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Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Upcoming Masonic Education Seminars

It seems that there is a growing movement toward educating Freemasons in more and more U.S. jurisdictions lately. Or maybe it's just that brethren are getting more vocal about it. In any case, here are a few upcoming, noteworthy seminars and programs:

First off, on Saturday, January 27, 2018, the Grand Lodge of New Jersey will hold its Winter Seminar at the Trenton Masonic Temple, 100 Barrack Street, Trenton, NJ

Click to enlarge

Featured presentations:

  • The Founding of the First Grand Lodge in 1717 by Brother Ric Berman. the 2016 Prestonian Lecturer for the United Grand Lodge of England
  • Leadership and Power by Symbologists Michelle and Jay Snyder
  • The Importance of Initiation in Freemasonry by Piers Vaughan, Grand Lodge of New York
  • 12 guilty Men, a lesson in repentance by RW Michael Neuberger, GH, Grand Lodge of New Jersey

The Symposium is for Master Masons in good standing only, and tickets are $20. Hurry to register - registration ends January 24th! Visit the website HERE at Eventbrite.

Friday, March 9, and Saturday, March 10, 2018

Masonic Lodge Symposium at the Dayton Masonic Center, 525 West Riverview Avenue, Dayton, Ohio.

"This symposium is designed to offer the participants a look at how five lodges have approached the challenges of practicing Freemasonry in the Twenty-First Century. Each of these lodges have followed a path unique to them in exploring Freemasonry, its lessons, teachings, and past practices whereby to assemble a operating paradigm which meets the needs of their members. It is our hope that all who attend will gather ideas that they find helpful to the operation of their own lodges to launch them on the path to a more enlightened and rewarding practice of Freemasonry. The goal is not to create clones, but to inspire as we all learn from each other."


  • Dan Hrinko - author of The Craft Driven Lodge
  • Richard Frederick - Arts and Sciences Lodge
  • Clifford Nicol - Arts and Sciences Lodge
  • Brent Arnold - Immediate Past Master of Lodge Vitruvian No. 767, Indianapolis
  • James R. Dillman - PM Lodge Vitruvian No. 767, Indianapolis and former president of The Masonic Society
  • Steve Vedra - PM Lodge Vitruvian No. 767, and Dwight L. Smith Lodge of Research U.D., Indiana
  • Richard Graeter - author of “Reform Freemasonry?”
  • Larry Solomon - PM Caliburn Lodge No. 785, Cincinnati
  • Jason Rogers - Caliburn Lodge No. 785, Cincinnati
  • Robert Miller - Caliburn Lodge No. 785, Cincinnati
  • Samuel Lawson - Lodge Vitruvian No. 767
  • Jeff Okrutny - Tippecanoe Lodge No. 174, Tipp City Ohio
  • Paul Bathgate - Tippecanoe Lodge No. 174, Tipp City Ohio
  • Zach Jacobs - Tippecanoe Lodge No. 174, Tipp City Ohio
  • John Bizzack - Lexington Lodge No. 1, author of Island Freemasonry
For more information, see the website: http://www.21stcenturyfreemason.org/

On Saturday April 28th 2018, Masonic Con 2018 will once again take place at Ezekiel Bates Lodge, 71 North Main Street, Attleboro, Massachusetts. This event just gets bigger and better year after year, and the organizers must be doing something right. Last year, nearly 700 attended this still-growing event.

One difference this year is that they are requesting a $5 donation to offset the costs of hosting this extravaganza. Children will be admitted free.

Attendees and speakers alike will be happy to know the Tower Lodge is now blessedly air-conditioned. There will not be a Grotto or Tall Cedar Degree this year. Instead, there will be an open festive board with speakers and a special concluding presentation by the Valley of Boston.

There will be food trucks on site for lunch, and an enormous collection of Masonic vendors as well. Free parking is located nearby.

For more information, see the website at: https://eb1870.org/masonic-con-2018/

And if you are coming to town the night before on Friday, April 27th, Ezekiel Bates Lodge and Bog Iron Brewery have teamed up to host the Masonic Con Pre-Party, complete with two specially brewed craft beers just for the occasion. See this separate page to reserve a spot: https://eb1870.org/bog-iron-night/

Saturday, January 20, 2018

John Bizzack Speaking at Indiana's Lodge Vitruvian 1/23

Lodge Vitruvian No. 767 will hold its January Stated Meeting this coming Tuesday, January 23, 2018, at 7:00PM at the Temple of Broad Ripple Lodge, located at 1716 Broad Ripple Avenue, Indianapolis, Indiana.

Lodge will open at 7:00PM, and we will hold our traditional officers' installation as part of our usual brief business meeting. 

“In the style of European Lodges, members are expected to dress in tuxedo for all Communications of the Lodge. Members also purchase their own regalia, (apron, collar, gloves, case), according to Lodge Vitruvian specifications.” Visitors' dress should be tuxedo, or business attire.

Our guest speaker for the evening will be Dr. John Bizzack, Past Master of Lexington Lodge No. 1 in Kentucky, and one of the strong voices behind the Rubicon Masonic Society in Lexington. 

John is the author of the outstanding 2017 book, Island Freemasonry, and he will be presenting his topic entitled "Learning What We Didn’t Even Know We Didn’t Know."  He will speak at our Festive Board after we change locations. 

Our Festive Board this month will begin at approximately 8:30PM at:
Sahm's Ale House & Barrel Room
1435 East 86th Street
Indianapolis, Indiana 46240
This is located on the south side of 86th Street in the Monon Center (across from the entrance to Nora Plaza), and next to the Big Lug Canteen. Each attendee will be responsible for the cost of his and their guest’s meal.
Lodge Vitruvian turned 15 years old last May, and we are as strong as ever. So, we must be doing something right. Read about our founding and our philosophy HERE.

(For those of you who have asked, I will have a LIMITED number of Heritage Endures with me for sale at $25. Still waiting for more from the printer.)

Guard Your Nostrils: Deathly Effluvium For Sale

And then there is the occasional stroke of genius in the marketing world. Submit for your approval this ad from Occult Collections in Illinois on the Etsy online sales platform this week. It at first appears to be a common, run of the mill, Ball Brothers Mason Jar.

Au contraire:

Masonic air taken during a Freemason Meeting
This jar holds within it the very air collected during a a closed door meeting of the Blue Lodge of Master Freemasons of Ancient Free & Accepted Masons.

For over 300 years, the Secret Society known as the Freemasons have been around and included men from many walks of life. They count among their number figures such as George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Byzz Aldrin, John Wayne, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, and Gerald R. Ford and many others.
Take now with you a part of their solemn secrets in this jar, held tight with their whispers.
I wont ask why you need it if you dont ask how I got it.
A bargain at a paltry CA$38.00 (US$31.40). 

While I applaud the seller for perhaps hitting upon a scheme that could be mined indefinitely for Masonic temple fund raising from the gullible,  I must nevertheless call bogus perfidy with this tactic. It is clear chicanery, as it is not a genuine Ball Brothers "Perfect Mason" jar, as these are. 

Further, mine contain authentic air from the Muncie Masonic Temple, which was built by the Ball Brothers themselves for our secret rites. And these contain the true classic air from the Masonic period, from before the building was, alas, sold off and lost to profanes.

No. No. Mine are not for sale. At ANY price.

H/T: 1dle-prince and the Redditors

Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Tall Tales of Leo Taxil

"The public made me what I am, the arch-liar of the period, for when I first commenced to write against the Masons my object was amusement pure and simple. The crimes laid at their door were so grotesque, so impossible, so widely exaggerated, I thought everybody would see the joke and give me credit for originating a new line of humour. But my readers wouldn't have it so; they accepted my fables as gospel truth, and the more I lied for the purpose of showing that I lied, the more convinced became they that I was a paragon of veracity." 
— Marie Joseph Gabriel Antoine Jogand-Pagès, aka Leo Taxil

At some point in your Masonic life, you'll hear anti-Masons prattling about Freemasonry being linked to Lucifer or Satanism, and they'll quickly get around to hauling out Albert Pike quotes—both real and completely imaginary ones, as well as contorted re-wording of authentic ones. Here's a favorite phony:

Utter crap that was never ever said by Pike. I promise.

And more than likely they'll finally drag out the hoary old figure of Baphomet.

The late religious tract cartoonist Jack Chick made this stupidity into a cottage industry, as you can see from this little rogue's gallery of favorites. But he was, and is, far from alone. He's had plenty of company.

So as a Mason, you've gone and joined every possible obscure appendant organization imaginable, from the Royal Order of Scotland, the Holy Royal Arch Knight Templar Priests, and the Commemorative Order of St. Thomas of Acon, right down to Ye Antiente Order of Corks. You've witnessed every single degree you've ever heard of, and scores more that you hadn't known of before. You've even been coroneted with the so-called "highest" degree of all, the 33° of the Scottish Rite (yes, I know, that "high ranking" Mason nonsense dazzles the non-Masons every time, when we all know it's nothing of the kind). And you've gone so far as to read all of the old degrees of the Allied Masonic Degrees, and all of the decades of back copies of the Grand College of Rites' collections of defunct degrees from the past. 

Yet try as you might, there's nary a Satanic, Luciferian, 'Baphometian' image, symbol, reference, utterance, hint, suggestion, or lapel pin to be found anywhere. So where the hell did this stupidity come from?

Blame it on the French. At least one Frenchman, in particular.

If you've never heard of Leo Taxil and The Taxil Hoax, you need to. Masons really should have at least a passing knowledge of the episode, if only to calm the occasional aunt or pastor who gets the jitters in the presence of your Masonic ring. 

The elevator explanation is that Leo Taxil (born as Marie Joseph Gabriel Antoine Jogand-Pagès) was a 19th century French practical joker and con artist who couldn't stand Catholics or Masons. After dabbling in anti-Catholic porn for a few years, he started pumping out out lurid and increasingly ridiculous stories about the bizarre goings on in Masonic lodges, hoping to dig at Masons (who mostly wouldn't respond publicly, at least in Europe at the time) and to make incredulous Catholics look foolish. To his good fortune, he came to the attention of anti-Masonic Catholic Church leaders who didn't get the joke and swallowed the whole gag as serious, including Pope Leo XIII. The pontiff had just issued his anti-Masonic encyclical, Humanum Genus, in 1884, and Taxil had started madly writing the next year. With this Pope, he had an enthusiastic fan and promoter, who never even seemed to notice that this new author's nom de plume looked astonishingly similar to his own name (Leo TaXiI vs. Leo XIII).

Every succeeding book got sillier and more outrageous. Masons made tables float in the air, slaughtered animals, transformed into liquids and passed through walls. As the gags got more elaborate and preposterous, Taxil created an imaginary female Masonic wing and a fictitious heroine named Diana Vaughan (who was his typist in real life), so that he could then introduce lascivious details about sexual initiations into a non-existant type of sexual-satanic-magickal Masonry called the Palladian Rite. Can't sell a really juicy scandal without sex, you know. And of course there was the Satanic stuff, so he could invent Black Masses and sex orgies going on in "Satan's Synagogue" (thereby using Masonry to take a swipe at Judaism). And as a cherry on top, he headquartered the whole affair in Charleston, South Carolina with "General" Albert Pike named as the "Supreme Pontiff of Universal Freemasonry of the 23 Supreme Councils of the World." It was easy to do because Pike died in 1891, so Taxil could eventually allege anything he liked without fear of direct rebuttal from the old, dead lawyer.

Don't think these were just broadsheets and pamplets, either. Just one of Taxil's many anti-Masonic tomes ran to 2,000 pages. In 1886, the Bishop of Charleston had written directly to Leo XIII to say he was acquainted with Albert Pike and and that Taxil's stories were fables, but by then the pontiff was so deeply committed to the anti-Masonic cause that nothing would dissuade his support—the Bishop was officially reprimanded for being a doubter. Taxil, meanwhile, was invited in 1887 to an audience with the Pope.

Pope Leo and the Church as a whole were so alarmed by it all that in 1896, an anti-Masonic Congress was assembled in Trent, Austria with over 1,000 attendees and 36 bishops. But after twelve years of this, along with increasing catcalls from America, some in the Catholic press finally caught on that they were being duped and called Taxil out on it. He assembled an audience together in Paris in 1897 at the Geographical Society to speak of his latest "revelation," and then gleefully admitted onstage to the audience that it had all been a fabulous lie. The crowd went nuts, newspapers all over France published his confession, and Taxil ducked out and retired to Switzerland. Since then, Taxil has vanished as the source of the story from most who peddle it today, but the lunatic Satanic accusations have remained.

One of Taxil's early book is fairly typical of his style and substance. Here's the way he described a Masonic initiation into those mysterious "higher degrees" you've never managed to be invited to join:
"Before a man is admitted to the higher degrees he is blindfolded & taken into a room where a live sheep is lying on the floor. The animal's mouth and feet are secured and it is clean shaven, so that its skin feels to the touch like that of a human being.

"Next to the animal a man is placed, who breathes heavily, feigning to struggle against imaginary enemies. The candidate is given to understand that the sheep's body is that of a disloyal Mason who gave away the secrets of the order and must die according to some ancient law, the candidate being made executioner, as a warning to him.

"Then he is given a big knife, and after some ceremonial is persuaded to 'kill the traitor,' that is, plunge the knife repeatedly into the body of the sheep, which he imagines to be that of an unknown human being, his brother.

"Thus every Mason is a murderer in spirit at least, if not actually, for sometimes treacherous Masons take the place of the animal."
Taxil was able to keep his gag going for so long because of Freemasonry's very structure: it seems at first that there's always another appendant body to join, always another degree to experience. Maybe you piddling proles in the Blue Lodges just never saw the HIGHEST ones, the sooper secret ones that the really high, HIGH degree Masons practice. Of course, modern believers in this bilge allege the very same thing even today.

Of course, the Roman Catholic Church was licking a serious chest wound at that point in history. Bear in mind that the Vatican had just lost control of Italy and the last of the Papal States in 1870. From 800 until 1808, the Vatican controlled central and a eventually a chunk of northern Italy as a sovereign possession. Napoleon's exploits severely altered the map, but the eventual unification of Italy finally stripped the Church of all but the few square blocks in Rome known today as Vatican City. 

Pope Leo was desperate to regain the sort of widespread cultural and political influence the Church had largely enjoyed for over 1,000 years, and Freemasons and other "free-thinkers" represented a major threat to that influence. In the previous hundred years or so, high-profile Freemasons had been identified with revolutions in both North and South America, France, and Italy that had all sought to separate the state from the Church, to offer public education instead of religiously controlled schools, democratically electing leaders instead of relying on Divine Rights of Kings (or popes), "freedom of religion," and more. As a result, Pope Leo saw Masons as fighting against all the Church represented. It's almost unbelievable that the current pontiff, Pope Francis apparently thinks the very same thing today.

The reason I'm posting this today is that an excellent look at Taxil's actual writings and contemporary reactions has appeared in the unlikeliest spot you could imagine. The Cannibis Connection website Tuesday posted a long article by Chris Bennett: The Devil’s Weed and The Luciferian Freemasonry Hoax of Leo Taxil. It is truly a terrific article that is worth your time, especially if you've only had a superficial acquaintance with the story. It includes excerpts from A.E. Waite (who should have known better—but then again, maybe not) actually attempting to take the whole Palladian business seriously, at least briefly.

If you're fortunate enough to belong to the Bristol Masonic Society, S. Brent Morris also presented an outstanding talk of his own, The Pope and the Pornographer in March 2016, and it is published in their 2015-2016 volume of Corona Gladiorum. And the entire text of The Confession of Leo Taxil in which he exposed his hoax, was translated for the 1996 Volume 5 of the Scottish Rite Research Society's Heredom by Alain Bernheim, A. William Samii, and Eric Serejski. It is available online HERE.

H/T to Luke Stark

Monday, January 15, 2018

New Book: "Heritage Endures"

Saturday, January 13th, 2018 was officially Founders' Day for the Grand Lodge of Indiana, kicking off our Bicentennial year. Thank you to all who braved the snow and ice from Friday night's shifting weather patterns and made it. I had a double honor for this event. I was asked to speak to the 800+ members at the Scottish Rite Cathedral that morning, and my new book was officially released. 

Heritage Endures: Perspectives On 200 Years of Indiana Freemasonry is finally real, it's in print, and is available—but only in limited quantities right at the moment. The printer didn't fulfill the whole order we placed back in November, and by the end of the day, the Grand Lodge only had about 40 copies left.

Because of that shortfall, the Grand Secretary's office isn't widely pushing sales just yet until we can get another delivery. And because we didn't have a physical book in hand until Friday evening, we haven't opened up mail or online orders yet. As soon as all of that gets solved, I'll shamelessly plug it with my usual brazen tubthumping behavior. The cover price if you buy it in person from me or at the office in Indianapolis is $25, and I'll know shipping costs in the next few days once the Post Office reopens. 

Just so you know, it will not be available on Amazon, as it is a Grand Lodge publication. 

Grand photographer Steve Kroman snapped me looking "emphatic" 
(although I'll swear I look more like I was singing "Glücklich ist, wer vergisst" 
from Die Fledermaus than anything else).

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Secret Societies, Lapel Pins and Tacos

So tonight, Alice and I are absent-mindedly monitoring a truly silly TV series on the Science Channel about Nikola Tesla and his experiments at wirelessly transmitting electricity. Naturally, they have chosen to tart it up as a multi-part series postulating that  TESLA WAS MURDERED OVER A DEATH RAY!!! And they keep promising to get around to talking about supposedly newly declassified FBI investigation documents looking into his death in 1943 and the files stolen from his safe before police arrived. We keep an eye on these programs just because a while back, we wrote Conspiracy Theories and Secret Societies For Dummies. As a result of that, we still get the occasional call from producers over the damndest topics, like Tesla for instance. We had zero to do with this one, but it follows the standard  "Episode 4: Still Nothing To Show You, But Did We Mention The Death Ray Again?" format, complete with the handheld footage of three guys exclaiming "OMIGOD!" over nothing. What one producer described to me as "the woo-woo factor."

Anyway, a commercial popped up that reminded me of something. Seven years ago, I was traveling in Ohio and posted a photo and blog entry. It was of a light fixture at the doors to a Taco Bell that clearly portrayed a square and compass (photo above), which obviously demonstrated "More proof we Masons rule the world." 

So, imagine my surprise when Taco Bell's new TV campaign portrays a secret society, called the "Belluminati." 

I'm obviously way too late discovering this, as they are already sold out of the tie-in hats, hoodies, tee-shirts, and yes, lapel pins. 

Can't be a secret society without lapel pins. 

Freemasonry can't escape being linked to the Illuminati in the public perception, no matter what. But I'm just more than a little depressed that, instead of the 20th century image we once had as something to be aspired to, then as sinister in the 1980s, then vanishing into obscurity for two decades, then resurrected by Dan Brown and his imitators as something spooky, today we've just become the punchline to a taco commercial.

My old post might have been the inspiration for this ad campaign, even if only accidentally. Or maybe it wasn't. But oh, how I wish I had thought up their description of the reason for their lapel pin:

"Forged in secrecy, this pin allows members to exchange silent nods of acknowledgement without actually having to spend energy nodding."

Friday, January 12, 2018

January 12, 1818: "A New Constellation in the Firmament of Masonry"

Today's post is one for my home team here in Indiana. We kick off a big party here as of this morning: the Bicentennial celebration of the Grand Lodge of Indiana F&AM.

Two hundred years ago today on a cold, wintery Monday, Freemasons representing nine widely scattered and isolated Masonic lodges assembled at the prospering river town of Madison, Indiana. There that week, legendarily in a second floor room of what we know today as Schofield House, they exchanged their original Ohio and Kentucky charters for new ones, and officially organized and constituted the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Indiana.

To the English mind in the mid-18th century, the word “Indiana” was touched with romance and the echoes of a faraway Utopia. Like India, it was a fanciful product of bungled Latin for the farthermost eastern shore of the Orient that might be reached by sailing far enough west. Clever land speculators latched on to it as the perfect word for a rich wilderness that beckoned, as they’d done with other land deals, like “Transylvania” in Kentucky, or “Vandalia” in West Virginia and Illinois. It even came into vogue as a woman’s name, and novelists like Fanny Burney and George Sand christened their wild, beautiful heroines as Indiana. 
Out here in the West, we were batted around between the French, the English, and even Spain for a bit. And the Indians, of course. Indiana had clung to the far northwestern end of Virginia under the English. Then we were declared part of the Northwest Territory after 1787. By 1800, Ohio was split off from us and became its own state to our east.  But the Indiana Territory was still a rough, rugged, unsettled and dangerous place to be out on the edge of Western civilization. 

After the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, impatient potential settlers who had been stopped all along the Appalachian Mountains by the British troops and England's territorial claims began hotfooting it toward the West and the Indiana Territory. The Indians here soon had enough of white encroachment. Led by the legendary chief Tecumseh and his brother, 'The Prophet,' they weren't going to give up northwest Indiana without a putting up a significant fight, culminating at the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811. But with their final defeat, the settlers began to arrive in greater numbers. 

And so did Freemasonry.

After the end of what we Americans think of as the 'War of 1812' (really 1811-1815), white immigrants finally felt it was safe to settle in the Wabash Valley. 

By the summer of 1816, the lands along the Wabash River and many miles to its east had been surveyed and officially put up for sale from a land agent in Vincennes. The other major land sales office was at the Falls of the Ohio in Jeffersonville, across from Louisville, and it was doing a booming business as well, partially because Indiana offered even cheaper land prices than Ohio. So a huge flood of pioneers roared into Indiana. Fifty settlers’ wagons were recorded crossing the Muskingum River at Zanesville, Ohio on a single November day in 1816, all bound westward for Indiana. It was estimated that 42,000 people came to Indiana just in 1816 alone. Population rose enough between 1814-1816 to enable the Indiana Territory to officially become its own state on December 11, 1816.

In more than a few early towns and settlements at the time, the formal or informal establishment of a Masonic lodge often predated the arrival of the organization of a local church. Settlers were usually self-educated, and a Bible was their most commonly available reading material. Without a church, these isolated people received their religious and moral training, understanding, and reinforcement almost entirely from interpreting the family Bible on their own, discussing its various passages among their own family members or with the rare neighbor. Yet, any church coming into the area frequently brought with it disagreements over denomination differences. A Masonic lodge forming was a uniquely civilizing force on the edges of the frontier, unlike any other. If a settler was recognized as a man of honor and trust, and was made a Freemason, men of all classes, all political persuasions, and all religious denominations surrounded him, without descending into arguments. The lodge taught the basic tools of organizing and administering a democratic body, preparing members for civic responsibility, whether they knew it or not. And despite the altruistic, nonsectarian philosophy of lodge meetings, Masonic degrees were nonetheless centered around Old Testament themes—albeit filtered through its Enlightenment-era lens. Early frontier Masons could be forgiven for coming to regard their lodge meetings almost as a combination village meeting and a non-denominational religious service all its own.

And so, Masons from the nine lodges already at work in the new State of Indiana assembled in “Freemasons’ Hall” at Madison that Monday, January 12, 1818 and spent four days at labor. There were fourteen official representatives in all, eventually with thirteen visitors. They had come through the wilderness on horseback or by river, from as far as Vincennes, 150 miles away, and Brookville, 96 miles. 

By evening candle-lighting, they formally agreed to "proceed immediately to organize a Grand Lodge for the State of Indiana."  

The organizational meeting continued for four days. Alexander A. Meek, of Madison, presided over the organization of the new Grand Lodge. On Tuesday January 13th, they elected officers with Alexander Buckner, of Charlestown elected as the first Grand Master. Then they came forward and gave up their original charters, requesting new ones under the new authority, and adopted Webb's Illustrations of Masonry as their official ritualistic work. 

On the 14th, the attorneys in the group drafted their constitution and by-laws, and Buckner ordered the preparation of the new charters. Remembering the old Masonic admonition, at 4 PM, the twenty-seven brethren processed down the muddy streets of Madison, clad in their aprons, and assembled in divine worship at the nearby log-built Methodist church to ask the blessings of the Great Architect of the Universe on the work of their hands. 

On January 15th, they issued a formal address to the other existing grand lodges requesting recognition, and beginning life with five chartered lodges: Vincennes Lodge No.1; Madison's Union Lodge No. 2; Charlestown's Blazing Star Lodge No. 3; Lawrenceburg Lodge No. 4; and Corydon's Pisgah Lodge No. 5.

To the surprise of the assembled brethren, a sixth lodge already at work in Indiana did not give up its original heritage that week. Melchizidek Lodge’s large, colorful, and bombastic representative, Colonel Marston G. Clark of Salem, held out for reasons known only to himself, refusing just yet to officially turn in his lodge’s existing Kentucky charter in exchange for a new Indiana one. That lodge would close, and it would be 1822 before Salem Lodge No. 21 would be chartered.

Three more U.D. lodges were granted Indiana dispensations at that January meeting: Rising Sun Lodge, Vevay's Switzerland Lodge, and Brookville's Harmony Lodge.

The Grand Lodge of Kentucky was the first jurisdiction to extend formal, written, fraternal recognition of Indiana that September, declaring us to be "a new constellation in the firmament of Masonry."

Indiana began life with 176 known Freemasons associated with the lodges across the new state. The Grand Lodge recorded 37 'additions' by the end of its first year of labors, for a total of 214 members in its nine lodges. It was an auspicious beginning for what would eventually become the fifth largest grand lodge in the United States.

And so it is that Indiana officially enters its third century of Masonic labors and celebrations today.

Vivat! Vivat! Vivat!

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Freemasons

A bill was just signed into law by President Trump aboard Air Force One while he was visiting Atlanta, Georgia on Monday. A week before the national holiday of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Donald Trump signed into law the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park Act of 2017. Alveda King, the niece of the slain civil rights leader, joined the President for the mostly private signing ceremony. It didn't get much press notice, didn't make the nightly news, and at first glance, it might be hard to see the connection to Freemasonry. 

Yet, it's actually central to this new Act.

The Auburn Avenue Prince Hall Masonic Temple in Atlanta, Georgia

The bill was sponsored by Rep. John Lewis, (D-GA). What this new law signed by President Trump does is to establish the area around Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthplace in Atlanta to officially become a national historical park, making it the first such park in Georgia. (It's currently just designated as a national historic site, and this changes its status and importance within the National Park Service system.) The site is established "to preserve, protect, and interpret for the benefit, inspiration, and education of present and future generations, the places where Martin Luther King, Jr. was born, where he lived, worked, and worshiped, and where he is buried, while ensuring connections are made to his life and legacy." It already includes King's birthplace, the church where he was baptized, and his burial place. But the legislation also slightly enlarges the existing designated area in order to also specifically include Atlanta's Auburn Avenue Prince Hall Masonic Temple. 

After the end of our Civil War in 1865, Freemasonry among African Americans began to spread from the Northern states into the South, where it had previously been a damned dangerous thing to openly attempt. The twists and turns of segregated Freemasonry in America are complex, and the story does not lend itself to simple explanations. Freemasonry was far from the only lofty-sounding organization that talked about equality while strictly enforcing a color barrier. Countless other fraternal groups had their own parallel black and white counterparts that operated without any acknowledgement between each other.  When slavery was abolished, the practices of "separate but equal' institutions sprouted and flourished, and by 1896, Plessy v. Ferguson carved them into stone for another half century.

After the war, three black lodges were soon organized in Georgia in 1866, forming into an F&AM grand lodge by 1870. Because the National Compact era was going through its own internal and external pangs and schisms, a second AF&AM grand lodge was formed in 1874, with both finally merging in 1888. Both groups could trace their origins back to Prince Hall's English chartered African Lodge No. 459 in Boston. Today, that merged body is the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Georgia, F&AM.

In 1871, Atlanta's first lodge of African Americans was chartered, St. James Lodge No. 4 (F&AM), with Frances J. Peck as its Worshipful Master. Peck was also the pastor of Atlanta's Big Bethal African Methodist Episcopal Church at the time, the oldest predominately African American congregation in metropolitan Atlanta. The church became a center of the black community there, as well as a gathering place for social action. The strong connection between Big Bethal and St. James Lodge also made Freemasonry among Atlanta's black population a vital part of that community, binding faith and fraternalism, and creating a strong atmosphere for leadership at every level within the then still deeply segregated society. 

John Wesley Dobbs and Rev. Emory Searcy dedicating a local cornerstone in about 1956

Starting in 1937, the Prince Hall Masonic Temple and the attached Tabor Building at 332-34 Auburn Avenue were built. The main Renaissance Revival-style building was designed by architects Charles Hopson and Ross Howard at the behest of then Grand Master, John Wesley Dobbs. Atlanta at that time was home to about 90,000 African Americans, and Dobbs was instrumental as a local political leader and organizer. He had been elected as the 10th Grand Master of the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Georgia in 1932. Dobbs would serve as Grand Master in Georgia for 29 years, 1932-1961, and was widely known in Atlanta simply as "The Grand" and the unofficial "Mayor of Auburn Avenue." 

At the time, Auburn Avenue was a prosperous commercial district in Atlanta. If you have any question just how popular fraternalism was in the black community in the 20th century, consider that by 1945, along with the Masons and the Odd Fellows (who had their own enormous theater and auditorium building), there were twenty-five other fraternal groups also located on Auburn Avenue.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was not a Mason during his lifetime, but both his father and his grandfather were Prince Hall Masons. Interviews from 1968 indicate that Grand Master X. L. Neal of the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Georgia had arranged for Dr. King to become a Freemason upon his return to Atlanta that year. King's assassination in Memphis on April 4th of 1968 had abruptly prevented that event from happening. 

But that was not the end of the question about King's association with Freemasonry. Not by a long shot.

Dr. Martin Luther King speaking at the Prince Hall Masonic Temple in Columbus, Georgia, 
circa 1959. Behind him sits Grand Master John Wesley Dobbs. 

Starting in 2000, a rumor snowballed into a controversy, widely claiming that sometime between 1999 and 2000, then Grand Master Benjamin Barksdale of the MWPHGL of Georgia made Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. a Mason "at sight" posthumously. As word spread of it, the Masonic world went berserk. Shrieks over the violation of "Landmarks" went out around the internet and in Masonic magazines, and there was a great gnashing of teeth. 

A decade after the alleged incident, the website for the MWPHGL of Georgia said the following about it:
“There is one local Masonic legend that claims that Dr. King, Jr. was good friends with Grand Master X.L. Neal, both of whom came out of Morehouse College. The legend claims that Grand Master Neal had promised to make Dr. King a Mason when he came back from the Sanitation Strike in Memphis; but as fate would have it, Dr. King never made it back from Memphis. However, in 1999, Grand Master Benjamin Barksdale gave him a posthumous honor by declaring him a member of the Craft and presenting it to his widow, Coretta Scott King, at a Morehouse celebration for our Civil Rights icon.”
At the time this allegedly happened, it was one of those explosive topics guaranteed to start a good old fashioned flame war in the early days of online Masonic discussion groups. Masons all over the world went collectively hysterical, and railed that no grand master could constitutionally confer the degrees of Masonry on a dead man. Conflicting definitions of making Masons "at sight" got trotted out and endlessly flogged over jurisdictional differences, along with the usual sagely chin wagging and general air bending. Most wound up dejectedly admitting that grand masters will do whatever they intend to do, like it or not, and if their own members of their grand lodge don't fix problems left in their wake, all the carping in the world isn't going to change anything. Nevertheless, there remain today a few lists of "Famous Freemasons" floating around that include King as a Mason without explanation. 

And yet, no one who was actually there that day finally stepped forward to definitively say whether or not the action really even took place.

Finally in 2012, in Vol. 39, No. 1 of the Phylaxis Magazine (p. 16), Brother Burrell D. Parmer of the PHGL of Texas researched this contentious and thorny event, and actually decided to go straight to the source. Brother Parmer actually asked PGM Barksdale what happened. 

The event in question occurred  at King's alma mater, Morehouse College. On April 1st, 2000, 'Millennium Sunday,' Dr. Lawrence Carter officially founded the 'Gandhi King Ikeda Hassan Institute for Ethics and Reconciliation.' That Sunday was the 40th anniversary of the Atlanta Civil Rights Movement and the inaugural celebration of the 'Season of Nonviolence' in 1960. Among the dignitaries assembled there that day were then Grand Master Barksdale, Mrs. Coretta Scott King, and Martin Luther King III, along with members of the Gandhi family

Prince Hall Masons had a longstanding connection to the site at Morehouse College, and they had dedicated the cornerstone in 1992 for the Martin Luther King, Jr. International Chapel on the Morehouse campus where the event in 2000 took place. The gathering on Millennium Sunday was for the unveiling of a large bronze plaque that contains the entire text of King's famous “I Have a Dream Speech.” An estimated 1,000 people attended that day, including 200 PHA Masons dressed n full regalia. It was when GM Barksdale stepped to the podium and spoke that the confusion came about. 

Parmer's article explains, in part:
As the event occurred over a decade ago, PGM Barksdale cannot recollect the date or year, but remembers that he did not make Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. a Mason, neither “at Sight” nor provide him with honorary membership posthumously. “Dr. King is not a Mason; you cannot make a dead person a Freemason,” said PGM Barksdale.

To the reference that GM Dr. X.L. Neal stated that he will make Dr. King a Prince Hall Mason “at Sight” when he returned from Memphis:

“The above is true. I was Grand Senior Warden when GM Neal made the statement which was in the presence of the Grand Lodge membership in Augusta, GA,” said PGM Barksdale. “Again Dr. King was never a Prince Hall Mason; however, with the permission of Mrs. Coretta Scott King, I was given permission to name a Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholarship to assist a worthy young man to attend Morehouse College.”

[Past Master Douglas Evans, Past Grand Historian of Georgia] remembers some details about that day.
“I was in the audience as a young five-year-old Mason when (an) honor was read by PGM Barksdale in the company of Mrs. King and King III along with other Grand Lodge officers while on stage inside the King Chapel, and I, as many others, thought that they were making Dr. King a ‘Mason at Sight,’” said PM Evans. “I do not think that PGM Barksdale may have made it clear that a dead person could not be made a Mason.”

“I believe that during the ceremony as Mrs. King was on the stage was when PGM Barksdale and the Masons announced that it was “honoring Dr. King’s death posthumously.” None of us really knew what this meant since it wasn’t previously disclosed to us before the event,” said PM Evans. “We heard it all at the same time. I took it as something you might honor the governor or someone with, but the word posthumously made many feel as if Dr. King was being given the honor of being a Mason. I tend to believe that this was not the intent of PGM Barksdale but maybe the wording of the statement was not filtered or edited enough.”

According to PM Evans there was neither a proclamation nor similar communications that would have informed the Craft that such an honor of membership for Dr. King would be bestowed.

“I’ll be the first to echo PGM Barksdale’s statement that he did not make Dr. King a Mason. He couldn’t if he tried; it’s unmasonic,” said PM Evans. “I will offer that the language used at that ceremony may have been misleading.”
“During my historical tours in Atlanta, I offer that Dr. King is NOT a Mason, but an Alpha (a Greek college fraternity). If he had lived longer we believe that he would have joined since his father (Daddy King) and grandfather were all preachers and Prince Hall Masons,” said PM Evans. “We think Dr. King would have joined W. C. Thomas Lodge No. 112 since it is thought that this is where Daddy King was Raised, and due to GM Neal belonging to the same Lodge and knowing Dr. King from Morehouse College.”
In any case, the real reason for the expansion of the historical site in this new legislation Trump signed is because Atlanta's Prince Hall Temple was where the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) established its initial headquarters on Auburn Avenue in Atlanta in 1957. That historic civil rights organization was co-founded by Dr. King, who also served as its first president until his murder in 1968. The SCLC became one of the most prominent non-violent groups in the country, and was instrumental in the growing efforts to finally end racial segregation in the U.S., starting in the late 1950s.

The cooperation between Prince Hall Masons, their temples. and civil rights groups was not at all unusual. These landmark buildings frequently were also home to offices of black professionals like lawyers, doctors, dentists, and accountants, along with other businesses and organizations vital to their segregated communities. Birmingham, Alabama's historic Colored Masonic Temple, for example, was built by the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge, Free and Accepted Masons of Alabama between 1922-24. That temple became the headquarters of the NAACP in Alabama and housed the legal teams during the time of the Freedom Riders in the 1960s. It was declared by the National Parks Service in 2016 as part of the History Birmingham Civil Rights District, a wide area of that city that encompasses many significant buildings in the same general area. 

Trump also signed two other related bills into law on Monday. The African American Civil Rights Network Act of 2017 instructs the National Park Service to link together various historical sites related to the civil rights movement, making it easier to trace the development, growth and success of the fight against racial segregation. He also signed the 400 Years of African-American History Commission Act to commemorate the arrival of the first Africans in the English colonies at Point Comfort, Virginia. in 1619.

I would be remiss if I didn't add as a footnote to this post that the Grand Lodge of Georgia F&AM at their annual meeting in October 2017 tabled without action yet another attempt at recognition of the MW Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Georgia, in spite of now PGM Gary Leazer's efforts and the encouragement of several others. I've lost track at this point of how many times the Prince Hall Masons have been turned down or ignored in Georgia. Alabama, on the other hand, passed joint recognition with their Prince Hall counterparts on November 14, 2017. Counting Georgia, there remain eight U.S. states that continue to deny Prince Hall recognition. 

A visual aid may be helpful to understanding this.

There is one last bit of confusion over Martin Luther King and Freemasonry. His final speech before his assassination on April 4th of 1968, his stirring "I've Been To The Mountaintop" address, was given in Memphis, Tennessee at the Church of God in Christ headquarters. That landmark building is known as "Mason Temple," but it was not then, and never has been, a Masonic temple. It was purpose built as a church and enormous auditorium complex in 1945, and is actually named for Bishop C. H. Mason of Memphis, the church's founder.