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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.

 

Consensus Blindness, Blue Dental Tartar, and Early Women Freemasons

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

American author Robert Temple writes about extraterrestrial aliens in world history.

Some folks have a problem with that.

I pay more attention to an observation he made in his article “Forbidden Technology,” that first was published in the summer 2001 edition of Freemasonry Today:

Technology is forbidden when it is not allowed to exist. It is easy to forbid technology to exist in the past because all you have to do is to deny it. Enforcing the ban then becomes a simple matter of remaining deaf, dumb and blind. And most of us have no trouble in doing that when necessary. . . I call it consensus blindness. People agree not to see what they are convinced cannot exist.

In this article, still available online at Temple’s website, Temple talked about optical technology long denied by “experts” in the field that nonetheless – and quite stubbornly – existed for millennia. Those experts long denied the evidence as observed by their own eyes.

The same principal of “consensus blindness” long also has been applied by most scholars of Masonry – including those scholars who are not Freemasons – about the existence of early women Freemasons: that they didn’t exist at all.

When they have been found to have existed, their existence is downplayed, marginalized and ignored.

And when folks like me insist that those early women Freemasons did exist, well, I also can be marginalized, downplayed, and ignored.

It’s OK 🙂

However, just as there have been optical lenses in Ancient Egyptian archaeological finds dating to the 4th and 5th dynasties at Abydos, so also have women Masons existed throughout all of the modern Freemasonic period.

Including 18th Century North America.

It hasn’t been only lenses in ancient digs and early women Freemasons who’ve been marginalized, downplayed and ignored by folks in their fields who should know better. Consensus blindness is rife in medicine, anthropology, and other fields. I can’t think of a field where consensus blindness hasn’t happened.

Decades passed before research in the early 1980s by physicians Robin Warren and Barry Marshall that revealed that ulcers are caused by bacteria, not by stress and diet, became generally accepted by the medical community. Untold thousands were made to suffer – even died – until that research was generally accepted.

In the field of Ornithology, observers long described most birds as being monogamous, mating for life and not straying outside that pair bond, until enough experts in that field were willing to say otherwise. Now birds are generally understood to be about as monogamous in practice as are humans.

Some of the more egregious examples of consensus blindness have occurred – and still occurs – in the study of history. One example based on gender in history is particularly germane to the history of early women Freemasons.

For generations, when a scholar observed a medieval manuscript image of a man teaching students, that’s all it would be: a man teaching students, such as in this image here:

Man teaching class

Though the text in the manuscript says nothing about him, historians generally would not question the evidence observed with their own eyes and would take for granted that the image was exactly what it looks like: a man teaching.

However, when historians spotted a medieval manuscript image of a woman teaching students, they generally agreed to doubt the evidence observed with their own eyes. They could not take for granted the image was exactly what it looks like: a woman teaching, in this case geometry.

Teaching geometry

The accompanying text in the manuscript says nothing about her but she has been explained away as the “personification” of geometry.

Men are the real thing, women personify the subject being taught by the real thing, and there is a consensus among those who should know better to be blind to anything that suggests otherwise.

In the same vein, historians also have generally agreed that medieval women were not artists in any great numbers. The consensus has been that the lives of medieval women were too restricted; they had too few opportunities or resources; therefore, women just were not artists during the medieval period. 

And where evidence of medieval women artists has been observed – if only in the last generation or so acknowledge – women such as Hildegard of Bingen, Herrad of Landsberg, and Artemisia Gentileschi have been portrayed as notable exceptions to an otherwise hard and fast rule.

However, it seems some light is beginning to shine through that particularly opaque retina in the form of blue dental tartar found in the skull of a medieval nun.

You can follow the link in the previous paragraph to the fuller story of the woman who died in middle age and was buried in a women’s monastery in Dalheim, Germany at around A.D. 1100. This past January, a paper was published in a prestigious science journal written by female University of York Archaeologist Anita Radini about the flecks of brilliant blue she found while examining the nun’s dental tartar.

The blue flecks turned out to be a very expensive lapis lazuli of a type used by manuscript illustrators, i.e. artists, during the medieval period. If this anonymous nun was an artist, particularly in a monastic setting, then other women like her were as well.

The discovery is challenging the consensus blindness about the lives of medieval women, particularly those who must have been scribes and artists.

Had those blue flecks been noticed a generation ago, they probably would have been ignored or in some way explained away because the consensus was that medieval women were not artists. The evidence isn’t being ignored now because fewer scholars are interested in explaining it away. That particular consensus blindness is slipping away.

I told you about all of that so I could tell you about a recent piece of near-miss evidence of early women Freemasons in North America.

Ten years ago, I mentioned in a not-especially-widely read book I wrote about early women Freemasons what little then was known about women Freemasons in 18th and 19th century North America.

I know in my bones that there were more women Freemasons during that period but their memory has been marginalized, downplayed, and ignored because the consensus is to be blind to evidence about them. I also believe that evidence remains to be found by those who have eyes to see.

I only have two eyes; they’re aging and failing, so there needs to be more eyes than mine paying attention to find that evidence. It would be nice if that could happen in my lifetime. I’m not convinced it will, but I live in hope.

So you can imagine I was very excited when a noted U.S.-based scholar of Masonry (I’m not naming names as I don’t want to embarrass anyone) emailed me with evidence that English translations of the French language “Recueil Precieux,” an early 19th Century publication used by many scholars of Masonry who study early ritual history, have habitually left out a section about Adoptive Masonry.

Adoptive Masonry is an early form of modern Freemasonry that tried to allow for the admission of women by creating a space for the female relatives of otherwise male-only Masons. Its existence in France – where women Freemasons long have been taken for granted – is well documented, but Adoptive Masonry is not especially well documented in North America.

The title page of “Recueil Precieux” says it was published in 1812 in Philadelphia.

That English translators have been leaving out a portion of “Recueil Precieux” about Adoptive Masonry (I haven’t entirely nailed down that they have) certainly looks like marginalizing, downplaying, and ignoring something that those in the field have agreed to not see. That much I think is true enough, despite what I’m about to share with you.

“Recueil Precieux” is a publication studied by Masonic ritual experts, not by the likes of me (though quite a few folks claim on my behalf that I am a ritual expert; which annoys me to no end because I’m not, but I’m expected to live up to it and, quite often, I fail). I knew I needed to speak with a scholar better versed in Masonic ritual study than I’ll ever be.

So I did.

That fellow had the sad duty to point out to me what genuine ritual experts have known for generations: that “Recueil Precieux,” despite its title page, was not published in Philadelphia; it was published in Paris. It seems that late 18th Century and early 19th Century French publishers got around censorship laws by claiming their books were published offshore.

And while a section on Adoptive Masonry may habitually have been left out of English translations or “Recueil Precieux,” any such passage likely documents Adoptive Masonry in France rather than in North America.

The evidence did not pass peer review.

And it’s OK 🙂

Yes, I’m disappointed. This isn’t the blue dental tartar I’m looking for in the history of early women Freemasons.

I am, however, heartened that a scholar greater than myself thought it might be. This probably is a sign that more scholars in Masonry now are looking for this evidence and are less interested in ignoring what they observe with their own eyes.

That’s a good thing 🙂

The Co-Mason on the 50 Dollar Bill

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

Edith Dircksey Brown Cowan was an Australian politician, social reformer, women’s and children’s rights advocate and much, much more.

She also was a Co-Freemason.

Nope, I’m not making that up. If I was making it up, I’d certainly think up a better last name. For the nonMasons reading this, a “cowan” is someone who pretends to be a Freemason but who really isn’t.

Bro. Edith was no cowan.

I wish my little blog could do her justice, she really deserves a far more exhaustive biography than I can provide here. I’m not even going to pretend to offer an exhaustive listing of Edith’s achievements. I’m not convinced such a list exists.

She was born Edith Dircksey Brown on 2 August 1861 to Kenneth and Mary Eliza Dircksey Brown on the sheep station Glengarry, near Geraldton in Western Australia. Her mother died in 1868, and Edith was sent to a boarding school in Perth.

On June 10, 1876, when Edith was less than a month shy of her 15th birthday, her father was hanged for murdering his second wife. She left the boarding school and moved in with her grandmother in Guildford, Western Australia. She continued her schooling until, on 12 November 1879 when she was 18, Edith married James Cowan, then registrar and master of the Supreme Court.

About a decade later, her husband was appointed Perth police magistrate. The couple had five children, four daughters and a son, between 1880 and 1891.

Most of her biographers comment that her husband’s career helped open her eyes to wider societal problems, particularly the problems of women and children and the great need for social reform. No doubt it did.

However, it also should be noted that Edith cleared some interesting hurdles that would have – as it, too often, still does – acted like a lead weight on her personal evolution.

Her father’s inglorious end would have been bad enough but marriage and motherhood, what in my time has been referred to as the “mommy track,” relegated a good many late 19th and early 20th century women to obscurity. Not that there’s a single thing wrong with being a good mother, but it was difficult to combine that with public service at the time.

Edith’s life was anything but obscure but there was a pause.

In 1891, the year her last child was born, Edith began work in the Ministering Children’s League. Two years later, she became active the House of Mercy for unmarried mothers, what later became the Alexandra Home for Women.

Those experiences led to her helping to found and becoming first secretary, later president, of the Karrakatta Club for women in 1894, which today is he oldest club for women in Australia.

“Club” doesn’t really live up to what the group actually is because it isn’t all about tea and cake (don’t get me wrong, I love tea and cake). The Karrakatta Club provided – and provides – a forum for discussion and networking about various topics, including women’s rights, current affairs and literature. In that way, the club more resembles the 18th Century salons of France, from which adoptive Masonry ultimately sprang.

I’m not saying Edith Cowan was an adoptive Mason (though I’m sure someone out there will say I did).

I am saying she was on a parallel path that has lead many women into prominence and Freemasonry. The networking within the Karrakatta Club would prove to be a spring board for Edith as she and other members were prominent in the women’s suffrage movement.

Karrakatta Club members, quite notably Edith Cowan, were among the strongest supporters of women’s suffrage in Western Australia, which happened in 1899.

In 1906, Edith became a founding member of the Children’s Protection Society in 1906 and it was through this group that Edith help establish, in 1909, a day nursery for the children of working class mothers children. The society was also was instrumental in passage of the State Children Act of 1907, which set up the Children’s Court, to which she was appointed as a judge in 1915.

Meanwhile, in 1909, Edith co-founded of the Women’s Service Guild, of which she was vice-president from 1909 to 1917. The Guild worked for equal rights of citizenship for both men and women and was instrumental in opening the King Edward Memorial Hospital for Women in 1916.

Oh, and in 1916, Edith was made a Freemason.

Edith was initiated 14 October 1916 and she was a founding member of St. Cuthbert’s Lodge No. 408, which was founded in Perth the same year. So I suppose she might have been a founding Entered Apprentice in that lodge or she was made a Master in a hurry. The latter isn’t impossible as such things happened in the early days of worldwide Co-Freemasonry. That certainly isn’t how it’s done in the order to which I belong today but I’m pointing it out because for all I do know about her – or think I do – there’s still a lot I don’t know.

I do know that St. Cuthbert’s wasn’t the first Co-Masonic Lodge in Australia. That started with Victorian Lodge No. 403 in 1911 and Sydney Lodge No. 404 in 1912. Co-Freemasonry remains active, if a bit obscure, in Australia today.

Moving through the blue lodge degrees did not slow Edith down. The same year she was initiated, there was a World War on and edit was in the midst of her four years working with the Red Cross, for which she later was appointed as a member of the Order of the British Empire.

Also the same year she was initiated, Edith became one of the first women elected to the Anglican Synod, of which she became a co-opted member in 1923.

In 1921, when she was 59, Edith became the first woman elected as a representative in an Australian Parliament, as a Nationalist member for West Perth, a year after Western Australia passed legislation that allowed women to run for parliament.

In 1925, she was a delegate to the Sixth International Conference of Women in Washington.

In 1926, she helped found the Western Australian Historical Society.

Cowan died 9 June 1932, survived by her husband. Her funeral took place in the same cathedral in which she’d been married and she is buried in Karrakatta Cemetery in Karrakatta, Nedlands City in Western Australia.

Four years after she died, her mother Lodge built its own premises, becoming the first purpose built Co-Masonic Temple in Australia.

A stone clock tower, the Edith Dircksey Cowan Memorial, stands in her honor at the gates of Kings Park in Perth.

In 1975, Edith was featured on an Australian postage stamp.

Her great-great-nephew, David Malcolm, became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Western Australia in 1988.

In 1991, Western Australian College of Advanced Education became the fourth university in Western Australia and took on a new name: Edith Cowan University.

And an idealized engraved portrait of Edith Cowan has featured on the reverse of Australia’s 50 dollar bill since 1995.

The Motion of 1877: How the Grand Orient de France really became adogmatic

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

The story usually is retold like this: Protestant minister Frédéric Desmons in 1877 “strenuously urged” the Grand Orient de France (GOdF) remove from its constitution and its rituals all reference to the Great Architect of the Universe (G.A.O.T.U.). The GOdF approved the idea and it was done. The United Grand Lodge of England, in a valiant effort to defend faith and the landmarks of Freemasonry, withdrew relations from the GOdF, as did almost the rest of the Masonic world.

The above story is why members of the dogmatic orders, those that require belief in a Supreme Being or Power, too often refer to the GOdF and other adogmatic orders as “godless” and “atheistic.”

Those insults have stuck. I’ve even heard French Freemasons refer to the GOdF and other adogmatic Masonic orders in this way.

Trouble is the story isn’t true, not even on its face. And yet it is retold even by those who should know better and by those who may know the truth but who want to maintain the result of the story, which I’ll just start calling “the lie.” The point of the lie is to justify continued quarantine of Republican sentiments inside France and to keep other equally Republican-minded Freemasons, particularly those in the United States, on board.

And, nope, I’m not suggesting a tin-foil-lined conspiracy theory. Better Masonic historians than me have known the truth and have written about it for generations. However, the rank and file in Freemasonry, sad fact be told, pay little attention to Masonic historians(1) and the front-office folks very often would rather the lie be maintained.

That said, I can cram the truth into a single blog only by oversimplifying what really did happen. So, in an effort to head off a frenzy of mad keying, I’ll admit right away that I am well aware of what I’m leaving out. What I’m leaving in will be, I hope, inspiration enough for folks who want to know more to seek it out.

The dates, names and other details in the lie are accurate, in keeping with the strategy of passing off lies by wrapping them in a few truths. Lodges of the GOdF did meet in a General Assembly(3) in September 1877 during which a motion, No. IX, was made by a Lodge (not Desmons, but he’s coming soon) to replace certain words in the order’s constitution. The motion was to remove the phrase “Its principles are the existence of God, the immortality of the soul and human solidarity” and replace it with “Its principles are absolute liberty of conscience and human solidarity.”

A majority at the assembly voted in favor of the change and Desmons (there he is) wrote up the report and read it aloud. That was about all Desmons had to do with the motion, which did not – not even one little bit – advocate the suppression or removal of the G.A.O.T.U. from French Masonic Ritual or the order’s constitution. As WBro. Alain Bernheim noted(2) in 2011:

“Whoever wrote that Desmons favored the suppression of the G.A.O.T.U. likely never read what he said. The G.A.O.T.U. was not mentioned once in his report which concluded with the words: ‘Considering that Freemasonry is not a religion, that consequently it does not have to assert doctrines or dogmas in its Constitution, [the General Assembly] approves motion No. IX’.”

There’s a considerable amount of backstory I could get into and any number of relevant rabbit holes I could run down but, again, this is a blog not a book. Instead, I’ll point out that the Third Republic was a thing in 1877, bringing with it many ideas, including freedom of conscience and “laïcité.” The latter often is referred to as secularism as a way of life, rather than one’s life being predicated upon one’s faith or lack thereof.

The point wasn’t to suppress faith but to recognize it as a personal matter that should have no bearing upon a person’s livelihood, position in life, qualification to become a member of a fraternal order or anything else. The motion of 1877 was to make faith a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy within the GOdF by removing belief in a Supreme Being or Power as a membership requirement.

And. That. Was. All.

Meanwhile, across the channel in the United Kingdom, what had been for decades an overwhelming anxiety to keep Republican ideas – in the United States, France, where ever else they cropped up – in check got kicked up a few dozen notches with the rise of the Third Republic. English Freemasons in particular self-recruited into the crusade to keep French ideas in France and, with Third Republic ideas entrenched in French Freemasonry, brethren in the U.K. took up the additional challenge.

One relevant detail here: In 1875, two years before the GOdF General Assembly motion, the UGLE entered into fraternal relations with the Grand Orient de Belgique, despite the GOdB having actually removed “To the glory of T.G.A.O.T.U.” from its statutes. The UGLE didn’t become bothered about that until it decided to make it an issue and severed relations with the Belgian order in 1921.

To be clear, tensions between British – particularly English – and French Freemasons are even more deeply rooted in the French Revolution and the following decades of instability in France. French Masonic refugees in the U.K. often didn’t care much for how cozy the UGLE was – and is – with the Monarchy, the aristocracy and the Anglican church while English Freemasons didn’t care for what they saw as “mysticism” among French Freemasons(4).

In March of 1878, the UGLE had its own con-fab and adopted a resolution that included this run-on sentence(5):

“That the Grand Lodge, whilst always anxious to receive in the most fraternal spirit the Brethren of any Foreign Grand Lodge whose proceedings are conducted according to the Ancient Landmarks of the Order, of which a belief in T.G.A.O.T.U. is the first and most important, cannot recognise as ‘true and genuine’ Brethren who have been initiated in Lodges which either deny or ignore that belief.”

Leaving aside the canard about belief in a Supreme Being or Power being a landmark – hey, I can blog again – the rest of the UGLE resolution seems to entirely misunderstand the 1877 French motion. Except there was no misunderstanding, not really. This was the 19th Century, not the 14th. The UGLE front office knew then, just as they know now, what the 1877 motion was about. The reasons for this “misunderstanding,” and the subsequent promulgation of the lie, are deeper and far more complex than the UGLE resolution would suggest.

So what happened?

In a nutshell the UGLE, anxious to keep French ideas and politics – especially the anti-monarchical(6) and anticlerical bits – confined, was as anxious to get other Grand Lodges in the world on board. Going after French Republicanism would not convinced many of those Grand Lodges, especially those in the United States where Republican politics – classically defined, not the political party – are much appreciated.

Framing the 1877 motion as an attack on faith would.

And so it went. The rest of the Masonic world largely bought into the lie and the great schism happened. It persists to this day.

Yup, the above is an over simplification. Those who want to continue to believe the lie won’t care and those who want to learn more can go elsewhere and learn it from better folks than me. However, I will remind everyone of this: knowledge brings with it responsibility. You might have believed the lie before but now you have reason to know better.

Don’t blame me; I’m just the messenger.

And I advocate nothing. I’m not saying the UGLE and the GOdF should make nice or anything thing like that. Their official relations are no business of mine, they can do whatever they want.

I would, however, recommend that individual Brethren in the dogmatic and adogmatic orders have more respect for each other and recognize the right of all the orders to exist. Choice, above all else, should be respected. Candidates who believe in a Supreme Being or Power have lodges they can enter and candidates who don’t can find lodges that will accept them. It’s a system we know can work largely because it does.

And Humanity is in greater need of perfection than God is in need of glory. There is plenty of room for lodges that do one, the other or both.

Y’all be cool.


(1) Grand Lodge of Iowa Grand Historian Joseph E. Morcombe complained in a March 5, 1918 letter to then North American Universal Co-Freemasonry Grand Commander Louis Goaziou about a Brother who had expressed some “facts” to him about the motion of 1877. “I rapped him hard on the statement that the Grand Orient of France had never been recognized by English or American Masonry,” Morcombe lamented. “Yet such as he are the leaders and light-givers of the brethren. 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 explained to Goaziou why he even bothered to labor as a Masonic historian among 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?,” Morcombe wrote. “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, is what drives many modern scholars in the Craft as well.

(2) The correct word in French is “Convent.” In English, think “convention.”

(3) “Etudes Maconniques – Masonic Papers” in “My Approach to Masonic History”, an address delivered May 26, 2011 in Sheffield before members of the Manchester Association for Masonic Research. The address is available online here: http://www.freemasons-freemasonry.com/bernheim27.html#_ednref39

(4) See Andrew Prescott’s “A Body without a Soul? The Philosophical Outlook of British Freemasonry 1700–2000,” a paper Prescott gave during conferences for Free University of Brusells, the Cornerstone Society and the Canonbury Masonic Research Centre beginning in 2003. A version of this paper is available online here: http://www.freemasons-freemasonry.com/prescott13.html

(5) See Robert Freke Gould’s “The History of Freemasonry” (J. Beacham, 1886) Volume III, page 26

(6) Yes, I hear y’all over there in Ireland, but I really would like to bring this blog home in less than 10,000 words

Manufactured ‘problem’ of Atheism among formerly believing brothers

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

Atheism is not contagious.

I promise, it isn’t.

It seems, however, that some brethren in lodges under the United Grand Lodge of England aren’t so sure. These whispering brothers have spent the better part of six months worried that maybe – just maybe – they’ll soon have to endure the presence of Brothers who were initiated believing but later decided there is no god.

And, to hear these brothers – not me – tell it, if this “problem” isn’t resolved it will lead to the UGLE becoming just like those so-called “godless,” “atheistic” Masonic orders in France.

Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria . . .

I wish I was making this up.

For folks who have no idea what I’m talking about, the UGLE is one of many Masonic orders upon the planet that require candidates for admission believe in a Supreme Being or Power. A new UGLE policy about gender reassignment issued last summer, in addition to selective reading of official statements issued since, has some brethren in the UGLE convinced that this is the atheists’ backdoor into their Lodges. Which, apparently, 1) atheists are eager to find and 2) is a bad thing.

The scuttlebutt began when the UGLE announced its “gender reassignment policy” this past August to line up with the U.K.’s Gender Recognition Act and the Equality Act. The policy says that a Brother who is initiated into a UGLE lodge as a man and who later undergoes gender reassignment and identifies as a woman is allowed to remain.

“A Freemason who after initiation ceases to be a man does not cease to be a Freemason,” the UGLE’s announcement in the Aug. 1 edition of its magazine, Freemasonry Today, rather poetically said.

The UGLE announcement lead to one of the more cringe-worthy headlines about Freemasonry in years (The Guardian is like that) but one would think it would have just ended there.

It didn’t.

What started as a whisper campaign between Brothers and in online chat ultimately surfaced in a letter to the editor in this past September edition of The Square, written by “A thoughtful Brother ‘M Mason'” (Seriously? Didn’t we get over pseudonymous letters to the editor in the 19th Century?). The letter pointed up the “larger problem” of “the decline in the belief in God” and that the gender reassignment policy suggests “those who change their minds after becoming a member but no longer believe should be quite safe.”

“Simply apply the rules for gender reassigned men and then the belief-reassigned brothers can all ‘come out’ as being no believers and without a VSL and happily be members,” the anonymous letter said. “If an Obligation is required then they can simply affirm in front of all present. For UGLE to do otherwise to those who are belief-reassigned masons would seem to me also to be discrimination.”

It seems having “belief-reassigned” Brothers around is an issue for this “thoughtful Brother.”

The UGLE decided it was necessary to respond to this pseudonymous letter, which UGLE Grand Secretary David Staples did in his own letter to the editor in the December edition of The Square. Staples wrote that the UGLE got legal advice for “this difficult area regarding gender reassignment,” that lay members weren’t consulted “because complying with the law is mandatory” but that “we fully support the right of Masons to hold diverse views, provided that they ensure their actions are courteous and lawful.”

Staples didn’t directly mention the fears of “thoughtful Brother,” and others like him, about an alleged bloom of belief-reassigned members in their lodges but what he did say about complying with the law being “mandatory” alarmed more than a few.

The same month that Staples’ letter was published in The Square, Freemasonry Today published a Q&A by UGLE Head of Legal Services Donald Taylor about the order’s gender reassignment policy. Taylor, like Staples, didn’t address the question about belief reassignment – neither seemed at all eager to dignify that topic – but Taylor did include this little chestnut:

“The law in this area is liable to change, and policy and guidance may be amended from time to time. “

Which Taylor clearly intended to be in reference to gender reassignment but the whispering Brothers latched onto it and re-purposed it as a reference to a UGLE belief-reassignment policy that they feel must be in the works. The bottom line of these assumptions appears to be that having a belief-reassigned Brother in Lodge is worse than having a female Brother in lodge.

Mercy!

Just for full disclosure, the order to which I belong requires applicants evince belief in a Supreme Power before they are admitted. I asked, there’s no policy about what happens if/when ever a Brother stops believing in a Supreme Power, though there probably would be an informal conversation. Rules are not made until they are broken and, anyway, my observation is that Brothers who belief-reassign (the editors love it when I invent verbs) either keep quiet about it or as quietly leave. It’s a situation that seems to take care of itself, it is not actually a problem.

Unless it is made to be.

If you haven’t noticed by now, I don’t feel this is a real issue. I tend to equate belief-reassignment in Freemasonry, even in the “dogmatic” orders that require belief in a Supreme Being or Power, to suddenly losing an arm or leg. Many orders – though not all – won’t accept an applicant in a wheelchair, otherwise crippled or even just missing a finger joint because that applicant would not be up to the rigors of the ritual.

However, I have personal experience with what happens when a Brother admitted hale and strong at their initiation becomes less so sometime after. I’m not so nimble as I was when I was entered more than a decade ago but I know that I won’t be kicked out, even if I become even more infirm, just because I’m less up to the rigors of the ritual. It’s how I was admitted that matters, not what tricks life plays me.

I think Belief-reassignment could be treated the same way, that a Brother initiated believing in a Supreme Being or Power but who later comes to believe otherwise could be allowed to remain. So why is this an issue? Really?

That answer – the real one – is a subliminal thing that has nothing to do with words the whispering brethren actually utter. As one Brother recently and succinctly put it in one online forum:

“For all those Brothers in the throes of this debate, I really wish you would stop pretending this is about faith and protecting – or not – the requirement of belief in a supreme being or power. Because it isn’t about that at all.”

He’s right.

What it’s really about is Republican – classically defined, not the party-type thing in the U.S. – politics and how to keep it quarantined in places that have no monarch; specifically across the channel in France.

And even that isn’t what people think it is. In my next blog, I’ll try to provide some historical context for what this debate really is about.

Meanwhile, just keep chatting among yourselves.

The Five Stages of Malecraft Acceptance of Female-Only and Co-Freemasonry

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

Freemasons, of all stripes, generally pride themselves on tolerance. They view themselves as philosophically advanced, are often charitable and, generally, would not dream of suppressing anyone.

Except each other.

I’ve observed situations in which Brothers from Obediences not in amity with each other dislike the other based on their Obedience. They make vague references to their Obligation, as if that ever would justify acting un-Masonically toward anyone. They, as often, find other ways to rationalize some strikingly irrational behavior.

I’m not an expert on Masonic Amity protocols, far from it. I am but a common Brother with no ambitions to ever be in such a position where I would need to understand those protocols.

What I am pretty good at is observation.

I’ve had more than a fair number of opportunities to observe Malecraft Freemasons. In particular, I’ve noticed Malecraft Freemasons often take a similar journey between their first encounter with a woman Freemason – or male Co-Mason for that matter – to accepting that such Freemasons exist.

This journey, in my observation, follows a series of stages, not all of which are always completed. Sometimes the sojourner remains in one stage, may skip a stage and they may regress to a previous stage. I’ve seen this enough to recognize that there are, in general, five stages and that they fall in a predictable order.

The stages, in my experience, are very like Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s five stages of dying and grief.

As I’ve observed them, the five Stages of a Malecraft Mason acceptance of Co-Masonry and Femalecraft Masonry are as follows.

Step One: Denial

“You can’t possibly be a Freemason”; “there are no women Freemasons,” and other such unintended insults.From Free Images denial cropped.jpg

Truly, some of these gentlemen have looked me in the eye and told me I don’t exist. If I’m the first Co-Mason they are faced with, and if they had no prior warning they would encounter me, this is the usually the first response.

I try not to debate reality with them at this point. It’s not *my* problem, and I won’t make it my problem. Very often, my contact with them ends here. No blood, no foul.

I do, however, know from experience what – if they don’t remain in this stage – will come next.

Step Two: Anger

This often follows quickly on the heels of denial. It carries with it illogical statements and From Free Images anger cropped.jpgnot a few more – this time intended – insults. “This isn’t what I was told.” “This isn’t right.” “This isn’t fair.” “Why me?” “You’re out to get me.” “Someone violated their Obligation. . . .”

I usually make myself scarce at this stage. I’m no psychologist, and even if I wanted to debate it with them, they’re not interested in listening during this stage. I also don’t deal well with anger. So I remember that I’ve done nothing to be the target of it; it’s not my problem, and I won’t make it my problem.

Very often, my contact with them ends in this stage, and, so far as I know, they remain in this stage. Forever.

If I get away fast enough, there will be no blood, no foul.

Some of them, however, get in touch with me again; once they’ve moved on – on their own or, perhaps, with the help of other Brothers – to the next stage.

Step Three: Bargaining

Out of the blue, a Malecraft Mason who has acted toward me as a denying, angry Brother will re-establish contact me. At this point, they often inform me that they can accept me as a Brother under certain circumstances.

For instance, they’ll tell me they won’t share the secrets, and they won’t have “MasonicFrom Free Images bargaining cropped.jpg intercourse” with me (I always wonder if that would tickle). They may also list a number of other requirements; they can accept me as a Brother so long as their terms are respected.

K.

Sometimes I’ll reply that I already know the secrets, and that he and I share them already regardless of whether he wants to get into them.

Mostly, though, I just let it go on from there. It’s not *my* problem, and I won’t make it my problem.

In my observation, there is roughly a 50-50 chance they will get in touch with me yet again. I’m cool if they do or they don’t. No Blood, no foul. This is a much cooler stage than anger, but I have seen them regress, so I’m not too pushy about keeping in touch with them during this stage. They’re on their own, so far as I’m concerned, but if the progress, they will arrive at the next stage.

Step Four: Soul Searching

Under the Kübler-Ross model, the fourth stage of dying and grief is depression. My observation with the average Malecraft Mason’s journey toward, and possibly to, From Free Images soul searching cropped.jpgacceptance of Femalecraft and Co-Masons is they do experience something akin to depression but it’s not depression. It’s more like a deep, introspective brooding. Sometimes they share it with me.

They wonder why they came to believe what they did about who their Brothers are. They ponder if they’d been intentionally fed misinformation or whether they just misunderstood. They wonder if what they learned before was in reference only to Malecraft Masonry and has no real bearing on Co-Masons or Femalecraft Masons. They might even refer to Albert Mackey’s assertion that women Freemasons, once made, cannot be unmade, but there are many ways to deny their rights and privileges as Freemasons.

The Malecraft Mason at this stage might wonder whether this is just, right, or fair.

If I debate or discuss such things with them at all, it will be during this stage. No, it’s not *my* problem, but at this stage, they are less likely, than in the other stages, to try to make it my problem. I can give full vent to every bit of fraternal compassion I feel for them without concern that I’ll be bloodied or fouled. I’m helping a Brother to, so far as he wants me to, understand himself. And that’s a good thing.

I know many Brothers who remain in this stage a very long time. There is one final stage.

Step Five: Acceptance

From Free Images acceptance cropped.jpg

They get it.

It’s often at this stage the Malecraft Brother informs me, usually quite suddenly, that he has no issues with the existence of Co-Masonry or Femalecraft Masonry. Of course, we are all Brothers linked by the same mystic tie under the canopy of heaven, and he doesn’t understand why *I* have such a problem with it.

I still don’t think it’s my problem but maybe it is. Maybe I should give it some thought.

And so it goes.

Malecraft Masons aren’t alone in exhibiting this sort of baffling behavior. I’ve seen much the same when a group of Co-Masons meets with a group of Malecraft Masons for the first time. I’ve noticed that, very often, each group of Brothers at this initial meeting considers themselves superior to the other and firmly believes the other group agrees with their assessment. They also often assume the other group is grateful that they are talking at all, that the other group will commence an obligatory cow-tow, but real equality will have to be by consent of the “superior” group. It’s not meeting on the level but (shrug) it happens.

And things often get pretty tense from there.

I have also noticed that these bodies of Freemasons often will move through the same stages described above, now writ large; micro and macro.

Based on that observation, I’ve come to conclude that the five stages of Masonic acceptance will be the same at a far larger scale when un-amity-bound Masonic obediences begin talking to each other, as I suspect they eventually will. Will these conversations necessarily be bound to these five stages or will it be possible for those Brothers to actually meet on the level and act on the plumb?

They all know how to do that. Right?

Well, here’s hoping we can all find a way to at least get along and accept each other. 🙂

Shite the Malecraft Say . . . and how I answer, when I’m bothered about it

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

Nothing like a bit of righteous indignation to kick off a blog.

Recently, a participant in a philosophical group supported by my mother lodge in Washington told me that he had been approached by a Malecraft Mason – a stranger to him – who cautioned him that the Brothers of my lodge are not “real” Freemasons.

“Why would he  say that?” the participant asked me.

Yeah, why?

The order to which I belong is well into its second century in North America. There are many, many Brothers who came before me, who labored and lived lives as Co-Masons.

I’ve been a Freemason more than a decade and I’ve spent much of that time writing about the history of women-only Freemasonry and mixed or Co-Freemasonry. I can name women operative masons from the cathedral-building period of the middle ages. I can document at least one woman Freemason during the entire period of the modern Craft (and there were more). I’ve presented papers at Masonic and non-Masonic conferences and my work has been published in Masonic and academic journals. I am friends with many Malecraft Masons – including not a few with “grand” in their title – who call me “brother”.

Co-Masons have been – and are – doctors, lawyers, waiters, tailors, construction workers, writers, politicians, web designers, journalists, accountants, social workers, yoga instructors, musicians, bouncers, executives, retailers, they come from all the walks of life. Co-Masons are nothing new – there’s a Co-Mason on Australia’s 50 dollar bill – and we are well into the 21st Century.

Despite all that, I and other Co-Masons still have to put up with the defamations of Malecraft Masons of a certain ilk who are genuinely freaked by the idea of woman in an apron.

I’m pretty sure the Malecraft Mason who told the participant – a non-Mason – that I and other Brothers in my lodge aren’t “real,” is this guy:

Freemasonry and humanity b and w with arrow.jpg

If that isn’t him, it’s a close enough approximation.

And, yeah, sure y’betcha, I could just ignore him and others like him, not give him the satisfaction of a response, turn the other cheek, show myself the better person and Freemason, let it go and yada-yada-yada.

Co-Masons have done that for generations. Untold thousands before me endured Masonic jewelry ripped from lapels, around necks, and fingers. They have had their premises broken into and their equipment stolen; they have been called out in the street, arrested, jailed, and legislated against for being the kind of Freemasons who are cool with both genders in lodge.

Words, by comparison, aren’t that big a deal. Right?

Sure.

I’m just not feeling it right now. For once, I don’t want this guy to go unanswered, unchallenged. I don’t know that I’ve heard it all, but I feel I’ve heard enough to be expert in the shite this guy has to say. I feel equally qualified to respond.

So, to how many shites should I respond? Should it be the top 100 pieces of shite I’ve heard from this guy? Fifty? Twenty? Ten?

Oh, let’s do five. And if we need more, I’ll write about this again (blogito ergo sum).

In no particular order and starting with the most recent shite from this guy to come to my attention:

1) “You’re not real”

Sweetheart, I’m as “real” within the confines of the order to which I belong as you are within yours. I could question your “realness” and it would have as much validity. Not that it would be especially Masonic of me to tell your friends – strangers to me – that you aren’t “real” but I could and with arguably a hell of a lot more proof than you have.

Any Freemason who challenges the “realness” of another Freemason should check his – or her – own. How “real” is the Freemason who would be that rude, that unkind, that intolerant? The Freemason who questions the Masonic “regularity” of another Freemason points up their own irregularity. Let them who are without sin cast the first stones.

Further, when you do this you speak for your order and you have no business doing that. The authority of ANY Masonic order begins and ends at its own boundaries and goes no further, including making any great pronouncements about the realness/regularity/whatever of any Freemason beyond its boundaries.

So you and your order – assuming your order even knows what actionable slanders you’re up to – can say/think/feel/invent/talk all the trash you want and it will be relevant not at all.

And it is rude. Rude is something Freemasons should strive not to be. Seriously, you need ME to tell you that?

2) “You’re playing at Masonry”

So are you.

No Freemason is perfect, none of us has it down pat. If we were, or did, we wouldn’t need to be Freemasons.

What you seem not to have learned in the Blue Lodge is that you’re on a journey toward a perfection you will never reach but for which you must ever strive until you lay down your tools and answer the summons to the Grand Lodge Eternal. Work diligently upon your own ashlar knowing it will never be perfect but you must do it.

If you didn’t learn that until now, well, then now you have another tool to play with. Knock yourself out.

3) “I don’t want women in my Lodge”

I don’t want women in your lodge either.

My experience with the likes of you is that this statement is what’s actually bugging you. I don’t think you really care how “real” I am, how Masonically “regular” I am, or how much I’m “playing” at Masonry. What really upsets you is the idea that if you acknowledge there are women Freemasons and that there are Masonic orders that accept women as members, that your lodge will have to integrate.

I don’t know why you think that but you do.

The truth is that there is choice in Freemasonry, that the Craft is triune in nature: there are lodges for men only, lodges for women only, and lodges for men and women. It is a system we know can work largely because it does.

So if your lodge doesn’t want to admit women, there’s no reason why it should; and I would fight to the death for the right of your lodge to remain gender-based.

However, I also expect you to show the same respect for those lodges that choose to do otherwise and, thus, allow choice in Freemasonry to continue. That there are lodges elsewhere that will accept women is why your lodge can remain gender-based (the lawyers out there will know what I’m talking about). 

Which means Co-Freemasonry is doing you a service. Imagine that. You’re welcome.

4) “How can men and women sit in lodge together without thinking about sex?”

Yeah, wow, this isn’t creepy at all 0.0

Seriously, this is a problem for you? Grocery stores, universities, churches, school plays, board meetings, polling places, baseball games, and other such venues must be pure hell for you. This earth is peopled by billions of men and women who mix all the time and get things done without thinking about sex all the live-long day. Pity you can’t but, well, that’s your cross to bear.

That this is a problem for you points up why there is a great need for choice in Freemasonry. If you can’t sit in a room with the opposite sex and keep your mind on the labors at hand, then you should remain in your gender-based lodge because, respectfully, you would make a poor Co-Mason.

5) “Having a woman in my lodge would violate my Obligation?”

Then don’t have women in your lodge.

That said, Freemasonry is much bigger than your lodge and your Obligation. Not all Freemasons take the same Obligation and they are in no way required to live up to yours, no more than you are required to live up to theirs. It’s very personal. You keep your Obligation, and I’ll keep mine; everything will be just fine.

And those are five shites that I hear from this guy.

I won’t offer an apology to Malecraft Masons who don’t act like this guy. That’s commendable, but I also have seen too many of you remain silent to these slanders. UnMasonic behavior by omission remains unMasonic, and, on your part of the tree at least, it’s actionable. Don’t tell me what you don’t do. Go do what is right, even when it’s easier to do wrong. Or be silent.

And for all Malecraft Masons who recognize themselves in this guy . . . you’re Freemasons, for crying out loud! You shouldn’t need a cranky old Co-Masonic Past Master like me to tell you any of the above. Your mentor, your lodge, your grand lodge – YOUR PARENTS – should have taught you better.