by Senior Midnight Freemason Contributor
Gregory J. Knott 33°
We gathered in the southeast corner of the Armory on the University of Illinois campus last month, to honor the latest two inductees to the University of Illinois Army ROTC Hall of Fame. On the wall were the pictures of previous inductees who were Illinois alumni and had made significant contributions while serving in uniform and protecting our freedom serving in conflicts from WW 2 to the recently concluded Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The two inductees on this particular day, were both veterans serving during the Vietnam Era Conflict.
Captain Fred Ranck was commissioned into the US Army in 1967 as an Infantry Officer serving in the 101st Airborne Division as a platoon leader and company commander. He served multiple tours in Vietnam and was a highly decorated combat veteran, earning two Silver Stars, three Bronze Stars with a “V” device for valor, four Purple Heart medals for combat wounds, two Air Medals, and two Vietnamese Crosses of Gallantry. He later also served his community as a Boy Scout leader and a lifetime member of the 101st Airborne Association where he has served as President.
The second inductee was Colonel Bennett Hart, who was commissioned as an Infantry Officer in the US Army in 1968 but served primarily in the Military Intelligence branch on active duty until 1972. He continued his service in the US Army Reserve for another 26 years. He commanded at the company, battalion, and brigade levels in the US Army Reserves. He later served as Deputy Director of Army Intelligence Agency during Desert Shield/Desert Storm and supported the development of the Army’s Force XXI equipped Blue Force Tracking into command and control of combat operations. He also served over 15 years in the Senior Executive Service aiding the Intelligence and National Security efforts in the Department of Defense. He has over 50 years total of supporting the defense of our nation.
I was extremely honored to witness both Captain Ranck and Col. Hart being inducted. I don’t know how you can adequately thank individuals who have done so much to ensure our freedom.
But this day was also extra special because it was due to Freemasonry that I got to know Bennett to begin with. We are both from the same county in Illinois, and both of us are actively involved in Scouting and are very active in Freemasons. It was thanks to a mutual friend that I met Bennett one time on a visit to Washington DC.
Midnight Freemason Founder Todd E. Creason 33° and I were participating in laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier during Masonic Week 2017. Bennett, who now lives in the Washington DC area and I were corresponding about meeting up with one another and decided to meet at the Arlington National Cemetery where we would be laying the wreath.
Thanks to Bennett, we were able to have the wreath-laying videoed and I later turned it into a Youtube video that can be seen here.
While Bennett and I shared much in common in our backgrounds such as the same basic hometown, both Eagle Scouts and involved in Scouting, and both involved in public service, we didn’t know each other. It was thanks to Freemasonry that we became friends. That powerful bond that transcends time, geographic boundaries, occupation, etc. is what sets Freemasonry apart from any other fraternal organization in the world.
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.
Reuss then sought out to legitimize his group by reaching out and becoming active in other streams of esotericism. He soon was introduced to Dr. William Wynn Wescott, leading member of the S.R.I.A and founder of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. At the time Wescott was the Grand Master of the Swedenborgian Rite of Phremasonry and provided Reuss with a charter to form his own lodge dated July 24, 1901 and a letter of authorization to form an S.I.R.A group in Germany February 24, 1902. Reuss was also designated an inspector with the Martinist Order in Germany by Gerard Encausse (aka Papus) who provided him with a charter June 24, 1901.
Westcott and Papus assisted Reuss with establishing his order, Papus helped Reuss establish the OTO Gnostic Catholic Church and Wescott assisted Reuss in contacting John Yarker to recive chaters for the Rites of Memphis and Misraim September 24, 1902. By attaining these charters from the leading esoteric and occult leaders he became legitimized to create his own Order. Reuss based the structure of his Order around the Swedish Rite of ten degrees inspired heavily around the Templar mythos and the theoretical aspects of sexual magic.
In 1910 Reuss became acquainted with Aleister Crowley, British Occultist and Former Golden Dawn Member, while living in London. The story goes that Reuss was reading Aleister Crowley’s “Confessions” and discovered that he had published their supreme secret. He then contacted Crowley and admitted him to the first three degrees and then only two years later Crowley was advanced to the tenth degree and placed as Grand Master in charge of Great Britain and Ireland. Crowley then wrote The "Manifesto of the OTO", which described its basic ten-degree system the 7th, 8th, and 9th, degrees being Kellner’s three degree system of the Academia Masonica.
In 1914, Crowley moved to the United States and began to break away from the Masonic influences of the OTO and began integrating the concepts of his own religion of Thelema. He then wrote a religious service for this new version of the OTO called the Gnostic Mass. Reusss' O.T.O system contained their versions of the degrees Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft and Master Mason. The fourth degree being Holy Royal Arch and the fifth degree was Scotch Mason. Crowley attempted to work this Masonic-based O.T.O. in Detroit, Michigan which resulted in the Supreme Council of the Scottish Rite declaring them to be clandestine, centered on the basis that the O.T.O. rituals were too similar to Scottish Rite Masonry's own rituals.
In a 1930 letter to Arnold Krumm-Heller, Crowley Wrote:
“However, when it came to the considerations of the practical details of the rituals to be worked, the general Council of the Scottish Rite could not see its way to tolerate them, on the ground that the symbolism in some places touched too nearly that of the orthodox Masonry of the Lodges.”
In 1914 Crowley then fully integrated Thelema into the OTO by rewriting the initiatory rituals and incorporating his own philosophical understanding of the grade work. By rewriting the degrees Crowley removed most of those symbolic connections to Masonry. He did not rewrite the fourth degree ritual, which remains in its form and structure related to the various Royal Arch rituals of Masonry.
In 1920 Theodore Reuss suffered a stroke and communications between Reuss and Crowley began to deteriorate. Crowley broke ties with Reuss and proclaimed himself Outer Head of the Order. In 1925, during a tumultuous Conference of Grand Masters, Crowley was officially elected as Outer Head of the Order.
The majority of the philosophy of the OTO can be summed up by the quote that began Crowley’s involvement with Reuss in Crowley’s confessions:
“It offers a rational basis for universal brotherhood and for universal religion. It puts forward a scientific statement which is a summary of all that is at present known about the universe by means of a simple, yet sublime symbolism, artistically arranged. It also enables each man to discover for himself his personal destiny, indicates the moral and intellectual qualities which he requires in order to fulfil it freely, and finally puts in his hands an unimaginably powerful weapon which he may use to develop in himself every faculty which he may need in his work.”
Crowley’s new OTO system was re written into different schools of triads based on the tarot. The entire system is as follows: 0° Minerval, I° Man & Brother, II° Magician, III° Master Magician, IV° Perfect Magician & Companion of the Holy Royal Arch of Enoch, and P.I.—Perfect Initiate, or Prince of Jerusalem. Then came the honorary degree of Knight of the East & West. The next school was The Lovers Triad which focused on active and passive energies of the soul. V° Sovereign Prince Rose-Croix, and Knight of the Pelican & Eagle, Knight of the Red Eagle, and Member of the Senate of Knight Hermetic Philosophers, VI° Illustrious Knight of the Order of Kadosh, and Companion of the Holy Graal Grand Inquisitor Commander, and Member of the Grand Tribunal Prince of the Royal Secret, VII°—Theoreticus, and Very Illustrious Sovereign Grand Inspector General Magus of Light, and Bishop of Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica Grandmaster of Light, and Inspector of Rites & Degrees. The degrees of the Hermit Triad are of sexual nature. In the VIII° of Perfect Pontiff of the Illuminati, the initiate is taught masturbation magical practices, in the IX° of Initiate of the Sactuary of Gnosis the magical techniques related to traditional intercourse, and in the XI° of Initiate of the Eleventh degree a form of sex magic involving non-traditional intercourse is taught. The final Supreme Secret is given in the X° Rex Summus Sanctissimus.
James E Frey 32° classifies himself as a gentleman of the old world, which means he is known to stand in the great forests reciting poetry to fair-haired damsels while wrestling bears for sport. He is a District Education Officer for the Grand Lodge of Illinois, a Past Sovereign Prince of the of Danville AASR, member of the Oak Lawn York Rite, Medinah Shriners, Royal Order of Scotland, Quram Council Allied Masonic Degrees and initiate of the Golden Dawn Collegium Spiritu Sancti. He is also a guest lecturer on Occultism and Esoteric studies in masonry for the R.E.B.I.S Research Society.
I am a new Cryptic Mason. I have been studying profusely the lessons and history of Royal Arch Masonry to at least try to provide adequate instruction for my Chapter as High Priest. But this new journey is yet another layer of allegory and meaning.
I understand (as much as I am able) the interrelationship between the Three Degrees and the Royal Arch Degrees. Historical complexities can reasonably account for the order of the events in the legends. We find the "deleted scenes" that occur before and after the notorious murder scene and then are fast-forwarded to what is almost a sequel in itself, the recovery of what is lost.
So how does Cryptic fit in? Are they just some extra degrees that lingered on after the first three had been finally and firmly established in the middle of the 18th Century? Were they crammed in to fill out some need, or perhaps arbitrarily placed in the York Rite from the Scottish Rite due to the common details of the Legend? (I must here note that many of the creative ritualists were the same people in both traditions.) There seems to be little logic in any of it, being solely a matter of historical compromises and nearly random circumstances.
I'm not concerned with that here. Well, from a scholarly view it is noteworthy, but what we can consider from the experience is more than just what the authors intended or even imagined. We can speculate on them ourselves, as individuals, and what I have derived is a pattern that makes sense to me. So what I propose here is another angle from which to measure this path of Degree work.
Let's put aside the chronology of the story, and distill the elements down to their possible underlying meaning. In other words, let's see the Degrees as our own story and see what fits where.
We begin by losing something precious. We're not even sure exactly what it was that was lost because we didn't quite receive it. Is it a part of ourselves, perhaps a connection to our higher nature? Perhaps such loss is the expulsion from the Garden, the Fall of Adam in each of us.
Sure, we learn from the consequences of our natural inadequacies. Maybe that's part of the purpose of human existence. But regardless, we are in some way lacking and imperfect. There is something missing and we cannot complete our journey. We must use a substitute to get us by. Who knows what the particulars may mean for you, the reader, but we all have at some point been at a loss and prop ourselves up with something by which to compensate or medicate or just plain cope.
However, by some divine forethought and Grace, we find a hidden remnant of what we lost. Perhaps we gave up looking; perhaps we strove diligently in Faith. But such an important thing could not be gone forever, lest there be no true Hope. When we recovered (or rather uncovered) the holy relic and its secret, it was as if our journey was complete. We know Truth in a higher and more complete way.
So why does the Cryptic narrative serve as the final chapter of the story? I see it as the lesson of how we should preserve and cherish what was found, something that could only be heartily done AFTER having suffered its loss.
We cherish it as a secret should be cherished -- entombed in our faithful breast, rather than dissipated in an unintelligible shout among the profane. And we value it enough to preserve it through the passing on of our tradition, from generation to generation. This could be symbolic of passing on our highest values to our children, or those we mentor, or the young in general.
This gives a deeper meaning to what it means to "keep" your word. We've all had times we lost part of ourselves, and may or may not have succeeded in preserving our integrity or honor. But sometimes it takes losing something to realize how precious it is. From that point onward, we try to do better once such things are regained.
So these are my thoughts about Cryptic Masonry. As I progress, I may find it primitive or build further upon it. But for now, I have this lesson to learn: I must not only rediscover those things that are dear and precious in my life but learn to actively guard them against the ruffians of the world and even my own apathy, sleeplessly and unceasing as if defending whatever it may be from the ravages of time itself.
Bro. Ken JP Stuczynski is a member of West Seneca Lodge No.1111 and recently served as Master of Ken-Ton Lodge No.1186. As webmaster for NYMasons.Org he is on the Communications and Technology Committees for the Grand Lodge of the State of New York. He is also a Royal Arch Mason and 32nd Degree Scottish Rite Mason, serving his second term as Sovereign Prince of Palmoni Council in the Valley of Buffalo, NMJ. He also coordinates a Downtown Square Club monthly lunch in Buffalo, NY. He and his wife served as Patron and Matron of Pond Chapter No.853 Order of the Eastern Star and considered himself a “Masonic Feminist”.
Masonic funeral services are one of the most beautiful ceremonies of the Craft. They provide an opportunity for the fraternity to reflect on the memory of a Brother at his passing and to show his family a bit about the organization he was a member of. They often provide an introduction to freemasonry for the friends and loved ones of a Brother who has passed and I’ve known a few men who petitioned to join the fraternity after witnessing a service.
From 2003 to 2008 I was secretary of the only Masonic Lodge I belonged to at the time. This was a time when many of those Brethren who were members of the Greatest Generation, that generation that had won World War II and helped bring greater prosperity to our country and the developed world, were passing from this life in great numbers. I remember one winter in that time when the lodge performed six Masonic Funeral Services in less than a month. Suffice it to say that as lodge secretary I saw more of these services than I wanted to. Over the years I have had the opportunity to learn the Chaplain part in the ceremony and have given that part many times. Recently I learned the Worshipful Master part, though I haven’t yet had to perform the part in a ceremony.
I know that the ritual and work of Masonic Funeral Rites vary by jurisdiction and your jurisdiction may have more explicit instruction on the subject I am about to discuss, but having observed or participated in many of these services in Illinois, I have noticed that there doesn’t seem to be a prescribed manner in which the Great Lights of Freemasonry should be displayed. In fact, I am not sure that I have seen them borne into the room in which the ceremony takes place and placed on the table set out for that purpose the same way twice.
This has led me to the question of this paper--how should the Great Lights of Freemasonry be displayed at a Masonic Funeral Service in Illinois? And my thoughts as I shared them with a group of my Brethren that gather monthly to practice the work and discuss the craft.
Let’s start with what instruction is given. The Book of Ceremonials of the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge Ancient Free and Accepted Masons of the State of Illinois states, “The Holy Bible should be borne in a funeral procession and open at the 12th Chapter of Ecclesiastes, with the square on one page and the compasses on the other.” So while the Book of Ceremonials assumes the Bible as a Brother’s Volume of the Sacred Law and contemplates a graveside service; we can follow its instruction that the Bible, if it is a Brother’s VSL, should be opened to a specific Book, Chapter, and Verse and that the square and compasses should be on separate pages, regardless of the location of the service.
What isn’t instructed is how the VSL should be situated in the room or area in which the service takes place, which page each tool should be on, and why. The following discussion is offered to illustrate and explain one method of situating the VSL and placing the tools and the symbolism portrayed in that method. The discussion is an opinion. It carries no official weight or authority and imposes no requirements on anyone. You are free to use it or ignore it-- your choice.
As it accommodates an assembly of Freemasons, it makes sense that the room or space in which the Masonic Funeral Service takes place should, as closely as practical, be interpreted to be or be situated in the form of a lodge. In this situation, the Officiating Master would be in the East and the table provided for the display of the Great Lights would take the place of the lodge’s altar. The Great Lights would be placed upon the table in a like manner as on a lodge’s altar. The officer charged with displaying the Great Lights would carry them to the west side of the table, face the east, and place them upon the table in the same manner as they are placed upon a lodge’s altar with the Bible opened to the 12th Chapter of Ecclesiastes, the text-oriented so that it would be readable to him as he faces east. He would place the opened compasses on the right page of the Bible, on his right, and the square on the left.
To begin to understand the symbolism of this suggested placement of the square and compasses, let us consider an excerpt from the paper, The Square and Compasses, produced by the Grand Lodge of Texas and published on the website masonictrowel.com. “In ancient symbolism, the square signified the earth, while a circle, drawn with the compasses, represented the heavens. For the Freemason, the Square represents what is earthly and material while the Compasses signify the heavenly and the spiritual. It is not without significance then that the position of the points of the compasses within the interlaced Square and Compasses changes as the Freemason progresses from an Entered Apprentice Mason to a Fellowcraft Mason and finally to a Master Mason. It represents his progression in life from the here to the hereafter, from birth to the everlasting life, from the seeker of human knowledge to the seeker of divine understanding where the spiritual has obtained full mastery and control over the earthly and material.”
So as a Mason progresses through his life it is hoped that the weaker part of him, his earthly nature, represented by the square, will yield to and be subdued by the better part, his divine spiritual nature, symbolized by the compasses. And when his “journey of life has ended” the better part, the compasses are emblematically separated from and placed to the right on the Bible and the weaker, the square, to the left; as his immortal spirit separates from and leaves the remains of his mortal body here on Earth and ascends to “that house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”
I hope you have found this discussion interesting. I hope it has given you something to reflect on the next time you are in the lodge or the next time you join with your Brethren to offer to the memory of a Brother, “this tribute of affection.”
Brian L. Pettice, 33° is a Past Master of Anchor Lodge No. 980 and plural member of Olive Branch Lodge No. 38 in Danville, IL, and an Honorary Member of a couple of others. He is also an active member of both the York and Scottish Rites. He cherishes the Brothers that have become Friends over the years and is thankful for the opportunities Freemasonry gives and has given him to examine and improve himself, to meet people he might not otherwise have had chance to meet, and to do things he might not otherwise have had a chance to do. He is employed as an electrician at the University of Illinois and lives near Alvin, IL with his wife Janet and their son Aidan. He looks forward to sharing the joy the fraternity brings him with others. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
The period existing during the mid 19th century to the beginning of the 20th century saw the rebirth in the romanticism with the occult lodge. This was termed the occult reformation and no other group embodied this evolution in esoteric practice more than the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. The Golden Dawn is often considered the most fundamental magical school to come out of the Occult Reformation in the 1880s. This Group had extremely close ties to Masonry, not only being founded by Masons, but being founded by Elite Masons of the Societia Rosicruciana in Anglia. This Group of Masons sought to reform Rosicrucianism and create a magical order that was separate from Masonry so women could have equal membership in the mysteries. But this Hermetic Order has its origins steeped in legend and is riddled with mystery surrounding one of the most prominent Masons of his day poet and historian Kenneth Mackenzie.
Mackenzie became a Mason in 1870 and a brilliant occult researcher, and authored the “Royal Masonic Cyclopaedia” in 1877 after mastering the Masonic mythos. On his quest for greater light in occult knowledge it was claimed that Mackenzie traveled across Europe seeking the true lineage of the Rosicrucians. During his time in France he was initiated through the nine grades of the “Gold und Rosenkreuz Order” and was given special permission to take notes on their initiations forming what would be known as the “Cypher Manuscripts”. Upon returning to England Bro. Mackenzie was instrumental in developing the initiatory grades of the S.R.I.A with Bro. Robert Wentworth Little who founded the order in 1867. The S.R.I.A became the premiere Masonic organization in London and because of its esoteric and occult nature it drew into its ranks influential membership including Dr. William Wynn Wescott, Samuel Liddell “Macgregor” Mathers, Dr. Robert William Felkinand Arthur Edward Waite. Wescott and Mathers would be deeply influenced by the S.R.I.A and with the obtaining Cipher Manuscripts after Mackenzie’s death they would go on to found the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.
The Cypher Manuscripts are a sixty page outline of magical initiations, corresponding to the elemental energies of Earth, Air, Water, and Fire, as well as kabalistic and alchemical notes related to each Grade. Wescott and Mathers included these manuscripts into the Order incorporating Egyptian symbolism and various Grimoire influences creating a sustainable current of energy that has been used as the foundation for countless occult orders. The First grade of Neophyte 0=0, is on a general level dedicated to the concept of darkness. In this Grade the Initiate is meant to realize he is bound by his own perception of subjective reality and that he must purify and cleanse his own being in order to shed the influence of his lower self upon his soul. The Initiate walks the path dictated in certain chapters of the Egyptian Book of the Dead and divided his sprit from the elemental energies freeing himself from material influence. The Grade of Zelator 1=10 correlates to the element of Earth. In this Grade the Initiate regains the element of Earth but with a new spiritual perspective and thus begins the journey of regaining his elemental energies to reform his spiritual self. The Grade Theoricus 2=9 correlates to Water, Practicus 3=8 to water, and Philosophus 4=7 to fire.
Hierius at Vernal
The Golden Dawn created such a stir in the esoteric communities that it attracted a variety of influential people from the artistic community such as actress Florence Farr, poet W. B. Yeats, writer Bram Stoker, poet William Sharp, and bad boy Aleister Crowley. The legacy of the Dawn was short lived, as schisms among members led to the dissolving of the Order. Overall, the Golden Dawn tradition is alive but heavily divided over who should be considered the “official” Golden Dawn. With egotistic leaders claiming direct contact with the secret chiefs to eminent Freemason Chic Cicero with his lineage from Reguardi, to a variety of independent temples, the Golden Dawn community is in contest with each other.
Overall, for the esoteric student the works of the Golden Dawn are fundamental to the understanding of the Western systems of Magic. It was founded by masons in an attempt to revive and reform Rosicrucianism. They sought to overcome the mundane influences of humanity, only to be destroyed by the lower parts of the human character. Research of the Dawn is important to all Brothers who wish to further understand the Occult revival, as most esoteric groups to come after are forever indebted to the efforts of Wescott, Mathers, and Mackenzie.
*There is one possible exception. Teddy Roosevelt according to one source was reported to have said "and thus I swear" rather than "so help me God."