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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.”
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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).