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Pennsylvania Academy of Masonic Knowledge – Fall 2014

Pennsylvania Academy of Masonic Knowledge
Saturday, October 18, 2014

Masonic Cultural Center, Elizabethtown
, Pennsylvania

The Pennsylvania Academy of Masonic Knowledge

The Pennsylvania Academy of Masonic Knowledge. http://www.pagrandlodge.org/programs/academy

The 2014 Fall session of the Academy of Masonic Knowledge will be held on Saturday, October 18th, in the Deike Auditorium of the Masonic Cultural Center on the campus of Masonic Village in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania. Registration will open at 8:30 am with the program beginning at 9:30 am.  A lunch (requested contribution of $10) will be served at noon and the program will be completed by 3:00 pm.  All Masons are welcome to attend.  Dress is coat and tie.

The program for the day includes:

  • Professor David G. Hackett will speak on topics from his recently published book: That Religion in Which All Men Agree: Freemasonry in American Culture.

David G. Hackett is an Associate Professor of Religion at the University of Florida, having received his Ph.D. from Emory University in 1986.  He has published numerous books and articles and has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Louisville Institute for the Study of American Protestantism in American Culture.  In addition, Professor Hackett has been a resident scholar at Princeton’s Center for Theological Inquiry and the Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research.

  • Brother W. Stephen Burkle will speak on the topic: Early Adoption of Paracelsus’ Alchemical Catechism by the Craft.

William Stephen “Steve” Burkle is a metallurgist by profession and works in the oil and gas industry.   He has traveled widely throughout the United States, Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East teaching, lecturing, and consulting.  He is an ordained Deacon in the Presbyterian Church.  Bro. Steve’s academic interests include Masonic symbolism, Alchemy, and esoteric Freemasonry, upon which he has published numerous articles. He recently completed his Master of Arts, and is currently a Doctoral Candidate, in Religious Studies.

 The great objective in Freemasonry is to gain useful knowledge, and the Academy provides a great opportunity for the Brethren to learn and to understand more about the significance of the Craft.  Plan to attend and bring a Brother or two along with you

Pre-registration is required

To pre-register, please send your name, address, Lodge number, and telephone by e-mail to:

AMKSecretary@pagrandlodge.org

If you do not have access to e-mail, please make your reservation through your Lodge Secretary.

Please recognize that a cost is incurred to the program for your registration.  If you pre-register and subsequently determine that you will be unable to attend, please have the Masonic courtesy to cancel your reservation by the same method and providing the same information.

 We look forward to seeing you on October 18th.

 

*Please note: The above information was copied verbatim from a newsletter sent me me from the Academy of Masonic Knowledge. 

Categories: Uncategorized

Welcome to the blog!

I thought I’d share a little light here. Please check out The Two Foot Ruler. This personal blog is from Bro. Jason Richards, cohost of The Masonic Roundtable. Please check him out and show your support.

The 2-Foot Ruler

Brethren and Friends,

You have my humble thanks for reading this new blog. My name is JR, and I am a Mason in Virginia under the Grand Lodge of Virginia. I was raised in 2012, and have not, as yet, attained the illustrious title of “Past Master.”Nonetheless, this blog will serve as a repository for my analysis of and rumination on my role in the world’s oldest and largest fraternal organization. I hope you’ll share the journey with me.

On Tuesday nights, you can find me co-hosting The Masonic Roundtable (http://www.facebook.com/TheMasonicRoundtable) with four of my close brethren and friends as we attempt to spur open, honest, and constructive discourse on recent developments within the Masonic fraternity.

Cheers!
JR

freemason_street Freemason St., Norfolk VA

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Categories: Uncategorized

The Argument About Dues

21 February 2014 1 comment

The Argument About DuesIn today’s broke economy with many people out of work or underemployed, who wants to talk about raising the cost of anything?  I know I am stretched pretty thin as it is, so any increase in anything extracurricular would probably affect me.  As it stand now, the things many of us have to use every day like gas, insurance, electricity, and general household items have gone through the roof in the past few years. So why start the debate on the cost of dues now?

There is no question that dues have not increased with inflation.  There is no question that dues are merely a fraction of what they used to be at one time compared to the cost of living.  My Blue Lodge dues, 60 bucks a year, aren’t necessarily high, but they are higher than they were just a few years ago when we voted raise them from $50 when I was Master in 2012.

With such low cost of dues most of us can afford membership today, but still we have guys on the non-payment list in April when dues were due in January.  I got to thinking, is that because people really can’t pay? Is it because people just don’t care? Then I think, perhaps they just aren’t high enough to be taken serious.

Full disclosure here, I too, sometimes fall into the category of men who will pay a little late more times than I’d like.  This is not because I don’t have the money, but many times simply because I know I will be going to the lodge soon and think, “Well, I’ll just take them in when I go.”   After all, I am pretty active, I enjoy lodge, and I am pretty sure the Secretary knows I am going to pay up.  Does that make being late with dues ok?  No, not at all.  But, Eh’ sorry. Sue me.

There could be a million reasons why the average Joe is late paying dues, but I think a major reason is that for much of the early history of Freemasonry the average Joe was never intended to be a member. This is partly because he couldn’t afford to be a member.  This was an elite group of men gaining elite men.  (notice I said elite, not elitist) This was a network in many ways, if course, but it also was very selective.  Does that mean that all men who COULD afford high dues were the best candidates?  Hardly.  Does that mean that all men who COULDN’T afford membership were not otherwise great candidates for Freemasonry? Again, hardly.

In just one example using a well-known man, I did the math. According to existing records from Fredericksburg lodge, when Washington was initiated, a fee of 2 pounds, 3 shillings was paid.  By today’s standards £2 roughly equals $3.27. Three shillings is about 72 cents.  Because the exchange rates could vary slightly I am just going to round and call it $4.00.  Converting back to pounds, $4.00 is roughly £2.45.  Using an inflation calculator online we can see that £2.45 in 1752 is roughly equivalent to about £385.80 today.  Converting this to dollars and we can see that about $630.78 was paid for Washington’s initiation.
(2/23/14: FOR AN UPDATE ON THESE NUMBERS SEE THE END OF THIS BLOG)

Let’s call that 600 dollars.  Right there, I think, is a major factor in the free-for-all we have going on. Any man who wants to join can, and does, without making it a serious life decision.  I don’t know how it works in many of your houses, but 600 dollars is not something I can just float willy-nilly on a club that I may or may not want to be actively involved with.

Lodge dues currently can vary wildly.  I have seen dues at 40 dollars and I have seen dues well over 100 dollars.  It is very rare that you see dues at 600 dollars, although they are out there.  Does that mean that I think that we should just jack dues to unbelievably high amounts?  Not necessarily.

For many men, Freemasonry is used as it was intended or at least the closest to it as it can be.  We have been given tools to use, and we put them to work.  For other men, they are given the tools to use, go out and buy a ring and a bumper sticker, and contribute very little to Freemasonry other than their 60 dollars a year.

Speaking as a po-boy who loves Freemasonry, here is where I am torn.  I, like many other people, do not fall into that upper category of wage earners.  If I told my wife I wanted to spend 600 dollars to be initiated into a fraternity I would most likely have pieces of me removed in my sleep.  In short, I probably would not be a Freemason if dues and initiation were to skyrocket.  I do think there is an answer though.

Incentive programs and chances to earn Freemasonry can take a dedicated man, at any level of income, and open the doors to him.  I think that having dues at the level of $500 or more can serve as an instant deterrent for many guys who just want to slap a square and compass sticker on their bumper.  They would have to make the choice; “Do I care enough about this whole Mason thing to spend 500 dollars a year on it?”  or;  “Do I care enough about this whole Mason thing to work down the cost of dues and initiation?”   The men who truly want to join at this point will join.  The card carriers would most likely work themselves out of the system over the course of a few years.  There will still be a few well off non-contributors who will continue to treat it as a good old boys club, but I can argue that those fellas are here now.

If I knew that I could earn back a portion of my initiation and dues each year by performing certain tasks such as reading and writing reviews on books, presenting programs, and otherwise earning Freemasonry perhaps I wouldn’t mind the high cost of dues.  I would know going into it that there is a cost involved, but also that there is a way to lighten that burden.

One of our greatest problems, in my opinion, is not enough men joining, but rather, too many under-qualified men running the system without knowing what the system is.  A system of forced education, or incentive based education, would ensure that the men who join, would, by default, learn something and use the Craft.

Over time, the Craft could go from an organization of card carriers back to the benevolent society it once was.  This could, in turn, create that desire for men to join for the correct reasons and reduce the desire for men to join just to get the title.

What about the guys who are financially stable who are generally not involved?  Sad as it may be, there will still be the glory hounds who are better off and who can afford to just sneeze away 600 bucks.  Let them.  With a growing fraternity of qualified and educated men, the system should improve overtime.  The interviewers should become more selective as they become better educated.

I can also see incentives to serve as lodge officers with perhaps very good incentives to serve as Master for a year or more.  If dues are reduced based on your accomplishments, and perhaps even eliminated upon becoming a Past Master, then the goal for many would be to naturally become a Past Master.

Perhaps it is the capitalist in me, but I see a free market system so to speak.  The desire to become a Past Master may be increased creating actual competition for the chair.  Anytime that competition is introduced into a system the best usually prevail.

If said competition exists, I can see it most likely spilling over to other areas.  With a back log of qualified men working to be viewed as the most capable for the job, simply being certified in the degree work may not be enough to be elected Master anymore.  Would we then see other areas of the lodge start to increase productivity?  I think so.  I see men who know the ritual and floor work who are taking on other positions such as education, mentoring, programs and other aspects of the lodge that many times fall by the wayside.

Some men may have no desire to be Master.  These men can earn back some of the cost by researching a specified topic and presenting to lodge.  A system of incentives for performance could chip away at dues cost.

Over the years, no doubt, people grow tired of keeping up.  Even the most dedicated of Masons get burned out from time to time and take a hiatus from lodge.  For this, I see the dues coming down more and more as you reach milestones.  Currently we celebrate members who reach their 25, 50, and 60 year milestones with pins in Pennsylvania.  In my lodge, we forgive dues for 50 year members.    Perhaps even more reduction in dues can happen as you reach the other lower milestones.  I see dues forgiveness happening much earlier than that with incentives for education and understanding of the craft.

There is an argument of, “Well, we are all supposed to be equal and on the level.  How can one person have lower dues than another?”  For this, I have to say, go back and study what the level actually means.  To be on the level means that we all have the same opportunity for advancement and to gain the rights and privileges in the lodge.  With that said, any member who strives to chip away or defer the cost of his dues  would have the exact opportunity that others would have.

To recap, high cost of dues would act as an immediate deterrent for fly-by-night men who think they will just join on a whim.  Men could work their dues cost down.  Working their dues cost down would, by default, leave the fraternity with educated men.  Educated men, over time,  would secure the West gate.  With a secure West gate, our fraternity could work back to restoring the status and purpose it is intended for.

Maybe I am completely off base here.  What do you think?

(2/23/14: It was brought to my attention that my calculations on Washington’s initiation fee were not exactly accurate. Facebook follower Glenda Ray told me it actually would be about the equivalent of $826 today (1£=12 oz sterling silver in those days) and given that the average American earned less than £30 a year, £3 was more than a month’s wage. I simply used conversion charts that told me today’s pounds to dollars, then used another site that gave me supposed historical inflation rates. Regardless, the point I make is still accurate. We can all agree, the amount paid back in the day was considerably substantial compared to our almost non-existent dues amounts today. Thanks Glenda Ray for the clarification)

——————————————–

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Categories: Uncategorized

Earning Freemasonry – A One Day Class Redemption, NOW AVAILABLE!

Earning Freemasonry – A One Day Class Redemption is now available for purchase.

Book_Cover_front_rgb

Click the link below to purchase through Paypal for $15.00 plus $5.00 for priority shipping.

Books purchased here will be signed and sent directly from the author.

Modern Freemasonry is changing. A new member today is brought into a fraternity much different than their fathers and grandfathers fraternity. Changing demographics and declining membership numbers have brought on many short cuts to membership and advancement in the Lodge. Designed to boost membership, combat a declining older generation, and fit better in the modern man’s life, one day classes and easing of membership have opened the flood gates to Freemasonry. Thousands of men have been made Freemasons in one day classes over the past decade. Countless others have become Freemasons in a more relaxed lodge than existed just a few years ago. While some of these men go on to do great things in Freemasonry, the sad reality remains, many men joining today do little more than get a card in their wallet. Any Freemason, be he a card carrier, officer, Past Master, or otherwise regular member has a part to play in our Fraternity. Some men take the long way; some men take the short cuts. Regardless of how you were given the tools of Freemasonry, it is up to the individual man to earn them. This books details one man’s journey from citizen to Freemason in a one-day-class. Through firsthand experience, observation, and opinion, the author explains the pit falls and trials that go along with the easing of the order and offers insight on how we may be able to correct our missteps. From the new Mason to the Past Master, this book is designed to help any member earn Freemasonry and start enjoying the true benefits of the Craft.

Keep up to date with me on facebook at:
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Dude, Where’s my Lodge?

Ask yourself that question.  The answer is simple.  You know exactly where your lodge building is.  You could drive there tonight if you wanted to.  So, then what’s with the question?

As I get further into reading, writing and networking with my online brethren, I find myself asking this question more and more.  Now, I do enjoy my friends at lodge.  They are great guys.  We all get along great.  We all share good times in our lives and families from time to time outside of lodge, and generally, most people are happy. 

But, I always come back to this question or other questions similar.  “What really are we doing here?”, “Why aren’t we having philosophical discussions?”, “When will we start doing something, anything, Masonic in our meetings?”  A key frustration of mine has always been lack of Masonic programs and less than fraternal discussion during meetings.  It’s known that I feel this way, but I have recently come to the understanding that I am not the only one who feels this way. 

In the past two years I have been fortunate enough to find an outlet for my thirst for Masonic information.  The world of online networking and social media, for me, has become what my lodge is not.  Again, I need to make it clear, I love my brothers at the lodge, but I can’t remember ever having a deep or enlightening discussion in lodge.  I have seen some very good presentations and programs, but have come up short on the discussions of the who, where, what, why, and how that SHOULD go along with every meeting. 

I don’t know about you all, but when I open facebook and see Bro. Shawn Eyer has just posted 10 new pics of the George Washington Masonic Memorial, or when John Paul Gomez releases a new necktie on Fraternal Ties, or when I see Living Stones or Working Tools Magazine post info about their latest editions I can’t help but be left fulfilled as an informed brother.  It truly is an amazing world, this internet.

I consider myself fortunate because I have been able to connect with men who are delivering much of what I am looking for, just seeking light, sharing what they know, and helping others also find their niche in Freemasonry.  From authors, to podcasts, to blogs, to facebook and social media, I have come to realize that the lodge experience I am missing in lodge has actually been found online.  I will admit, part of that reality makes me sick, but I cannot deny the fact that it has been overwhelmingly helpful and far exceeds any form of enlightenment I have ever received sitting in my actual lodge. 

So, where is my lodge?  The building is in Hollidaysburg, PA, but the light I seek has come from very public sources such as Robert Johnson (Whence Came You podcast), and Juan Sepulveda (The Winding Stairs podcast.)  I have had the opportunity of meeting with authors or at least communicating one on one with modern authors writing about various aspects of the Craft relevant to modern Freemasonry.  These men like Charles Harper (Freemasonry in Black and White), Shawn Gorley (Freemasonry Defined), Cliff Porter (A Traditional Observance Lodge), Andrew hammer (Observing the Craft), and many more that could fill up an entire page. 

These men have become my lodge in many regards.  With the podcast, books, magazines, and most recently the Masonic Roundtable video discussions getting started I, and thousands of men from around the county, are able to stay informed with what is happening pretty much as it is happening.  We are suddenly able to discuss all (ok, most) topics of Freemasonry at any hour of the day.  Answers are immediate many times and help on any subject is a text message away. 

Years ago, this is what your actual lodge did.  Men of similar interest would meet in smaller, intimate groups.  Good men that were prominent in their communities took part in philosophical discussions that actually improved their lives and made them care a little bit more about the security of the West gate.  Since lodges today have become complacent and pretty much admit most men who petition, the exclusiveness of our lodges in not what it used to be.  I am not suggesting that lodges should be full of prominent elected officials or made up entirely of lawyers and doctors and other community leaders, after all, if they were like that I most likely would have never gained admission, but we should be a little bit more selective in our admission. 

Our lodges have become a place to pay bills and meet once a month, but the actual work for many of us is being done between meetings by the new generation of movers and shakers claiming their stake in this fraternity. 

While talking on the phone with my good Friend and Brother Shawn Gorley (Driven by Light Blog) we were discussing the restoration of the fraternity and where it may be headed.  As bleak as some aspects of our forecast were, I found myself becoming more and more optimistic as we talked about our upcoming travel and presentations we have scheduled.  We talked about our friends from around the state that were having both Shawn and I, as well as other young movers and shakers come speak.  I was overcome with a feeling of optimism as I thought about the lodges who were now about to become exposed to this group on men who unknowingly came about independent of each other, many hundreds of miles away from each other but were now becoming extremely useful as a group a spreading the light of Freemasonry. 

Authors, podcast personalities, presenters, historians, ritualist and generally a new generation of good Freemasons coming down the pike will be exposing the newest, or perhaps some older members to the true purpose of Freemasonry for the first time. 

Showing complacent lodges that any Joe Shmoe individual is capable of delivering light to others can, and should, be exactly what we, as said movers and shakers, should be doing.  I am happy to see these men traveling to lodges, talking to followers, replying to messages, and building a community of younger brethren simply by doing what they do. 

There is a lot of talk about Masonic restoration lately.  It is an uphill battle, especially now when it seems that the establishment and many Grand Lodges are all too eager to keep changing and simplifying everything.  The guys that blog, podcast, and write may be the mentors that many lodges need.  We may be the first shovel of dirt on the construction site.  I see it as being up to us to create interest for the complacent.  If we keep doing what we are doing by staying active and staying informed I think it is likely, as outnumbered as we are, that we can build the next generation of men excited to keep the building project going. 

If you like what you read here, please follow me on facebook at http://www.facebook.com/SquareofVirtue

 

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The Washington Monument Commemorative Stone of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania

Click to enlarge.  Image from http://www.nps.gov.

Freemasons and students of Masonic history can claim many connections to some of America’s greatest national treasures.  Because of the esteem in which our Craft once held, it was not uncommon to have Masonic lodges asked to perform public cornerstone ceremonies and dedications to many of the nation’s best known buildings and monuments.  (readers may recall my Gettysburg blog here) As you can imagine, any organization asked to participate or contribute to the construction of a national memorial has a sense of pride and contribution to history.  The Masons are no different.

According to Pennsylvania Grand Lodge minutes, in June of 1848, an invitation sent from the Grand Lodge of Washington DC was received and accepted by the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania to “attend and assist in the ceremonies of laying the corner Stone of the Washington National Monument.”  The ceremony took place the following month on July 04, 1848, Independence Day1

When the Freemasons laid the cornerstone of the George Washington National Monument in DC it not only put another short notation in the history books about the Masons, it also opened up an opportunity for Masonic lodges and other civic and patriotic organizations to have their mark placed in American history as part of the very structure itself.

When construction began the Washington National Monument Society, which formed in 1833 as a private association, allowed donation of blocks to be incorporated for a twofold purpose.  The first was so all states of the Union could feel represented by the monument, and the second was to aid in fundraising and construction costs.  The society originally planned to accept monetary donations along with the donated stones, but it seems many blocks came without such donation.2

There are 193 commemorative blocks inside the Washington Monument.  That is, there are 192 commemorative stones, and 1 commemorative block of copper ore. The latter donated by the state of Michigan.3   The stones were donated by individual states, societies, and private citizens.  These stones range is size and style.  Some are very basic with simple inscriptions, while others are incredibly complicated with fine detail.   The Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania’s stone fits into the latter category.

The Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, like many other societies, had an interest in donating a stone. In September of 1850 a motion was made to secure an appropriate amount of money “to procure a block of Penna. marble to be fashioned as a Keystone and inserted as part of the National Monument to Washington to bear the inscription from the Grand Lodge of Masons of the Keystone State in memory of the Masonic virtues of Washington or some other inscription that the Grand Master or Grand Lodge may direct.”4   A committee was formed for the purpose of designing and executing the project and to report the cost back to Grand Lodge.

In November that year the committee reported back that it had in fact met several times to work out the details of furnishing a block of marble as well as a design to be carved into the stone. The final cost of the stone was set not to exceed $500.00.  The carving design was supplied free of charge by committee chairman Bro. G. Parker Cummings who was Worshipful Master of Lodge No. 19.5

Gordon Parker Cummings

Gordon Cummings, or as most records record his name, G. Parker or GP Cummings, was a talented architect.  He was born around 1809 and was one of the first architects to have significant works on both coasts of the growing Republic.  Along with his many achievements, he was responsible for Philadelphia’s first structure supported by iron rather than timber, the cast iron Penn Mutual building. He also designed the Grand Lodge of Colored Masons, an Early English Gothic style, in 1851.  He went west to San Francisco after the gold rush boom where he is remembered for numerous building as well as the capitol of Sacramento.6

Cummings made it back to Philadelphia where died in 1889.  At the time of his death he was living in the Masonic Home in Philadelphia.  He was buried at Monument Cemetery, but unfortunately he did not remain there long.  Not to get too far off topic, but it is worth pointing out that in the 1950’s with expanding and changing times, Monument Cemetery which held more than 28,000 bodies was sold to Temple University.  Part of the university’s explanation required removing and relocating the bodies in the cemetery.  Today, it seems, there is no really good records of what happened to most of the bodies, with many being put into a mass grave.  Hundreds, if not thousands of headstones were dumped into the river.  To read more about Monument Cemetery check out The Cemetery Traveler blog here.7

William Struthers

Grand Lodge minutes indicate that the work was to be “carried out under the superintendence of a Special Committee appointed for that purpose, whose duty it shall be to see that none but the most skilful artists are employed and that the work be done in the most superior manner.” The man chosen to carry out said work was Bro. William Struthers.8

Detail on the George Washington tomb. (Photo from Adam T. Osman)

Struthers was born to Scottish parents in January of 1812.  He followed his family profession and became a marble mason.  His father John is credited with several well-known monuments including the new marble sarcophagi of George and Martha Washington as well as the sarcophagus of Henry Clay and that of Isaac Hull, Commodore of the United States Navy.9   I’ll point out here that, while Johns name is on the side of the Washington sarcophagi, and most historians believe he is the carver, there are claims that another man actually carved the eagle and shield, while Johns firm simply supplied the marble.10

By 1840 William and his father were working under the title John Struthers and Son.  William expanded the family business and his work can be seen in various places around Philadelphia, most notably Philadelphia’s City Hall.11

Struthers not only carved the stone for the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, but also was responsible for the Corporation of the City of Philadelphia stone.12

Despite the Grand Lodge Minutes on 1850 stating the stone would be placed at the 2nd landing, the actual location of the Grand Lodge stone is on the 16th landing, approximately 180 feet up. The following description was taken from “The Voice of Freemasonry” magazine in 1997.  (see link in reference for more Masonic stone information)13

On the 180-foot level, at the sixteenth landing, the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania contributed a richly carved marble stone. Prominent upon the stone is carved an arch and keystone. The keystone contains a seal with four quarterings with a lion, a man, a cow, and an eagle, traditional emblems of the four apostles. Above the seal on the keystone is “Holiness unto the Lord”, below the seal is “From the Keystone State, A.D. 1851 A.L. 5851.” Above the keystone two angels guard with uplifted wings a small ark of the covenant. To the right of the arch is a crumbling wall surmounted by masonic tools set against a wooded hill. To the left is a wall of finished ashlar surmounted by a masonic altar and tools against another wooded hill. In the clouds on a banner to either side of the keystone is the inscription “Ad majorem Supremi Architect Glorium”.

While this is not meant to be a study of all the commemorative blocks in the monument, the resources below can provide hours of further study.

As of today the Washington Monument remains closed due to the earth quake that hit the Washington DC area in 2011.  Before the earthquake it was possible at certain times to ride the elevator up and walk down the inside to view the memorial stones.  This is no longer the case.  Perhaps someday things may change and you may be able to view the stone with your very eyes.

Book_Cover_front_rgbEarning Freemasonry – A One Day Class Redemption is now available for purchase.
Click the link below to purchase through Paypal for $15.00 plus $5.00 for priority shipping.
Books purchased here will be signed and sent directly from the author.

Keep up to date with me on facebook at:
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Feel free to drop me any comments or books reviews here:
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  1. Minutes of the Right Worshipful Grand Lodge of the Most Ancient and Honorable Fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons of Pennsylvania and Masonic Jurisdiction Thereunto Belonging, Volume VII, 1840-1848, Page 494
  2. The Washington Monument: A Technical History and Catalog of the Commemorative Stones p. 8 (http://www.cr.nps.gov/history/online_books/wamo/stones.pdf) accessed 9/28/13
  3.  The Washington Monument: A Technical History and Catalog of the Commemorative Stones p. 1 (http://www.cr.nps.gov/history/online_books/wamo/stones.pdf) accessed 9/27/13
  4. Minutes of the Right Worshipful Grand Lodge of the Most Ancient and Honorable Fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons of Pennsylvania and Masonic Jurisdiction Thereunto Belonging, Volume VIII, 1849-1854, Page 112
  5. Minutes of the Right Worshipful Grand Lodge of the Most Ancient and Honorable Fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons of Pennsylvania and Masonic Jurisdiction Thereunto Belonging, Volume VIII, 1849-1854, Page 117
  6. Biography from the American Architects and Buildings database, http://www.philadelphiabuildings.org/pab/app/ar_display.cfm/22495, accessed 9/27/2013.
  7. How Monument Cemetery was Destroyed, The Cemetery Traveler – by Ed Snyder, http://thecemeterytraveler.blogspot.com/2011/05/how-monument-cemetery-was-destroyed.html accessed 9/28/13
  8. Minutes of the Right Worshipful Grand Lodge of the Most Ancient and Honorable Fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons of Pennsylvania and Masonic Jurisdiction Thereunto Belonging, Volume VIII, 1849-1854, Page 117
  9. Philadelphia Graveyards and Cemeteries, By Thomas H. Keels, page 107.
  10. Andrew Doig, John Struthers & George Washington’s Sarcophagus, accessed 9/28/2013 http://chicagoscots.blogspot.com/2011/04/andrew-doig-john-struthers-george.html
  11. Biography from the American Architects and Buildings database, http://www.philadelphiabuildings.org/pab/app/ar_display.cfm/22755, accessed 9/28/2013.
  12. The Washington Monument: A Technical History and Catalog of the Commemorative Stones p. 124 (http://www.cr.nps.gov/history/online_books/wamo/stones.pdf) accessed 10/28/13
  13. The Voice of Freemasonry, Grand Lodge, F.&.A.M., of the District of Columbia, Spring 1997

Learning How to Die – The Importance of the Skull in Freemasonry

27 October 2013 1 comment
The Caput Mortuum - Deaths Head

The Caput Mortuum – Deaths Head.

I recently returned from a very interesting presentation by Bro. Arturo de Hoyos at the October 2013 meeting of the Pennsylvania Academy of Masonic Knowledge.  Bro. de Hoyos was to present on Masonic ritual, but being that it was so close to Halloween, he informed us he would take the angle of the use of the skull in our Masonic ritual.  Boy, was this an eye opener.

Anyone looking for information on Freemasonry, no doubt, has come across illustrations of the skull and crossbones.  To many, this is an ominous item that we tend to shy away from today.  It is seen by some as morbid, evil, scary, and even Satanic by some.  It has been shoved to the corner of society with things we associate with being dark, negative, and unpleasant.

I am no different.  I have seen this symbol.  I realize it symbolizes death.  I understand that it was used early on more than it is used today, and I see why, by today’s standards, this symbol could be seen as sinister by many of the profane.

After watching this presentation and reflecting on what Bro. de Hoyos spoke about, I began to think that my definition and feelings on Freemasonry may be a little off.

When asked what Freemasonry is, I tend to repeat one of the first passages we all hear each month at lodge.  Found in the opening charge is the phrase “useful knowledge is the great object of our desire.”   This is simple.  It is much easier than the “system of morality, veiled in allegory, and illustrated by symbols” definition that is standardly thrown around.

When someone asks, “What is the point of Freemasonry?”  I have to go no further than the first few words of our opening charge.  The purpose is to gain useful knowledge.  This knowledge is used to make us better people.  We use this knowledge to refine our characters and live better lives.

When I step back and look at the way I explain it to people, I realize that there is more.  The next question I ask myself is, “Why live a better life?”  On the surface it seems simple.  If you live a better life, you will be a better person.  You will improve all that is around you.  Things will go better and be better if you live a better life.   Still, there is more to living than what is here in now.  At the end of life is death.  Death is A LOT longer.

While it is true that being a good person can make your life better, I realized the purpose of living a better life is to achieve admission to a better afterlife.  In a nice life, we are on this Earth for 90 years, 100 if we are lucky.  100 years is a long time to a living human, but it’s just a blink of the eye in the grand scheme of things.  If the lifestyle lived as a Freemason is giving me knowledge to polish my rough edges, the end goal will be to get into Heaven.  (or whatever you call your spiritual afterlife) The end point of life is death.  This makes the purpose of Freemasonry simply to learn how to die.

Society seems to have taken the unpleasant images of the world and not just pushed them aside, but downright vilified them.  Anymore it seems as though displaying a skull and crossbones is downright creepy.  And really, in today’s day and age, it is.

This symbol has gone the way of the swastika in many regards.  Of course the about-face that the swastika took is an extreme example of symbol bastardization.  In today’s world it would be hard for most people to think a home flying a large swastika flag in the front yard is the best place to send your girl scouts to sell cookies.  The skull has taken a similar seat in society.

Why should we care about the skull?  Well, for starters we need to focus on what it actually symbolizes.  The skull is a symbol of death and mortality.  Pushing aside all profane and otherwise misuses of the skull, I think it’s time the Freemason starts to focus on the skull.  It might not even be a bad idea to display it in a place where he sees it every day.   For other peoples ignorance sake, I wouldn’t recommend displaying this on a 3×6 flag in your front yard, or even on a badge on the back of your car, but for the purpose of self-awareness it could be displayed inside your home, on a key ring, maybe even as an accompanying symbol on your masonic ring.  You are doing this for your own good, no one else.

If you do this, of course, you need to also be educated enough to be able to defend yourself when the questions inevitably start coming.  I realize there are many reasons we don’t use this symbol as much as we once did in regular craft Freemasonry, but I think it would benefit us all to be reminded daily why we live by the working tools.  Death is just around the corner.  We have no idea when it is coming, and we have no idea how old we’ll be when it happens.

As we strive to live by the working tools, we need to keep in mind the reason for doing so.  Knowing what the working tools mean won’t make you a better person if you aren’t executing their direction.  Understanding Masonic Philosophy won’t help you if you don’t use it as a tool for improvement.  All the knowledge in the world won’t transform you into the fine ashlar for use in that spiritual temple unless you are actually polishing your rough edges.

So, is Freemasonry about acquiring useful knowledge to live a better life?  Yes.  However, in light of my most recent experience, I think Freemasonry could be more about preparing you to die.   The skull is no more sinister than the swastika if you look at its original symbolic purpose.  The skull is merely a reminder that you will die.  Shouldn’t we be privately using this more as just another daily Masonic symbol?  I know I will be.

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