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Why Masonic Scholars maintain the ‘fighting spirit’ to do that thing they do

By Karen Kidd, PM
(I speak only for me)

Joseph E. Morcombe From Find A Grave From Unknown PublicationWelcome to Part II of blogs about Masonic Scholars and why they do what they do.

In March 1918, Grand Lodge of Iowa Grand Historian Joseph E. Morcombe penned a letter to North American Universal Co-Freemasonry Grand Commander Louis Goaziou about a Brother who had expressed some “facts” to him about Masonic history. “Facts” that were verifiably wrong but to which the other Brother was weirdly attached.

“Yet such as he are the leaders and light-givers of the brethren,” Morcombe wrote. “They will not dig for facts, taking their own intuitions or the mere say-so of others as ignorant as themselves as gospel, against all arguments that can be brought.”

In the same letter, Morcombe also doubted why he bothered to labor as a Masonic historian, surrounded as he was by so many “ignorant” brethren.

“When will American Masons be open-minded and logical; when will they search for the light of truth without stipulating ahead or on the way that they will not venture into certain fields? Sometimes I am disgusted enough with hypocrites and ignorances in the Craft to cease my endeavors. But then comes the new ascension of the fighting spirit, and I try to hit all the harder.”

In my observation, that “fighting spirit,” rather than any attention payed by rank-and-file Freemasons or what very little support or rewards the labor attracts, is what drives the majority of modern scholars in the Craft. Each one must figure out for themselves why they do that thing they do. They must define for themselves how to measure their “success” – or lack thereof – and develop strategies to attain that success.

Masonic scholars who ponder that today are largely building on the work of scholars who came before and who, their own time, had to do their own pondering.

Albert_Pike_portrait
Painting of Albert Pike, which hangs in the museum of the Scottish Rite Consistory in Des Moines, Iowa (commons.wikimedia.org)
 – James Steakley

I suppose the best place to start is with the fellow who, in my most humble opinion, was the greatest scholar scholar of all time, Albert Pike1

Pike’s mortal remains lie where he died, in the House of the Temple of the Scottish Rite’s Southern Jurisdiction in Washington D.C. Pike was a financial failure at almost everything else he tried but he excelled in Ritual development and Masonic research.

Pike also wrote many books, including his “Book of Words” and “Meaning of Masonry2 but is best known for one of his earliest works, “Morals and Dogma of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite,” which for decades well into the 20th Century was presented to newly raised Malecraft Masons. Millions of copies sit mostly unread on shelves throughout the world.

No one has more books of Masonic research in print than Albert Pike but how he can be considered a success and what his strategies were is still up for debate. “Success” and “strategy” for the Masonic scholar aren’t defined the same way as it would be in another other scholarly field. For the Masonic scholar, success is all about getting the work done before dying; and strategy – assuming there one – is figuring out how to achieve the first objective.

Many don’t realize that Pike died on the job, in the House of the Temple, because he could not afford to retire. He depended almost entirely upon the patronage and financial support of the Southern Jurisdiction. Though it was for him very much a labor of love, he also clearly had no choice but to so continue until he died. And he did.

Which brings up a very important observation about achieving success in Masonic research: it won’t make you rich. It will not, in fact, bring you much – if any – financial reward at all, despite the great sacrifice it requires. If you really want to be a “success”, then you’re going to have to find a way to finance it.

Which means, of course – and you know what’s coming – don’t quit your day job.

I know of few Masonic Researchers who actually live by their research or their pen; I know of none who make it entirely on royalties. Those who do manage to devote themselves to full time research are those who enjoy financial backing of some sort. For the majority, being a Masonic researcher means working by day, toiling over their latest project during breaks and stolen moments at work, at night, on weekends and any other time away from their private avocation.

Their loved ones think they’re crazy which, in my opinion, experience and observation, is true. Without the support of family and friends, the Masonic researcher can have no hope of “success”, by any definition.

William_Preston_1812
William Preston, 18th and 19th Century Masonry researcher and ritualist. Image from the 1812 edition of “Illustrations of Masonry”

There have, of course, been Masonic researchers who were wealthy and financed their studies. These include William Preston, the 18th and 19th Century Masonic Lecturer whose name today makes up the first half the Ritual referred to as the “Preston-Webb,” worked in most US Malecraft Lodges today. He achieved success and he had a strategy to do it.

However, Preston and others like him are in the extreme minority of Masonic Scholars. Most relied/rely on the support of others and their own incomes to continue their research.

Jeremy Ladd Cross, the great Ritual developer of the early 19th Century whose “True Masonic Chart” remains a standard, was a hatter by profession. Thomas Smith Webb, the second half of “Preston-Webb”, was a book seller and manufacturer of wall paper. Carl Claudy, the 20th Century author of Masonic history, esoterica and fiction, was a journalist and freelance writer. Albert Mackey, an early compiler and writer of Masonic history, was a high-priced physician.

Margaret Jacobs From UCLA Dot EDU website
Margaret Jacob, professor emeritus at UCLA and author of “Origins of Freemasonry: Facts and Fiction.” –
history.ucla.edu/faculty/margaret-jacob-2

Even scholars of Masonry who are not themselves Freemasons do not live by their books alone. Margaret Jacob, whose work includes “Origins of Freemasonry: Facts and Fiction,” is a highly successful academic who teaches at UCLA. David Stevenson, who has written a great deal about the Craft, including his own “Origins of Freemasonry,” is Emeritus Professor of Scottish History at the University of St Andrews. Jessica Harland-Jacobs, author of “Builders of Empire: Freemasons and British Imperialism, 1717-1927,” is associate professor of history at the University of Florida.

Masonic scholars fortunate enough to be published may receive royalties but they are likely to spend far, far, faaaaaaaar more on research. Their tax preparers, like mine, will classify what they do as a “hobby,” that it cannot be claimed – by any stretch – as a living. So far as the IRS is concerned, research does not define who the Masonic scholar is, much as they may beg to differ).

So, all that said, the paramount strategy toward achieving success in Masonic Research, especially as a nonacademic is to – somehow – find a way to finance it. For most Masonic scholars, that strategy involves “patronage” of some kind.

Patronage, in my experience, is a resource – any resource – that someone else parts with to advance a scholar’s endeavors. There are few Masonic researchers who rely on only one patron. Most, me included, have many patrons.

The greatest form of patronage in Masonic research is other researchers in the field; those willing to mentor, share discoveries and collaborate in the work. Many is the time I’ve been stymied in my research and another scholar – often a scholar who is not a Freemason – has provided me the one piece I couldn’t find on my own.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Australia and New Zealand Masonic Research Council Past President Neil Wynes Morse

My greatest mentor, who watches over me from thousands of miles away, whom I seldom meet but who has provided so much in the way of time, material and faith, is Neil Wynes Morse. Morse is one of the world’s leading experts in Masonic ritual development, past president of the Australia and New Zealand Masonic Research Council (ANZMRC) and is known to many in Freemasonry as “the Canberra Curmudgeon”. He mentors many but I like to think I’m his favorite 😀

Of course, all the information in the world won’t get past your keyboard if you can’t keep a roof over your head or pay shipping and handling costs to some otherwise unappreciated librarian six states away for an obscure document s/he just photocopied for you. Sad to say, success in this field often comes down to cold, hard cash and where to get it.

I’ve heard that grants and awards to finance research exist but I’ve never secured one of these. Within Freemasonry, this kind of patronage is usually reserved for malecraft researchers or those scholars of Freemasonry who don’t write anything the malecraft don’t want written. If you are a Freemason in an Obedience not in amity with the 50 largest malecraft grand lodges in the US, and especially if you are a female Freemason, the usual sources of Masonic patronage simply are not available to you.

However, patronage takes many other forms. For me, patronage is a couch to sleep on while I’m in town visiting a local library.

It is a meal, a drink, bus fare or a seat in a car during a research road trip, room and board.

It’s someone willing to visit a dusty old archive on behalf of a scholar to look up something they can physically get to but that they may not, themselves, understand.

It’s air miles or some other way to shorten the physical distance between the researcher and some small, cryptic bit of truth they’re after.

It’s not wondering aloud just how insane the scholar might be.

And all the scholar can ever do, by way of recompense, is say, “Thank you.”

All of that is patronage.

Patronage also is a kind, listening ear, sympathetic smiles and a great deal of love, attention, encouragement and patience. I want to place especial emphasis on the latter, patience. For as I mentioned earlier, all of us in Masonic research and publishing are crazy. Those who love, encourage and enable us in this madness are so very important for any success – however it is defined – that we may ever have in this field.

Another hurdle for the Masonic scholar is time. I’m not the best manager of that very precious commodity. When I’m in the throes of a project, I can’t sleep for long periods. Any spare moment is suborned to study. I plague my local library with impossible inter-library loan requests that they always manage to pull off.

I become very manic and intense when I catch the scent of something that has long eluded me. In these periods, I can be very hard to be around and quite difficult to get along with. I advise anyone considering or already laboring in the field of Masonic scholarship to do as I say, not as I do: manage well your time.

I also recommend something I like to think I’m a little better at: maintaining a strong back bone and unbreakable integrity – though others call it “stubbornness” and “being unreasonable.” Being the scholar in the room often means being the designated grown up. A good scholar, in any field, is insufferably objective and unable to toe any party line.

This attracts hostility from all sides.

Rudyard Kipling
Rudyard Kipling

Folks with agendas to push and axes to grind will seek you out and, trust me, they will find you. When they do, you’ll have to keep your mind focused on the truth and stick to it, even when it would be easier to give in to those for whom the truth takes distant second to internal politics or some other goal.

I recommend memorizing the poem “If” by the Freemason Rudyard Kipling; and, if you are a Freemason, paying extra close attention to your lessons in the Third; and if you’re York Rite, the Mark.

The greatest hurdle for a Masonic scholar is to figure out why they do that thing they do. The “why” is something each scholar must answer for themselves and while that answer may not always be the same for one scholar, compared to another, I think I have come upon a general reason “why” we do what we do.

Of course, the Masonic scholar can go a long time without answering that question but cannot count themselves a master until s/he does.

“Why are you doing this?”

“Because you are the only one who can.”
__________________________________

Yeah, I know there are folks who will want to debate that point with me. Take a number and, for now and for the sake of this blog, just go with it.

 2 You young whipper snappers should appreciate these links. I can remember when it was almost impossible to lay hands on even a hard copy of Pike’s lesser circulated work. Seriously, up hill both ways!

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Conferences remind Masonic researchers they are not alone – though they often are

FromNeilBy Karen Kidd, PM
(I speak only for me)

I don’t know even half of you, but none of you will ever be so cool as the above photo.

On the far left is John Wade, classical linguist and noted historian, Masonic and otherwise, past master of the Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076 and, since 2009, editors of QC’s Transactions (the AQC) since 2009. He also is a Prestonian Lecturer and can belt out “The Apprentice Song” like no one else.

To his left is S. Brent Morris, retired government cryptologic mathematician and soon-to-retire managing editor of The Scottish Rite Journal, published by the Supreme Council of the Scottish Rite Southern Jurisdiction. He has written extensively about Freemasonry, with not the least of his work being the “Complete Idiot’s Guide to Freemasonry.”

To Morris’ left is Mike Kearsley, editor of the Square, a UK-based independent magazine for Freemasons. Kearsley is a Prestonian lecturer and a recipient of Quatuor Coronati Lodge’s Norman Spencer Prize. He currently serves as the research lodge’s Secretary and is this year’s touring Kellerman lecturer.

Across the table is David Slater, past preceptor of Canberra Lodge of Research & Instruction, now Linford Lodge of Research where he is currently is Treasurer, Senior Warden at Discovery Lodge of Research, was the 2004 Kellerman lecturer and 2018 Norman B. Spencer Prize essayist.

The photo was taken at the Shakespeare’s Head in London this past spring by Neil Wynes Morse, one of the world’s leading experts in Masonic ritual development and past president of the Australia and New Zealand Masonic Research Council (ANZMRC).

These five, only a handful of the world’s researchers of Freemasonry, were in London for conferences on both sides of the English Channel and they took the opportunity for a meal, drinks and lots and lots of catching up. That is, in my opinion, the one primary value of Masonic research conferences: to remind researchers into the history and ritual of Freemasonry that they are not alone; not really.

Of course, most researchers, especially those in academia, will say that research conferences also are valuable because, among other things, they provide opportunities to present papers, receive critiques and find out what other researchers in the field are working on. All that is true but I haven’t met a Masonic researcher yet who didn’t feel they worked entirely too much on their own and those other benefits really boil down to the one primary value.

As a Masonic researcher, I know what it is to feel isolated in my work. The vast majority of Masonic researchers labor away to discover and preserve the history of the Craft and its ritual, all the while feeling overwhelmingly outnumbered by those who write about philosophy of the Craft and its esoterica. That crowd has a certain disregard for accuracy in history that I work very hard to be OK with but, quite frankly, it often causes issues for me when I’m trying to be taken seriously by historians and other researchers who are not Freemasons.

I’ve had to explain, entirely too often, that folks like Robert Lomas and Christopher Knight are not part of the much smaller herd with which I run and to beg acceptance as a more serious researcher with greater appreciation for the truth. Trust me, I have that.

That said, Masonic scholars of history and ritual have an equally well-earned reputation of running fast and loose with the truth that we also are still living down. In a not-so-very-long-ago time, myth and legend were preferred to cold, verifiable facts. Some wicked – and largely fabricated – stuff was churned out in the 19th and well into the 20th centuries and passed off as history. Sometimes, even today, those fairy tales still are quoted as truth.

It is little wonder that Freemasonry, until the last few decades, too often was what well-noted British Historian Frances Yates called “the happy-hunting ground of wildly imaginative and uncritical writers.”Yates added her voice to calls for a far, far, faaaaar more scientific approach to research into the history and Ritual of Freemasonry and she quoted a couple of Masonic researchers who are little known today but were giants in the field, in their time and now.

“It is time they should be investigated with proper historical and critical methods and there are signs that that time is approaching. In the preface to a book on the genesis of Freemasonry it is stated that the history of masonry ought not to be regarded as something apart but as a branch of social history, a study of a particular institution and the ideas underlying it ‘to be investigated and written in exactly the same way as the history of other institutions’.”

The preface to which Yates referred was in Douglas Knoop and G.P. Jones‘ seminal work in Masonic History, “The Genesis of Freemasonry,” published by Manchester University Press in 1947. The works by Knoop and Jones and other scholars like them remain required reading by those actually interested – and my observation is that most rank and file brothers aren’t at all interested – in genuine research into Freemasonry history and Ritual.

Knoop, Jones and others like them aren’t well known outside of research circles but they helped establish serious, science-based research into Freemasonry as a norm. They also firmly established Masonic research as a solitary and isolated labor, as I find it to be today.

Which confirms, in my opinion, the one primary value in Masonic conferences about history and scholarship – a chance for scholars who often work in isolation to meet up, network and remind each other that they are not really alone.

One better known conference is the prestigious World Conference on Fraternalism, Social Capital and Civil Society, aka the “WCF,” in France in odd numbered years and Washington in even numbered years. The conference is sponsored by the American Public University System, American Military University, American Public University, Phi Sigma Omega International, Westphalia Press, Musée de la Franc-Maçonnerie in Paris, and the University of Houston.

Cropped
Paul Rich, co-chair of the World Conference on Fraternalism, Freemasonry, and History (WCF) and George Mason University President Paul Rich and Susan Mitchell Sommers, a history professor at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, who has presented papers at the WCF  and other conferences. Sommers latest book about Freemasonry history, “The Siblys of London,” was published by Oxford University Press last year. – Photo by Olimpia Sandoval

WCF chairs are Hoover Institution visiting fellow and George Mason University History Professor Paul Rich, French historian and Grand Orient de France Library Director Pierre Mollier and University of Houston Associate Professor Guillermo de los Reyes.

This year’s WCF featured 40 lectures and 20 panels from the world’s best Masonic scholars. The topic of next year’s conference, scheduled June 5 at the Historic Quaker Meetinghouse, is expected to be “Fraternal Art and Music,” while the 2121 WCF, scheduled May 27-29 that year at the The Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, is expected to be about “Are the Ancient Landmarks Ancient?”

While the WCF certainly isn’t the only Masonic research conference (there also is the ICOM, also in France, which operates under the auspices of Louis Trabuchet), it is one of the best in that it offers presenters not only networking and gathering opportunities. The WCF also publishes papers presented during the conference, which in turn provides greater exposure for those papers beyond a room full of attendees.

Which often is about all the attention a Masonic scholar’s work will receive. The wider world seems little interested – unless aliens, conspiracy, world domination and other “sexy” stuff is written into the text. Rank-and-file Freemasons, who are strongly encouraged to “make a daily progress in masonry,” often treat research and history as little better than an amusing distraction.

ICOM photo by Olafur Magnusson
Books on offer during the 2017 ICOM – Photo by Olafur Magnusson

So if scientific-based research into Masonic history and Ritual is a lonely labor with little reward beyond fleeting opportunities to meet up and network, why do Masonic researchers do this work?

That will be the topic of part II of this blog.

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1. Page 294, “The Art of Memory” (Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1966).

 

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As the Grand Lodge of Scotland Found Out, Social Media and E-Masonry aren’t Going Away

By Karen Kidd, PM
(I speak only for me)

“The more rapid the change, the more substantial must be the response. In light of this, it is perhaps inappropriate for Freemasonry to seek to be immune to E-communication if its essential values are to survive.”

Gerald Reilly and Josh Heller, “The Temple That Never Sleeps” (Cornerstone Book Publishers, 2006)

Back in September, the world – or at least those who paid attention – watched as the Grand Lodge of Scotland briefly rejected social media, in part because the so-called “secrets” were leaking out.

It was an abrupt about face by the grand lodge, which had for years enthusiastically embraced Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms, in addition to its excellent website that provides informative announcements, articles and photos.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I am a huge fan of Robert Cooper, curator of the grand lodge’s library and museum, and editor of its Twitter and Facebook pages, in addition to being a noted Freemasonic historian, scholar and writer.

Cooper had the very awkward task of explaining to the wider world, via the Times in London (the Times online sits behind a pay wall, so I’ll quote with wild abandon), why the grand lodge’s social media pages had been put on hold pending an internal review.

“As with any organization there are internal private discussions that shouldn’t be aired in public,” Cooper was quoted in the Times. “Unfortunately, some of our members are doing that. Naively, they are putting up messages on Facebook saying, ‘What do you think about what the Grand Lodge are proposing?’ Issues being discussed are not public but then, all of sudden, they are in the public domain.”

Members also had been outing other members without consent and “there also have been cases where online disputes between brothers became less than fraternal,” Cooper was quoted in the Times.

The withdrawal didn’t go unnoticed.

“We have got 25,000 people from around the world who read the posts regularly,” Cooper was quoted in the Times. “We have had lots of queries as to why we have stopped.”

Yeah, well, it didn’t last. The Grand Lodge of Scotland quickly re-embraced social media and then tried to put the debacle behind them.

GL of Scotland statement“Brethren, it has been reported that the Grand Lodge of Scotland social media platforms had been shut down,” Grand Lodge of Scotland Grand Secretary J. Euan Edment said in a statement issued two days after the Times article was published. “This was due to a misunderstanding and as soon as it was noticed the situation was rectified. I am delighted to confirm that both our Facebook and Twitter sites are again operating normally and I hope any inconvenience has been minimal.”

The “inconvenience” resulted from only the latest effort by Freemasonic grand lodges and other supreme bodies to grapple with the pros and cons of life in the Internet Age and rise of the “E-Mason.”

Reilly300x400
Gerald Reilly, who with Josh Heller co-authored “The Temple That Never Sleeps,” first published in 2006 (photo courtesy of
Gerald Reilly

The E-Mason, as Gerald Reilly and Josh Heller observed in their book “The Temple That Never Sleeps,” published more than a decade ago, is “a Freemason for whom a part, at least, of their Masonic improvement is provided by membership of a Masonic E-group, or groups, set up for and subscribed to, for that purpose.”

When Reilly and Heller wrote that definition, Facebook was still in its infancy and most E-Masons were active in online Masonic forums (my personal favorite – and, gods how I miss it! – was “The Three Pillars”). In those online forums, Freemasons of all types were free to get to know each other, exchange ideas and generally communicate unfettered on the interwebs.

Those online forums have largely disappeared, replaced by Reddit and other social media platforms, but the unfettered communication continues.

While all of that has been going on, the grand lodges and other supreme bodies have largely viewed the cross-jurisdictional communication between individual Freemasons with no little worry. Those same bodies also have simultaneously tried to figure out how to harness the myriad of opportunities provided by the Internet.

“Technological innovation has radically changed the conduct of our daily lives. We can do things faster, easier and cheaper than ever before. We have information at our fingertips and an ability to communicate with each other, around the globe at the speed of light.” – Reilly and Heller, “The Temple That Never Sleeps”

Freemasonry has always – ALWAYS – been open to technological advances in the larger world and has been more than happy to adapt them to Masonic life and jurisdictional practice. Those advances have allowed members to travel further afield to attend meetings and functions while communication advances helped strengthen bonds between Masonic bodies and created other bonds that previously did not exist.

It isn’t all about being in walking distance and sending letters by courier anymore. Freemasonry has advanced along with the rest of the world.

So, why is the Internet so different?

There’s no simple answer to that question but I’ll try to keep it simple, notwithstanding.

Quite frankly, Freemasonic grand lodges and other supreme bodies have harnessed the Internet for the benefits that can be reaped but, like the Grand Lodge of Scotland, they’re still puzzling out some serious downsides.

First, the pros: The Internet makes it easier for Brothers and Sisters to communicate and communication is the gateway to understanding.

Second, the cons: The Internet makes it easier for Brothers and Sisters to communicate and communication is the gateway to understanding.

Grand lodges and other supreme bodies appreciate the Internet as a vehicle for making their front offices function more smoothly and be accessible. This translates internally into greater vehicles for getting information to their membership and externally into greater visibility for would-be members to find them.

It’s no longer a know-one-to-be-one situation. Those who seek Freemasonry now have a far easier time finding orders most congenial to them.

This development has been of especial importance to co- and femalecraft Freemasonry that in decades past had a very difficult time surviving, thanks in no small part to persistent persecution by the more numerous malecraft. The Internet has leveled the field for all three branches and made persecution far more difficult to carry out unnoticed.

Greater understanding between individual brothers and sisters, made all the more possible by the Internet, also has sharply reduced desire for continued persecution and increased interest in pursuing avenues of mutual interest.

The Internet also, for better or otherwise, gave rise to orders based entirely in the Internet. For me, that’s a bridge too far. An entirely virtual lodge experience would not work for me; I am more of an orthodox, traditional, brick-and-mortar Freemason.

However, I also am a great proponent of choice in Freemasonry. If virtual Masonry is your thing, have at it. The Internet made that possible for you.

More than making Freemasonry easier to find, there also is the not-unappreciated value of the Internet as a means of presenting a good image to the public. Bad things can happen when the public collectively decides that Freemasonry is bad. The Internet makes it easier for Freemasonic bodies to let the larger world know that they’re good people.

Faced with the great need to maintain good public relations, grand lodges and other supreme bodies find it unhelpful when individual members do or advocate unMasonic things or otherwise don’t toe the Masonic line. Those bodies are ever anxious that the world at large understand that their individual members speak only for themselves, not for the order to which they belong.

That distinction often is lost on the wider world.

Which is why the actions of misbehaving members is an even greater problem than before the Internet Age. Such misbehavior is now more easily noticed by the wider world (the William Morgan incident not excluded) and can reflect poorly on the order(s) to which the misbehaving brother(s) belong(s). Good public relations are important to the front office, particularly in areas where Freemasonry is under attack, so errant members are a huge concern.

It likewise is no especial shock that grand lodges and other Masonic supreme bodies don’t appreciate the Internet when it’s used by individual members to counter the various Masonic lines that those bodies promulgate. It also is now much more difficult for those bodies to reel in the errant brother or sister who doesn’t toe the Masonic line; or worse, doesn’t respect that line or doesn’t know that the line exists.

Those bodies also have been wary of the Internet as the medium by which Freemasons of various ilks – including bodies not in amity with each other and between whom there has been disharmony – to meet in a more level way. On the one hand, the Internet is helpful in providing greater opportunities for education and for brothers and sisters to get to know each other.

It also helps break down artificial barriers based on “regularity” and “amity,” which is where the wariness comes in. Regularity and amity are very much front office concerns and individual members might be less than sensitive to those concerns. They might, in fact, disagree and say so online – in the public domain.

However, the issue that seems to attract the most attention, as we saw with the Grand Lodge of Scotland in September, is individual members being too loose with an order’s secrets.

The Internet certainly has made Freemasonry’s so-called “secrets” more available but hasn’t made especially clear – for the Internet is generally a murky, if information dense, place – that the secrets aren’t about being secret. It’s about Freemasons being disciplined enough to not reveal them.

It’s about the individual Freemason, not the secrets.

So far as Freemasonic grand lodges and other Masonic supreme bodies are concerned, it’s one thing for the secrets to be available via more shadowy portions of the Internet; but quite another for their own members to share them on social media.Cropped

All of these issues are only the tip of the iceberg of what the various Masonic bodies are trying to figure out as they sail even further into the Internet Age. Some are maneuvering through those dangerous waters with more grace than others.

As we saw, the Grand Lodge of Scotland briefly tried the draconian approach, which magnificently failed. The failures attract far more attention than do the successes.

If you’ve read this far and are expecting me to suggest what the Grand Lodge of Scotland should have done or to provide an easy solution to all of this, I am going to disappoint you. I have no idea.

I, like everyone else in this Internet Age, am hoping for the very best but am anxious about what may turn out to be the very worst.

I do know that, barring something catastrophic that forces us all to dramatically regress in our collective evolution, the Internet, social media and E-Masonry aren’t going away. Fool that I am, I remain optimistic.

As Reilly and Heller observed more than a decade ago about the Temple that never sleeps:

“E-Masonry may well be met with challenges, obstacles and resistance along the way although we are not aware of any degree of formal resistance or for any proscription of participation. Perhaps it should be regarded as something that is future proof and that it could aid the survival of Freemasonry’s traditional values, although perhaps not in a traditional format.”

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New Edition of “Memoir of the Lady Freemason” Released by Prov. Grand Lodge of Munster

By Karen Kidd, PM
(I speak only for me)

THE HONBLE MRS ALDWORTH no cutline
Posthumous image of Elizabeth St. Leger Aldworth, in her Masonic regalia, produced and first published in 1811.

The Provincial Grand Lodge of Munster has released an updated edition of John Day’s “Memoir of the Lady Freemason” and I couldn’t be more excited about it.

Largely because the re-release contains a considerable lot about Day himself, about whom I previously knew only a little more than I do about Ralph P. Lester.[1]

Oh, and I got to contribute to the appendix 🙂

The new edition was officially released during the kick off the Cork Heritage Week in County Cork, Ireland, in August. Amid the initial speeches and celebrations, the Provincial Grand Lodge of Munster Grand Librarian and Archivist, W.Bro. David J. Butler, presented the first copy of the fifth edition to The Rt. Hon. The Lord Mayor of Cork, Councilor John Sheehan.

For those who don’t already know, “Memoir of the Lady Freemason,” of which the first edition was prepared and published in 1914, is about as close to a definitive biography as we have about the life and times of Elizabeth St. Leger Aldworth. Though the Provincial Grand Lodge of Munster’s website still refers to Aldworth as “the only Lady Freemason” – they’ve always been very friendly and cordial with me – it’s more accurate to say she was the first known woman Freemason in the modern history of the Craft.

Alworth was about 17[2] and was still Elizabeth St. Leger when she was initiated on a winter evening in 1712 into the Lodge that met in her family home at Doneraile Court, near Mallow in North Cork. The family long has told the story about how she fell asleep in the library, woke to find a Masonic meeting going on, tried to sneak out, was caught and the Lodge decided to make her a member. Continue reading “New Edition of “Memoir of the Lady Freemason” Released by Prov. Grand Lodge of Munster”

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The Grand Lodge of California’s Sudden Détente Toward Co- and Femalecraft Masonry is a Good Thing – I Hope

By Karen Kidd, PM
(I speak only for me)

The Grand Lodge of California, the state’s largest male-only Masonic body, apparently has suddenly concluded that it’s OK with women and mixed Freemasons. Seriously, they’re very chill about it.

This has been evolving for years, but it really became obvious when the May/June edition of California Freemason was issued. The entire edition is dedicated to the long history of women in Freemasonry – that is, as Freemasons – and not-at-all taking the old Malecraft line of ignoring, downplaying, and denying that past, present, and future.

They’re not even being condescending about it. Whoa O.O

The May/June issue of California Freemason includes articles about the universal appeal of Freemasonry “to men and women alike,” feminine symbols that “are threaded into the very fabric of Freemasonry,” and stories about women Freemasons and Co-Masons active in the U.S. All the articles are written as if the women Freemasons have existed for centuries (they have); there’s no problem with that (there isn’t), and that it is something that obviously should be taken for granted (it should).

The edition seems to be doing it’s level best to pretend that this has been the norm all along and invites the reader to buy into that. As if there never was any other less pleasant time in which Malecraft writers marginalized, downplayed, and ignored women-only and mixed Freemasonry.

The message is clear: this is the new line, dear reader. Let us forget the old.

Well, 1) some of us never bought into the old line, and 2) this is all very well and good, but it’s making me, as a masonic historian, more than a little nervous.

We’ve been here before.

This is not the first time that Malecraft Masons in California have been OK with Femalecraft and mixed Masons. The last time it happened, it didn’t turn out so well.

There are more than a few brothers and sisters who don’t want me to talk about that history because things are going well right now in California, and my talking about the unpleasant past, apparently, could endanger that.

“Just let it go,” one Femalecraft Mason said to me very recently. “Don’t screw this up for us.”

On one level, I can see wisdom in that. After all, there is precedent for burying unpleasant Masonic history. When the Antients and the Moderns healed their decades of often bitter differences in the early 19th Century, that generation largely pretended the bitterness never happened. It became as WBro Castells described it:

“Everything of a disagreeable and painful sort was forgotten, or passed over lightly; and a certain delicacy of feeling made everyone refrain from disputes which might engender bitterness and re-open old sores.”1

I can even see something Masonic about that.

However, the historian in me is more than a little alarmed because we have been here before. I hope it doesn’t go bad again, in the same way or in any other, but I can’t take for granted that it won’t.

Not that I can do anything more than watch while I hope for the best. I am but a common brother, no one great in any order.

Still, I am impudent enough to ask the Masonic movers and shakers at the actual center of all of this – far from the periphery where I stand, watch and hope – to please, PLEASE, just bear the unpleasant past in mind; and, above all, be cautious.

At least as cautious as I am trying to be.


The Masonic Order to which I belong, the Honorable Order of Universal Co-Masonry, United Federation of Lodges2 today is easily the largest Co-Masonic body in North America. Since its Masonic divorce from Le Droit Humain in the 1990s, the Order has grown to the point that it’s approaching the numbers of other mixed bodies in the world and now itself has become an international body.

That growth is its own mostly unwritten history, but this blog will be focused, instead, on why the developments in California are giving me pause.

Universal Co-Masonry has its largest North American presence in California. In no other state or province (outside of Colorado, the state in which the Order’s headquarters is located), does the Order have more lodges of multiple bodies than in California. There are more Blue Lodges of Universal Co-Masonry in California than any other state, including Colorado.

Some of the earliest Lodges of the order were consecrated in California and, then as now, those Lodges tend(ed) to be among the strongest in the Order.

Louis in about 1925
Louis Goaziou, Grand Commander of co-masons in North America, in a photo taken in about 1925.

Perhaps that was partly why Bro. Louis Goaziou, a leading founder and President and Grand Commander of Co-Masonry in North America during the first part of the 20th century, tried to steer the Order toward closer relations with Malecraft Masonry in the U.S. His aim seems to have been more about détente and acknowledgment rather than full on amity, recognition and other front office agreements.

Such things, really, are not necessary.

In the decades prior, Co-Masons largely preferred to operate under the radar of the Malecraft. The Malecraft were to be acknowledged and respected but close relations were ill advised. The Malecraft, after all, had a habit of throwing persecutions.

I’ll refrain from reciting the usual litany of that very unmasonic behavior in any great detail and just say that co-masons generally felt the Malecraft were, for good reason, best avoided.

Goaziou, who had been arrested in 1908 in Pennsylvania for being a Co-Mason and personally faced other Malecraft persecution,3 certainly agreed with that preference. However, as the years wore on and co-masonry grew, Goaziou seems to have developed a vision of how things could be if the various branches of Freemasonry could just get along.

There was, after all, much to be gained. In addition to harmony and that “certain delicacy of feeling,” a standing down of unpleasantness would be good for Co-Masonry. The Order would be allowed to grow without hiding its light under a bushel and, perhaps, the Malecraft would be willing to assist in that by opening their premises for Co-Masons to rent.

If better relations were possible, Goaziou decided there was too much to be gained for him to not at least try.

In the early 1920s, Bro. Goaziou took the first modest steps, mostly just a bit of outreach. When Goaziou traveled to Co-Masonic Lodges, he worked in visits to Malecraft Lodges.

Those Malecraft lodges, which Goaziou and other Co-Masons habitually referred to as “Lodges of F and AM,” were more than ready to receive him. Within a few years, he was speaking with Malecraft brothers who had “Grand” in their Masonic titles, and he developed a wide-ranging correspondence with many of the world’s leading Malecraft scholars of the day.

Soon Bro. Goaziou was receiving invitations to speak in open lodge, or at least with the lodge at refreshment, and the talks he gave were very well received. For example, he gave a talk on March 2, 1926 during a meeting of Rockridge Masonic Lodge No. 468, F and AM4 in Oakland, California on the topic of “Women in Masonry.” A local newspaper reporter was present, and Goaziou himself later reported to Co-masons in the Order that he was strongly encouraged by this particular lodge visit.

“There is hope for the future when it becomes possible for your Grand Commander to speak on ‘Women in Masonry’ before Lodges of F and AM.”5

During that stop in Oakland, Bro. Goaziou also visited five other Malecraft Lodges and had to turn down invitations to visit others for lack of time.

I could go on quite a while about events and developments in this largely successful effort to heal divisions between Co-Masonry and Malecraft Masonry in California, as well as the rest of the country. Things were looking very promising, much as they are in California now, but . . .

The bottom line was this: it went very badly. So badly, that it hasn’t been tried again until very recently.

I could go into great detail about how badly it went but this is a blog, not a book.6 Very long story short, a few Malecraft Masons of the bottom-feeding sort, who didn’t think much of Goaziou’s efforts or of healing divisions in Freemasonry, began to agitate for legal action against Co-Masons in North America.

The supposed basis for that legal action was never very clear but the overall subject seems to have been, “Get’em.”

In the early spring of 1929, articles slandering Co-Masonry began to appear in third-rate Masonic publications, largely written by the same few authors who acted very like trolls on the Internet today. The articles continued well into the summer and began to be picked up by more mainstream publications – Masonic and otherwise. Imagine the attention it would attract if the New York Times republished something first published in InfoWars.

By that autumn, an effort was underway to pressure the Grand Lodge of California “to take legal action against the Co-Masonic Lodges,” Goaziou warned in his October Circular.

There was as much to lose as there had been to gain. The math was simple enough. If the Grand Lodge of California took legal action against Co-Masonry, other Malecraft Grand Lodges were likely to follow. Legally, Co-Masonry was on very strong ground and probably could/would win any such litigation. Practically, however, Co-Masonry did not then have the resources to fight such a battle and probably would go under if it had to.

For months, Co-Masons held their breath, but Goaziou ultimately received word through back channels that the Grand Lodge of California had decided no such legal action would be taken. Co-Masonry in North America had missed a bullet.

Bro. Goaziou also continued to receive invitations to speak in Malecraft Lodges, and his many friends in Malecraft Masonry encouraged him to continue his efforts at healing the divisions.

However, Goaziou and other Co-Masons had suffered a terrible scare and collectively returned to the prior preference of avoiding Malecraft Freemasonry. Goaziou himself announced that he had been wrong to make the effort and that, “to avoid a recurrence of a similar incident,” he would refrain from those efforts.

It was over.

Now, here we are, about 90 years later. It’s 2019 and things are, again, looking promising in California.


LA MPS 1
A Masonic Philosophical Society meeting in San Diego, California, attended by California Co-Masons [Photo by Maria Isabel Sattui]

Today, not only does Universal Co-Masonry have its greatest presence – outside of headquarters in Colorado – in California, Femalecraft Freemasonry is very much on the rise in the state. Recently, Lodge Aletheia, active in Los Angeles under charter from the Women’s Grand Lodge of Belgium and which traces its history to the 1980s, gave a symposium and had no qualms about advertising it. They weren’t afraid at all.

It is now masonically safer to openly be a Co- or Femalecraft Mason in California. The May/June California Freemason seems to be further encouraging a certain giddy lack of circumspection.

I’ve also heard that the May/June issue of California Freemason itself has prompted significant conversations within the Grand Lodge of California, and that some of the discussions are about how to better show respect and appreciation for the many different threads of Masonry, without violating anyone’s obligations.

Which really isn’t all that difficult. Seriously, it really isn’t. It’s just not something that would have happened even five years ago.

And yet all this – and more – is happening out in the open without the Grand Lodge of California having a snit about it. No threats of lawsuits, getting the state’s General Assembly to move against Co- and Femalecraft Masonry, accosting non-Malecraft Freemasons on the street, breaking into their premises or any other bits of ugliness that could have been expected not very long ago.

Like everyone else, I want to feel very encouraged about that. In a way, I suppose I am feeling encouraged. I’m just feeling it in a very cautious sort of way.

Because that unpleasant history did happen and forgetting history usually tempts a repeat cycle. Still, I suppose the détente in California – if that’s what’s happening – is a good thing.

Y’all carry on, though I hope you will be cautious. I’ll just wait here in the periphery and see how it goes.

______________________________________
1 See page 27 of the WBro the Rev F. De P. Castells’ “Origin of the Masonic Degrees” (A Lewis, London, 1928).
2 Formerly know as the Honorable Order of American Co-Masonry, American Federation of Human Rights.
Yup, it was illegal to be a Co-Mason in Pennsylvania in 1908. If you want to know more about that persecution, as well as the historical points I’m trying to make in this blog, read this.
4 Merged to help form Oakland Durant Rockridge Lodge #188, F & AM in 1983.
5 Goaziou’s Circular 74 issued May 1, 1926.
6 Seriously, if you want to know, read this.

Featured

Brother Nellie McCool Flies Again!

By Karen Kidd, PM
(I speak only for me)

Brother Nellie McCool 33°, an aviator in her youth during World War II, flew again late this past spring and just might do it again next year.

Nellie preflight
Bro. Nellie McCool just before her flight, as the Boeing Stearman is being prepared (photo by Rosario Menocal)

“It was great,” Bro. Nellie told me last time I saw her. “It was a lot of fun. I’m happy I got to do it.”

Bro. Nellie, 97, went up in the cockpit of a Boeing Stearman, the same sort used to train aviators during the 1930s and 40s, on June 19, thanks to Ageless Aviation Dreams Foundation.

The Carson City, Nevada-based non-profit, staffed largely by volunteers and dependent on donations to continue their mission, dedicated to seniors and U.S. Military veterans, which made it possible for Bro. Nellie and the other former aviators in her group to make the flight.

As of the date of this blog, 4005 “dream flights” have flown via the foundation.

Bro. Nellie McCool as an aviator trainee during World War II

Nellie as a WASP
Bro. Nellie McCool as an aviator trainee during World War II

Some of you might remember Bro. Nellie from a previous blog. She was born 25 January 1922 in Lahunta and grew up in Beaver, Oklahoma and Colorado Springs, Colorado. McCool received her aviation training at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas. She was among the Class 44-7-Trainees and became a member of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs), achieving the rank of Captain in the U.S. Air Force Reserves.

After the war, the WASPs were disbanded and McCool went on to earn her Ph.D. in Psychology from Colorado College and worked at several Colorado schools, including North Junior High, South Security School, and Harrison Senior High School. In the 1960s, at the height of the Cold War, McCool worked in intelligence at NORAD’s Cheyenne Mountain Complex. Later, she served 12 years in the guidance, counseling, job development and placement section of the state’s Board of Community Colleges and Occupational Education and she was director of the ABC for Self-Help Inc. counseling service.

Bro. Nellie also is a brother of the 33° and a member of the Supreme Council of the Honorable Order of Universal Co-Masonry, headquartered in Larkspur, Colorado, only a few miles from her home in Castle Rock.

She didn’t hesitate when the chance to fly again was offered by Ageless Aviation Dreams Foundation.

“Today, many of our former United States military pilots live in senior communities,” the foundation says on its website. “We want to take them back to a place in time when they were invincible, ruling the sky as proud military aviators.

As of the date of this blog, 4005 “dream flights” have flown, thanks to the foundation.

Nellie in the cockpit
Bro. Nellie McCool in the Boeing Stearman’s cockpit, with volunteer pilot Tim Newton (photo by Rosario Menocal)

As she did decades ago, Bro. Nellie climbed onto the wing of the Boeing Stearman to get to the cockpit for the flight over and around the Colorado Springs area, which included Garden of the Gods and Prospect Lake.

“When you’re up there, looking down, everything is in miniature,” Bro. Nellie said. “All your problems seem very small.”

Bro. Nellie and the other veteran aviators also made the local news.

Word has it that Ageless Aviation Dreams Foundation might offer a flight next spring, and Bro. Nellie said she’ll be ready if and when they do.

“I certainly hope so,” she said.

Featured

Why a Grand Master’s Lodge dress code edict is a sign we’re doomed

By Karen Kidd, PM
(I speak only for me)

If you’re planning to show up in Georgia wearing a tank top, short-shorts, and flip flops, better keep it to Stone Mountain Park, Hearse Ghost Tours, Jimmy Carter National Historic Site and other such places. The Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Georgia, the largest male-only Freemasonic obedience in the state, is having none of it.

“No Mason shall attend any Meeting wearing shorts, an uncollared shirt, t-shirt, exercise wear, open-toed shoes, sandals, or flip flops unless medically necessary,” Grand Lodge of Georgia Grand Master Michael H. Wilson said in his edict issued late last month.

Nothing herein shall be construed as prohibiting a Brother from wearing jeans or overalls with a collared shirt or any required medical device. Nothing herein shall be construed as requiring a Brother to wear a suit, sport coat, tie, or tuxedo unless the Worshipful Master so directs.

Edict out of Georgia

The first thing that caught my attention was the notion that medical situations exist that require the wearing of flip flops (apparently it isn’t just a post-mani-ped thing). Once I got over that, it occurred to me just how damning it is that a Grand Master anywhere has to tell Freemasons how to dress in Lodge; that enough Brethren there don’t already know.

And if they don’t already know that . . . well, it’s yet another sign that we’re doomed.

PreWorldWarIILodgeinCairoEgyptGranted, the Georgia edict inevitably would puzzle a Freemason, such as myself, hailing from an Order where everyone wears pretty much the same thing in lodge (guys wear white suits, gals wear white robes, it’s all very standardized).

Something like the Georgia edict just wouldn’t come up in the Order to which I belong. It just wouldn’t. The Brethren in that Order already know, they don’t have to be told. That said . . .

I think Georgia’s back story also is relevant as the Grand Lodge of Georgia has long been an outlier in Freemasonry.

In 2009, a Lodge under that obedience filed suit in DeKalb County Superior Court after the Grand Master of Georgia decreed a Masonic trial would be conducted to hear complaints about the lodge’s decision to enter a Brother of color.

That same year, in a more hushed up controversy, the Grand Lodge of Georgia pressured the allegedly independent Order of Eastern Star (OES) to expel its Co-Masonic members or lose the right to meeting in premises owned by Freemasons under the male-only body in that state. The Georgia OES dutifully ferreted out and expelled those members found to be Co-Masons, including one sister who had been a member of the OES for 25 years.

In September 2015, then Grand Lodge of Georgia Grand Master Douglas W. McDonald issued an edict that outlawed homosexuals among its membership.

The following year, then Grand Lodge of California Grand Master M. David Perry declared Georgia’s outlawing of Homosexuality to be “a sectarian stand which is inconsistent with and does not support the General Regulations of Freemasonry.” With that, the Grand Lodge of California withdrew recognition from Georgia and the Grand Lodge of Tennessee, which had issued its own similar edicts and other paper. The Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia likewise withdrew recognition from the grand lodges in Georgia and Tennessee.

McDonald resigned entirely from the fraternity earlier this year “for religious reasons” and that particular unpleasantness seems to have settled down.

I bring all that up to point out that a dress code edict is a very mild edict to come out of Georgia.

Chris Hodapp, in his always delightful and informative “Freemasons for Dummies” blog, argues that this edict points up a debate between “Exterior” Freemasons and “Interior” Freemasons. The Exterior brethren apparently feel that attire not fit for a visit with the Queen, attending a Nobel Prize event, or a five-star restaurant is an affront to the Craft; while Interior brothers opine that it’s what’s in a Freemason’s heart that counts and are just fine being clothed for Lodge as if they’re going to Denny’s.

It makes me wonder how far the latter group is from advocating showing up sky clad for lodge meetings, but that would be a very distracting digression. Maybe another blog.

Per usual, I can see a middle ground between the two extremes and how the latest edict out of Georgia might be trying to find it; but I also see something deeper going on here. It seems both extremes have forgotten more than a little history; and what they should already know without being told.

Historically, dress in a Lodge of Freemasons wasn’t all about showing respect to the Craft (who gets along just fine, regardless of how we dress). It’s supposed to be about recognizing how we meet, act and part with everyone but most especially with our brethren.

Mozart_in_lodge_ViennaIn the beginning, dressing for Lodge meant attire just a little less fit for a monarch’s court. It wasn’t a specific dress code or requirement so much as that’s how folks in the propertied upper classes, the group most attracted to Freemasonry during that period, dressed when they were out in public. It would be disrespectful to others to dress otherwise.

Likewise, dressing up for lodge wasn’t about dressing well or showing respect to the Craft so much as it was about being the equal of every Brother in the Lodge. With everyone dressed more or less the same, it’s difficult to identify someone’s social rank, especially in a dimly lit room.

One piece of Masonic garb that once was de rigueur, but now isn’t so much in the U.S., are the white cotton gloves. The idea behind them in Freemasonry was/is that two Brothers shaking hands could not determine each other’s profession based on the roughness, or lack thereof, of their hands.

It wasn’t about the gloves, it was how the Brothers viewed each other: as equals.

1927 convention croppedAs the decades wore on, Lodge attire continued to track what its members wore in public, where even hobos wore a suit jacket and a hat – always a hat. However, though folks generally wore much the same thing – and not a tank top in sight – it still remained obvious who everyone was in life, based on their clothing. If you were going someplace very special, you still expressed it by wearing your best, even if it basically was a grander version of what you wore all the time.

On that level, it could seem only natural that Lodge attire would track clothing fashion trends outside the Lodge, where things started getting very casual in the late 1960s. That view would ignore the very important exceptions to those casual trends that everyone recognized and still recognizes.

Even in our very casual age, folks still know when they should dress up and when they don’t need to. Folks don’t have to be told that they must dress up when they attend a wedding or go someplace else they consider very special. They don’t need to be told that, they just know.

Apparently in Georgia, enough of the brethren need to be told that the Lodge is a very special place that an edict is necessary.

I imagine those same brothers do know to dress up for their friend’s wedding but they are just fine with wearing PT shorts, a club T-shirt, and tube socks to Lodge. Because they don’t know the Lodge is very special to them.

If they don’t know that, then what else don’t they know?

Civilization is slipping and there are many signs of that. This is one of them.

Featured

Resolved: The Shrine – for its own good and that of Freemasonry – should drop its Master Mason membership requirement

By Karen Kidd, PM
(I speak only for me)

There are times that I probably shouldn’t say anything, but I do anyway.

This blog is one of those times.

On Tuesday, July 16, Grand Lodge of Arkansas Grand Master Jesse D. Sexton issued an edict that recognizes Shriners International as a “civic organization,” according to Chris Hodapp’s “Freemasons for Dummiesblog this week. The edict officially ends the troubles between the Grand Lodge and Shriners International that has gone on for more than half a decade.

“The result of this decision permits Arkansas Masons to again be members of Shriners International for the first time since 2013,” Hodapp’s blog says (with the italics being mine).

DISCLAIMER: I’m a Co-Mason. The Order to which I belong doesn’t have any connections to any “Shrine” along the lines of Shriners International and does just fine without it; but I still have an opinion, notwithstanding.

The use of “allow” and “permit” in reference to Freemasons – “free” being, literally, the operative word – always makes me twitch, particularly when it refers to Freemasons in the so-called “free world.” So far as I know, I didn’t give up my free association rights when I was initiated but . . .

Well, somehow, it seems the Grand Lodge of Arkansas has been suspending those rights quite a lot since November 2012, when the male-only Grand Lodge declared the Shrine “clandestine” and forbade Masons in its jurisdiction to become members of the Shrine. The Grand Lodge “expelled numerous Masons” who joined anyway or tried to transfer to other jurisdictions not having a spat with the Shrine, Hodapp’s blog says.

Hodapp described the spat, which he calls “the long-running feud between the Grand Lodge of Arkansas and Shriners International,” in previous editions of the Freemasons for Dummies blog (not to be confused with his wonderful book by the same name). There’s no need for me to give more than a little background here and then move on to explain why it’s giving me fits.

Shriners International describes itself as a “fraternity based on fun, fellowship and the Masonic principles of brotherly love, relief and truth.” It claims almost 200 temples – “chapters” for folks who are spooked by the word “temple” – in thousands of clubs worldwide.

Shriners do have a certain reputation when it comes to the “fun” (I love those fezzes and little cars) and, yes, they are all men. That last bit has more to do with the Shrine’s weirdly unrelated requirement that their members must be Master Masons in good standing in the larger male-only grand lodges in North America. Members of those grand lodges are all men, so it follows that all Shriners are men.

Before anyone arches their back and starts hissing about that, “Shriners’ ladies” [don’t start!] can join independent organizations in which women work toward the same causes as does the Shrine. Those women-only organizations are Daughters of the Nile, The Ladies’ Oriental Shrine of North America, and The Shrine Guilds of America, all of which, like the Shrine, support Shriners Hospitals for Children.

I’m not at all fussed about the gender-centricity of all that because the Shrine is NOT Freemasonry.

What the Shrine is, in fact, is mostly about the good work they do. The Shrine and its auxiliary organizations have for generations supported Shriners Hospitals for Children’s 22 healthcare systems in the United States, Mexico and Canada.

Until June 2012, patients in Shriners Hospitals received care without charge and the healthcare systems still offer free care to children not covered by insurance and will waive out-of-pocket costs not covered by insurance.

The change in 2012 is generally blamed on the drop in the size of the Shrine’s endowment due to stock market losses during the Great Recession and that’s true enough. It just isn’t the entire story.

Decline in Shrine membership has, of course, tracked the decline of membership in the larger traditionally male-only grand lodges in North America, which means fewer members now struggle to raise funds to boost the Shrine’s shrinking endowment. More hands are needed so it’s now surprise that the rise of whispers about dropping the Shrine’s Master Mason membership requirement can be tracked along the same timeline.

After all, dropping that requirement would allow the Shrine to increase its membership numbers and, with the inevitable influx or more members for the great work the Shrine does, the endowment could be better supported.

The counter to that is the terror – and I’m here to tell you, the terror is real – that dropping that membership requirement would effectively destroy male-only Freemasonry in North America, at least in the larger gender-based grand lodges. Those Freemasons who buy into the terror argue that there are a good many men who join Freemasonry on this continent only to get to the Shrine.

That’s a bit bewildering to a Freemason such as me who sees Freemasonry as its own thing, as opposed to a pathway to something else but, well, there it is.

It’s not that I’m unsympathetic to those who buy into the terror, I just think it’s mistaken.

If male-only Freemasonry needs the Shrine to survive, then maybe it should be allowed fail. If the male-only grand lodges require another organization to survive, then those grand lodges are already dead.

But they are not and they will not die even if the Shrine completely withdraws its Master Mason membership requirement. We know that thanks to the unintended experiment that has been the troubles in Arkansas, which bears out the flaw in the terror. Freemasonry did not die in Arkansas and neither did the Shrine.

Arkansas was the test case. When the troubles began between that state’s largest Grand Lodge and the Shrine, Shriners International in 2013 changed its bylaws to allow non-Masons in Arkansas to join. Hodapp blogged about that development in July of that year, announcing, “The slippery slope has begun.”

Only, it really didn’t.

In the past six years, there has been no real move to yank Shriners International’s Master Mason membership requirement outside of Arkansas, which means the experiment happened only in that one U.S. state. Over the past six years, the state’s largest male-only grand lodge has suffered a drop in the number of is members, largely because it expelled Freemasons who decided to join the Shrine anyway. Still others transferred membership to other grand lodges still on good terms with the Shrine.

However, while the number of Freemasons in good standing in the Grand Lodge of Arkansas went down, the grand lodge did not die; and the Shrine’s bylaw change allowed it to shore up its own membership until the troubles in that state passed.

Which they apparently did this month. In addition to Sexton’s edict, Shriners International has signaled that it will restore the Master Mason membership requirement in Arkansas.

The experiment is over.

From my position of safety – seriously, I have no ball to drop in this ballot box – I also would hope that the Grand Lodge of Arkansas and the Shrine learned a few things. Obviously, the Shrine dropping its Master Mason membership requirement didn’t destroy male-only Freemasonry in Arkansas’ largest grand lodge; and the Shrine weathered the storm without the Grand Lodge of Arkansas. They are not mutually exclusive, they can part ways and walk their separate paths.

It can happen.

I think, for the sake of male-only Freemasonry and the Shrine, it should happen.

I also think there’s a larger lesson to be learned from this experiment. Imagine how much better things would have been, for both organizations, had the Grand Lodge of Arkansas not forbade its members from joining a nonMasonic (the Shrine is NOT Freemasonry), philanthropic organization that does so much good in the world. The Grand Lodge of Arkansas would not have suffered such a drop in membership numbers over more than half a decade and the Shrine could have continued its good work without all the drama.

What business is it of any grand lodge what other “civic organization” its members join? Why should U.S.-based Freemasons put up with any imposition on their constitutional rights?

It has been an interesting experiment to observe. From my position of safety, that of a cranky old Co-Masonic past master (highly strung opinions apparently emerge once the 47th Proposition of Euclid is imposed), I believe the experiment was a success. And should be tried again.

For now, Shriners International and the Grand Lodge of Arkansas are, publicly at least, returning to their historical rapprochement. However, I cannot be the only one who has noticed a change.