On the Use and Abuse of History for the Life of Freemasonry A Nietzschean critique of the reverence for things from “time immemorial”

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Patrick Dey

Perhaps one of his most important essays by Friedrich Nietzsche for anyone concerned with history and the study thereof is his “The Use and Abuse of History for Life” in his Untimely Meditations (sometimes published as Thoughts out of Season). Now, the focus of this work is the study of history “for life.” It is important that history serves life. Because, well… what’s the point of anything if it does not serve life?

In this work, Nietzsche will outline three types of studies of history: monumental, antiquarian, and critical. The monumental is the reverence for the past, and this has its uses. Monumental history serves life by inspiring us to live this life and make it grand for ourselves. A monument that exemplifies hate, enslavement, death, and ruin… well, that’s not conducive to life, and so we don’t need such things from history. Being concerned with “what would the Founding Fathers say?” monumentalizes their outdated opinions and shuts down anything new for life. It reveres the old just because it is old, and focuses on what was, and does not support the changing tides of the present, and therefore is no longer conducive to life going into the future.

The second, the antiquarian method, is about the preservation of the past. This certainly has its uses. It preserves the past for us to have today. It is concerned with accuracy, rather than mythologization. However, it can become dangerous when it is only concerned with pure accuracy, basically making mummies. In which event, the antiquarian method functions to serve death, not life. Think of instances of items of exotic cultures that are still in use today by the cultures where they originate, but they sit in a museum where no one can use it. There was an instance recently where a woman from Southeast Asia saw a statue of a god that her people still worship today, and so she began to do a dance in reverence to the god. Then one of the security guards told her to stop and leave. This is exactly what Nietzsche warned of when it came to the antiquarian approach. We can’t use it, though it could be useful to life, it must be quietly pondered over as a curiosity, and not something to be actively engaged.

I will return to the third method, the critical method in a moment, because it is this second type of approach to history that I think Freemasonry today falls into.

In a previous essay I wrote for this blog on Artaud and the Theater of Cruelty, I described letter-perfect rituals as being like a mummy in a museum. And this is exactly what I meant, in a very Nietzschean sense. What does doing letter-perfect ritual serve for the life of our fraternity? Or any of the brothers, especially the candidate? It only serves the ego of the brother delivering the letter-perfect ritual. If ritual is only meant to be absorbed perfectly and regurgitated perfectly, then what is it serving, other than itself? It is not alive. In that essay, I advocated for more tolerance of embellishments, ad hoc, improvised ritual, which is continuously changing and transforming, like a living thing.

Take for instance a piece of ritual that gets on my nerves: “Murder and treason excepted.” Who says things like this anymore? No one. To quote Tyler Durden: “Don’t do it the way those dead people do it!” And there’s a good reason to change the wording here. For one, today when we want to “except” something, we put it before the object, not after. Second, today when we want to “accept” something we frequently put it after the object. And “except” and “accept” sound pretty similar. I have known a few candidates who realized while they were learning their catechism that it was “excepted,” and they felt embarrassed that they actually said “accepted” during the obligation. So why don’t we switch it to “except murder and treason”? Is it really that big of a deal? Is that not more conducive to the way our living language functions today better than the way those dead people did it?

Of course, it does not just stop with ritual. Why do we repeatedly refer back to the language of the Constitution as composed by Desaguliers (erroneously attributed to Anderson)? Does worrying about what a bunch of dead people wanted for the fraternity really serve the life of the fraternity today? The Constitution of 1723 will be invoked to deny persons of color or homosexuals from being made Masons, but no one bats an eye when it is pointed out that the 1723 Constitution allows Entered Apprentices and Fellow Crafts to vote. The question should not be “What would Anderson say?” but “Is this conducive to the life of Freemasonry and its members?”

This is where the critical historical method comes in. It allows for mythologization, it allows for innovation, and it allows for growth. Yet, this too has a danger: because critical history is always judging, it will constantly moralize the past based on the morals of the present. Think of instances of people calling for the atrocities committed in the past, such as genocide, enslavement, colonization, et cetera to be apologized for and reparations made. In a way, acknowledging the truth of the past is important, as this is what antiquarian history is about, and memorializing it allows us to never forget such things happened, in the hopes that such monuments will serve life by not allowing them to happen again.

But judging the past based on our morals today does not suit Nietzsche. It is not conducive to life, because judging history is something that only God can do, and… well… God is dead (according to Nietzsche). Critiquing the past is necessary because it allows us to grow and to learn, but if we do too much of it, it destroys all of history, because we have erased everything due to our judgments today.

Let’s use Christopher Columbus as an example. Those who critique the past view him with absolute disdain, and our current morals lead to the need to villainize him in every way possible, which ends up destroying history. Take for instance a meme you might have seen that attempts to demonstrate that Columbus and his crew brought syphilis back to Europe, because alpacas carry syphilis, thus insinuating that Columbus… yep, you get it. However, while alpacas do carry syphilis, so do goats, cattle, sheep, and pretty much any hoofed animal carries syphilis, and those were already in Europe. The need to condemn Columbus in every way possible ends up destroying history because it has over-critiqued. That’s not to say Columbus was a bright and shining example of the best human ever born — far from it. He and his crew did some atrocious things. Acknowledging those things is important, but not at the expense of destroying history, especially if it does not serve life. What does it serve to say that Columbus committed bestiality? It doesn’t. And this is the danger of critical history.

For Nietzsche, it is important to be a little “mad.” You can’t be purely scientific, making mummies, or destroying with endless critiques. We need a little bit of both creativity and accuracy, fact and myth — the historian should be both a saint and a sinner. A mix of monumental, antiquarian, and critical history is needed, and being purely of one method over another is dangerous, as described above.

This is a perspective to consider the next time you may deal with situations in which an old Past Master says, “Back in my day, we…” They are monumentalizing their history, expecting things from the past to never change. They invoke the past, their past, and shut down anything new. It is not inspiring for the life of the fraternity going into the future. In fact, saying “Back in my day…” really just serves to make everyone feel bad that anything ever changed.

So, keep this all in mind the next time someone criticizes you for messing up a word in your ritual. Ask them what does letter-perfect ritual serve? What good does it do other than to serve itself, a means to an end, and not an end of means? Why can’t a word or phrase change from time to time?

And I myself am pretty critical of Masonic history. From time to time I do “Mythbusting” for the Whence Came You? podcast. From time to time I get a response from a brother that I am destroying the myths Masons love so dearly. Sometimes I am okay with the myths. Such as the Temple Legend that is described by Rudolf Steiner. I am not okay with him claiming it belongs to Masons and Rosicrucians. It was inspired by Masonry, but it is a narrative of poetic beauty and suffering, belonging to the poet GĂ©rard de Nerval. We should interpret Masonry through de Nerval’s vision, and not the other way around. Yet, other times I am not okay with the myths, such as that of the forget-me-not, because it attempts to — ironically — forget the past and replace actual history with some feel-good story of poor, pitiful Masonry that was too weak to sustain itself against the violent tide of fascism. When, in fact, most German Masons renounced Masonry and signed with the National Socialist Party.

I am not a purist. I endeavor to be Nietzschean in my approach to history, namely, being a little “schizo” (to crib Deleuze and Guattari), and mixing all three methods together. Such provides a good balance for the Masonic fraternity, keeping it in check against stagnation, as well as against making Freemasonry into a perfectly preserved mummy, but also not destroying its history entirely. But what is always most important that we always bear in mind: is our approach to Masonic history and culture conducive to the life of the fraternity and its members? If it’s not, then it should not concern us. If it is, it is worth fighting for and engaging in.

tl;dr history should serve life, our life today.


 Patrick M. Dey is a Past Master of Nevada Lodge No. 4 in the ghost town of Nevadaville, Colorado, and currently serves as their Secretary, and is also a Past Master of Research Lodge of Colorado. He is a Past High Priest of Keystone Chapter No. 8, Past Illustrious Master of Hiram Council No. 7, Past Commander of Flatirons Commandery No. 7, and serves as the Secretary-Recorder of all three. He currently serves as the Exponent (Suffragan) of Colorado College, SRICF of which he is VIII Grade (Magister), and is a member of Gofannin Council No. 315 AMD and Kincora Council No. 8 Knight Masons. He is a facilitator for the Masonic Legacy Society, is the Editor of the Rocky Mountain Mason magazine, serves on the Board of Directors of the Grand Lodge of Colorado’s Library and Museum Association, and is the Deputy Grand Bartender of the Grand Lodge of Colorado (an ad hoc, joke position he is very proud to hold). He holds a Masters of Architecture degree from the University of Colorado, Denver, and works in the field of architecture in Denver, where he resides with wife and son.

Seeds of Dissent The Origins of Anti-Masonry - Part 2: The Incident

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

By the time Masonic lodges began to appear in what would become the United States, the Catholic church was on the verge of banning the Craft. Protestant evangelical churches, strict and unbending in their belief systems, were following suit. In addition, some colonists began to fear the secretive nature of Masonic lodges and their perceived influence over political and economic affairs was threatening the emerging nation. It was not lost on the populace that the Masonic lodges themselves, whether Ancient or Modern, owed their existence and allegiance to being sanctioned by lodges in England, a country daily waning in popularity with the upstart colonists. This, even though many, if not most, Freemasons went on to support the colonies in the American Revolution. 

With other priorities to deal with in the fledgling colonies, anti-Masonry was simmering on the back burner, but nowhere near a boil. In fact, membership in the Craft was still seen as desirable, an honor, and not something everyone could achieve. A notorious incident began to change things.

Daniel Reese was a young apprentice pharmacist working in 1737 at a prominent apothecary in downtown Philadelphia. He was one of those who thought membership in Freemasonry would enhance his career and status in the community. With that, he told his boss, the respected and well-known Dr. Evan Jones, of his desire to join the organization. Dr. Jones also knew about the Freemasons, a group about which he had some doubts. Seeing an opportunity for some mischief, he told Reese he would arrange his admission to the order.

Jones and a few of his friends, none of whom were Masons, planned an elaborate mock "initiation" for the unsuspecting Reese. A few nights later, in the backyard of Jones' home, the group performed the ceremony. John Remington, a Philadelphia attorney, administered an "irreligious and scandalous" oath on the naive Reese, after which he was subjected to "absurd and ridiculous indignities," given a series of "ludicrous" signs, and then congratulated on having received the first degree of Freemasonry.

On a subsequent night, June 13, 1737, Reese presented himself at Dr. Jones' store to receive a "higher degree." The men blindfolded him and escorted him to the cellar. There, the perpetrators forced him to repeat an invocation to Satan, and coerced him into drinking a strong drug, most likely a laxative, "for sport."

The group then lit a pan of brandy and camphor and removed Reese's blindfold. At that, one of the sinister bunch confronted him wearing a cowhide cloak and horns, so Reese would assume he was the devil. The stunt failed to frighten Reese, so Jones threw the flaming liquid onto Reese, severely burning him.1 Three days later, Reese died.2

Remarkably, a coroner's inquest acquitted the Masonic impostors, although it severely condemned their actions. However, a grand jury subsequently indicted Jones, Remington and John Tackerbury (an expelled Mason) for murder. Jones and Remington were found guilty of manslaughter with Tackerbury being acquitted.  The court granted Remington a pardon due to extenuating circumstances, including the need to provide for his family. Jones' sentence, to have his hand branded3, was carried out immediately.

The Masons came under fire, even though they had absolutely nothing to do with the episode. The Brothers from St. John's Lodge and the Grand Master published a statement condemning the matter.

The proceedings of the trial revealed Benjamin Franklin was aware of the shenanigans.  The Court of Common-Pleas had appointed him to settle an affair in which Jones was involved. During one of their meetings Jones told him about the first "initiation" and Franklin admitted to laughing heartily "as my manner is." Having heard about Franklin's reaction Andrew Bradford, Franklin's longtime rival in the printing industry, used that information to attack Franklin, as well as the Freemasons, in his newspaper, the American Weekly Mercury.

Franklin responded in his Pennsylvania Gazette, noting he stopped laughing when Jones told him of the incident with the laxative, and the fact the group made Reese swear to Satan. Bradford shot back with a rebuttal that proved to be the opening volley of what has been characterized as the first anti-Masonic series of articles in a newspaper in colonial America.4

1 Some reports claimed Jones tripped, spilling the liquid.

2 Pennsylvania Gazette, No. 444, June 9 to 16, 1737

3 Hand branding was a common punishment in the US through the early years of the 19th century. Most likely the letter "M," for "Murderer," was branded on Jones hand, an extremely painful and excruciating ordeal which Jones would carry for the rest of his life informing everyone he came into contact with of his crime.

4 https://www.alrny.org/articles/power-of-the-press-the-bradford-amp-freemason-rivalry-in-provincial-america


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 is 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.

It’s Just a Fraternity!

by Midnight Freemason Guest Contributor
C. R. Dunning, Jr.

While I’m not very active on social media, I do occasionally wander through its twisting catacombs. Recently I was doing just that, and across two days I repeatedly saw presumably well-meaning Masons in different virtual spaces making assertive comments like the title of this piece. Some of them even voiced frustration with people who are “trying to make it what it isn’t.” In almost every case, a more pointed complaint was made against Masons who regard the Fraternity as a contemplative, spiritual, or philosophical tradition. Some specifically grumbled that their brothers who want their lodge environments to be more sincere, reverent, and inspiring are taking the fun out of Masonry.

Interestingly, these complaining brothers didn’t mention what they think the limits are to being a fraternity. Is this Fraternity only about fun fellowship? Does it concern itself with self-improvement? Is mutual support part of it? And, if it includes any of those things that are beyond simply making and hanging out with friends, then where exactly is the dividing line that separates them from spirituality, philosophy, and being contemplative? How is it that coming together for study and discussion of spirituality and philosophy interferes with good fellowship?

Another observation I made was that none of these brothers referenced the ritual of this Fraternity to support their claim. It made me wonder if they’ve ever listened to the actual words of the rituals that facilitate becoming a full member of this Fraternity. It’s hard to not conclude that to them many of the rituals’ words are just fancy but meaningless paper, bows, and ribbons on the package of membership. Somehow these brothers haven’t fully realized that the words of our rituals are meant to teach real lessons, provide real instructions, and urge real efforts to learn and grow spiritually and philosophically.

Similarly, it seems clear that the complaining brothers haven’t studied the history of our Craft. They haven’t been impressed with the fact that the rituals of this Fraternity were developed by men who were very interested in spirituality and philosophy. Those same men made sure that the shift from Operative Masonry to Speculative Masonry emphasized the spiritual and philosophical dimensions of the Builder’s Art. These and later great leaders of Masonic thought have repeatedly stated in their own words how important a solemn and contemplative atmosphere is to accomplish the central intentions of our ritual. Heck, they even wrote such admonitions into the ritual itself! But I have digressed to the topic of the previous paragraph.

Another problem behind the scenes of those complaints is that many brothers don’t know how to differentiate spirituality from religion. So, being taught that Masonry is not a religion, and that there should be no religious contention in the lodge, has given some brothers the impression that spiritual topics and attitudes have no place in this Fraternity. This misunderstanding happens despite our rituals being filled with spiritual considerations and urging us to pursue them. But I digress again. Back to the point, another issue in this context arises with brothers who, for whatever reason, cannot imagine or condone, let alone engage, spirituality that is inclusive of religious views other than their own. This problem is most unfortunately demonstrated when brothers seek or create rules and regulations that effectively impose their own beliefs on others and even remove things from our rituals and official documents that they find uncomfortable. In effect, in their own religiosity, they try to turn this Fraternity into an extension of their own churches. In the face of such ignorance and intolerance, it’s no wonder that, with the best of intentions, other brothers would scream “We’re just a fraternity!”

The point about taking the fun out of Masonry makes a little more sense to me. Different people take joy in different things, and some of us obviously have our minds made up that there are irreconcilable differences between fun and anything that involves a sincere commitment to learning and growth. By the way, those closed minds can be on either side of the divide. There are “fun” folks resistant to learning and growth, and there are “learning and growth” types who avoid fun. But I’m mindful of how important play is as a means of assimilating information and developing skills, and how often the true masters of an art seem to be more at play than at labor with their creativity. It’s also worth noting the staggering volumes of food and spiritous beverages consumed by Masons of the early Grand Lodge era while they considered profound issues and concepts! Surely there are activities that demand more solemnity and decorum, such as degrees, installations, and funerals. It is also right that some forms of humor and good cheer have their own places apart. It’s a hallmark of human maturity, and thus of Masonic virtue, to recognize where one is among these territories and their overlaps, and to conduct oneself accordingly. I’m happy to say that I know many brothers who are very good at both sincere labor and lively refreshment!

Now, you might think that I would condemn the complaining brothers I’ve been referencing, but I don’t. They deserve the benefit of the doubt and I have no reason to question that their position is conscientiously rooted in Masonry as they know it. The “just a fraternity” attitude was demonstrated to them before they became members. The negligence of our history and of the meaning in our rituals was inculcated by the examples of their elder brothers. And their perpetuation of that attitude and negligence has been rewarded with advancement and even honors. They may also be reacting to religious zealots posing as Masonic purists. In short, they’re the best Masons they can be given the circumstances of their fraternal experience. How can I hold any ire against them?

For me, all these observations and reflections point to three very important truths. First, if this Fraternity is to be what its founders intended, what its rituals say it is, and are very well-equipped to facilitate, then Masonic education is of utmost importance. In our efforts to ensure a future for this Fraternity, if we don’t know what most deserves to be saved and passed on to future generations, then we risk throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Second, an examination of our history and ritual shows that the problem of “trying to make it what it isn’t” began a long time ago with the rise of the “just a fraternity” attitude. Third, this Fraternity can be both fun and spiritually and philosophically meaningful; for brothers with open minds and hearts, the two don’t need to be mutually exclusive.

But let’s face it, fewer brothers will grasp any of these truths if we don’t help everyone see them in our history and the words of our rituals. Without Masonic education, it really is just a fraternity, and that takes the meaning and the fun out of it for those who are actually seeking more light in all the colors our tradition offers. With good Masonic education, each brother knows he can appropriately enjoy whichever color he finds most attractive, and he can do so without preventing others from appropriately enjoying theirs. In the process, brothers might even discover some colors to be more attractive than they had expected, and in doing so benefit from a richer experience. That’s just the fraternity this Fraternity is meant to be.


Brother Chuck Dunning
is an advocate, facilitator, trainer, and consultant in contemplative practice, with more than 30 years in the professional fields of higher education and mental health, as well as in Masonry and other currents in the Western esoteric traditions. He has authored Contemplative Masonry: Basic Applications of Mindfulness, Meditation, and Imagery for the Craft (2016), and The Contemplative Lodge: A Manual for Masons Doing Inner Work Together (coming in 2020), and was a contributing author in The Art and Science of Initiation (2019). Chuck has articles published in several Masonic journals and websites, is a nationally recognized speaker and trainer on the Masonic Educational circuit, and has been interviewed for numerous periodicals and podcasts. In 2019, the College of Freemasonry in Rochester, New York presented him with the Thomas W. Jackson Masonic Education Award for Fraternal Leadership in Masonic Research and Esoteric Study. In 2018, the Southern California Research Lodge recognized him as being among the Top Ten Esoteric Masonic Authors. Chuck is the founding Superintendent of the Academy of Reflection, which is a chartered organization for Scottish Rite Masons wanting to integrate contemplative practice with their Masonic experience. He is also a Full Member of the Texas Lodge of Research. You can contact Chuck via his webpage: https://chuckdunning.com/.

“The Shade of Trees They’ll Never Sit Under”: Investing for the Lodge and Your Future Brethren - Part 5

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Phillip Welshans

Part 5: Asset Allocation

This material has been prepared for general and educational purposes only. This material does not provide recommendations concerning investments, investment strategies, or account types. It is not individualized to the needs of any specific investor and is not intended to suggest that any particular investment action is appropriate for you, nor is it intended to serve as the primary basis for investment decision-making. Any tax-related discussion contained in this material, including any attachments/links, is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, for the purpose of (i) avoiding any tax penalties or (ii) promoting, marketing, or recommending to any other party any transaction or matter addressed herein. Please consult your independent legal counsel and/or tax professional regarding any legal or tax issues raised in this material. All investments involve risk, including possible loss of principal.

There are two big questions an investor must answer when thinking about asset allocation: “What kind of stuff do we want to own?” and “How much of this stuff should we own?” We’ll tackle these in order. As we've said a couple times in this series, there are lots of important decisions to be made as you look to set up the investment management framework for your lodge. But the most important is how you want to allocate your lodge's assets. The decisions about where to invest your money are rooted in theoretical considerations, but the results are concrete and will determine whether your lodge is able to meet its intended financial goals.

This topic is divided into two posts. The first will tackle the first question of “What asset classes can we own?” and will talk a bit about a very popular model of endowments use these days for that purpose. The second post will talk about what this means for Masonic lodges and how you may want to think about your asset allocation.

Asset Allocation: A Buffet of Securities

There's almost no limit to what you can invest in these days. Investing can be as simple or as complicated as you want to make it. Think of it like you're going into a Golden Corral3 and at one end of the buffet are your standards: common stock, bonds, government securities like US Treasury bills, mutual funds, and some cash equivalents like CDs or money market funds. In the middle you see some fancier offerings you might be less familiar with but which look appetizing: alternatives1, ETFs covering equities, bonds, and even currencies; REITs2 and other real estate beyond residential (multifamily apartment buildings, commercial real estate, etc.), and precious metals like silver and gold. At the end of the buffet are the items you've only read about and that only Golden Corral Rewards members (the professionals) will deal with regularly: derivatives, esoteric mortgage bonds like MBS4, direct private equity, hedge funds, managed futures, and short selling, among others. Maybe you look over at the dessert table and see stuff you know you shouldn't risk eating but are so tempting like CDS5, cryptocurrency, art, and levered or inverse ETFs6.

So many choices! So many ways to get rich! An equally wide array of ways to go bust! It's all so exciting, yet also daunting. It's a bit like Walter Donovan and Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade when the ancient knight directs them to choose a grail, but to be cautious: "While the true grail will grant you everlasting life, the false grail will take it from you." It's not quite life or death, but certainly, your lodge's financial livelihood hangs in the balance, so making choices based on fact and information is key. Being honest about your and your lodge's risk tolerance, financial knowledge, and goals is paramount. Donovan had no actual historical knowledge about the Grail, and it cost him. Indy, by contrast, was able to use his years of study and factual research to make his best, and ultimately successful, guess.

For the majority of lodges, you'll be perfectly fine sticking with the more vanilla options from the buffet: stocks, bonds, and some alternatives as you define the term. And by and large, you'll be able to get all these through some form of commingled vehicle like a mutual fund. Indeed, if we look at how endowments as a class are invested, most do hold a majority of their assets in stocks and bonds, although the appeal of alternatives has risen dramatically in recent years. The largest endowments have increased their exposure to alternatives from around one-third in 2002 to 57% in 2017, according to one comprehensive study.7 The reason for this is two-fold. First, returns on stocks were markedly lower over that time period than they were for the ~50 years before that. The old rule used to be you could count of stocks to generate about 8% annualized over the long term. However, after the internet bubble burst in 2001, and especially after the financial crisis in 2008, returns on common stocks have been well below that and expected returns (what investors think stocks will return in the future and what they use to allocate to different asset classes) have been equally lackluster. Many endowments have therefore fallen short of meeting their return goals over the last decade or so. As a result, endowments have sought higher returns in other, alternative, asset classes, to make up the difference.

The Yale Model

The second reason for this shift is related to the first. David Swensen8 became head of the Yale University Endowment in 1985 and held that position until his death from cancer in 2021. During his tenure, he and his colleagues in New Haven revolutionized how endowments think about and manage their assets. Swensen, in partnership with colleague Dean Takahashi, developed The Yale Model for endowments. The model calls for a portfolio to be divided into several buckets of asset classes to encourage diversification, which is not really revelatory. However, where Swensen and his colleagues departed from conventional wisdom was in recommending against holding too much in either stocks or fixed income and instead focusing on owning larger allocations of less liquid9 alternative investments like private equity and hedge funds. The idea was these assets tend to be more illiquid than stocks and bonds and so their prices can vary more widely which creates a better opportunity for outsized returns. This assumes, of course, that one owns illiquid assets that appreciate in value! Rather than trying to select those investments themselves, however, Swensen posited that an endowment should spend its time selecting the best managers of those investments, and so the Yale Model is also premised on an endowment spending most of its time and resources on manager selection. Unsurprisingly, the Yale Endowment became notoriously choosy and selective in which managers it would invest with, and having Yale as a client became almost akin to a Michelin star for an investment manager.

The Yale Model was incredibly successful and made Swensen a celebrity within the niche world of investment management. His model was adopted by much of the endowment and foundation landscape to such a degree that The Yale Model is today often just called The Endowment Model. The exception has become the rule. But Swensen and his colleagues were always keen to point out that much of Yale's success could not be replicated. The model could be adopted easily enough, but Swensen and co. enjoyed first-mover advantages10 and as a result had their pick of the choicest private investments before the rest of the world caught on and piled in. Additionally, very few endowment offices could compete with Yale to attract the top talent necessary to pick the best managers successfully and consistently. And the size of Yale's endowment meant that it had a bigger cushion to absorb the inevitable mistakes.

So, while it's important, I think, to understand the Yale Model, what it espouses, and why it became so popular, it's also important to understand its limitations and why, in my opinion, no Masonic lodge should try to emulate it. All the advantages Yale (or any large endowment) enjoyed that made the model work for them, will conspire against almost every other kind of investor. Your lodge probably has far less to invest than an Ivy League university. It probably lacks the financial resources to set up an office staffed with professionals who can consistently pick the best managers (and who need to be paid accordingly). There are also many more players in the alternatives space today than 20-30 years ago; more investors all looking for the same diamond in the rough. The chances of you finding them versus someone like Yale or Harvard's staff of analysts, is I'm sorry to tell you, very low. And when you inevitably make a bad investment, your lodge's smaller fund size means there's less margin for error and the mistake will hurt more.

This is not to say there is no role for alternatives of any kind in a lodge portfolio. Rather, it is to say that the bar for investing in alternatives for your lodge should be very high and carefully considered. And if your lodge is working with a financial adviser to manage your assets, you should be very cautious if they come to you proposing a large allocation to alternatives.

1. A catch-all term that can include anything that's not stocks, bonds, and cash. Everything from commercial real estate to forestry to non-fungible tokens, and so on.
2. Real Estate Investment Trusts, a type of commingled vehicle allowing investors to own shares of companies that manage different types of properties.
3. Some people are big fans of buffets: https://www.goldencorral.com/rewards/
4. Mortgage-Backed Securities. Fixed income securities made up of thousands of individual residential mortgages and resold. One of the big culprits of the Global Financial Crisis in 2008. Also comes in CMBS, or commercial MBS, which are mortgages of office buildings, apartments, and so on.
5. Credit Default Swaps. Essentially derivative contracts valued on the creditworthiness and likelihood of a company or country defaulting on its obligations. Another esoteric financial instrument that contributed to the 2008 crisis.
6. Levered ETFs use leverage to amplify their returns. Great when it works out, but very painful when it doesn't. Inverse ETFs are ETFs that essentially short stocks. Both are highly volatile and completely unsuitable for anyone but professional traders (my opinion, not advice!).
7. Commonfund and the National Association of College and University Business Officers looked at allocations for endowments with at least $1 billion under management and compared 2002 and 2017.
8. Swensen wrote a book about his approach to investment management if you’re really interested. Called Pioneering Portfolio Management: An Unconventional Approach to Institutional Investing.
9. Liquidity refers to how much a security or asset trades and therefore how frequently its price is updated. A stock like Microsoft is extremely liquid, with about 28 million shares traded on average every single day. You can be reasonably sure the price of MSFT stock is very accurate. An office building, however, is very illiquid and its price only gets updated when someone sells it or chooses to revalue it. That doesn’t happen often, so it makes valuing the building tricky and volatile.
10. Typically, the first company or market participant to adopt a successful strategy will benefit from being the first, at least for a while. This is because the market is unexploited and there are no competitors. This advantage doesn't last: the success of the first mover encourages others to get in on the action but in doing so, they reduce or outright eliminate the opportunity and the outsized returns enjoyed by the first mover decline and become eventually pedestrian.

Phillip Welshans is Senior Warden of Palestine Lodge #189 in Catonsville, MD under the Grand Lodge of Maryland A.F. & A.M. He is also a member of the Maryland Masonic Lodge of Research #239, and the Hiram Guild of the Maryland Masonic Academy. As a member of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, S.J. in the Valley of Baltimore, he has completed the Master Craftsman programs and is a member of the Scottish Rite Research Society. His interests are primarily in Masonic education, particularly the history of the Craft, esotericism, and the philosophy of Masonry.

Kung Fu Principles to Masonic Esoteric Philosophy – Part 4

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Bro. Randy Sanders

This continues a 5-part series applying Masonic principles and esoteric concepts to Eastern martial arts, specifically Wing Chun Kung Fu.  We will only touch on the fighting theory but then focus on applied philosophy.

Wing Chun Kung Fu simplifies as a fighting system derived from Snake and White Crane systems as its base.  It was originally based on Buddhist Shaolin systems and was refined in the Taoist Wu Tang temple.  This well-documented lineage history makes my brief description an injustice to the beautiful history of the Shaolin temple, the Wu-Tang temple, Snake, White Crane, and Wing Chun systems.  This series of papers narrows the focus to the core Wing Chun principles of Centerline, Facing, Immoveable Elbow, Economy of Motion, and Simultaneous Attack and Defense, and we will match this Eastern theory to Western Philosophy.

With this fourth installment, let’s look at the Economy of Motion principle.  One of my Wing Chun teachers once told me “Kicking to the head is like punching to the feet.  It’s a long way to go.”  Another way to explain this is, if I can punch someone 10 times quickly with short-distance punches, why would I sacrifice speed for power and distance.  This is where Wing Chun’s famous one-inch punch comes into play.  Bruce Lee famously demonstrated this punch several times over his career, and he used it extensively in his own practice.

As with Freemasonry, Economy of Motion may relate to a few hidden meanings.  Maybe these old designers of martial arts systems were thinking deeply about more than just “hit hard, go home” as a template?  Although there’s a lot to be said for smacking someone up-side the head and watching them collapse to the ground.  Quoting Illustrious Jim Tresner:  “But I digress.”

Practical applications to economical motion become obvious when using the closest weapon to the closest target, controlling the area between yours and your opponent’s center lines (another Immoveable Elbow usage principle), and finding the openings to exploit.  The opponent’s style of fighting may make this very easy or more difficult, and if more difficult we turn to the esoteric concepts behind economical movement which might loosely translate to “work smarter, not harder” in applying combat skills.

Economical motion also correlates to the application of mathematics, logic, and reason.  Physically, we see the application but may not appreciate the intense training and repetition of contact-reflex drills and flow that develops in order to actually perform the actions.  It takes years of study, analysis, and working through obstacles in order to develop the sensitivity, and that study to recognize facing angles, footwork, and the opponent’s intersecting bridge requires much thought and reason.  

The application of Economical Motion relates directly to mathematics, logic, and reason just as Freemasonry gives us the working tools to build our own cognition, to cut through the emotion and find the facts, and to use those facts to find the best solution through reason.  It’s no coincidence the Trivium and Quadrivium teach similar progressive lessons.  We Masons would be wise to consider the first half of the Winding Stairs in relation to how the theory of Economical Motion, when adjusted to Math, Logic, and Reason, gives us a beginning foundation upon which we might work the stones of our own temples.  We use mathematics toward the discovery of sacred geometry, and we use logic/reason to understand critical thinking while we learn to apply both to ourselves and our lives.

The theory of Economic Motion may not give us the same guideposts and solid anchors we saw in previous parts of this paper.  Rather, this theory gives us the means by which we can test our working tools, test our use of them, and test the outcomes of our efforts.  Western traditions, especially Freemasonry, use this concept of testing both inwardly and outwardly.  Inwardly we Masons now see the theory of Economical Movement as we use the square: a means of thinking critically and test the action and outcome of our self-improvement.  Outwardly we measure our growth in Freemasonry and how that affects our family, Brother Masons, and our extended community.  We test our perceptions, our interactions, our thoughts and deeds, and we use logic and reason to find the best means toward efficiency in our pursuits.  The theory of Economic Motion explores testing thoughts and actions with the sole intention of providing us our own best way to stay on the path as well as return to it if we occasionally stray from our path.

Testing our thoughts and actions, then analyzing the results of the test, and finally applying lessons learned becomes a means of comparing ourselves to the Virtues, Pillars, and Principles we Masons hold to be the bedrock of our fraternity.  The testing and application of the lessons sets us apart from so many other organizations, and we should not take this lightly.  It is indeed a responsibility within each of us.

In previous parts of this article, we examined the Cabbalistic framework, alchemical perspectives, and touched on other philosophies’ similarities to our work.  With Economic Motion, and the way we’ve defined it to be a means of testing and examining ourselves along the path, we see that meditation, contemplation, reflection, and inward inspection become even more important.  We begin to see the links between the first three theories might be tied together with cognition and reflection.

In closing, our mystic tie that binds us to each other isn’t imaginary.  We strengthen ourselves by challenging our own thoughts and actions, testing them against principles, tenets, and virtues.  We make others better when we do our own inner work, and we are strengthened by others in the same manner when they do their inner work.  We make progress, our Brothers make progress, and we encourage them as they encourage us by example.  We also see more interrelation to previously discussed Eastern theories, and we find we must consider how we use the principles, tenets, and virtues, or theories, in a more cohesive manner through cognition, logic, and reason.  As we finish part 4 linking the theories into a structured means of testing ourselves, we now look toward part 5 where we learn how to apply these theories together to achieve synergy.  


Randy and his wife Elyana live near St. Louis, Missouri, USA. Randy earned a bachelor's 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 of 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, a 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.