran a fabulous meeting filled with many surprise awards. V.W. Bro. Walter Lamb received the Daniel Carter Beard Award for his work with the Boy Scouts of America. Bro. Chris DiSotto received the Mason of the Year Award from the District. While ordinarily each of the nine lodges recommends a different Brother, this year six of the nine joined together in recommending Bro. DiSotto for his work within the District. It was a moving moment for a good man. Another wonderful Deering Lodge Brother, Bro. Robert Wade, Sr., received a very special award. He was appointed as Assistant Grand Tyler. His son was previously a Grand Steward making for two Grand Officers in one family!

The remarks by the Masters of the District, dignitaries and Grand Master were very interesting. There were two which made a particular impact on me. R.W. Bro. Ray McLellan, Master of Casco Lodge in Yarmouth, is in charge of a very active, community focused lodge. He is having a lot of success at his lodge and brings an "old school" sense of dignity to the office which is a good reminder for we younger Masters. Hopefully we will be able to set up opportunities for him to convey his know-how to officers in the other lodges. While not every lodge should necessarily be so focused on the community, they might be able to use a few of his techniques. The other interesting remarks were by the Grand Master. He noted two important shifts in membership statistics at the Grand Lodge level. First, our average age for new members has dropped from the 40s to the 30s, a great sign for the fraternity. Second, the number of new members is greater than the number of suspensions, for non-payment of dues, for the third consecutive year. These are both very good signs for the Craft and analyzing why their causation will take more time to uncover.

The final news to come from the District Meeting is the appointment of V.W. Bro. Walter Lamb as our new District Deputy Grand Master and yours truly as the new District Education Representative. Our installation will take place on the first Tuesday in May after the Annual Communication of Grand Lodge. I have high hopes that we will make a good team stewarding the District through an exciting time of growth and change. The family tells me that I get no special privileges as a "Very Worshipful" and I still have to do all my chores. Darn!

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16 March 2008

Changing Ritual

Since I mentioned my concerns about the Scottish Rite ritual in passing yesterday, I thought I should provide some valuable context. My specific area of research is the development of Masonic ritual, with a focus on its development here in New England. Freemasons, in modern times, believe their ritual is today as it always has been. This could not be further from the truth. Here in Maine, for instance, the ritual underwent several significant revisions:

  • 1820

    We lost our use of the Antients Ritual and shifted exclusively to the Moderns (Webb) style.

  • 1852-1855

    The Grand Lodge of Maine agreed upon an authorized ritual as exemplified by M.W. Bro. John Miller. The ritual style we inherited from the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts had been lost when they moved to the Baltimore Ritual in 1844.

  • 1874

    The Grand Lodge of Maine adopted new lectures as performed by M.W. Bro. Timothy Murray.

  • 1894

    The Grand Lodge of Maine commissioned a committee to review and publish a new authorized ritual, plain text, for the exclusive use of the Grand Lecturer. This ritual shed a number of very beautiful elements in favor of brevity.

  • 19?? (I have not yet reached the 20th century...)

    A final revision of the ritual, which I have not yet found, added a number of new elements, included two new exchanges between the Master and Deacons. It also restructured the Master Mason lecture in a way that materially changed the symbolic portion of the lecture.

These revisions added a few pieces of valuable coordination in the catechism, but in general shortened some of the more beautiful language. The changes to the Master Mason lecture in particular are disappointing because they brought the Master's Carpet into the exoteric class, rather than leaving it as an independent element. Suddenly all of the very old slides which do not include the Master's Carpet make a lot of sense!

Having learned so much of this history, I dearly wish I could go back and speak with the Past Grand Lecturers and Past Grand Masters and warn them. They firmly believed that they were hewing to a more ancient form of the ritual, but with all of the documents to come to light since 1894 and all of previously secreted manuscript ciphers this assertion appears unfounded. Rather than restore an older ritual, they created a new distinct one. The ceremonies are only mildly less beautiful, yet would that we could prevent those changes from having happened.

With this in mind, I try to pay careful attention to any changes to ritual and attempt to look forward a hundred years to imagine the impact of the change. Any revision which results in a massive shortening of the degree has, in my opinion, a significant risk of being amplified in the future leaving us with but a hint at its ancient beauty. Here in Maine, I have been happy with the openness of our Masonic leaders to talk through such matters and seriously consider the impact before making a change. It appears, in like manner, the Scottish Rite (NMJ) is also open to such conversation. I look forward to gaining more understanding regarding our own process for revising the ritual and sharing my concerns regarding the long term impact of shortening.

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15 March 2008

Seriously Zerubbabel

For the past three years I have been playing Zerubbabel for the Scottish Rite Valley of Portland. Previously my role was limited to Zerubbabel in his later years, as recorded in the Apocrypha, when he returns to Persia to ask for the help of Darius to ensure the completion of the Second Temple. The role is a lot of fun, but is very serious. You have to play a man so imbued with righteous anger that he is willing to fly off the handle in front of the King and his nobles. Having argued with my share of Developer Kings and Masonic Kings, I find the role a quite natural fit.

This year the part of Zerubbabel in the 15th degree was added to my plate. While I was more than mildly disappointed in the 2005 version of the ritual[1], the role itself was a thrilling experience. This degree takes place at the end of the Babylonian Captivity and revolves around the interactions of Zerubbabel and Cyrus and Zerubbabel and Abazar. In simple terms, Cyrus is the judge and Abazar is the tempter, classical templates there. Considering the intensity of the dialog, I found the passivity of the guards to be quite odd. During the rehearsals this year I kept prodding them to be more forceful until finally they decided to get the better of me. One of my most valued Masonic mentors played the role of Abazar and he too was more than willing to push me around as well. By the end of the play, when the tempted, threatened, and tortured Zerubbabel is brought before King Cyrus, who shouts at him to answer immediately, it did feel real. The guards and I were breathing heavily from our struggle and I was easily able to summon up a sense duress. Rather than the refusal being haughty or noble, it felt more tired as if I would die rather than surrender. That is the young Zerubbabel as I see him now.

Having understood, for the first time, the first degree, the second gained a completely new richness. I see with new eyes the Zerubbabel I had loved for years. Perhaps his words in the first section of the 16th degree sound more petulant to me now than before, but it certainly gives a better insight into how to play that role effectively and clearly. I also heard, for the first time, the ritual music of the 16th, but I will write about that later. Now more than ever I want to study and understand the Scottish Rite Degrees. My thanks go out to R.W. Bros. Jake Caldwell and Jeffry Simonton for getting me into the Scottish Rite. Some days it makes me crazy, but no matter what I still love it.

[1] I would like to add that the Sovereign Grand Commander, Ill. Bro. McNaughton, and his Ritual Committee have been very gracious in engaging in a dialog with me about my concerns. This kind of openness really impresses me about the Scottish Rite.

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08 March 2008

Albert Pike

At long last, I finally ordered a copy of Morals and Dogma. Having seen so many unopened copies floating around I had intended to wait until a kind soul offered me their copy for free. Unfortunately, having been in the Scottish Rite a few years now, my keen interest in reading Albert Pike's magnum opus has outweighed my patience. I have one other work by Pike, Sepher h'Debarim, and a daunting text it is. I have tried, on several occasions, to really concentrate and read this book. While I did learn a number of interesting things, some of his ideas were then, and are now, called into question by professional scholars, raising as to the validity of his other translations. It is also more of a reference work, to be used when studying the origin and relationship of words used in the Craft and Scottish Rite Degrees. Hopefully, Morals and Dogma will be less impenetrable than the Sepher h'Debarim!

On the topic of Pike and Scottish Rite ritual. I have become quite interested in the history and development of Scottish Rite ritual here in the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction. These previous ten years have found the Craft ritual in general, and specifically here in Maine, as my primary focus of study. As I ascend through the Yates Lodge of Perfection here in Portland, the Scottish Rite ritual is becoming an item of strong interest. I have been given access to read the most recent versions of the 4th-16th degrees, and as always there are more questions than answers. With any luck I will be able to obtain access to the versions over the last hundred years or so and begin to understand how the degrees have grown and changed.

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01 December 2007

Installation at Cumberland Lodge

This evening I was pleased to be able to assist in the Installation of Officers for Cumberland Lodge No. 12. The new Master for the year is Wor. Bro. Kurt Ringrose, a co-worker at DeLorme who contributes significantly to the product I oversee, so it thrilled me to be able to participate. The evening flowed very smoothly with Wor. Bro. Steven Cobb as the Installing Master and two experienced Past Masters assisting as the Installing Marshal and Installing Chaplain. Wor. Bro. Cobb performed very well particularly considering it was his first crack; he was far less nervous than I on my first attempt! I installed the Wardens and Secretary along with doing the candle charges for the Master and Wardens. A great time was truly had by all, which is to be expected for a lodge with so many young, excited officers! Wor. Bro. Ringrose is set to have a great year in the Oriental Chair.

So many Maine Masons have witnessed the installation ceremony without knowing much about its history. One of the earliest versions of the installation ritual can be found in Wor. Bro. William Preston's seminal work "Illustrations of Masonry" in Book 2, Section 6 "The ancient ceremonies of the Order". Though it is not quite the same as our ceremony, you can see our roots in its structure and language. Much of what Preston wrote way back in 1772 is still part of our installation today.

To all of the students of Masonic ritual out there, what was the next edition of the installation and why was that ritual so important in the 18th century?

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13 November 2007

Of Revolutions and Reforms

I thought I was in on the writings of the major Masonic revolutionaries of the day with Bros. Tim Bryce, Theron Dunn and Widow's Son, yet none of them hold a candle to the cogent thesis of Wor. Bro. Frederic Milliken. His paper "Of Revolutions and Reforms" is wonderfully written and makes a young Freemason want to charge the Grand Lodge Bastille. I recognize myself and my would be reformer Brothers in his descriptions of the stretched-thin, battle weary men trying vainly to reform Freemasonry from within. Yet, at the same time I am watching us change Freemasonry at both low and high levels every day. After ten years of hard work I get to see lodges embrace a true traditional past of good work and solid understanding of the ritual.

As I have said before, Maine is blessed with a good system of Grand Lodge government and, in most cases, genuinely good leadership. We do have our share of men lost in the "members, members, members" struggle who sit idly by while the ritual, learning and fraternalism of their bodies literally collapses in a heap. Yet, I continue to have high hopes and high expectations for Maine Freemasonry. I just hope I can last long enough to see that beautiful world born.

(By the way, to all of the Masonic esotericists out there, I need some assistance with a paper I am writing and would appreciate some assistance. The title is currently "Masonic Gnosis" and is inspired by the writings of Tobias Churton.)

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18 October 2007

That Successful Feeling

Part of loving the ritual is listening to it performed with different stylistic interpretations. I have often imported practices witnessed in other jurisdictions, for instance, replacing the slides for the Entered Apprentice lectures with what is now considered "The Deering-style walking lecture." Really, it is just the style I saw at St. John's Lodge in Portsmouth, NH and imported to my Mother Lodge. From the English I picked up singing "so mote it be" and from Tranquil Lodge at Lewiston, ME I picked up a new style for exchanging the Entered Apprentice's and Fellow Craft's Words.

Last night was the annual Inspection and Visitation at Harmony Lodge in Gorham. The officers did a great job and it was a real pleasure to see young men doing such good work. The Master was one of the Brothers at Tranquil Lodge and he too heard the new exchange style. They employed the new style with great skill making it a proud moment for all of us. The new style is taking root in the 17th District!

The other difference in the ritual was even more thrilling. At the class on the Development of Masonic Ritual I discuss the phrase "...always hail, forever conceal, and never reveal..." in Maine ritual. The word "hail" was originally "hele" and it means "hide; cover; roof". The pronunciation of the word is up for serious debate among Masonic scholars (See "Notes on 'Hele'"). Nevertheless, the consensus among Masonic scholars of note, particularly the late Harry Carr, is the three words were always intended for form a rhyme for easy memorization and stronger impact. If the word, therefore, is to be pronounced "hail" then the others should be "con-sale" and "re-vale", however, if the other two are using a modern pronunciation then the triplet should be "heal" "conceal" and "reveal". Having discussed this at two classes and in other presentations I was both astounded and pleased when the Master of Harmony Lodge said "...always hele, forever conceal and never reveal...".

As the District Deputy Grand Master said in his remarks, "He looked like a proud papa." And so it was. Never insisting or demanding, just teaching and seeing the lessons take root and grow. I am proud of the young men in the District, their fine work and their efforts to make Masonic ritual grow in beauty. Renewal is a beautiful thing...

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06 October 2007

Fellow Craft Words

In the ten years I have been a Freemason, there have been two important innovations in the Schools of Instruction. The first was a change of format created by R.W. Bro. Jeffry Simonton and R.W. Bro. A. James Ross. They opened up the schools and put them back in the hands of the District, transferring substantial controls to the people in attendance rather than vesting it all in the Grand Lecturers. This change continues to appreciate in value as the years go on.

The second change, made by our present Grand Lecturer, R.W. Bro. Steve Nichols, was to focus on not just the words themselves, but also their meanings. Since so much of the ritual was written in the 18th century the words employed have often passed out of usage years ago. The classic is hele (hail in Maine), the link was provided by Bro. John Nickerson, but there are many others: palliate, obdurate, fine (#1), and so on.

As we discussed the Fellow Craft Degree last week, Bro. Nichols zeroed in on two words which many Brethren whip past without hesitation: vicissitudes and bourn. His definition of these two words "change" and "milepost," respectively, lead to an extended email discussion between he and I. He has graciously given me permission to publish that conversation here.


The line in Maine Masonic Ritual is "It furnishes us with dwellings and convenient shelters from the vicissitudes and inclemencies of the seasons.".

From: Christian Ratliff
Date: 26 September 2007
To: Steve Nichols


I could not find a dictionary at the School of Instruction, but I was not sure the definition of 'vicissitudes' was entirely accurate. While it can indicate 'change' there is a subtlety to the word, when used with a natural phenomenon like weather, which I believe is crucially important to understanding the meaning of the line "..vicissitudes and inclemencies of the seasons...". The full definition of the word is:

Main Entry:
vi·cis·si·tude Listen to the pronunciation of vicissitude
\və-ˈsi-sə-ˌtüd, vī-, -ˌtyüd\
Middle French, from Latin vicissitudo, from vicissim in turn, from vicis change, alternation — more at week
circa 1576

1 a: the quality or state of being changeable : mutability b: natural change or mutation visible in nature or in human affairs
2 a: a favorable or unfavorable event or situation that occurs by chance : a fluctuation of state or condition
b: a difficulty or hardship attendant on a way of life, a career, or a course of action and usually beyond one's control c: alternating change : succession

I believe the meaning our founders, in particular Wor. Bro. William Preston, intended was that of 2a or 2b. Not so much 'change' as events which occur at random, beyond our control and occasionally create hardship. You can see the semantic there more closely aligns with an impulse that would lead man to develop from cave living to lean-tos to more and more advanced housing. Mere change is not sufficient to start this process.

To which he replied:
From: Steve Nichols
Date: 26 September 2007
To: Christian Ratliff


Your point is well taken. For a long time I considered the second definition to be the only meaning of "vicissitudes," that is, a change for the worse in some situation, something that caused a problem or pain. When I encountered the word in the ritual, I went back to the dictionary and found the first definition, with the emphasis on change. Since there were not three (the number three keeps popping up in the ritual) words modifying "weather," I concluded that the intent was to contrast the change suggested by the word "vicissitudes" and the difficulties suggested by the word, "inclemencies." Of course, I can always fall back on the old saw about each Mason drawing his own conclusions. Perhaps we should have--or should in the future--pursue the several possible interpretations of the word, "vicissitudes," during the Schools of Instruction. It is my fervent ambition to lure the attendees into reflecting on the sources and meanings of the words in the ritual, even if I don't know exactly what those sources and meanings are myself.
Never wanting for an opinion, I responded:

From: Christian Ratliff
Date: 26 September 2007
To: Steve Nichols

I would suggest reading the line this way:

It furnishes us with dwellings and convenient shelters from the unpredictable and hostile weather of the seasons.

The intent of "unpredictable" is not give a sense of comfortable but to remind us that not only is weather destructive, but it also will assault us when we are least prepared. Having a stable structure to run to in such circumstances is not just in our best interests, but also may save us. If the line instead read:

If furnishes us with dwellings and convenient shelters from the changing and hostile weather of the seasons.

The depth of our non-control of the weather is not as evident. It also ceases to convey the sense that weather has long been the enemy of man and only through adaptation to its requirements have we been able to survive. The weather does not just change, it eludes and defies us. In any case, I completely agree that it would be great to see more deep discussion of the meaning of our ritual.

This discussion revolved around the line "and remembering that we are traveling on the level of time, to that undiscovered country, from whose bourne no traveler returns." Bro. Nichols defined the term "bourn" as milepost, as in a mile marker along a roadside in Europe.
From: Christian Ratliff
Date: 3 October 2007
To: Steve Nichols


Back to meanings again. I have been thinking of the definition you gave for "bourn(e)" at the School of Instruction. Given that we are talking about Preston borrowing from Shakespeare, the context is the great soliloquy from Hamlet, "To be, or not to be." The section in question is:
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered country, from whose bourn
No traveler returns, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have,
Then fly to others that we know not of.

The point of the word bourn in this context is less "milepost" and more "border" or "limit." The meaning being "once you cross over the border into death, you will not come back." The image, to my mind, is death as a great barrier through which you cannot see inward nor escape outward. During the late Reformation era, in which Shakespeare, was writing the view was gradually changing regarding death. Rather than the Catholic view of "confess before death and be saved" or the Protestant view of "accept Jesus and be saved," intellectuals like John Donne, and by extension Shakespeare, are putting forward a new perspective that death is a complete unknown. Notice that Hamlet fears killing himself not because of the injunction of God, but because he has no idea what happens after death. Furthermore, he can never know because no one returns from thence once they cross over that great border.

Turning back to Freemasonry we have the working tools lecture:
I now present you the working tools of a Fellow Craft. They are the plumb, square and level. The plumb is an instrument made use of by operative Masons to raise perpendiculars, the square to square their work and the level to lay horizontals, but we as free and accepted Masons are taught to make use of them for more noble and glorious purposes. The plumb admonishes us to walk uprightly in our several stations before God and man, squaring our actions by the square of virtue, and remembering that we are traveling upon that level of time to that undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns.

In this, fuller context the entire lecture appears to say, "when you are alive (plumb) always act rightly (square) so that when you die (level) and cross into the afterlife (bourn) you will be found worthy." Even the physical meaning of the tools give us the imagery of life and death: the plumb is upright and alive, the square is the test of rightness and the level lays us down horizontal and in death.

I would suggest that in talking with people about the word "bourn" we should use the imagery of a border and disclose to them that these lines are Shakespeare's Hamlet as borrowed by William Preston.

Steve replied


Not only do I not mind, but I encourage the publication of your discussion of the meaning of "bourn(e)." I find your reasoning on the subject very convincing. My introduction to the term "borne" (yet another spellling) came from my time in France, where the use of the word is widespread and where everyone understood that it meant a milestone. The concept of a boundary or limit, however, is a further definition, equally acceptable. The context in which the word is used generally determines which definition best fits its use. I rather hope that your discussion of "bourne(s)" will generate some difference(s) of opinion. As you know, one of my fondest hopes is that an interest in the discussion of the meaning of our ritual will grow and foster a better understanding of the Masonic words which we fling about with the greatest abandon.


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27 August 2007

Quantity v. Quality in Freemasonry

In the discourse at Grand Lodge there are always those set of Brethren who use the words from the past to establish their points. Any historian, even a rank amateur like myself, knows that armed with enough time you can find a quote or precedent to support any position. While reading the Proceedings of 1861 I ran across a gem of rare brilliance. No doubt one of Maine's Past Grand Masters will take this to heart, particularly considering its source!

But the chief source of danger to us, is a too rapid increase in our numbers. We fear nothing from without. All our danger is from within. Masonry has stood the test of ages, and the waves of persecution which have beat against her have only established her on a surer foundation. Her strength and support depend on the character of those who uphold her. How closely then should we scrutinize the character of those who seek admission among us. Our strength depends not on the quantity but the quality of our members. One unworthy member casts a blot on the whole fraternity. One mis-shaped stone mars the symmetry of the whole temple. One defective pillar may cause the ruin of the whole edifice. None of us have forgotten the wait of anguish, which went up from ever New England town, a little more than a year ago, when that terrible calamity occurred in that young but busy City in our mother commonwealth. A single pillar, fair without, but unsound and defective within, gave way, and in a moment that vast structure was a mass of ruin, burying beneath it the mangled forms of those whom it should have supported and protected. Let this be a lesson to us, that every new member should be a pillar of adamant to our institution, giving way to no pressure from within or without: that we should not content ourselves with a fair outside, but examine his internal qualifications and suffer no flaw or defect to escape us, else he may prove unable to support the character of our order, and involve himself and us in one common ruin. The fathers understood this and governed themselves accordingly.

Address of the Grand Master of 1861
M.W. Bro. Josiah Hayden Drummond
Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Maine, Vol. 4, pg. 156

This is sound advice echoing from the ages: Guard the West Gate! What fine quote that might make for a newsletter: "Remember my Brothers the concern for membership is not to gain many, but to find one worthy and well qualified man though it take a lifetime. As one Past Grand Master said 'Our strength depends not on the quantity but the quality of our members.'"

Let no man tell you Masonry needs many more "members," what Masonry really needs is a few more Brothers!

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05 August 2007

Living Practical Masonry

As I continue my research into the development of Masonic ritual in Maine, I came across this beautiful description of how hard it is to move from the theory of Masonry to its practice:
Almost fifty-three years of my life I have been connected with the Masonic institution; I have spent many pleasant hours with brethren, some of whom are gone, while others live; I have received many tokens of their kind regard. During that period, I have paid some attention, as my brethren all know, to the theory of Masonry; but have always found the practical part of Masonry, the hardest and most difficult to learn; and should I be inquired of, how that can be overcome and made less difficult, I know of no better answer or advice to give, than to set your standard of morals high. All aim for it, all strive to win the prize; and if any should seem to come short of it, as you probably will, it may afford you some satisfaction to reflect that God looks at the motive; and that, although David was not permitted to build the temple, yet he was blessed because he had it in his heart so to do.

M.W. Bro. John Miller of Warren, Maine
Grand Lecturer 1822-1854*
Grand Master 1855
As a ritualist and passable Masonic scholar I understand the theory Masonry very well, but as a man my practical Masonry requires a lot of work. All around me I see other brilliant ritualists and scholars in the midst of the same struggle. I hope, one day, to be able to reflect on my life and believe with sincerity that I was as good a practicing Mason as a student of it, but I suspect I will have little more luck than King David.

* The position of Grand Lecturer came and went often during the period 1822 to 1854, but whenever there was such a post Bro. Miller was among them. When the Grand Lodge of Maine saw fit to standardize the Master Mason Degree it was Bro. Miller seated in the East for the exemplification.

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16 July 2007

The History of Masonic Ritual in Two Parts

I received word from the Maine Masonic College that my petition for a new class plan has been approved. The class will be held at Benevolent Lodge in Carmel on Saturday, September 15th. The first section of the class will last from 9am to noon and cover the history of Masonic Ritual in Europe including the three key periods: obligation, catechism and lecturing. We will then break for an hour to have lunch and an open discussion, this was a segment of the class sorely missed last time. The class will reassemble at 1pm and spend two hours working through Masonic Ritual in the United States. This section of the class is most exciting to me as it will be an opportunity to share my own research material on the history of Masonic Ritual in Maine.

There are two more items which will make this class even more engaging. The first is my own research notes, which are already at 36 pages as extracted from the Proceedings of Grand Lodge and the records of several lodges. I anticipate this material will eventually cover the period 1820-1893, allowing us to go right up to the first written cipher. I am presently working on the year 1855, when the Grand Lodge finally formalized the Master Mason Degree here in Maine.

The second is even more exciting. I have, on loan from Triangle Lodge No. 1, a complete set of hand-written rituals from the early 1870s, previous to the first printed cipher. I am in the process of transcribing this material and printed copies of this early ritual will be distributed to those in attendance at the class. Just imagine the chance to see first hand the difference between the current ritual and that used by our brethren more than 130 years ago!
"...that cement which unites us into one common band of Friends and Brothers."
Not quite how we say it today, is it?

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15 July 2007

A Bright Star in the Masonic Galaxy

As I continue to labor on my research project, Events in Maine Ritual History, I am entertained by wonderful anecdotes recorded in the Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Maine. The report of the Committee on Foreign Correspondence is never without its entertaining high points. This one is a clear winner:

Some progress has been made in the lodges of North Carolina in raising subscriptions for a masonic college, in accordance with a proposition made some years ago.
In their notice of the report of this Grand Lodge of 1850, they say:
"Our brethren in Maine are the men to accomplish what they undertake; and we feel assured they will do all that can be done to promote the harmony and interests of the craft. The Grand Lodge of Maine is a bright star in the masonic galaxy. May she shine forever."

Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Maine, Vol 2, pg. 242

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Mount Kineo Table Lodge

What a wonderful weekend! Mount Kineo Lodge No. 109 in Guilford was hosting a Table Lodge to honor R.W. Bro. Howard C. Weymouth. Bro. Weymouth is the Most Illustrious Grand Master of the Council of Royal and Select Masters for Maine and just an all around good guy. The moment we heard of this event four Brothers from Deering Lodge ordered tickets and made plans to take the two hour drive to Dexter. Bro. Chris DiSotto, the Senior Deacon of Deering Lodge, was raised at Mount Kineo and we have felt a debt to the lodge ever since for raising up such and excellent brother. Joining them for a Table Lodge seemed like a great thing to do.

We four, Chris DiSotto, Christian Brocard, Bob Wade II and I, left Portland at 2:30pm and made for Dexter where we dropped off our gear at Bro. DiSotto's camp. The camp itself was a beautiful design with a large living room, loft and two bedrooms. The most beautiful feature must be the huge screened in porch. I can easily see spending an entire day reading on that porch. In short order we headed over to Guilford to the Table Lodge.

Now a Table Lodge is no simple dinner. It is a seven course meal with toasts between each course. The toasts are well established: President, Grand Master, Master, Wardens, Members in the Armed Forces, Visting Members and Masons Wheresoever Dispersed Over the Face of the Earth. Rather than transcribe the ritual take a look at Phoenix Masonry's Table Lodge Ritual. Does anyone know what "vivat!" means? I gather it has something to do with "life" since the root "vivo" is "to live."

As it turned out I was called on to return the toast to the Masters, as I am the Worshipful Master of Triangle Lodge No. 1, and did so with an ineptitude to great to describe accurately. At least I was able to laugh at the performance! On the other hand, Wor. Bro. Bob Wade II was requested to return the toast to the Members in the Armed Forces. He brought all of Marine skill and excellent ritual to bear and as the Installation ritual says "...acquitted himself with honor and reputation...". It was clear to all why Wor. Bro. Wade is know by the nickname "Bro. Vivat!"

Following the dinner we made for camp and sat by a roaring bonfire listening to Johnny Cash and sipping Glenmorangie Port Wood Finish. What a great weekend and a fine night!

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25 May 2007

Saving a Masonic Temple

I was elected last night as a member of the Board of Trustees responsible for the Masonic Temple in Portland. We are in a similar situation to many Grand Lodges with old Masonic buildings in the city core: high expenses (heat, electricity, parking, etc), plenty of internal and external maintenance to be done, and restricted income (primarily rent). I would love to hear suggestions for how other such groups have recovered from a similar situation? I would hate to see the work of great men like Augustus Schlotterbeck lost as office space or condos. What we have in Portland is a real turn of the century jewel and it is our task to ensure this jewel is available for future generations of Freemasons.

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Lodge of Perfection

Last night I attended the annual meeting of the Scottish Rite Valley of Portland. The meeting itself was an experience: one meeting chaired by the heads of the four bodies. Jeff Simonton, Sovereign Prince of the Portland Council Princes of Jerusalem, did a nice job running the meeting, but things were periodically...entertaining. The funniest moment had to be the report of the Secretary for Maine Consistory.

In the membership changes list their was a notation "Undone Deaths 2". Huh. Weird. I proceeded to ask if resurrections were a feature of membership. There was a lot of head scratching until everyone found the line I was talking about. The Secretary explained that Lexington, location of the Supreme Council for the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, provides these occasionally. Being unable to help myself, I asked, "If Lexington hands out two resurrections a year to each Consistory, why isn't this in our membership brochure?" Can you imagine? "Join the Maine Consistory, and if you die you are automatically entered into our lottery for the two annual resurrections." Of course, in the end it was just a matter of a misreported death being corrected. When I explained this to my wife she called them "zombies." I like my idea better.

The meeting concluded with the election of officers. Chris DiSotto was elected a member of the Finance Committee and appointed as Captain of the Guard for the Lodge of Perfection. I was elected as a member of the Board of Trustees for the Masonic Temple in Portland and appointed as Orator for the Lodge of Perfection. This is going to be a busy year.

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20 May 2007

Teaching the Ritual

Bro. Tom Accuosti, of the Tao of Masonry, posted the following comments regarding my being appointed the District Ritual Instructor here in the 17th:

Yes! Another ritual dude on the blogscape! That's excellent news, Bro. Chris, and personally, I'm very happy for you.
In Conn we already have "plain English" books - the task for me is getting some members to actually open them up and look at the words.

I understand precisely what he is talking about. The 17th, and I believe Maine Masonry in general, has been struggling to develop its new generation of ritualists. Some of our programs have been successful while others have been significantly less so. The Schools of Instruction moved during the last several years from a recitation of the ritual words where the intent was to cover as much material as possible in the shortest amount of time, to a deeper exploration of the ritual and its meaning. This shift from a quantitative to a more qualitative experience was good for those Brethren who were already attending and it helped birth some of our new ritualists. I fully intend to continue that transition by emphasizing that both the words and their meaning are key when I am called on to assist lodges.

With all of the wonderful changes to the Schools of Instruction, the one missing ingredient is the attendance of more lodge officers. In talking with R.W. Bro. Steven Nichols, Grand Lecturer, and reading through the history of the Grand Lecturer in the archives of the Grand Lodge, I have come to the realization that the Schools were established to reduce the load on the Grand Lecturer and his assistants. Now that each District has a District Ritual Instructor, a return to an older style of education might be a good idea. The traditional mechanism was for the Grand Lecturers to go visit the lodges and spend evenings going over the ritual with them. I hope to reawaken this practice by visiting lodges on their Stated Communication nights. After the lodge is closed, I will sit down with any interested officers and brethren to review whatever part of the ritual they desire. I was pleased to have Hiram Lodge in South Portland invite me to review the Middle Chamber lecture before my appointment as District Ritual Instructor. Hopefully, this will be the first of many such tutorials.

One program which has met with less success has been the Certified Ritual Instructor program. In my personal opinion, a major reason for this has been the principle of Brotherly Love. This is an idea which is close to the heart of every good Freemason, and none of us wants to hurt someone's feelings. Unfortunately, too much love can dilute the value of the thing being sought. In more blunt language, people who should have never earned the Certified Ritual Instructor card did and their lack of true knowledge and skill made the certification of less value. Lest anyone feel like I am talking about them, I am not. I am speaking of myself. The first time I took the test I should have been failed on the Entered Apprentice Lesson II, since I missed two more words than I am allowed. The kindly District Ritual Instructor and District Deputy Grand Master, two men whom I hold in the highest regard, felt that I should pass regardless likely due to the Brotherly Love they bore for me.

With the post of District Ritual Instructor it now falls to me to certify ritualists. I plan, at the Inspections and Schools this year, to tell the Brethren of my District that I will hold us all to very high standards, so that when a Brother says, "I am a CRI for the 17th District" everyone will know there is a truly skilled ritualist. I also plan to certify in one degree at a time, based on something I saw and was very impressed with in Florida. At the Schools I will introduce the Certified Ritual Instructors and try to have them added to the suite at Inspections. The idea here is not just to add yet another honor, but instead it is twofold. First, I do want people to feel like they are really earning both the certification and applause of their Brethren by virtue of genuinely hard work. Second, to circulate the identities of these men, so that the budding ritualists in the District will know who to go to for help with their ritual.

Like all ideas, these may well fail, but they may also help to produce the next generation of ritualists in the 17th District.

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30 April 2007

RAV4 Trip Report

First of all, I purchased my 2007 RAV4 4x4 V6 Limited for one major reason: fishing trips. I have to drive this car to work every day, so I could not afford (fuel) to go for a heavy 4x4 vehicle like the FJ Cruiser or some Jeep (see also, reliability). I wanted this car to be able to go up into the woods on camp roads and logging roads, to ford small (4" or so) water flows and generally handle well both on and off road. There is a fairly strong tradition in Maine toward beating your car to death (a.k.a "pushing vehicles to their limit") and so nearly as many family sedans are seen up in the woods as larger trucks. Adhering to this tradition I had a Mazda 626 LX before and stuck it in the mud on camp and logging roads a few times. After the last trip hurt my poor Mazda, I had enough...

The guys and I had a trip to the woods all scheduled for last weekend (Thursday to Sunday). Part of the trip was to get camp ready for the summer, part of it was to do some too early fishing and part of it was to test out my RAV4. It rained and it rained and it rained in the week or so before the trip, ensuring the unpaved camp road would be a mess. Then it rained a few more days right before the trip to be sure. We threw a comealong, towstrap and lots of stout rope in the trucklet along with fishing gear and other essentials.

The camp road was a terrible nasty mire complete with rocks and ruts and mud galore. All of the normal cars were left at the end of the camp road and yours truly in his sweet little RAV4 drove back and forth on the camp road ferrying people and baggage to the little camp in the woods. After several days of proof positive that my little RAV4 was a stout hearted thing, we went full bore. We attached the eye-bolt to the front of the car, hooked rope to it and pulled down a tree we were cutting up for firewood. Can you say, woohoo!

Now I know this isn't a real off-roading vehicle, nor do I have any plans to go rock climbing in the desert or seriously mudding or fording rushing rivers. It does appear to do an ample job of handling "light" off-road situations where a normal car simply cannot handle the conditions. I know for certain that my Mazda would have been stuck last weekend because someone else got stuck on the camp road and we drove up in the RAV4 to pry them loose.

If you have any plans for the same kind of activities in a 2006-2007 RAV4, I must strongly recommend you purchase one of those canister shields. I was power washing the car this morning to get the wheels back in balance and the dried on mud removed, when I remembered the canister shield. It was absolutely caked with mud and had a number of nasty scratches on it. The canister is clean and unharmed and all of the cables are undamaged and fully attached. Whatever that shield is protecting would probably be laying on the camp road without the shield, so my money was well spent. Nice work, mcvitie!

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26 April 2007

Scottish Rite Degree Team

Last night, Triangle Lodge No. 1 in Portland had the distinct pleasure to host the Scottish Rite Degree Team. The Team was decked in the costumes from the 20th Degree "Master ad Vitam", a.k.a. The George Washington Degree. There was a great crowd on the sidelines and everyone had a wonderful time. R.W. Bro. Jeffry Simonton was in the Oriental Chair for the evening and showed his excellent skills as always.

Next on the agenda at Triangle Lodge is a "Presiding Masters" Degree. More on that later.

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02 December 2006

The Maine Masonic College in History

As many of you know, I presented a class for the Maine Masonic College on the subject of the development of Masonic ritual. I have since been reading the Proceedings of the Grand Lodge, histories of several lodges and materials sent to me by Maine Brethren to learn about the development of Maine Masonic ritual. During that research I ran across this little nugget:

Annual Communication of the Grand Lodge of Maine
3 May 1848 at Portland
Address of the Grand Master, M.W. Bro. Alexander H. Putney

The subject of education, the moral engine above all other human institutions calculated to raise man to his proper sphere, has ever engaged the attentions of our fraternity; and our sister Grand Lodges in Missouri and Kentucky have each set a noble example in the establishment of Masonic Colleges, which are shown by their late reports to be in a flourishing condition. Would, my brethren, that we could follow their example! -- but, while we cannot, may we not make a beginning, even though the completion of the project be left to after ages? I make the suggestion for your serious consideration.
Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Maine, Vol. 2, pg 7-8

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23 November 2006

Responses to History of the Grand Lecturer in Maine

I had no idea that my post on the History of the Grand Lecturer in Maine would generate so many responses so quickly.

Bro. Hutchins from Unity Lodge No. 58 in Thorndike sent me the following

6 November 1856
"Brother Benj. F. Cunningham presented a letter from Brother Dockham giving time when he would be a visitor to our Lodge. On Motion, Voted B. F. Cunningham be a committee to escort Bro. Dockham from Belfast at the expense of the Lodge. On Motion, Voted to receive Brother S. B. Dockham Grand Lecturer three days viz: 17th, 18th, 19th of Nov. at the expense of the Lodge."

R.W. Bro. Roger Hanneman, Past Master of Orient Lodge No. 15, sent me the following thrilling excerpts from the History of Orient Lodge:

16 October 1805
Bro. Benj. Gleason, Grand Lecturer [of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts], was sent by the G. Lodge to instruct the new Lodge and, Oct 16th they "Ballotted to allow Bro. G. $15, together with his expenses while here, also $2.75 for Stage hire to Wiscassett."

2 January 1825
After opening a Lodge of E.A. the officers for the ensuing year were elected, Bro. Healy as W. Master. The Lodge at this time appeared desirous of becoming proficient in the art, as it was voted "to hire Bro. John Miller Eight Evenings more in addition to the former Eight, to instruct the lodge in Masonry."

7 December 1825
Received a communication from a committee of the G. Lodge recommending it to the Lodges under their jurisdiction, to avail themselves of the instruction of Bro. Samuel Kidder as Lecturer on the first three degrees in Masonry."
A committee was accordingly appointed and Bro. K. employed in this and other Lodges in the vicinity for some time. But his labors appear not to have been productive of much good, as we have frequently heard "Father" Miller and other old Masons complain that the innovations introduced by him were extremely hard to eradicate.

The minutes from 2 January 1825 and editors note of 7 December 1825 are particularly engaging. The January minutes make clear that the committee charged to select a Grand Lecturer really did send letters of recommendation prior to their reporting back to the Grand Lodge. It is also clear in the December 1825 editors note why Bro. Samuel Kidder's tenure was so short. I wonder what innovations Kidder introduced, and how I might discover what they were? The "Father" Miller referred to in the editors note is the long time Grand Lecturer Bro. John Miller who is first appointed in 1828 and was the District Deputy Grand Master of the 4th District in 1827.

These and other inquiries have also lead to more good news for me. R.W. Bro. Brad Blake, Secretary of the Scottish Rite Valley of Portland, has agreed to loan me his copies of the Proceedings of Grand Lodge as I need them. This will save me a ton of time, as I will no longer have to take the day off to do my research at the Grand Lodge Library. R.W. Bro. Andy DiBiasio, Secretary of United Lodge No. 8 in Brunswick, has kindly agreed to help me research some material from 1842-1843 in the records of the Lodge. This is going to be extremely helpful in my research into the Maine State Convention of 1843. More on that even to come!

If there is anyone interested in assisting with this research project, please let me know. There are four areas where I could use more information for this project:
  1. A record of every elected and appointed officer of the Grand Lodge of Maine from 1820 through the present. This would be most useful if it was in two formats. The first arranged by year with all officers for that year. The second arranged by name of each person to show the course of their career in Grand Lodge.
  2. A record of each of the Maine Districts through the years and which Lodges are a part of that District.
  3. Information from any of the Lodges during the period 1842-1844 regarding a Masonic State Convention to be held in Portland. Any references to Lodge histories would author, title, publisher and page number references. Any references to minutes should bear the date of the minute and the book and page number, if there is one.
  4. Information from any of the Lodges regarding requesting or using the services of a Grand Lecturer. If you find one of these a direct quote is best.
I appreciate any help you can offer. The information from Bro. Hannemann, for example, was vital as it revealed what happened to Bro. Samuel Kidder and perhaps set the stage for the brief tenures of Grand Lecturers during the next several years.

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22 November 2006

Grand Lodge Government

Tim Bryce, a fabulous Freemason from Florida, has posted a number of articles about problems in the Grand Lodge system. Each of those highlighted a different area of concern: Prince Hall recognition, free speech, unelected Grand Lines, and Grand Dictatorships. Each of these blog postings made me glad to be a Maine Mason since we are largely unaffected by those issues, though we struggle with our own problem ( One-Day Classes ).

The Grand Lodge of Maine has recognized Prince Hall Masonry for years. I was fortunate to be present at a number of important moments, largely because the Master of my lodge at the time, Wor. Bro. James Dufresne, was a prime mover in the recognition process. I was present at the first opened Lodge between Maine Masons and Prince Hall Masons of Massachusetts (an RCMP Degree team event). I was present at the first meeting of a Maine Lodge where Prince Hall Brethren were present (my Mother Lodge, Deering No. 183 in Portland). I was also fortunate to attend, and participate in, the first shared ritual between Prince Hall and Maine Masons: a re-dedication, re-obligation ceremony where I was permitted to recite the "Letter 'G' Lecture". These events were wonderful fun and the Prince Hall Brethren I met were smart, dedicated Masons. Yes, we do share concurrent jurisdiction with a Prince Hall Lodge in Bangor, sponsored by the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Massachusetts.

I have never found my own freedom of speech restricted in the Grand Lodge of Maine, and I have been more than willing to speak out. Heck at the Grand Lodge two years ago I got in the middle of the One-Day Classes debated and pointed out that both sides were being irrational and playing on unfounded fears (Fear and Loathing in the Craft). Even our most forceful, authoritarian Grand Master, in my experience, always managed to stay on the "Good Guy" side of the line. While he clearly communicated that he believed his power exceeded that which can be granted by election, which he was, he really never used it. It was a strange mix since it sent the message "I can make you do what I want, but I won't." In the end, he convinced me on a number of issues which I disagreed with, particularly the idea of Fellowship Nights. I think this is one of the beautiful things about the people of my adopted State. There is such a strong vein of rugged individualism, that anyone attempting to use unbridled power would break on the rocks. Go Maine!

We have an elected, non-progressive Grand Line. Each year you can change the officers around and we most certainly do. The Grand Wardens regularly shift under the feet of the Grand Master, who presides for two years, which gives a fair degree of control of who rises to the positions of Deputy Grand Master and Grand Master. This vests control in the hands of the Brethren rather than in a particular Grand Master who ended his term years ago. The Grand Lodge also rejected a proposal to give Past District Deputy Grand Master's a vote in Grand Lodge. This is a good thing since the Grand Lodge system already has enough power, better to reduce the vote count and keep in firmly tipped on the side of the lodges.

Enough with the greatness list. What would I change about the Grand Lodge of Maine if I could?

  1. Arrange the Committees according to controversality
    There is no changing the facts, many Brethren leave the Grand Lodge session at the lunch break. We should recognize that fact and adjust to it. The issues with the greatest potential for controversy and debate should be placed first on the docket. The Committee reports with no issues to vote on should be placed last. Then the Brethren would be present to vote on the issues of importance.

  2. Ban negative motions
    The Committee on Constitutions has frequently been using the parliamentary tactic of negative motions (a.k.a. dirty pool) to block legislation they dislike. The way this tactic works is that they read the legislation and then submit a motion where a "Yes" vote defeats and a "No" vote passes. Few are sure how to vote to get the outcome they want and many of these issues go down in defeat when they ought to have passed. All motions should be forced to be a "Yes" to pass and a "No" to defeat.

  3. Appoint a Parliamentarian
    Since Grand Masters cannot be expected to commit Section 44, Rules 1-20 to memory before running their first Grand Lodge Annual Communication, someone should be appointed to help the Grand Master navigate the parliamentary waters. A parliamentarian would keep track of what is on the floor and what actions are permissible. I have been at too many Grand Lodges where there where motions made atop of other motions and amendments to amendments and so forth. The Grand Master has enough to fully occupy his attention, but being responsible for the state of all of the motions and amendments on the floor might be too much to ask.
Clearly none of these issues have the importance of those suggested by Wor. Bro. Bryce. They are fine-tuning of the Grand Lodge of Maine, and organization which runs pretty darn well. Its successful organization is due in large part to the very nature of the people who inhabit this State. I am glad to know them, I am glad to live here, I am glad to be a Maine Mason.

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21 November 2006

History of the Grand Lecturer in Maine

Having just completed reading the Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Maine, Volume 1" I have learned a lot about the early history of the Grand Lecturer. It is an odd story with more convolutions than I would have imagined. My sense of the story, previous to this research, was that after the anti-Masonic period, some time in the late 1840s, the Grand Lodge realized most lodges had been idled for so long that they no longer knew the ritual. To rectify this the Grand Lodge created the post and sent the Grand Lecturer to renew knowledge of Masonic ritual. My goodness, how wrong can one person be! The story is so much more interesting than that.

It all began back in January of 1826, when Bros. Fox, Fessenden and Greenleaf (GM, DGM, and PGM) suggested the appointment of a Grand Lecturer to ensure a uniformity of the work. After several months of searching they selected Bro. Samuel Kidder, who was appointed by M.W. Bro. Charles Fox as the first Grand Lecturer.

He lasts barely one year in this new position. In January 1827, R.W. Bro. James L. Child (office unknown) submits a resolution asking the then-powerful District Deputy Grand Masters to look into a plan for ensuring uniformity of the work. The motion includes the statement "That the subordinate Lodges under this jurisdiction be directed to receive no further instructions from any Grand Lecturer..." It makes me wonder what on earth happened to trigger that reaction.

The District Deputy Grand Masters do meet at the lodge in Hallowell to discuss the matter, and in January 1828 they suggest the appointment of not one, but three Grand Lecturers. There is no record of the appointment of these three Brothers, but the Grand Lodge does record their traveling expenses in the financial report of 1829:
  • Amount paid Bro. Darling's bill for lecturing $166.47
  • Amount paid Bro. Wadsworth's bill for lecturing $171.11
  • Amount paid Bro. Miller's bill for lecturing $87.36
There are no further bills and no other mentions regarding the position of Grand Lecturer for many years.

The "History of Portland Lodge No. 1" reports that a Brother Benjamin Gleason was present in August of 1842 to demonstrate the proper mode of working based on Webb's Monitor. He is apparently so well regarded that they history of the lodge calls him "our well-beloved Brother Gleason".

The Grand Lodge of Maine struggles terribly during the anti-Masonic period with Lodges closing around the State and little meaningful activity at a Grand Lodge level. Finally, the Brethren of United Lodge awaken from the long slumber and form a Committee with Portland Lodge and Ancient Land-Mark to host a Masonic State Convention in Portland during October of 1843. Among the results of this Convention are a collection of motions for the next Grand Lodge meeting. One of which is, you guessed it, a motion to appoint one or more Grand Lecturers! This Committee is staffed by Bros. Joseph M. Gerrish (Past Grand Treasurer), Eleazer Wyer (DDGM of the 1st District), and A.H. Putney (Senior Grand Warden).

At the adjourned Annual Communication in June of 1844, the Comittee reports back that a Grand Lecturer should be appointed with the lodges paying for his time and the Grand Lodge paying for his travel. A selection Committee is created consisting of Bros. Joseph M. Gerrish, A.H. Putney, John C. Humphrey[s] (Grand Marshal), George L. Darling (unknown office) and Thomas S. Bowles (Master of Solar Lodge and President of the 1843 Masonic State Convention).

The committee meets and evetually selects Bro. John Miller of Warren. This reported at the January 1845 Grand Lodge session, where Bro. Miller is accordingly appointed by the Grand Master. Bro. Miller accepted the post and requested the power to appoint assistants to visit lodges when he could not. The Grand Lodge agreed and created the post of "Sub Grand Lecturer," you heard it right. Bro. Miller submits his first set of expenses in July of 1845, which are sent to a Committee to be assessed and paid. In less than a year, in June of 1846, he is not reappointed to his post and the positions of Grand Lecturer and Sub Grand Lecturer are allowed to lapse. It is worth noting that Bro. Miller is not fully repayed until well after his position has already been allowed to lapse.

In a period of twenty years there have been five Grand Lecturers with none holding the job for more than a eighteen months. Actually, the position itself did not manage to survive for more than that amount of time: 1826 Samuel Kidder, 1828 Bros. Darling, Wadsworth and Miller, 1845-1846 Bro. John Miller of Warren.

What happens next? You'll have to wait to find out. Heck I have to wait until I finish processing Proceedings Volume 2.

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01 November 2006

History of Masonic Ritual in Maine

With XMap 5.0 ready for ship, the time has come for much needed time off. I chose to spend my first day of rest at the fine library at the Grand Lodge of Maine. During my class on the history of ritual for the Maine Masonic College, I realized I knew next to nothing about Masonic ritual in this great State. At least nothing outside of my own nine years of Masonry. For someone who claims to love ritual so much, I realized there is so little I really know.

The project I have undertaken, therefore, is to gather all of the information I can on the development of Masonic ritual in the State of Maine. I am starting by reading the proceedings of the Grand Lodge from 1820 - 2006 to build a list of all of the information they offer about the development of our ritual. There are so many changes during the first decade transcribing all of the changes for the first seven years took two hours. The events were tremendously interesting, but among these early tidbits there are two particularly interesting items.

First, the position of Grand Lecturer was filled in for the first time on 13 January 1826 by Brother Samuel Kidder. He was examined for his excellence in the work by R.W. Bros. Samuel Fessenden, Charles Fox and Simon Greenleaf (yep, the Simon Greenleaf). At the time the lodges themselves had to pay for Bro. Kidder to attend on their meetings and teach them the correct ritual. The Grand Lodge was quick to act, however, and requested that these same Brethren explore the possibility of the Grand Lodge employing the Grand Lecturer, bearing the cost for the several Lodges.

The Committee of the subject of instruction in lectures and work, respectfully report, That they have examined Brother Samuel Kidder, and being satisfied that he was worthy, well qualified, and skilled to teach, they gave him a certificate of which a copy is herewith annexed.

Samuel Fessenden,
Charles Fox, Committee
Simon Greenleaf,

We the undersigned, a committee of the Grand Lodge of Maine, appointed for this purpose, do hereby certify, that we have examined the lectures and work of Bro. Samuel Kidder, in the first degrees of Masonry, and are satisfied with the same as correct; and we recommend to the several Lodges under this jurisdiction to avail themselves of his instruction so far as they may need the same, until the next annual communication of the Grand Lodge in January ensuing, at which time it is understood that the subject may receive further attention.

Simon Greenleaf and Charles Fox.

(Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Maine, Vol. 1, pg. 132)

Second, the ritual for the reception of the District Deputy Grand Master and other Grand Officers was set on 10 January 1823. The ceremony is almost entirely the same as we observe today with the difference that there is no Acting Grand Marshal in the old ritual. The Lodge Marshal performed all of the functions which we now associated with the Acting Grand Marshal. The old ceremony makes no mention of support from a suite of Past Masters and Grand Officers, but that may well be implied, further research being required on my part. The District Deputy Grand Master was also to be escorted out of the Lodge by a procession when he was ready to leave.

The committee appointed to report on the ceremonies to be observed in subordinate Lodges, on receiving official visits from District Deputy Grand Masters and other Grand Officers, made the following Report, viz:

The committee to whom was referred the subject of considering the proper ceremony to be observed and paid by the Lodges to the District Deputy Grand Masters when the visit them report –

The District Deputy Grand Masters shall give previous reasonable notice of their intended visit, to the master of the Lodge, who shall summon the same, and provide on of the ante-rooms, or some other convenient place within the Lodge building, to which the D.D.G. Master will repair and inform the Lodge by their Marshal that he is in waiting. The Lodge being opened, the Master shall then direct the Marshal, accompanied by the Deacons and Stewards with their rods, to wait on the D.D.G. Master and inform him that the Lodge is ready to receive him, and conduct him to the door of the Lodge in the following order:

1s. Marshal
2nd Stewards
3rd Deacons
4th District Deputy Grand Master

On arriving at the door of the Lodge the Marshal makes demand, and the door being opened, he announces “the District Deputy Grand Master,” and they enter the Lodge; the Brethren arise, the Stewards and Deacons halt within and open to the right and left, crossing their rods, the District Deputy Grand Master enters between them, preceded by the Marshal; being entered the Brethren salute him in ancient form, the Marshal conducts him to the East and the Master offers him a chair. The visit being ended, and the D.D.G. Master signifying his intention to retire, he is conducted to his chamber in the same manner, the Stewards and Deacons halting as above at the door of his apartment only. And the substance of the above order will be observed when the D.D.G. Master visits by deputation of a Past master or Master of a Lodge, except that such Deputy will not take the chair, but sit uncovered at the right of the Master.

Charles Fox,
George Thatcher, Jr.

Voted, That the foregoing Report be accepted.

(Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Maine, Vol. 1, pg. 81-82)

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28 October 2006

Cipher Collection

By some accounts, three items makes a collection. This evening I was reviewing one of the ritual books in my growing collection. Thanks to eBay and the kindness of brethren, my collection includes:

Printed Rituals
  • Grand Lodge of Mississippi Ritual (M.W. Bro. James C. Gilliam, Grand Master)
    Copyright 1951 A. Nizzardini
    The text annotation in the front is "Edward Drummond", "476" and "22908". There are very few markings in the text at all.
  • Grand Lodge of New York Monitor (George R. Irving, Grand Secretary)
    Copyright 1951 George R. Irving
    The text annotation in the front is "James S. Tucker", "Massapequa Lodge #822" and "Rockville Center, NY"
  • Grand Lodge of Maine Ritual
    Editions in my collection include: 1925, 1928, 1938, 1941 and 1943.
  • Grand Lodge of Massachusetts Trestleboard (monitor)
    published in 1913, copyright 1876
    The text annotation in the front is "John S. Blank, Jr."
  • Grand Lodge of Connecticut Ritual (revised 1991)
  • Grand Lodge of Florida Masonic Code (ritual, revised 1997)
  • Saint Giles Lodge No. 8904 Emulation Ritual (Oxford, UK)
    There is a small booklet titled "The Inner Workings of the Board of Installed Masters"
Handwritten Rituals
  • Massachusetts and English Ritual from late 1870s
    The text covers the lecture of the Master Mason Degree, a Christian version of the Five Points of Fellowship, On Yonder Book and the ritual and lectures of the Capitular Degrees of the York Rite.
    The front of the book has 126 pages of very fine handwriting followed by 18 pages of very rough handwriting. All I can say is, thank goodness for eBay!
Works on Loan
  • Maine Ritual from 1874
    These three texts have been loaned to me by the Master of Triangle Lodge No. 1 for study. The include the complete text of the three degrees, in cipher form, as they were known at that time. M.W. Bro. Charles Ridlon informed me that the committee which formalized the ritual settled the text in 1894.
    The Entered Apprentice book has a front page with "Portland Lodge No. 1" and "May 11th, 1874". The Master Mason book has the initials "T.J.M." or "T.J.W." written on the first page.
These books give me plenty to study now that I've come back up for air and can resume my own hobbies!

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04 June 2006

A Masonic Myth

I was watching the recent documentaries about Freemasonry on The History Channel. I had saved them on my DVR and spent my Sunday rest time watching these shows, energized and informed by their content rather than napping. There were a few small nitpicks here and there, but in general it was meticulously researched and well presented. They even had some modern experts in Masonic history like S. Brent Morris and Stephen Bullock. Some years ago, I had a chance to see Bullock speak at the Maine Historical Society about his book "Revolutionary Brotherhood" (do buy it!). He is a great speaker and good with hard questions.

I tend to harbor a fair bit of doubt when it comes to documentaries be they film ('history writ with lightning') or television. This was no exception. While researching items like the relationship between Albert Pike and the Klan (who knows what to think about that), I ran across some material which broke my heart. I, like most Freemasons in Maine, am well aware of the story of the blue forget-me-not. This little blue flower, in the form of a pin, was worn by Freemasons during the Nazi period in Germany as a way to hide their Masonic affilitation from the government. The tradtional history holds that Freemasons were persecuted by the government and even sent to the camps. My wife did her thesis on Nazi persecutions, with her focus being homosexual Jews, and ran across material about Freemasons being a target of the regime. I had never been interested enough to read more about this element of Masonic history, devoting most of my time to learning Masonic ritual and reading about its development.

There I was reading about Albert Pike and the Klan when I came across two papers from Alain Bernheim. I will not summarize the material for you, asking instead that you read them for yourself:
I am not sure if I will ever see the Forget-Me-Not pin in the same way as I did yesterday.

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18 May 2006

The DaVinci Code

Suffice it to say that my intense dislike for "The DaVinci Code" is well know at many levels. The book is based on my least favorite work of semi-fiction ("The Temple and the Lodge" by Baigent and Leigh) and The Code's own sense of history is horrific. I have spent enough time reading about early Church history in the Apostolic and Patristic eras to know just how inaccurate the text really is.

Nevertheless, leave it to the fine blogger E. Paul Kelly to write a blogpost about The Code which really hit me in the gut: Are We the People the Church? It is absolutely true that the raw material for The Code existed in bulk long before Dan Brown's wife did the research his now famous book. It never matter then because there was a certain amount of trust that it wasn't all lies. Today..Bishop essentially implies lies and deception. The actions of the various Bishops to either collect the assets of parishes (so as to sell them in Boston) or to hide the assets of parishes (to avoid them being considered in legal settlements in Vermont) whether requested by lawyers or no are actions of the Bishop. They undermine the ability of American Catholic Bishops to speak out on important matters. Like a tree root under the sidewalk...

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15 May 2006

MMC: Development of Masonic Ritual

Here is the material I sent to the Maine Masonic College to describe my class:

The history of Masonic ritual traces its evolution from a simple workman's degree designed to impress and frighten apprentices being entered into the lodge to the high production sets and dramatics of the Scottish Rite degrees. The winding staircase which connects these degree systems is of interest to almost any scholar of Freemasonry as it covers more than six hundred years of Masonic history. The ritual contains, encoded within it , signs of the physical structure and organization of the lodge system and so it is bound up with the history of Freemasonry itself. The makes a comprehensive study of the its development almost impossible in a short time period. This class is, therefore, designed to give an overview of the history of Masonic ritual and will arm each participant with the tools necessary to do further research into the area of interest to them.

The history of the ritual will include a study of the three major periods of Masonic ritual: constitutions, catechisms, and lectures. The first period, the Gothic Constitutions, consisted of a ritual designed to frighten new apprentices and a book of rules for the government of conduct while working on a job. The gild Passion plays common to this period would plant seeds for a deeper ritual system, as we have today. Though many of these texts are lost to history, we will study the text families as defined by noted Masonic historian, Wallace McLeod, and review the content of several of these texts. The rules set down during this period continue to affect Freemasonry right up to the present day.

The second period, catechisms, is our first insight into the Masonic ritual system itself. These early rituals took the form of long question and answer exchanges, which are quite similar to sections of our modern ritual. No Freemason in Maine would find this line unfamiliar:
Are you a mason? Yes, I am a Freemason. How shall I know that? By perfect signes and tokens and the first poynts of my Enterance.
The proficiency examinations, employed here in the United States, echo these traditional catechisms and preserve a centuries old tradition. We will study a number of these catechism documents using the famous collection "The Early Masonic Catechisms" by Knoop, Jones and Hamer. Their collection includes both handwritten copy and printed texts, which form the first exposures.

Finally, the third period of Masonic ritual, the lectures, will receive a great deal of attention. The first lectures were the work of a single individual: Bro. William Preston. His "Illustrations of Masonry" elevates the Masonic ritual to a new height of philosophical illumination inspired by the Enlightenment. It is from our famous Bro. Preston in 1788 that we receive:
By geometry, therefore, we may curiously trace Nature, through her various windings, to her most concealed recesses. By it, we may discover the power, the wisdom, and the goodness of the Grand Artificer of the universe, and view with delight the proportions which connect this vast machine.
We are fortunate, to have Preston's own famous work to aid in our review of this material, as well as the transcription of our own M.W. Bro. Thomas Smith Webb, author of the famous "Webb working."

The class winds down with a review of the exposures of the 19th century including those of Morgan, Richardson, and Duncan. These give an insight into the state of Masonic ritual before the destruction of the Morgan Affair. Finally, the great meeting of the Grand Lodges at Baltimore and the attempt to select a single common ritual system for the entire United States will be the last topic of discussion.

When the class concludes you will leave with a sense of the periods of Masonic ritual over the last six hundred years. Further, you will know which books can give you insight into the period which interests you. Then you can continue your own Masonic education and bring light to others as you share with them the answers: "What does hail mean?" or "Where can I read more about this whole Hiram thing?"

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01 April 2006

Scottish Rite: Prince of Jerusalem

Originally uploaded by cratliff.
Last night I participated in my second Scottish Rite Degree. This was the 16th degree called "Prince of Jerusalem." In it, I play Zerubabbel, a character from the Old Testament. The degree was a lot of fun and I really enjoyed myself. If you click on the picture it will take you to other actors from the drama (flickr: Scottish Rite).

The backstory to the drama is given in the 15th degree. Zerubabbel is tested by Kind Cyrus to see if he is strong enough to lead the Hebrews from Babylon back to Jerusalem, this is the period known as the Babylonian Captivity. Zerbabbel passes the test and he and his people are freed to return to Jerusalem to, as King Cyrus says, "..rebuild the walls of their city and the Temple of their God...".

The 16th degree, where I "acted," picks up some years later in Jerusalem. The Jews cannot make any progress on the Temple owing to their being blocked by their neighbor nations and the order of King Cambyses, successor to Cyrus from the previous degree. Once King Darius succeeds Cambyses, Zerubabbel, at the prodding of Joshua, goes to see Darius and plead their case.

At the court of King Darius, Zerubabbel and his companions are greeted warmly by the King. The King has posed a question to his courtiers: what is the strongest and holds the most powerful sway over people. Three courtiers answer with wine (Araspes), the King (Artaban) and women (Bartacus). These answers enrage Zerubabbel, who interrupts with an impassioned speech that Truth, as an attribute of God, is by far the most powerful. The King recognizes the rightness of Zerubabbel's answer, despite how intensely and possibly rudely the answer is given. At one point, Zerubabbel exclaims:
"Wine is wicked! The King is wicked! Women are wicked! All the children of men are wicked! Their works are sinful! Unless there is Truth in them, they will perish."
Not precisely gentle persuasion. I hardly bears saying, that I could totally relate. M.W. Bro. Chuck Ridlon and R.W. Bro. Jeff Simonton had enticed me to joining the Scottish Rite with "a role [I] was born to play". They were right. I have really enjoyed the Scottish Rite and look forward to more degrees in the future.

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26 March 2006

Maine Ritual Lodge of the Year

I received wonderful news yesterday from the Master of Deering Lodge. He informed me that we had been selected by the Grand Lodge Lecturers as the best ritual lodge for the year 2005. I could not be more pleased or surprised. As the Officer's Coach I focus mostly on where we are weak, so it is naturally the part I think of most often. Despite our problem areas we have a great group of guys who work very hard. We are also gifted with great lecturers like Bro. Christopher Beck and Bro. Quinones Rembert and fine floorwork from our Marshal, Bro. Carroll Richardson. We also have the only singing Chaplain in the State, at least in so far as I am aware. Bro. Bob Wade's singing of the circumambulation makes for a wonderful degree. Finally, our greatest asset has got to be our happy-go-lucky officers: Pete, Steve, Tom, Chris, and Bob, Sr.

We will be exemplifying the Master Mason Degree before May for the Grand Lodge Officers. The Master has already granted me the honor of delivering the Master Mason Lecture. I will have to practice like mad while I am in Florida on business during the end of April.

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05 March 2006

Fighting City Hall in the Craft

First off, I have no idea what happened down at the Grand Lodge of Florida. As an outspoken young Freemason I have gotten into plenty of my own trouble, so I do not doubt the capacity of others to do the same. Nevertheless, Bro. Bryce is an earnest and well-informed Brother, and I find his writings to be accurate and egnaging. You ought to read this because it does happen in our Craft.

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08 January 2006

MMC: The Essence of Irony

How is this for ironic. I was invited to participate in the Installation of Officers at Acacia Lodge in Durham, Maine. It was my task to deliver the candle charge to the Master and install the Senior Warden, Junior Warden, Treasurer, Secretary, Chaplain and Marshal. I was laboring under a cold at the time so the quality of my ritual was only so-so. Here is the irony. As I installed the Marshal I said, "You are appointed Marshal of this lodge. I invest you with this jewel, and place in your hands this baton as the badge of your office. It is your duty to organize the lodge, form and conduct all processions..." and then I was stuck. I simply could not recall the next line. Fortunately, V.W. Bro. Tim Herling saved me with a quick prompt, "...introduce and accommodate visiting brethren...". After posting the "Conflicting Duties" question I forgot the line I had been writing about so often lately.

See Other Posts on [Freemasonry], [MaineMasonicCollege]

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05 January 2006

MMC: A Bibliogtaphy of Masonic Ritual

Here are some of the books I am using to prepare for the class along with a short description of each:
  • "The Early Masonic Catechisms" by Knoop, Jones, and Hamer (1943)
    The eighteen catechisms detailed in this text make it invaluable for the historian of Masonic ritual. If you have never read this text, take pains to find it.

  • "History and Evolution of Freemasonry" by Delmar D. Darrah (1954)
    This is a classic text which had aged a bit, but still covers all the basics.

  • "History of Masonry" by George Thornburgh (1914)
    This text includes an intriguing mention of a book called "The Ritual of Operative Freemasons" by Thomas Carr, M.D.. I hope to be able to read Carr's book at some point. I have not yet

  • "Masonry Dissected" by Samuel Pritchard (1730)
    This is the text which first exposed the Master Mason degree and was a valuable resource to Freemasons evidenced by its numerous reprints. It also spawned the second rejoinder text titled, "The Perjur'd Free Mason Detected". Can you get better than this?

  • "The Old Gothic Constitutions" by Wallace McLeod (1985)
    This text contains reprints of the Roberts (1722), Briscoe (1724), Cole (1729) and Dodd (1739) manuscripts, along with an excellent overview of the text families (including a great classification) by McLeod. This text contains one of my favorite commentaries.

  • "The Origins of Freemasonry" by David Stevenson (1988)
    I have read one of Stevenson's other books titled "The First Freemasons", which I found to be a thrilling ride through the minutes and history of the early Scottish Lodges. This book is more focused on the people and events of early Scottish Masonry rather than particularly lodges.

  • "Richardson's Monitor of Freemasonry" by Jabez Richardson
    This post-Morgan exposure is essentially a copy of Morgan's own text, but this was the first ritual exposure I ever owned. It has a special place in my heart.

  • "Speculative Masonry" by A. S. MacBride, J.P. (1924)
    This work remains quite useful despite its age, but it may be better to read Gould's work instead.

See Other Posts on [Freemasonry], [MaineMasonicCollege]

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MMC: Conflicting Duties

I remember being Senior Deacon for the first time. Learning the opening my opening lines, only utilized in the Entered Apprentice and Fellowcraft degrees, was not difficult and first cemented my sense that the ritual teaches us our duties. As a Senior Deacon you utter this line:
To carry orders from the Worshipful Master in the East to the Senior Warden in the West and elsewhere about the lodge as he may direct, to receive and conduct the candidate, also to introduce and accomodate visiting brethren. [1]

This places in the hands of the Senior Deacon three tasks. First, he must respond to the requests of the Worshipful Master, which he often does in the ritual. Second, he takes control of the candidate within the lodge room itself, this too occurs often in the ritual (except in the presence of multiple candidates). Finally, he introduces visitors to the lodge, which we often see in the process of receiving first time visitors. This is all quite straightforward until we arrive a the installation of officers.

I first installed a slate of officers at my own installation as Master. Since these men were going to work on my behalf for a year I felt I owed it to them to show my respect for what they were about to do by learning the installation. I was installed by R.W. Bro. Alfred E. Neff, who has since passed to the celestial lodge above, and then proceeded to install all of the other officers. It was the installation of the Marshal which puzzled me:
You are appointed Marshal of this lodge. I invest you with this jewel, and place in your hands this baton as the badge of your office. It is your duty to organize the lodge, form and conduct all processions, introduce and accommodate visiting Brethren, and attend to such other interests, in the practice of our rites, as the Worshipful Master shall direct. [2]

In the installation the Marshal introduces visitors and in the opening the Senior Deacon introduces visitors. How does such an obvious conflict occur? The first step is to discover the history of the Installation of Officers. There are some mentions as old as Anderson's Constitutions, but the first full text is contained in "Illustrations of Masonry" by William Preston [3]. This ceremony is not the same as the Installation here in Maine, but it is quite close. By way of example, the sixteen charges and regulations to the Master, which begins with "You agree to be a good man and true and strictly to obey the moral law." are the same in both. The only difference is that Preston splits them into nine charges and six regulations. There is no installation of the Marshal in Prestons work. The "Ahiman Rezon," a ritual monitor from the Antients Grand Lodge, also does not contain an installation for the Marshall even in the 1873 edition. [4] It does, however, share the same list of 15 charges and regulations and carries an installation of the Grand Marshal [5].

Here are the research tasks:
  • When did the Installation of the Marshal first appear in the Maine Masonic Text Book (originally Drummond's Monitor)?
  • Based on the first written installation have the Marshal and Senior Deacon always had a conflict of duties?
  • Where did our form of installation for the Marshal come from (hint, not the Ahiman Rezon)?

1. Correct Work for Maine 1982, pg. 5
2. Maine Masonic Text Book 1942, pg. 71
3. "Illustrations of Masonry" by William Preston ( http://www.freemasons-freemasonry.com/preston_illustrations_masonry.html )
4. "Ahiman Rezon" by Daniel Sickels (1873), pg. 252-253.
5. ibid, pg. 276.

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22 December 2005

My Masonic Biography

I was asked, as part of the acceptance of my class proposal to write a "biography" for inclusion on the Maine Masonic College web site. I was once quite proud, perhaps too proud, of my Masonic career. As a newly raised Master Mason my email had a ten line listed of the bodies I participated in and all the offices I then held. A brother from Belgium wrote me with some stern words closing with the question, "Is it not enough to simply be a Brother?" Since that day all of my Masonic correspondance has been closed with "a rough ashlar." It is an expression of my sense of self, "a work in progress" and my sense of my place in Masonry.

Forced to consider what my Masonic biography is, particularly as it relates to my suitability to teach a class on the development of Masonic ritual I suggested, "Just another Mason." Since there is nothing special about me which would recommend people to listen to my thoughts on this subject. I am no Carr or Knoop or McLeod. I am just a simple Freemasonry with a love of history. Unlike Isaac Newton who was a giant on the shoulders of other giants, I am a gnat on the shoulders of giants.

At the end of the day, I am a member of three lodges: Deering Lodge No. 183, Hiram Lodge No. 180 and Triangle Lodge No. 1. My Mother Lodge is Deering, and it is there that I have served as Secretary for about three years. I have been the Worshipful Master of Deering and Triangle and hope one day to serve Hiram in that capacity as well. I went throught the York Rite, but left it after five years because of the pressure to be an officer. I recently joined the Scottish Rite though I still fear what the 30th degree contains. I am trapped as a 16 degree Scottish Rite Mason because I lack the time to travel for the next degree, which is scheduled for Good Friday in my Valley (you will always find me at Mass on Good Friday).

The only skills which recommend me are that I have a reasonably good style of lecturing and I read a great deal. The latter is quite an engaging little riddle. I would venture that my accuracy for lecturing never breaks the 70-80% mark. This might sound high, but I have personally seen brethren stand unprepared an present a 100% accurate lecture, V.W. Bro. Ed Knox of Saccarappa Lodge is one such brother. When I lecture, so I have been told, it sounds like I really mean it. I certainly helps that I do believe what we are teaching, for instance, the Hourglass had a reall affect on my personally when I was learning the Master Mason lecture. When I utter those words I really do mean it with all my heart:

The Hourglass is an emblem of human life, behold how swiftly the sands run and how rapid our lives draw to a close. We cannot, without astonishment, behold the tiny particles contained within this machine. How they pass away almost imperceptible, and yet, within the short space of an hour are all exhausted. Thus wastes man! Today he puts forth the tender leaves of hope. Tomorrow blossoms and bears his blushing honors thick upon him. The next day comes a frost which nips the shoot, and when he thinks his greatness is still aspiring, he falls like Autumn leaves to enrich our Mother Earth.

I will probably feel a small shiver for the rest of my life when I utter those words. It is, however, not enough to believe in something, you have to sound like you believe it. To manage that I practice a lot, often in my car driving to work. When I practice I also use the gestures and inflections I hope to use in lodge. In this way I redeem my lack of accuracy through other means.

As for my reading habits, it is almost funny. Between 1998 and 2003 I read most of the books in the shelves dedicated to the development of Masonic ritual. As I check out the books for my class I find the only name on the borrowing card is my own. Truthfully, the texts tend to be quite dry and there are a limited number of people interested in the historical development of Masonic ritual.

In the end, what would be an appropriate biography for me. I still go with: "Christian A. Ratliff, Freemason, reader, rough ashlar."

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16 December 2005

A Puzzle in Maine Ritual

Now that I am actively working on the Autumn class on the history of Masonic ritual, it brings to mind a core question: "Why does this even matter?" That is to say, why should a person bother to learn the history of Masonic ritual. To answer that, let me tell you a little story. At the 17th District Master Mason School of Instruction, held in November of 2005, the Grand Lecturer, R.W. Bro. Stephen Nichols, brought up a section fo the Entered Apprentice obligation which we all repeat, but few understand:

...that I will always hail, forever conceal, and never reveal...

As Maine Masons we read this in our books as "...th I wi al ha, fo co, an ne re..."[1]. The word in the Grand Lecturer's book is "hail" which has a variety of meanings including "ice...falling from the sky" and "a shout of welcome" as well as others filling an entire page in the OED.[2] This clearly makes no sense in context as the set of words is "hail", "conceal" and "reveal". The only other spelling we can substitute would be "hale," which means "free from defect".[3] It is into this vacuum that the history of Masonic ritual rushes with the Cooke Manuscript. This is the second oldest source of information on Freemasonry and was written around 1440. It is named for Matthew Cooke who translated it around 1861. More skilled Masonic researchers than I believe it to be one of the "Gothic Constitutions" used by Bro. James Anderson in writing "Anderson's Constitutions". The Cooke Manuscript helps us to understand "always hale" as it contains this regulation: [4]

The third [point]. He shall hele the counsel of his fellows in lodge and in chamber, and wherever masons meet.

You can see that the word being used is "hele," which turns out to put us on the right track. The word means "to hide; to cover; to roof" [5], a defininition which is also substantiated by the OED.[6] The line in the obligation now makes sense: "...that I will alwawys hide, forever conceal, and never reveal...". Not only have we learned the meaning of an unusual construction in our ritual, we can also conjecture whether the cipher should have "he" rather than "ha" for that word. Imagine that discussion at your next School of Instruction, lucky for me R.W. Bro. Steve Nichols is a wise brother with a good sense of humor.

As you can see from this tiny issue, knowing the history of the ritual gives us access to the materials and knowledge we require to really break open the ritual and understand it. Now I am off to the Grand Lodge Library to pick up some materials to read over break. I will post another entry soon with my developing bibliography.
  • 1. Official Cipher for Maine 1982, pg. 16
  • 2. Oxford English Dictionary Vol. V 1961, pg. 22
  • 3. Merriam-Webster's Dictionary ( http://www.m-w.com/cgi-bin/dictionary?va=hale )
  • 4. Cooke Manuscript, ln. 840-84 ( http://freemasonry.bcy.ca/aqc/cooke.html )
  • 5. Free Online Dictionary ( http://dict.die.net/hele/ )
  • 6. Oxford English Dictionary Vol. V 1961, pg. 199
PS. As a challenge to the many learned Brethren out there. Can anyone identify the earliest use of the hail/conceal/reveal pattern with the same spelling as Maine? As a hint, the use is in an exposure written after the formation of the first Grand Lodge at London.

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11 December 2005

History of Masonic Ritual

It seems that almost every lodge meeting I attend has someone come up and ask me when my class is being offered at the Maine Masonic College. I understand it is scheduled for the Autumn of 2006, which feels like a long time. Of course, a six hour class on the history and development of Masonic ritual is going to take months of painstaking research to build up the core information, then likely an equal amount of time to cull out the inessential material. To help get me started and keep me focused, I plan to start posting my outline as it develops here.

A first pass for an outline is:
  • The three styles of ritual: gothic constitutions, catechism, and lecture.
  • The transition from bigradal (E.A. and F.C.) to trigradal (E.A., F.C. and M.M.).
  • The ways in which the old ritual is exposed to us: minutes, aides-memoire, and exposures.
  • The Antients/Moderns split and its causation/impact with regard to the ritual.
  • Ritual in the United States (Webb working) with a special emphasis on the Baltimore Convention.
You can picture the development of Masonic ritual as a collection of related elements. At its most basic, there is the shift from catechetical system to a lecture system. Even brethren who are not aware of this shift can still discern the very different styles of ritual. The catechetical system is a question and answer style of ritual where the structure or wording of the question helps you to remember the correct answer. For example, in exchanging the pass and the word in Maine ritual, the order "Gi it me." always precedes the pass since it can be simply given, whereas the request "Wi yo gi it me?" always precedes the lettering and dividing of the word since it cannot be exchanged by mere statement. Even though each jurisdiction is slightly different the hallmarks of the catechetical system is still present somewhere. In modern times, these hints are quite helpful to the new Freemason learning their proficiency. In ancient times, these textual hints were the very essence of catechesis and essential to the learning process.

The lecture system is one we are all familiar with. Many of the lectures are the work of a single man, Bro. William Preston, who wrote his famous work "Illustrations on Masonry" at the end of the 18th century. The work of Bro. Preston is stamped all over the face of Maine Ritual. This section of Book 2, Section 4 should be strikingly familiar to any Maine Mason:

Masonry passes under two denominations, operative and speculative. By the former, we allude to a proper application of the useful rules of architecture, whence a structure derives figure, strength, and beauty, and whence result a due proportion and a just correspondence in all its parts. By the latter we learn to subdue patterns, act upon the square, keep a tongue of good report, maintain secrecy, and practice charity.

Then we have the most obvious shift from bigradal (Entered Apprentice and Fellowcraft) to triggered (Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft and Master Mason), which had been building for some time finally taking root in the period from 1700-1730. The evolution of the Hiramic Legend is a particularly interesting element, which I look forward to covering in great detail.

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