Archive for September, 2013

Modern Masonry

21 September 2013 1 comment

The Modern Masonic Family in Pennsylvania


A lot has changed in Freemasonry in the past 100 years.  It seems a lot of that change has happened in the last 10 years. Our fraternity, which is extremely similar from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, also has an endless list of differences that sometimes are confusing to the new Mason.

I will start off with saying this blog post was written for the Mason who has a few years in already.  I am writing it for the Mason who has maybe made a few missteps by jumping into an appendant or concordant body too quickly.  This is meant to be satire, and maybe even slight criticism of the system, but all in good fun.  Don’t take it too seriously.

I’ve put together this chart to illustrate some of these differences as seen by a Pennsylvania Freemason.  Much of this can be applied to other jurisdictions, but being from Pennsylvania, this is how I see it.

Most of us are familiar with the charts that pop up in Masonic books or in the front of your bibles that illustrate the supposed hierarchy of Freemasonry.  As a Freemason with a little experience, you should know much of this hierarchical illustration is not as it seems in the pretty charts.  By that, I mean, yes, there is a progression.  Some degrees have prerequisites.  Some appear to be the top.  The traditional chart illustration, no doubt, leaves the new Mason feeling like his puny three degrees are worthless.   However, after a few years of learning the system, one realizes that that nicely organized chart is misleading.  I have created this chart, which is not as pretty, and possibly even just as confusing, to illustrate how I see it.

Another thing about my chart: I’ve left off the many many many other appendent bodies of Freemasonry such as AMD, Eastern Star, the youth groups, etc.  Perhaps someday I’ll incorporate them, but for now I think this tells a pretty good story.

Looking at this chart you will see that we start much like the common illustrations start, with the first three degrees.  A man moves from an entered Apprentice, to Fellow Craft, to Master Mason with the first three degrees in the first three steps.  These steps typically take about one month per degree to complete.    What is different about my chart, however, is that directly beside the first three steps in Freemasonry is an escalator that takes a man from ground level to Master Mason with no effort and in literally a fraction of the time.  In my opinion, the journey from darkness to Masonic light does not happen as it should with the escalator and typically requires a little more work on the candidate to figure out.

The Shrine
From the platform of Master Mason, if one chooses to do so, he can jump directly onto the rocket ship that takes him to Shrine membership.  Of course, you’ll also see that they become members of Shriners International, not the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, which no longer exists.  Once the new member becomes a Shriner (sometimes a few hours after he becomes a dues paying Mason with a card in his wallet) it takes some time to learn that this new fraternity he is in, which at one time appears at the pinnacle of some Masonic family illustrations, is in fact, no more than separate, but noble, fraternity with very little Masonic connection at all.  Even the original logo is falling away as the new logo of Shriners International is slowly cutting the last remaining connection to the Freemasons.

This brings us to the next item to cover:

The Scottish Rite

Now, since I am part of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction of the Scottish Rite, this chart only displays how things are in my neck of the woods.  Notice that instead of a clean cut hierarchy of degrees, what we have here is more like the game Chutes and Ladders.  The new Mason who just put a Blue Lodge card in his wallet now enters yet even another body of Freemasonry and takes the ladder directly to that glorious number 32 just as immediate as he took the escalator from 1-3.  The new member is quickly impressed with everything thrown his way, and is told that he should, at some point in his life, go through and witness all of the degrees of the Scottish rite.  The chutes and ladders make this possible.  Sometimes the 14th degree is being put on, the next time the 10th and 25th may be put on.  Feel free to climb around and slide down back and forth between degrees.  What is difficult to illustrate here is that degrees are not always conferred in your local Valley.  While each Valley does have the capability to do each degree, the reality is, many do not have a consistent rotation of all of the degrees.  If you want all the degrees you will need to hit the road, sometimes traveling across several states to “collect them all.”   Oh, another thing that is difficult to illustrate is that just because you may have witnessed them all, in the Northern Jurisdiction, they can change from time to time.  With this, even if you have seen them all, you may need to see them all again if you want to stay 100% current.

This brings us to:

The York Rite

Now, this is yet again confusing to the new Mason who jumps right in.  In Pennsylvania at least, our York Rite System differs from many other York Rite Jurisdictions in that we have a Grand Chapter of Pennsylvania.  Yep, we have a sovereign and independent Grand Chapter that we share mutual recognition with the some other sovereign state Grand Chapters and the General Grand Chapter International.

In our Grand Chapter there are a series of degrees that run from 4-7.  That SHOULD be 4 degrees, although the candidate goes from 4-6, skipping over the 5th degree, or Past Master degree.  This gave me the idea to illustrate this entire Rite as game of hopscotch.

In Chapter, new candidates just become what has been dubbed a “Virtual Past Master” when they go from degree 4 to 6.  In Pennsylvania, the Past Master degree is actually conferred on you upon being elected to the position of Worshipful Master of your Blue Lodge, and is conferred by the Past Masters of your Lodge.  This is where you get the word of the chair and become a Past Master.

Again, this is Pennsylvania, most other Grand Chapters actually have the Past Master degree that give you the word of the chair making you a Past Master, even if you have never served as Master of your Lodge.   To complicate it a little more, in most European Lodges there is not a Past Master degree, but an “Install Master” degree.  It would be time consuming and monotonous to list all of the differences of individual Jurisdictions in regards to their Past Master degree, but if you want more info a simple internet search for “Past Master Degree” can yield many results.

As the York Rite moves from Chapter, we go into Council, which from there moves on to Commandary.  Notice the graphic: the hopscotch graphic gets further away as you move higher up the Rite.  I did this to illustrate that in my opinion, as you move further away from Chapter, you get further away from Freemasonry.

While Council still follows closely the story we are familiar with in Blue Lodge dealing with the temple and Hiram Abiff, the degrees deal more with the building/destruction/rebuilding of the temple.  It can be confusing to some as it is considered a prerequisite for Commandary in some Jurisdictions, (not in Pennsylvania) and is a series of three degrees, but only two are required for advancement in York rite, and one is only sometimes put on.  This optional, or honorable, degree, Super Excellent Master, is illustrated to the side as it is not always part of the game, and many people chose not to even see it even if offered because they are only doing Council to get to Commandary and the Knight Templar Degree.  It is worth repeating here that in some York Rite Jurisdictions Council is not required to go onto Commandary, while in others it is.

From Council we go into Commandary, which is a series of degrees also referred to as the Chivalric Orders by some.  These degrees are beautiful, and when correctly put on are said to be some of the most powerful of the entire degree system.  As stated above, these degrees are wonderful, but move away from Masonic principles, and some could argue are even un-Masonic altogether.  The order of the Knight Templar is conferred upon those only who promise to defend the Christian religion.  While this is wonderful for an individual Christian, it is very exclusionary, and goes against one of the most basic tenants of Freemasonry as being “on the level.”   For guys like me, this is extremely conflicting as I recognize its exclusionary practice, but someday I would like to experience this degree and become a Knight Templar.

While our system isn’t perfect, it is our system and it is up to us to use it to its fullest.  Perhaps my entire write up and illustration can be considered a waste of time as the purpose of Freemasonry is to make a good man a better man.  While I have a vision of how Freemasonry should work, it is just that, MY VISION.  There may be another guy who becomes a better person out there while taking all the short cuts available to him.  In that case, Freemasonry worked for that guy too.  We are all brothers, we are all human.  My hope is that this satirical illustration and written opinion can help others view the system in a slightly different manner.  Maybe it will be an eye opener; maybe it will make some folks mad.  The point is, you can use Freemasonry to its fullest, or you can use parts of it as it fits your life.  Educate yourself, and then try to educate others.  Be aware of the degree system before jumping in.

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The Level

20 September 2013 Leave a comment

The Level

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The level is a tool that is used by operative masons to prove a horizontal surface is flat, exact, and equal all the way across. However, for the Freemason, it can hold the meaning of equality.

A Mason is taught in the second, or Fellowcraft, degree that all men have the same opportunities for advancement in our lives as long as we work for it. Thus, the level dignifies labor and the man who performs it.

Inside and outside of a Masonic lodge, members are to conduct themselves as equal and “on the level” without regards to wealth, social distinction, civil office or service to mankind. A man is viewed and judged by his character and skill and how he applies himself, not his social class, job, family heritage or skin color.

Are you using it accordingly?

Book_Cover_front_rgbEarning Freemasonry – A One Day Class Redemption is now available for purchase.
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The 24 Inch Gauge

8 September 2013 2 comments

The 24 Inch Gauge

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