This blog should be called the Far From Weekly Owl. Or perhaps I should say I’m using Jupiter weeks. But, here’s the thing. Blogging is not a habit for me. I know that the PR experts say that if you want to succeed as an author, you need to blog regularly and make it really interesting. I’m not sure what the logic is. If you are reading this, you are probably a relative, a friend, or a fan of my books. If you are a fan, then you are waiting impatiently for the next Emily Glass story — the long-promised “House of Birch.” If you aren’t a fan, why are you here? Did you just stumble on the blog? I suppose that’s possible. I myself sometimes search for things on the Goog and am referred to a blog, an often it is very interesting. But I do that so seldom, it is hard to believe it is really necessary.
I suppose, though, the usual way I find books — by having a friend or another author refer to the book — is at work on line too. But here is the “not really trying” part of my title: I just do not usually pass my time writing or reading blogs. I have such stacks of books to read and such a lot to write and draw, that I haven’t the time. Or perhaps I should say, I do not take the time for that purpose. Have I achieved success as an author without really trying to have an online “Presence” ? That’s the funny thing. From a book sales point of view and earning a living, certainly not. A church mouse could not survive on the paltry income I make from writing. But at the same time, I do feel that every day I succeed.
The reason is that every time I write or draw something to do with my world (my “sub-created world as dear Prof. Tolkien said), I am accomplishing wonders. I may be the only one who experiences those wonders, but that is usually the case when one is Taken by the Good People of Faerie and walk among their lands. My daughter, the other day, accused me of not being adventurous because I would never want to scramble through the Dead Marshes or the ruined landscape of Mordor or even the Mines of Moria. My idea of adventure, said she, is just to go to Rivendell and try to finish my book. Or to go to live with Galadriel in Lothlorien. She is sort of right. I don’t like desert landscapes, much less land blasted by industrial waste such as Mordor, but I would love to explore the Mines of Moria — that is, if I had a better wizard than Gandalf with me!
Sacrilege? Well, Gandalf’s powers were limited partly for dramatic effect. But, if I went to the Mines of Moria in my own fantasy world, then one would have to wonder why Gandalf seemed to have so little command of protection spells for his merry band. In the world of Emily Glass, protection spells are almost the first kind you learn as a mage. They are the basis for all magic, I should say, and the necessary first foray into spells of Circumstanciation — that is, spells to change the surrounding circumstances (that’s a little redundant, but I hope you see what I mean). You cannot expect to walk through territory claimed and controlled by orcs (yrch) and not need to cast any protection spells. If it had been my adventure, there would have been a bit more of that enchanted armour and some elf and dwarf-magic blades. But a simple Protego spell cast by a high mage like Gand-alf, ought to have worked fine against mere orcs. The Balrog, granted, would have been a tougher nut to crack. In that case you are talking of an even match between two angelic beings of the Maiar level. Might have been nice to see Legolas do some powerful elvish singing to put the orcs to sleep, or help Gandalf with the Balrog. But we know why that wasn’t destined to work, don’t we.
I suppose I am being facetious. Tolkien’s grand epic needed the Mines of Moria to be just a big dangerous maze in which G. was caught to enable his transfiguration into a more powerful astar (wizard). In the world of Emily Glass, which I inhabit, you will know, there are also “dwarfs” who live in underground cities, but they are not beaten down by orcs and Balrogs. (Spoiler: there aren’t any Balrogs because they are servants of the Dark Lord and I can’t stand Dark Lords.) The Rhuzamedi in the Emily Glass books have so far only been in the background and I anticipate the will not quite yet come to the foreground in “House of Glass.” But they will in the book after that.
Emily’s life story is not the sort of epic in which a hero gets suddenly swept away by a dangerous mission. It cannot be that because Emily is only fourteen. She has a lot of personal business and learning to take care of before she is going to be able to face any dragons. Or mechanized war machines. Or spy rings. (Oh, wait, she already has run into one spy ring…) In House of Glass and its two sequels, she is placed in grave danger and almost killed more than once, yet she has a protective necklace she received from her mother, and that has helped her survive where many fourteen year olds could not (unless they were in one of those juvenile fantasy books where the adults are all stupid and the children prevail through superior pluckiness.)
People ask writers, “What is your writing process?” and I can only answer that I write through a complex web of distractions and digressions. Though I am as impatient as any of my tens of fans to read the next book in the series, it has been my destiny to pass my time exploring various dimensions of the world of Prydein and Celydon, as well as the other real world: the history and archaeology of the Britons. What has been required in the past year or so has been the drawing of a complete map of Prydein Alba and Dalriada. I have not yet got to Eiren because that is a whole different world within the world and Emily will have to discover that. But transforming Great Britain into the United Kingdoms and figuring out the cities, rivers, geography and political divisions, is necessary before I go further. There is still a lot to reveal about the Tor and the university and that will be Emily’s immediate place for some years. However, the University of Celydon exists as a power within the patchwork of shires of a much larger setting, and that exists in further relationships to far-flung rival empires. That shadowy reality must stay a little in the shadows while Emily is still at school.
All of which, I would like to share with others, and that is where the novel-writing comes in. Yet, there is more. Not only the setting’s politics and geography need revealing over time but also the way magic works, and that is the other thing that has been occupying my time in the past year. I knew all along that at a certain point in the school story it would become necessary that I should learn the whole of Celydon’s magical system in order to write the scenes in which Tristan Jones teaches magics to the Four Hallows students. So, I did. There are still a vast lot of details to each spell in the Classificarius Magerica that need to be worked out, but it will seldom be necessary in the novels to go into that level of detail (which would probably really put the readers to sleep).
Meanwhile, I have been taking a lesson from J.K. Rowling as I await the second Fantastic Beasts movie and read reviews. I haven’t seen it yet, but it sounds like it suffers from the same problems as the first one: visual effects but not enough plot exposition to figure out what the heck is going on. I don’t like Harry Potter movie magic — pretty much just pyrotechnics. Wands as Star Ward blasters essentially. But that’s Hollywood. How would they know how to depict magic as it really works? More like Mists of Avalon that Star Wars. But our techno-religion insists that technology is magic. As Arthur C. Clarke never said: “Any sufficiently advanced magic will be mistaken by primitive cultures for technology.”
So, the upshot is that I am a very successful writer and have produced marvelous amounts of worldbuilding. That doesn’t mean I’m selling it to anyone, but that is not really my business. I will let the hobgoblins at the Light Starch Press worry about that.
In my novel series, The Celydon Saga, which begins with House of Glass, the druid school attended by Emily Glass has a school song (naturally) which the students sing every morning at Assembly. The words are mine but the tune is the traditional Cymric song, “The Ash Grove” which has a number of versions. Some links at the bottom are provided to see the sheet music and some performances of the song (not my song, but the original).
I chose “The Ash Grove” after much research on school songs and traditional Welsh melodies partly because the words to “The Ash Grove” will lie subtly behind the school song. They are appropriate to druids and are so beautiful, especially when one recalls that the Ash is one of the three most sacred trees of druids (with Oak and Thorn) and that it is the wood from which the Spear of Lugh was made, which is the Notos Hall hallow. To purchase the books:House of Glass at Amazon.com
(Tune: The Ash Grove. Welsh Traditional)
‘Pon yonder green hillside where streamlets meander,
To ancient Four Hallows we raise up our hearts
Thy dear halls of learning, the world looking over
Wild dreams of our youth, we bring unto thee.
Sing loudly the love that we give to Four Hallows
With dancing and singing, let new knowledge grow.
Those golden fair hours with friends we remember
Thy fresh’ning rain showers, thy woods deep in snow
Nor hope, nor thy wisdom, shall ever forsake us:
If life brings us sorrow, thy light we shall see
We’ll never forget thee, our dearest Four Hallows,
In strength and in kindness, forever we’ll grow!
In the ’60s we thought technology was going to make our lives easier! Instead it has made it more and more complicated to the point where one can waste nearly endless time and energy on stupid things like trying to update a web site, figure out how some software is supposed to work when it isn’t doing its job, or replace ringtones on your phone you accidently erased. Bad, bad bad. Is it worth it to (supposedly) communicate one’s thoughts to the whole world? Well, not to me. Nor do I think it works. Nor do I think my thoughts are important to communicate, in the grand scheme of things. It is more important to tend my garden and my trees.
But here I am, trying to update Bardwood.com with my latest books and unable to remember how my web authoring software works. Would it be more expedient to switch software? Or to re-read the manual? Or Lord knows what. I’m vacatoning with my 93 year old mum and she just bought a new ipad, so I have to help her figure that out as well. I guess back in the day, when telephone’s were first invented, it probably took people a few minutes to figure out how they worked, but today, we create these so-called “smart” machines that are not smart enough to set themselves up and do what they are supposed to do without our constant intervention and tinkering; we create communication devices that require experts to operate and hours and hours of frustration to learn to use, and then something goes wrong and they cease to work. Give me a mechanical system any day over that. Give me a simple telephone wire. Our “smart” technology is a step backwards, if you ask me. The average human with a PhD. is not smart enough to use them. So, if anyone wonders why my domain name disappeared from this blog or why my web site is never updated, now you know! I’m stuck in Limbo trying endlessly to make my software work. It is a complete misnomer. The “hardware” is easy to use, the “software” is hard to use. I like the hardware better, or should I simply say, the machine itself. But until computer manufacturers can make computers that will require the user to do nothing but press “On” they are creating junk. For all the undoubted intellect and work that goes into software design, the premise of the whole thing is wrong. Users do not want to have to update software or install it, or trouble-shoot it. Can you imagine if you were driving your car and you had to “troubleshoot” its software while driving. You would get stuck at the side of the road and go insane.
Its a surreal world we have created. “Smart” missiles bomb weddings and hospitals by mistake, and “smart” phones spend most of their time being annoyances. I really think I may go back to a land line and a typewriter and start writing letters to people instead of all this silliness. Give me nice, dumb technology and I will then have time to actually think about things I want to think about, instead of wasting my time trying to figure out software and “apps”.
Grrrrrr. At least CreateSpace works easily and I can publish my novels that way. A pity, though, that book stores refuse to carry indie published books which means that my readers are pretty well dependent on using a computer to order a copy of my novels. When it comes to owning a web site to self-promote or share information, without a professional webmaster, whom I cannot afford, there seems little hope. I must choose to either promote myself and waste huge amounts of time, or else use my time to write books and leave the “promotion” to fate.
A webmaster who will work pro bono, and a publicist who will work pro-bono, or even for a percentage of my sales is what I need. Someone whose profession is to psychoanalyze these “smart” devices.
Ah, the sound of the tornado sirens going off. It’s 2pm Thursday April 16th and I am sitting at my desk in the new second floor of our house, Bardwood Lodge. Of course, my lady wife does not call it Bardwood Lodge, but that’s what I call it. We have survived seven months of construction followed by three months of winter, and are now in the midst of Minnesota Springtime, which is up and down up and down on the thermometer. We’ve had a very beautiful spell for a few days recently and things are beginning to turn green — that is, trees and shrubs. Things have been turning green in the fridge for some time.
I am happy to say that I was elected last December to the office of Lodge Secretary for Lake Harriet Lodge No. 277 A.F. & A.M. which is conveniently located two blocks from my house. So far (Month 4) I am enjoying the job and figuring out those odd things that come up rarely as well as the routine of a Masonic lodge. My work consists of taking minutes at meetings, processing petitions for membership either by degrees or by affiliation, keeping up communication with the new candidates and new brothers, as they take their degrees, attending events, taking reservations for events, getting forms printed at the print shop, and mailing stuff out to members. The Assistant Secretary helps with sending dues notices and dues cards, collecting money and depositing it in the bank, and putting things on the Lodge calendar. Having him to handle the money is helpful to me. When he want on vacation for two weeks, I misplaced a $13,000 check from the Grand Lodge. (Truthfully, I never saw the check, but since the Grand Secretary says he mailed it, I have to take the blame for its apparent disappearance, if you follow me. Can one lose something one has never seen? Possibly, if it was stuck in the envelope, and I threw it away witlessly. That stands as the explanation, officially. Privately, I have long suspected the Lodge building has mischievous hobgoblins that steal and hide things.)
I have made work for myself too, above and beyond what needed to be done. For example, I designed new cards to send to brothers for their Masonic Birthdays, Get Well cards, and Condolences cards, all of a Masonic theme. I plan, in the fullness of time, to sell these cards and become a millionaire, but have to find the time first. I also redesigned several forms to make them easier to fill out and read, and certificates to make them more impressive for this Gilded Age.
The Weekly Owl has languished during the construction and its aftermath of unpacking and rearranging. However, I plan to take it up a little more regularly and keep it a little more concise (I hope). At present, there are wands to be carved and clients waiting for them. Also, about a third of First Term at Four Hallows that still needs to have its proof-corrections entered into the computer file before I can upload it and sell it on CreateSpace. It is the second in the Celydon Saga and the one where Emily arrives at school. I am working on copy-editing the third book, The Alchemist’s Secret, as well, but finding it hard to juggle quite so many balls at the same time. I’m working up a time-dilation spell that will give me more time to read. Or not precisely “more” time, just Wider time.
I am amazed this did not occur to me before. Maybe it did and I’ve just forgotten. I should re-read my doctoral dissertation. Some other scholar has certainly already noticed this…
Anyway, there are four main characters in Jules Verne’s novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Seas. They very obviously correspond to the four humours of medieval medicine (still respected perhaps in 1870 when the novel was published). Conceil, the valet is not only Flemish but Phlegmatic. Ned Land has a chapter titled “Ned Land’s Choleres” so he is clearly choleric — always hungry and prone to violent outbursts. These are almost explicitly stated by the author. But Nemo is clearly the Melancholic humour and Aronnax is Sanguine. The last of these is the most interesting because the least obvious. Aronnax is, however, not only happy and content most of the time; he is also prone to excitable reactions and “going overboard” with his theories about the giant narwhal. He literally goes overboard…
What does this do for the literary critic or the reader? That is a good question and one I will have to ponder further. However, one thing it does for the book is turn the relationships between the characters into a study of human personality types and opposites. Ned and Conseil are often paired and serve as foils for each other. Nemo and Aronnax are another couple and also opposites in temperament.
What happens when we think of these humours as the four elements? Ned is Earth — easy-going and Sensate in his ay of seeing the world except when he erupts like a volcano. Conseil is Air, cool, rational, adaptable. Aronnax is Fire, enthusiastic, largely happy and engaged, seeing the world in a mental and spiritual way.Nemo (not surprisingly) is Water, engaging with the world and others through emotions and feelings. There is a chapter title called “The Man of the Waters” which is usually mistranslated as “The Man of the Seas.” In terms of Jungian personality functions, this would make Ned a Sensate type (which fits), Conseil a Thinking Type, Aronnax an Intuitive, and Nemo a Feeling type. The characters are not kept to these narrow frames, but on the whole they seem to fit.
It is especially interesting to see that the phlegmatic thinking type with his cool analytical reason is Conseil, the classifier who cannot actually identify animals when he sees them — he just has the artificial classification nomenclature memorized so that given the name of a thing, he can place it into an artificial structure of order. This is the mentality we associate with Science. Is Verne actually making fun of the modern Scientific way of thinking? Could be, given that he was a devout Catholic, and a bit of a trickster to boot. It is obvious that Conseil is a parody of the Scientist, but what if he is actually the representative of Rationalism?
Prof. Aronnax, the real scientist, supposedly, is ruled by his heart and his will — that is, his delight in nature, and his excitement. He goes astray in his deductions and hypotheses; he almost starts babbling when faced with a “swim with the sharks” scheme and is intensely loyal and a little over-dramatic.
Nemo, who you would think was representative of science and technology is nothing of the kind. He is an engineering genius and an avid collector, but his temperament is Byronic, melancholic, brooding and motivated by dark emotions: unhappiness, grief, isolation, loneliness, and a desire for vengeance.
All of which goes to show that Verne might have been challenging us to examine our assumptions about scientific objectivity and rationalism and to consider that none of these four humours are in fact sufficient alone. Each fails in some way to deal with life, but together they complement and correct each other. In the central relationship, Aronnax encourages Nemo to rediscover happiness and throw off his discontent and self-destructive isolation. Nemo introduces Aronnax to melancholy and the darker side of life that he has never himself experienced. Aronnax has never — so far as we are told — had to struggle against misfortune or endure personal tragedy.
Ironically, perhaps, what Aronnax ends up losing in the end of he story is his friend Nemo, to whom he had grown attached even though he never knew his real name. True to his nature, Aronnax ends his narrative with questions and the hope that Nemo survived, but one feels he must also be experiencing a deep sense of loss. We sometimes think that we all could do without melancholy, and maybe that’s why so many of us are on anti-depression meds. But in fact melancholy is not bad. It is one of the four humours that must be kept in balance to create a whole human being.
I’ve been thinking about the Royal Arch degree and its several other “capitular” degrees (capitular being Latin for “chapter” which is what a RAM group is called instead of a “lodge”). Since I am still working on reading and writing about Craft Masonry and the Speculative Art, my involvement in the Royal Arch Chapter has been nil after taking the degrees. I’ve read up on it some, read the rituals, gone through them in a way that was not very well-performed. There is a lot of potential for good theater and dramatic ritual, but it is not often realized. I know there are well-done RAM degrees out there and for me, even a degree read to me can allow me to use my imagining to fill in the theater.
One reason I was not able to attend the chapter I joined was that my lodge has its officer’s meetings the same night. I know how to bi-locate, of course, but it is a bit confusing and tends to frighten people. So, the long and short is that I never got into the habit of attending and, over the years of doing research into the Craft, I came to be of the opinion that all the extraneous “dependent bodies” Masons have invented since the 18th century are predicated on the idea that three degrees is not enough. I think three degrees are exactly enough, if you actually understand them and apply them. What’s more, I know there are many brothers who agree. This is not intended as a put-down to dependent bodies. I know some fine brothers who are way into the York Rite. The Knights Templar of Masonry were once a really big deal and still are on the national level. And all these very interesting degrees are worthy of attention. It’s the premise I disagree with, the premise that says the Craft Lodge is just a doorway into higher degree Masonry.
I feel that the whole idea of “higher degree” Masonry is based on a misunderstanding of the mystery school and the structure of three degrees. There is a reason for three and only three. This error along with a misunderstanding of the meaning of “the Lost Word.” Masons have been searching for a long time for that Word from some external source, or speculating on what it ought to be in their own opinion. These degrees have now been handed down for many generations so that they are taken as sacrosanct when in fact they were written by chaps just like us today (only less well informed perhaps). The fact that so many Masons miss the whole Art of thinking symbolically and using symbols to transform themselves is troubling, but it has been the history of the Craft for centuries now. There have been Masons interested in other esoteric schools, such as Jewish Kabbalah and Hermeticism, and there is likely a connection. However, Masonry is not either of those things. It is a different approach that uses geometrical ideas and symbolic workman’s tools to accomplish the same goal as these far more difficult esoteric schools. Learning Kabbalah can blow your mind if you aren’t careful, and learning alchemy is mind-bogglingly difficult because its symbolism is so complex and bizarre.
Yet, Masonry is like Alchemy in this respect: it takes a physical and material activity and uses it spiritually through active imagination. Alchemy uses chemistry (mostly medieval chemistry) as a symbolic system for aspects of the spirit. It intersects with astrology, which uses the observation of the stars and planets symbolically. These ancient symbolic systems are designed for personal transformation, and that includes changing the world too, because one of the big “secrets” is that there is no separation between imagination and material reality and there is no separation between mortal human beings and the gods or immortal spirits. We already exist in Eternity. We just have to shift our consciousness, as the poet Blake observed and expressed in his own complicated symbolic system. It’s poetry. Practical poetry. Ritual has one purpose and that is to change one’s consciousness into a different state from one’s ordinary day-to-day existence. That mundane life comes with the convenient illusion that it is all there is. It’s a good survival belief. Mystics have a hard time holding down a regular job.
However, the true secret of all these esoteric schools is that the mysteries lie within us and we only need to knock on the doors of our imagination and they will be opened.
The Royal Arch degree is the one Mozart used as inspiration for The Magic Flute and the candidate’s ordeal of the elements. Yet, it also draws upon the Bible in ways that are rather different than the Craft degrees. It must have been written by men who thought there were not enough Bible stories in Masonry. It certainly thought that the story of the building of the temple of Solomon and its subsequent destruction and reconstruction were a necessary allegory to complete one’s thinking about one’s spiritual “temple.” Nothing wrong with that as such, unless it be that its pretty Judeo-Christian. If you aren’t of that persuasion and familiar with the Book of Kings and the Prophets, it is hard to imagine that the meaning of the allegory will be easy to grasp. I could be wrong, of course.
It reminds me of the York Mystery Plays. Every four years in York, the old medieval mystery plays are still put on. Each play told a Bible story and was put on by one of the guilds in the city. Each guild competed for the best performance and though there is no evidence to this effect, the story of King Solomon’s temple and its subsequent iterations would certainly have been an appropriate subject for the Stonemasons and their play. There is no direct evidence of Mystery plays being the inspiration for Masonic ritual drama, but the similarity is hard to miss. Especially in the York Rite. The same stories were put together for degrees in the Scottish Rite too, and thus the two dependent bodies have been rivals in American Masonry.
While resisting the idea that “taking more degrees” is what “doing Masonry” means, I am nevertheless intrigued by the history of these degrees (and there are many more than those in either York or Scottish Rite). The whole kit and kaboodle uses stories from the Bible that were once well known by everyone who was Christian or Jew, which was pretty much everyone until the last half of the 20th century. So, even for the Christian Mason of the 19th century, the enactment of a sort of Biblical drama of this sort, easily touched memories and understanding from Bible reading and sermons in church. The dramas are ritualized, adapted to some of the patterns seen in the Craft degrees. For example, lines are repeated three times in ways that are reminiscent of the three-fold repetitions used in a Craft lodge. However, in my opinion, the Royal Arch rituals take this to a ridiculous extreme so that the elegant symbolism of three degenerates into long-winded repetition of long passages. If you are a Mason, you will recall the long-winded Polonius-like speech of the First Craftsman reporting to King Solomon.
The writers of the Royal Arch degrees imitated this repetition as part of the way Masonry was supposedly taught — necessary because no one could ever read it. Until recently the rituals were closely guarded and the only way to experience it was to participate in it. The Scottish Rite degree scripts are even more closely kept. Such secrecy is not merely for its own sake; nor is it merely to prevent spoilers for candidates. The content of some of the degrees could easily be misconstrued (as anti-Masons have always done) and keeping them secret within the brotherhood was one way to avoid being attacked as “pagans.” The Scottish Rite includes material that is critical of priesthoods who are lazy and more concerned with luxury than spirit; it includes material from non-Judeo-Christian religions to encourage thought about the universality of fundamental principles.
None of this is intended to be theology. Nor is it supposed to be a re-interpretation of the Bible superior to what is done in the pulpits of the world. It is using the stories as allegories and parables to teach moral principles dramatically. That is one of the great appeals to the “higher degrees.” One of the motivations for creating them, one has to think, was the desire for more drama like that in the Master Mason degree. In an age before radio or television, amateur and professional theatrics were the main enjoyment of society. Consider how much time we spend today watching shows on TV or computer, or in movie theaters and then devote all that time to live theater instead. Operas and plays were the entertainment of the time, and for the Masons to realize that the same theatrical techniques could be used for moral dramas was brilliant. Making them private plays for members only was probably also a very good selling point for membership.
However, while not intended to be a substitute theology, in the case of the Royal Arch the rituals make it fairly clear that the creators of it felt there was too little Christianity in Masonry. The Craft degrees assumed the craftsman to be a member of the dominant religion, but in the 17th and 18th centuries Europe was still recovering from bloody religious wars between Catholic and Protestant factions. The English Civil War had been one such. So, the “religious” references in Craft Masonry are very light and are made non-sectarian for a reason. The creator of the Royal Arch degree and the various other degrees which attempted to dramatize more of the story of the Temple at Jerusalem, took on a very different focus.
Where the Craft Lodge degrees instruct a man to take control of himself and his life and work to do good and to be good, the Royal Arch degree focuses on having faith in God and to realize that He is the source of all good things. That idea is assumed in the Craft Lodge, but the emphasis is placed upon discovering the divine spark within oneself that can aid us in becoming better men, better fathers, husbands, sons, and workers. The basis of the Royal Arch degree is not individualistic. It expounds the theological idea that the individual must trust in God to raise him up. In fact, that message is already in the third degree, symbolically, but if one misses the symbolic purport of the Master of the Lodge, one could easily miss the Divine aspect of what is going on. It is not interpreted literally or openly for a reason: to require each Master Mason to figure it out and pay attention. If he cannot think symbolically, he cannot do the work of enlightenment. Whether this is the best way to teach is arguable, and that very argument seems to me to be the thing that generated the Royal Arch degree.
To site one example, without giving away the details of the ritual, the symbol of the point within the circle is re-interpreted. In the Craft Lodge it is given as a symbol of the individual at the center of his moral compass. The circle, drawn by the spiritual tool, the compasses, has ancient geometric symbolism. The same symbol was used for the Sun in astrology and for Gold in alchemy, each of which referred to the same deep inner force and fire of life and personality. Purified character, one might say, or the True Self that must be refined from the dross of our ordinary habits and roles. In the Royal Arch, the symbol is re-interpreted for the candidate explicitly. In stead of giving him the symbols to figure out under guidance from his elder brothers, the Arch gives him doctrine. One might say that the Craft degrees offer questions and clues, while the Arch offers answers, just like a religion does.
For a Christian who is a believer, there would be nothing wrong with making a Christian interpretation of Masonic ritual explicit. That, for the believer, is the reality to which Masonry must allude. Everything had to come back to the Bible, for the orthodox mind of the 17th and 18th centuries. Even in the 19th century, when the rise of sciences and geological theories about the age of the earth were undermining the belief that the Bible was infallible historical reportage, there was a reaction that clung even more tightly to simple faith and piety. Assailed suddenly by other ways of thinking about the past and about religion, many Christians of the 19th century did respond by clinging all the more tightly to what they had been raised to believe. Fundamentalism only became necessary then. Prior to that shift in knowledge and science, everyone was a fundamentalist, whether Catholic or Protestant. So, for the writers of the Royal Arch degree, such an interpretation must have seemed perfectly natural and obvious. The idea that the Lost Word was an actual word resonated with the Biblical story of how the disruption of the Jewish priesthood in Jerusalem during the Babylonian conquest, caused the name of God to be lost (or its proper pronunciation anyway). So, the difficult concept presented to Masons in the Craft degrees the task of seeking the meaning of “the Word” was transformed from a quest to simply a lesson when the whole thing gets explained in quasi-Biblical terms in the Royal Arch.
It was this aspect of the degree that caused Royal Arch Masons to think that your Masonic journey to light was not completed until you took the Arch degree. You did not having the answers to the questions, and for the dogmatic mindset, it was obviously necessary to give the student the answers. In church or in schools, in the 18th century the whole idea of education was that the teacher knew the answers to the questions and taught the students to recite them, usually through tedious repitition. Is it any wonder then, that the same attitudes and methods should seem necessary to some Masons? They might in fact have been the most intellectual and well-educated Masons of the time and so had this way of thinking about truth drummed into them thoroughly.
What is wrong with this point of view is that it is fundamentally authoritarian. A Royal Arch chapter uses the patriarchal authoritarian world as a given when its officers are titled King and High Priest and the world of the Bible offered up as the exemplary world of the past. The authoritarian standpoint supports priesthoods, ecclesiastical hierarchies, kings and the class system. Not perhaps wittingly, but the very symbols partake of such a worldview. And this is, to my mind, very much the opposite of the world view presented in the Craft Lodge. The Master is the leader of a lodge, but is first among equals. He is not a king or dictator. Each worthy man in a lodge can serve as Master in his turn. That is a very different (and indeed especially American and Revolutionary) idea. Masons meet on the level, without class or wealth distinctions, dressed alike as workmen ready to do symbolic work together — that is real symbolic work, the work of imagination and transformation.
It is very hard to get across what this kind of work is. The Old World may have taken symbols as a way to reality, but symbols were pretty well always interpreted in Christian terms because the premise that the Biblical reality was the only reality was taken as a given. When the modern age opened minds to other ways of thinking, symbols became something that were just fake. The term “symbolic work” in the context of our dominant culture today could be translated as “not-real work,” which comes out as not “work” at all in the scientific materialist sense. For the modern literalism, in which the materialism of science is assumed as the premise of reality (in place of the Bible), the same thing happens as in the Old World view. Symbols are only useful if they refer to mathematical or chemical realities, and symbol-systems that refer to spirit and soul are suspect. Only if “psychology” can be reduced to material science can such symbols work in the materialist view of reality. This is essentially the same failure of imagination as in the Biblical interpretation. That is, says the priest: symbols must be interpreted in terms of Biblical religion; and the scientific materialist says, symbols must be interpreted in relationship to a non-spiritual and non-poetic reality of mass and energy.
The very term “work” takes on the meaning of “moving a mass over a distance.” It is the actual work of the actual stonemasons. They moved the massive stones over distances, lifting and setting them. That, in the modern sense, was “real work.” But Masons aren’t asked to move mass. They are asked to fashion their minds and consciences as “living stones” to place perfectly into a structure called simply “that house not made with hands.” This “House” is not the literal Temple of Solomon. It is the figurative temple of the soul, mind, and actions of a man — his life, in other words. It is a “house” only metaphorically. It does not refer to “mansions in heaven” (except to the extent that those are also symbols of something spiritual). One’s Self is a Temple, as the Christian Master said.
While a lot of Christian or Jewish religious teaching and symbolism can certainly be applied to Masonic symbolism, and much of it does refer to the same spiritual and moral Universe, the questions and the clues of the three degrees of Masonry are given as such for a reason. Any attempt to create further “degrees” that offer “explanations” assumes that the student needs to be given the “correct” answer. I would argue just the reverse. The student needs to be raised to a level of consciousness at which he can interpret for himself in relation to his own beliefs and in openness to the beliefs of others. Masonry is anti-dogmatic and therefore cannot be interpreted in the symbol system of Christianity, Judaism, or even Kabbalah. Its similarities to those schools and to ancient mystery schools are incidental. Masonry’s symbols are based purely on geometry and its allegorical interpretation, not on any theological ideas (except that of Divine Unity, which is to say simply, God is like a circle. The Universe is like a circle. A man is like a point within a circle, but he is also like a circle.) A man, when he becomes a Symbolic Mason takes on the obligation to try his hardest to change himself from a dimensionless point into a line with direction, a superficies of two directions, and a solid with depth, as well as breadth and width.
Again, I will warn that this is my opinion and no official Masonic line. That said, I think that the symbolism of the Bible on the altar, opened, but with a square and compasses on top of it tells a central story. Namely, it admonishes us to read sacred texts and indeed any books or authorities through the tools of the square of virtue and the compasses that inscribe wholeness and place limits on our moral behavior. The Square is Earthly reason: virtue in the body. The Compasses are Celestial Reason: restraint within the due bounds of reason in our thoughts and passions as well as in our actions. We do move mass over distance, but they are the masses that are the parts of our soul and mind, the building blocks of reason and intelligence so dear to the Enlightenment era when Symbolic Masonry was evolved and formed. Geometry is the rule and guide, a set of ideas about number and space that is entirely neutral with regard to religion. The missing Word is not the name of God pronounced by priests and potentates. It is the Word of each Man, that is his truth, his honesty, his integrity, his spiritual life. This is what has been “Lost” in our culture and what each Master Mason seeks to find.
We travel away from Jerusalem in the East towards the West geographically speaking, but geometrically speaking, we travel from Jerusalem toward the East where our journey of self-discovery must begin with the Dawn, with enlightenment.
The corrected and expanded edition of 100 Years of Brotherhood: The Centennial History of Lake Harriet Lodge No. 277, is now available at CreateSpace for $68.99 plus shipping in Full Color with numerous photographs, charts, tables, and a genealogy of the Lodge itself. Just follow this link:
It will be available also directly from Lake Harriet Lodge for a lovely discounted price of $33.99 (a nice mystical number, eh?). To order, just send a check in that amount (or multiples thereof for more than one copy) to Lake Harriet Lodge, 4519 France Ave. So., Minneapolis, MN 55410.
The book will soon be available on our web site as a PDF file, for those who prefer e-books. Watch http://lakeharrietlodge.org for the announcement.
More than the history of a single lodge, this book traces the lives and contributions of each Worshipful Master of Lake Harriet across one hundred years of history and a century of American Freemasonry. At a time when Masons are taking a new look at the Craft and increasingly realizing that they are the custodians of a marvelous system for moral teaching through symbols and ritual, this history shows in detail the period when American lodges experienced enormous growth in member numbers and serious amnesia about how to actually practice the art of symbolism and ritual to effect changes upon consciousness. Lake Harriet Lodge is embracing the increasing emphasis on Masonic education in addition to the social, fraternal, and philanthropic aspects of the Craft in the 21st century. It’s history shows a lodge that was very much a part of 20th century Masonry in its life from 1913-2013. An institution that was almost frantically busy initiating and making new Masons, especially in the post-war period of 1945-58 when its membership topped 1200.
Yet, there have always been members and Masters who have delved deeply into the hidden mysteries of Masonry. Those mysteries, hidden even from those brothers who experienced the three degrees of the Craft, have always been there to see, and the clues right in the open for those seeking them. Seek and you shall find.
Among our most notable past masters are Luther Youngdahl, Governor of Minnesota and Federal judge; Paul Bosanko, one of the founders of Education Lodge No. 1002 of Minnesota; Robert Papas and Thomas Jackson, each of whom served as Grand Master of Masons of Minnesota. Each Master of Lake Harriet and many other members prove to be fascinating men and Masons.
100 Years of Brotherhood also contains a table ranking the occupations of all of our members over our first century, showing the great diversity of social status and work in a lodge truly for Everyman. Other charts show the growth of membership and its decline, breaking down lost members into categories of those who died, demitted, or simply dropped out. Tentative conclusions are drawn and suggestions for further research.
This excellent book serves as a model for any lodge seeking to write its own history. It is the author’s hope that subsequent years will be updated on our web site, for an ongoing up-to-date record.
Order your copy of this new and corrected edition today for yourself or your lodge library!