Understanding Solar Eclipses

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Jim Stapleton

A total solar eclipse is set to occur on April 8, 2024, and will impact a wide swath of North America. It is estimated that more than 40 million Americans will be in the path of the eclipse.1 Excitement is certainly building for this event. Locations in the exact path of the total eclipse are bracing for increased tourism and crowds. There are plans underway for activities such as watch parties, live online viewing programs, and there are even special airline flights that will follow the path of the eclipse. The interest in the event is understandable. Afterall, the next time a total solar eclipse will impact a large area of North America won’t be until 2045.

However, humans have not always been excited about observing celestial occurrences like eclipses. Since ancient times, people have looked to the skies and studied the heavens. They observed the way the moon changed shape and traveled across the night sky. Patterns were recognized amongst the stars that resembled people and animals, which led the ancients to describe them as constellations along with accompanying stories. Though, one of the most terrifying and awe-inspiring phenomena that ancient civilizations observed had to have been a solar eclipse.

The sun has long held a place of extreme importance in many cultures throughout the course of history. They believed that the sun possessed incredible power. It provided warmth, was vital for agriculture, and aided navigation. The sun is so powerful that it can cause eye damage and potentially blindness if gazed upon directly. As a result, ancient cultures believed the sun held supernatural powers. “It was regularly worshipped as a god – Amun-Ra to the Egyptians and Helios to the Greeks – or as a goddess, such as Amaterasu for the Japanese and Saule for many Baltic cultures.”2 When solar eclipses occurred, earlier civilizations thought they were bad omens. Since they lacked scientific understanding, they invented explanations for the sudden disappearance of the sun during an eclipse.

Some of the oldest records of solar eclipses are from ancient China. The Chinese Emperors feared that solar eclipses were signs from heaven that the stability of their power might be in danger.3 So, there was a tremendous emphasis on recording and predicting solar eclipses. The people of ancient China believed that a celestial dragon devoured the sun when the light disappeared. It became a custom to try to scare away the dragon during eclipses by banging drums and making loud noises.4 Since eclipses are temporary, it is easy to see how people could assume that their interventions had an impact when the sunlight eventually returned.

In Hindu mythology, it was believed that the serpent god, Rahu Ketu, wanted to devour the sun. To prevent this from happening, Vishnu cut off his head. However, this did not solve the problem. The head, Rahu, still wanted to catch the sun and the moon. Sometimes he would successfully catch them, causing an eclipse. Though, with his head no longer attached to his body, the captured sun and moon would eventually fall out of his neck.5

The Vikings believed that Sk├Âll and Hati, two giant wolves, would chase the sun and moon trying to devour them. Eventually, Hati would catch up with the sun and consume it. When an eclipse would happen, the Vikings holler and make loud noises to scare Hati away.6

Interestingly, it seems that various ancient cultures believed that some sort of deity or mythical creature was responsible for eclipses. Of course, we have an understanding of the cause of such planetary phenomena in modern times. By utilizing geometry, astronomers can precisely predict when and where eclipses will happen. As Masons, we are taught to study the liberal arts and sciences. So, we should make sure we learn more about the science behind astronomical events which leads to a better understanding of the universe.

  1. https://www.brown.edu/news/2024-03-22/total-solar-eclipse

  2. https://source.colostate.edu/ancient-cultures-explained-eclipses/

  3. Han, Y., & Qiao, Q. (2009). Records of solar eclipse observations in ancient China. Science in China, 52(11), 1639-1645. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11433-009-0241-8

  4. https://eclipse2017.nasa.gov/eclipse-history#:~:text=In%20Ancient%20China%2C%20solar%20and,the%20Moon%20during%20lunar%20eclipses

  5. https://blogs.loc.gov/folklife/2017/08/solar-eclipse-awe-wonder-and-belief/

  6. https://vikingr.org/other-beings/skoll-hati


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.

The Doorman Fallacy: Decorum of the Masonic Fraternity

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Patrick Dey

In the last year, the question has arisen of how much artificial intelligence will affect future jobs. One argument that has arisen to counter this pessimism is the “doorman fallacy.” The doorman fallacy is when short-term planning eliminates something that seems unnecessary and easily replaceable with an automated version of it, but in the long run turns out was a financial enhancement. With the advent of automated door openers and motor-operated revolving doors, many hotels began to get rid of their doormen, as they simply viewed them as just the guy that opens the door, and now unnecessary. However, doormen do a lot more than just open a door. They provide security by keeping out hoodlums and vagrants, they will hail a cab in the rain for someone while they wait inside, they will remember faces — e.g. while you wait on your taxi, they will ask you where you are heading, and when you tell them you are heading to the theater, they will remember to ask you upon your return, “How was the show, Mrs. Smith?” — et cetera. Doormen did a lot more than just open a door. Myopic hotel managers were unaware of just how important these jobs were, and then they thought they could save costs by modernizing their facilities with an automated door opener. They did not realize that within a few years their hotel became less valuable. The hotels that kept doormen were seen as more prestigious. Clientele viewed the venue as more prestigious if there was someone who would open the door, greet them, remember their face, get them a cab, et al. Thus, those hotels were able to keep high-end clientele and even raise rates, while those who fired their doormen would either rehire doormen or make do with lesser clientele and lower their rates.

The basic principle at work here is that something may seem invaluable and therefore cost-effective to eliminate, but it actually in the long run was a valuable asset that was a mistake to eliminate. We could look at how this may work in the future of this uncertain politico-economic sphere, but obviously, we want to focus on how this principle applies to Masonry.

For me personally, there is a decorum in having a doorman. They appear like a luxury, and that is how many hotel managers viewed them: a luxury that can be scrapped for short-term profit margins, but actually proved more useful than myopia could dream of. Further, for me personally, in Freemasonry, it is the decorum of the fraternity in which the allure, the attraction to the fraternity resides. Of the countless arguments floating around out there about how to draw more men to Freemasonry, I think the decorum itself is an aspect that is never once mentioned.

Years ago, while visiting here in Colorado, Adam Kendall gave a lecture on Masonic artifacts, and one thing he stated that stuck with me as he showed countless images of beautiful Masonic museum pieces is this: that there was a time when Masons were so proud of their Masonic affiliation that they had custom, handmade items fabricated for themselves. Beautiful items, be it a set of Lodge Jewels, Masonic rings, or a simple box to put things in. These illustrated something greater about the Masonic fraternity than mere appearances suggest: Masons loved this fraternity so much that they wanted something unique and special made that illustrated the pride they held for being a member of such an elite fraternity in material expressions. I viewed these images of artifacts with utter captivation, and I held onto his words so dearly, all the while abashed that I was wearing a mass-produced cloth apron, subpar to the beautifully hand-painted aprons he was showing. He was right. We lost something in these latter years, and it is the decorum of the fraternity.

I was inspired. When I was elected and installed as the High Priest of my Royal Arch Chapter, as well as the Thrice Illustrious Master of my Cryptic Council, I splurged and procured custom, handmade real leather aprons with real gold fringe and gold-plated tassels that jingle when I walk. They are beautiful and well-made, and I am honored to wear them, because I was proud to serve in these offices, and I am still proud to have served as such. What is comical is that while serving in these offices, I would make a superior Grand Line officer feel inferior by the fact that my apron was nicer than his. While High Priest, on one occasion at a regional official visit, I was standing next to two Past Grand High Priests, and they were wearing cheap cloth aprons with yellow-dyed nylon fringes and tassels, while mine was real leather and real gold. Someone made a remark to me that I appeared to “outrank” them by my apron. I mean, sure, if you looked at our collars, they clearly had the nicer collar and clearly outranked me, but as was remarked, by our aprons, I appeared to outrank them. That was not my intention, but that was the reality. My apron was legal within Colorado Royal Arch law, but these two Past Grand High Priests decided they did not want to shell out the extra $70 or $80 for a really nice apron like me. Seriously, that was about how much more money I paid for my apron over theirs. Sure, it was double the cost, but also less than $200 is not that much. And I know both these men made substantially more money than I did. The same thing happened when I presided as Thrice Illustrious Master when the Most Illustrious Grand Master visited our Council. So why cut costs? What did it really save them? Their dignity as the superior officer, perhaps.

Well, this is exactly the same phenomenon as the doorman fallacy. I cannot exactly say what was their exact motivation in procuring lesser quality aprons, again because I know they all made way more money than me. I mean, apart from their known occupations, they were in invitation-only bodies with annual dues of $500 or more that I had to decline on account of the fact that I am a broke son of a bitch. I would suppose, if I had to guess, that they believed their value lay in the title they held, and therefore had little regard for a material expression of their station. Sure, if you examined our aprons, you would see that they had emblems of their office that far outranked mine. But in material value, you would think I outranked them.

The only difference, I suppose, was that I was more proud to be a High Priest than they were to be a Past Grand High Priest, and I showed off my pride with a nicer apron. At the very least, that is how this may be perceived. That is presumptuous, yes, but it really does appear that way. Again, this is how the doorman fallacy works. This is how decorum works. It is an outward expression of our immense pride in being Masons. Of course, Masonry regards no man for his external wealth or honors, but even someone such as myself — who makes way less than some of these other guys — is willing to pay the extra money to get something special, something unique, something they take immense pride in because they are just that proud to be a Mason. And it shows.

Recently Ben Willians, publisher of the Rocky Mountain Mason magazine acquired the Knights Templar magazine and has taken it from this cheap, half-sized pulp magazine published monthly, to a full-sized quarterly magazine printed on quality stock paper with high-resolution printing. He did this because he understood that the quality of the thing is an expression of the quality of its content. If he produces something of higher material quality, then its readers will regard it with greater prestige. And as far as I am concerned, it has worked. I mean, I used to toss out those old Knights Templar magazines after I was done with it, but the first new one I received, I put it up on my shelf.

There is something in the decorum of the fraternity that is not just a mere outward expression of Masonry’s content, but an expression of its value. Masonry does not demand that you spend thousands of dollars to show your love for the fraternity, but a significant material expression certainly helps illustrate the pride Masons have for their membership. Even when the Lodge Jewels were cut and stamped on tin, these were handmade and may have been all that the Lodge could afford, it was a meaningful expression, and that is recognized in examining such an artifact today. We still have my lodge’s old tin jewels and keep them on display, because they’re unique and cool.

The term decor (from Latin) itself really means “seemly or appropriate.” Thus decorum meant something fitting and appropriate. In Masonry, decorum’s utility is the expression of the pride we have for the fraternity, and this pride is so strong that we wish to express it in material value. We love and value Masonry so much that we build grand edifices to house our events and functions. We love and value it so much that we splurge the extra money to have a nicer apron than even the Grand Officers wear. And there is a value in this decorum.

That value is that others, non-Masons will see this decorum and they will know that we value this organization. They will know by our outward expression, even among the lowliest of craftsmen, that we love this fraternity and that we desire to show the rest of the world how important it is to us. A simple lineman or truck driver wearing a $1000 Masonic ring is proud to be a member of this fraternity, and that means so much more than the stock investor who wears no ring but shows up at official Masonic functions wearing a $50 apron bearing the emblem of his Past Grand Office.

My paternal great-grandfather was a coal miner in Michigan, and I have his 18-karat gold ring with a .25-karat diamond embedded in a 4-karat ruby Masonic ring. I know how much he loved being a Mason by this very ring. His father, also a coal miner (but in Kentucky), had an 18-karat gold ring with gold square and compasses encrusted upon a 4-karat ruby, which I also possess. I know how much he loved being a Mason by this ring, which is worn down so much that you can barely recognize the square and compasses. It is clear he wore it every day. My Nanna, their daughter, and granddaughter, respective, had an 18-karat gold Rainbow Girls ring, as well as a 12-karat gold bracelet, which I also possess, also illustrates her pride in having been a Rainbow Girl, and she was only ever a housewife of a Detroit factory worker. Men and women of not much money understood the decorum of Freemasonry. None of this was meant to financially devastate them, and it didn’t, but they understood the value of this fraternity and they showed it in the decorum of the Masonic paraphernalia they possessed.

How is a prospect supposed to know the Masonic fraternity is something very special when they show up to a prospect event and everyone is wearing jeans and t-shirts? How are they supposed to know that the members of this great fraternity are so proud to be members that even a coal miner will wear a $1000 ring? When they see such material decorum — and they do see it — they know this is something special.

This is the doorman fallacy that Masons have fallen into. It’s not the Grand Lodge’s or even the Lodge’s fault, but every Mason who feels it is more important to carry the dues cards of over $4,000 worth of affiliations — dues cards, which, mind you, are kept privately concealed in your wallet, or you just leave it at home — but won’t bother with even a $250 ring that materially expresses the value they see in this fraternity. People notice this.

Don’t break the bank, but also, decorum goes a long way. Remember that.


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.