Why Your Lodge Should Do A Joint Degree

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Bro. Michael Arce

Photo credit: W:. Michael G. Koshgarian

The case for providing the best experience for candidates and members

Stop me if you've experienced this... your lodge is hosting a degree and the only thing secured is the candidate's name. Your scrambling to fill the chairs. One Brother with an important role only knows half of his part, really, he just started learning it after having weeks to prepare. It's degree night and another Brother, the who only seems to show up on degree night (we all know that guy), is asking out loud, "What's for dinner? Who is doing the prompting?" Forget about practice or rehearsals, you can barely get a team assembled for degree night. Does this sound familiar?

Many years ago, my district floated the idea of creating a database of Brothers who can perform parts of our ritual. While there are lodges who have members who can fill every degree role, some feature a bench so deep with alternates and backups - just in case. For many lodges that need help filling open parts and positions, the thought was, if we compiled a list of "specialists" who could be contacted in advance, this resource would help the lodge coordinating the degree. Bringing in help is one way of pulling a degree together. However, the other idea also provides the best experience for the candidates and members of the lodge. A joint degree showcases the Masonic principle of how the best work is done together, in harmony.

A Joint Degree


I had the pleasure and honor of attending and participating in a Joint Degree featuring SIX candidates from THREE Lodges in TWO districts: Van Rensselaer #87, Clinton Lodge #140, and On Da Wa #820. Clinton Lodge hosted the degree. When I spoke with their WM Larry Rivenburg about the work in bringing this degree together, he said, "there was a lot of paperwork." I volunteered that evening to assist the Brothers in the preparation room who would be taking their Fellowcraft Degree that night. I also served as a conductor to one of the Brothers, in a line that just barely fit in the area needed for the floor work.

While in the Lodge room, that's when it hit me; I'm a member of two Lodges in this district, guiding a Brother from another Lodge in a room FULL of members. That point was shared when I spoke with the Senior and Junior Deacons after the degree, they both were excited performing a degree in a room with 40 Masons versus the handful who typically attend their meetings. Looking around the room there were the purple aprons of Right Worshipfuls, an Assistant Grand Lecturer in the Marshall's chair, and the DDGM of a neighboring district (Saratoga-Warren-Washington) delivered the Middle Chamber Lecture, with a level of proficiency and comfort that connected and engaged all listening to his voice. Excellent job, RW!

Sure, there were the usual pauses and prompts that come with any degree. But overall, this was the first degree I have attended where, as a someone on the sidelines, I got something out of the evening's performance. I witnessed Brothers representing many lodges come together and work as one for the benefit of the Craft. It didn't really sink in until my drive home that magnitude of what had happened that evening, how different the experience for the candidates would have been if their mother lodge had attempted to confer the degree on their own.

After the degree, another first - every Fellowcraft shook the hand and thanked every Brother in attendance that evening. Without knowing the work that goes into conferring a degree, the recognized and appreciated the efforts of those who made this experience possible. There were smiles, exchanges of invitations to visit each other's meetings, and fond farewells. This is what Freemasonry is about. This is the impression our degree nights should be leaving, that reminder that we work best - together.

I was happy to see the text message on my phone the next morning in my lodge group chat, the Master of Clinton Lodge had expressed interest in doing a joint degree with my lodge in April. A smile warmed my face as I recalled the words from Psalm 133, "Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!"

 ~MA

Brother Michael Arce is the Junior Warden of St. George’s #6, Schenectady and a member of Mt. Zion #311, Troy New York. When not in Lodge, Bro. Arce is the Marketing Manager for Capital Cardiology Associates in Albany, New York. He enjoys meeting new Brothers and hearing how the Craft has enriched their lives. He can be reached at: michael.arce@me.com

Washington’s Birthday

by Midnight Freemason Guest Contributor

Celebrating the birth of American Freemasonry’s most famous Brother


Today, Freemasons and Americans all celebrate the birthday of the man, the military hero, the Freemason, and the legend - George Washington. Author Ron Chernow once estimated that more than 900 books have been written about George Washington. A majority of those books detail his life, his military service, and his time in office as the first President of the United States. Master Mason’s in good standing with the Grand Lodge of the State of New York have access to the Livingston Library, as they seek additional Light in Masonry. There are 17 reading courses, each containing 5-6 titles selected by the Library. Washington is prominently featured throughout the reading list either as a subject or topic. At his visit to Mount Zion #311 in Troy, New York, our DDGM RW Ken White focused his remarks on Washington. I reached out to RW White afterward to share some of his insight into His Excellency, Worshipful Brother George Washington on his 284th birthday. Below are his thoughts.

Washington’s lesson in leadership


The symbol of the Leader of the Free World is the President of the United States. To date, we have had 45 Presidents all of which have had diverse backgrounds in age, creed, education, careers, wealth and family. Fourteen of these men were Freemasons, we can call them brothers. Fourteen out of 45. Just under 33 percent (31) or one-third of all our Presidents. That’s a pretty good batting average and in the sport of baseball that gets you into the Hall of Fame!

Of course, when thinking of our Masonic Presidents, the Hall of Famer in my mind is George Washington. There’s no need to dive into detail on all his accomplishments for they are well known. He set the bar for the position as well as an example for all Brothers to follow in the Craft. Just think his character, how our Founding Fathers not only chose him to lead the troops but later looked to him lead our country’s fledgling government. He was the rock star of his time who made such an impression, we named our children, schools, states, towns and whatever else we could find to honor him. Think of what a person would have to attain nowadays to reach such admiration.

There are four known leadership types, and all have different attributes. The first is the creator or the artist. He is clever and creative. They envision change, so their influence is based on anticipating a better future in generating hope in others. Being original is highly prized. They express themselves in spontaneous, creative responses to their surroundings. They are imaginative, able to handle a high degree of ambiguity and are comfortable with abstract ideas. Success for this type is defined by expressing new ideas and prototyping those ideas when possible. Washington subscribed to a fundamental belief in creating a new nation from the tyranny of England. He showed spontaneity and creativity with his surprise crossing of the Delaware River. Washington embraced the idea of being original, serving as the prototype of a new government position - President of the United States, not a king but a leader for the people.

The second leadership type is the competitor or the athlete who is aggressive and decisive. This leader actively pursues goals and targets and is energized by competitive situations. Winning is the principal objective. These leaders are hard drivers and producers, very demanding of themselves and others. Speed, stealth and discipline are keys to their approach. Success for this type involves energizing and expanding opportunities for problem-solving by deploying resources. Washington displayed these characteristics as General of the American forces during the War for Independence, continually having to improvise his tactics to remain competitive against the dominating British Army. As a gentleman farmer, in his letters home, he frequently asked about his crops keeping detailed records of their growing patterns. Washington was also a land speculator who believed that America’s destiny lay in expansion to the west. He shared his dream of linking the Potomac River through a series of canals and roads to the Ohio River - opening trade and commerce.

The collaborative or Sage leader is caring and empathetic. This third type of leader is keenly aware of others and cares for the needs of individuals. They are skilled in building a community of people and sharing knowledge between them. They seek interactions among community members and allies and use processes by conflict management and consensus decision-making. Their success is defined by the creation of healthy relationships to dialogue, trust, and understanding. Outcomes of these collaborative practices are shared values and commitment. They use their team orientation and cooperative nature to accomplish their goals. Morale and commitment or actively pursue. Masonically, we can trace the traits displayed by Washington in his ability to build consensus among his officers. He presided over the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, which addressed the weak role of our new government in federal and state issues, much like a Master would rule and govern his lodge.

Lastly, the controller or engineer is a well informed technical expert. These leaders are diligent, meticulous, and function based. They influence others based on the control and management of information. Improving efficiency through process redesign and the implementation of reliable technology is a hallmark of the engineer. Success for this type is improving quality through the use of procedures. This leader is risk-averse and seeks to take variation out of the system, valuing standardization consistency. Measurement is used as a tool to achieve these values. It may seem hard to imagine Washington behind a surveyor’s scope, but he began learning how to measure land during his teenage years. He carried that skill professionally during his expositions out West both personally and as a professional soldier. All good Masons would also recognize that in his Masonic portraits, Washington holds the trowel, the perfect representative of his character.

As we remember Bro. Washington today, let’s pause to review his lesson on leadership. Masons work to improve ourselves, our Lodges, and our communities. Good leaders keep an open mind and know their weaknesses. Good men respect that everyone has a worldview and therefore a bias towards a particular strategy or perspective. Leaders partner with others that challenging them. Sages and engineers challenge each other, as do engineers and artists. Great leaders will develop the appropriate culture and competencies in their organization is to produce the desired value proposition. Finally, my Brothers, let’s embrace the portrait of Washington with the trowel, ever remembering that we have obligated ourselves to lead a good and responsible life, using the trowel to cement ties between each other, and spread Brotherly Love.

RW Kenneth M. White is District Deputy Grand Master of the Old Seventeenth District representing the MW William M. Sardone Grand Master of Masons in the State of New York. Ken is a First Vice President of Wealth Management and Senior Portfolio Manager for UBS Financial Services. As a youth, Ken was an Eagle Scout and has carried those ideals into his adult life by being active in many community activities. He is a member and past master of Wadsworth Masonic Lodge #417, Albany, NY, a member of Ancient Scottish Rite Valley of Albany, and a member of Cyprus Shrine.

Can You Be A Christian And A Freemason?

by Midnight Freemasons Founder
Todd E. Creason, 33°

There’s a couple reasons I wanted to address this topic—primarily it’s due to the number of comments and questions I get on this subject. More often than not they aren’t questions, I get told “you can’t be a Christian and a Freemason.”

That’s not true. I’m a Christian and a Freemason. And I have things in my life aligned in the right order, too. God first, then family, then my job, and Freemasonry taking up the rear. I’ve been a Christian for over thirty years now. I’m a regular Bible reader, and I attend church. Nothing is more important to me than my relationship with God. I’ve worked hard in my life to apply those values I find in the Bible to my life, and like all Christians I fall short. However, I’ve never found anything in Freemasonry that conflicts in any way with what I’ve read in the Bible. And I’ve never been involved with a church that had a prohibition against Freemasonry—in fact one of the Deacons in a church I belonged to for more than a decade was a 33rd Degree (long before I knew exactly what that meant).

Some denominations and some individual churches however prohibit their members from joining the Fraternity, for a variety of reasons. I won’t go into all of those reasons, but the most common complaint I hear in my area is the fact that our Fraternity is open to all men who believe in the existence of God—so it’s open to all the major religions. Our opening and closing prayers are nonsectarian so they can be applied to any of the major monotheistic religions. Because  Freemasonry welcomes men from all religions, we don't close our prayers with "in Jesus' name we pray."  Some Christian denominations and churches have an issue with that. And that’s their right, and I can even respect their position.

This position on admitting members from all religious beliefs isn't new to Freemasonry.  In fact, Freemasonry has served a very important role in our nation's history on this very topic of religious toleration and religious freedom in America.  In America, we have the freedom of religion. It’s in our Constitution—it’s there BECAUSE of the Freemasons. That concept of freedom of religion came from the Masonic Lodges.  In fact, there were a few concepts in addition to religious freedom that were borrowed from Freemasonry by our Founding Fathers when they were drafting the United States Constitution. Because Freemasonry yesterday and today respects ALL religions, ALL Americans have the right to worship as they wish.  And because of those rights secured in part because of the traditions of Freemasonry, those churches today have every right to prohibit their members from joining our Lodges if they feel it conflicts with their religious beliefs.

How do you like that, huh?  This was our idea!

So I’m not going to argue whether or not denominations or churches have the right to make rules like that—they clearly can. And I’m not even going to argue whether those prohibitions are right or wrong. If those are their beliefs then we need to respect that.  And one thing we should never do as Freemasons is to discuss religious beliefs in our lodges, or pass judgements on these policies or these beliefs--I see this a lot on social media.  Questioning someone's religious views or their church's policies is the surest way to start a fight--it's something that's deeply personal.  One of the surest ways to divide your Lodge and alienate one Brother from another is to discuss religion among yourselves--the second way is discussing politics.  We all know we shouldn't discuss religion or politics in Lodge and the reasons why.  Another reason I wanted to touch on this topic is because of some of the ugly things I've read on social media lately aimed at churches and denominations that have a prohibition against joining a Masonic Lodge.  As a member of the Fraternity that helped found the concept of religious freedom in America, we should practice what we've been preaching for so long.

Not all churches feel negatively about Freemasonry--far from it! Many respect the organization, and many even join with the Freemasons in raising funds to support local causes. I recently joined a church I’d been attending for some time, and before I joined, one of the things I asked the Pastor of that church was how that church felt about Freemasonry. That church respected the good work that our Fraternity does, and there are a few Freemasons that attend my church—I noticed Masonic license plates in the parking lot the first morning I attended so I was pretty sure I knew how he was going to answer that question when I asked it.

I’m a believer. I’m also a Freemason. In my experience I don’t see the two conflict with one another. In fact, I think they complement each other. Many of the morals and tenets taught in the Bible are mirrored by the teachings of the Fraternity as well. Concepts we strive towards as Freemasons like truth, brotherly love, charity, toleration, etc., are the same concepts the Pastors of Christian churches are preaching on every Sunday. The Fraternity gives me opportunities to apply those principles. It gives me instruction on how to incorporate those concepts into my life each day. It encourages me, like my church does, to continue to work at improving myself and my moral character. I don’t see any conflict at all . . . for me.

But getting back to my original question. Can you be a Freemason and a Christian? I clearly can and am!  But whether you can be a Freemason and a Christian is between you, God, and your church. But any Freemason will tell you that you should never put the Lodge before your relationship with God. And if that means you don’t join a Masonic Lodge because of a prohibition against membership, then you should respect that.

I can only answer this question for myself, and you must do the same.

~TEC

Todd E. Creason, 33° is an award winning author of several books and novels, including the Famous American Freemasons series.  He is the author of the the From Labor To Refreshment blog.  He is a Past Master of Homer Lodge No. 199 and Ogden Lodge No. 754 (IL) where he currently serves as Secretary.  He is a a Past Sovereign Master of the Eastern Illinois Council No. 356 Allied Masonic Degrees.  He is a Fellow at the Missouri Lodge of Research (FMLR).  He is a charter member of the a new Illinois Royal Arch Chapter, Admiration Chapter No. 282 and currently serves as EHP.  He is also a member of Tuscola Odd Fellows Lodge No. 316.  You can contact him at: webmaster@toddcreason.org

Reruns

by Midnight Freemason Guest Contributor
RW Dan Lort


In a recent short essay, I expounded on the word “convenient” as it relates to our duty and obligation of heading out on any particular evening to attend a lodge meeting. What drives us to go or what holds us back one might ask.

Perhaps at the core of what makes a Lodge thrive or what contributes to their slow and deliberate death, we should look at why our Brothers are staying home. Why are they resisting their duty to answer and obey a regular summons to a meeting? Could it be that, outside of our wonderful degree work and ritual that we’ve become BORING? Is every meeting a RERUN of the last one?

Every day, we witness the consolidation of Lodges and Masonic Districts as they shrink in size. Why are we seeing Masonic districts comprised of 15-20 lodges 20 years ago with 5 now remaining? What makes a Lodge of 40+ members ask to turn in their Charter? What causes a Lodge that had 150 members 10 years ago to wither to 30 members today?

Across every jurisdiction we hear Grand Masters, District Deputies, Staff Officers, and Worshipful Masters talking about the works on their Trestle boards. How many trestle boards are distributed with the date of the meeting followed by “TBD” for the work of the evening? To Be Decided. An acronym for “beats me”, “I’ll wing it”, or “we’ll make it a business meeting only”? Who among us has worked through the “convenient” hurdle as we watch our early evening TV or dine on an early dinner and decided it’s time to get suited-up and head to lodge only to arrive, sit through an opening, business meeting, and closing and be home and back at the TV within an hour? We then ask ourselves the question, “why”? A great many Lodges have taken this to heart and are presenting interesting and diverse programs each meeting. Many others struggle to have one or two speakers or programs during their lodge year.

Yes, it was good to see my brothers who, like me, came out tonight to attend Lodge. We had plenty of time for a program of some sort. Not even a Short Talk Bulletin. Maybe Bro. James talking about his bee-keeping. Hey! What about asking the local precinct commander to come and speak about crime fighting efforts in our neighborhood? So many possibilities. How do we make these happen?

One very simple but underutilized word---PLANNING. Interesting and engaging events seldom happen on their own. Sure, every now and then we’ll look on the sidelines and see a brother who has a particular skill or vocation that we could ask him to speak about “off the cuff”. As Worshipful Masters, we owe it to the Brothers who have elected us and to the Lodge as a whole to do everything in our power to see the Lodge not just survive but to thrive and grow. To do this we need to exert a certain amount of EFFORT. This effort may involve everything from putting together a Trestle Board during the summer before our Lodge comes back in session to personally calling our officers the day before a meeting to let them know the plans for the evening (and to gently remind them of the importance of their attendance). Perhaps a summer meeting with the Wardens to put together a Trestle Board and brainstorm about programs for evenings with no degree work.

Of course we sometimes hear comments from some long-time members saying things such as “We don’t need to do something special every meeting.” or “Some of us...” just like to have a meeting and get home. The Brothers we don’t hear this from are the ones who are so bored with the program-less meetings that they stop coming to Lodge in lieu of other options. These are the Brothers we need to target. They are the future of our Fraternity. They are the ones who will take the place of our senior members as infirmity and the Celestial Heavens take over.

Keeping our meetings vibrant, contemporary, and interesting is vital if we are to keep our new andseasoned members engaged. Being now enabled in the NY jurisdiction to open and close our Lodges on any degree has become a wonderful tool to maintain the connection with our EA’s and Fellowcrafts as they progress through the degrees. Keeping our regular communications interesting is a mandate we need to understand and put into practice if we are to stem the flow of those leaving us because we’ve become “boring”. NO MORE RERUNS! What could be easier?

~DGL

RW Bro. Lort is a Past Master of Alexandria Lodge #297 in Alexandria Bay, NY and a plural member of Gasport Lodge #787 in WNY. He is also a member of the NYS Grand Lodge Committee on Consolidations as well as several other GL committees. He is a 32°member of the A.A.S.R Valley of Syracuse, serving as CH for the Sackets Harbor Chapter RAM, & a member of the Divan of Media Shrine, A.A.O.N.M.S. RW Bro. Lort is a past DDGM of the Jefferson-Lewis District, Grand Lodge of NY and currently is a Grand Lodge Regional Asst. Grand Lecturer. He is a retired Law Enforcement officer and enjoys many outdoor activities. He attributes his successes in Freemasonry to his early days in DeMolay in Western NY.





Masonry is a Progressive Science?

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Bill Hosler, PM


Sometimes it is hard which phrase to believe. “Masonry is a progressive science.”, which means the Craft has been changing since time immemorial. On the other hand,  some Brethren say, “Freemasonry has been the same since time immemorial.” and still yet, others say, “The landmarks of Freemasonry can never be changed.” So, which do we believe?

If we stop and really think about it, anyone who has studied the history of our Fraternity for any amount of time knows we aren’t the same groups as we were three hundred years ago. If James Anderson or Benjamin Franklin were to have the ability to visit a Masonic lodge of the twenty-first century, I truly believe they would not recognize it as the same organization.

Lodges are meeting inside their own buildings or grand temples instead of above taverns, regalia made in a factory instead of by hand at home…etc. The changes we don’t think about which have occurred since the founding of the grand lodge system have been numerous. So why do we as Freemasons find it so hard to embrace change in our Fraternity?

In this instance I am not talking about the usual force against change, the stereotypical elderly Past Master we envision sitting in the North of the Lodge room with a scowl on his face, reminding all of us how things used to be-- but a larger group which, until recently I included myself in.

This week I was listening to the current episode of the Scottish Rite Journal podcast. The piece entitled “The Purple of our Fraternity: Caring for our Material Culture” which was an article written by Heather Calloway published in May/June 2014 Scottish Rite Journal discussed how the House of the Temple cares for the priceless artifacts of our past. At the beginning of the article, Heather describes how the Scottish Rite has changed the way the group communicates over the last two centuries.

In the beginning, the Rite would confer degrees by just reading the ritual to the new members. Once he heard the story, the Brother attained that degree. The current system of degrees didn’t come about until the Albert Pike era. With the advancement in theatrical technology and a larger membership valley, they began to have the manpower and budget to produce beautifully done degree work for new members, with actors in beautifully ornate costumes and with props and backdrops obtained from companies which specialized in fraternal merchandise. This period of degree presentation has lasted for over one hundred and fifty years.

Today in the twenty-first century we live in a fraternal world with a lot fewer members. Those members we do have are either elderly and can no longer do the work involved in putting on a large production of twenty-nine degrees like acting, lighting, costumes, stage crew, sound whatever their specialty was, or they have retired to a warmer climate and are no longer active. The younger men in many valleys are trying to balance family commitments, their job, and their other Masonic obligations, because chances are, they are also active in their Blue Lodge, York Rite or other Masonic bodies. 

They can only fold that twenty-four-inch gauge so many ways! Even if they had more time to commit, the number of young members would still be difficult to fill all the positions it takes to put on such elaborate productions. They might even have the issue of where to hold these large reunions. A good example of this is the Scottish Rite Valley in Fort Wayne, Indiana where I took my degrees. A few years ago, they had to sell their beautiful auditorium and now has a small office in a business park. Degree work must be done at a different location. It no longer has the luxury of a place to store large backdrops, enough costumes for many men and twenty-nine degrees.

I know many Valleys have begun to just perform a handful of degrees every year and communicate the remainder of them by the officers coming out on stage and perform what some have called “a blessing" on the others (Kind of like, "Okay, you have now just received such and such degree because I said you have.) Lots of Brethren were against this because it took away from the degree work and the candidate didn’t get the moral and the meaning of the degree intended to be conveyed. Sadly, I believe this was done out of desperation of the circumstances mentioned above, and the officers of the bodies couldn’t come up with a better way to accomplish the task.

The last few years, there has been much crying and gnashing of teeth of the collective Masonic world because The Scottish Rite Northern Jurisdiction has begun the practice of filming their degree work and presenting it to the candidates in a smaller venue on a movie screen instead of an elaborate stage show.

This degree work in the films is performed by Masons in various valleys around the jurisdiction in full costumes and with theatrical effects, much like seeing the work performed in person, on stage but in a movie format. No shortcuts are taken, and nothing is left out. The candidate still receives the same message by watching the degree performed in this form versus our current system of degree delivery. I know this isn’t what many of us believe to be the way a new Brother should receive these degrees, but after some reflection, I think these series of videos might be more beneficial to the Rite on several levels.

FINANCIAL: I’m sure this is obvious but without the need to maintain and upkeep a large theater (Not to mention the heating and cooling of such a building) which is only used a few times a year, Valleys can better use the funds they collect for such things as an almoners fund for members and their widows and orphans who are in desperate need of help in hard times.

The funds can also be saved for rainy days when their building needs emergency repairs or other unforeseen expenses. Instead of passing the hat or endless fundraisers that require manpower the body doesn’t have or rarely and barely break even instead of providing much-needed revenue the group could be on a solid financial footing.

MANPOWER: Anyone who has organized a reunion weekend, or any large Masonic event knows how frustrating it is trying to find Brethren who will commit (and show up) to assist in putting on an event, can attest to how frustrating it can be. Back in the day this usually wasn’t an issue. You would have multiple men volunteer or just show up to help. But today many times you begin to feel like a one-man band.

Rehearsals no one shows up for, finding members to fill roles and then asking them to fill multiple roles because no one either volunteered or was a no-show. Hoping you can find people to set up tables for lunch…etc. In the end, it will get done but not to the standards or vision you had at first perceived it would be, and those few volunteers you had will eventually burn out and begin not to show up anymore.

With a scaled down reunion, a handful of Brethren can set the room up the night before and have everything in place for the next morning. Not only will the candidates have a pleasant experience, but your crew will also! No one will have to wake up at 4am on Saturday morning to set things up. They will be able to enjoy themselves and go home that night without being exhausted. They might enjoy it so much they might volunteer for your next event!

RETENTION: The two reasons I listed above are pretty much common sense. But I don’t think many people have really thought about how we can retain members with the model I am discussing. But I feel this could be an important point and so far, (as far as I know) has been overlooked.

As we know most incoming members have no idea about the degrees, how they are performed, what they contain, whatever. From many studies we have heard about over the years they are just looking for education, deeper meaning for life. They don’t care about “How it used to be done.” They just want to become better men, as we tell them can be done, by putting on a Masonic apron.

As it is now, a man sits down in a theater seat, watches a couple of plays, sees some officers tell him the plays you didn’t see are “communicated” to you (Whatever that means) and BAM! You are a Scottish Rite Mason! No explanation of what he just experienced-- just a dues card and a lapel pin. "Thanks for coming! Make sure to come back again and see the same degree next year or visit a reunion in another city and hope they present different degrees than your valley does."

One hundred and fifty years ago it was common for a young man to attend a vaudeville show or a play as a form of entertainment. For today’s twenty-first century man attending a live stage show (Other than a concert) is a rare event. In this age of “Netflix and chill” if a man does venture to a theater it would be to see a big screen special effects laden movie. In my opinion, live plays, with amateur actors might be a new concept for him and the message of the play could be lost just because of the novelty of the experience.

We all know that the society of today is heavily influenced by movies and television. We constantly quote movies in our daily lives. We as Freemasons know movies influence young men thanks to the joining boom after the National Treasure movie was released. Video can be a tremendous influencer on our incoming members.

When the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction polled its membership and potential members one of the top things, they said they wanted was Masonic Education. They didn’t specify how it was delivered. They just asked for Masonic light (Sound familiar?) I don’t know how many times I’ve heard Brethren wish they could have seen all the Scottish Rite degrees instead of just a few at a reunion. (Or all of them crammed into a weekend).

Video allow for so much more Masonic Education than a stage play. During a reunion men can be seated comfortably in a Lodge room and after each video an instructor or leader could lead a group discussion on what the candidate believes the moral of the lesson way, and what was the symbolism used. The group can interact amongst themselves with guidance of the leader before they move on to the next lesson. In this way, a candidate has an idea of what the Rite is trying to teach him and what Masonry expects from him. It also helps the candidates get to know each other as they progress through the degrees, building teamwork and friendships. It also eliminates the constant complaint of degree work “being taught like drinking from a firehose instead of a garden hose.”

Videos also allow for Scottish Rite bodies to take degree work “on the road” to lodges in areas that are difficult for Brethren who live a great distance away from the Scottish Rite Temples. This could spark interest from Brethren who feel driving to the city for a meeting every month isn’t worth their time or gas money. If the Brethren see that a meeting is more than just the reading of minutes, that they actually could benefit from attending they might be more apt to attend meetings more regularly.

These videos would also be a great way to hold Masonic Education nights for interested members. They would be fantastic if they could be incorporated into study clubs which work in conjunction with the Master Craftsman program or The Hauts Grades Academy. Think of the discussions and positive Interaction among members!

Brethren, these are just a few examples of ways this small change could lead to a positive effect on our Fraternity. I’m sure creative minds who gather together could come up with even more benefits and uses for this new way of doing things. Like I said before, nothing I propose is a “Masonic landmark” and has not been done since “time immemorial”. It was once an innovation to the way things are done in the new age, just like what I am proposing. I am just asking you to sit down with an open mind and consider what I have laid out here.

Like the book by Alan Deutschman entitled, “Change or Die”, if we don’t change the course of how we are doing things, eventually there will be a time when we can no longer continue with our current methods. If and when the time comes it might be too late to try and change. I’m sure one thing we all can agree on is no longer having a Scottish Rite body to be a member of is a change none of us wish to see happen.

~BH

WB Bill Hosler was made a Master Mason in 2002 in Three Rivers Lodge #733 in Indiana. He served as Worshipful Master in 2007 and became a member of the internet committee for Indiana's Grand Lodge. Bill is currently a member of Roff Lodge No. 169 in Roff Oklahoma and Lebanon Lodge No. 837 in Frisco,Texas. Bill is also a member of the Valley of Fort Wayne Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite in Indiana. A typical active Freemason, Bill also served as the High Priest of Fort Wayne's Chapter of the York Rite No. 19 and was commander of of the Fort Wayne Commandery No. 4 of the Knight Templar. During all this he also served as the webmaster and magazine editor for the Mizpah Shrine in Fort Wayne Indiana.

In Darkness, Wishing for Light

Expanding the Definition of Masonic Relief

by Midnight Freemason Guest Contributor
Bro Erik Marks

*Disclaimer: The following article cannot be used to diagnose or treat any condition, nor is it intended to imply, impart, or provide a clinical training process or be a substitute for professional care.*

In darkness, wishing for Light: expanding the definition of Masonic Relief. Erik Antony Marks, 32, LICSW (Originally published in a modified form in the Fall 2018 issue of Trowel Magazine for Massachusetts Masons: http://tiny.cc/TrowelMagazine).

Brethren, when we first kneel at the Altar of Freemasonry, we acknowledge we are in darkness. Ignorant to the teachings of this Gentle Craft, we supplicate the Worshipful Master and Brethren to aid our Psycho-Spiritual development by providing Light in and through Freemasonry. At other times in our journeys, we may know we are in a different kind of darkness, though perhaps uncertain as to how that darkness descended. As the rough ashlar, no person is immune to the ruffians of the mind and spirit, the mental or emotional afflictions of life: anxiety, depression, shame, trauma(s), substance abuse, loss, existential crises or those of faith, financial or relational distress can affect any of us, at any time. Any one of us may be experiencing these presently or know others who are or have. 

Within Freemasonry, the Charity and Relief we hold dear affirms to our Brothers there is always hope; that help awaits. I propose we support each other by providing a non-monetary, and possibly far more enduring, form of relief. Through discussion, education, and support about emotional and psychological distress it is my hope we will co-create stronger light to shine into the lives of our Brothers, their families, and our communities. To be clear: This missive has multiple purposes, 1) proposing an expansion the definition of what we consider charity or relief; 2) to help one another recognize signs emotional and mental health distress that manifest as part of our humanness and how to help by talking about these openly; 3) as a starting point to look for resources to be of assistance to those in need and 4) to identify when a Brother, Family Member, or Member of our Community may be at risk for death by suicide and direct them towards help. Approximately 45,000 people died by suicide in 2016 and is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States according to The National Institute for Mental Health. According to the Centers for Disease Control, rates are rising and offered this Technical Package on Suicide Prevention. I have heard it said suicide, a public health epidemic, is one of the most preventable. We are in a unique position to fulfill one of our primary missions and assist in prevention by sharing and expanding upon about what follows.

In Masonry we build, with ancient tools and modes of recognition, a trust and bond sufficiently solid to offer a strong grip to our brothers in distress. We could endeavor to lift (br)others back to the possibility of Light, so they, and we, may enjoy greater ease and efficacy in daily life. In the discharge of our obligation of relief to one another, I think it is essential to develop fluency in this conversation. The more we practice the words and phrases, the easier they become to perform. Consider these starting points toward an expand use of our tools:

First, gather information and have a plan. Notice changes in someone’s behavior and routine. Some changes or states may be obvious, some may be subtle depending on the person. It is more important to notice and respond than to try to figure out the reason someone is in darkness: a diagnosis or label is unnecessary for the provision of relief. In this expanded form of relief, our perception or notice of changes in their mood or behavior is the other’s “application,” to us for relief. Look for any of the following changes in (but not limited to): very high or low mood, sleeping too much or too little, appetite increase or decrease, isolation, irritability, too little or much energy, loss of interest in many or previously cherished things or activities, increased substance use, reckless behavior, statements of hopelessness or giving up.

Second, respond. One of the greatest gifts we can give is to listen deeply and attentively; one of the most valuable resources we provide is our time. Actively listen by making eye contact, emphasize phrases they use, ask for clarification, and paraphrase to confirm understanding. It is better to engage not knowing what to do than to not reach for the person at all. If you worry the person is such distress, they could be having thoughts of suicide, it is probable they already are and therefore essential to ask. Inquiring will not put the idea in their minds. To the contrary, knowing you are willing to say the words and ask the question signals to the person that you care enough to step into darkness with them and seek Light, together. It exemplifies, though word and action, that you have done your work to meet them on the five points: walk to where the person is, emotionally and/or physically. Steady their gait with yours. Stay in contact using beauty of your authentic words and strength of an open Heart. Then…speak the word(s). 

I’m allowing you to attach each point without saying them outright. Statements are sometimes made by people in distress that they or those around them might be “...better off if I was gone” or dead. This kind of statement, even if made “as a joke,” must always be taken seriously. Sometimes people will let such statements accidentally or unconsciously slip out and can be an opportunity to ask more. Other times, it is a direct request for help: our inquiry about what they feel and what they mean may not come in the public moment they make the statement, it may be prudent to step aside to inquire in a low breath. Asking in private increases the probability the person will feel comfortable and take your intention of care to heart. Though we are sworn to secrecy with regard to modes of recognition, do not let yourself be sworn to secrecy with regard to this information!

It may feel strange or uncomfortable at first, to ask about things more personal and private. Yet, we already have a method for this type of catechism. However, in this conversation, only our part may be practiced, the responses will be as unique and varied as each individual. Practicing with a brother or brothers before the words are needed, trading parts, will help with fluency, authenticity, integration, and ability to stay present when it counts:

“Hey, haven’t seen you in a while…could we get together this week?

“I’ve noticed you’ve seemed down lately…how’s it going?

“I get the sense something is really bothering you…”

“On the third…what’s going on?”

“Sometimes, when people are feeling what you’re describing, they can also feel hopeless, like giving up. Sometimes the idea of dying crosses their minds. Are you having thoughts like that?” If there are clear signs or statements of imminent threat to self or other, calling 911 is appropriate and caring.

Third, stay in contact and begin to seek more help using the following tools and ideas. Connecting with others and/or getting back to Lodge, Lodge of Instruction, other Fraternal events could be a good start. Share a meal, at home or out. Scaffolding the person and sharing the work with other Brothers lightens each individual’s labor. Psychotherapy or counseling are effective ways to address many of life’s challenges—though I think of the two as different, for the present purpose they can be used interchangeably as many people use them that way already. The premise behind this tool is to have a consultant who is practiced in addressing the complexity of how thoughts, emotions, and relationships can become painful or debilitating. With the therapist/counselor, two people pool their life experiences and expertise to consider how to improve things for the one seeking assistance. It’s a protected conversation to allow for more self-exploration and developing more personalized tools to help oneself. For some, clergy trained in a similar manner may be a more comfortable path to find assistance. A useful on-line resource to begin the search for a psychotherapist/counselor is https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists. (Disclosure: I have no financial interest in this resource and am not listed as a provider on the site).

Medicine is a tool to be used in conjunction with psychotherapy or counseling. Many find that a combination of both simultaneously has the best outcomes depending on the presenting problem(s). Unless clearly indicated, I usually start without medicine and encourage people to introduce it when all other avenues are exhausted or if the person makes the request at the start or along the way. Some people prefer to start with medicine rather than talking. Psychiatrists or Nurse practitioners who specialize in mental health issues are the preferred provider. Alternately, many primary care providers now have experience prescribing medicine for anxiety or depression, and the pre-existing relationship may make it easier to start with this person; the primary care physician can also facilitate a referral if needed or recommended. Exercise and mindfulness-meditation are excellent self-interventions with little to no start-up cost and can be especially potent when enjoyed with a family member or Brother. There are numerous on-line or on-phone apps or resources with which to experiment to move towards healing. I’ve known people who have used a variety of alternative or adjunctive methods to help with symptoms or changes in mood—though beyond the scope of this article.

As Masons, we labor to manifest Charity through Brotherly love and affection. Reaching into the darkness to offer companionship and light might be one of the most powerful expressions of Relief we have to offer. Who would not come to the aid of a Brother? Not letting him sit alone at lodge is analogous to not letting him sit in the metaphorical north of his inner lodge or temple. If we suspect or notice distress and know that stepping into darkness is further than our cable tow will allow, we communicate, alert other brothers, family members, and/or professionals who may have resources of time, means, or experience to respond. I encourage commitment to having this conversation with one another in an ongoing way to extend how think of what is Charitable. We can exchange information and experience about the previously secretive topics of emotional and mental health throughout our jurisdictions in the service of greater relief. I have faith that we can work together to build a stronger structure from which to shine The Light for our Brothers and Communities.

Brother Erik A. Marks, 32º, LICSW, is a clinical social worker whose usual vocation has been in the field of human services in a wide range of settings since 1990. He was raised in 2017 by his biologically younger Brother and then Worshipful Master in Alpha Lodge in Framingham, MA. You may contact brother Marks by email: erik@StrongGrip.org

Finding Your Mission In Freemasonry

by Midnight Freemasons Founder
Todd E. Creason, 33°

I get a lot of emails. Too many to answer. There’s one type in particular that make me bite my tongue, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to tell you what I really think. I get a seemingly endless stream of complaints from Masons about their Lodges—every concievable kind of complaint you could possibly imagine I’ve read over the last dozen years. And when I ask that Mason what they’re doing to address that situation, do you know what I get more often than not? They’re doing nothing about it—besides writing to the Midnight Freemason like I’m “Dear Abby” or something.

So let me put some perspective on this. When I joined my Lodge, I went through three marvelous degrees (there are few Lodges in this country that do a better job with ritual than the Lodges right here in my own area). I expected that experience to continue after I was raised, but like so many Masons that write me, that’s not what I found. I found myself in boring business meetings, and pancake breakfasts, and we had workers clubs where we were instructed in ritual—and let me tell you, the instructors in those sessions weren’t polite, they weren’t patient, and I was often singled out in a way that sometimes reminded me of my experience in Army basic training.

I knew that there was an intention that Freemasonry be more to men than what I found when I joined. I took the responsibility of bringing that “something more” to Freemasonry on myself. I moved up through the chairs. I started a newsletter in my Lodge. I read books and researched Freemasonry and shared what I was learning with my Lodge (in very short and very interesting pieces). I researched and wrote books. I started a blog and in the beginning wrote and posted three short education pieces every single week—it’s the blog your reading now, and it’s become one of the largest and most read Masonic blogs that exist today. Over years and years I’ve met other Masons in my area interested in the same kind of experience in Masonry that I was interested in. And over time, we’ve slowly changed the culture in some of the Lodges in my area. Both of the Lodges I belong to now place a focus on member education—teaching our members old and new about the principles of Masonry and how to apply them to their every day lives. And we’re just getting there now after thirteen years of hard work. And it’s a job that I’ll keep working on for many, many, many more years. It’s a destination I’ll never arrive at, but it’s been a very rewarding journey—and I’m quite certain when I finally lay down my tools, somebody else WILL pick them up and continue the work I began.

So you can imagine what I’d like to say to people that complain about their Lodges. I’ve yet to hear a complaint that I haven’t had to work through in one way or another myself—from cranky Past Masters to clashes with a Lodge cultures that were resistant to anything new. The key to the whole thing is connecting with Brothers that share your vision—as you can see from the Midnight Freemasons of today, I’m no longer alone here.

Freemasonry is a call to action. It’s a call to labor. It’s not here for your pleasure, and if that’s why you joined, you’re in the wrong place. There’s an expectation in Freemasonry that you’re going to work. You’re going to learn our ways. You’re going to learn and apply our values. That you’re going to work in your Lodge to become a leader and an example to others both in your Lodge and outside its walls. You’re going to work hard on improving yourself so you can become an example for others to follow. You’re going to work in your communities to improve the quality of life for those that live there. There’s a reason so much of our ritual has to do with laboring in the quarries, and building a house not made with human hands. What I learned from those Masons I’ve studied and written about over the years is that the vast majority of them were men of action. They didn’t complain, they saw what needed to be done, and they did it even when they failed at it over and over again as a few of them did.

Each of our journeys in Freemasonry is going to be different, and yours won’t be like mine most likely. But in order to really get out of Freemasonry what was originally intended, we have to work at it. And at some point, we all find our niche. We all find our mission. For me it’s about member development and Masonic education. For others it’s about ritual instruction. For others, they find their mission in everything from flipping pancakes to raise money for charity to driving young children to their doctors appointments at a Shriner’s Hospital.

But Freemasonry isn’t here for your pleasure--it’s here for your improvement. And sometimes the path to personal growth isn’t clearly marked. Many of us have had to cut our own trail. That’s what many of us here at the Midnight Freemasons have done. The advantage of blazing your own trail in Freemasonry is when you turn around, you’ll find Masons following you because you’ve established a clear path for them to follow.

That’s why we’re here, and that's what I'd like for people to know who write to me.  Don't ever underestimate your ability to make a difference.

~TEC
  
Todd E. Creason, 33° is an award winning author of several books and novels, including the Famous American Freemasons series.  He is the author of the the From Labor To Refreshment blog.  He is a Past Master of Homer Lodge No. 199 and Ogden Lodge No. 754 (IL) where he currently serves as Secretary.  He is a a Past Sovereign Master of the Eastern Illinois Council No. 356 Allied Masonic Degrees.  He is a Fellow at the Missouri Lodge of Research (FMLR).  He is a charter member of the a new Illinois Royal Arch Chapter, Admiration Chapter No. 282 and currently serves as EHP.  He is also a member of Tuscola Odd Fellows Lodge No. 316.  You can contact him at: webmaster@toddcreason.org

Having Been Tried, Never Denied

What That Line Means and Why It Is So Valid In Our Ritual


by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Bro. Michael Arce


"Having been tried, never denied, and ready to be tried again." Those words have fascinated me from when I first studied ritual to earn proficiency. Why do we say them? What do they mean? And how does that phrase make me a Freemason? I asked so many questions. In the examination, the position of that answer comes as part of the supporting evidence of your identity as a Mason. If you trace the steps of our ritual in your mind, you can recall the direction your route took to confirm that you were qualified to enter our fraternity. As a man in your community, you showed an interest in Freemasonry. You contacted a Lodge, maybe came to a few dinners, met the Brothers and at some point, asked to join. It's at that moment that you completed a petition, answered essential questions about your beliefs and values, sought out a Brother to attest for you, and listed some references. What I described is the typical application process that most gentleman experience in joining a Lodge. But that's not really where your Masonic journey begins. We are told that we are first made a Mason in our hearts, then in a Lodge. What does that mean? That you are born with the search for Light impressed in your soul, that you live a life full of experiences, and that a certain point your heart syncs with your mind - directing your steps to a Masonic Lodge.

Having been tried, never denied


Countless songs and stories have been written on the experience we call life. I was shopping for a new winter coat for my girlfriend when The Mighty Mighty Bosstones song, "The Impression That I Get" played on the speakers overhead. I recognized it instantly because it was one of my favorite "SKA" songs from the '90s. I laughed to myself when the song hit the first line in the chorus. I'll let you listen to it, see if you get the inside joke. "The Impression That I Get" covers a wide range of daunting experiences in life. Tests, you might say. The song starts with a series of situations; odds stacked up high, needing strength you didn't possess, rising above the rest. As each challenge is presented, the singer poses the question, "it makes me wonder if I could?" By the time we hit the song's bridge, the lyrics change from wondering if one could pass the test to believing that, "If I was, I would pass." Why the change? As the song goes, "'Cause I know someone who has." The debate has continued since 1997 on the meaning behind the song. Did Dickie Barrett (songwriter/lead singer) write it for a friend who's brother died of leukemia? Was it a statement about the AIDS testing that was happening at the end of the 90s epidemic? Perhaps he wrote it after going through some unthinkable tragedy? In the 22 years following the song's release, it is safe to bet that we will never really know the story behind the song. We know this; the questions posed in "The Impression That I Get," reinforce the lesson of persistence through life's challenges stemming from a belief in ourselves and something larger than yourself.

Ready to be tried again


We understand that you were born a Mason in your heart. That your experiences in life shape your perspectives, your values, your beliefs. Our ritual evolved from ancient methods of worship that now provide learning opportunities with each degree building upon the preceding lesson. As you work on completing the three degrees of Freemasonry, you submit to situations, mentally and physically, that test your knowledge of what you have learned. You must pass these tests to advance. By participating in each degree, men acknowledge this trial as they prepare to obligate themselves to something much larger than himself. Throughout our degrees and study of the lessons found in the ritual, we are paired with a faithful friend, a fellow Brother who guides us with his words and steps. We don't have to know how to navigate through each situation or lesson - we must trust "someone who has." Having been tried, never denied, and ready to be tried again prepares one for the lifetime of learning as a Freemason. As Master Masons, we are presented Working Tools to use in our everyday lives, each with its own specific purpose for the unique daily challenges we face. PM Bill Hosler reminds us of the explanation of the ashlars in Lodge rooms, how that lesson encompasses the repetitious cycle of life. "Masonry takes that Ashland and helps shape it for the builders use. You continue through life, raking everything it tries to hand you, and the whole time your Ashland continues to get smoother and not cracking from defects of the constant work from life’s working tools. You made it through being never denied. You continue to become a better man, one who is 'willing to be tried again.'"

~MA

Brother Michael Arce is the Junior Warden of St. George’s #6, Schenectady and a member of Mt. Zion #311, Troy New York. When not in Lodge, Bro. Arce is the Marketing Manager for Capital Cardiology Associates in Albany, New York. He enjoys meeting new Brothers and hearing how the Craft has enriched their lives. He can be reached at: michael.arce@me.com

Open the Gates of Hell! Open! Open!

by Midnight Freemason Guest Contributor
Bro. Lance Kennedy



In the year 33 A.D. at approximately 3pm on a Friday in the Judean city of Jerusalem, Jesus of Nazareth gave up his spirit and ended his earthly life. He died after being crucified by the Roman authorities acting on the behest of the Jewish Sanhedrin. Soon after his death Jesus’ body was taken to a nearby sepulcher and laid to rest. From Friday evening until Sunday morning Christ laid entombed. The Gospels recount the events that took place after Christ’s death including the traditional account of the Christ’s Resurrection, however the Gospels leave few details about what Jesus’ spirit did while his body lay entombed.

Christian tradition has held that Jesus descended into the underworld during his sojourn among the dead. The nature of his journey is debated amongst Christian theologians, however it is undisputed that he experienced death in the same manner as other mortals. The majority of Christian scholars accept the patristic teaching of Christ’s descent into the underworld. The New Testament epistles provide support for this position.
The primary passage used to substantiate Jesus’ journey into the underworld is found in The First Epistle of Peter 3:19-20: “I
n which he [Jesus] went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water.” Catholic scholars point to Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians 4:9 for further support of this contention: “‘He ascended,’ what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth?”

The Apostles’ and Athanasian Creeds, the former dating conservatively to the 2
nd century and the latter to the 5th, both contain references that state that Christ “[d]escended to the dead” (Lat. descendit ad inferos). Despite scant biblical support, these creeds include references to Christ’s descent into the underworld reflecting a deeper theological significance. The Epistle to the Hebrews 2:14 contains an explanation for this inclusion: “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil…” In short, Jesus’ travel to the underworld, Hades, or Hell has a significant soteriological significance. It explains Christ’s conquest over Satan and his chief power, death and torment in the afterlife.

Jesus’ descent into the underworld is not unique and has parallels in many other cultures. The ancient Greeks called a descent into the underworld “katabasis.Katabasis means “a going down” followed by a “going up.” If a resurrection (anastasis) does not follow the katabasis, it is a mere death not the more technical katabasis. The katabasis is characterized by an upper-world hero’s journey into the underworld to seek a quest-object or gnosis. The ability to enter the world of the dead and return is proof of the hero’s status above mere mortals. Examples of such journeys abound.

For example, in Greco-Roman mythology Orpheus enters the underworld in order to bring Eurydice back to the world of the living. In the 11th book of the Odyssey Odysseus travels to the land of the dead to “make a journey of a very different kind, and find [his] way to the Halls of Hades…across the River of Ocean.” Likewise in book 6 of the Aeneid Aeneas takes a similar journey to Hades to find his father. Other examples of heroes making katabasis include Gilgamesh, Osiris, Odin, Hunahpu and Xbalanque, and King Gesar. One may wonder why so many cultures have such similar depictions of heroes journeying into subterranean world and returning transformed. One explanation is Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey.”

In Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces he defines the “Hero’s Journey” as “[a] hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.” This journey follows a general pattern of departure, initiation, and return.

In the departure phase the hero lives in the upper-world and receives a summons to go on a quest. At first the hero is reluctant to go on a journey, but is persuaded to go by a mentor figure. In the initiation phase the hero traverses a threshold to the unknown where he faces trials and travails. Eventually the hero reaches the “the innermost cave” where he must undergo “the ordeal” where he overcomes his main enemy. By overcoming the enemy the hero is transformed and received his reward. Once victorious, the hero must return to the upper-world. In the return phase the hero again traverses a threshold and return to the upper-world with the reward he gained in the initiation phase. The hero has now gone through an apotheosis and has obtained spiritual power over both the upper-world and underworld.

Campbell termed one of the sub-phases of the initiation stage the “Belly of the Whale.” Its importance is derived from it being the precursor to initiation or metamorphosis, the katabasis before anastasis. The “Belly of the Whale” represents the final separation from the hero's known world and self. By entering this stage, the person shows willingness to undergo a metamorphosis. Campbell describes this phase:

“The hero, instead of conquering or conciliating the power of the threshold, is swallowed into the unknown and would appear to have died…Instead of passing outward, beyond the confines of the visible world, the hero goes inward, to be born again. The disappearance corresponds to the passing of a worshipper into a temple—where he is to be quickened by the recollection of who and what he is, namely dust and ashes unless immortal. The temple interior, the belly of the whale, and the heavenly land beyond, above, and below the confines of the world, are one and the same. That is why the approaches and entrances to temples are flanked and defended by colossal gargoyles: dragons, lions, devil-slayers with drawn swords, resentful dwarfs, winged bulls. The devotee at the moment of entry into a temple undergoes a metamorphosis…Allegorically, then, the passage into a temple and the hero-dive through the jaws of the whale are identical adventures, both denoting in picture language, the life-centering, life-renewing act.”

This phase is of particular importance to our present study. While Jesus, Odin, and Conan the Barbarian may experience a liminal phase in a subterranean underworld, do we, individuals experience waking-life go through similar trials? One cannot say that everyone consciously goes through such a stage, however the spiritual journeyman will inevitably go through such a phase. This phase, as termed by Campbell, is initiation, the journeying inward and reconciliation thereof.

Many people are familiar with the basic concept of initiation. A man is admitted into a fraternity and goes through a ceremony making him a member of that society. Beyond the ceremonial aspects there is a much deeper and significant facet of initiation. As in the ancient depictions of katabasis or Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey,” contemporary initiation endows initiates with gnosis enabling them to seek perfection in this life and the next. Initiation is not merely a ceremony but a lifelong endeavor, a journeying inward, a continual transformation and process of perfection. Modern initiates such as those following the path of Thelema and analytic psychologist Carl Jung have described this process and paved a way for our own initiations.

In the canon of Thelema, the religion founded by Aleister Crowley, the connection between Hell and initiation is made abundantly clear. In Crowley’s Book of Lies it states, “There is no silence in that Abyss: for all that men call Silence is Its Speech. This Abyss is also called ‘Hell,’ and ‘The Many.’ Its name is ‘Consciousness,’ and ‘The Universe,’ among men.” The “Abyss” is the great gulf that demarcates the worlds of the Actual (the rational and emotional) and the Ideal (the Divine). In the system of Thelema the ultimate spiritual goal is to cross this Abyss and dissolve the subject-object distinction. To cross the Abyss requires the integration of the conscious and unconscious mind. It is to this end that the Thelemic system is aimed.

Other Thelemic texts provide additional insights into the connection between the descent into Hell, or the underworld, and initiation. In Liber CDXVIII the writer states, “Then the Devil of the Æthyr, that mighty devil Choronzon, crieth aloud, Zazas, Zazas, Nasatanada Zasas.” This term is explained in Liber DCLXXI vel Pyramidos. Pyramidos is the reflection of the temple initiation given to Neophytes of the AA, the teaching order established by Crowley. Pyramidos reads: “Of Power–that Set-Typhon hath heard–SAZAZ SAZAZ ADANATASAN SAZAZ [Open the Gates of Hell! Open! Open!] (Pronounce this backwards. But it is very dangerous. It opens up the Gates of Hell.).” Of unknown etymology, these are the words Adam, per tradition, used to open the Gates of Hell.

The inclusion of the words commanding the Gates of Hell to open within the initial initiation ritual of AA demonstrates the importance of the role of descending into Hell (i.e. the descent into the unconscious) plays in the framework of Thelema. The imagery of a descent into Hell found in an ancient epics, a multiplicity of fables, and modern tales is not merely the product of chance, but according to the psychologist Carl Jung, a product of the Collective Unconscious.

As the archetypes of the Collective Unconscious thrust themselves onto the conscious minds of the ancient Romans, those experiencing this phenomenon were generally incapable of understanding what was being required of them. As J. Daniel Gunther, an Aspirant of the AA, wrote in his Initiation on the Aeon of the Child, “The archetypal power that indeed threatened the entire world was requiring nothing less than the descent into Hell: the unconscious of man himself.” Jesus took on the requirement of descending into Hell and became an amulet against the archetypal powers that threatened to possess everyone.

As the dominants of human life fell into decay individuals such as Jung began to consciously experience the descent into Hell in its full initatic implication. In his Red Book Jung described his own descent into the underworld:

“The spirit of the depths opened my eyes and I caught a glimpse of the inner things, the world of my soul, the many-formed and changing…[A]bove all protect me from the serpent of judgment, which only appears to be a healing serpent, yet in your depths is infernal prison and agonizing death…Depths and surface should mix so that new life can develop. Yet the new life does not develop outside of us, but within us…I would not have been able to see what was to come if I could not have seen it in myself. Therefore I take part in that murder; the sun of the depths also shines in me after the murder has been accomplished; the thousand serpents that want to devour the sun are also in me. I myself am a murderer and murdered, sacrificer and sacrificed. The upwelling blood streams out of me.”

In this passage Jung describes his awakening to the nature of his unconscious. He is initiated by gaining the wisdom that the vivification of the self takes place within oneself not without. “Depths” and “surface” should unite so that this “life can develop.” But for this new life to arise the journeyer must sacrifice oneself to the world and be reborn, a concept which harkens to the Christian concept of being “born again.” Jung’s experience is not his alone. He welcomes all to partake of the initiation of self-slaughter:

“You all have a share in the murder. In you the reborn one will come to be, and the sun of the depths will rise, and a thousand serpents will develop from your dead matter and fall on the sun to choke it. Your blood will stream forth. The peoples demonstrate this at the present time in unforgettable acts, that will be written with blood in unforgettable books for eternal memory…You thought you knew that abyss? Oh you clever people! It is another thing to experience it. Everything will happen to you…We will fall into the cesspool of our underworld, among the rubble of all the centuries in us.”

Jung’s words echo the words of the chief scripture of Thelema, The Book of the Law, which recite the mantra of Ankh-af-na-khonsu, a prototype of the Thelemic spiritual ideal. It reads:

“I am the Lord of Theles and I, 
The Inspired forth-speaker of Mentu; 
For me unveils the veiléd sky, 
The self-slain Ankh-af-na-khonsu 
Whose words are truth. I invoke, I greet 
Thy presence, O Ra-Hoor-Khuit.” 

We are called to the path of initiation. Jung and the scriptures of Thelema describe this process as self-sacrifice, which is the journey inward. The uniting of our conscious and unconscious mind annihilates both resulting in an integrated psyche greater than its parts.

This study has presented a brief overview of the relationship between the allegory of descending into Hell and the concept of initiation. Hell is the unknown reaches of our own minds. It is the wilderness in which Christ sojourned for 40 days and which the Children of Israel traversed for 40 years. Satan tempts us there, and we must kill him by recognizing him, devouring and digesting him. This "Satan" is the iner self, not the "Satan" of the Bible. If you seek the Great Work, the Summum Bonum you must undertake the journey of self-sacrifice and redeem yourself from the jaws of Hell.

“He sees the tree of life, whose roots reach into Hell and whose top touches Heaven. He also no longer knows differences: Who is right? What is holy? What is genuine? What is good? What is correct? He knows only one difference: the difference between below and above. For he sees that the tree of life grows from below to above, and that it has its crown at the top, clearly differentiated from the roots. To him this is unquestionable. Hence he knows the way to salvation.”


~LK

Bro. Lance Kennedy is a member of Jewel P Lightfoot, GL of Texas, The Harvard Lodge, GL Massachusetts, Dallas Scottish Rite, Love Field C&C, and a Full member of the Texas Lodge of Research.

Bro. Professor Thaddeus Sobieski Constantine Lowe

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
WB Darin A. Lahners


Thaddeus S.C. Lowe was born on August 20, 1832 in Jefferson Mills, New Hampshire. He had no formal education, but demonstrated a thirst for knowledge which would culminate with his career as an inventor. At the age of 18, he attended a lecture given by Prof. Reginald Dinkelhoff about lighter than air gasses. He impressed the Professor with his enthusiasm on the subject, and invited him to join him as an assistant on the lecture circuit. Over the next decade, Lowe became an expert in Balloon aviation, becoming a prominent builder of ballons as well as an exhibitionist of them. In 1855, at one of his demonstrations, he met his future wife, a Parisian Actress named Leontine Augustine Gaschon. They were wed one week after meeting and eventually had 10 children together. Later in that decade, he set about building bigger balloons, and had a goal of making a transatlantic crossing in one.

In April 1861, Lowe attempted to fly from Cincinnati, Ohio to Washington, D.C. He took off on April 19, just a week after the fall of Fort Sumter and the beginning of the Civil War. Instead of heading east, his balloon was blown off course, over Virginia, down the coast of the Carolinas and into the Piedmont section of South Carolina, landing at Pea Ridge in Union, South Carolina. Upon his descent, it is said that slaves dismayed by the appearance of the balloon thought it to be unholy and fled from the fields shrieking. Locals gathered and descended upon him. One old man believed the balloon to be a bomb from Fort Sumter. While an old woman, thinking him to be a Union Spy took up a fence rail and wanted to kill him. His death was only prevented when Bro. John ‘Hezekiah” McKissick, who was late arriving at the scene, recognized Lowe’s Masonic sign of distress, verified the stranger’s identity and whisked him to safety in Union. Here he was received by local Masons and others. He spent the next day, Sunday in Union, before boarding a train for Cincinnati. It was later calculated that Bro. Lowe travelled over 800 miles in under nine hours, which was a world record for long distance and speed in air flight at the time.

In June 1861, Lowe demonstrated the usefulness of balloons when combined with new electric telegraph technology. On the 11th, from a height of 500 feet above the national mall in Washington, D.C. he transmitted the following message to the president: ““This point of observation commands an extent of country nearly 50 miles in diameter. The city with its girdle of encampments, presents a superb scene. I have pleasure in sending you this first dispatch ever telegraphed from an aerial station, and in acknowledging indebtedness for your encouragement for the opportunity of demonstrating the availability of the science of aeronautics in the military service of the country.” Little more than a month later, Lowe and his balloon saw action during the First Battle of Bull Run (Manassas). After this action, Lincoln approved the formation of the Union Army Balloon Corps, with Lowe as the chief Aeronaut. Loew’s principal contribution to the use of balloons in the military was his invention of a portable hydrogen gas generator. This compiled with the rugged material which his balloons were made of, allowed them to be deployed by the Army wherever needed. Lowe eventually built a total of seven balloons and 12 generators for the war effort.

In the spring of 1862, the Balloon Corps played a significant role in the Peninsula Campaign, observing the confederate defensive positions during the advance on Richmond. At the Battle of Seven Pines, the reconnaissance of Lowe helped identify the buildup of Confederate forces near the Fair Oaks train depot at the start of the battle. When supported with direct telegraphic links to Union Commanders, he was able to provide near real time artillery spotting to the Union artillery units. Although Lowe and his balloons were never damaged by enemy fire, Lowe would contract a serious case of malaria. The Balloon Corps was utilized during the 1862 Fredericksburg and 1863 Chancellorsville campaigns. During this period, Union commanders began to question the cost and usefulness of the balloons. Lowe resigned from the corps shortly after the Chancellorsville campaign.

Lowe returned to the private sector to recuperate from his bout with Malaria, as well as spend time with his family. As the techniques of his aerial reconnaissance began to gain influence around the world, Lowe was offered positions of Major General by Great Britain, France and Brazil. He declined the offers, but he did send a balloon with equipment including portable hydrogen generators. He consulted with their military experts, and referred his best aeronauts, the Allen Brothers to them. James and Erza Allen went on to form the Brazilian Balloon Corps. Lowe’s influence had an impact upon Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin, who was a military observer during the war. As General McClellan had put all balloon ride alongs off limits, Lowe referred von Zeppelin to another assistant of his, John Steiner. Steiner was also German, and could better communicate with von Zeppelin. Von Zeppelin returned in the 1870’s to discuss with Lowe his aeronautic techniques. Von Zeppelin would go onto invent the rigid airship which bears his name in 1900.

Lowe went onto continue his experiments with hydrogen gas, patenting a water gas process whereby hydrogen gas could be made by passing steam over hot coal. He also went on to patent designs for several ice making machines. He also discovered that gas burning through a platinum mantel produced a brighter illumination. He started a shipping venture where he installed refrigeration units on an old steamship, and shipped fresh fruit from New York to Galveston Texas, and brought fresh beef back. This was a first, as previously beef had to be packed in preservative salts. Unfortunately, his shipping venture failed due to his lack of knowledge about the shipping business, but the idea was carried on in several other countries. Lowe also manufactured products that ran only on hydrogen gas. His inventions and patents made him a millionaire. He was also awarded the Elliott Cresson Medal for the invention held to be most useful to mankind in 1886.

In 1887, Lowe moved to Los Angeles, California, and then moved to Pasadena in 1890. He built a 24000 square foot mansion in Pasadena, along with starting a water-gas company, founding the Citizen’s Bank of Los Angeles, establishing several ice plants, and purchasing an opera house in Pasadena. Lowe’s next project would prove to be his most difficult. Citizens of Pasadena had always had a dream of a scenic railroad to the top of the San Gabriel Mountains. A civil engineer graduate from Cornell University had developed some plans, his name was David J. Macpherson. He was introduced to Lowe with the idea of joining his plans with Lowe’s financial resources.

In 1891, they incorporated the Pasadena & Mount Wilson Railroad. Unable to obtain the right of way to Mt. Wilson, they redirected the railway toward Oak Mountain. Oak Mountain would later be renamed to Mount Lowe. Andrew McNally, a resident of Altadena, was the co-founder of Rand McNally. He had the name Mt. Lowe printed on all his maps to make it official.

The first section of the railway was opened on July 4, 1893. It started in Altadena and stretched to the top of Echo Mountain. At the top of Echo Mountain, there was a 40 room chalet. In 1894, Lowe added an 80 room hotel, called the Echo Mountain House, as well as the Lowe Observatory. By 1896, the upper division was finished into Grand Canyon ending at Ye Alpine Tavern, finishing the seven miles of track. Lowe lost his venture in 1899, which left him impoverished. The Mount Lowe Railway became part of the Pacific Electric Railway in 1902. The only part of the railway which remained Lowe’s property was his observatory on Echo Mountain. It held a 16-inch reflective telescope. The observatory was destroyed in a gale in 1928. The Railway would slowly fall victim to natural calamities as well. A fire in 1900 destroyed the Echo Mountain House. A brush fire in 1905 took out everything else except for the observatory. A flash flood in 1909 destroyed the Pavilion and an electrical fire took away the Tavern in 1936. The Los Angeles Deluge in 1938 forced the line to be abandoned.

Lowe passed away at his daughter’s home in 1913 at the age of 80. He died penniless. Lowe’s career as an aeronaut would not have been possible without the invention of some fellow Freemasons. The brothers, Joseph-Michel and Jacque-Etienne Montgolfier, were responsible for the first public demonstration of a hot air balloon on June 4, 1783. In September 1783, they demonstrated their invention in front of the Court of Versailles. This flight was the first time that living creatures were flown, as they attached a basket to the balloon which held a sheep, duck and rooster. The flight lasted 8 minutes, covered 2 miles and landed safely. Since the animals survived, the King allowed flights with humans. On November 21, 1783; the first flight piloted by humans was made by Pilâtre de Rozier, together with the marquis d'Arlandes. The flight began on the western outskirts of Paris. They flew about 3000 feet above Paris for a distance of nine kilometers. The early flights obviously made a sensation throughout Paris. Numerous works were created to commemorate the events. There were engravings, chairs with balloon backs, mantel clocks and bronze replicas with a dial set in the balloon. There was also crockery with was decorated with pictures of balloons. The Montgolfier Brothers were honored by the French Academie des Sciences for their books on aeronautics, a calorimeter and the hydrolic ram. Etienne developed a process for manufacturing vellum. Both brothers were initiated into Loge des Neuf Soeurs in Paris.

~DL

WB Darin A. Lahners is the Worshipful Master of St. Joseph Lodge No.970 in St. Joseph and a plural member of Ogden Lodge No. 754 (IL), and Homer Lodge No. 199 (IL). He’s a member of the Scottish Rite Valley of Danville, a charter member of the new Illinois Royal Arch Chapter, Admiration Chapter No. 282, and is the current Secretary of the Illini High Twelve Club No. 768 in Champaign – Urbana (IL). He is also a member of the Eastern Illinois Council No. 356 Allied Masonic Degrees. You can reach him by email at darin.lahners@gmail.com.