Revisiting My 24-inch Gauge

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Bro. Randy Sanders


During my morning meditation, I reflected upon my use of the 24-inch gauge, and several of my shortcomings in dealing with recent Holidays. There is a good reason the first working tool of many Masonic jurisdictions is the 24” gauge, and the reminders sometimes get a touch painful. I regret missing certain meetings because others coincide. I regret missing my close Brothers on their podcasts or presentations because of conflicts. I celebrate the victories and the times I know their work is recorded, as it makes me feel connected when I miss the live-action. I celebrate the victories in the past two years as we transitioned into an electronic multinational Masonic education community.

Yet, there it is…, my 24-inch gauge. Am I making the best use of my time? Am I prioritizing in the best way my limited moments on this planet? What can I do better? Sure, I can set resolutions, I can say I’m going to do better, and I can initiate some improvements here and there, but what about that 24-inch gauge?

I avoid New Year resolutions as they tend to fade within a week, but I am a big fan of aphorisms, focus, and mindfulness. Why not use this to my advantage? I This year I will try a consolidation experiment where I combine my various calendars, where possible, to one more detailed and inclusive. Work and private life must necessarily remain separate, but the various ways I’ve tracked and structured my own 24-inch gauge needs to change, maybe just a tweak here and there, but change. Adding one item to my morning routine and keeping it part of the routine? Doable. Adding one item to my bedtime routine? It needs to be a quick item as I tend to shut down when preparing for sleep.

So what then? The other working tools can be combined. Yes, that’s right. My plan is to spend a few months with the 24-inch gauge AND the plumb. Was I upright in my decisions on time management? Then I plan to move to the 24-inch gauge and the level, then the square, and so on. Some of the groups to which I belong or associate already put focus on mindfulness toward the working tools, and this simply moves it to the next level.

So if not resolutions, where is your focus for the coming year?

~RS

Randy and his wife Elyana live near St. Louis, Missouri, USA. Randy earned a Bachelors Degree in Chemistry with an emphasis in Biochemistry, and he works in Telecom IT management. He volunteers as a professional and personal mentor, NRA certified Chief Range Safety Officer and enjoys competitive tactical pistol, rifle, and shotgun. He has 30 plus years teaching Wing Chun Kung Fu, Chi Kung, and healing arts. Randy served as a Logistics Section Chief on two different United States federal Disaster Medical Assistance Teams over a 12 year span. Randy is a 32nd degree KCCH and Knight Templar. His Masonic bio includes past Lodge Education Officer for two symbolic lodges, Founder of the Wentzville Lodge Book Club, member of the Grand Lodge of Missouri Education Committee, Sovereign Master of the E. F. Coonrod AMD Council No. 493, Co-Librarian of the Scottish Rite Valley of St. Louis, Clerk for the Academy of Reflection through the Valley of Guthrie, and a Facilitator for the Masonic Legacy Society. Randy is a founding administrator for Refracted Light, full contributor to Midnight Freemasons, and an international presenter on esoteric topics. Randy hosts an open ongoing weekly Masonic virtual Happy Hour on Friday evenings. Randy is an accomplished home chef, a certified barbecue judge, raises Great Pyrenees dogs, and enjoys travel and philosophy.

Whither Are We Traveling? - Part Four

by Midnight Freemasons Contributor
WB Darin A. Lahners


As we continue to explore Dwight L. Smith's seminal work, "Whither are We Traveling?", we begin to explore his answers to the ten questions he posed for self-examination of the state of Ancient Craft Freemasonry in 1963.  The questions he asked are as important and relevant now as they were then. This week we look at: 
Question 3: Has Freemasonry become too easy to obtain?

MWB Smith begins this section with this:
"Some three months ago when this series of articles was introduced, I took advantage of a fifty-year presentation occasion to write a Masonic editorial. The recipient of the Award of Gold had petitioned a Southern Indiana Lodge in 1911 when he was making $10 a week as an apprentice printer. The fee for the degrees was $20. He thought enough of Freemasonry to empty his pay envelope twice.

A century ago it was not uncommon for men to pay what amounted to a month’s wages to become a Mason. We know without challenge that today petitioners are paying a fee which represents a week’s wages at the most – sometimes only two or three days!"

For some context, the spending power of 10 dollars in 1911 is 291.15 dollars in 2021 when calculated for inflation. The highest dues I pay for my Blue Lodge membership is 70 dollars annually, when I calculate the other lodge I belong to, I pay 105 in Blue Lodge dues, while I pay close to 100 dollars individually for my Shrine and Scottish Rite membership dues.  If you add in the other appendant body dues - I'm probably paying close to 300 dollars a year for the privilege of membership in them.  That's approximately 3 times the amount I'm paying for Blue Lodge membership which is required for membership in the rest of these bodies.  There is something wrong with this picture. 

Smith agrees:
"And when we compare the ridiculously low fees paid to an Ancient Craft Lodge with the aggregate fees paid to other Masonic bodies and appendant groups, we begin to see clearly what is wrong. Men are willing to pay for the privilege of Freemasonry, but we distribute the fee they should be paying to an Ancient Craft Lodge among all the relatives, the inlaws and the step-children. We place such a cheap value on the basic degrees that it is no wonder newly raised Masons end up having little or no respect for the Symbolic Lodge." 

He continues:
"Before we are in a position to tackle some of the difficulties that beset us, we must
reestablish the premise that Freemasonry is a Pearl of Great Price, worth a great deal of effort, a great deal of sacrifice, a great deal of waiting to obtain. We need to do a little preaching, perhaps, with a certain New Testament passage as the text: “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Has Freemasonry become too easy to obtain? I am one who believes that it has. And I am not the only one. My old friend Arthur H. Strickland, of Kansas, recently wrote a thoughtful article for The Philalethes, entitles, “Who Killed Cock Robin?” Calling
attention to the old axiom that what is easy to get is not much appreciated, he observes that “we have done everything that we can think of to cheapen Masonry… We have cheapened the Fraternity to the point that it is seriously reacting against us.”"

Do I agree? Yes.  I believe that this question goes hand in hand with the last article in the series where I examined Smith's question: "How Well are we Guarding the West Gate?"  When we are in fact not upholding standards for membership, then we have essentially made Freemasonry as available to everyone as the prize at the bottom of the cereal box.  One only needs to buy the box, turn it upside down and open it to find the treasure.  

Smith continues: "Has Freemasonry become too easy to obtain? To me, the question is not even debatable. For example:
1. Our fees for the degrees are so low as to constitute an insult to the
Fraternity. When I petitioned for the degrees in 1933 the fee was $20. That was
a good-sized chunk of anybody’s money in 1933, but I would have paid three
times that amount. Our economic standards of today can hardly be compared to
1933, yet the minimum fee in Indiana is still only $30 – and one Lodge in five
charges the absolute minimum. There is not a Lodge in Indiana whose fee should
not be at least twice its present amount.

For a long time I have had the uneasy suspicion that the period of accent on
quantity rather than quality may have started during those cut-rate years of
1933 to 1944 when the minimum fee was only $20."

To put things into perspective, Twenty dollars in 1933 equates to Four Hundred Twenty-Seven dollars and Sixty-One cents in 2021.  However, many lodges have not adjusted their dues or degree fees for inflation.  Even 30 dollars in 1963 when this work was originally published equates to Two Hundred Seventy-Two Dollars in 2021.  The two lodges I belong to have degree fees of One Hundred Fifty and One Hundred Thirty Dollars respectively.  Let's be honest though, for many people even that represents a large amount of money.  

Case in point, we have a candidate at one of my lodges.  He is in his early twenties.  He has a newborn baby and his wife to take care of. He petitioned our lodge to join, he was investigated, and he was elected to receive the degrees of Freemasonry.  From us initially meeting him to his election, was a period of four months. He kept showing up at our meals prior to our business meetings, he spoke to me personally at length about the lack of positive male role models in his life.  He essentially has been on his own since the age of 16.  I felt compelled to volunteer to be his intender (different jurisdictions might have a different term for this, this is essentially the brother who helps the candidate learn his catechisms for each degree and helps answer any questions they have). Upon speaking to him, I was shocked to find out that no one had spoken with him about the degree fees. 

While the candidate said that he felt there would be no trouble in getting the fees together, I also could tell from other things he had said to me that I believed that not to be the case.  I personally could not justify charging him the fee when that money could be going towards diapers, food, and other living expenses to help his newborn and young wife.  So I made a decision.  I went to the lodge.  I explained the situation, and several of us passed the hat to cover his degree fees. My point is, we are personally taking a chance on this young man because I see potential in him.  

So while I agree with MWB Smith that Degree Fees should be adjusted to meet today's standards, I also believe that money shouldn't be the determining factor in whether someone is worthy of being a Freemason.  The determining factor should always be the character of the individual petitioning the lodge, not the amount in their bank accounts.  I believe that we need to do a better job of explaining degree fees to our prospective members, but also be flexible in allowing them to pay those fees.

Smith then continues with:
 "Everything is geared to speed, as if a deadline had to be met. Freemasonry is no longer worth waiting for, nor working for, nor sacrificing for. Too often it is only a
badge of respectability, a prestige symbol, to be obtained with the same hurry-up
zeal that would be assumed in acquiring a Cadillac or a yacht. Candidate A must be
rushed through the degrees before he leaves for service in the armed forces (he has
heard it might be helpful to him.) Candidate B must be rushed through because he
is about to move to a distant point to take a new job. Candidate C must hurry
through so he can join a class in some other organization.

Proficiency? Nonsense! A friendly coach can take care of that.

Comprehension of the underlying philosophy of Freemasonry, its symbolism and
ethics and traditions, what it is and what it seeks to do? You know the answer to
that question as well as I.

And we not only permit such a situation – we actually encourage it. How, in
Heaven’s name, can we so cheapen Ancient Craft Freemasonry and expect
anything other than contempt for the parent body?" 

I recently wrote an article about a candidate at St Joseph Lodge #970 that took several years to complete his journey from Entered Apprentice to Master Mason * http://www.midnightfreemasons.org/2021/11/the-mystic-tie-and-time.html.  I agree completely with Dwight. We need to slow down.  In foreign jurisdictions, it is my understanding that this is the case.  Men often spend a few years between their initiation to Entered Apprentice, being passed to the degree of Fellowcraft, and then being Raised to the Sublime Degree of Master Mason. However, in the States, we push men through the degrees.   I'm not even going to discuss one-day classes here.  

While ultimately, it's the quality of the man who is joining that is going to determine what type of Freemason he is going to be versus how quickly he progresses through the degrees; I believe that we are doing both a huge disservice by rushing them through.  I believe that the ultimate reasons for this are two-fold.

1. I believe that Grand Jurisdictions influence this directly or either indirectly.  In many Grand Jurisdictions, there is a report which shows how many lodges have candidates in Progress and the amount of time they have been in progress. The Grand Secretary (or whomever else is the keeper of the report) sends the report out to the Area Deputy Grand Masters, who in turn sends it out to their Assistant Area Deputy Grand Masters, who in turn sends it out to the District Deputy Grand Masters, who in turn then does with it what he wants.  

In many cases, the stigma of being on a list or report is an impetus to force action by the offending lodge to move the candidate along to the next degree.  In many cases, the mentor or intender is then pressured to make sure the candidate's catechism is ready to be given in open lodge, to force the candidate and intender into a position where the candidate is not learning the work, but memorizing the words.

They also have an obsession with numbers.  We all have seen the charts, which show Freemasonry's membership numbers dropping. We have read the articles and heard the cries that we need to replenish the membership or else Freemasonry will die.  It's all poppycock.  However, it seems that every Grand Lodge feels that it needs to plug the holes in the dyke, hold Grand Master's festivals and make Freemasonry easy to obtain.  Instead of focusing on the quality of the membership that they are bringing in, we seem to get the message that quantity matters more.  So then we lament why we can't get more men attending the meetings when the answer is quite clear.  We have brought the wrong men into the fraternity, to begin with!

2. Appendant body membership qualifications should be changed to stop making membership in them easy to obtain.  There are very few invite-only bodies in Freemasonry.  Many of the bodies only require one be a Master Mason to join them.  I bore witness to this when I joined the Shrine this past September.   The class I joined the Shrine was all from the Grand Master's festival.  Here, I am a three-time past master who was a Master Mason for 9.75 years joining an appendant body with one hour old Master Masons.  There's something fundamentally wrong with this.  

So inevitably what happens is that many of these men never show up to their mother lodge.  While they have to pay their dues to keep their memberships in the appendant bodies, their financial support pails in comparison with their participation.  So what I purpose is this:

There should be at least a 5-year waiting period before any Master Mason should be able to join any appendant body.  Furthermore, the Master Mason should be attending lodge at least 80% of the time during this five-year period.  Finally, the 80% attendance should be enforced as judiciously as the man needing to pay dues to his mother lodge going forward for them to continue their membership in the appendant bodies.  

I'll allow you to pull your jaw off the floor.  In the past, Masons needed to be either a Knight Templar or Scottish Rite Freemason to join the Shrine.   Why do Grand Lodges think so little of Blue Lodges to not stand up for them when it comes to the appendant bodies?  If a grand lodge were to say to an appendant body, from now on, if you want to be recognized in our Jurisdiction, we are redefining what we mean by "Good Standing".  Instead of it being only a member being current on their dues, how about adding other qualifications like lodge attendance?   In my mind, the members in "Good Standing" in my lodge are the ones that keep showing up and running the lodge. Not the ones staying at home but paying their dues.  Do you think the appendant bodies are going to pull up stakes and leave that jurisdiction?     
Before you give me any argument about appendant bodies collapsing because they couldn't get any new membership, I would argue that all of the men that already joined will have been grandfathered in.  Secondly, in making membership in them harder to obtain, would we also not be raising the quality of their bodies?  It boggles my mind that many think of Blue Lodge as being an afterthought instead of the focus of their Masonic Journey.  It's time for Grand Lodges to stand up and put their foot down when it comes to the qualifications for membership for the appendant bodies.  Otherwise, why bother with even having the Blue Lodges? If we are allowing them to be Master Mason factories only for the sake of those Master Masons to be able to join Appendant bodies, then we've not only lost the word but also what the foundation of Freemasonry is and always has been - the Blue Lodge.   What happens to a house without a solid foundation?

I believe that Dwight would agree with me.  He continues:
"The privilege of courtesy work has been so abused that it actually has become
a detriment to all Freemasonry. What was once intended as an occasional
pleasant arrangement for the benefit of a Lodge has been liberalized to the point that it now is only for the convenience of a candidate. Do you realize that a candidate for the three degrees may become a Master Mason without ever having attended a single meeting of the Lodge which has elected him? He can be initiated in one Jurisdiction, passed in another, raised in another. And yet we expect him to
become a loyal and devoted Mason, with a strong sentimental attachment to a
Lodge he knows nothing about, and which has done nothing except to elect him!
We crave his faithful attendance, but we do about everything in our power to
create a situation in which loyalty has no place.

The incident in Montana in which a Brother received his fifty-year button without
ever having attended a meeting of his own Lodge is not as far-fetched as we would
like to think. We can learn a great deal from our Mother Grand Lodge of England and from the Jurisdictions of Scotland and Ireland, Australia and Canada, where a candidate must receive the Entered Apprentice degree in the Lodge that elected him, and in no other. It was a sad day for Masonry in Indiana when that regulation was repealed."

I believe that courtesy work like everything has a time and place.  If we are serious about slowing down the rate in which an Entered Apprentice is passed to the degree of Fellowcraft and then raised to the sublime degree of Master Mason, then there should be no reason to ever have courtesy work, except in rare occasions like the one in my article above.  But in having a regulation that states that the candidate must receive the Entered Apprentice degree in the Lodge that elected him and in no other, we are doing something that I heard a bunch of District Deputy Grand Masters complain about just yesterday, which is forcing those lodges to learn the ritual and to confer their own degrees.  You see, the major failing of Freemasonry is a lack of accountability.  There is nothing holding the lodge accountable for the quality of its work.  I heard all of this wailing about sloppy work, yet how can the DDGM really hold a lodge accountable?  Short of threatening to yank a lodge's charter, what really can be done?    

Like everything else in Freemasonry, we need men that are willing to separate the wheat from the chaff.  We need enough men to stand up at Grand Lodges that don't have them support changes to the constitution and by-laws to allow a minimum standard of certification for Wardens to meet before they are allowed to become Masters.  We also need to have more roadblocks in place that force lodge's to exhaust all other options before having candidates go to another lodge to receive courtesy degree work.

Dwight then goes on to say: 
"One of the worst offenders in the cheapening process is the well-meaning
father who is too eager for his son to become a Mason. Those are hard words,
but I have seen the story repeated over and over again. Sonny must be pushed
through because Pop wants him to join the class in another body; because Pop
wants him to receive the degrees in Germany, or France, or South America. Sonny
may not have even lived within the Jurisdiction of the Lodge for years and years,
but Pop wants him to join if the Lodge has to violate all the rules in the book to
accomplish it.

So Pop comes to the Grand Lodge office with a plea that the residence laws be set
aside; that the period of investigation be waived; that Sonny be advanced without
regard to proficiency. You have known him; so have I. His name is legion.

What a contrast to the spirit of that great and good Past Master of an Indianapolis
Lodge who waited years upon years to hear his son express the desire to become a
Mason – and who, even then, did not offer to pay the son’s initiation fee because he
wanted the boy to appreciate what he was getting!

And then there are the ill-advised church parishioners who pay the fee for their
minister. I have met quite a number of those ministers in my day, and have become
rather cynical after working long hours trying to unravel their record of suspensions for NPD. But I must not get started on that subject."

How many of you have witnessed a son who is a dullard be given the degrees of Freemasonry because their Father was a past Master and well-respected member of the lodge?  The son barely knew the meaning of "Own Free Will and Accord" before being "forced" to join the lodge because of their Father's desires. And while as a father I struggle with the idea that my sons will never join Freemasonry, I also realize that in having them do so before they are ready, I am doing a disservice to both them and the Craft.  If they are never ready, then that's something that I must be prepared to realize.  As Dwight ends this section, he puts best in saying:     

"When we downgrade Ancient Craft Masonry, submit it to all sorts of indignities, look upon it with contempt, label it as something hardly worth mentioning, permit it to have only the crumbs that fall from the table, what can we expect if Master Masons no longer give to their Lodges their full measure of loyalty and devotion? "

In my next article, I will explore the next question MWB Smith poses.  Question 4: Are we not worshiping at the altar of bigness?

~DAL

WB Darin A. Lahners is our Co-Managing Editor. He is a host and producer of the "Meet, Act and Part" podcast. He is currently serving the Grand Lodge of Illinois Ancient Free and Accepted Masons as the Area Education Officer for the Eastern Masonic Area. He is a Past Master of St. Joseph Lodge No.970 in St. Joseph. He is also a plural member of Homer Lodge No. 199 (IL), where he is also a Past Master. He’s a member of the Scottish Rite Valley of Danville, a charter member of Illinois Royal Arch Chapter, Admiration Chapter No. 282, and a member of the Salt Fork Shrine Club under the Ansar Shrine. You can reach him by email at darin.lahners@gmail.com.  

Devastating Destruction and Faith, Hope and Charity

by Senior Midnight Freemason Contributor
Gregory J. Knott 33° 

The recent tornadoes on December 10, 2021 that ripped across Arkansas, Missouri, Kentucky, and Illinois left in their path a horrific trail of destruction.   As of this writing, over 75 lives are known to have been lost across the multi-state area.  Many think this may be one of the strongest tornadoes that has been recorded in the modern history of data tracking by the National Weather Service.

Hit particularly hard was Mayfield, Kentucky.   Mayfield is a small town of about 10,000 people in far western Kentucky.   The tornado came at night with total darkness, which made visibility nearly impossible to easily see what was happening. Mayfield took a direct hit and it devastated much of the town.  The Graves County courthouse was completely destroyed as was much of the downtown area and an untold number of homes.   

I listened to a press conference where Mayfield Mayor Kathy Stewart spoke about the devastation that had occurred, yet how so many people were stepping in to lend a hand in helping one another begin to recover from this tragedy.  Mayor Stewart described an American flag that she found in the rubble in the Mayfield Fire Station, as two first responders looked on. 

“And I went over to them and handed it to them and immediately those two men began to fold it with the most respect,” said O’Nan. “They had been up all night; they were tired, they were dirty, and they began to fold it as gently and as beautifully as I had ever seen.”

Mayor Stewart said that the folded flag will have a place of respect and represent those who served others out of that former fire station.  In many ways that flag represents the faith, hope, and charity of the community as it begins to recover.   

As the holiday season is upon us, I hope and pray for the recovery of these victims and ask the Grand Architect to provide comfort to the families that have lost loved ones, friends, homes, and more.  

If you wish to contribute to the relief of those in need, there is a donation button on the Grand Lodge of Kentucky Webpage under the disaster relief section on the main page: https://grandlodgeofkentucky.org/.

The USA Today had the following list of links where you can give:

Donate to relief funds

Team Western Kentucky Tornado Relief Fund 

Gov. Andy Beshear has established a fund to assist tornado victims and begin rebuilding. Donate at secure.kentucky.gov/formservices/Finance/WKYRelief or by sending a check to Public Protection Cabinet, 500 Mero St., 218 NC, Frankfort, KY 40601.

American Red Cross 

Visit redcross.org, call 1-800-RED-CROSS or text REDCROSS to 90999.

Aspire Appalachia 

Send donations to paypal@aspireappalachia.org or PO Box 1255, Jackson, KY 41339.

CARE

The nonprofit based in Atlanta is partnering with Louisville's Change Today, Change Tomorrow to distribute food, water and cash vouchers to affected families. Donate to the tornado relief fund here.

Global Empowerment Mission

The disaster relief nonprofit based in Miami is sending trucks of supplies to western Kentucky, in partnership with Racing Louisville and Louisville City Football Club. Donate funds at globalempowermentmission.org/mission/kentucky-tornadoes/.

Global Giving 

The D.C.-based nonprofit has established a Midwest US Tornado Relief Fund at globalgiving.org/projects/midwest-tornado-relief-fund/.

Kentucky Counseling Center

The organization is collecting donations that counselors and social workers in Graves County will distribute to affected families. Donate at kentuckycounselingcenter.com/mayfield-fund/.

Kentucky Tornado Relief Fund 

The University of Kentucky College of Medicine has established a GoFundMe page collecting donations at gofundme.com/f/ukcom-student-effort-for-tornado-relief-in-ky.

Kentucky Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters 

Visit kentuckyvoad.org/.

Mayfield Graves County Tornado Relief 

Mayfield-Graves County United Way has set up a GoFundMe to collect donations at gofundme.com/f/mayfield-graves-county-tornado-relief. Find other verified fundraisers at gofundme.com/c/act/tornado-outbreak-fundraisers.

Marshall County Fund 

The Marshall County Nonprofit Foundation has established a Venmo account to take funds at @MCNPF.

Mercy Chefs

The nonprofit that serves meals following natural disasters has set up at His House Ministries, 1250 KY-303, Mayfield, Kentucky, and will distribute food over the next few days. Donate funds at https://mercychefs.com/donation.

Relevant Church 

The church in Mayfield, Kentucky, is taking donations for a tornado relief fund at wearerelevant.churchcenter.com/giving/to/mayfield-tornado-relief.

Rise and Shine 

The mutual aid group in Bowling Green is taking donations through Venmo at @riseandshinebgky.

Salvation Army 

Visit helpsalvationarmy.org and donate to the Salvation Army Western KY Disaster Relief Fundraiser on Facebook.

United Way of Kentucky 

The agency has set up a donation site specifically for tornado victims. Visit uwky.org/tornado.

Western KY Tornado Victims 

Bremen resident Courtney Cozee has established a GoFundMe at gofundme.com/f/western-ky-tornado-vitamins

Western Kentucky Red Cross Disaster Relief Fundraiser 

Find the online fundraiser on Facebook

 ~GJK

Gregory J. Knott, 33° is a founding member and Senior Contributor of the Midnight Freemasons blog. He is a Past Master of St. Joseph Lodge No. 970 in St. Joseph (IL) and a plural member of Ogden Lodge No. 754 (IL), Homer Lodge No. 199 (IL) and Naval Lodge No. 4 in Washington, DC. He’s a member of the Scottish Rite, the York Rite, Eastern Star and is the Charter Secretary of the Illini High Twelve Club No. 768 in Champaign-Urbana. He is also a member of ANSAR Shrine (IL) and the Eastern Illinois Council No. 356 Allied Masonic Degrees. Greg serves on the Board of Directors of The Masonic Society and is a member of the Scottish Rite Research Society and The Philathes Society. He is a charter member of a new Illinois Royal Arch Chapter, Admiration Chapter U.D., and serves as its Secretary. Greg is very involved in Boy Scouts—an Eagle Scout himself, he is a member of the National Association of Masonic Scouters.

Oh Sprig of Acacia! How Lovely are your branches....

by Midnight Freemasons Contributor
WB Darin A. Lahners


By the time this article is published, Christmas will be one day away. One of the most iconic images that immediately makes one think of Christmas is the Christmas Tree. The influence of Pagan rites can't be debated when it comes to the Christmas Tree. The celebration of the Winter Solstice was important to many pre-Christian faiths. Traditionally, the Solstice was a celebration of the power that their Sun God had over death or illness. The God, who after three days remained low in the sky and which was interpreted as death or illness, began to rise again. Many of these faiths used evergreen plants to serve as a reminder of this victory over death and the promise of spring.

The solstice was celebrated by the Egyptians who filled their homes with green palm rushes in honor of the god Ra, who had the head of a hawk and wore the sun as a crown. In Northern Europe, the Celts decorated their druidic temples with evergreen boughs which signified everlasting life. The Vikings thought evergreens were the plants of Balder, the god of light and peace. The ancient Romans marked the Winter Solstice with a feast called Saturnalia thrown in honor of Saturn, the god of agriculture, and, like the Celts, decorated their homes and temples with evergreen boughs.

Historical records suggest that the Christmas tree tradition was started in the 16th century by Germans who decorated fir trees inside their homes. In some Christian cults, Adam and Eve were considered saints, and many people celebrated them during Christmas Eve.

During the 16th century, it was not rare to see huge plays being performed in open-air during Adam and Eve day, which told the story of creation. As part of the performance, the Garden of Eden was symbolized by a “paradise tree” hung with fruit. The clergy banned these heathen practices. Still, some collected evergreen branches or trees and brought them to their homes, in secret.

These evergreens were initially called ‘paradise trees’ and were often accompanied by wooden pyramids made of branches held together by rope. On these pyramids, some families would fasten and light candles, one for each family member. These were the precursors of modern Christmas tree lights and ornaments, along with edibles such as gingerbread and gold-covered apples.

However, Legend has it that the modern Christmas tree was born when Martin Luther was walking home through the woods. He was struck by the amazing beauty of starlight shining through fir trees. In wanting to share this experience with his family, Martin Luther cut down a fir tree and took it home. He placed a small candle on the branches to symbolize the Christmas sky so he could recreate the experience with his family. What is known is that by 1605, Christmas trees were a thing as, in that year, historical records suggest the inhabitants of Strasburg "set up fir trees in the parlours … and hang thereon roses cut out of many-coloured paper, apples, wafers, gold-foil, sweets, etc."

Over time, the tradition was spread by German settlers of North America and other parts of the world. It still wasn't wholly adopted until 1846, when Queen Victoria was sketched with her German Prince, Albert, and their children standing around a Christmas Tree. Because of the Queen's popularity and her actions being considered Fashionable, the custom quickly was seen as being such and adopted by British and East Coast American Society.

So why did I entitle my article as such? Much like the Christmas Tree, the Sprig of Acacia is a representation of immortality. In fact, we are told that the: "Acacia or Evergreen which bloomed at the head of his (Hiram Abiff's) grave and betrayed the place of interment is emblematical of the immortal part which survives the grave and bears the nearest affinity to that supreme intelligence which pervades and animates all nature, and which can never, no never, die." You can immediately see why this connection is made. Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, let you be reminded of the lessons of your degrees when you look upon the Christmas trees of this holiday season. Try to practice our tenets of Brotherly Love by practicing the "Golden Rule" which is found in all religions to treat others as you would want to be treated, Practice Relief by giving generously to charity in order to help those that are less fortunate, and practice Truth with your words and actions this holiday season.

~DAL

WB Darin A. Lahners is our Co-Managing Editor. He is a host and producer of the "Meet, Act and Part" podcast. He is currently serving the Grand Lodge of Illinois Ancient Free and Accepted Masons as the Area Education Officer for the Eastern Masonic Area. He is a Past Master of St. Joseph Lodge No.970 in St. Joseph. He is also a plural member of Homer Lodge No. 199 (IL), where he is also a Past Master. He’s a member of the Scottish Rite Valley of Danville, a charter member of Illinois Royal Arch Chapter, Admiration Chapter No. 282, and a member of the Salt Fork Shrine Club under the Ansar Shrine. You can reach him by email at darin.lahners@gmail.com.

The Eggnog Riot! - Revisit

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
WB. Robert H. Johnson

Editor's note:
This article was originally published 12/24/2014.  It's a great holiday article so I am happy that RJ wrote it so I can republish it. ~DAL


Yes, you read that right, The Eggnog Riot. It all started back in December of 1826 when some cadets of the West Point Military Academy wanted to smuggle whiskey into said academy for the Christmas party. At that time, alcohol possession, drunkenness, and intoxication were absolutely prohibited and would result in expulsion. Even use of tobacco or gambling would get you minor incarceration, loss of privileges, etc.

Once the cadets had learned that the eggnog would have to be alcohol-free, they promptly decided to smuggle some in. On December 22nd, a few cadets, namely William R. Burnley, Alexander J. Center, and Samuel Alexander Roberts were at Martin's Tavern and almost got into a fight with another local watering hole over the business of getting this much sought after whiskey into West Point.

The three cadets managed to convince Private James Dougan to let them cross the Hudson River to smuggle the whiskey in. They had only planned on acquiring one-half gallon of whiskey as a base for the eggnog, however, they ended up with a whole lot more than that.

Thanks to Phillip St. George who was the Duty Guard for that day (24-hour shift), the three cadets managed to score two gallons of whiskey for the Christmas party which would be taken back to the North Barracks in room #33. However, it may have been help from Bro. T. M. Lewis who came through with the clutch when he acted accordingly to acquire a gallon of rum which he delivered to North Barracks Room #5.

The cadets made their plans and while Superintendent Sylvanus Thayer was attending his own administrative holiday party, the cadets, including Bro. Jefferson Davis (President of the Confederate States During the Civil War) started to party as well, even Robert E. Lee was present. The movie Animal House comes to mind. Below is a timeline of events that eventually ended with court-martials and expulsions.

Follow along carefully...

24–25 December 1826 - 22:00 to 04:15
Nathaniel Eaton (Massachusetts) was the cadet in charge of the external post of the North Barracks. Captain Ethan Allen Hitchcock, a faculty member in military tactics, was also stationed in the North Barracks. Eaton and Hitchcock met and discussed the smuggled liquor in the North Barracks.

The eggnog party started among nine cadets in North Barracks Room No. 28. Numerous cadets appeared as the party progressed, while another party began in Room No. 5, mentioned by seven cadets including Davis. Farrelly went again to North's or Havens and returned with another gallon of whiskey early on Christmas morning.

Cadet Charles Whipple (Michigan Territory), the division superintendent during the first part of the incident, went to North Barracks Room No. 5 at 02:00 after hearing a commotion, interrupting a round of singing among eight cadets, including Davis. Whipple returned to his room after a verbal exchange with Davis and the other cadets. Hitchcock made another patrol around the barracks at 03:00. Lieutenant William A. Thornton was asleep while the events unfolded.

By 04:00, voices from the floor above Hitchcock were loud enough to cause the faculty member to investigate Room No. 28, where Hitchcock knocked on the door and found six cadets drunk from the eggnog, as well as two others sleeping on a bed. Hitchcock ordered two of the cadets back to their rooms. After they left, Hitchcock woke the two sleeping cadets and ordered them to leave as well. Then he confronted Cadet James W.M. "Weems" Berrien (Georgia), who responded with equal force. Hitchcock read the Riot Act to the residents of the room for possessing alcohol on the premises. The captain left the room at 04:15. Berrien began verbalising his rage toward Hitchcock, which led William D.C. "Billy" Murdock (District of Columbia) to lead an effort to organize a riot against Hitchcock.


25 December 1826 - 04:30 to 06:05
Hitchcock went down to his room to sleep. Three times he heard knocks on the door only to find no one there. After finding another cadet drunk, Hitchcock saw Davis head over to Room No. 5 where thirteen cadets were partying. Davis, seeing Hitchcock's arrival, warned the other cadets. The captain entered the room, ordering one of the cadets to open up another cadet's footlocker, but the cadet refused. Hitchcock ordered no more disorder, left the room, and started looking for Thornton around 04:50.

Meanwhile Thornton had strolled the North Barracks between 21:00 on the 24th and 02:00 on Christmas Day observing the ongoing partying, before going to sleep at 02:00. He was awoken by loud yells and, once out of his room, was attacked by two cadets. Thornton then put cadet William P.N. Fitzgerald (New York) under arrest for brandishing a weapon. Fitzgerald retreated from Thornton, then told two cadets in Room No. 29 about the arrest.

At this point, noises erupted from the South Barracks which distracted Thornton. While going to investigate that commotion, Thornton was knocked out by Roberts, who had been ejected from Room No. 28 by Hitchcock earlier that evening.

Davis was asleep, but other cadets went looking for Hitchcock. Three other cadets were discovered by Cadet James G. Overton (Tennessee), a relief sentinel and not involved in the parties, and questioned about their actions. They gave a drunken explanation about needing drums and a fife.

At around 05:00, Hitchcock found another inebriated cadet wandering the academy.

By this point, several window panes had been broken. Hitchcock returned to the room where he was staying, No. 8. Several cadets then attacked his door, Guion drawing his pistol and firing a shot into the room. Hitchcock opened the door and yelled at the cadets to stop. The captain then began arresting cadets.

Hitchcock ordered Eaton to find Worth's headquarters. Overton asked Hitchcock to find Thayer and Hitchcock replied "No, Mr. Overton. Fetch the 'com'(Commandant Worth) here!" Several of the drunken cadets thought Hitchcock had stated the Bombardiers would be the ones to quell the riot, using heavy weapons, causing several cadets who were not drunk to take up arms in defence of the North Barracks. Thayer had been awoken at 05:00 by the sound of drums. He ordered his aide, Patrick Murphy, to get Major Worth because of what he could hear going on in the North Barracks.

Hitchcock continued restoring order in the North Barracks, getting into a fight with Cadet Walter Otey (Virginia).Thornton awoke from the stairway where he had been knocked out and returned to his room. Hitchcock greeted him in his room at 05:45. By 06:00, other cadets who were not drinking were also involved in restoring order. The main rioters were attempting to recruit other cadets, but with no success.

Overton could not find Cadet Eaton, who was checking the South Barracks, but did find Major Worth. Hitchcock met Worth and told him what had transpired. By this time, Thayer's aide had arrived in the North Barracks' guardroom. The Second Artillery had arrived at the North Barracks by the time of Reveille at 06:05.

06:05–18:30

Reveille sounded at 06:05, along with gunfire, the sound of glass breaking, profanity by cadets, cries of pain, and threats on Academy officials. North Barracks residents who were not drunk from the eggnog were appalled by the damaged property. Cadets in the South Barracks were well rested, while other cadets in the North Barracks were disheveled. Some of the cadets remained in their rooms drinking, although some appeared in parade formation despite being drunk. Worth met with Superintendent Thayer after the first formation to discuss what had happened in the North Barracks the previous evening. Thayer instructed Worth to get the officers into the North Barracks and restore order.

Captain Mackay, Academy quartermaster, took down details of the damages to the property at North Barracks so repairs could take place in the following days. Many cadets who were drunk made it to company roll call at 06:20, though they were subdued. The mutiny officially ended when Cadet Captain James A.J. Bradford (Kentucky) called the corps to attention and dismissed them from the mess hall after breakfast. Chapel formation took place after breakfast, followed by two hours of service, with most of the drunk cadets still recovering.

Thayer was advised by Worth regarding the events at North Barracks. Captain Hitchcock and Lieutenant Thornton were bruised, while several cadets suffered minor injuries, and Fitzgerald suffered a hand injury. Worth told Thayer that between fifty and ninety cadets had been involved in the mutiny. Later that day, Thayer met with Governor Kemble, an ordnance manufacturer in Cold Spring, New York, to discuss different items, including the events at West Point. Kemble asked Thayer what he would do about the misconduct, to which Thayer replied he did not know.

26 December 1826 - 07:00–08:00

A faculty and staff meeting took place, with all but Captain Thomas C. Legate of the 2nd Artillery A Battery and a few assistant professors in attendance. Thayer informed them that Major General Alexander Macomb, Chief of Engineers and Inspector General of the Academy, had been told of the riot, and that he was awaiting orders from Macomb. The superintendent also informed the attendees that an inquiry would take place during semester finals in January 1827, so some of the cadets would face simultaneous examinations and inquiry.

Cadet Battalion Order 98 was read at formation and posted at several prominent locations at the Academy. Twenty-two cadets were placed under house arrest until further notice; among them was Davis, who had been reported as a malefactor by Hitchcock and Thornton.

Certainly a good time and a bunch of cadets, a handful of whom were Brothers of the craft were determined to have some spirits for their Christmas party. Perhaps keeping passions within due bonds was a lesson they forgot about. Either way, I hope you found the story interesting and maybe just a little funny. 

The timeline above was published on Wikipedia with multiple cited references.

~RHJ

RWB Johnson is a Co-Managing Editor of the Midnight Freemasons blog. He is a Freemason out of the 2nd N.E. District of Illinois. He currently serves as the Secretary of Spes Novum Lodge No. 1183. He is a Past Master of Waukegan Lodge 78 and a Past District Deputy Grand Master for the 1st N.E. District of Illinois. He is the current V:. Sovereign Grand Inspector for the AMD in IL. Brother Johnson currently produces and hosts weekly Podcasts (internet radio programs) Whence Came You? & Masonic Radio Theatre which focuses 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", "The Master's Word: A Short Treatise on the Word, the Light, and the Self - Annotated Edition" and author of "How to Charter a Lodge: A No-Nonsense, Unsanctioned Guide. More books are on the way.

It's a small world

by Senior Midnight Freemason Contributor
Gregory J. Knott 33° 

This summer, I was visiting a local cemetery, when I came upon a tombstone that had some great advice on the backside. I wrote about this advice in an earlier article here on the Midnight Freemasons. I’ve thought about that advice from time to time, especially in the trying times that have defined the last couple of years for all of us.

The advice was crisp, clear, and simple, yet provocative in reaching into your soul.

I was talking with my wife Brooke about a phone call she took at work and the assistance she was providing to the caller. For whatever reason, it began clicking that I was familiar with the last name of the person she had been speaking with. I reviewed some of my notes and realized this family name was the same one that I found with the advice written on the tombstone. Brooke had been talking with the spouse. What a small world.

Let me again share the advice that was given:

Work - like you don’t need the money

Love - like you’ve never been hurt

Dance - like nobody’s watching

Sing - like nobody's listening

Live - like it’s heaven on earth

As we close out 2021, take the advice above to heart as you get ready to turn the calendar to 2022. I was reminded, the world is small, and you never know who your paths will cross with. Don’t get so caught up in day-to-day things that you truly forget about HOW to live.

~GJK

Gregory J. Knott, 33° is a founding member and Senior Contributor of the Midnight Freemasons blog. He is a Past Master of St. Joseph Lodge No. 970 in St. Joseph (IL) and a plural member of Ogden Lodge No. 754 (IL), Homer Lodge No. 199 (IL) and Naval Lodge No. 4 in Washington, DC. He’s a member of the Scottish Rite, the York Rite, Eastern Star and is the Charter Secretary of the Illini High Twelve Club No. 768 in Champaign-Urbana. He is also a member of ANSAR Shrine (IL) and the Eastern Illinois Council No. 356 Allied Masonic Degrees. Greg serves on the Board of Directors of The Masonic Society and is a member of the Scottish Rite Research Society and The Philathes Society. He is a charter member of a new Illinois Royal Arch Chapter, Admiration Chapter U.D., and serves as its Secretary. Greg is very involved in Boy Scouts—an Eagle Scout himself, he is a member of the National Association of Masonic Scouters.