When a light goes out

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
WB Darin A. Lahners

WB Keith Sigwerth 

Freemasonry in my little corner of the woods was dealt a tremendous blow when a brother that many of you didn't know by the name of, Keith A. Sigwerth passed away on Dec. 18, 2023, after being diagnosed earlier this year with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Before I begin to tell you about Keith in my own words, I want to share his Masonic resume:  

Keith was a Master Mason dedicated to raising fellow brothers to become Master Masons. He became Master of his Lodge, Mahomet Masonic Lodge #220 in 2016 and served as Master of his lodge for two consecutive years. He was part of Traveling Degree, a Lifetime Member of Mahomet Masonic Lodge #220, and an honorary member of several surrounding lodges including Western Star Lodge #240, Ogden Masonic Lodge #754, Tolono Masonic Lodge #391, Monticello Masonic Fraternal Lodge #58, Farmer City Masonic Lodge #710, Paxton Masonic Lodge Room #416, Gibson City Lodge #733, Rantoul Lodge #470, Sidney Lodge #347, Urbana Lodge #157 and Homer Lodge #199.

He quickly became a 32nd-degree Mason after joining the Valley of Danville Scottish Rite and served on the Line of Perfection for several years.

He was a member of the Illini Shrine Club and became President for two consecutive years. He also became a part of the Hi-Lo Wheelers where you would see Keith in parades all around east-central Illinois in his little yellow car.

Keith and his Shrine Car

Transporting dozens of children and their families to and from the St. Louis, MO and Chicago, IL Shriners Hospitals for Children; he was a loyal transporter for the Shriners for several years.

Keith joined the Ansar Shrine Club in Springfield where he entered the Divan Line, serving four years. He was an Ambassador for Ansar Shrine, Tri-County Shrine, Shelby County Shrine Club, and Eastern Illinois Shrine Club in Danville, visiting many Shrine clubs throughout the state.

Keith and His Wife Becky

Let me just tell you in my own words about Keith.  Keith was one of the friendliest and most down-to-earth brothers you could ever meet.  Earlier this year, before his diagnosis, I had sent an email to the brethren of Homer Lodge #199 telling them that we had been having trouble making quorum.  Keith lived probably 40 to 45 minutes from Homer, but he showed up because I asked for help.  He was an honorary member at Homer #199 and didn't have to drive all that way to help us out, but he did.  He did because that's who Keith was.  That was his character.  He would go out of his way to help out.  Any brother that had the pleasure of knowing Keith would probably say the same thing. He was just one of those quiet, unassuming brothers who really made an impact here in East Central Illinois.  

There were over 50 brothers who drove from all over the state to attend Keith's Masonic Service, including the current Potentate of the ANSAR Shrine, Jason Cutright.  His Masonic Rites were given by WB Jeff Baine, who was a friend of Keith's and asked by his wife to give those rites.  I don't know how Jeff did it without a complete emotional breakdown, because lord knows I was fighting back tears during them.  

If there is any other point to this article other than wanting to make sure Keith's legacy lives on Masonically, it's to do something I did every time Keith helped me out personally, but something that I think I should have done the last time I saw him, which was this past September 30 at a Pancake Breakfast fundraiser at Mahomet Lodge #220.  I should have thanked him again and told him how much respect I had for him, and how he inspired me to be better.  So, Keith, I thank you for being a bright light in Freemasonry and for being a positive influence on those around you.  Thank You for leading by example.  Thank You for being kind.  Thank You for being you.  You'll be missed brother.  Not just by myself, but by those who were lucky enough to know you.       

Keith is survived by his loving wife, Becky Sigwerth (Smith) of Mahomet; daughter Michelle Bonham and Son-In-Law who he loved like his own, Eric Bonham of Mahomet; grandchildren Robert, Mackenzie, Bailey, and Josie Mae Bonham of Mahomet, and sister-in-law Glenda Sigwerth of Mt. Vernon. He loved his sidekick and best buddy, Brody, his black lab puppy.


Darin Lahners is our Managing Editor. He is a host and producer of the "Meet, Act and Part" podcast as well as a co-host of an all-things-paranormal podcast, "Beyond the 4th Veil." He is currently serving the Grand Lodge of Illinois Ancient Free and Accepted Masons as a member of the Committee on Masonic Education 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 also a member of the Scottish Rite Valley of Danville, a charter member of Illinois Royal Arch Chapter, Admiration Chapter No. 282, Salt Fork Shrine Club under the Ansar Shrine, and a grade one (Zelator) in the S.C.R.I.F. Prairieland College in Illinois. He is also a Fellow of the Illinois Lodge of Research. He was presented with the Torok Award from the Illinois Lodge of Research in 2021.  

What Even Are Symbols? Part 1 of a series

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Patrick Dey

Throughout our Masonic journeys, we are constantly presented with symbols and symbolism. Whenever we ask what something means, the short answer is: that it’s symbolic. But what even is a symbol? We have some idea of what symbols are. We have many experiences with the symbolic, so we can muster a working conception of what a symbol is from our personal experience, but having a philosophical framework might be best to really grasp how symbols work and how they are utilized.

This is important: symbols have a utility. I think when we designate symbols as something “spiritual” or “esoteric,” it shuts down any practical use of the symbols. When, in fact, a symbol may be spiritual or profane, or both. They have a utility, they are useful, regardless if it is spiritual or profane. But to make use of symbols, we should have a firmer grasp of what even are symbols.

Firstly, symbols are part of a “sign” system. Within linguistic theory, we have signs and meanings of signs. This is what has long been called a “signified and signifier” relation (i.e. Ferdinand Saussure), and they are arbitrary in their relationship. For instance, we have the word “tree.” It is just a sound we make or just some lines on a piece of paper. The word “tree” is the signifier, the sign. It signifies the idea of what we call a tree, the signified. Plato would delineate these as thing and thingness — a particular example of a tree and the tree-ness of trees. I don’t always agree with Plato, so let’s go back to Saussure. We could, of course, arbitrarily change the signifier as we prefer, and so long as everyone is in agreement that we are changing the signifier, then we can now use a different word sign for the same idea. You see this in legal contracts, where it will state at the beginning that Mr. Joe Brown (hereafter referred to as the Defendant). Thenceforth, any time the documents say “Defendant,” we know that means Joe Brown. Or a better example: have you ever had to deal with someone so despicable that everyone referred to them as “he who must not be named”? We know who everyone is talking about, but we have adopted a new signifier for them, but it still maintains the same signification.

Symbols are a type of sign, but signs do not have to be symbols. Similarly, in geometry, a square is a type of rectangle, but a rectangle does not have to be a square. A square is a special kind of rectangle. Similarly, a symbol is a very special type of sign. Signs usually have a very limited signifier-signified relationship. For instance, if I show you a red octagon, you would interpret that to mean “stop.” Usually, it means to stop the car at this line, but we can put a red octagon in a pop-up warning on a computer, warning you that you are about to do something dangerous on the computer and to not proceed, but the red octagon has pretty much the same meaning, though it is being used in different contexts.

Symbols are what Carl Jung would call “multivalent.” That is, symbols mean a lot of different things, and they can be variously related or not. The red octagon sign really only has one meaning (in American sign systems): to stop. We could use it for something else, such as “this is a mountain,” and we could mutually agree with each other that it now means that, but that would get confusing. Symbols have a flexibility and vagueness that goes beyond a simple sign-signified relationship.

I have never found Jung’s definitions of symbols to be all that helpful. He gets very esoteric and mystical without ever really providing a clear notion of what symbols are. Jung sometimes appears to believe that symbols are so esoteric that it would be a detriment to the idea of symbols to even try to define them. Kind of a cop-out. Jean Baudrillard, on the other hand, gives a very good idea of what symbols are, namely they are simulacra for something that cannot be easily summarized, usually something so large and complex that the symbol stands in for a very broad and complicated system of ideas. In other words, the symbol represents something that cannot be completely comprehended or expressed.

Baudrillard puts symbols within his degrees of simulacra, as outlined in Simulacra and Simulation (1981). There are four orders of simulacra, according to Baudrillard, and each order distorts reality more and more to the point that we find ourselves living in the “desert of the real,” a world full of signs, but no meaning. The first order is a simple copy. Such as a head bust of a famous person. We know that the bust is not that person, but is a faithful representation of their image.

Second-order simulacra are symbols. According to Baudrillard, symbols are not any sort of representation of the likeness of another image, but rather a sign, a signifier for something that cannot be captured in any meaningful way. We will follow the example used by Baudrillard that he takes from Jorge Luis Borges, a one-paragraph short story called “On Rigor in Science” (1946). In this story, there is an empire that has advanced the science of cartography so precisely that the map the cartographers create is the exact same scale as the empire itself — a one-to-one scale, as the map covers the entire empire. For Baudrillard, this means that the physical territory itself has been replaced by the map, the thing meant to represent the empire, not supersede it. Out in the deserts on the fringes of the empire pieces of this ancient map can still be found, hence Baudrillard’s term “the desert of the real.”

Symbols do not function in this way. Rather than express the entirety of the empire at a one-to-one scale, a simple sign will be used. Rather than create a globe to map the world that is the exact same size as Earth to represent the Earth and all things upon it, we could make a simple image of, say, a circle with a cross through it, the classic symbol for Earth. Or we could draw a small, very crude image of a blue and green sphere that vaguely depicts the lands and seas of this planet. This is not just a mere abstraction, but a symbol representing something much greater than can ever be pragmatically depicted without the map replacing the territory, and the globe replacing the planet.

There is more happening on this planet, and more to what makes this “our world” than can ever be depicted: people, plants, production, destruction, birth, death, wars, truces, weather, the intricacies of the clouds, the particulars of a husband and wife arguing, the nuances of children playing… such cannot be captured, and instead of mapping them entirely, we may create a simple image that represents everything that is “the world.” This is how we generate a symbol.

The Lodge itself is like this. The Lodge is described in such a way that it represents the world: east, west, north, south, up, down, center, out, with the starry decked heavens above. A simple box that is longer than it is wide is symbolic of something much greater than can ever truly be mapped. And even the Lodge itself is symbolized in various ways: the circumpunct bounded by two lines, or a simple oblong square, et cetera. Because as much as the Lodge is a symbol of the world in all its manifold complexities, so too is the Lodge a multifaceted thing representing all the various aspects of Freemasonry.

The circumpunct symbol is a very interesting case, as it represents numerous things all at once. It represents the individual brother at the Altar, circumscribed by the boundaries of his passions, but also a representation of the circumambulation he made during his initiation. The two lines further represent the Saints John, which represent the solstices (the Tropics of Capricorn and Cancer), which adds to the astrological solar image of the circumpunct itself. This symbol is a loaded image of a variety of things, from the image of initiation to the brethren of the Lodge assembled to the cosmos itself. But this symbol also has a function. Remember I said at the beginning that symbols have a utilitarian function, they are not useless nor do they reside strictly in the realm of the sacred.

For Masonic symbols, they appear to be sacred to the uninitiated, they seem like mystical contrivances of uncertain meaning or power. Yet, to the initiated, we understand these meanings, representations, and significations. The circumpunct reminds us to keep within moderation, to not let our passions and desires get the better of us. The Saints John and the solstitial tropics remind us that even the sun itself has boundaries that it will not cross: it will not go any higher nor farther north in the summer, and that it will not go lower nor farther south in the winter. So too should we set boundaries for ourselves so that we may not transgress. But also we have our brethren there to help us, those to the north of us and those to the south of us when we took our oaths. And so forth.

It feels like we could get into Baudrillard’s conception of the “hyperreal” with the circumpunct being a symbol for the Lodge and the Lodge being a symbol for the world, that a symbol is symbolic of another symbol, and it is kind of getting distorted to the point that we lose the concept of the original, the world. But I digress.

My point here is that symbols are not abstractions or a copy of something. They are a signifier of something much more complex than can be completely represented. However, do not think that Baudrillard feels the symbolic is a good thing. He regards it as “it masks and denatures a profound reality,” whereas the first order of simulacra is “the reflection of a profound reality.” The symbolic is “an evil appearance — it is of the order of maleficence.” For Baudrillard, the symbolic conceals reality, rather than being an abstract expression of it. It denies that reality can ever be fully expressed, and thus must present a signifier to stand in for this lack.

In a way, he has a point. We as Masons are “symbolic” craftsmen. We are not real stonemasons, but rather symbolic of the old stonemason guild system and those who worked within that economic system to build great cathedrals and palaces. We instead build symbolic temples. It is as if the tangible, the real temples that were built are impossible to express their grandeur and sublime nature in any abstract way, and instead must rely on symbolry to express this. But for Baudrillard, it is actually a concealment. Remember: “I hele. I conceal.”

In the second part, we will look at Baudrillard’s third order of simulacra to look at how in Masonry, especially within our so-called “higher” degree systems, this symbolic order breaks down and we begin to see that Masonry becomes something that “masks the absence of a profound reality,” in which we are claiming to be something that never actually existed.


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. He currently serves as the Exponent (Suffragan) of Colorado College, SRICF of which he is VIII Grade (Magister). He 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.

From the Archives: Was Charles Dickens a Freemason?

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
WB Gregory J. Knott

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia
With the Christmas season upon us, many probably have read The Christmas Carol, written by Charles Dickens in 1843. The story is told of one Ebenezer Scrooge the recalcitrant old man who wanted nothing to do with the Christmas season and then his amazing transformation while being visited by Jacob Marley and the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Yet to Come. 

I had attended a short presentation on Charles Dickens at the University of Illinois Library in regards to some of his works and it got me wondering if Dickens was perhaps a Freemason. I came back and did a quick internet search and found some well documented resources. The short answer to my question was no, Dickens was not a Freemason. However, he did have many Masonic connections both in his family and within his writings.

University of Illinois Copy of The Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.
This volume is held in the Rare Book Room at the UI Library
In a December 2012 article in the Freemason, published on the United Grand Lodge of New South Wales and Australian Capital Territory website, the masonic connection to Dickens was discussed in detail. While not a Freemason, Dickens had brothers and some of his sons who were members of the fraternity. There are lodges today that have in their names links to the history of Dickens:

“Names and history of a number of lodges have Dickensian links. The first two were both established in the early 1890s. Cheerybles Lodge No 2466 was named after the two brothers in Nicholas Nickleby and they are depicted on the lodge jewel.

A snuff box for Charles Dickens Lodge No. 2757.
  Photo courtesy of phoenixmasonry.org
The lodge history explains that two brothers 'exemplified ... the characteristics of good humour, simplicity, generosity and selflessness' in contrast with other less worthy characters in the book. 'They exhibited so many of the virtues which animate Freemasons' to such an extent that it was appropriate to name a lodge after them. The founders of the lodge were drawn from members of Cheerybles Musical Society, which combined a love of music and Dickens.”

Dickens had references to Freemasonry in some of his writings as well. He referenced Freemasonry in his book The Great Expectations:

The effort of resolution necessary to the achievement of this purpose, I found to be quite awful. It was as if I had to make up my mind to leap from the top of a high house, or plunge into a great depth of water. And it was made the more difficult by the unconscious Joe. In our already-mentioned freemasonry as fellow-sufferers, and in his good-natured companionship with me, it was our evening habit to compare the way we bit through our slices, by silently holding them up to each other's admiration now and then - which stimulated us to new exertions.

Albert D. Pionke who wrote Plots of Opportunity: representing conspiracy in Victorian England noted:

“It is not difficult to find either incidental allusions or more in-depth references to the figure of Freemasonry in a wide range of Victorian writing. In fact such prominent nineteenth-century novelists such as George Eliot, Charles Dickens and William Makepeace Thackeray all make opportunistic use of the Masons’ publicity. These three authors deploy the figure of Freemasonry with healthy dose of irony, even as they allow for the aesthetic attractiveness of Freemasonry might generate by virtue of its connections to the practice of art, the profession of law and the mysterious inner workings of “the great world.” Pionke p3

In The Christmas Carol, Scrooge discovers the true meaning of Christmas and become more philanthropic. Dickens was well known in London for his philanthropy and once spoke at Freemasons Hall to help raise funds:

On 9 February 1858, Dickens spoke at the hospital's first annual festival dinner at Freemasons' Hall and later gave a public reading of A Christmas Carol at St. Martin-in-the-Fields church hall. The events raised enough money to enable the hospital to purchase the neighbouring house, No. 48 Great Ormond Street, increasing the bed capacity from 20 to 75.

The CBS Sunday Morning recently had an excellent story on Dickens talking about some of his personal turmoil and the influence upon his writings.
Anthony Mason of CBS asked actor Ralph Fiennes who plays Dickens in a film he director “The Invisible Woman”, what he thought of Dickens: 

Mason asked Fiennes, "Did you like Dickens when you were done?"

"I like Dickens, yeah, I do," replied Fiennes. "I think Dickens is like a hungry child determined to entertain you. And a scarily perceptive child who's going, 'There's this and there's this and there's this,' and the furious imagination that just can't stop. And where that comes from is just one of those mysteries. You don't know quite where, it just happens to come from a man called Charles Dickens."

So while not a Freemason himself, Dickens was aware of the fraternity and its impact on the society of his day. Why he himself did not join will remain with the ages.

I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!


WB Gregory J. Knott is the Past Master of St. Joseph Lodge No. 970 in St. Joseph (IL) and a plural member of Ogden Lodge No. 754 (IL), and Homer Lodge No. 199 (IL). He's a member of both the Scottish Rite, and the York Rite, and is the Charter Secretary of the Illini High Twelve Club in Champaign-Urbana. He's also a member of the Ansar Shrine (IL) and the Eastern Illinois Council No. 356 Allied Masonic Degrees. He holds membership also in The Masonic Society, The Scottish Rite Research Society and the Philalethes Society. Greg is very involved in Boy Scouts--an Eagle Scout himself, he serves the Grand Lodge of Illinois A. F. & A. M. as their representative to the National Association of Masonic Scouters.

Simon Lake

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Jim Stapleton

Simon Lake was a prolific inventor who helped usher in a new age in submarine design. He was born on September 4, 1866, in Pleasantville, NJ. Lake began his Masonic career when he was made a Mason in Monmouth Lodge No. 172 in Atlantic Highlands, NJ. He eventually affiliated with Ansantawae Lodge No. 89 in Milford, CT, later in life. 

People long imagined underwater travel, and numerous attempts were made to build undersea craft. These efforts varied in shape, construction materials, and means of propulsion. Some were intended for exploration, while others were meant exclusively for warfare. However, these early vessels didn’t include many of the elements that we think of as essential in modern submarines, such as airlocks, periscopes, double hulls, and even-keel descent. It wasn’t until Simon Lake began designing submarines that these features were developed.

Lake dreamt of traveling deep in the ocean and was inspired by Jules Verne’s book Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. He took great joy in sailing the waters around New Jersey and Pennsylvania during his youth. He grew up surrounded by family members who were inventors and engineers. From a young age, Lake liked to tinker with mechanical devices and often took machines apart and put them back together again. It was the combination of his mechanical abilities and a strong yearning for underwater travel that fed the drive to develop his innovations.

In 1894, Lake built the Argonaut Junior to test his concepts. The Argonaut Junior was about 14 feet long and made of wood. After proving some of his ideas, he constructed the larger Argonaut I. In 1898, the Argonaut I sailed from Norfolk, VA, to New York City under its own power. This marked the first time an undersea craft traveled such a distance in the open sea. Lake was very proud that he received a cable with a congratulatory message from Jules Verne after that voyage.

Lake primarily envisioned his submarines serving in the role of defense and salvage.  He did attempt to sell his submarines to the US Navy. However, the US Navy did not initially make a deal with Lake and instead bought submarines from his chief competitor, John P. Holland. This led Simon Lake to travel to Europe where he sold submarines to countries like Russia, Germany, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He eventually returned to the United States when World War I began and entered into a relationship with the US Navy. He continued designing vessels and helped advise the Navy through World War II.






Jim Stapleton is the Senior Warden of USS New Jersey Lodge No. 62. He is also a member of the New Jersey Lodge of Masonic Research and Education No. 1786. Jim received the Distinguished White Apron Award from the Grand Lodge of New Jersey. He was awarded the Daniel Carter Beard Masonic Scouter Award. Jim is also a member of the Society of King Solomon.