Masonry & The Martial Arts

by Midnight Freemason Guest Contributor

Brother David Pugh

Freemasonry and traditional Martial Arts are two of my passions and favorite subjects to practice and study. On the surface they may appear to be completely different. Freemasonry is a beautiful system of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols, while the martial arts are a system of deadly self-defense techniques.  However, it is this author’s position that they are very similar in structure, philosophy, and goals for their students. The aim of this humble paper is to present their benefits and similarities to my fellow Freemasons, with the hope of inspiring new and continued interest, study, and participation in both disciplines. Please note that for the scope of this work when the term Martial Arts is used, it is referring to traditional martial art styles like Taekwondo,Shotokan Karate, or Wing Chun Kung Fu.

Let us first examine the structure of both entities. Historically both Freemasonry and the martial arts required a screening process before letting people join their ranks and obtain their “secrets”. General Hong Hi Choi the founder of Taekwondo states “A close scrutiny is made on the mental make up as well as the background of any applicant prior to his or her admission to the gymnasium. While Freemasonry still has this practice, most modern martial arts schools especially in America will allow anyone with the financial means to join their “Dojo” and start training. Historically however, this was not the case as the martial arts were passed down within a specific family line or clan and if someone outside of that group wanted to learn they had to be “vouched for”.  

Both of these systems were also practiced in secret. "Training in karate was always conducted with the utmost secrecy in Okinawa, with no one teaching or training openly in the arts as done today. The reason for this secrecy was a matter of life and death for both the Freemason and the Martial Artist. During the time of operative masonry, the knowledge the Freemasons possessed was their trade and subsequently, how they fed their families. If cowans and eavesdroppers were allowed to gain their secret information, they could take work away from those who were duly and truly prepared. In a very real way this was a matter of life and death for the Mason and his family. In the same way, if the martial artist’s techniques or “secrets” were revealed to a hostile person, tribe, or village, they could use that information to defeat them in combat and once again, meeting the Angel of Death becomes a real possibility.

Both disciplines have a Master and Grand Master that sets the adherents to work and gives them good and wholesome instruction for their labors. They both are a progressive science with grades or degrees and in order for a student to advance they must show suitable proficiency in the proceeding level’s material. In addition part of that material involves memorizing  physical movements in a certain order which Freemasonry calls due guards & signs, and the Martial Arts call forms, kata, or poomse.

Finally  both present their information in a exoteric and esoteric format. For example the public can see a martial artist demonstrating a form or kata that may have movements that look like dancing (exoteric) but they are really deadly fighting techniques (esoteric). The true meaning is only taught to the initiated which is the esoteric knowledge. As a martial arts instructor I still teach by this traditional formula.

Freemasonry aims  to make good men better, and it’s design is to make its votaries wiser, better, and consequently happier! Our ritual teaches us that Masonry is concerned with developing the internal qualities of Man. The martial arts also have the same goal as stated in the following quote from Master Gichin Funakoshi, the founder of Shotokan Karate and often referred to as the father of modern Karate.

“Those who follow Karate-do will develop courage and fortitude. These qualities do not have to do with strong actions or with the development of strong techniques as such. Emphasis is placed on the development of the mind rather than on techniques. In a time of grave public crisis , one must have the courage, if required for the sake of justice, to face a million and one opponents.”

In addition Taekwondo has the five tenets of Courtesy, Integrity, Perseverance, Self Control, and Indomitable Spirit, which each student is charged to inculcate.  These are very similar to the four cardinal virtues of Freemasonry which are  Temperance, Fortitude, Prudence, and Justice. They do not correlate directly but there is significant overlap. For example Integrity relates to Justice, as Perseverance & Indomitable Spirit correspond with Fortitude, and Self Control with Temperance. In addition to internal development, improving one’s community is also something that both systems encourage.

As Masons we learn the following from the Volume of Sacred Law, And now abideth faith,hope, and charity,these three: but the greatest of these is charity. Grand Master Hong Hi Choi in his Taekwondo Master text stated the following regarding community service: “ rendering their labour to the public work and to the poor villages during their leisure hours so that they may teach themselves the spirit of the public service and mutual help. Both Masons and Martial Artists as they labor to subdue their passions and improve themselves in either respective systems, should also help to  transform and build their communities. For those of us who labor in both quarries we have a double responsibility to extend our cable tow in service to others. The best example of this and the harmony between  Masonry and the Martial Arts is Shotokan Karate Lodge 9752 UGLE.
In conclusion, both Masonry and the Martial Arts are progressive sciences with similar structure and goals to develop the moral character of their votaries. As the student cultivates the internal attributes of brotherly love, relief, courtesy, integrity, perseverance, justice etc., it is hoped that these will be extended to his fellow man and the community at large. It is my hope that after reading this brief comparison, my Brothers who are not martial artist may consider taking that first step and begin training in a style of their choice. For my Brothers, who travel on both paths, may this discussion increase your interest, focus, and passion to study and train harder-- to become the best Mason and Martial Artist that you can be!

Choi,Hong HI(1965) Taekwondo The Art Of Self Defence,Los Angeles California: Masters Publication
Gichin Funakoshi(1973) Karate-Do Kyohan The Master Text, New York New York: Kodansha America
Tedeschi,Marc(2003) Taekwondo The Essential Introduction, Trumbull, CT: Weatherhill Inc
Holy Bible 1st Corinthians 13:13 KJV

Yours in Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth

Brother David Pugh SW
Plumbline Lodge#116
Subordinate to the
Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Illinois and Its Jurisdiction

Master Instructor
Warriors Martial Arts
5th Degree Black Belt- Taekwondo (WTF)
Black Sash- Ip Man Wing Chun( under Master Sam Chan)
Certified Instructor- Jeet Kun Do Concepts (Harris International JKD Federation)  

Brother David Pugh serves as the Senior Warden of Plumbine Lodge No. 116 in Chicago,IL subordinate to the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Illinois. He is also a member of Eureka Chapter #3, Holy Royal Arch Masons, a subordinate Chapter of the Most Excellent Prince Hall Grand Chapter, Holy Royal Arch Masons. In addition Brother Pugh is a member of the Phylaxis Society and currently serves as the appointed Director of the Commission on Bogus Masonic Practices. He can be contacted at

Freemasonry and the Game of Thrones Pt. 1

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
WB Darin A. Lahners

I am, as well as many of you, very excited to see the how Game of Thrones ends on HBO. The television series is based upon the Fantasy book series called “A Song of Ice and Fire” by George RR Martin. The show currently has surpassed from a plot standpoint where the last book which was published in the series, “A Dance with Dragons”, had left off. For those of you who haven’t seen it, what are you waiting for? For those of you who have, I see a lot of parallels between Freemasonry and themes within the show and the books. I will attempt to break some of these down over in this series of articles. For those of you who haven’t seen the show or read the books, be warned that there are spoilers below.

First and foremost, the show features prominently an organization called “The Night’s Watch”. They are a military order dedicated to holding the Wall, which is an immense fortification along the Northern Border of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros which has 19 castles. They are tasked with defending the realm of men from the threats from beyond the wall, which historically has been a people called “Wildlings” by the people of the seven kingdoms.

However, there is something more sinister that lives beyond the wall as well. Creatures known as the "Others" in the books, and "White Walkers" on the show, who are described in the books as tall and gaunt, with flesh as pale as milk. They have cold blue eyes that have been described as burning like ice or being as bright as blue stars. In the show the “White Walkers” are depicted as emaciated and zombie like with the blue eyes as described above, many of them are dressed in black. They are led in the show by a White Walker called the “Night King”. What makes the White Walkers or Others so dangerous is that they have the ability to resurrect the dead through a form of necromancy which occurs when they touch the corpse. The newly raised undead are called Wights.

The "Others" have not been seen for eight thousand years, when they came from the Land of Always Winter (the area which the wall separates from the kingdoms of Westeros). At this time, the others brought with them cold and darkness which lasted a generation, and this time is known as the Long Night. They were defeated by the first men of the Night’s Watch and the children of the forest, at a battle called the Battle for the Dawn where the forces of men were led by someone called the Last Hero.

The Night’s Watch wear only black and they are known as black brothers. Those who join the Night’s Watch are said to take the black. The Watch consists of three orders, rangers, builders and stewards. They all report to the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, and each of the orders are led by its own officer, known as the First Ranger, the First Builder and the Lord Steward. The Lord Commander is responsible for appointing the above officers. While taking the black was once thought of as being an honorable thing to do, and you would see knights, honorable men and nobles taking the black, it has now become a way for some to avoid punishment or death, and you see only disgraced nobles, bastards and criminals taking the black.

The Night’s Watch recruits take vow either in a "Sept" (church for the seven gods of Westeros) or before a heart tree (which is a holy place for the Old Gods). The vows are as taken from A Game of Thrones, Chapter 48, Jon VI.: “Night gathers, and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death. I shall take no wife, hold no lands, father no children. I shall wear no crowns and win no glory. I shall live and die at my post. I am the sword in the darkness. I am the watcher on the walls. I am the fire that burns against the cold, the light that brings the dawn, the horn that wakes the sleepers, the shield that guards the realms of men. I pledge my life and honor to the Night's Watch, for this night and all the nights to come.” They have their own funeral rights as well, as it is customary to say “And now his watch is ended.” at the end of the deceased black brother’s eulogy.

The similarities between the Night’s Watch and Freemasonry should be pretty clear at this point. Both organizations have vows which are taken before God (or Gods). Both organizations were formed to help keep the darkness of the world at bay. In our case, our allegories revolve around the builders of King Solomon’s Temple, while the builders of the Night’s Watch are responsible for maintaining the Wall. Both organizations have seen declining membership, whereas the Night’s Watch was once able to staff 17 of the 19 castles; it now can only staff 3. Both organizations have left their West Gate unguarded, so that less than honorable men are now members of both organizations. The Night’s Watch has Stewards, and we have Stewards. The Night’s Watch seems to be based upon the Templars, and depending on which Masonic history you subscribe to, there’s a good possibility that some of our ritual comes from the Templars. In fact, you can be a member of the Knight’s Templar body within the York Rite if you desire.

In the next installment, we’ll discuss some of the Masonic Symbolism hidden within the Heraldry of some of the Major Houses. Be sure to check back Next Wednesday!


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

Setting the Bar Low

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Robert H. Johnson

"Congratulations on your first degree!", we tell the candidate. A round of hearty handshakes ensues. By the end of the meeting, the Worshipful Master delivers the line we know he'll give, "Well, Brother...You've just heard us talk for two hours. The floor is yours if you have any thoughts or observations on what you've just experienced." The funny guy sitting in the North yells out, "Keep it under an hour, okay?!"

Alright, wipe all that away...that's just me griping on the same old same old. I was chatting with my Sr. Warden, Spencer the other day and it came up again--setting the bar low from the get go. What does that top paragraph have to do with this short essay? Well, it's what leads up to the next part of the story. The Worshipful Master assigns the new candidate an Intender or a coach to learn his catechism. Let me stop here for a quick moment and address the readers. I know there are jurisdictions that do not have catechisms. The candidate simply waits a month in between degrees. You're all nuts, and this piece isn't for you. (I would insert an emoji of a face sticking his tongue out here if I could.)

So here we are, the coach comes to the new Entered Apprentice and says, "Here is what you need to memorize. I will work with you, don't worry." Awesome right? Then, in the same breath says, "But if you can't, there's a short form. And if you can't do that, I just need to make sure you understand it."

Whoa, buddy! Put on the breaks. Are we just assuming out of the gate our candidate isn't adept enough to memorize this thing? Isn't this the candidate that ran through the entire dialogue of the latest Marvel installment? Yes there are men who have legitiate issues. Let's not get hung up here.

Something else Spencer and I talked about was when before the man ever even petitions, we say things like, "Yeah, the meetings are once a month, but don't worry if you can't make it." Or one of Spencer's favorites, "Oh, the dues? Yeah don't worry, they're cheap."

Spencer told me, "We want good men right? You might just characterize a “good” man as someone engaged, bright, curious, dependable, and eager to work. In short, someone who values and understands hard work and investment leading to achievement and satisfaction. So why then do we make it a point to tell our new “good” men that in this Masonry thing, there’s really no challenge, no personal investment, and actually we’ll go out of our way to make it as simple and non-committal as possible?"

Spencer continued, "That will really have them knocking down our door, bic pen-filled glossy petition barely dry. If we’re actually honest with ourselves, we know what the proverbial membership riddle is and how to crack it, but we're either too proud to admit we jumped the shark from the initial candidate investigation, or too lethargic to change our practices and attitudes."

What in the world are we doing? Why are we always looking to cut the obligation of being a Freemason to the lowest possible difficulty?

This is my question. Let's start a dialogue. What have you witnessed? Why do we do this? Comment below!

In my opinion, this is done to ensure we don't lose a man. But honestly, when someone tells me how cool something is and then immediately follows it all up with how unimportant showing up is, how cheap it is and how easy it will be...I'm left asking myself, "Who the hell wants that?"

"What we attain too cheap, we esteem too lightly." - Thomas Paine


RWB, Robert Johnson is the Managing Editor of the Midnight Freemasons blog. He is a Freemason out of the 1st N.E. District of Illinois. He currently serves as the Secretary of Spes Novum Lodge No. 1183 UD. He is a Past Master of Waukegan Lodge 78 and a Past District Deputy Grand Master for the 1st N.E. District of Illinois. Brother Johnson currently produces and hosts weekly Podcasts (internet radio programs) Whence Came You? & Masonic Radio Theatrewhich focus on topics relating to Freemasonry. He is also a co-host of The Masonic Roundtable, a Masonic talk show. He is a husband and father of four, works full time in the executive medical industry. He is the co-author of "It's Business Time - Adapting a Corporate Path for Freemasonry" and is currently working on a book of Masonic essays and one on Occult Anatomy to be released soon.

A Sunday School Lesson For Freemasonry

by Midnight Freemasons Founder
Todd E. Creason, 33°

A year ago, I never thought I'd be sitting here--I thought piano playing was in my distant past.
I recently joined a church for the first time in more than 20 years. I started attending this church back in August. I liked the people I met there. I liked the Pastor. I enjoyed the service. And I particularly enjoyed the weekly message. It’s a small church with a very traditional service in an even smaller town—there’s no concert every Sunday morning with flashing lights and drum solos. It’s what I’ve been looking for. A place to worship. A place to serve. A place to be involved.

As I said, I started attending in August. I’ve not been the member of a church in over twenty years, but I have attended on a regular basis. My wife has belonged to a local church since she was a little girl—sometimes we go there. And there are a few other churches I attended regularly. But none of them offered what I was looking for. So I never joined my wife’s church, or any of the others.  I'd go for the service, and the sermon.

The first time I attended the church I recently joined, I realized immediately that it was different. And I knew a few members there also. . . in fact I knew a couple of them really well. My old Boy Scout leader is a member there. So is my 4th grade teacher. So is one of my oldest friends—we met the first day of kindergarten (I won't say what year out of respect for her). I don’t know why I hadn’t thought to attend that church previously. It’s ten minutes from my house, and it's not as if I didn't know it was there. I went to Cub Scout meetings there as a boy. I’d been to a number of weddings at that church. I’d been to funerals there also.  I even attended a service when I was in about third grade.  I spent the night with a friend whose family attended there, and wore my purple corduroy pants and matching vest that next morning!

I was pretty surprised when a couple weeks after I first attended, I got the church newsletter in my mailbox (they’d quickly figured out who I was and where I lived). A couple months after I’d been attending each week, there was a knock on my door one Wednesday afternoon. The Pastor. We had a long conversation at my kitchen table over coffee. A couple weeks after that, the Pastor pulled me off to the side after the service and told me the church pianist was going on a cruise for two weeks. I had certainly never mentioned it, but I think my old friend from kindergarten told him I used to play the piano (tattled on me). I hadn’t played much in decades—music took the backseat when I started writing. It took a tremendous effort and a lot of practice, but I managed two Sunday morning services a couple weeks later (including a communion Sunday which is a lot of piano playing in my church). I joined the week after the church pianist got back from her cruise. There wasn’t anything I didn’t like about that church. I’m involved in the Good Friday program coming up. I played an offertory piano piece last Sunday. I’ve enjoyed the weekly Bible studies. My wife and daughter even enjoy attending. It’s what I’ve been looking for. I’ve found a church home, and a church family.

That’s a great story, right? But what’s this got to do with Freemasonry?

This has everything to do with Freemasonry!

Let me tell you about one of the other churches I’ve attended over the last twenty years. I’ve probably averaged twice a month attending their early service—so I’d say I’ve attended roughly 500 services going back to the late 90s. It’s a very large modern church, and it’s really nice. They have an early traditional service, and a later contemporary service—so I go early. The members of the church are always friendly to me. But in all those years, not once did anyone try to involve me. I’ve put checks in the offering plate every time I’ve gone—my phone number is on them. Not one call. No newsletters in my mailbox. No invitation to a picnic or a Bible study. You know what that church’s biggest problem is? Attendance. Membership. Money. They have a huge sanctuary that they can’t fill, and they don’t know why.

Freemasonry has the same issues this church does. We don’t serve the membership. We get somebody at the door, but we don’t involve them. We don’t show up at their house and have coffee with them and find out why they were interested to begin with, what they’re looking for, what they’re good at, how they’d like to contribute. We focus so much on the social aspects of the Fraternity that we fail to realize it’s what Freemasonry teaches that attract new members. How many times have we seen a new Master Mason attend a few meetings and then vanish? Often? I’ve seen it over and over myself.

It’s because we haven’t delivered on that promise of making good men better—the reality didn’t live up to the expectation. We don’t teach enough. We don’t mentor enough. It would be like a church that is so focused on Sunday morning concerts and potluck dinners that once you’re baptized they no longer teach you anything about the Bible—if you want to learn more about that church stuff, you can study it on your own. That may sound silly. A church like that would without question fail, but isn’t that how many Freemasons learn about Freemasonry? That’s exactly how I learned it--on my own. Here’s the basics in three degrees, congratulations you’re a Master Mason—there’s the library. There’s books and such in there.  Knock yourself out!

I’ve learned a lot watching the Pastor of my church over the short amount of time I’ve known him.  My experience in that church didn't happen by accident.  He’s been a Pastor for fifty years, and he is a master at knowing his congregation. He knows every member well from the oldest member, to the newest visitor who walks in the door. He learns about them. He knows their skills. He knows how they like to participate, and what they enjoy doing. He even knows when a member needs a shove to the next level (like me back behind the piano again). And above all, he never losses sight of the mission of the church--everything is purpose driven. So much of what I’ve learned from this little church and its Pastor I realize can be applied to Freemasonry as well.

Think about it.


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:

What is Leadership?

by Senior Midnight Freemason Contributor
WB Gregory J. Knott

What is leadership? I’ve been asking myself that repeatedly over the last couple of years. I hear the phrase uttered everyday in the workplace, on social media, in the masonic lodge, in Scouting and numerous other places and groups that I am associated with.

In 2018, I was fortunate to attend the Leadership Institute for Academic Librarians at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. We wasted no time in getting right into the definition of what leadership is. We talked about the great social changes that are sweeping across the nation that are impacting all of us and how we can be prepared to lead into the future.

We were provided a book to read in advance, Reframing Academic Leadership by Lee G. Bolman and Joan V. Gallos. While focused on an academic setting, the authors laid out an excellent case about what it means to reframe things in the context of leadership. Specifically, they put forth four leadership frames that we spent the course developing an in-depth understanding of; structural, human resources (people), political and symbolic.

We used each of these four frames to analyze case studies, develop a broad understanding of how they influence the organization and how using different perspectives can further our own leadership abilities within the organization. In other words, by reframing situations or experiences, we can exert our leadership in more effective ways that benefit both you as an individual and others around you.

I want to explore these four frames (over a series of articles) in the context of the masonic fraternity and how we can use reframing as a concept to grow as leaders, as an opportunity to open your mind to new ideas, developing strategies for personal growth and ultimately putting these ideas into action.

Before diving into the framework discussion, let me touch briefly on some leadership concepts. So back to the basic question, what is leadership? Here are a few notes and thoughts I jotted down to get us started:

  • Influence towards action
  • Ability to know thyself
  • Modeling appropriate behavior
  • Leveraging your self and others for an objective
  • Sense making – the big picture
  • Determining the direction
  • Flexibility – adaptability – sense of plans
  • Ability to bring people together
  • Motivating people

Let me expound on a few of these.

Influence towards action. I have always been an individual who is action oriented. I’ve not been one to just talk about things but want to see something get done. But I have also learned the hard way that I cannot do everything myself. Without the help from others, nothing I have achieved in life would have been possible. Influence towards action tells me that you can develop relationships with others, can present ideas that they can buy into and ultimately see these ideas come to fruition and implementation.

Modeling appropriate behavior. How can we expect to exert influence on others without modeling proper behavior? Have you ever known someone and thought or said I wish I was more like them? Was this because of something they did or perhaps just how they lead their life? There have been numerous men I have met in this fraternity that I always see modeling appropriate behavior. They are a positive influence on me and others. The behavior your modeling may impact people you’re not even aware of.

Sense making – the big picture. My definition of the big picture in Freemasonry is simple, the improvement of the individual man who then goes into society and makes a positive impact on his family and community. I find that very often we forget the big picture and get so lost in the details of business meetings, grand lodge debates, etc. that we need to step back and make sense of what is happening around us. Ask yourself at the next lodge meeting, is what your doing helping grow the individual member of the lodge, if not it’s time to step back and look at the big picture.

Ability to bring people together. I consider leadership a game of addition, not subtraction. Bringing people together around a unified goal is as much an art as a science. Can you articulate a clear vision of what you or your lodge is hoping to accomplish that will help inspire others to want to be part of it? When you approach your brothers for assistance, are they willing to jump in and help? While Freemasonry can help the individual man grow, I am of the firm belief that the strength of our fraternity is the collective influence we have on each other in achieving this growth.

Motivating people. This one goes hand in hand with the ability to bring people together. Are you and/or your lodge providing a positive experience that motivates people to want to attend. Is your lodge providing the members with opportunities to grow or are you barely making a quorum? As a leader when you make that phone call or send that email asking people to take part in a degree, attend a work day at the lodge or help with the scholastic bowl event effective in getting people there? Where can you strengthen your ability to motivate others?

These ideas barely scratch the surface regarding leadership. In future articles I will discuss in depth the four framework ideas (structural, human resources (people), political and symbolic). I will pull in what I learned in my Harvard program, but more importantly the experiences I have learned from both in the masonic lodge and life in general.

I would like to hear your thoughts on leadership. How can the masonic fraternity help grow our leaders of not only today, but the future? Let me be very clear from the start, simply going through the chairs in the yearly progression is not leadership. What can you learn for your personal growth and leadership abilities from being in a chair? How can you apply this not only in lodge but in your life?

Leadership is not a destination but a journey. I invite you to come along.


WB Gregory J. Knott is the Worshipful Master of Ogden Lodge No. 754 in Ogden (IL) and a plural member of St. Joseph Lodge No. 970 (IL), Homer Lodge No. 199 (IL) and Naval Lodge No. 4 in Washington, DC.

Memento Mori

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Erik Antony Marks 

The Library was not the place I expected to be reminded of the certainty of my death. Yet, greeting me as I entered this wondrous place was an 8.5” x 11” notice for a public conversation about death. At the top of the page were the Skull and Crossbones with the phrase surrounding them. And why not? Stacks and stacks of truths, what a great place to discuss our musings about one of the book-ends of our existence. The Latin Phrase is a helpful refrain if we contemplate it regularly: Remember you are going to die so that you may choose to be fully present and live consciously while alive—take stock, and make the most, of life.

In Tibetan Buddhism, training in the four preliminaries are the basis for all that follows in working with the mind:

1. Remember your precious human life and the good fortune of your human birth which provides ability to come in contact with and take in truth
2. The reality of the certainty of death that can come at any moment
3. Being stuck in Karma: that no matter what you do, good or ill, furthers your entrapment in the cycle
4. The inevitability and severity of suffering for all sentient beings.
When I think of Memento Mori, I am drawn back to these preliminaries. The following day another Memento Mori message arrived again, prompting me to write this. I met with a man who recently lost a dear family member to protracted illness. He said, “Is it strange to say I feel like thought of his death is a gift? I’m sad he’s gone. I feel like the hurt reminds me to live my life.” It made me think of a colleague and former group consultant who said “loss is the gift that keeps on giving.” The words stung at first. It seemed antithetical in that moment to place the two ideas of “loss” and “gift” together. As the concept worked in me over time, I began to realize how much of my adaptations to life were from finding the “silver linings” in the losses I had accumulated. This message is clearly present in every step of our Masonic journey: In the regularity of day and night. In the stages of life and degrees, especially the Third. For me, the message echoes through our mythos and allegories to break off the superfluous in our day to day and bring into brilliant relief that which is most important to each of us.

Hasten not the day of your demise
Nor shun it like an evil specter.
Honor its effort to ring in the reality
That your life’s abode is this moment:
Memento Mori.


Brother Erik Marks 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:

James Madison's Enigmatic Masonic Ties

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

James Madison has never been proven to have been a member of the Craft and is never listed among the presidents who have been; but evidence can be found to support the position that he was a Brother. So what's the final verdict… was James Madison a Freemason?

John Francis Mercer, a former congressman who eventually became governor of Maryland, wrote a letter to James Madison on February 11, 1795. In it, he asked Madison to encourage John Fenton Mercer, his nephew, to pursue a military career. In closing the letter, Mercer congratulated Madison on becoming a Freemason.

In addition to this letter, there has been some other evidence to support Madison’s membership in the Fraternity. John Dove, an early Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of Virginia said Madison was one of the original founders of Hiram Lodge 59 in 1800, and became a charter member. All records of Hiram Lodge, unfortunately, have been lost. On Sept 20, 1817, Madison marched in procession with Charlottesville Lodge 90 and Widow's Son Lodge 60 to lay the cornerstone of Central College at Charlottesville (later the University of Virginia). Perhaps most telling, however, were the attacks made on Madison during the anti-Masonic period.

Mercer's letter is vague in places and his handwriting is sloppy. He clearly invites Madison to attend Lodge while his wife Sophia entertains Madison's wife Dolley. James and Dolley had wed just months before, prompting Mercer to wax not-so-eloquently on the institution of marriage, and to congratulate Madison on his marrying her. The paragraph in question reads as follows:

"I have had no opportunity of congratulating you before on your becoming a free mason a very ancient and honorable fraternity — I am sure you are now much wiser & I do not doubt you are much happier altho you were very wise & happy before, at least in my opinion — I hold a lodge on your road perhaps let me take you sometime by the hand in it & let Mrs. Mercer welcome the fair prophetess [Dolley] who but cements you to the true faith — a man who has got his head somewhat clear of a large load of lead in politics [Mercer had recently resigned from Congress] — feels of course a little light headed to that you must attribute my levity of this style which is only intended to apprise you of my respect of friendship for you."

So Mercer, definitely a Freemason, applauded Madison on becoming a member and invited him to go to a Lodge meeting. This letter, along with Madison’s other Masonic ties could confirm he was a Freemason; end of story.

Not exactly.

Mercer himself notes the letter is written in the spirit of levity. The question is, where was he joking and where was he serious? He was clearly serious about asking Madison to intervene with his nephew, but in the next paragraph was he serious in his delight Madison has become a Mason? It's too bad Mercer didn't use emojis.

Some scholars believe Mercer was lightheartedly comparing marriage to the act of joining the fraternity – a stretch, to be sure. Such scholars must not be Freemasons, who don't consider joining the fraternity a joking matter. Still, "I hold a Lodge on your road" might refer to Mercer's home, and he might have been inviting Madison and the fair prophetess Dolley, clearly meant to be humorous, to visit. As a result, one might conclude Mercer is joking about Freemasonry. One might also conclude Mercer had one strange sense of humor.

The overthinking that has gone into this letter negates the Occam's razor principle which would quickly lead to the conclusion Mercer thought Madison was a Freemason – and he was.

There is yet another possibility. Mercer thought Madison was a Freemason but he was not.

To further confuse the matter, another letter exists which contradicts Mercer's letter. In 1831, Madison wrote Stephen Bates in response to Bates' inquiry about Madison's involvement in Freemasonry. A little context regarding this letter is helpful. First, it is in no way related to Mercer's letter, written 36 years prior; second, Madison was in ill-health at its writing and actually dictated the letter to his secretary J.C. Payne; finally, the letter was written at the peak of the anti-Masonic fervor sweeping the United States at the time. Madison begins the letter by apologizing for a slow response, citing his health as the reason. He then addresses Freemasonry:

"...ignorant as I was of the true character of Masonry and little informed as I was of the grounds on which its extermination was contended for, and incapable as I was and am, in my situation of investigating the controversy. I never was a mason, and no one perhaps could be more a stranger to the principles, rites and fruits of the institution I had never regarded it as dangerous or notorious (noxious?); nor on the other hand as deriving importance from any thing publicly known of it. From the number and character of those who now support the charges against Masonry I cannot doubt that it is at least susceptible of abuse outweighing any advantage promised by its patrons."

So, to paraphrase this cornucopia of run-on sentences, Madison says he is in no position to investigate the anti-Masonic movement. He claims never to have been a Freemason, and says he really doesn't know anything about it. He says he never regarded it as dangerous. He concludes, given the character of those who are against it, its disadvantages outweigh its advantages.

So, that does it. Madison was not a Freemason and even appeared to be jumping on the anti-Masonic bandwagon; end of story.

Not so fast.

At the writing of this letter anti-Masonic sentiment was oozing out of every crevice in the country. According to William R. Denslow, in his iconic series 10,000 Famous Freemasons, Madison was under pressure, being taunted by the anti-Masonic movement. In that context, this might be interpreted as a politician's answer. Politicians lie today and no doubt politicians lied then:

"I am not a crook…"

"I never had sex with that woman…"

"I never was a Freemason…"

It may also be significant that Madison did not write this letter himself. J.C.Payne, his secretary, was the author. He may have transcribed it word-for-word or he may have advised or persuaded Madison, 80 and in ill-health at the time, to deny membership for political purposes.

This is not a settled matter. Those claiming definitively either that James Madison was or was not a Freemason are off base. Denslow and others have documented the fact Madison over time had been involved in activities with Freemasons. It is just not certain what the extent of those activities was.

One final thing… no one likes unanswered questions, but for now, there are no good answers. Suppose, however, membership documents from Hiram Lodge or some other proof comes to light showing Madison to be a Mason. Here is a man who not only publicly denied his membership but said the bad outweighs the good in Freemasonry and sided with the anti-Masonic movement. If Madison is a Brother, that's disappointing.

Still, if the aforementioned Occam's razor principle comes into play one could conclude that Madison said he was never a Freemason, so he was not a Freemason. Period. Pending other documentation proving otherwise, perhaps it is best to leave it at that.

Full transcripts and copies of the letters in question are available at:


Bro. Steve Harrison, 33° , is Past Master of Liberty Lodge #31, Liberty, Missouri. He is also a Fellow and Past Master of the Missouri Lodge of Research. Among his other Masonic memberships are the St. Joseph Missouri Valley of the Scottish Rite, Liberty York Rite bodies, and Moila Shrine. He is also 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. Brother Steve was Editor of the Missouri Freemason magazine for a decade and is a regular contributor to the Whence Came You podcast. Born in Indiana, he has a Master's Degree from Indiana University and is retired from a 35 year career in information technology. Steve and his wife Carolyn reside in northwest Missouri. He is the author of dozens of magazine articles and three books: Freemasonry Crosses the Mississippi, Freemasons — Tales From the Craft and Freemasons at Oak Island.

High Expectations

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Bro. Erik Anthony Marks

In reflecting on Brother Acre’s recent post on Masonic Education, I was brought back to my arrival at the West Gate. Unlike the New Brother with incredible memory in his writing, I have a lot of difficulty retaining facts and exact quotes. It takes a lot of repetition. Luckily for me, we do that in Masonic Education! I’ve learned that not all lodges require new Brother’s to memorize the catechism. I was disappointed and perplexed why this would be the case. Immediately two reasons came to mind: 1) It takes a lot of work to teach 2) there could be a worry that having to work, would put men off.

With regard to both points: our metaphor is that of Labor--work. It’s built into our reason for being, for many reasons with multiple meanings. Before the advent of sociological research, people knew that work matters: a sense of purpose quite often means more to us than “being happy.” People strive for greatness not because it’s easy, but because it matters to make a difference for others. So let’s dispense with the first point there, we are here to work.

With regard to the second point, High Expectations mean greater value. If we expect little of the Brethren, new or veteran, what we do will have little value to them or the world. If we demand a lot, what we do will have value. In the last twenty years, research on resilience, or resiliency as it is sometimes called, confirms what the builders of old already knew: High Expectations, well supported, lead to better outcomes. If we expect nothing more of each other and ourselves than to get into the Fraternity as quickly and easily as possible, what value do we have? I realized as I type the preceding statement, many of us join for different reasons which have been, and will be, addressed in other places and times.

I recall with joy and enduring excitement my own experience, the evening of my first degree. It was a blur, I was so immersed in the experience. I remembered very few words. I distinctly recall the voice of my conductor; I remember Worshipful’s voice during my obligation, and our conversation the following day. He stated the expectation, and support. As we began our Labors he said: “There will be a lot of work. It may take time. We won’t let you fail.”


Brother Erik Marks 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:

Mason of the Year Award

by Senior Midnight Freemason Contributor 
WB Gregory J. Knott 

Charlene and Carl Lewis

As Worshipful Master of Ogden Lodge No. 754 (IL), it was my pleasure at our most recent stated meeting to announce the creation of the Carl D. Lewis Mason of the Year Award. This award will be given annually by the WM, to a member of Ogden Lodge for outstanding service.

Carl D. Lewis was a 69-year member of Ogden Lodge who passed away in December 2018. He was our long-time Tyler and was serving as Marshall for the current year. Carl was one of the first people to greet me every month, always asked how the family was doing and was a true pleasure to be around. He was just simply an outstanding person.

As a member of the Greatest Generation, Carl served in WW 2 as a ball turret gunner on a B-17, had a career with Standard Oil, was a member of the Ogden Methodist Church, Ogden Lions Club and the Ogden American Legion. He and his wife Charlene Denhart Lewis were married for more than 72 years and had three sons, seven grand-children and 10 great-grandchildren.

So, it only seemed fitting to create an award that focuses on how Carl lived his life, serving others.

The plaque that will be placed in Ogden Lodge reads, “In memory of our esteemed brother Carl D. Lewis in honor of his service to his country, community and lodge.” 

WM Greg Knott presents RWB Denver R. Phelps with the Carl D. Lewis Mason of the Year Award

I chose RWB Denver R. Phelps as the first recipient for this new award. Denver has worked tirelessly in helping mentor countless numbers of new brothers over the years. He has served as WM of Ogden Lodge No. 754, Homer Lodge No. 199, DDGM, Assistant Area DGM and was a lodge Secretary for years. Additionally, he is a Navy Veteran and extremely active in the American Legion and once served as the national Sargent at Arms for the American Legion. He was Fire Chief for the Ogden-Royal Fire Department, serves as an election judge and in numerous other capacities in serving the community.

I think Carl would be pleased with Denver as the first recipient of this award.


WB Gregory J. Knott is the Worshipful Master of Ogden Lodge No. 754 in Ogden (IL) and a plural member of St. Joseph Lodge No. 970 (IL), Homer Lodge No. 199 (IL) and Naval Lodge No. 4 in Washington, DC.