Posts Tagged ‘Masonic’

Masonic Monday: French Chefs

A friend sent me this link recently. It’s an article that looks into the claim that all the best French chefs are Freemasons, and they keep non-Masons from advancing in the culinary field. It’s a good example of some of the rumors that abound about Freemasons. As the author of the article discovers (spoiler!), although some top chefs in France and around the world are Masons, many others aren’t, and some won’t say either way. Whatever their status within or out of the fraternity, it has no bearing on their culinary skill or whether they support those attempting to rise in the industry.

There are other theories about Freemasons that are a bit more ambiguous. For example, history-inspired friends have told me that after reading Little Lodges, they began noticing how many founders – of cities or counties, states, and even our country – were Masons. Sometimes they wonder if that’s evidence that Freemasons want to take over the world.

picture1Picture6.pngIt’s true that many founders belonged to the fraternity, but in a way that’s like saying, “Most of the founders had brown hair, so brunette men must want to take over the world.” During the peak of Masonic membership, most men did belong to the Lodge. It was an opportunity for working-class men to become acquainted and socialize with those who were powerful and influential. So belonging to that ancient organization was almost as common as having brown hair (among men, that is – no women allowed).

But in another way, it’s not entirely coincidental that Masonry counted in its membership so many men who were also men of power and influence. The tenets of the fraternity focus on improving society as well as self – ideals that one wanting to establish schools and law and other necessities of civilization would naturally be interested in. Add in the fact that a man beset with scandals could have neither joined the Lodge or advanced his career, and it’s not surprising that movers and shakers were often Freemasons – whether they had brown hair or not.

Masonic Monday – Making Medical History through Charity

Masonic Monday is a series that discusses a bit of Freemasonry each week, from famous members to strange rituals.

We live in a time of medical breakthroughs, and medical history was made again last month.

Doctors from the Shriners Hospitals for Children in Philadelphia were part of a medical team that performed the first-ever pediatric bilateral hand transplant by successfully transplanting donor hands and forearms onto eight-year-old Zion Harvey. Zion had lost both his hands and feet to an infection at the age of 2.

zion 1

After a year and a half of planning, Zion’s surgery took 12 hours and 2 dozen surgeons, nurses, and anesthesiologists. First, steel plates and screws were put in to connect the forearm bones; then the arteries and veins were attached using thread thinner than a human hair; next, each muscle and tendon was rejoined; and finally the nerves were appended.

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Just days later, he could scratch his nose and hold a book. He now looks forward to playing on monkey bars, throwing a football, and playing guitar. You can read more about Zion’s historic surgery, and even see a video, here.

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Zion’s case is a true testament to Shriners Hospitals for Children’s commitment to innovative, world-class pediatric care. And they do it all free of charge to the patient and family! They do collect insurance from patients that have it, but they never bill or collect any payment from any patient – not even deductibles.

There are 22 Shriners Hospitals for Children in 3 countries. They specialize in treating children with orthopedic conditions, severe burns, cleft lip and palate, spinal cord injury, and other conditions. Did I mention that all this treatment is free for the patients and their families?

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How do they do it? And what does it have to do with Freemasonry?

In order to join the Shriners, a man must first be a Freemason, so all Shriners are Masons.

Charity is one of the main tenets of Freemasonry, and it is taken seriously by most Masons. Today, in the United States alone, Freemasons collectively contribute an average of over $2.6 million every single day to charitable causes, in addition to rendering service as relief.*

The Shriners Hospitals for Children are just one of their charitable causes. Other well-known charities of Masons include Scottish Rite Children’s Medical Centers, RiteCare clinics, which aid children in language development, and the many educational grants and scholarships of Masonic Lodges. Lesser well known charities include grants and foundations providing support to groups such as The Humanitarian Foundation, the Alzheimer’s Association, State Mental Health Associations, Autism programs, the Deafness Research Foundation, Military outreach programs, child identification programs, cancer research projects, The Arthritis Fund, and programs for at-risk children, to name just a few. (While I try to not use my blog to advance agendas, I will just mention that you might keep this in mind next time you see those guys in the funny hats doing something to help raise money.)

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In addition, the Masonic Service Association of North America has donated over $9.5 billion since its inception in 1923 for relief to those affected by disasters such as earthquakes, floods and terrorism.**

When the contributions of Masons in the rest of the world are added, the picture of Masonic charity is monumental. But financial aid is only one part of the philanthropy; service to others is equally important.

Again, there are many ways Masons fulfill this standard. Most Lodges have service programs that might include such things as volunteering at local shelters or soup kitchens, cleaning highways or other areas of the community, visiting those in extended care facilities, or volunteering in mentoring programs. Many Lodges support organizations such as law enforcement, fire fighters, and other first responders, the military, or other groups or individuals working in service to others, such as by funding life insurance programs for them, providing needed items, or lending a helping hand however they can. Some Masons go as groups to areas of natural or human-caused disasters to work in any way they are able. On a more personal level, home-bound or ill members can generally count on visitations from their fraternal brothers; widows may rely on their late husbands’ fellow Masons to help care for yard work, home maintenance, or other chores; and other people of the community may depend on Masons to extend whatever aid they may reasonably be able to give.

What is the use of living, if it not be to strive for noble causes and to make this muddled world a better place for those who will live in it after we are gone? ~ Winston Churchill, U.K. Prime Minister, Freemason

* “Grand Lodge Masonic Charity,” The Grand Lodge of Ancient Free & Accepted Masons of Virginia, August 28, 2013, http://www. grandlodgeofvirginia.org/masonic_charity.htm.
**“Disaster Relief,” Masonic Service Association of North America, 2013, http://www.msana.com/msadisasterrelief.asp.

Masonic Monday – The Quick and Dirty Lowdown on Freemasonry

Masonic Monday is a series that discusses a bit of Freemasonry each week, from famous members to strange rituals.

I’ve been asked to explain what Freemasonry is. There have been volumes written about this, so one blog post can’t do justice to the subject. But, so that Henscratches readers will better understand the “Masonic Monday” posts, I offer this “quick-and-dirty lowdown,” excerpted and condensed from Little Lodges on the Prairie. Feel free to ask any question, or leave any other thoughts, in the comment section.

Legend holds that the organization began with the stone masons who worked on King Solomon’s Temple almost a thousand years before the Christian era. Only masons of the most upright character were allowed to work on that holiest of buildings. To ensure that only the deserving would have a place at the construction site, they devised secret words and phrases to convey the trade secrets of their craft to deserving masons, and keep those secrets from masons who were not deemed worthy and from persons who were not masons.

Although there are no records supporting this theory, we know there were stone mason societies in existence in Europe from long before the Templars’ time; extant records date them as early as 643 A.D. From these documents, we know that societies of masons existed, that they had instructions in behavior, and that they had rituals and secret words. These masons were the ones who built the great cathedrals and castles of the medieval period. The headquarters for the stone masons at a large building site was a smaller building or tent nearby known as the lodge. In the lodge, the craftsmen received their orders from the supervising master mason and met to discuss the technicalities of their work; it was also the place they could rest and eat.

Suppose you are a stone mason living in 1200 A.D. You have heard that a large castle is being built in Exeter, so you journey there, seeking work. When you arrive, no one there knows you. You find the supervising (master) mason and ask if there is a place for you to work. The master can make his decision in one of several ways. He can just look at you and make a decision. Quick, but not very reliable. He can ask you to sculpt something, to prove that you know what you’re doing and see your level of skill for himself. Reliable, but not very quick. Or, he can ask you for the secret words and signs. Since you had belonged to a society of masons previously, you know secret words and signs which instantly let the master know that you are trustworthy, that you have vowed to follow certain behaviors and work ethics, and how skilled you are (since there were different words for masters, craftsmen, and apprentices). Quick and reliable. Which do you think the master would most like to use?

This is the origin of Masonic Lodges, with their rituals and secrets. They were “operative masons,” that is, working masons by trade, and the oaths and signs and secret words had a practical purpose in the trade at that time.

Toward the end of the Gothic era and the beginning of the Renaissance, there was less physical building and more emphasis on enlightenment and intellectual growth, meaning less work for trade masons and, therefore, a decline in their membership. So, Lodges began to admit non-masons as honorary members. They only accepted into a Lodge men who were deemed worthy in regard to their moral behavior and who, in harmony with the new ideals of the enlightenment, wanted to work in cooperation with other men to create not only a better Lodge society, but also a better society at large. Also in harmony with the times, when symbolism of all types was enjoying a spurt of popularity, signs and symbols were used to reinforce the teachings. Naturally, these signs and symbols were drawn from the trade mason’s craft.

The non-mason men who were initiated into Lodges were known as speculative masons. Before long, speculative masons began to outnumber operative masons. By the early 1700s, so many Lodges were made up of mostly “accepted” speculative Masons, with only a few true “free” operative masons, that the leaders began to see the need for some sort of means to keep them unified in their rituals, words, and so forth. So in 1717, on the 24th of June, the Grand Lodge of London and Westminster (also called the Premier Grand Lodge of England) was organized.
As the ultimate authority, its leaders established the ritual and set some basic tenets to which all Lodges had to conform in order to be recognized as a true Masonic Lodge.

In outlining the tenets of the society, the Grand Lodge drew inspiration from the tolerance, unity, and advancement of intellectual pursuits promoted by the enlightenment. The founding principles were liberty, equality, and peace. Charity, beginning within the Lodge, Mason to Mason, but also extending outside the Lodge to any in need, was also an important precept.

Today, Freemasonry is said to be the oldest and largest fraternity in the world. There are approximately five million members worldwide; about half of those are in the United States. Within the organization, all members are equal as individuals; there is no recognition of social status or class among them. The Masonic term is “on the level,” and it means that a lowly laborer may meet with the President of the United States, and while in the Lodge, the President has no more prominence as a person than the laborer — they are equal as brothers. Although an office in the Lodge, such as that of Worshipful Master, may be a higher office, the individual in the office remains on the level with the other members.

The requirements for membership are simple, yet meaningful. The first three requirements are to be free, male, and adult. Much of ritual Masonry depends on the obligations made, which has always been considered a contract. Slaves, females, and children were not able to act in legal capacities, and this is what precluded them from membership. In addition, children must answer to parents, slaves to owners, and – in those days – wives to husbands; thus, none of them had complete control of their own actions, and might therefore be unable to fulfill a commitment made. Furthermore, women and children were not stone masons in ancient times. As Freemasonry builds on the Old Charge landmarks of masonic guilds, these membership requirements remain as they were in those days. A man must also hold a belief in a Supreme Being, and be of high moral character.

Many people believe Masonry is a religion. This is a misconception. Freemasonry is a fraternity, not a religion. A Mason may be of any religion or faith, as long as he is not an atheist. One reason confusion exists about the nature of the organization is the spiritual aspect of the fraternity. Faith is an important value in Freemasonry. Masons are admonished to seek the blessing of Deity before commencing any important undertaking. Furthermore, they are instructed to diligently study the Sacred Law; however, during Lodge meetings, no religious dogma or creed may be advanced, nor any political agenda. The meetings are “no religion or politics” zones, as Lodges are to promote unity, not discord.

Freemasonry is sometimes mistakenly called a “secret society,” but Masonry is not a secret at all. Everyone knows about it, and its Lodges are brazenly marked. It is instead a society with secrets. Supposedly, anyway; there really aren’t that many secrets. Benjamin Franklin wrote in 1730, “Their Grand Secret is That they have no Secret at all.” In these modern days of the information superhighway, there is more truth to his statement than Franklin would have thought possible.

Why does the fraternity have secrets at all? Remember that in the beginning there was a practical purpose for the secret words and signs: to convey, without the time, effort and cost of actually sculpting something, a mason’s level of skill and trustworthiness in a time when there was no other means to do so.

The secret works (signs, words, and rituals) used today are symbolic of this trustworthiness. If a man cannot keep a mere word or hand signal secret, how is he to be trusted with your business, your wife, or anything else of importance? The ability to know that a fellow Mason will treat you honestly in business, care for your wife or widow, keep his word, and render aid when needed: these were — and remain — important characteristics within the Lodge.
The secret words and signs also give Masons a means to identify one another, and know upon meeting that this is a brother Mason, who has taken an oath which includes helping fellow Masons or their family if needed. It may be easy to overlook the importance of this, but to those living in times or places that make it difficult to know who can be trusted, such as in Nazi Germany, these secret words and signs can mean safety or even life.

The goal of Freemasonry is, as it was in days of old, building. Today Masons are building not structures and a physical society, but rather character and a better communal society. The stated aim of the fraternity is “making good men better.” The organization seeks to meet this goal by focusing on lessons that strengthen relationships; promote honesty and brotherly love; and encourage education, tolerance, and charity.

This is accomplished by learning from the ancient wisdom of the craft of masonry, and defined by degrees, or stages of advancement within the society, which represent movement from darkness and ignorance to light and knowledge. The steps through the degrees include self-examination, determination of values, resolution to keep those values, and making all actions consistent with them. The lessons of each degree are taught through ritual dramas in which the initiate takes part in acting out various scenes from the building of King Solomon’s Temple. The continual use of signs and symbols from those dramatic rituals reinforces the lessons.

Probably the most widely recognized symbols in Freemasonry are the square and compasses. In the craft of masonry, the square is a tool with an angle of 90 degrees, and is used to ensure that the edges of a stone subtend the same angle for accuracy. In the Craft of Masonry, the square symbolizes morality, truthfulness, and honesty; the duties of a Mason to his Brothers and neighbors. Masons are obliged to square their actions by the square of virtue. The symbolism of the square has become so ingrained that it has become common to speak of “a square deal” for any honest transaction. There are many more such symbols used in the character building lessons of the Craft. These symbols remind Masons of their obligation to apply the associated value lessons in their daily lives.

The fraternity is benevolent in nature, and another time I’ll discuss this aspect. It’s truly awesome.

Masonic Monday – George Washington

George Washington

Welcome to a new series called Masonic Monday, in which I’ll highlight the lives of some notable Masons. It is only fitting to begin with the “Father of Masonry in America,” our first President, George Washington.

Since Washington’s time as leader of the Continental Army and President are well-known, we’ll skip that part and look at a few lesser-known facts about him.
1. Washington loved dogs. He always kept some, and spent time with them every day. Some of his dogs’ names include Truelove, Sweet Lips, Ragman, and Madame Moose. Can you imagine the dignified General/President calling “Here, Sweet Lips!”? Sounds more like Hawkeye on M*A*S*H.
2. Washington inherited slaves when 11 years old, and kept slaves the rest of his life. His views on slavery evolved through the years, however (especially during the Revolution) and he freed them in his will when he died.
3. At age 14, Washington considered joining the Royal Navy. Luckily for us, his mother refused to give her permission, which was required at that age. Ironically, it was Washington who later created the U.S. Navy, by signing the Naval Act of 1794.
4. Did Washington ever chop down a cherry tree? Well, maybe at some point in his life, but the story about the cherry tree and “cannot tell a lie” is itself a fabrication. So is the story about throwing a silver dollar across the Potomac.
5. Washington’s first occupation was as a surveyor in Virginia, at age 17.
6. At age 20, Washington was initiated as an Entered Apprentice (Freemason) at Fredericksburg Lodge No. 4 in Fredericksburg, Virginia on November 4, 1752. He was passed to the Degree of Fellow Craft on March 3, 1753, and raised a Master Mason on August 4, 1753. He was later made an honorary member of Alexandria Lodge No. 39 (now Alexandria-Washington Lodge No. 22) and Holland Lodge No. 8, New York, NY. Washington later served at least 2 terms as Master of the Lodge, and he remained a Freemason in good standing his entire life.

The minutes of the meeting at which Washington was raised a Master Mason.

7. Washington did wear dentures, but they were not made of wood. Instead, various sets were made of assortments of ivory, bone, metal, and human teeth (including some of his own, saved for that purpose).
8. Washington did not like to have his portrait painted. He called it “irksome” and a waste of time, and would only do so when requested by a group with a “particular purpose,” so that artists or others could not “use” his image – either for money, or in promotion or opposition of political or other ideas.*
9. Nevertheless, Washington agreed when his Masonic Lodge requested that he sit for a portrait in his Master’s regalia. This portrait was painted in 1794 by William Williams, and was presented to the Lodge in October of that year.

William Williams’ portrait of Washington in his Master’s regalia.

10. June 24 of many years saw Washington celebrating St. John the Baptist’s Day with one Masonic Lodge or another, and December 27 of many years found him in a Lodge celebrating St. John the Evangelist’s Day.
11. Washington was elected President of the United States unanimously both times – the only President to ever be unanimously elected. He took his oath of office on the Bible from St. John’s Lodge No. 1.
*Quotes from letter written by Washington to Henry Lee, Governor of Virginia, dated July 3, 1792. May be seen in the George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress.