Iowa Freemasonry is a personal journal of a Freemason in central Iowa. This blog documents my Masonic research interests, experiences, and reflections. Welcome!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Iowa Senate Special Election District 35

Governor Chet Culver set January 18, 2011 as the date for the special election to fill former Senator Larry Noble's vacant Iowa Senate seat in District 35. Noble resigned his seat after Governor-elect Terry Branstad nominated him as Commissioner of the Iowa Department of Public Safety.

Candidates for the special election are selected at nominating conventions. The Democratic nominating convention is scheduled for Monday, January 3rd at 6:30 PM at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Ankeny. The Republican nominating convention is Thursday, December 30 at 6:30 PM at Kirkendall Public Library.


Officers of Operative Lodge #308 practiced opening, closing, and floor work last night. I'm the Junior Deacon so my part is quite small, however, it's helpful to see, and hear, it in order. I remember the lines and the floor work better when it's all put together because the context provides meaning. Practicing my few lines by myself at home doesn't aid in seeing how even small parts fit into the whole. Plus it's not as much fun.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

U.S. Marshal Michael Bladel

U.S. Marshal for the Southern District of Iowa Michael Bladel spoke to the Ankeny High School Advanced Placement Government class on Tuesday, Dec. 21. President Obama appointed Bladel and the U.S. Senate confirmed him; he was sworn in this past October.

Marshal Bladel discussed the history and function of the U.S. Marshal’s office, 4th Amendment issues, the confirmation process, and he answered questions from AHS seniors in the class.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Scottish Rite Holiday Party

This Wednesday, December 8th is the annual Scottish Rite Holiday Party and Installation of Officers. In addition to a buffet, music by the Double Eagle chorus, and a reading of T'was the Night Before Christmas, new Scottish Rite members from the Glen W. Lamb, 32˚ KCCH and Eugene L. Smith, 32˚ KCCH class will receive their Patents.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

But Mr. Miller, there are two right answers!

I mailed the second quiz for the Master Craftsman program yesterday. The quiz covered over 250 pages of reading from the Scottish Rite Ritual Monitor & Guide, Second Edition, by Arturo De Hoyos and A Bridge to Light by Rex Hutchens. I had the most trouble with this question:

In the 14th degree Perfect Elu, what is sought?

Does anyone have ideas as to the correct answer? I eliminated 3 of the 5 possible answers, but that was the problem. Two different answers both looked good and it took me awhile to choose one. I've heard that comment a lot from my students so I guess now it's my turn to experience two "right" answers!

I do like the quiz format. It’s been a great way for me to study the Scottish Rite because it presents specific questions which guide my reading. The questions on the quizzes are not in chronological order so you can’t just selectively read the material, either. I enjoy reading both books by De Hoyos and Hutchens, however, they are quite detailed. A specific reading program, like the Master Craftsman class, is a wise choice for those who want to learn more.

I’m starting the reading assignments for the third quiz. This one covers fewer than 250 pages so I’ll be slacking a bit!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Master Craftsman Quiz #2

I received the results of my first Scottish Rite Master Craftsman quiz in the mail today. The turnaround time impressed me- I mailed the quiz just two weeks ago. That is two weeks for it to travel from central Iowa to D.C., be scored by someone, and then travel back to central Iowa. Plus there’s an essay question. Some high school teachers can’t grade that fast!

The format for quiz #2 is similar to the first quiz. There are about 20 multiple-choice questions and 1 essay. The questions cover reading in the two textbooks for the course: Scottish Rite Ritual Monitor & Guide, Second Edition, by Arturo De Hoyos and A Bridge to Light by Rex Hutchens.

And if anyone is still reading this blog entry...I scored 100% on my first quiz!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Perfect Ashlar as Deity

Here is another section of my paper on the symbolism of the Ashlar-

Perfect Ashlar as Deity
In this interpretation the perfect ashlar represents God. The Judeo-Christian tradition is rich with imagery realted to stones and the Bible contains frequent allusions to stones of all shapes and sizes. In the Old Testament, I Kings chapters 5 and 7 contain the most direct references to ashlars. The New Internation version refers to blocks of quality or high-grade stone (475, 477 NIV Study Bible) while the New American Standard version prefers the terms great and costly (456, 459). Neither translation contains the word ashlar, although it is found in the NIV Bible Commentary. (NIV Bible Commentary).

In Daniel 2:34 and Matthew 21:44 , the generic term “stone” is employed in a messianic sense (NIv Bible Commentary, Daniel 2:34 and Matt 21:44). In Matthew 21:42, Jesus quotes the Psalms in pointing to himself as the capstone which has been rejected. The Letter to the Ephesians, First Corinthians, and First Peter all employ the stone metaphor with Jesus as a cornerstone or living stone.

Ashlar symbolism discussed in this paper primarily relates to Blue Lodge Freemasonry. “All Masonry starts there,” according to Jim Tresner, author of Further Light: Helpful Information for New Master Masons (p. 29). However, the perfect ashlar as deity is an interpretation primarily from outside of the first three degrees of Freemasonry. An example of this view is found in The Royal Order of Scotland, an invitational Masonic organization. Arthur Heiron writes in the Ars Quatuor Coronatorum that the Royal Order of Scotland “…Assigns the highest honour…” to the perfect ashlar. It represents “The Great Architect of the Church who called himself the Rose of Sharon and the Lily of the Valley.”

One encounters general references to God throughout Freemasonry. The ritual itself focuses our attention on the infinite through historical allusion, physical actions, and direct quotations from the Holy Bible. Moreover, some Masonic authors have argued that these symbols and emblems of deity serve a primary goal of the Fraternity: reverence and veneration of God. (Pike 137) However, if God is omnipotent, then to what extent can we attain knowledge of Him through our own efforts? In a recent article, Masonic scholar Robert G. Davis discusses this problematic nature of God:

... there is really only one enduring characteristic of God; and that is that God cannot be defined. God is a symbol; a mystery, a hieroglyph, a metaphor. Of God, there is understanding, reason, knowledge, touch, perception, imagination, name, and many other things. But God is not understood, nothing can be said of It, It cannot be named. It is not one of the things which is.

The symbols found in Freemasonry teach us about our relationship to God and as we study these common, concrete objects, such as the ashlar, we gain insight into fundamental questions. This task requires work, however, to “mine beneath the surface” of what superficially appears to be a simple stone block (pike 136). Working through such symbols, we can approach topics that have baffled men for centuries.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Master Craftsman Quiz 1

I mailed my first quiz for the Scottish Rite Master Craftsman course this morning. The quiz covered 67 pages of reading in the text Scottish Rite Ritual Monitor & Guide, Second Edition, by Arturo De Hoyos.

I received the quiz last week and hoped to finish it earlier, however, the second weekend of the Des Moines Valley’s Fall Reunion slowed my progress. I was a candidate in the Glen W. Lamb, 32˚ KCCH and Eugene L. Smith, 32˚ KCCH class and last weekend was busy.

I’m enjoying the Master Craftsman class quite a bit. The first quiz helped focus my reading on what is, to be honest, an intimidating text. De Hoyos’s book is over one thousand pages!

The multiple choice quiz questions are very specific and require close reading and rereading of the book. Already I feel like I have learned more about the Rite because of the course than if I simply read the book itself without the structure of the Master Craftsman program.

The next quiz covers over 270 page of material. Let’s hope I’m still optimistic when I mail that one in!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Lux E Tenebris- Scottish Rite second weekend ends

The Glen W. Lamb, 32˚ KCCH and Eugene L. Smith, 32˚ KCCH class finished their work with seventeen candidates completing the 32nd degree on Saturday afternoon at the Scottish Rite Temple in Des Moines. Two of our original classmates were excused due to family commitments and one member of the Spring class joined us to finish the earlier degree work he missed.

The class started their last day of work with the 27th degree- Knight of the Sun. This was one of my favorite degrees of the day. To me it seemed quite different from the others with unique symbols and a fascinating speech at the end by Brother Gabriel. The dramatic element of the degree stands out in my mind, too, especially the portrayal of Lulli. There is plenty here for further reflection, as is true with all of the degrees, however, this one is again a bit different from others: the text given to the candidates the previous weekend, A Bridge to Light by Rex Hutchens, states that the lecture of this degree alone makes up almost one-fourth of Pike’s Morals and Dogma!

The Kitchen Krew served us another delicious meal for lunch and then we started back to work on the 31st degree. Sitting in a dark auditorium after a great meal presented its own challenges to a few classmates, but we persevered. The quality of all of the degree teams amazed me and during our breaks our class frequently talked about how impressed we were with the amount of time and effort people put into the reunion. Our class President, Daniel Beyer echoed this during his remarks at the Double Eagle Gala. The 31st and 32nd degrees were simply amazing; I can only imagine the amount of time spent to make these two degrees look as polished as they did Saturday. The ending lecture in the second section by the Master of Kadosh may be the most memorable part of both weekends for me.

The night concluded with the Double Eagle Gala. Class President Daniel Beyer expressed our class’s thanks and class Orator Nathaniel Hedin Schmidt delivered a fine speech, although I’m still disappointed we didn’t get a chance to hear him sing in the 22nd degree! Our class Treasurer Nicholas McGahan presented a gift to the Consistory and then the fun really began with the band Freestyle providing the music. Ed, Scott, and the guys did a great job. You didn’t really need to dedicate Brick House to your Polk City friends, but both my wife and I enjoyed it!

Thanks to all who helped the Glen W. Lamb, 32˚ KCCH and Eugene L. Smith, 32˚ KCCH class. We were impressed and honored by your efforts.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Second weekend- Scottish Rite Reunion

The Glen W. Lamb, 32˚ KCCH and Eugene L. Smith, 32˚ KCCH class resumed work Friday in Des Moines at the Scottish Rite Temple. Our class completed the 20th, 21st, and 22 degrees: Master of the Symbolic Lodge, Noachite or Prussian Knight, and Knight of the Royal Axe. It's been two weeks since our class last met for the first weekend of the reunion and it was great to see my classmates again. One of my brothers from Operative Lodge #308 in Polk City joined us for this second weekend to finish his 32nd degree.

We started the evening with another delicious dinner by the Kitchen Krew: BBQ ribs, beans, cornbread, and chocolate brownies. I’m enjoying the fellowship with my classmates between the degrees, but the opportunity we have to sit down together for meals and talk has been especially meaningful. My first experience with the Des Moines Valley was this past summer when I attended a dinner and a meeting with a brother from my lodge in Polk City. The food and fellowship was great then and continues to be a highlight for me. Everyday life is so busy with work, family, and other responsibilities that it’s difficult to set aside time to develop friendships. Freemasonry gives me a place where I can socialize with other men. We need more of this today.

I have a new favorite degree- the Noachite or Prussian Knight. It tells a fascinating story about truth and oppression. I wonder if this one is ever performed outdoors during a full moon?

I’m looking forward to today’s degrees and to the Double Eagle Gala tonight.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Varnum v. Brien quote

A political post might be appropriate since it's the day after the election.
Quote from Varnum v. Brien (Iowa 2009)
The legislature, in carrying out its constitutional role to make public policy decisions, enacted a law that effectively excludes gay and lesbian people from the institution of civil marriage. The executive branch of government, in carrying out its role to execute the law, enforced this statute through a county official who refused to issue marriage licenses to six same-sex couples. These Iowans, believing that the law is inconsistent with certain constitutional mandates, exercised their constitutional right to petition the courts for redress of their grievance. This court, consistent with its role to interpret the law and resolve disputes, now has the responsibility to determine if the law enacted by the legislative branch and enforced by the executive branch violates the Constitution.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Scottish Rite Master Craftsman Course

(picture copyright

I received my Master Craftsman Course materials in the mail today and I'm eager to start reading. The mailing included the first quiz, book, and reading assignments. The book is huge: over 1,000 pages. I wondered why the shipping charge was so high!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Sword in one hand and the Trowel in the other!

The Glen W. Lamb, 32˚ KCCH and Eugene L. Smith, 32˚ KCCH class’s first weekend is now history. Eighteen class members participated in fifteen degrees, enjoying each one. Our class is a mix of experienced and new masons. Some of us have been raised in just the last several months while others are past Grand Lodge officers. We have a member of the Iowa General Assembly, a high school Government teacher (that’s me), farmers, international business executives, guys in their 20’s, and guys in their 60’s. I’ve made many new friends as a result of this reunion and I look forward to getting to know them better on November 5 and 6 when our class finishes the degrees.

For me, the 7th degree, Provost and Judge, is an early favorite. I enjoyed the lessons on the value of an independent judiciary, combined with the simple costuming and sparse lighting. The message of the 7th degree is especially topical given the Iowa Supreme Court’s judicial retention vote on Nov. 2. Was I the only one thinking this during the degree? I'm not trying to twist the meaning to fit a partisan viewpoint here. It's just that the timeliness and relevance of this degree, and many of the others, surprised me. Maybe it's my background in history and political science, but I think I even heard a reference to factions and Federalist Number 10 in one of the degrees. My Honors Government students would agree with the timeliness of that reference since they have a test over the Federalist Papers on Monday!

I participated as the exemplar in the 15th degree. Okay, I’ll admit it: the sword was really cool and getting to hold it and display it to my class is probably the most memorable part of the degree to me at this point! But as I think about the story the degree tells and after I read more about it in A Bridge to Light, the message of the degree is even more significant. Words like honor, perseverance, and equality were given special meaning by the degree team. They did a wonderful job playing the roles and communicating the lessons of this degree. In fact, all of the degrees were impressive in that way. My class was impressed by the time and effort devoted to this past weekend, on our behalf, so we could experience this aspect of Freemasonry. You guys were great examples for us! Des Moines has an excellent organization and I feel fortunate to become a member.

Here are some of the quotes from A Bridge to Light (which is quoting Pike’s Morals and Dogma) regarding the 15th degree:

-Masonry is engaged in her crusade- against ignorance, intolerance, fanaticism, superstition, uncharitableness, and error.

- The chief obstacles to Masonry’s success are the apathy and faithlessness of her own selfish children…In the roar and crush and hurry of life and business, and the tumult and uproar of politics, the quiet voice of Masonry is unheard and unheeded.

And of course this one, since I held the sword:
- Work on, with the Sword in one hand, and the Trowel in the other.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Day 2: Scottish Rite Reunion

On Saturday, October 23, the Glen W. Lamb, 32˚ KCCH and Eugene L. Smith, 32˚ KCCH Fall Memorial Reunion completed degrees 8-18. The Des Scottish Rite Lodge of Perfection and Chapter Rose Croix did an excellent job performing the parts.

My class also elected officers, unanimously, and they are as follows: President Daniel Beyer, Secretary/Treasurer Nicholas McGahan, and Orator Nathaniel Hedin Schmidt.

Our class continues with the Council of Kadosh and the Consistory degrees on November 5 and 6.

Scottish Rite Class of Fall 2010, Day 1

The Glen W. Lamb, 32˚ KCCH and Eugene L. Smith, 32˚ KCCH Fall Memorial Reunion is underway in Des Moines. We have 18 candidates in our class from throughout central Iowa. Even though we were quite busy the first evening, members of the class did get a chance to visit over dinner and it was a pleasure to meet such a great group of guys. I’m impressed with the quality of the men I’ve met, and continue to meet, in Freemasonry.

My class was very fortunate to meet the Most Eminent Grand Master, William H. Koon II, the Grand Master of the Grand Encampment of the United States. He attended the reception of our class, gave a brief speech, and shook the hand of each candidate. He spoke from the heart and I have to say it was perhaps the most moving experience of the evening for me, not to diminish the degrees, because that was fantastic, too. The casts were well-rehearsed and the sound and lighting added to the impact of the night. My fellow classmates agreed that it was an inspiring evening. My personal favorite so far is Provost and Judge. I found the lessons from that degree inspirational, relevant, and well-articulated. I'm excited for today's degrees!

Friday, October 22, 2010

How much is too little?

How much is too little?
After reading the North Eastern Corner’s thoughts on whether or not Freemasons meet too much, I started thinking about my schedule. How much time do I devote to Masonic work? So, I stared an Excel spread sheet and crunched some numbers, just for fun.

My assumptions might not fit you, in fact, they aren’t exact even for me, but this is how I figured my time commitment: 8 hours at work, 8 hours sleep, 2 hours total for shower/shave and breakfast and supper, 1 ½ hours for daily chores, and 30 minutes commute time for work. That’s for a work day. For weekends, I added 2 hours for church and 4 hours total per weekend day for chores; I subtracted work and commute time.

In terms of Masonic activity, I’m assuming 2 ½ hours per Masonic function (meeting or whatever).

The results:

% free time used Amount of Masonic activity
1.74% 1 Masonic activity per month
3.47% 2 Masonic activities per month
5.21% 3 Masonic activities per month
6.94% Weekly Masonic activities per month
13.89% 8 Masonic activities per month

By the way, I spent 1.04% of my free time this month researching and writing this blog entry.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Ashlars and the V.O.T.S.L.

Another section from my paper on the Symbolism of the Ashlars:

Ashalrs and the value of the V.O.T.S.L.
Stephen Dafoe tackles this view of the Ashlars in The Masonic Dictionary. He tells us that we need a consistent standard by which to measure our actions and thoughts. This standard is similar to the role of the Perfect Ashlar in Operative Masonry. Masons used the Perfect Ashlar to test the accuracy of their tools. The accuracy of a tool declines with use and the workman must recalibrate his tools if he is to produce consistent work. In Speculative Masonry, we too must use accurate tools by which to measure our actions and thoughts. Dafoe explains:

The Perfect Ashlar is for the more expert Craftsman to try and adjust his jewels on. In ancient times, with crude tools that would not even be used in this age, workmen of great skill and experience produced material for the construction of the Temple having such perfection that each piece fitted perfectly into its place without adjustment or correction. Time was not one of the essential factors; perfection was the goal. To keep this state of perfection in absolute balance, a standard must have been set whereby the workmen could constantly test their tools to know that continued wear and use had not changed the measurements; even in the slightest degree… In Masonry, we are the workmen, whether we be active or inactive, workers or drones. What are our "jewels", our most prized possession? If we have absorbed any of the teachings Masonry, the building of character and a Christian way of life are two of the many jewels that should constantly be before us. And in the building of that state of perfection to which we attain, what Perfect Ashlar have we that we might go to and "try" the tools with which we have been working, to know that they are still of fine quality and in perfect condition for the job that lies before us.

Robert Macoy goes further:

The Perfect Ashlar is a stone of a true square, which can only be tried by the square and compasses. This represents the mind of a man at the close of life, after a well-regulated career of piety and virtue, which can only be tried by the square of God’s Word, and the compasses of an approving conscience.

While American Lodge rooms typically contain the Holy Bible, this symbolic view of the Ashlars does not exclude other sacred texts. Religious liberty is a proud tradition of Freemasonry and Lodges use the V.O.T.S.L. appropriate to their brothers. The emphasis here is not on the particular example of the Word but instead on the role it serves in a Freemason’s life. Dafoe continues:

In every Masonic Lodge there rests on the Altar in the centre of the room the V.O.T.S.L. It is the solid foundation upon which Masonry in our lives is built. It never changes. Civilizations may come and go, but the Book of Books remains the same, adaptable to all conditions and manner of men, in good times and bad, in peace or war, a guide for mankind. How often do we consult this Guide to try and adjust the jewels which are ours and which may need to be altered to get them back to that state of perfection which we as Masons should endeavor at all times to hold as our standard way of life?

As Freemasons, is our exposure to the “Book of Books” limited to readings we hear in Lodge, and if so, how are we calibrating our working tools?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Ashlar as a prediciton of Co-masonry?

Another possible interpretation of the Ashlar is that it is a prediction of co-masonry. This is perhaps the most controversial interpretation of the Ashlar I came across. Again, comments are always welcome.

VIII The Ashlar as a prediction of Co-masonry
This view considers the shape of the Ashlar to represent the future acceptance of women into the Masonic Fraternity. First, however, a brief examination of the standard rectangular form of the Ashlar is necessary for understanding this interpretation.

One of the most common shapes the Ashlar takes is that of a three-dimensional rectangular block, or oblong. The Short Talk Bulletin published by the Masonic Service Association describes an Ashlar as “…more than twice as long as wide and high.” This is the common silhouette we see in most American Lodges. Mackey’s Encyclopedia of Freemasonry cites evidence from the great English architect Christopher Wren to support this representation: “In Sir Christopher Wren's use of "ashlar" the stone had a dimension of 1 x 1 x 2 feet; and many building records, some of them very old, mention similar dimensions.” Jeremy Cross is perhaps most responsible for this generally accepted shape here in the U.S. In 1819, Cross published a book illustrating common Masonic symbols. This book, the True Masonic Chart or Hieroglyphic Monitor, gained wide approval and Cross’s interpretation of the shape of the Ashlars became the “…standard design for American Masonic symbolism,” according to the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum of our National Heritage. The Museum published a review of Masonic symbols in American decorative arts. In this review, the topic concerns the shape of the Ashlars:

…a uniform American system of symbolism was first established in published form by Jeremy Cross in his Masonic Chart, published in 1819. Earlier publications like Prestons’ Illustrations of Freemasonry and Thomas Smith Webb’s Freemason Monitor, had explained the meanings of the symbols but provided no description or illustration of their designs. Webb did not approve of the use of emblems to illustrate Masonic works, reflecting the greater secretiveness of the early fraternity. Cross made an important contribution to Masonic symbolism by including actual illustrations of the symbols…

The oblong is not the only shape one may find of the Ashlar. A cube is often used and in France, the pierre-cubique is common. A pierre-cubique is a cube with the top of a pyramid. The pierre-cubique with an axe embedded in its top is an older example of the diversity of shapes one may find. There is a lively debate in scholarly Masonic journals regarding the historically correct shape of the Ashlar. My purpose here is simply to present a brief glimpse of the topic as an introduction to this symbolic interpretation of the Ashlars.

As a prediction of co-masonry, we are assuming the Ashlar is in the form of an oblong, or a double cube. Henry Parsell explains the basic argument for this interpretation:

Curiously enough, the Ashlars ordinarily in use in Lodges are not Cubic Stones, but are more usually Double Cubes, or nearly so. The symbolism of this is prophetic, for the Double Cube represents the future state when twin-souls shall be united…

Parsell claims that the oblong Ashlar is actually two separate cubes, joined together. Each cube is symbolic of the male and the female. Joining the two represents reunification of the sexes into a more unified whole. Parsell continues:

…it is an indication that at a not so distant period Woman will be admitted to our Lodges and be given the same courteous consideration and instruction in its Symbolism as she is now more and more receiving in the business and political world of today.

Parsell’s interpretation is not widely accepted, however the uniqueness of his view merits consideration, especially as an example of the diversity of this allegedly basic Masonic symbol.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Symbolism of the Ashlars: consistency

Another way to look at the Rough and Perfect Ashlar is as a symbol of consistent, moral action in public and private life. Freemasons should not have one standard for the Lodge and another for the world. This view builds on the research done by Edmund Dring and published in AQC. For a brief summary of Dring's work, see my previous entry titled Bowling Alone.

V Consistency in Public and Private Life
Dring’s research leads to another, complimentary interpretation of the Rough and the Perfect Ashlar. He demonstrated that the “perpendashlar” is a bonding stone passing through an inner and an outer wall. To the extent that it passes through both sides of the wall, two sides of this stone are exposed to view. The Master Mason utilizes his working tools to square the faces of the stone so that both are true: the face of the stone on the inside of the wall is just as true as the face which is visible to the outside world. Hunt applies this analysis to Speculative Masonry:

It has two faces to be exposed, and both must be absolutely upright. It does not have one standard for the world and another for the home; the same face, square and true, is presented both to the world and the Lodge, and it teaches that we should not have one code of morals for one place and another for another, but that right is the same wherever we are and under whatever circumstance we may be placed.

As Perfect Ashlars, our behavior is consistent with the principles of Masonry throughout all aspects of our life. We must apply the same spiritual, mental, and physical standards to our daily life as we do in the Fraternity. Moreover, our code of morals should be consistent in both public and in private. Both faces of the Perfect Ashlar must be square and true. Christopher Hodapp summarizes the significance of this view in his book, Freemasons for Dummies:

Freemasons believe that there is still such a thing as honor, and that a man has a responsibility to behave honorably in everything he does. It teaches members the principles of personal decency and personal responsibility. It hopes to inspire them to have charity and good will toward all mankind, and to translate principles and convictions into actions.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Simplistic View

Here is another of the ten interpretations from my paper on the symbolism of the Rough and the Perfect Ashlar.

II Simplistic View
This symbolic understanding considers the Rough Ashlar as representing the Entered Apprentice, new to the Craft and deficient in both knowledge and experience; the Perfect Ashlar represents the Master Mason with years in the Fraternity. I categorize this view as simplistic to the extent that the criterion used to measure the transformation of a man’s mental and spiritual nature is the quantity of years he has been a Mason rather than the quality of his Masonic life.

In some states, Lodges display stones to represent visually a Rough and a Perfect Ashlar. While meditation on these stones would assist the comprehension of an individual's transformation, the simplistic view merely sees it this way: that’s the candidate when he comes in and this is what he should look like when he’s finished.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Bowling Alone?

This is another part of the paper I'm writing on the symbolism of the Rough and Perfect Ashlars:

IV Individual or Group
Speculative Masonry utilizes the tools and materials of Operative Masons to teach a system of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols. The fourth interpretation of the Rough and the Perfect Ashlar draws on the operative use of these stones. In building a wall, common practice involved fabricating two adjacent walls and bonding them together for superior strength. Special stones ran lengthwise through the width of both walls bonding the two separate structures together. Dr. John S. Nagy describes these bond stones:

It’s a Building term used by Stonemasons to describe Perfect Ashlars used to connect the Inner and Outer layers of walls that create Buildings. Stone walls are usually built with two layers of Perfect Ashlar, an inner and an outer, and may or may not have rubble sandwiched between them. Either way, these two walls require connecter Stones to stabilize the Structure thus Built. Perpend Stones are those Stones whose lengths allow them to extend from the outside of the outer wall to the inside of the inner wall thus showing their smooth faces on the construct’s inner and outer surfaces.

These bond stones are Perfect Ashlars. The original form of the term “Perfect Ashlar” provides additional support for this analysis. Brother Edmund H. Dring studied the morphology of Perfect Ashlar and published his research in the Transactions of the Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076. Dring concluded that the word “perpendashlar” was the original form of the term perfect ashlar. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “per” originates from Latin meaning “through” and “pannus,” the original form of “pend” according to Dring, also originates from Latin meaning “cloth or wall.” In supporting his claims, Dring cites data from architectural dictionaries from the Middle Ages and other language reference works. Later Masonic scholars concur with Dring’s argument saying “…he was the first to put forward what is, in all probability, the correct explanation of the term “Perfect Ashlar.”

Dring’s work reinforces the function served by the individual Freemason in strengthening the Craft. As a Rough Ashlar, a Freemason is merely an individual component of a wall, but as a Perfect Ashlar, he fortifies the Fraternity. The Perfect Ashlar passes entirely through both walls as a “binder for other stones,” as Charles C. Hunt put it. Speculative Masonry provides the tools for an individual man to improve himself, with the blessings of the Great Architect of the Universe, and thus enhance the spiritual and moral structures of today’s society. He is no longer just an individual; taking the form of a Perfect Ashlar he serves a fundamental mission within the group.

There is a relationship between the Rough and Perfect Ashlars in the stone wall built by an Operative Mason: the integrity of the wall is partially based on the connections between the stones, with the Perfect Ashlars providing a binding force. An analogous form is seen in a social network. The individual nodes within the network inherently draw value depending on the relationships between one another. Social scientists use the term social capital to describe this value. Robert Putnam, a professor of political science at Harvard University, described the decline of social capital in a 1995 article in the Journal of Democracy. At its most basic level, social capital simply means that relationships matter. Putnam proposes that face-to-face social interactions build the trust necessary for a strong community. He writes:

Whereas physical capital refers to physical objects and human capital refers to the properties of individuals, social capital refers to connections among individuals – social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them. In that sense social capital is closely related to what some have called “civic virtue.” The difference is that “social capital” calls attention to the fact that civic virtue is most powerful when embedded in a sense network of reciprocal social relations. A society of many virtuous but isolated individuals is not necessarily rich in social capital.

Putnam goes on to claim that declining membership in civic organizations, like Freemasonry, reduces our social interactions and threatens to impact political institutions.

Masonry provides us with a wide range of opportunities for social discourse with a diverse group of men. Moreover, the principles of our Fraternity focus on many of the concerns highlighted in Putnam’s research: lack of civic engagement, social isolation, and declining support for government institutions. As a man progresses in Masonry and participates in all that our Brotherhood offers, he transforms himself from an isolated member of society into a binding force: he becomes a Perfect Ashlar and enriches the civic life of our nation.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Albert Pike and Ashlar Symbolism

Pike’s Analysis of the Ashlar as State

Albert Pike developed a unique interpretation of the Rough and Perfect Ashlars, especially from my personal perspective as an American Government teacher. He argues that the Rough Ashlar represents the people: a mass- disorganized and rude. The Perfect Ashlar, according to Pike, represents the State and the key characteristics which support it. In Pike’s analysis, the Ashlar takes the form of a cube.

As one looks at a cube, three faces are visible and three are hidden. The three visible faces of the cube, or Perfect Ashlar, represent the three departments of state, better known today as the three branches of government found in the first three Articles of the U.S. Constitution: the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial branches. The three faces of the cube which are not visible represent liberty, equality, and fraternity. In his book Morals and Dogma, Pike refers to the invisible faces as the “threefold soul of the state- its vitality, spirit, and intellect.”

Pike theorizes that a stable cube, and a stable state, require all six of these concepts. Moreover, it is the Mason’s duty, as a citizen, to apply his tools to the Ashlar in order to improve the state.

Pike’s interpretation corresponds with the historical and the conceptual nature of Freemasonry in eighteenth century America. Members of the Craft were leaders and active participants in early American political institutions. According to Allen E. Roberts, Freemasons include thirteen of the men who debated, wrote, and signed the U.S. Constitution, nine who signed the Declaration of Independence, and ten who drafted and signed the Articles of Confederation. The Continental Congress served as our first government from 1774 through 1789; four of its Presidents were Freemasons. Steven Bullock writes in his book, Revolutionary Brotherhood: Freemasonry and the transformation of the American Social Order , 1730 - 1840, that " least 42 percent of the generals commissioned by the Continental Congress were or would become Freemasons." Bullock continues:

The impact of military Masonry, however, went beyond the officers' individual sensations. Fraternal ties among the officers helped create and sustain the sense of common purpose necessary for the survival of the Continental army- and thus the winning of the war.

Moreover, at a conceptual level, Freemasonry demands of its members civic involvement, dedication to community, and commitment to democratic government. Pike’s understanding of the Ashlar solidifies the relationship between our Fraternity and our responsibilities as citizens.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Symbolism of the Ashlars: Standard Interpretation

I’m working on a Masonic paper on the symbolism of the Rough and Perfect Ashlars, the first part of which is below. I'll review ten interpretations of these basic symbols including Albert Pike's view of the people and the State, the Ashlars and Robert Putnam's concept of social capital, numerology, and even a prediction of co-masonry! The first view is what I’ve labeled the standard interpretation. Comments are welcome!

The Ashlars represent the spiritual transformation of a man from his beginning in Masonry as an uneducated Entered Apprentice to a Master Mason who has lived a life consistent with the teachings of Masonry. Dr. Joseph Fort Newton, a minister, brother, and Iowan, explains that Rough Ashlars become Perfect Ashlars through the practices and principles of freemasonry. The comparison is between the stages of development unique to an individual Mason; Rough and Perfect are not relative terms distinguishing one man from another.

How does this individual transformation occur? William Preston in his Lectures writes that the change is bought about by a virtuous education, our own endeavors, and the blessing of God. Again, the emphasis is on the individual Mason improving himself rather than on a comparison to others. The Mason figuratively chips away at the rough edges of his moral character through the practices and principles of Masonry.

While this standard interpretation considers the Rough Ashlar to be man in a “rude and imperfect state by nature,” according to Coil’s Masonic Encyclopedia, it’s important not to take such a figurative reference too far. Lawrence reminds us that “we do not admit absolutely rough and unhewn material into our lodges. Our working tools are not the pickaxe and drill.” A candidate must meet certain standards prior to his initiation. Stephen Dafoe in The Masonic Dictionary describes the Rough Ashlar:

It represents the candidate for membership in a Masonic Lodge. Such an applicant is not in his rude or natural state, neither ignorant, uncultivated or vicious. Masonry does not accept men of such qualifications. The applicant by education and perseverance has fitted himself as a respectable man in his community, assuming full responsibility as a citizen, a churchman and a member of his family.

This is significant because it reminds us that the candidate has inherent standards he brings with him to the Fraternity. To some extent, previous life experiences shape the candidate in the same way an operative mason in a quarry shapes a stone prior to its removal. The Rough Ashlar coming from the quarry must meet certain prerequisites or it is destined for the rubble pile.

The symbolism of the Perfect Ashlar may be similarly misunderstood. Brother Newton clarifies that the reference is not to a man without flaw, but rather to “...a finished Mason, a man who’s thought and conduct is upright, virtuous, and honest.” This requires perseverance, effort, and daily application of the principles of Masonry throughout a man’s life. The Fellow Craft degree introduces us to the seven liberal arts and sciences, which are mechanisms of both individual endeavor and virtuous education. The Iowa Systematic Enlightenment Course explains:

The Fellow Craft degree symbolizes the prime years of manhood and your attendant responsibility during your life on earth. During these years, you acquire knowledge and apply this knowledge to the building of your character and to improving the society in which you live. In the Ritual of the degree you, as Fellow Craft, are urged to advance your education in the liberal arts and sciences.

The study of the seven liberal arts and sciences is one way to develop a mind and spirit appropriate to the transformation from Rough to Perfect Ashlar. However, there are no academic prerequisites for the type of virtuous education one can experience in Freemasonry. Reading Greek is not required. H. L. Haywood, former editor for the National Masonic Research Society, writes about the importance of knowledge to a Mason:

How a man finds knowledge is a matter of comparative indifference; he may learn from books or he may never read a page; he may attend school or not; he may gain information by himself or from a master. That is for the man’s own choosing, and Masonry offers no recipe for an education. But enlightenment is a thing every Mason stands pledged to seek, and seek it he must if he is to be a Mason in fact as well as in name.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Christmas lists?

Chris Hodapp has a great story about book reviews over on his Freemasons for Dummies web page. James T. Tresner II discusses several excellent reading selections in the Scottish Rite Journal; the title of the article is Book Reviews: Enlightening Strikes and you can read the article on-line.

The list of suggested books comes from recommendations of Masonic Librarians around the country. I was pleased to find the suggestions of our own Librarian of the Library of the Grand Lodge of Iowa, Brother Bill Krueger. I was fortunate enough to spend some time in this library over the summer and Brother Krueger was welcoming and extremely helpful in guiding me.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Sweet Pickles

Our sweet pickles have moved from the brine to the sugar syrup stage of production. They soak in the syrup for four days before going into the Mason jars. At the end of each of the four days, I drain the syrup from the pickles, boil the syrup, and then pour it back over the pickles.

The syrup solution is incredibly sweet: 2 parts sugar to 1 part vinegar. I harvested just over 2 gallons of cucumbers and that meant a staggering 10 pounds of sugar and ½ gallon of vinegar, plus assorted spices.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Symbolism, according to H. L. Haywood

I checked out H. L. Haywood's The Great Teachings of Masonry from the Iowa Masonic Library about three weeks ago. The book is coming due now and I have to send it back to the Library. Before I do, I'd like to post Haywood's description of the significance of symbolism.

…a symbol does not exhaust itself so quickly as words. There is mystery and depth in it, an infinity of suggestiveness, an incitement to new approaches of thought…

We cannot learn the message of a symbol with a passive and receptive mind, because it is of the genius of symbolism to hide as well as to reveal. When a thing is conveyed to us in clear simple words, or in plain pictures, such as one sees in the movies, there is no need that one make a great effort of his own mind to comprehend it all; but when a symbol is put before us, and we have a reason for securing its message to us, our own minds must act, for no symbol wears its meaning on its sleeve. … And that in itself is a virtue, because many men are cursed by the refusal to use their own faculties.

Also, the symbolical character of the teaching of Freemasonry has tended towards that intellectual tolerance which is one of its glories. There can be no dogmatic and official interpretation of a symbol to compel the unwilling assent of any mind; the symbol’s message, by virtue of its very message, fluid and free. So that every man has a right to think it out for himself.

Freemansonry and Amateur Radio

The Masonic Gathering is a group of people interested in Freemasonry who meet once a week on Sunday evenings for fellowship. It’s different than a traditional Lodge because the meeting takes place on amateur radio frequencies (“ham radio”) through the internet. You don’t have to be a Mason to join in, either. Here’s how the Masonic Gathering website describes their purpose:

The purpose of the “Gathering” is for Brother Amateur  Radio   Masons  to  fellowship and exchange information. Many of our check-ins do not have the opportunity to attend lodge due to work or health reason and the “Gathering” give them the opportunity for Masonic Fellowship.

The Gathering is not a lodge, but just a Gathering of Masons who share the hobby of  Amateur   Radio and a love of the Craft. We are not recognized by any Grand Lodge or appending bodies.

Check-ins are open to the public and we do not discuss any of the esoteric work of the craft in the rooms or on the airwaves.

Each week  we have a discussion topic which the brothers are invited to comment on. Brother Chuck Cumming, WA5THZ, who serves as the Gathering’s Chaplin, brings a weekly program on some subject of interest to the brothers. These are always thought provoking and a joy to listen to.

I checked in for the first time this past Sunday and had an enjoyable time. If you’re a licensed amateur radio operator you can use EchoLink. If not, eQSO is a software package that allows participation. More information can be found on the Masonic Gathering page.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Back to school

The school year has started and that means back to work for me. I teach American Government at the high school level. I also teach an Advanced Placement Government and Politics class for which students can earn college credit.

I used to teach, and coach, high school debate, but I resigned that position last year. I’m sure I’ll miss debate, in fact, I do already. Each year brought a new debate topic to study and I enjoyed learning about them. I’ll miss working with the debaters, too; that was the best part of the job. Most people would be surprised how competitive high school debate is and how hard debaters work in the summer and during the school year.

Yesterday was the anniversary of the first Lincoln-Douglas debate in Ottawa, IL in 1858.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Iowa State Fair

I attended the Iowa State Fair on opening day, Thursday, August 12 with my family. The heat index that day was 110 so we didn't stay too long. We did have time to see some of the sites we enjoy most: the quilts in the Varied Industries Building, the Discovery Garden outside the Agriculture Building, the animal barns, and a couple of politicians. I had a dutch letter and 2 lemonades.

I'll go back to the fair this weekend on Saturday and Sunday to volunteer at the Discovery Garden. The Garden is sponsored by the Polk County Master Gardeners (PCMG) and I started volunteering there last year to earn my yearly re-certification hours as a PCMG. ISU Extension sponsors the PCMG and I've enjoyed learning from ISU professors, Extension staff, and other veteran gardeners.

By the way, I took the picture above on Thursday morning a about 9AM- that's why te Grand Concourse looks so empty. I imagine today and tomorrow will be a different story.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Symbolism of the Rough and Perfect Ashlars

I’m writing a paper on the symbolism of the Rough and Perfect Ashlars. Based on the research I’ve done so far, I’ve listed ten interpretations of these two basic symbols below. Most of the interpretations are not mutually exclusive; one doesn’t cancel out the others. Moreover, many support each other to the extent that they represent different layers of meaning. However, there is one or two that surprised me, especially the co-masonry symbolism! In addition, as a high school American Government teacher, I enjoyed researching Pike’s view of the Ashlar representing the Separation of Powers! This is my first research project into Freemasonry and I’m learning that even the “basic” symbols aren’t so basic after all.

1. standard
2. simplistic- start/end
3. people/state
4. individual/social
5. consistent moral standard towards the world and private life- both faces show
6. deity- ROS, Cornerstone
7. Living stones
8. futuristic prediction of coming co-masonry
9. Borglum- remove the excess and find that perfection was there the whole time
10. esoteric- numerology

Friday, August 6, 2010

hideous mechanical cowan

Is Brother Mackey talking about the internet?

from the Masonic Quarterly Review, Volume 1 Number 1 (opening paragraph of the first article), July 1857, pages 5-6:

“Many well-meaning, but timid, and, if we must say it, narrow-minded members of the fraternity, object with great strenuousness to the freedom with which masonic topics are now discussed in the publications of the order. They imagine that the veil which should conceal our mysteries from the unhallowed gaze of the profane, is too much withdrawn by the modern race of Masonic writers; and that the esoteric doctrines which should be intrusted only to the memories of the craft, and received through oral instruction within the tyled recesses of the lodge, are thus improperly exposed to the public eye and ear. In the diseased imaginations of these good people, the Masonic press assumes the hideous form of a great mechanical cowan…”

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Index Rerum

If you’re over 25, you probably used the Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature in high school and college. When you needed to find a magazine article on a particular topic, you reached for the Reader’s Guide, an index for over one hundred periodicals. Every school I taught in had one. My first job at the high school summer debate camp at the University of Michigan was to coordinate the use of the University library system by several hundred debaters. I learned a lot about other indexes to periodicals besides the Reader’s Guide. Of course now, the Reader’s Guide is electronic and searchable on computer. Where I presently teach, we use periodical indexes by EBSCO. It has several different indexes to choose from, each of which indexes different types of magazines- general academic, humanities only, science only, etc. But I have never encountered anything like the Index Rerum before.

The Index Rerum is an index created by the librarians at the Iowa Masonic Library. The librarians over the years have made index cards, BY HAND, for hundreds of Masonic topics found in Masonic periodicals and Research Lodge Proceedings. Masonic students can use this Index to find articles on an array of topics. For example, I researched the symbolism of the Rough and the Perfect Ashlar during my visit there this past week. Under the subject heading Ashlar, I counted 96 cards, each of which referenced a different Masonic periodical! One of the articles I used in my research dated back to 1857 and I’m sure the Index Rerum goes back even further as the Library has older periodicals. This resource is an incredible research tool.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Iowa Masonic Library

I have a few days left before I return to school so I took a short drive to the Cedar Rapids – Iowa City area to do a bit of library research. Today I’ve been at the Iowa Masonic Library in C. R. and tomorrow I’ll be in Iowa City at the University of Iowa library.

The Grand Lodge of Iowa A.F. & A.M. Masonic Library is simply amazing. It contains over 100,000 volumes and has been called the largest Masonic library in the world. The Grand Lodge librarian, Bill Krueger, is welcoming and helpful. Although I’ve only been a Mason for a few months, he treated me with respect and took time to answer all of my questions. The most prolific Masonic scholar couldn’t expect more!

I’m researching Masonic symbolism, specifically the symbolic meanings of the Rough and Perfect Ashlars. I’ve found quite a bit of information in the library’s collection so far, including a copy of a full color engraving (dated 1754) which I hope to use in PowerPoint presentation in the near future.

I checked out two books to read this evening, one of which is H. L. Haywood’s Symbolical Masonry. Haywood writes in the preface that he “…spent the larger part of one year…” researching his book in the Iowa Masonic Library. It reminded me of how fortunate I am to be able to use such a facility, if even for a day or two.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Freemasons For Dummies: Starting A Masonic Library

Freemasons For Dummies: Starting A Masonic Library

Favorite Masonic Book?

My entered apprentice degree is scheduled for this evening and I thought I'd share my opinion on my favorite Masonic book as a total newcomer: no question, it's Freemasons For Dummies by Christopher Hodapp. Like other books in the "Dummies" series I've read, it's written by a knowlegable expert and it's a clear explanation of the basics, and, some of the not-so-basics. Hodapp's insight into what beginner's don't know amazed me. For example, I didn't understand how Freemasons were different from the Elks or the Kiwanians. He explains that. Clearly, too. He walked me through the history, the funny hats, and I love his reference to Putnam's concept of Social Capital (that's probably because I make my high school government students read an article by Putnam!). His book even includes part of the Regius Manuscript, something I don't understand but its presence there tells me this guy has ethos!

Thanks Christopher Hodapp for a great book!
(reposted from Feb. 18, 2010)

Friday, July 23, 2010


Here's a link to two short video clips on Freemasonry and American History. The speaker is the former Governor of Wisconsin, Lee Sherman Dreyfus. Credit goes to the Grand Lodge of Indiana Free and Accepted Masons for sponsoring the website.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Polk City Four Seasons Festival starts Friday!

Polk City's annual Four Seasons Festival starts Friday, July 23 and runs through Saturday night. Live music, food booths, a parade, and even the crowning of a Queen will be featured. Operative Lodge #308 will host an Open House on Saturday after the parade. Stop by and say hello!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Freemasonry and British Imperialism

The most recent book I'm reading is Builders of Empire: Freemasonry and British Imperialism 1717-1927 by Jessica L. Harland-Jacobs. Pietre-Stones has a brief review here.

This summer I'm enrolled in an on-line class about India. I came across a reference to this book and I thought it might relate to what I'm studying for my class. I'm enjoying the book quite a bit. The author argues that Freemasonry aided Britain's empire building in part due to its emphasis on universal brotherhood. She does an excellent job supporting her claims with references to primary source documents. In the book's opening few pages she thanks numerous people including the librarian at the Iowa Masonic Library, Bill Krueger.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

back on...sort of

I'm back on-line. This time around, I'll be writing about my experiences in Freemasonry with some gardening thrown in.

I plan to use this blog as an on-line diary of what I'm reading, growing in the garden, and as a link placeholder.

Saturday, May 8, 2010


Privacy concerns have led to the cancellation of this blog.
Thanks for stopping by.