by Midnight Freemason Contributor
R.W.B. Michael H. Shirley

“I believe that the first test of a great man is his humility. I don't mean by humility, doubt of his power. But really great men have a curious feeling that the greatness is not of them, but through them. And they see something divine in every other man and are endlessly, foolishly, incredibly merciful.” –John Ruskin

Humility has a bad time of it in our society, in large measure because it’s a quality misunderstood by most people. People think of it as a willful disregard of one’s own ability, an abnegation of self that ignores talent and achievement. It’s not. Humility is the act of taking oneself out of the center of the universe, and recognizing that others are as deserving of God’s love as we are, which is to say, not at all. It is the ability to make requests, but not demands, for a demand is a way of saying “I am more important than you are.” A Mason can’t make that claim, because we are all Brothers, living on the level, with no man more important than another.

It’s easy, in this hierarchical fraternity, to miss that point. The Master who presides in the East is essentially a benevolent dictator, with great power in his lodge. But the power inheres in his office, not in him, and he forgets it at his peril. Once his term of office is expired, the now Past Master has only such influence as inheres in him personally. As Chris Hodapp puts it in his wonderful book, Freemasons for Dummies, the Worshipful Master goes from having all the power in the lodge to having precisely none.” The Brother who rises to the Master’s chair is supposed to have the wisdom to render his office effectively for the benefit of his lodge, but his lodge is his Brethren, individually and collectively, and he is no better in the sight of the Grand Architect of the Universe than they are. The respect for his office is just that: respect for his office. He is not called “Worshipful” because of any quality he possesses, but because of the chair in which he sits. The Master is called to serve his lodge, not the other way around.

One of the great privileges of my life has been hearing Most Worshipful Brother Noel C. Dicks, Past Grand Master of Masons in Illinois, give a speech to the Brethren assembled and to the new Master Mason after a Third Degree (he lives about fifteen miles away from me, so I’ve heard it a lot). Every time, he says something to the effect of, “you can join the Scottish Rite, the York Rite, the Shrine, rise high in those appendant bodies, rise high in the Blue Lodge, and maybe get one of these fancy aprons. But remember, we’re all Brothers. There is nothing higher than the Third Degree. There is no greater title than, ‘Brother.’”

Another great Past Grand Master, Most Worshipful Brother Harry S. Truman, said something similar in his last month as President of the United States: “It is fortunate that I’ve never taken an attitude that the kudos and kow-tows are made to me as an individual. I knew always that the greatest office in the history of the world was getting them, and Harry S. Truman as an individual was not. I hope I’m still the country man from Missouri.” Like Brother Dicks, Brother Truman understood humility, and lived it. So may we all.


R.W.B. Michael H. Shirley serves the Grand Lodge of Illinois, A.F. & A.M, as Leadership Development Chairman and Assistant Area Deputy Grand Master of the Eastern Area. A Certified Lodge Instructor, he is a Past Master and Life Member of Tuscola Lodge No. 332 and a plural member of Island City Lodge No. 330, F & AM, in Minocqua, Wisconsin. He currently serves the Valley of Danville, AASR, as Most Wise Master of the George E. Burow Chapter of Rose Croix; he is also a member of the Illinois Lodge of Research, the York Rite, Eastern Illinois Council No. 356 Allied Masonic Degrees, Eastern Star, Illini High Twelve, and the Tall Cedars of Lebanon. The author of several articles on British history, he teaches at Eastern Illinois University.You can contact him at:

An Atrocious Crime

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Steven L. Harrison, 33°, FMLR

Years ago, working on a company's proprietary computer system, I discovered something troubling.  I found unencrypted data containing information used to control the way the system worked.  I realized users could alter this unsecured data and do some real damage.  System developers could also alter it, but I knew that might be useful for testing purposes.

In reality, the likelihood of a system user altering the data was negligible and I had other pressing issues with the system.  So rather than undertake the time consuming task of a complete fix, I made sure the data was in a secure location.  Then, just to make sure, I changed the system so it could tell if someone had tampered with it.  If so, the system would spit out the most ominous error message I ever wrote:

For the record, it says: 

"This message will appear only to system developers. If you are a system user viewing this message, you are guilty of an atrocious crime: that of tinkering around with the system's internal settings.  Woe be unto you. Do not even think of calling technical support for assistance in getting rid of this message."

If I don't miss my guess, readers of this blog will recognize much of that language.

To my knowledge, no user ever got that warning; however, a system developer who later worked there did get it.  He found it confusing.

So mote it be.


Bro. Steve Harrison, 33°, is Past Master of Liberty Lodge #31, Liberty, Missouri. He is the editor of the Missouri Freemason magazine, author of the book Freemasonry Crosses the Mississippi, a Fellow of the Missouri Lodge of Research and also its Worshipful Master. He is a dual member of Kearney Lodge #311, St. Joseph Missouri Valley of the Scottish Rite, Liberty York Rite, Moila Shrine and a member and Past Dean of the DeMolay Legion of Honor. Brother Harrison is a regular contributor to the Midnight Freemasons blog as well as several other Masonic publications. His latest book, Freemasons: Tales From the Craft, is available on

In Thy Name

by Midnight Freemason Guest Contributor
Bro. Juan de la Cruz

In order for an organization to thrive, its core mission must be clearly stated and understood by all of its members. This mission should be compelling enough that all who labor towards its fruition are invested and willing to give of themselves beyond the minimum standards expected of their employment.

Freemasonry finds itself in the peculiar conundrum that those who labor for it are under a vaguely understood contract, compounded by the fact that the compensation for these labors is rarely monetary and that the appreciation for the value of Masonic wages requires an intrinsic recognition, the rights and privileges of those with the eyes to see and the ears to hear. Thankfully, and by the Grace of the Great Architect, these faculties can be cultivated.

The application of the tools we are given is all that is needed to earn Masonic wages! There is a problem however; the explanation of the tools we are given is explicit with regards to what the tools are used for, yet is only implicit in the manner in which the tools are to be applied. This has long provided me a source of contemplation, and has also been the genesis for an entirely new vision of what the craft represents to me. That being said, I offer the following in the spirit that what I believe (at present) to be the truth (from my perspective, mind you) and my intention herein is to elicit discourse and the development of better understanding of the answer to the greater question: why do we do what we do?

Allow me to posit the following: the answer to the above question regarding what is in essence the “mission” of the craft of freemasonry is revealed in the Chaplain’s opening prayer: we gather in the name of the Great Architect of the Universe that we may reflect the order and beauty which rule forever before the throne of the Almighty.

Verily, since this is the only stated purpose given for our assembly, I believe it is also the very strength and support of Freemasonry, the “mission”, as it were. Let us entertain the preceding assumption is correct and that indeed the reason we gather in the name of the Almighty is to do His bidding. What then are the ramifications of this realization? The list is long, and worthy of great conversation and fellowship. Indeed, this is a dialogue that has proven worthy of the efforts of numerous scholars and has been the consuming passion of many a brother in our long chain of union. Surely the benefits to such a philosophy extend beyond the present limits of my appreciation, but of the myriad benefits I can identify I find there emerge general categories which I will attempt to encompass in this limited forum and my even more restricted attention span... I like shiny things… I digress…

The first and perhaps greatest benefit is that we approach our lodge as a temple, erected to Him and dedicated to the Saints John (we’ll explore an explanation of these in a future article). A temple built by and consisting of the very ashlars and ornaments we each represent, and bound by the cement of our brotherly love for each other, the relief we offer one another, and the truth we share. This approach at once demands the utmost reverence and offers the greatest impetus for jubilation. The lodge is not an object outside of its members but is a body comprised OF them. The lodge then, like the self, is an extension of our being, a tangible metaphor for our place in the Grand Design the Master has drawn upon the trestle board.

The natural extension of this first benefit I described is a sense of direction. Let us examine the metaphor of a seagoing vessel. A ship without the benefit of a destination is a useless contraption, afloat and adrift or at best circling the ocean without the safe harborage of port. Though by simply having the faith to set sail into the unknown one is assured an adventure, full of discovery and ripe with the possibility of new insight, it is also replete with peril, and amongst the few with the resolve to undertake expeditions into spiritual climes unknown, fewer still have survived the abyss to benefit from the undertaking. The safe passages have been mapped, the destinations delineated, and the tools of navigation have been handed to us.

So, how then do we sail? What will we need in order to increase the chances of our success? How will we measure our success?

We sail with the understanding that the Great Architect is at once the destination and the guide of our journey, and that the Master of the Lodge is the captain of the vessel, he trains his sextant on the North Star if you will, what the G suspended in the East represents. He tests his observations against the charts in the Volume of Sacred Law, he conveys the necessary corrections of navigation to the crew, and verifies that the commands have been duly executed. The first officers coordinate the efforts of the crew, and the sailors – collectively – serve the captain and the ship they sail on (their very lifeline) with freedom, fervency and zeal. Our success is measured by the progress we make and the riches of the ports we stop at, testament and acknowledgement of a proper course. As a result of our labor, we nourish our bodies with the fruits of foreign lands and repose in the memories of the most exotic, bizarre and wondrous of vistas.

The captain and his crew are offered no guarantee of safety, and similarly neither is the Worshipful Master or the lodge he serves. The journey is dangerous; there will be unforeseen obstacles and inclement weather. Some lodges will have lost sight of the North Star which guides them and will veer so far from course they will find themselves adrift in the doldrums, doomed to stagnate and ultimately sink in obscurity. The success of our voyage will depend on the diligence of its crew and an understanding of our responsibility. We don’t expect of the Master some wizardry or artificial bravado, what we expect is careful and studious observation of the Guiding Principles and the unerring landmarks. We don’t expect perfection of ourselves but similarly we are entrusted with diligent attention to the details and nuances of sailing.

Our lodge, by whatever metaphor you employ – and admittedly I’ve employed many herein – is an organization composed of individuals with the common goal of serving One Master and which assembles in His name to obtain the necessary instructions to pursue our labors and earn our wages. As long as we remain vigilant of our course and steadfast in our navigation, we will succeed and reach the goal we set out to achieve. I humbly request that you contemplate what assembling in the name of, and serving the Great Architect, looks and feels like, and really look forward to sharing the insights you glean… the wages of a mason!


Bro. de la Cruz is the Junior Warden of Sotoyome Curtis 123, Healdsburg, CA. He is also a 32nd degree Scottish Rite member as well as a Royal Arch Mason. He is a father of two, husband and resident of Windsor, CA.

We Must Find Time in Masonry

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Bro. Rob Walk Jr. 

I should sit down while inspiration strikes hot.

It’s been a while since you’ve heard from the Newly Made Master Mason.  I have moved back to my hometown in Central Pennsylvania, with my wife and two cats.  I settled back down into my Grandfather’s old home, two bedrooms, and an open loft.  Beautiful place out in the country.

When we moved back, I went back to my old dialysis clinic in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania and applied for employment as a dialysis technician.  By this time, I had already been in this particular career for four years.  All of the poking people with giant pencil needles you could ever desire.  It wore me out, and very quickly at that.   I came home from my 16 hour days, plopped on my recliner, said a few words to my wife, and fell asleep without a wink.

Needless to say, this became very old, very quickly.  So, I decided to search around for a new career.  I had thought about going back to school for nursing, journalism, entrepreneurialism, hotel management, all of the usual stuff people go to college for.  I even took a single class in computer programming, which kicked my butt to the curb, and I fell hard on my rear end.

Then I came across an idea, proposed by W:.B:. Lance Kates.  He said, “why not go to barber college?”  For whatever reason, the idea hit me just right at the time.  I took a week and visited a few barbershops, got my hair cut, and a couple of face shaves.  Did it ever ring my bell.  This was it.  I absolutely had to do this.  I googled barber schools around the mid-state, and came upon Barber Styling Institute, which is in the very same town my dialysis clinic is located.  Perfect timing, perfect location, perfect sign.

I decided to call.  My anticipation strong, and my heart sure, Matt Schwalm, the owner, picked up the phone, and I asked him about the program.  “Why don’t you come on in, and check out the school?”  It was literally one half hour after I googled the school that I was there, anxiously looking around at all of the students cutting like professionals already.  “Hi, I’m looking for Matt.”

“Oh, I’m Matt!”  I looked the man up and down.  He’s surely not what you’d expect out of an instructor of any sort.  Urban style boots, barber jacket, and a crazy hairdo like I had never seen in my life.  You could describe it as sort of…globe shaped.  “Here, let me show you around.”  We walked past a few of the students, I looked left and right, and up and down, absolutely scared to death that I was being judged deeply by these people.  “Everybody, this is Rob.”

“Hey, Rob!”  These people seemed so kind and accepting, but my animal instincts were kicking in and I was feeling rather shy.  To make a very long story short, I walked out of his office with a start date of two days later.  I would be cutting hair…you guessed it…due to this very Brotherhood.

Now, the real point of this story is about time.  Aren’t we taught about this in the very first degree?  We must, as Masons, learn to divide our time equally.  Please think about this with me for a moment.  If you were to work 16 hours a day, three days a week, what does that bring you to?  48 hours.  On top of this time, I must also be at the clinic on my off days at 03:00 to disinfect the water loop.  This generally takes 3.5 hours.  So we’re really adding on 7 hours on top of that…that’s 2 days per week.  Total, I find myself 55 hours a week at dialysis.

So, I started at the barber school, and eventually worked out a regular schedule.  I would come in on my off days, stay all day, and go to work the very next day.  25 hours a week at school is really not very much.  To complete the program in one year, that’s what I would have to accomplish.

Needless to say, this Mason has some real trouble dividing his time equally.  Even on Sundays I cut hair, at my home, for free while I’m a student.  My solution to this problem was not a simple one, but something that we should all indeed keep in mind.  Freemasonry is one thing.  Masonry is another entirely.  Are we not charged with bringing Masonry into every aspect of our lives?  I will tell you that every morning I step into that barbershop my gut drops, my shoulders lower, and my deep-seated headache will all fall away.  This is my place of relief, of rest and relaxation.

Bro. Rob Walk doing the good work!
Just as well, this is my time to work for Deity.  Performing the great work that has already been laid bare before us to assume, live and be creative.  This is my new church.  Making gentlemen, and a few ladies, look good enough to go out into the world and feel good about themselves.  Positive outlooks create positive lives.

And work?  Soon, this will be my work.  It is a Great Work.  Please do not think that I mean THE Great Work here.  That is something to be discovered by the individual Mason, and not something that can simply be imparted by the ritual we perform in the Lodge Hall.  There is no doubt in my mind that I will be cutting hair until I’m laid to rest, and return to the Celestial Lodge above.  This is my life, my passion and my contribution to this world.

To have found the resolve to continue with my study in barbering and Masonry was no little task.  I’m never home, with my wife, my family.  However, within everything in life there is Masonry for the dutiful Speculative Mason.

Stay strong, work hard, and make time for that which is needed, my Brothers.  I will see you all back in Lodge in exactly 6 months and 5 days.  At that time, I will strive to be able to “take the chair,” and make proud my Brethren who have had my back through these tough months.

Bro. Rob Walk Jr.  is a member of Jephthah Lodge No. 222, A.F.&A.M. in Essex, Maryland.  Currently living in Central Pennsylvania, he is seeking membership with a lodge there.  He spends his time listening to music, sampling craft beer, climbing and drumming.  Barbering being his main work, he currently cuts at his home, and will soon be cutting under the managership of Drew Matos at Southpaw Barbershop in Lemoyne, PA.

Friday the 13th

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
WB. Adam Thayer

One bad leader killed our fraternal brothers. One pompous, self-righteous, egotistical bastard was singlehandedly responsible for the destruction of a holy Order that had existed for nearly two hundred years, and for the death of two men who, like our own Grand Master Hiram, became martyrs to their fidelity.
Before we even begin to discuss the end of the Templars, it’s important to understand who they were, what they stood for, and why they were a perceived threat.
The Templars sprang from somewhat humble beginnings: Hugues de Payens, along with eight relatives who had been knighted, formed the Order to protect travelers and pilgrims who were visiting Jerusalem and other sites in the Holy Lands. While there is some disagreement as to which French king first sanctioned the group, it was probably around 1118 or 1119. The rules of the Order were simple: renounce all of your titles and worldly possessions, pursue a life of purity, and take up arms to defend against Sarcean attacks.
While in Jerusalem, the Order took to living at the Al Aqsa Mosque, which was believed to be built on top of Solomon’s Temple. It didn’t take long for the knights of the Order to become associated with the Temple in the public’s mind, and soon they took the name “Pauperes commilitones Christi Templique Solomonici”, or The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and The Temple Of Solomon. This, in time, was shortened to Knights Templar.
In 1129, the Templars were officially sanctioned by the Vatican. This move garnered significant criticism, as the public could not accept monks carrying weapons and committing acts of violence. The Church, for their part, supported the Templars, by explaining that the knights were charged to protect the innocent from violence, not to commit acts of war.
Through the coming years, the Templars gained significant power, through the Church and governments granting it, and through controlling the supply of money with an elaborate banking and lending system. Although the knights themselves had taken vows of poverty, the Order was exceedingly wealthy.
A thorough examination of the Templars activities is beyond the scope and intention of this paper. Those who are interested may, with minimal effort, discover a wealth of information available that discusses their actions during their active years.
By the 1300s, the Order was well established throughout the known world, was a respected and vital part of the Church, and had amassed a significant amount of money, but was not the powerhouse it had been in its heyday. In many ways, the Order reflects our own gentle Craft; it started from small beginnings, had a rapid rise to dominance, enjoyed a position of power for many years, then began a slow decline into a less powerful, but no less important, organization. Left alone, this system could have continued indefinitely, enjoying brief periods of growth, followed by another gradual decline.
Enter the bad leader.
Philip the 4th became King of France at a young age. While he was not mature enough at age seventeen to lead the country, his older brother died before taking the throne, so Philip was forced to ascend.
His youth and inexperience showed; he habitually ignored his advisors, insulted those who attempted to help him, issued poor orders, and was stubbornly inflexible. This led him into a number of unnecessary battles, forcing him to borrow more and more money from the Templars to fund his stupidity. During one war against England, he devalued the currency of France by two-thirds, causing his own people to riot against him.
Philip also chose, quite unwisely, to battle with the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, which was the dominant power at the time. He expelled clergy from their positions of legal administration, and began taxing them at a high rate.
These actions caused Pope Boniface the 8th to issue a papal bull excommunicating King Philip and any leader who would attempt to collect taxes from the clergy. Philip, being too stubborn to back down, retaliated by prohibiting the export of goods and moneys from France to Rome, effectively cutting off one of the larger income sources of the Catholic Church. Pope Boniface, holding power over an ever weakening Church, rescinded his papal bull, and restored trade from France to Rome.
King Philip, however, could not accept victory so graciously. He launched into a large scale “anti-papal” campaign against Pope Boniface. He began arresting and trying clergy members on various charge, likely invented by Philip himself. Even worse, he accused Pope Boniface of committing sodomy, a rumor which haunted him even after his death, when he was posthumously tried and the charges subsequently dropped. It’s interesting to note that the charge of sodomy was a favorite of King Philips, used against many of his political enemies, as we shall soon see.
In response to these outrages, Pope Boniface again asserted that the Church was superior to the ruling class, and that the Pope held the power over Kings. Hostilities again escalated, the Pope again excommunicated Philip, and Philip responded by having Pope Boniface arrested. He died less than one month later.
The Church, and by extension the Templars, now found themselves without leadership, but not for long. Within a year, Bishop Bertrand, a French Bishop from Bordeaux, was elected Pope Clement the 5th. At the time, there were significant rumors that the new Pope had obtained power due to the political maneuverings of King Philip, and all of the subsequent actions of Pope Clement point this to be true, as he withdrew and changed the papal bulls that Boniface had released, restored King Philip to grace, moved the papacy to France, and granted the French King power over the leadership of the Catholic Church.
King Philip was in debt. His various wars, political maneuvers, and extravagant lifestyle had caused him to become deeply indebted to the Knights Templar, and unable to satisfy his debt. Worse, he saw that the Knights had significant income but did not pay taxes, significant assets that they kept to themselves, and were all well trained in the art of fighting.
What’s a King to do? The Templars were still under the control of the Catholic Church, not answerable to any king, and to lay attack on them would be seen poorly by the public, who held sympathy for the Church.
King Philip, showing unusual intelligence, determined to destroy the Templars quickly and efficiently; he would accuse the entire Order of heresy, extract confessions under brutal torture before the Church could get involved, and claim their property and wealth as French. Sealed orders were sent across all of France, to be opened on the appointed day, and the Templars fate was sealed.
Friday, October 13th, 1307. King Philip’s orders were simultaneously opened across his realm. They included a letter detailing the numerous heretical crimes of the Templars, along with the order to arrest all Templars, and a list of the highest ranking Templar officers.
Reports vary, but most agree that six hundred and twenty five Templars were arrested that day. They were tortured until they confessed to any charge that was leveled against them, and those confessions were used as proof that King Philip had acted in the best interests of the Catholic Church in apprehending the knights. Pope Clement had no choice but to issue papal arrest warrants for the remaining knights worldwide.
When the knights began recanting their confessions and imploring the Church for aid, King Philip ordered fifty four of them, including their Grand Master Jacques de Molay, burned at the stake, and forced Pope Clement to disband the Order completely.
In a final act of defiance and bravado, de Molay pronounced that King Philip and Pope Clement would both soon stand with him before God to answer for their crimes. Within a year, they were both dead.
The remaining Templars scattered. Some joined with the Knights Hospitallers, who became known as the Order of Saint John. Others fled to Scotland, where Masonic tradition tells us they joined with Robert the Bruce and formed the Knights of Saint Andrew. The rest simply disappeared, lost in the annals of history.
What lessons can we take from the ordeal of the Templars? First, we can see the danger of mixing religion and politics, which is a lesson taught repeatedly in Scottish Rite Masonry. Had the Papacy not been controlled by the French King, it would have been able to fight back, and protect the Templars from his greed.
We can also see the risks a private society such as ours takes when we attract public attention by getting too large or too powerful. No doubt is had that the Templars flaunted their wealth and power, which attracted the attention of the king to begin with, and which led to their eventual destruction.
Perhaps most importantly, we see the importance of choosing good leadership. It only took one man to completely destroy that which had lasted nearly two hundred years. We must be constantly wary not to put the vain, the egotistical, or the dictatorial into positions of leadership within our lodges, as one bad Master can destroy a Lodge. The Templars did not have a choice in who led their lodge or country, but we do. We can choose to elect someone into leadership because he is a warm body to fill the chair, or we can choose to only move our best and brightest into them. At the risk of sounding political, we should be carrying that same attitude with us when we vote for our public leaders as well.

Finally, a warning to any who would abuse their position of power: never forget that although King Philip was successful in destroying the Templars, his victory was short lived. Within eight months of the martyrdom of Jacques de Molay, King Philip suffered a stroke and died. Within a few years, his bloodline had all died out, and the subsequent battles for control of France became known as The Hundred Years’ War, but that’s a story for a different time. The only lasting memory most people now have of King Philip the 4th is the incorrect belief that his actions led to the fear of Friday the 13th, even though this connection was not discovered until 1989. It would be equally ludicrous to say that we are superstitious about Friday the 13th because of a man in a hockey mask with a machete, and I hope that a few hundred years from now there will be another Freemason, writing an education piece debunking that legend instead!

WB. Adam Thayer is the Junior Warden of Lancaster Lodge No 54 in Lincoln (NE) and the Worshipful Master of Oliver Lodge No. 38 in Seward (NE). He’s an active member of the Scottish Rite, and Knight Master of the Lincoln Valley Knights of Saint Andrew. Adam serves on the Education Committee of the Grand Lodge of Nebraska. You can contact him at

Unclaimed Relics

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Bro. Brian Schimian

My time in L.A. has been anything but dull, to say the least. One of the things that my Lady & I like to do is to pack up the kiddos and walk around the local “swap meet” for a few hours on the weekends that we have them. The weather is usually beautiful and it is fun to get out for a bit. Usually you can find some fruit at good prices and a trinket here or there. Usually the people watching is the best on Sundays and the kids like to ride the ponies around the parking lot on the way out.

One day, as I was pushing one of the strollers, following my Lady up and down the isles of “stuff” we made a left turn and for some reason I looked right. Out of the
countless tables and heaps of items, something caught my eye. Could it be? I was a little bit away, but I swear I saw a Shriner’s Fez. My half left turn became a b-line for this fellow and his tables. Sure enough, he had a small sampling of Masonic items laid out for sale. A short conversation later revealed that he had purchased a storage locker that was in default and these were inside. Well, being me, I couldn’t let these items sit on a table at a sap meet. They hold too much meaning for me, and they weren’t even mine. I have to say, it wasn’t until I caught back up with my Lady and we stopped for some fruit, that I got a chance to actually study the items I picked up. I was immediately blown away with what I had found, simply by chance.

The first thing I grabbed out of the hat case was a challenge coin. I almost couldn’t believe the writing… Okinawa Military Lodge #68. Was I really holding a challenge coin from a Military Lodge in Japan!?!? I flipped the coin over and and on the bottom it had F&AM (PHA). Not only is this from the other side of the world, but it was PHA. I grabbed the other coin out of the box and it was a 40th anniversary coin from Tori Lodge #46, also from PHA from Japan.

As much as I loved spending time with the family, I couldn’t wait to get home and do some research. The Fez was adorned with jewels that spelled out Obelisk No. 187. Sure enough, a PHA Shrine Temple in Okinawa, Japan. That only leads me to believe that this Brother was also a member of the PHA Scottish Rite there as well.

I will never understand what made me look right when I was going left, but I am so thankful that I did and that I was able to preserve these items. They will be locked away in my private collection for sometime… most likely forever, unless the right opportunity presents itself and I feel I should let them go.


Bro. Brian Schimian is Life of Member A.O. Fay #676 in Highland Park Illinois and the Medinah Shriners - Lake County Shrine Club. He was also the Past Master Counselor of DeMolay - Lakes Chapter in 1995. Most recently, Brian became a Companion of the York Rite, joining Waukegan Chapter #41 R.A.M. Brian is a father of two children. "Start Square, Finish Level"

The Skull & Crossbones and Freemasonry--You're Doing it Wrong

by Midnight Freemason Contributors
Bro. Brian Schimian & Bro. Robert H. Johnson

In the world of Masonry, there are many symbols which represent various teachings in the Fraternity. One, however, is continually employed by many much to the chagrin of countless persons and sovereign Masonic bodies. We are, of course, referring to the skull & crossbones. In this short article, we’d like to bring to the attention of the reader and anyone else who may happen upon this article the tradition, antiquity and importance of this great symbol and to set the record straight for those who see it in a way that is outside the definitions and philosophical interpretations of Freemasonry.

Robert: In my years as a Mason, one symbol stands alone as the most powerful, and not just because of its imagery. The Skull & Crossbones is a stark symbol. It stops you in your tracks and makes you notice it. It dares you to peruse it, to understand it. It does what it is supposed to do. It reminds you of your own mortality. Countless times, I have worn a square and compass pin with a skull in the middle in place of the American standard "G"(only adopted around 1717, mind you). And when I have worn this or any other item emblazoned with this image of a skull, a skull & crossbones, or any variation thereof, I get the same response, "Rob, what's with the skull?"

My answer is usually, "It's one of the lessons of the first degree and of the third.” The brothers always seem to give me a half cocked frown and say something like, "I don't know about that.” It’s like a skipping record. It seems as though those who take issue with the skull & crossbones being used, largely in part, seem to replace the symbolism from what it is in Freemasonry to what it means in either pop culture or their religion. To be frank, I'm a little tired of it.

One of the larger areas in which brothers complain about the use of the skull and crossbones is in the Chamber of Reflection. These Chambers of Reflection are widely used in many lodges all around the world, and their effectiveness as a tool in preparing the candidate has been extremely well documented. In place of a “prep room” they use the CoR. Chambers of Reflection and Preparation Rooms are virtually the same thing, like it or not, Brothers. The only difference is that a Chamber of Reflection has a system of quality control, it being part of the ritual, that is. It isn't a dusty old broom closet you let your candidate get dressed in. (“Take these garments and get dressed, watch out for the paint cans.”)

Let's get real here for a moment, on the level. We have a problem with them because they may be offensive to our particular religious sensibilities or are afraid that it will offend someone else’s. If the latter is the case, then a root cause analysis would show poor education on the part of an individual lodge, and ergo is the basis for banning the practice or having an issue with the symbol. In the cases of sovereign Masonic bodies having a posture against the use of the symbol, it only solidifies our lack of confidence in the individual lodge to educate its candidates in the true symbolism we hold so dear. Either way, it’s a sad state of affairs.

And yet again, I will remind you, this isn't a “devil’s room” or a “witch’s room” or anything that your “religious eyes” are seeing. It's a Masonic room, with symbols designed to make you think.
The skull’s imagery is quite antique. P.D. Newman writes of the ritual of years long past where it is referred to as “The Bone Box” which “holds the key or pass”, it describing the skull as a box of bones or teeth and which has the pass because it is represented by the human tongue. 1 Even in the oldest “Operative” Masonic lodge ever discovered in Pompeii, Italy which dates to circa 79 CE, was found a tile relief featuring…wait for it…a skull. You can read all about it here. 2

Brothers, the skull and crossbones is not evil. I'm sorry some of us feel this way. It is taught to you in the first degree and overwhelmingly in the 3rd degree. If we've forgotten that, perhaps we need to reread the lectures. It is the symbol of your mortality,

Memento Mori
“Remember That You Have To Die”

Brian: Lately, the subject of the Square & Compass being associated with a skull has been going around Masonic circles, especially on social media. To my surprise and utter disbelief, some sovereign Masonic bodies have actually issued statements that forbid the skull to be displayed with the Square & Compass. Not to seem pompous or take myself off the level, but I would have to suggest that these Brothers go back and read up on some ritual, starting with the Entered Apprentice degree.

According to some, displaying the Square & Compass with a skull “gives the wrong impression” because “that is not who we are”…

One of my closest Brothers had this to say: “Not understanding the Skull is like not understanding the Acacia.”

The Skull stands as a bastion in Masonry as a reminder that death is ever imminent and should incite ones reflection of their own life. The skull also relates to rebirth and as a reminder for spiritual reawakening. The crossed bones are added to signify the pillars of the portico where man stands as he labors in the quarry. To say that the skull is a misrepresentation of Masonry is akin to saying that the company Apple is “evil” because their logo happens to be an apple with a bite taken out of it. Somehow the jump from an innocuous corporate logo to Eve taking a bite from a forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden makes complete logical sense to some people.

I have to say, that every time I hear about some officer getting his “jewels” in a bind over the Square & Compass and a skull being displayed together, I get closer and closer to having it tattooed on the back of my hands. I already have them tattooed on my arms. I would have to assume that there are more people in the world that are allergic to bee stings than would be offended or get the wrong idea about Masonry by seeing a skull with the “lights”. Therefore, perhaps we should remove the beehive from the ritual if we are looking to not be “offensive” to anyone.

Another Brother, whom I have had several conversations with, some on this very subject had this to say: “They tell you to not disagree with those who do not think well of masonry, uttering the "pearls before swine" stuff..... then they ban skulls because someone who isn't a mason may not like it.”

Brothers, we cannot intend to make everyone happy. By attempting to do so, we begin to cut and destroy the very fabric that this Craft was built upon. We are what we are and our symbols are what they are (and have been for hundreds of years, if not thousands). I have no tolerance for opinionated ignorance, especially when it comes to Freemasonry. From the very onset of ones journey as an Entered Apprentice, we are told that what is imparted within the degrees is a scratch on the surface and we are charged to educate ourselves further. This is yet another prime example of why we should, as a fraternity, quit wasting time and dispense with the reading of the minutes. More time and effort needs to be put into Masonic Education and exploring the meaning of our symbols. Perhaps then, we will not make such decisions in haste and further degrade the things that make Masonry what I have known it to be since I was eight years old.

Conclusion: Mackey's Masonic Encyclopedia has three entries relating to the skull. The first being "The Skeleton", which is simply a symbol for death used by the ancient Egyptians, which reminded them of mortality. 3 The second being the "skull", which it says “The skull as a symbol is not used in Freemasonry except in Masonic Templarism, where it is a symbol of mortality.” 4 And the third mention is that of the "skull and crossbones" which it defines as the following:

They are a symbol of mortality and death, and are so used by heralds in funeral achievements. As the means of inciting the mind to the contemplation of the most solemn subjects, the skull and cross-bones are used in the Chamber of Reflection in the French and Scottish Rites, and in all those Degrees where that Chamber constitutes a part of the preliminary ceremonies of initiation. 5

From this, we can say that it is indeed a fine symbol. A UNIVERSAL symbol which has transcended ages, cultures and languages. The symbol which reminds us that we can take nothing with us, that in death all men are equal. It represents that thing which is our transformation from this world to the next. The Grand Leveler. It is effective. Perhaps this is why some don't like it. It works so well, that it reminds us of our own mortality, our equality in relation to the rest of humanity and perhaps that hits just a little too close to home.

Virtus Junxit, Mors Non Separabit.
What Virtue Has United, Death Can Not Separate.

References; 1; Symbol of the Skull and Crossbones by P.D. Newman -, 2; Labor to Refreshment Blog, One Minute Mason Blog, 3; Masonic Dictionary “Skeleton” entry; , 4; Mackey’s Masonic Encyclopedia - “Skull” entry, 5; Mackey’s Masonic Encyclopedia “Skull and Crossbones” entry.

Bro. Brian Schimian is Life of Member A.O. Fay #676 in Highland Park Illinois and the Medinah Shriners - Lake County Shrine Club. He was also the Past Master Counselor of DeMolay - Lakes Chapter in 1995. Most recently, Brian became a Companion of the York Rite, joining Waukegan Chapter #41 R.A.M. Brian is a father of two children. "Start Square, Finish Level"

Bro. Robert Johnson, 32° is the Managing Editor of the Midnight Freemasons blog. He is a Freemason out of the First North-East District of Illinois. He is the Master of Waukegan Lodge No. 78 and Education officer for the 1st N.E. District of Illinois. He is also a member of the York Rite bodies Royal Arch, Cryptic Council, Knights Templar, AMD, The Illinois Lodge of Research and a member of the Scottish Rite Valley of Chicago as well as a charter member of the Society of King Solomon, a charity organization run by the Grand Lodge of Illinois. Brother Johnson currently produces and hosts weekly Podcasts (internet radio programs) Whence Came You? & Masonic Radio Theatre which focus on topics relating to Freemasonry. In addition, he produces video shorts focusing on driving interest in the Fraternity and writes original Masonic papers from time to time. He is also a cohost of The Masonic Roundtable, a Masonic talk show. He is a husband and father of three. He works full time in the safety industry and is also a photographer on the side as well as an avid home brewer. He is currently working on a book of Masonic essays.