Dispatches from Maine

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

03 August 2007

The Development of Masonic Ritual, 2007 Edition

Unlike many other facets of Freemasonry, covered in the Maine Masonic College, the history of Masonic ritual is fairly straightforward. The questions of symbolism and philosophy are covered in depth by better, smarter men like Bros. Kuntz and Plummer. The class this year will be divided into two sections:

Section One:
We will cover early Masonic ritual as it developed in Europe from a simple obligation to a memorized system of questions and answers to the lectures we know so well today. So often as we experience the ritual in our lodges, we are left wondering where a line comes from or who wrote a lecture. This class answers these essential and engaging questions without dwelling on topics without end. During the lunch break we will have an open discussion period for detailed question and answer as well as sharing our own materials and experiences.

Section Two:
The class picks up as the Masonic ritual reaches America by discussing the primary authors of American Masonic ritual: Thomas Smith Webb and Jeremy Ladd Cross. The previous class closed out with a discussion of these authors and the Baltimore Convention of 1843. Since September of 2006, however, I have been engaged in personal research about the history of Masonic ritual here in Maine, allowing us to discuss in detail the development of Masonic ritual in our own State. This is a very special opportunity which you will not find in a book or lodge program. The class wraps up as we discuss the detailed differences between the 1874 edition of Masonic Ritual in Maine and the 1984 edition, under which we are governed today. Please consider joining me for this fun and practical class, remember the good fishing isn't for another two weeks anyhow!

Attendees will receive a copy of my "Events in Maine Ritual History" research index and a copy of the three degrees as they were worked in 1874. This class is dedicated to the memory of R.W. Bro. Ralph Johnson, Past D.D.G.M. of the 13th Masonic District.

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17 July 2007

The Bristol Working

One of my regular readers, Wor. Bro. Ed King, reminded me of that important English Ritual variant: The Bristol Working. Of late I have been buying books from eBay with an eye toward American ritual development. For instance, today I received a copy of the Virgina Text Book, which is very likely to have been the basis for the Maine Masonic Text Book. Since the class is going to be 50% European Freemasonry and 50% American Freemasonry, reading the Bristol Working is probably a good idea.

While at Amazon, I also noticed several other good books to order:
What Masonic books do you consider indispensable?

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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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30 March 2007

Development of Masonic Ritual Redux

I have signed up to teach a condensed version of my "Development of Masonic Ritual" class at the Scottish Rite Auditorium in Portland. The class will be two hours rather than the original three and cover slightly less detail. The audience is also expected to be larger making the kind of dialog we had last September impossible. However, the opportunity to reach out to so many Brethren who may not want to attend a long Saturday class is very exciting. Hopefully, I will be able to throw out some parts of the class and inject a bit about the development of the Scottish Rite Degree system, since this is being held in their auditorium. There is also a hook in the class to try and bring some of those men into the Maine Masonic College system.

In other news, the Maine Masonic College has kindly invited me to repeat my class again this Autumn. I am expanding the material by quite a bit, causing the class to grow from three to six hours. The new material will be the result of my research into the development of Masonic Ritual in Maine. There are two documents which I plan to share with people at the class. The first is my synopsis of the Grand Lodge Proceedings and lodge histories titled, "Events in Maine Ritual History." I have learned a great deal while working on this project with some of the most exciting decades still before me (1890s). The document provides extracts from my sources along with bibliographical references. The second, more exciting document, is a transcription of the Maine Ritual from 1874, before it was standardized in writing by Grand Lodge. The differences between our current ritual and the ritual at that time are very interesting. For example, today after the Master says, "The proper officers will attend to the preparation of the candidate." there is a dialog between the Master and Junior Deacon. In 1874 no such dialog existed with the officers simply exiting the room. This is but one of the many differences in the ritual.

Hopefully, the new material and the two documents will make the class sufficiently new that previous attendees will considering participating again in the class. When the dates have been firmed up, I will announce them here.

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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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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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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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