Dispatches from Maine

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

04 July 2008

The Wind Between the Atoms

Hard to imagine being mentioned in a print article in the Scottish Rite Journal. Thanks very much, Bro. Tresner for the reference in "The Wind Between the Atoms"

“Just another person of little note writing about ordinary things,” says the cutline at the top of the blog Dispatches from Maine, http://lily.org/blog. It is the blog of Christian Ratliff, 32°, “a thirtyish software developer living and working in [Portland] Maine.” Brother Ratliff is over-modest. His site contains some excellent writing, especially including material on Freemasonry and the Church of Rome.

Labels: ,

18 March 2008

Morals and Dogma

At long last I have in my hands the most owned and least read book in all of Freemasonry. From the moment you first set eyes on the thing it is clear why this might be considered a magnum opus: it is huge. The first degree I opened to was "Grand Elect Mason," which is my primary obligation in the Scottish Rite as an Officer of the Lodge of Perfection. Far from being impenetrable the second paragraph is completely engaging:

Public opinion is rarely right on any point; and there are and always will be important truths to be substituted in that opinion in the place of many errors and absurd and injurious prejudices. There are few truths that public opinion has not at some time hated and persecuted as heresies; and few errors that have not at some time seemed to it truths radiant from the immediate presence of God.

I think I am going to enjoy this book!

Labels: , ,

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.

Labels: , , ,

Guthrie College of the Consistory

An esteemed Brother called me a week ago and asked if I knew about the Guthrie College of the Consistory. As a novice to the Scottish Rite I had no idea what he was talking about. In the wired, multi-tasking world, however, while he spoke to me on the phone I was reading their web site and filling out and application form. The materials arrived on Thursday and I look forward to taking the enclosed examination. Participating in a group effort to study the history, meaning and ritual of the Scottish Rite is of tremendous interest to me at this point in my Masonic career. Are you in the program?

By the way, I still have yet to receive my copy of Morals and Dogma. If I follow the advice I was given (see the comments for Albert Pike), there are going to be a lot of English people staring at me!

Labels: ,

09 March 2008


Here in the Scottish Rite Northern Masonic Jurisdiction the primary character in the 15th (Knight of the East) and 16th (Prince of Jerusalem) degrees is Zerubbabel. The role is an exciting one to play as he stands up bravely to kings and nobles alike in the pursuit of his principles. Despite being a prince of the house of David he never, in these moral plays, takes the road of reconciliation , but always steers by his principles regardless of the consequences to him or his people. He is a complicated semi-heroic character and one I can relate to on a personal level (just ask the poor Deputy for Maine).

As always there is a thirst for more knowledge when studying a degree, so the question is where to learn more about Zerubbabel. Thus far I have read Ezra, Haggai, Zechariah, and Sefer Zerubbabel (or the Apocalypse of Zerubbabel). Are there other good texts out there for the story of Zerubabbel?

(update: No soon is this posted than I found Esdras from the Apocrypha and our hero spelled "Zorobabel".)

Labels: , ,

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.

Labels: , , , ,

25 May 2007

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.

Labels: , ,

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.

Labels: , ,

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.

Labels: , , ,

10 March 2007

Scottish Rite Secret Master Degree

An officer from the Yates Lodge of Perfection, the first of the four Scottish Rite bodies here in Portland, contacted me today to confirm my participation in the 4th degree of the Scottish Rite (Secret Master). This degree was rewritten a few years ago to be a preview of Scottish Rite degrees a new brother is likely to see. It previews the 8th (Intendant of the Building), 12th (Grand Master Architect), 16th (Prince of Jerusalem), 18th (Knight of the Rose Croix or H.R.D.M.), 23rd (Chief of the Tabernacle), 26th (Prince of Mercy), 31st (Grand Inspector Inquisitor General) and 32nd (Sublime Prince of the Royal Secret). At least that is my understand of things based on reading the background, set direction and lines.

I am not particularly in love with the writing in this degree. The first few exchanges in the first scene are not awe inspiring. The modern language also puts me off a bit, but that is probably imprinting from the Craft Lodge. I was really excited to receive this email, because it is the first time a close friend from Deering and I are going to work in a Scottish Rite degree together. I really enjoy doing ritual with him and I am so excited to have a chance to get up on stage with and work in a stage degree. There is so much to like about the Scottish Rite, and this is one of those many things.

Labels: ,

09 March 2007

More Scottish Rite History

The book Chuck Ridlon loaned me about the History of the Scottish Rite has been incredibly interesting. I have read almost the whole thing already. While I was dimly aware of the Cerneau Scottish Rite from the history contained in the Folger Manuscript book by Bro. S. Brent Morris, I had no idea just how deep the schism cut. Our present disputes and disagreements in Freemasonry are quite simple by comparison. This dispute went on for quite some time, even past the Union of 1867, and appears to be in the process of being resurrected today (see Joseph Cerneau Another View).

Perhaps these are merely the birthing pains for a generation of great and esteemed brethren like the famous Josiah H. Drummond and Killian H. Van Rensselaer? Unlike our interior and exterior detractors, I see a fraternity filled with many good men of varying gifts.

Labels: , ,

03 March 2007

Scottish Rite History

I have been a member of the Scottish Rite for only a few years, since February of 2005. From the very beginning the richness and drama of the degrees appealed to me. Even as a candidate I was forever hanging out in back with the cast to see the world behind the current. I had not yet capped my Scottish Rite Degrees with the Sublime Prince of the Royal Secret (32nd degree) when I was already in the cast.

I acted as The Guide in the new Secret Master (4th degree), which was a great introduction. A good Masonic friend, Wor. Bro. Andy Haslam of South Portland, acted in all of the scenes with me as Hiram. We had a great time together with lots of laughs. The best part about Scottish Rite degrees is the stress relief of the curtain closing. In Blue Lodge Freemasonry there is no break. The degree work starts and you are in front of everyone for up to two hours. In the 4th degree we had a curtain close every ten minutes, allowing us to relax and prepare for the next scene and laugh at our mistakes. We repeated the degree once more the following year and now it is scheduled for May 2007 with myself and Bro. Chris DiSotto, another good friend. You can bet we will have a great time.

I was really brought into the fold with my work as Zerubbabel in the Prince of Jerusalem (16th degree). I finally had the full Scottish Rite back stage experience with a big cast, makeup, lots of lines and a generally great time. The same Brothers I knew to be somewhat stiff and boring at lodge really opened up at the Scottish Rite. It was more fun than I can say. Since the beards are single use affairs, applied masterfully by R.W. Bro. Jack Gray of Portland, I kept mine on when the young guys got together and went into town.

Now I am a regular in the 4th and 16th degrees and will be becoming active in one of the Scottish Rite bodies, if possible. In an effort to learn more about the Scottish Rite and its structure M.W. Bro. Chuck Ridlon has loaned me his copy of A History of the Supreme Council by Newbury and Williams. The book is quite enjoyable and has an entire section on a man named Henry Andrew Francken. Time for a little genealogy research!

Labels: ,

19 November 2006

Feast of Tishri

The Scottish Rite Council of Princes of Jerusalem in Portland hosted a dinner called the "Feast of Tishri" to honor the late Illustrious Walter E. Webber. The dinner was well attended by many Scottish Rite members and their ladies, who enjoyed a fine dinner with seven toasts an entertainment. My part was to deliver the invocation and a short presentation of the history of the feast itself. The Sovereign Prince, Jeffry Simonton, published a standard history in the program itself, so I skipped over that and came up with something lighter on history and heavier on injuctions. It went well with the memory of Bro. Webber who could be best described as a Brother of Citron (see the speech for the meaning). Both seemed to go well and a few foolish people asked for copies, so I suppose I should just publish them here.


Baruch ata Adonai, Eloheynu, Melech ha Olam

Blessed are you, Lord God of all Creation. We thank you for the bountiful harvests which provide sustenance for us this day. We are grateful for the bonds of love and brotherhood which brought us here. And, Lord, as the year ends help us to remember the gifts you have given us, in the service and gifts which we render to others. With praise and thanksgiving we pray. Amen.

History of the Feast of Tishri

The Scottish Rite Feast of Tishri is a celebration of the festival called Sukkot which was ordained by God to occur in the seventh month of the Jewish liturgical calendar, the month called Tishri. It is chiefly a harvest festival which celebrates the bountiful gifts the Lord has given to Israel. Families gather in huts or lean-tos erected along side their homes or the local Temple. These huts are called sukkah in Hebrew and the many translations of that term have lead to the various of names for the festival including the Feast of Booths or the Feast of Tabernacles or here in the Scottish Rite: the Feast of Tishri. The festival recalls the wandering of the Hebrews in Sinai, during which they often erected temporary housing the in the form of small huts of wood covered over with branches. In Leviticus God commanded the Hebrews for all generations to observe an seven day harvest festival during which they should eat all of their meals outside in their sukkah. The festival was a happy celebration of harvest, but also a serious reminder of when God brought their ancestor’s out of bondage and to the promised land.

The feast has more to teach us than just a mere remembrance of times gone past. In Deuteronomy God also commanded that in observing Sukkot “You shall make merry at your feast, together with your son and daughter, your male and female slave, and also the Levite, the alien, the orphan and the widow who belong to your community…[giving] each of you with as much as he can give, in proportion to the blessings which the Lord, your God, has bestowed upon you.” Those words are enough to give all of us pause. Who here among us is not profoundly blessed? I cannot speak for all those assembled, but I have the blessings of God in a bounty impossible to earn. I have the love of family, friends and brothers. I find all of my material needs provided for so that I can always care for my family, friends and brothers and never fear for my next meal.

To remind us of this very question, the Lord further commanded the Israelites saying, “On the first day, you will take for yourselves the fruit of the citron tree, the branches of the palm, and boughs of myrtle trees, and the willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before your Lord your God for seven days ”. In observing this command, they gathered citron, myrtle, palm and willow, binding them together and rejoicing to the Lord waving them in all directions with earnest prayer of thanksgiving. The meaning of these four species of plants has long been discussed by the wise and is well summarized by a Scottish Rite Mason, Rabbi Julius Nodel 32°, who wrote:

Among the symbols of Succoth are four species of plants—the citron, the branch of the palm tree, the myrtle leaves, and the willow leaves. The citron plant produces both fruit and fragrance. The palm produces fruit but no fragrance. The myrtle produces fragrance but no fruit, and the willow produces neither fruit nor fragrance. This teaches us that there are also four kinds of people. There are those that have knowledge and good deeds—they correspond to the citron. There are those who live a life of good deeds, but have no knowledge—they are like the palm. There are those who have knowledge, but perform no good deeds—they are like the myrtle, and there are those who have neither knowledge nor good deeds—they are like the willow. Yet, on Succoth, all of these different species of plants are placed together and bound as one, thus teaching us that though there are different kinds of people on Earth, with their own interests and desires, accomplishments and failures, they must still be bound together in one universal brotherhood.

For my own self, I liken this to Freemasonry itself. We too are made up by men typified by each of those four species. I consider myself a man of myrtle, rich in knowledge but with too few good deeds to be in proportion to the blessings bestowed upon me. Yet, Freemasonry takes what I have to offer and gives me much in return. Like the Sukkot celebrant the Scottish Rite gathers up and binds the four species of its members, and it works tirelessly to make us all into citron. Wanting each of us to have knowledge and producing the fruit of good deeds. It teaches the myrtle among us, who produce fragrance but no fruit, to do service for others and to feel the cries of the afflicted. It teaches the palm among us, who produce fruit but no fragrance, to learn and memorize its ritual, enticing us to seek the meaning of these words. It submerges the willow among us, who produce neither fruit nor fragrance, into the presence of good men and true and the ritual written by them. It reminds us again and again of our obligations to do good connecting us with Brethren of palm who will lead us to good deeds and Brethren of myrtle who will teach us the truth.

This brings to mind another story often related at the Feast of Tishri. Though it describes the experiences of a young man and his Rabbi it could just as well apply to anyone here:

A wise and learned Rabbi, noting that his most promising student seemed saddened and preoccupied, asked the young man, “What’s troubling you, my son?”

The student replied, “Rabbi, as I observe the injustice in the world and man’s inhumanity to man everywhere, I have come to the conclusion that when God created the world, He didn’t do a very good job.”

In response, the Rabbi asked, “Do you think you could have done better?”

The student quietly answered, “Rabbi, I honestly think I could have.”

To which the wise man responded, “THEN BEGIN!”

Let us then celebrate the bounty the Lord has given us and never neglect an opportunity to render service and aid in proportion to those blessings.

Labels: ,