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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Speaking Tonight in Massachusetts, Sort Of

I'll have the distinct honor of speaking tonight at Thomas Talbot Lodge in the northwestern Boston suburb of Billerica, Massachusetts. Dinner begins at 6PM; lodge opens at 7PM; and I believe my part of the evening starts around 7:45 or so.

I just won't be there.

This will be a unique experience for a couple of reasons. First, this will be a video conference between myself and everyone attending this evening. So, please don't bring books thinking I will sign them, or that I'll have any with me. I'm actually in Indianapolis still taking care of Alice in her bed of pain with her post-op knee. The lodge will be projecting my mug onscreen, which means I'll have to break down and move the junk out from behind my desk for the occasion—at least out of camera range.

Second, if any of you have heard me elsewhere, you'll be thrilled to know I'm not making a speech you've heard before. Instead, this will be something that lodges seem to have enjoyed more of recently—a back and forth conversation, sharing ideas from around the country about membership, retention, programming, social media issues, ego tug of wars, and much more. We'll talk about problems and solutions, successes and failures, hare-brained schemes and brilliant ideas, and anything else anyone wants to throw around. 

I understand that the lodge will conclude its business and officially close before we get started, and this will be an open gathering. So members, guests, and even non-Masons may attend. And yes, we tested this technology out a couple of weeks ago just to be sure it works.

The lodge is located at 11 Concord Road, Billerica, Massachusetts. If you have questions about the evening, please contact Worshipful Master Lee Spach at master@thomastalbot.org

By the way, if you still haven't got your Christmas tree yet, come out to the lodge tonight. Their annual Christmas Tree Sale is going on now. 

Down with plastic trees! 

Bet they'll even tie it to your car roof.


Thursday, December 07, 2017

New to the Knights Templar? There's A Book Just For You

After watching the premiere episode of Knightfall that was entertaining and very well done, I want to pass along my own personal kudos to the writers for very pointedly inserting the line of a Templar Knight bitching about having stated meetings.

Brilliant. The show gets two thumbs up at Hodapphäus just for that alone!

(Shameless self-promoting commercial announcement)

In case you're new to the subject of the Knights Templar and hunting an introductory reference book as Knightfall starts airing this week on History™, permit me to blatantly recommend the following volume co-authored by myself and Alice Von Kannon: The Templar Code For Dummies (Wiley: 2007) $19.95  

Also available in a Kindle edition for $10.99.


The Templar Code For Dummies

You'll find the full story of the rise and fall of the Poor Fellow Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Solomon, from their humble start on the road to Jerusalem guarding pilgrims, to their meteoric climb as the most powerful military and political force in the Holy Land and Europe, their role as the first international bankers, and their subsequent plummet from grace and influence to total destruction—all in just the two hundred short years of the 12th and 13th centuries. 

On the way, you'll discover the origins of the Holy Grail myth and the proliferation of sacred relics throughout the Middle Ages; the rise and suppression of Gnosticism and other "heresies"; the Mary Magdalene "black Madonna" cults; Baphomet and the accusations of witchcraft, idolatry, sodomy, and heresy against the Templars; the very real plots of King Philip IV ("the Fair") and his hatchet man, Guillaume de Nogaret that unfolded against Pope Boniface VIII, successor Clement V, the Jews and the Lombards in France, and finally, the Knights Templar themselves; famous real and alleged Templar historical sites like London's Templar Church, Rennes-le-Château, what remains of Paris' Temple and execution sites, and Scotland's Rosslyn Chapel; and much, much more. Plus, you'll find the modern day connections to the Templars, along with organizations that claim descent from them. Even the Templar theory of the creation of Freemasonry and why the two groups are associated with each other now. 

All for a paltry $19.95! Less than a meager sawbuck! How can you go wrong?





Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Tonight: Knights Templar + France + Holy Grail = Knightfall


History (the channel) premieres its new miniseries, Knightfall, tonight (December 6th) at 10PM. To coincide with this major production (from the same team who created The Vikings), History has also helpfully put together an extensive companion website, complete with historical background, maps of critical areas in both Europe and Outrémer, descriptions of the major players, and much more.

There are initiations (that will sound remarkably familiar to us), intrigue, battles, an impressive recreation of the Paris Temple compound, and even some real historical facts that get wedged into proceedings. The opening episode starts with the fall of Acre, and because of the age in which we live, it's filled with the requisite gore-filled slaughters these things revel in. And the real downside to this whole series is that we all know how it ultimately ends on the Île aux Juifs.

Yeah, yeah, it's got trumped up jazz about the Holy Grail, "basic cable" sex, duplicitous religious characters, and the rest of the standard panoply of modern, "sophisticated," big-budget cable entertainment. And from some of the dialogue in the trailer, the authors have been carefully mining the whole library of serious and imaginary speculative history (along with a couple of tag lines I seem to have written myself a few years back). They even seem to be treating Philip "the Fair" and Guillaume de Nogaret with just the proper amount of Snidely Whiplash panache they deserve. One wistfully wishes Claude Rains and Basil Rathbone were still alive to play them. *sigh*

But still, you know. 

It's the Knights Templar for a whole new audience. So, set your DVR and enjoy. Early reviewers are saying get past Episode 1's slow spots, because by #2 you'll be hooked.

(Not intending to be deliberately provocative, I'm just observing an unintended coincidence this afternoon. President Donald Trump just issued a declaration today announcing that the United States is officially recognizing Jerusalem as the capitol of the State of Israel. World leaders have been predicting major violence in the Muslim world as a result, and the leader of the terror group of Hamas that controls the Palestinian territories has proclaimed that the U.S. President has "opened the Gates of Hell."

What has changed in 900 years concerning the land once called Outrémer, besides the names?)


Tuesday, December 05, 2017

GL of New York Organizing Two New Academic Lodges

For too long, Freemasons have largely ignored colleges as potential sources of new men seeking bonds of fraternalism and association with quality men of character, experience, and maturity. That is very, very slowly starting to change.


The Grand Lodge of New York is enthusiastically embracing the "Academic Lodge" concept that is being actively being promoted by the Masonic Renewal Committee, using examples developed in other East Coast jurisdictions, along with the UGLE's "Universities Scheme." New York Masons have established a Committee for Fraternity on Campus under the leadership pf RW Edmund "Ted" Harrison. They are currently seeking interested members to form two academic lodges in New York City—one for the Columbia University community to be called Columbia Lodge U.D., and another for the City University of New York (CUNY) community to be called Illumination Lodge U.D. Neither lodge will have any official university affiliation, and both of them will meet at the Grand Lodge headquarters building on 23rd Street, and not on either of the schools' campuses. They will be joining the Seventh Manhattan District under the leadership pf Daniel Eckman and Earnest Hudson. Both lodges are expecting their dispensations by the beginning of the year.


A preliminary website has been set up for Columbia Lodge in anticipation of their official opening at www.columbialodge1754.org .  They are welcoming petitions for membership and affiliation, both locally and internationally, so they can quickly add to the twenty or so brothers who are helping to start this new lodge.  Membership is open to students, alumni, faculty, and staff from all Columbia University divisions, as well as to their direct relatives (father, son, husband, brother). New York permits out of state memberships, and the international membership fee is very reasonably set at $150 to encourage even overseas members of the Columbia community to join. Also, their meetings will take place only during the academic calendar, about eight times a year, and will be on Saturday mornings at 11am followed by lunch.  

Organizers are attempting to give a Continental-influenced flavor to Columbia Lodge, with slower progression from degree to degree, a requirement to present papers before advancement, an expectation for a paper or other presentation to be delivered at each communication, and other features.

(NOTE: If I receive contact information for the CUNY-related Illumination Lodge, I will update this post and place it here.)

UGLE has 72 similarly organized lodges that are aligned with colleges and universities throughout their jurisdiction as part of their Universities Scheme. By contrast, there are remarkably few in the United States. However, there are several Academic Lodges currently chartered. Have a look at them and see how they have handled their formation and characterization:
Also, be sure to go back up and check the links for the MRC and UGLE programs.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

New Book: 'A Discovery of the Masonic Temples of France'

Le temple de Saint-Nazaire

One of the greatest opportunities Freemasons have that so few members widely take advantage of is the ability to travel far and wide to visit other Masons and lodges. That could mean lodges in your own state, across the country, or around the world. Despite all of the stubborn insistence by some that "regular" lodges, practices, and rituals are all alike, nothing could be further from the truth, even in the U.S. And at nearly every lodge you visit, I promise you'll find something new or different to make note of, carry home with you, and take back to try at your own. It can be as simple as the "no Brother sits alone in this lodge" custom I saw in Rhode Island, or as awe inspiring as a new or old lodge room's decor.

Numerous Continental lodges, especially in France, have embraced modern architecture and decor far more than Masonic lodges in the U.S. Part of that unquestionably has to do with the huge variety of unrecognized grand bodies throughout Europe, but not entirely. But don't forget that under the German occupation, countless older lodges throughout Europe were destroyed by the Nazis, resulting in few surviving intact after the 1940s. 

In the U.S. we really don't have many dedicated Masonic buildings prior to the mid-1800s, and our major Masonic building boom was between about 1900-1930. Before the great awakening to historical architectural preservation began in the 1960s, Americans gleefully knocked down buildings after twenty years, almost like clockwork. That, combined with our nation's nonstop frontier expansion into the wilderness throughout the 19th century, created very, very different urban landscapes than the sort that developed in Europe for centuries. Consequently, on a walk through London, Paris, Rome, Athens, or the other major European cities, you'll find a chrome and glass tower a block away from a row of homes and shops from the early 1700s, across the street from a Renaissance church, a medieval chapel, or even a Roman ruin. In Europe, they seem to protect and respect the noteworthy, but aren't totally architecturally reverential about the past when it comes to daily living.

Masonically, this whole dichotomy results in a truly wild variety when it comes to their lodge rooms. As I say, if you get to travel for business or pleasure, always try to seek out a lodge to visit for a meeting, or just to have a peek inside. I promise, you won't be disappointed. 


Temple General Lafayette, GOdF Paris

Now. If you CAN'T travel yourself, here's a pleasant diversion. At the end of this month, what promises to be a spectacular new book is being published in France that will let you save some air fare for a while. A la Découverte des Temples Maçonniques de France (A Discovery of the Masonic Temples of France), written by Ludovic Marcos and photographed by Ronan Loaëc features more than 600 pages of photos of the huge variety of Masonic temples throughout just that country. The creators spent three years touring, photographing, and documenting these incredible French temples. One thing that will stand out and surprise you is just how small so many of these lodge rooms really are, frequently with seats for no more than 40, if that. They do have their large rooms, too. They are old, modern, and everything in between. 


Grande Loge Nationale Française, Paris Main Temple

Regular, irregular, male, female, co-Masonic—it doesn't matter. You won't burst into flames or be expelled by your Grand Master for simply seeing the rooms in which other Masons in the world practice our gentle Craft. And you might just be motivated to take on redecorating your own, as a result. Just because you have a steel pole barn in a field on the outside doesn't mean your sacred retreat inside has to be just as plain and uninspiring.

Temple Joannis Corneloup, GOdF Paris

The book is available HERE on French Amazon for €49 (US$59). Yes, the text is in French and you'll pay a little extra shipping. No, with 600 pages of photos, you don't need to worry about comprehending French from its visual standpoint. (By the way, the photos above are mine, and not the professionally shot ones from Marcos and Loaëc's book.)




While I'm on this subject, I'll take another opportunity to again bring Belgian Freemason Tristan Bourlard's incredible film Terra Masonica: Around the World in 80 Lodges to your attention, for much the same reason. If you can't travel the world Masonically due to time constraints or a thin bank account, these resources are the next best thing. Put them both on your Christmas list, because you won't be disappointed. It's available on his website in several different languages.


And if you're more interested in the English side of the Channel, seek out a series of five books exploring the Masonic Halls of England by Reverend Neville Barker Cryer, published by Lewis Masonic in the 1990s. They are divided up into different volumes for Masonic Halls of the North, the South, the Midlands, North Wales, and South Wales. The photos are unfortunately in black and white only, but they still give you a great sense of the variety of these historic English temples. They have been out of print for some time, so search Abebooks.com for them.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Super Genius: Wile E. Coyote vs. Round Earth Freemasons


Just in time for Thanksgiving, here is your Wild Turkey Surprise

On Saturday, Apple Valley, California limousine chauffeur and frustrated rocket engineer Mike Hughes is going to prove the Earth really, really, REALLY is flat, after all. That day, he'll board his home-built, steam-powered rocket out in the Mojave Desert, count down, blast off, reach a terrifying top-speed velocity of 500mph, and soar to an eardrum-popping 1,800-foot apogee in order to peer back down at the surface himself, and in his words, "shut the door on this ball earth" once and for all. 

Because, you see, according to Hughes, the only reason anybody falls for the silly old theory of a globe in space orbiting the Sun is because? 

You guessed it. 

NASA is controlled by "round-Earth Freemasons."

Oh, along with Elon Musk faking so-called "rocket launches" - so called - with blimps.

Here's the important bits from from the Washington Post today. Feel free to hum the Stonecutters theme while you read it:
Hughes promised the flat-Earth community that he would expose the conspiracy with his steam-powered rocket, which will launch from a heavily modified mobile home — though he acknowledged that he still had much to learn about rocket science.
“This whole tech thing,” he said in the June interview. “I’m really behind the eight ball.”
[snip]
He built his first manned rocket in 2014, the Associated Press reported, and managed to fly a quarter-mile over Winkelman, Ariz.
As seen in a YouTube video, the flight ended with Hughes being dragged, moaning from the remains of the rocket. The injuries he suffered put him in a walker for two weeks, he said.
And the 2014 flight was only a quarter of the distance of Saturday’s mile-long attempt.
And it was based on round-Earth technology.
Hughes only recently converted to flat-Eartherism, after struggling for months to raise funds for his follow-up flight over the Mojave.
It was originally scheduled for early 2016 in a Kickstarter campaign — “From Garage to Outer Space!” — that mentioned nothing about Illuminati astronauts, and was themed after a NASCAR event.
“We want to do this and basically thumb our noses at all these billionaires trying to do this,” Hughes said in the pitch video, standing in his Apple Valley, Calif., living room, which he had plastered with drawings of his rockets.
“They have not put a man in space yet,” Hughes said. “There are 20 different space agencies here in America, and I’m the last person that’s put a man in a rocket and launched it.” Comparing himself to Evel Knievel, he promised to launch himself from a California racetrack that year as the first step in his steam-powered leap toward space.
The Kickstarter raised $310 of its $150,000 goal.
Hughes made other pitches, including a plan to fly over Texas in a “SkyLimo.” But he complained to Ars Technica last year about the difficulty of funding his dreams on a chauffeur’s meager salary.
A year later, he called into a flat-Earth community Web show to announce that he had become a recent convert.
“We were kind of looking for new sponsors for this. And I’m a believer in the flat Earth,” Hughes said. “I researched it for several months.”
The host sounded impressed. Hughes had actually flown in a rocket, he noted, whereas astronauts were merely paid actors performing in front of a CGI globe.
“John Glenn and Neil Armstrong are Freemasons,” Hughes agreed. “Once you understand that, you understand the roots of the deception.”
The host talked of “Elon Musk’s fake reality,” and Hughes talked of “anti-Christ, Illuminati stuff.” After half an hour of this, the host told his 300-some listeners to back Hughes’s exploration of space.
While there is no one hypothesis for what the flat Earth is supposed to look like, many believers envision a flat disc ringed by sea ice, which naturally holds the oceans in.
What’s beyond the sea ice, if anything, remains to be discovered.
“We need an individual who’s not compromised by the government,” the host told Hughes. “And you could be that man.”
Yeah, I know. John Glenn was, Neil Armstrong wasn't (it was Brother Aldrin on Apollo 11, actually). The serious list of known astronauts who were or are Freemasons is right here, out in plain sight, where everybody can find it.

Oh, never mind. 

But no Metric System, ever. It's down and it STAYS down. Let's play ping-pong.



UPDATE 11/26/2017:

Well, it seems Mr. Hughes was forced to scrub his launch Saturday over safety concerns.

According to the Daily Mail on Sunday, he was:

forced to halt his plans because he didn't have the required federal permits plus had mechanical problems with his 'motorhome/rocket launcher. 
In an announcement made on YouTube, he said that the US Bureau of Land Management 'told me they would not allow me to do the event... at least not at that location'.
'It's been very disappointing,' he added.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Help, Aid and Assist: Masonic and Tonic

Sometimes supporting a fallen Brother can take on a different meaning than we realize at first, because sometimes Brothers wait too long to ask for that support. Or, all too frequently, never do.

Back in the Stone Age of the Interwebs when dinosaurs ruled the Earth, one of the first regular purveyors of Masonic content was Minnesota's Neil Neddermeyer. Starting in the late 1990s, his emails entitled Cinosam (spell it backwards) appeared in email inboxes every week with tips, leadership ideas, trivia, quotes and inspirations back before there were blogs or forums or much of anything else. Thanks to the Wayback Machine, you can see the archives of his mailings HERE. He created almost 300 of them.

Neil went on to become a Grand Master in Minnesota in 2003-4, but eventually those regular Cinosam messages just stopped appearing. After I caught up with him again in New Mexico back in 2010, I lost track of him. Then out of the blue, he dropped me a line last month about a project he's involved with that explained the long quiet, and described what is I think is an outstanding development.

Neil is the spokesman for an independent group of Freemasons who are suffering with personal alcoholism or other addiction issues, or have this sort of issue in their families. The group is called Masonic and Tonic and they provide weekly words of support to these Brothers through a regular email newsletter, as well making personal contact if requested. Their group's mission includes:
  • Increase bonding among Brothers of the fraternity.
  • Shore up the idea that our fraternity cares about all its members.
  • Lets the Brothers suffering from addiction know that they are not alone.
  • Give ideas that may help with continued sobriety success.
  • Encourage struggling Brothers to seek help.
  • Share experiences of those who have chosen continued sobriety with those Brothers who are seeking a pathway back to normal life. 
Neil admits quite openly on the Masonic and Tonic website that he is a recovering alcoholic. He explains it this way:
A couple of years ago I went through a profound change in my life. Alcohol had gotten the best of me and I knew that I had to quit. I have always been a strong Freemason, but couldn’t find any entity in the Craft that was designed to help me. What I did find, however, were many Masons in my area who had the same issues. They referred to each other as “Double Brothers” in that they were Brothers of the Craft and brothers in sobriety. Together we formed a commission that is now called ‘Masonic and Tonic’.
Masonic and Tonic regularly puts out a support newsletter for Freemasons who are concerned with their own addiction or the addiction of someone they love. It offers support and understanding along with quips about the fraternity and a smile or two.

“Masonic and Tonic” is not affiliated with any local and national Masonic organization because some Masons do not understand our issues. It is not a part of or associated with any twelve-step program or any other addiction support organization, because those folks do not understand the Craft. It does however, recognize the importance of what those organizations have contributed to the welfare of society.

Within this website you will find referrals for those Brothers seeking treatment as well as help finding a recovery group or an addiction organization near you. You will also find support from those Brothers who may be going through the same challenges as yourself.
This is exactly what Masons should be doing for each other. Every single one of us knows or has known someone who has an addictive personality and regularly imbibes too much, or for whom the demons of addiction have run away with their common sense, their judgement, and even their lives sometimes. Many of us have had them in our own families, and we've all certainly seen them within the fraternity. And sometimes it's even ourselves. It is a problem that crosses all social, cultural, economic, political, religious, sexual, and racial lines, along with every single other tribalistic category that we lump our fellow man into these days. No one is immune. And yet, no one in the fraternity has ever seemed willing to even bring it up openly, unless it was for some disciplinary action.

As Freemasons, we are obligated to help, aid and assist each other; to support a fallen Brother; to even go out of our way to aid a Brother in distress. All too often, we instead sit in Masonic trials, or issue suspensions or edicts, and deliberately turn our backs on our own Brethren at the precise moment when they need us the most. MW Neil is trying to remedy that in his own way, and he should be commended for taking on the job that no one else has before.

No, a lodge is not a home for wayward boys, and never has been. Freemasonry was always designed to take men who were already good ones and improve them, first internally, and then externally to the wider world, but it was never designed to be a rehabilitation clinic for men clearly unqualified for membership. But this is something quite different. Nothing can or should replace rigorous investigation of a petitioner and his reputation. But once we have done that and received him as a true Brother among us, all of us have a vested interest each others' welfare, every single day, and it is our most important duty as Masons. Sometimes we forget that part.

See the Masonic and Tonic website HERE.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Brother Mel Tillis Passes Away at 85

Country music legend and Brother Freemason Mel Tillis has passed away Sunday morning at the age of 85. He was a Country Music Hall of Famer, a Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee, and a member of the Grand Ole Opry. In a prolific career that spanned six decades, he recorded more than 60 albums with three dozen Top 10 singles, and wrote over 1,000 songs. 

He had been quite ill ever since early 2016, and his suffering has now been eased. 

Illustrious Lonnie Melvin Tillis was raised a Master Mason on December 16, 1984 in Branson Lodge No. 587 in Branson, Missouri. He became a 32° Scottish Rite Mason in the Valley of Joplin, Missouri, in 1993, and was invested with the Rank and Decoration of Knight Commander Court of Honour in 1996. He was coroneted a 33° Scottish Rite Mason at the House of the Temple in Washington, D.C. in 1998, and on October 11th, 1999, Mel was further honored by the Scottish Rite Southern jurisdiction by being awarded the Grand Cross.
Brother Tillis suffered with a lifelong speech impediment following a childhood bout of malaria, but he deliberately incorporated the stutter into his act as his own comedic signature. His fellow country music singer friend Bill Anderson was quoted in a news story Sunday afternoon saying Tillis once told him concerning his stutter, "I had a handicap and turned it into an ass-ass-asset." The stutter disappeared when he sang, and he later commented to his lodge brothers that he was able to repeat his Masonic ritual flawlessly because he had to concentrate on it so carefully to repeat it without the stammer.

In addition to his music career, Brother Tillis appeared regularly on television shows such as “Hee Haw” and “Hollywood Squares,” and was in several movies, including “Smokey and the Bandit 2” and “Cannonball Run."

Brother Tillis is survived by his longtime partner Kathy DeMonaco, his children, Pam, Carrie April, Cindy, Mel Jr. ("Sonny"), Connie and Hannah; brother Richard; sister Linda Crosby; and six grandchildren and one great-grandson.

Funeral arrangements are unavailable at this time. Memorials will be held in Florida and Nashville.


His column is broken and his brethren mourn.

Requiescat in pace.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Masonic Theatre Backdrops For Auction in Winona, MN: Ends 11/29


On Wednesday, the city of Winona, Minnesota opened an auction of the seventy-three canvas, theatrical backdrops originally created for the former Scottish Rite valley once located in the Winona Masonic Temple.


They were created in 1909 for the Scottish Rite Valley in Winona, however the Valley relocated to Rochester in 1978. The lodge and other Masonic bodies have long since moved out, and the drops have remained almost entirely hidden away from view for almost forty years now. Today, the city has complete ownership of the temple and has at last decided to be rid of these priceless pieces of theatre art.

These particular backdrops were specifically painted for the degrees of the Southern Jurisdiction of the AASR as they were staged at the turn of the last century. However, several of them can be easily used for presenting Blue Lodge and York Rite degrees, as well as other appendant bodies.

From the Winona Post on November 15, 2017:

The drops and their scenic accoutrements were used by the Winona Masons Lodge in traditional Scottish Rite ceremonies, in which novices would slowly learn the tenants [sic] of freemasonry through watching veterans perform theatrical rituals full of symbolism and hidden meanings. These drops helped the Masonic Temple in Winona earn a spot on the National Register of Historic Places, and they were hand-painted by the premier turn-of-the-century scenic painters, Sosman and Landis of Chicago. Death on horseback, a Moorish castle at night, the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem, and an army of knights camped out before battle — these 73 drops depict a wide range of scenes that had deep symbolic meaning for Masons, and which were used in layered sets to create a three-dimensional effect. Some of them have hidden tricks. A seascape includes a little, moveable boat that can slowly sail across the horizon. In another scene, backstage hands can cause glowing lava to slowly pour down the slopes of a volcano.
 “It’s rare, and it’s very complete,” Masonic scenery expert Wendy Waszut-Barret said of the city’s full collection at a 2014 event — the last time the drops were shown. The drops have remained at the Masonic Temple since the were first used in the early 1900s, though they were rolled up for storage off-stage by preservation experts in 2014. Deterioration of the stage’s rigging system forced the drops to be taken down in 2014. Now, a 2018 project to replace the rigging system and renovate the theater into a more modern performance space is the impetus for the sale of most of the collection of drops. Out of the original collection of 99, the city is keeping 25 drops, one was damaged beyond repair, and the other 73 are now on-sale.
“They’re just breathtaking,” Winonan Margaret Shaw Johnson said of the drops. That 2014 showing was the last time the public got a chance to see the drops themselves, but this spring, citizens viewed photographs of the collection. Even looking at two-dimensional images of them, some were wowed. As city staff showed off slides of drops likely to be sold, one woman in the audience whispered to her neighbor, “I feel like this is a sin.”
For the next two weeks, the city will accept bids through GovDeals.com for this unique collection. The city of Winona and various governments across North America use this public auction website to sell off their surplus equipment, and buyers can find a wide range of things for sale on the site: school lunchroom tables, truck-mounted telescopic excavators, surplus stoplights, and a car-carrying ferry being sold by the Canadian province of Nova Scotia. As of Monday, there were two other items of fine art for sale on the site: an oil-painting by an unknown artist and a print of a John Singer Sargent painting. The bulk of GovDeals.com’s offerings are office equipment, computers, and old squad cars.
The 73 drops and various other scenic pieces — mostly free-standing set pieces painted to look like trees or temple ruins — are currently being sold all-together as one lot. The sale ends on November 29, and buyers have 10 days to pick up the drops. The drops come “as is/where is.” Buyers are responsible for getting the large objects out of the building, and they must show proof of liability insurance that covers any damage to the building or injury during the removal process. Prospective buyers may contact Winona Arts and Culture Coordinator Lee Gundersheimer at 507-457-8255 for an appointment to inspect the condition of the drops.
There is currently a reserve price for this auction. If the reserve is not met, the city plans to hold another auction, selling the drops by individual scenes rather than one single lot. City officials want to get these drops out of the building before renovation work begins in early January. The City Council plans to use proceeds from this sale to help fund restoration work on the drops the city is keeping.
Theatre drops are troublesome. They are huge, cumbersome, require special care to protect and use, and are not really art display pieces in the traditional sense. In reality, there are very few ways to reuse them once they have outlived their original installation and purpose. And the Scottish Rite valleys all across the country have created an awful lot of them over the years. 

As of 11:30AM on Friday, November 17th, 2017, the current high bid for the entire lot is just $1,030. It would be a crime for these to slip from the hands of the fraternity, which is the one organization that is able to actually use them for the purpose for which they were created. They are elaborate, beautiful, and are material treasures of Freemasonry that deserve to be seen and used.

The direct link to the auction is: https://www.govdeals.com/index.cfm?fa=Main.Item&itemid=103&acctid=3298

All 73 of them can be viewed individually on the auction site, but before you rush out and bid, be aware of the specifics of their complete removal, including deadlines. Read all of the stipulations very carefully.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Scottish Rite NMJ Announces Hauts Grades Academy

As was promised, the Supreme Council of the Scottish Rite Northern Masonic Jurisdiction is rolling out new programs as part of 'A Path Forward.' Given all the changes occurring, it is indeed a VERY new path, and the newly redesigned website announcing it was rolled out yesterday. You can see if HERE

The new Sovereign Grand Commander, David A. Glattly, 33° is making some substantial alterations and welcome improvements that a great many of the NMJ's members have wanted for a very long time. 

The most exciting centerpiece of this new path is an educational program called the Hauts Grades Academy. It is designed to promote the education, knowledge, and engagement of members, and is specifically designed around the 29 degrees worked in the NMJ. It is a course available to all 32° Scottish Rite NMJ Masons in good standing, free of charge, with both offline and online offerings.

The HGA program is divided into three levels. At Level One, the candidate delves into the rituals of the 29 AASR-NMJ degrees with an open book, 100 question, multiple choice exam. Trial questions will be provided before Level One participants get started, in order to see the nature of the actual test. Additionally, the test may be taken and retaken (with different, randomly generated questions) until it is successfully passed.

Once that level is passed, at Level Two the candidate picks any nine degrees and writes a substantial essay on each of them, reflecting on the lessons and teachings embedded in their rituals. The Academy Advisory Board will mentor the candidate throughout the process. 

Finally, at Level Three the candidate creates a professional research paper—a Master Work— not less than 2,500 words in length, focussing on any topic of his choosing, from history and ritual, to philosophy of the Scottish Rite. Papers created by HGA participants will be published annually by the Supreme Council, or as articles in the Northern Light magazine. Graduates of the HGA will receive a certificate at each level, and upon successful completion of the program, presented with a special Hauts Grade Academic jewel.

The HGA program is envisioned to always be a work in progress, and the goal is to foster, support, and encourage Masonic scholarship throughout the Scottish Rite NMJ.There will be online reading materials provided for the course, as well as a list of other outside recommended reading material. There will be student follow up and feedback throughout, and the program will be constantly evaluated, with improvements and adjustments made as it progresses. Further, the Advisory Board (on which I've been currently asked to participate) is envisioned to eventually be comprised of graduates of the program, and not just the same old names and faces you're probably used to seeing.

Aside from myself, the current Advisory Board includes: Yasser Alkhatib, 32°, MSA, Valley of Philadelphia; Mohamad A. Yatim, 32°, MSA, Valley of Northern New Jersey; E. Oscar Alleyne, 32°, Valley of the Hudson, New York; and James O. Dill, 33°, Valley of Boston. That group will undoubtedly expand in the coming months.

The Hauts Grades Academy is set to officially launch in Spring 2018. For more information and to sign on to the mailing list for updates, visit the Hauts Grades Academy website.

I freely admit to being a guilty bellyacher for many years, but all of this is outstanding news. There are many other changes in the works coming out of Lexington, and they are all quite positive developments. You can read more about 'A Path Forward' HERE.

In the meantime, have a look at a new commercial for the fraternity courtesy the NMJ:


Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Mutual Recognition Approved in Alabama; Not in Georgia


Welcome news coming out of Alabama's Annual Communication on Tuesday is that the Grand Lodge of Alabama F&AM has voted unanimously to recognize the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Alabama F&AM. The Prince Hall Grand Lodge requested recognition only, and the Grand Lodge of Arkansas approved their request as it was written. There has been an initial stipulation by them of no inter-visitation or affiliation at this time, to be renegotiated in ten years, but that has historically not been an unusual first step around the country. That will undoubtedly soon change. For example, in Kentucky a similar situation was first stipulated, and they achieved full recognition in two years. So these are all basic beginnings. 

Bravo to all who helped this development to come about. 

Meanwhile over in Georgia at the Grand Lodge of Georgia F&AM at their October 27th Annual Communication, I understand they once again tabled a request to recognize their own Prince Hall counterpart, without so much as any discussion of it. And another attempt to remove the by-law wording banning homosexual members from Masonic membership in that state failed. 70% of attendees voting against removing it.

Image H/T: KingAthgelstan on Reddit

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Amity: A Smartphone App for Traveling Masons

Since time immemorial (which is an ancient Masonic phrase steeped in symbolic meaning that translates as "ever since I first joined my lodge"), there has been an indispensable book sitting on our Tyler's desk next to the sign-in register. Its color changes every year as it gets updated, and it has appeared like clockwork. It is there for our lodge Secretary, Tyler, or other officers to dutifully look up and double check to see if a visitor's lodge is indeed listed inside as regular and recognized. And our grand lodge committees on foreign fraternal recognition usually get copies as well.

I am, of course, referring to the redoubtable List of Lodges Masonic, published annually by Pantagraph Printing out of Bloomington, Illinois. It has never been perfect, and it always has relied upon the due diligence of every regular jurisdiction's Grand Secretary to send in updated data to the printer. But it is there, it gets printed every single year, it's pretty accurate, and most important of all, it can be relied on. The importance of that particular aspect cannot be discounted, and 90% of the key to any success comes from just showing up. A list like Pantagraph's is only as good as the data printed in it and on its dependable publication. And they've been at it a very long time.

Brethren WANT to travel, and they WANT to make sure they are visiting regular, recognized lodges. But few individual Masons bother to purchase these books for themselves. And for decades when brethren knew they were going to travel outside of their state or country, they would frequently call their Grand Secretary, who would consult this very book to either tell the brother his options over the phone, or just Xerox the pertinent pages and mail them out to the member to keep in his pocket and consult when he gets to his destination. 

About eight years ago, a Maryland Brother, Eric Madison, developed a smartphone app called Masonic Traveler that was an attempt to list all of the lodges in the US and link their addresses to Google maps to make finding and visiting lodges easier. But that app seems to have vanished into obscurity since then. That was a shame, because there was a great idea in there and assembling it was a lot of work to accomplish. Since then, there hasn't been an attempt to resurrect it. Until last year.


Two weeks ago, Eric Diamond on the Xoriente podcast spoke with the guys developing the Amity smartphone app, and I took the opportunity to download it myself and speak with Jeremy Barnes, the main code developer behind it. If you haven't discovered it yet, Amity is slowly growing into a digital smartphone replacement for (or adjunct to) Pantagraph's List that helps brethren travel. And it is a lodge finder program that simply helps regular, recognized Freemasons connect with each other. 

The short explanation is that Amity is a growing directory of regular, recognized lodges around the world on your phone that helps you travel as a Mason. It is secure, private, and requires registration, with you linking your name to a specific, regular, recognized lodge in a jurisdiction. Once you do, you are able to scroll through the database and search for other lodges to determine their regularity and recognition status with yours, just like Pantagraph's List

Amity came about, like countless other great ideas, out of informal conversations during Masonic Week (at Shelley's of course), and is spearheaded by Michael Radigan of New York's Independent Royal Arch Lodge 2 and Jeremy Barnes out of Potomac Lodge 5 in Washington D.C. It is currently a volunteer process of coding and inputting the data as they are able to acquire it. As of now, the program lists 35,000 lodges from 250 mainstream, Prince Hall, and international grand lodges—32 states and 17 countries so far—with more coming every week. Even "irregular" ones are included, so that amity and recognition questions can be easily answered (important since not all GLs recognize the same ones around the world). Lodges may be looked up by grand lodge, location, name, or number. Once you are verified as a Mason, you can see lodge addresses and a link to a Google map to find your way.

Here is what Amity is NOT... 

It is NOT related to Pantagraph as a business entity, and there is zero coordination between the two. Amity is being developed independently by Michael and Jeremy and their small team of brethren at Copiri software because there simply was nothing else like it available. It is NOT a lodge membership database management system, meaning that if your grand jurisdiction utilizes GrandView or MORI, or has its own custom database system, that's fine and dandy. It doesn't replace those, or even augment them. An actual grand lodge doesn't HAVE to do anything with Amity at all—although it would be far better for everyone if grand lodges everywhere around the world do cooperate in updating the lodge lists and recognition information, along with verifying members. Unfortunately, getting lodge information has been like pulling teeth, with some jurisdictions eagerly participating, and others not wanting to share their basic lodge information at all. Cooperating permits lodge lists to be updated instantly, instead of an annual publishing lag time.The more grand secretaries keep it updated, the more useful the app will be for everyone. 

Anyone can download the fully functioning app for iPhone or Android for free. It doesn't dispense with the proper examination of visitors process in your lodge, but it does make looking up a lodge's status fast, simple, and instant. You don't need "permission" from your Grand Secretary to use it. It is free, and lodges and grand lodges are not charged anything for listings. 

Privacy and verification is Copiri's primary consideration, and Amity is NOT taking your data and sharing it: nothing is shared "online." It is all encrypted, and I'm warning you right now, try not to lose your password, because recovering and resetting it is a huge pain to reestablish—very deliberately. The developers take it seriously, knowing full well that Masons in some jurisdictions risk their jobs and reputations by simply being publicly associated with Freemasonry. And the current verification system addresses the question of whether a user really is a Mason in the first place.

The team has bigger ideas for down the road, with more features coming. If it is fully utilized, lodge secretaries can use Amity as a digital sign-in book, as a global "Tyler's Book" system. Some grand lodges that use dues cards are placing barcodes on the back of them, and the system will ultimately permit such a card to be scanned for instant registration. Eventually, brethren sitting in lodge together will be able to query the system to find out how to contact brethren they met at a meeting during their visit, dispensing with those lost business cards we all somehow drop between our car seats. Also, lodge secretaries will be able to see—and read—the proper spelling and honorifics of a visitor. If you've seen my handwriting, you know what I'm talking about.

For more information and to read about its features and updates, visit the Amity website HERE. Then download the app and try it. And encourage your Grand Secretary to cooperate with the developers. It will only help all Freemasons the world over.

Friday, November 10, 2017

An Explanation, My Apologies, and My Thanks

This is an entirely personal posting of no particular value to anybody this morning. But it does include an explanation and an apology, along with a couple of deeply important, public notes of gratitude. I have finally finished an enormous project that has taken over two years to complete, and the manuscript has at last been sent to the printer this week. If all goes well and according to plan, the new book will be available as of Indiana's Founders' Day event on January 13, 2018. It is titled, Heritage Endures: Perspectives On 200 Years Of Indiana Freemasonry and has been written to coincide with the bicentennial celebration of the founding of the Grand Lodge of Indiana F&AM

This volume is quite deliberately not like most grand lodge history books you may have encountered in the past, because I tried to step back and examine Indiana Freemasonry and its place within the wider historic Masonic and American cultural landscape. If you're thinking endless pages filled with lodge names and this or that famous local citizen/Mason, we've had two of those in Indiana already. Freemasonry has been shaped and shoved around by what has gone on in the outside world ever since it began, and I believe it is vital to understand how and why things happened precisely when they did, instead of some dry recitation of lodge charterings and rule changes and membership numbers. We can't learn from the past if we don't know what came before us. I also went back and filled in some big blank areas that were missing from Daniel McDonald's History of Freemasonry In Indiana (1898) and Dwight Smith's Goodly Heritage (1968). It's a threatening sword to have suspended over your head knowing you're writing a book that will sit on a shelf next to those two incredible research volumes. I'll leave it to others to decide whether mine has been a worthwhile exercise, as I have lost all hope of objectivity. 

(And yes, at over 500 pages, I already know there will be detractors who label it "Hodapp Endured..." or "Heritage Unendurable." I figure if I just say it now, I can claim the gags myself.)

I have no idea how the Grand Lodge intends to make this book available—especially for orders from outside of the state—but those details will be worked out by January and I will post that information here as I know it. My guess is that it will not be available through Amazon, for a wide variety of practical reasons. But we'll see as things progress.

Now that I can concentrate on something besides the actual manuscript, I will be making some of the resources I found or created for the book available on the Grand Lodge website, the Masonic Library and Museum of Indiana site, as well as providing information to the Indiana Historical Society and the State Museum about Indiana Masonry they were unaware of. There will be some tie-in projects popping up as I can get to them.

Anyway, the apology goes to the many brethren over the last year or so who have had phone calls unreturned and emails unanswered; to all those who forwarded copies of their new books to me expecting at least an acknowledgement of some kind; to those whose events I have missed (I was expecting to be in Louisville this weekend for SRICF annual meeting, but I had to bail out at literally the very last minute); and to everyone else who figured I fell off the face of the Earth. I promise, it was not intentional. We now turn right around at dawn on Monday morning and Alice has knee replacement surgery, which also means missing little stuff like Christmas with my family in California. 

However, the one upside of being Alice's only available "caregiver" 24 hours a day for a couple of months is that I at last get to read for pleasure again, and I have quite a swollen stack of untouched books and journals in the corner that has been growing ever since last year. (I just now turned the entire stack over so they are in order of how they came in; I'm starting with my friend Piers Vaughan's Renaissance Man & Mason which he handed me on October 5th of LAST year.) So, I will hopefully start getting to post some reviews here as the holiday season approaches.


The thanks I mentioned up at the top go first and foremost to MW Rodney A. Mann, this year's Grand Master for the Grand Lodge of Indiana, and my friend for almost twenty years. He and PGM William Reiners both started asking for this book to be written nearly four years ago, and I spent two of those years bullheadedly turning them down when I should have been working. All along, Rodney placed an unbelievable amount of trust in my personal judgement. I want to stress that particular point: he has never attempted to filter anything I was writing, anything I was including or leaving out, or shape or censor anything in any way. The opinions and choices in the book are mine, not the Grand Lodge's, even though they are publishing it. Not many authors of these types of works get to have that sort of total freedom. So if somebody gets mad and wants to write hate mail over what's in it, send your messages to me, not to the Grand Secretary's office.

I also want to especially thank Wanda Smith in our Grand Secretary's office for helping with some of the most tedious and hard to find information in the book. Hers is the irreplaceable institutional memory for this fraternity of men, most of whom have never heard her name before. She has been a godsend and saved me weeks of work.

I also want to publicly thank WB Chris Kimmel of Vincennes Lodge No. 1 who literally bailed me out of a huge jam of my own making, literally under the gun and in no time flat. Both Chris and my friend of more than 40 years, WB Nathan Brindle, kept me honest and were kind enough to burrow in one weekend and check me one last time.

Finally, if you've managed to make it through this maudlin, self-indulgent post thus far, bear with one final message of gratitude. The statistics rolled over early this morning on this blog site and alerted me to something. Since January 7, 2006, I've written 2,890 posts here. Blogger only started calculating page views in May 2010, so I don't know about the first four and a half years. But since May 2010, there have been more than 8 million views of the Freemasons For Dummies blog, with almost 5,000 yesterday alone. So my ultimate thanks go to each of you who keep coming back. That never ceases to be amazing to me, and humbling in the extreme. I hope you will continue to find something worthwhile here.