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

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.