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

Breaking the Law

While I have never written a real book review, I have certainly given talks about books and recommend many of them. I know the old aphorism, "Never judge a book by its cover." Added to this appears to be an common law to never review or recommend a book from its first quarter. The true value of a text is ascertained during its great middle and completing finish.

This is a law which I feel compelled to break. Work is terribly busy right now, so I have to work on this flight, but my take-off and landing book is "The Magus of Freemasonry" written by Tobias Churton. I have mentioned this author a number of times in my blog, since he impressed me with his book "The Golden Builders: Alchemists, Rosicrucians, First Freemasons." While at Borders last year I purchased Magus and sat it on my reading queue. What a shame...

The work is a biography of Elias Ashmole, the first man to record his own becoming an Accepted Mason, called today a speculative Freemason. The distinction between so-called "Free" and "Accepted" Masons makes for a pointless inter-jurisdictional debate today, but it meant a great deal during the 17th and 18th centuries. Bro. Ashmole was a famous man in his day as a founding member of the Royal Society, antiquarian and general lover of history, science and alchemy.

At this moment I am in the air over Massachusetts having read about 10% of the book while on the runway and through takeoff. Though I have hundreds of pages yet to read I must strongly recommend this work to all Masons interested in a search for knowledge and understanding of our real 17th and 18th century history. To the general reader, I offer this quotation from the book which, like the stone itself, fell on me and is still blossoming in my brain:

[Ashmole] inhabited a world where science and magick were still handmaidens to religion and philosophy. He was one of the last men of learning to enjoy that world before the family broke up. All too soon, science would leave home to plow her own furrow independently and at times in contempt of her troubled parents. Nevertheless, Ashmole was a founding member o the Royal Society - a harbinger of that fateful parting - and was himself unconcerned with theological disputes. The philosophy he espoused stood above them; and so did he.

If I were wiser and more skilled with words, I might be able to explain the powerful picture those words create in my head. Imagine the history of the Enlightenment period and the eventually antagonistic relationship between science and religion as a painting illuminated by fluorescent lighting. With these few sentences, Churton turns off the lights and opens a window allowing the work to be illuminated by pure sunlight. A new depth and character appears in the work, which was never noticed before.

All this on page two! If the rest of the book is even half this quality, then we should all own a copy of it.

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30 March 2008

England, Day Four

Yesterday we left behind London and made our way to Witney to stay with Steve's family. As always the company and the food is delightful. For a late dinner yesterday we had a kind of shepherd's pie with spinach and seafood as a filling along with a delicious white Bordeaux. I ordinarily do not like white wine, but this was quite dry and very good.

In the morning I was on my own, so I made immediately for Oxford. There are no words to adequately describe Oxford. As an American I recognize that even our oldest history is quite young, barely four hundred years at the maximum. In Oxford there are pubs that old and all but a few of the college buildings are far older still. I went first to Blackwells bookshop, spending more than two hours purusing their second hand books collection. Last year I had the good fortune to find a copy of "Emulation: A Ritual to Remember" by Colin Dyer. This time, however, though there was only one Masonic title, there were several excellent Russian and Soviet history books. A bonanza for Tandy as it were.

I went right next door to the White Horse and had a ploughman's platter for lunch. Is there any better feeling than sitting in a small English pub reading a book by Dyer, his biography of William Preston? I doubt it. After a delicious lunch, and pint of bitter, I toured the Ashmolean Museum of Science and the Bodleian Library's Milton exhibit. The Milton exhibit rekindled my interest in his and Blake's work. The artistic elements, drawings, woodcuts and typefaces, were all out of the Art Deco and Arts and Crafts period. Very beautiful.

Having spent six hours touring museums and exhibits, Steve was due to meet me in town. I went over to the Kings Arms, very near the Bodlean, and had a pint of fine Cornish Bitter while waiting for him to arrive. Soon enough a huge table of American students appeared and it was momentarily hard to determine which country I was in. I read a bit more of the wonderful Dyer book on Preston, what an interesting man Preston was. I had long held the impression that Preston's dispute regarding the powers of immemorial lodges was based on some important, concrete topic (see Wikipedia), but it turned out to be a somewhat more personal dispute where, perhaps, he made the wrong decision and refused to own up to it. He took the 'passage to Ethiopia' as it were in Masonic terms.

Steve arrived in the midst of my reading about this controversy. Hungry as I could be we went to The Bear for fish and chips, delicious, and then to a few more pubs. We wound up at a pub called "The Cricketer's Arms" in Oxford. A large gray cat wandered in and went up to the patrons looking for a scratch behind the ear. We enjoyed out hand-drawn Old Speckled Hen and relaxed for the remainder of the evening. Then in the words of Pepys: so to bed.

(pictures are at Flickr)

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England, Day Three

Having spent most of the previous day geocaching for work, we elected to get right out and find the spots requested by the family. We were charged to take a photograph of the Peter Pan Statue in Hyde Park and another at Platform 9 3/4 within King's Cross Station. We rose before 7:00am for another delicious breakfast and headed for the local Tube station.

The morning was crisp and sunny as we walked through Hyde Park for the first photograph. The statue was very near to the Tube station we emerged room, so finding it was a breeze. We wanted to wander the park, but there was more to be done. Back into the Tube and we were soon at King's Cross Station. The platform was easily found and quite accessible. Having captured both of us on film, much to Steve's consternation, we wondered what to do next. Steve convinced me to go the United Grand Lodge of England Library on Great Queen St, Holborn.

It had long been my plan to spend at least a day at the Grand Lodge Library, but the jet lag/late arrival on the first day ruled out Tuesday. Then Wednesday was first recovering and then geocaching. I had all but lost hope of even seeing the Grand Lodge. We skipped right over lunch and went directly to the Holborn Tube station.

We had hoped to tour the facility, but there was some activity going on which prevented their normal tours. We were shown to the library and museum. Impressive does not do it justice. The collection within the museum is quite diverse, but my favorite objects remain the early operative 'tracing boards'. While Steve wandered through the museum I got right down to business, registering as a reader and requesting texts. One of the books I wanted to see had gone missing from the collection, something the library is likely to encounter often as they finish computerizing their entire catalog. This setback and the inapplicability of the first few texts was starting to dim my hopes of finding the ritual text I was seeking. Then I selected one of the titles I had noted down a few months ago, while using the UGLE Library online catalog. The text must have been fairly rare as my request had to be authorized by the Librarian, which it was, and shortly I was reading my eureka text. I will write more about this item later.

Poor Steve wandered around the museum for several hours while I did more research. At 2:00pm we rushed back to the hotel for our luggage, and my Past Master's Jewel, which was stored in the hotel safe. Back to the Tube, off at Victoria Station and the coach to Oxford. The English hierarchy of bus and coach I am finally beginning to understand!

(pictures are at Flickr)

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20 March 2008

Hitler Speaks - Documentary about Hitler's Private Videos

It is a rare thing when two of my most significant interests come together with such a sense of wonder. One of the postings on digg today was a documentary about software developed to improve the quality of lip reading even when the individual turns away as much as 100 degrees. The software was amazing and listening to the resulting audio was equally astounding. The video is just over forty-five minutes, so curl up on the couch and watch it:

Many of Hitler's private videos have no audio. For the first time, lip recognition software can find what he said in them. [From Hitler Speaks - Documentary about Hitler's Private Videos]

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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!

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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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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".)

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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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13 February 2008

Grand Lodge Library Dreams

Perhaps I have been doing too much research, but last night I had the strangest dream. No, not Johnny Cash's dream about an end to war. I was working on Dyer1878, a manuscript cypher written by a Mason's wife about c1878, at the Grand Lodge of Maine Library when I felt the need to consult an 1820 manuscript cypher. Unfortunately, that text was down at the Samuel Crocker Lawrence Library. Unthinkingly I stood up and walked through a bookcase and emerged in Cynthia Alcorn's library. She said hello and gave me a stack of manuscript cyphers. The first manuscript had an unusual cover, one I had not seen before. I opened the first page and found the signature of R.W. Bro. Benjamin Gleason and woke up.

It is ordinary for a person to wake up at the most intense moment in a dream. So, here is the deal. If you can explain why this wake up trigger was so important, I will send you an advance copy of my first paper: Evolution of the Entered Apprentice Lecture.

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10 February 2008

Articles of Union

During the summer I had the good fortune to stumble upon and read "Freemasonry in London from 1785" by Bro. Roy Wells. The book made a reality of the division between the Antients and Moderns Grand Lodges by guiding the reader through the history of Domatic Lodge No. 177 (by-laws at Google Books), which was chartered by the Antients. The phrase "domatic mason" means an operative stone mason or builder, which contrasts with "geomatic masons" who we term today as speculative or accepted masons. The lodge name reflected its original constituency of operative masons. The book is fairly brief and well worth a read to the student of English Masonic history.

As I have more time, I intend to read in more detail about this era, as the "Moderns" and "Antients" labels are used for political ends by both conservative and radical freemasons to argue that one or the other is more authentic. All that aside, imagine my surprise and excitement when Pietre-Stones published the "Articles of Union" which formed the United Grand Lodge of England from the Antients and Moderns. Take a few minutes and read this for youself, I imagine you will find it very interesting. Pay attention to the elements related to obligations and modes of working...

(By the way, if you are having trouble finding AQC texts, use this search.)

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Ars Quatuor Coronatorum on Google Book Search

Studying the ritual is its own great reward. I had another fun disagreement about the meaning of this section of the Entered Apprentice Apron presentation:

...more ancient than the Golden Fleece or Roman Eagle, more honorable than the Star and Garter or any other order that can be conferred upon you by Prince, King, Potentate or any other person except he be a Mason...

The latter two are well understood by all to refer to an order of knighthood in England and one in France: Order of the Garter (c1346) and Order of the Star (1352). I recall reading that the former two are also chivalric orders and do not, in fact, refer to Greek mythology and the symbol of the Roman legions. Details about the Order of the Golden Fleece (c1430) were easily found onWikipedia. I was not able to find anything about a chivalric order related to the Roman Eagle, but I suspect with more work I can unearth the original references.

In the process of all this research, I was delighted to stumble upon a number of old Ars Quatuor Coronatorum on Google Books! Any student of Masonic history will have their breathe taken away by the paper from Bro. Hughan "The York Grand Lodge - A Brief Sketch". Then on page 20, in the responses to the paper, there are comments from none other than Bro. Chetwoode Crawley! Finding this material online is like finding a great treasure in your basement.

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01 January 2008

Kirkwall Teaching Scroll

I just read this most interesting article debunking the more fantastic history of the Kirkwall Teaching Scroll:

The Not-So-Secret Scroll by Brian Smith

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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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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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16 October 2007

Ashmolean Coincidences

With so many Masonic blogs pointing out the 361th anniversary of Elias Ashmole's initation into the Craft, Tobias Churton was bound to have a mention or two. Our own well read and well written Bro. Chris Hodapp gave a mention to Churton's new book "The Magus of Freemasonry". By coincidence I bought the book a few weeks ago and I am currently reading the preceding book "The Golden Builders: Alchemists, Rosicrucians, First Freemasons". In this current work Churton is clearly interested in writing what would eventually become "The Magus of Freemasonry." I am enjoying Churton's writing, so if Rosicrucianism or Ashmole interests you, give his books a go!

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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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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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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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08 June 2007

Unfamiliar Books Meme

I was tagged by Tom Accuosti at The Tao of Masonry with the unfamiliar books meme. He selected some excellent works, and I imagine it is up to me to return in kind. As difficult as it might be to select only three unusual books to recommend, since as a student of Masonry my library is filled with unusual works, I have opted to go for three unusual books on different topics:

  • Freemasonry - "Sephir H'Debarim" or "The Book of the Words" by Albert Pike
    I have never before read a work by the esteemed Bro. Albert Pike. The magnum opus "Morals and Dogma" feels like learning to run a marathon by going directly to the Olympic trials. This text explores in great detail the history, origins and esoteric meaning behind words used in Masonic ritual, both Craft Lodge and Scottish Rite. As such it is an incredibly deep, difficult work which sends me scurrying off for Wikipedia or Merriam-Webster quite often. It has been deepening my understanding of the rituals I already know and interesting me in those which I have yet to personally study. I would recommend this to any serious student of Masonic ritual.

  • History - "In the Wake of Madness" by Joan Druett.
    This is a wonderful pop history book about a murder on board the whaling ship Sharon. I have written about it in a past blogpost, and already passed it around to my friends. My own brief review in that post was...
    While sailing the whaling grounds of the south Pacific the captain of the Sharon was murdered by a few mutinous crewman. The single handed recapture of the ship by the Mainer Benjamin Clough was so well known it was reproduced in a stage play. The book is extremely well written and leaves the reader with a sense of the vagaries of whaling in the mid nineteenth century. The best line of the book: "Whaling captains were men who left their souls at home."

  • Catholicism - "The Mass of the Early Christians" by Mike Aquilina.
    I have always had an intense personal interest in the early Christian Church, particularly the patristics. Yet it is fair to say that most of the works from this period would be considered "dense." As the material related to the liturgy current at the time is normally scattered in small snippets among many texts, the author does us all a favor by accumulating those snippets into a single book. I learned many new things while reading this work, but the most interesting item must be "the discipline of the secret." In the early Church the nature and language of the Mass was a carefully guarded secret, so that there are almost no clear liturgical texts, as the GIRM (General Instruction of the Roman Missal) does today. The author clarifies the nature of the early liturgy by threading together the material from The New Testament, the Didache, pagan historical texts, and sixteen Fathers of the Church.
I tag "Aude, Vide, Tace", "Tales from the Testosterone Zone", Bro. Hodapp from "Freemasons for Dummies", Bro. Stewart from "Masonic Traveler" and Mike Wilber from ";;;;;; --///.. ll./.---. ..ll ll;;--".

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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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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.

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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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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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