Thursday, May 29, 2014

Masonic Reformation

Freemasonry as we know it today has gone through several transitional periods. In the 16th century Freemasonry transitioned from operative to speculative, in the 17th and 18th centuries it began to spread to the far edges of the globe, in the 18th and 19th centuries we saw the establishment of centralized governing bodies start, the 19th century has been called the "Age of Progress" and demonstrated the resiliency of Freemasonry, and in the early to mid-20th century Freemasonry saw a significant increase in its membership. With the onset of the "Summers of Love" and the counter-culture revolution of the 1960s Freemasonry entered into a new transitional period where young men were rejecting the lifestyle of their parents, but whether because of indolence, ignorance, or inability the leaders and members, both, did not react properly and soon a generational gap formed; since 1960, Freemasonry has lost more members than it has brought in with a steady increase in its loss until 2001 from which point the amount we have lost each year has started to decrease (see chart). With the Millennium Freemasonry has, I believe, entered a new transitional period, one I will refer to as the Millennial Era which has started a reformation.

Figures are the percentage of increase or decrease in a given year, from 1924-2012

During this era, the Masonic fraternity is seeing an increase in the number of younger men joining and the decline in the membership rate is starting to slow. This may be due to the fact that the WWII generation death rates are slowing; with fewer and fewer of them alive, there are fewer to die. It could be due to the fact that the "Millennials" are rejecting the beliefs of the counterculture revolution and putting interest into civic organizations like Freemasonry. Another variable could technology, specifically the prolific amount of writing that is found on the Internet about us (both good and bad) as well as glimpses of the fraternity in pop culture with films like "National Treasure."

While I have a great love for my Lodge and the Fraternity, some of the practices and policies that are used I am not a fan of. One such is the "cheapening" of Freemasonry. Indicative of most Lodges throughout the United States is the low dues. Several years ago at a District Communication, the Senior Grand Warden had a list of all Lodges in the state that listed the dues and initiation fees when the Lodges was established, the current dues and initiation fees, and what they would be if they had followed inflation. The Brethren were then divided into two groups: those younger than 65-years of age and those 65 and older. Each group was asked if they were willing to significantly raise dues or not. The younger group was far more willing while the older group was not. Another way we've cheapened the experience is by making it far too easy for one to attain the Sublime Degree of Master Mason. I believe this is a result of the "factory era" of the mid-20th century. Freemasonry, as seen in the chart shown above, grew dramatically starting in the 40s and kept growing until the height of membership in American Masonry being in 1959 with 4,103,161 members. Lodges during this time turned from, in my opinion, centers of enlightenment to factories, more concerned with running through initiates, reading minutes, and paying bills. Lodges were overburdened with petitioners (seems weird that I would complain about such a thing), and Brethren seemed more concerned with one becoming a Master Mason so he could join appendant/concordant bodies rather than gaining a strong understanding from the very beginning. This lack of education and ease of progression allowed Masons to often just walk away as it was something easily given to them and they didn't have to work hard for it. When one has to work hard and put an effort into progressing through the degrees they will keep coming back and stay active within the Lodge because it was a special achievement, not instant gratification. Just in my area alone, not taking into accounts what I hear from all over the US, I have seen far too many young men walk away because Freemasonry did not live up to their expectations or meet the developmental needs. When other young Masons ask about my experiences and the issues they see, I tell them to "be the change you want to see. Don't just walk away." In my travels, I have met Brothers who are doing just that and trying to raise the bar of Freemasonry. In 2011, I had the pleasure of meeting Brothers Cliff Porter, author of "A Traditional Observance Lodge," and Kyle Ferguson, from the Philosophical Freemason blog, while attending the Pennsylvania Academy of Masonic Knowledge. It was here that I first heard about the Masonic Restoration Foundation (MRF). From the MRF website, their statement of purpose reads:
Since 2001, the MRF has been conducting research on the problems affecting American Masonry, identifying successful practices and offering realistic solutions aimed at reversing negative trends.
The MRF seeks to put out, through publications and symposiums, research to assist Lodges in cultivating "time-tested cultural and fraternal Masonic practices" that are seen as successful and practical. These successful policies have been collected and Lodges that practice them are often referred to as "Traditional Observance Lodges." The MRF does not charter or establish these Lodges; Lodges that style themselves "Traditional Observance Lodges" are still under the auspices of their respective Grand Lodge and must operate in accordance to the Rules and Regulations of that jurisdiction.

Many Masons are ignorant as to what Traditional Observance Lodges are. According to the MRF and the Brothers of Traditional Observance Lodges, these Lodges seek to "incorporate higher dues, festive boards, a strict dress code and higher standards of ritual." They are characterized by their solemn and dignified approach to the performance of the Masonic rituals, and demanding the best out of their members in the pursuit the Masonic talking point "making good men better." Some differences one would see is the use of a Chamber of Reflection prior to the Entered Apprentice degree, forming a "Chain of Union" at the end of each meeting, requiring more time between degree progression, requiring candidates to present some kind of research paper to the Lodge, require the strictest silence during the rituals so as not to distract from the solemnity of the ritual, and holding a festive board (or Agape) following the closing of a Lodge. The Chamber of Reflection is a room is filled with symbols and implements to allow the aspirant to reflect and meditate on his mortality and the changes he seeks by going through the initiatic experience of Freemasonry, and in some jurisdictions, he answers certain questions. What is included in a chamber may differ between jurisdictions and with the various rites. The Chain of Union is formed at the closing of a Lodge where the Brethren go on the Level taking hands, often after crossing the right arm over the left. This act reminds me of the principle tenet, Relief, where we are taught that Masons are linked together by an indissoluble chain of sincere affection. The word 'Agape' means 'love' in ancient Greek. In the Masonic context, Agape refers to one of our tenets, Brotherly Love, and the Brethren coming together for this meal is a reminder of that tenet.

With the onset of the Millennial Era, Freemasonry is coming to a crossroads: we can either: reform and restore the prestigious nature of Freemasonry or we can continue to live in decline and inactivity. Many Masons seem okay with complacency and stagnation, and taking Freemasonry on course towards destruction; often the slogan "that's how things have always been done" is touted by those unwilling to change course. Sadly, in an attempt to slow the shrinking membership, Grand Lodges have lowered the standards and made mediocrity the new standard which has done very little to increase help or turn the tide. In learning about the MRF and the Traditional Observance Lodge, I have found that many Masons find it and its practices controversial and that the changes are only "superficial." Some have even charged that the practices are in violation of not just the rules and regulations of the numerous Grand Lodges, but the rituals themselves. Some have sadly let their passions and prejudices get the better of them which led them to fabricate information against them or trying to pass on the faiths and/or religious beliefs of individual Brothers as the characteristics and practices of the Traditional Observance Lodge system. From my observation, some of the pieces of propaganda passed around appear to be un-Masonic and not very Brotherly. From my experience these practices exclusive from the tenets and Landmarks of Freemasonry, but take us back to a time before the factory setting to a place when education, development, and improvement were the concerns of the Lodge rather than filling the records book with faceless names and absent dues payers.

Lodges should not be discouraged by such banter, but rather should look at practices such as the Traditional Observance Lodge and find what works in their Lodge. Brothers need to seek change and reform the practices that have brought Masonry to declining membership, in applicants and attendance. Masonry needs to reform and go back to a time that made Freemasonry famous and immortalized. Freemasonry is not a mere social or dinner club, but an ancient institution dedicated to transforming ourselves from the Rough to the Perfect Ashlar. Brother Andrew Hammer said it best with Freemasonry being "an institution that calls men to their highest level of social being, in a state of dignity and decorum, which could serve as a place for serious, mindful discourse on the lessons and meaning of life, and search for the better development of oneself." For my critics and "stay the course" Masons, I'd suggest reading this article, "Why You Shouldn't Become a Freemason."

What I would suggest to my Brethren are some simple concepts. 1) Worry more about quality than quantity (I'd rather have a Lodge of 20 Masons who were all active than a Lodge of hundreds where no one attended Lodge) and know who you are bringing in (it takes more than a quick "investigative committee and a month to get to know someone). 2) Don't be afraid to raise your dues and fees. I found it funny that my dues for Kappa Sigma (my college fraternity) were five times higher than my Lodge dues are now. 3) Learn, not just memorize, your ritualistic work. The applicant has paid his fees and the Lodge has seen him fit to go through the degrees of Masonry and the Lodge owes it to him to give him the best experience possible. This also includes learning how to properly present the ritual so as to leave them in a state of awe and wonder. 4) Don't be satisfied with the status quo. Just because the Grand Lodge establishes the basic premise of progression and proficiency doesn't mean the Lodge cannot go beyond to ensure that the candidates gain the most knowledge that can be gained in a given degree. 5) Have some kind of educational presentation at Lodge meetings and promote an environment that cultivates learning. It is important to know and understand the history, rituals, symbols, famous figures, and ceremonies of our Order. Without the availability of this knowledge, we would fail to have a proper education and so much would fall into the fog of history and obscurity. 6) Dress in the proper attire for Lodge. Nothing bugs me more than when members, and even officers, show up looking like it's just another day sitting around the house. The attire of the Brethren should never detract from the dignity and decorum of the institution. 7) Be social by having a festive board or Table Lodge where Brothers can assemble and further build the bonds of friendship and brotherhood. 8) Realize that the habits of the Lodge you are familiar with are not necessarily traditions. I hate hearing "that's how we've always done it." I heard that so many times that I decided to read the old minutes of my Lodge and I quickly learned that no, that's now how we've always done it. 9) Don't be in such a hurry. By this Lodges should allow candidates to take their time progressing from one degree to the next. We need to ensure that a newly initiated Brother sets a proper base for his education and knowledge of the mysteries of Freemasonry.

The generational gap created by the counterculture revolution of the 1960s combined with the "Factory mode" Lodges were set into in the mid-20th century has created poor Lodge practices and policies which has resulted in declining membership and, as Bro M.D. Jardine wrote in 1996, the emergence of "Robot Masonry" which sees ritual as the end rather than the means. Lodges can either stay the course and crash into the rocks or they can change course safely reforming Freemasonry to an institution that isn't just another social club like the Lions or Kiwanis. We "Millennials" have a great opportunity to make change and lead that change. We have already seen this with the establishment of the MRF and the perpetuation of the Traditional Observance system, but not every Lodge is the same nor should it be. Every Lodge is different and there is no "cookie-cutter" answer or solution to what will cause a Lodge to prosper. Traditional Observance may work for some Lodges, but it won't work for all. Nor should Lodges attempt to be Lodges of the past or some "golden age" long forgotten because it is folly and every age of Masonry has had its challenges.


1. Chornenky, D. V. (2011, February). The Traditional Observance Lodge. Retrieved from The Masonic Restoration Foundation:

2. Da Costa Jr., H. L. (1999, October 16). The Chamber of Reflection. Retrieved from Grand Lodge of British-Columbia and Yukon:

3. Dunn, T. (2007, October 22). Chain Of Union. Retrieved from A Beacon of Masonic Light:

4. Hammer, A. (2011). Eight Steps to Excellence: The Observant Lodge. Retrieved from Observing the Craft:

5. Statement of Purpose. (2011, February). Retrieved from The Masonic Restoration Foundation:

6. What is a 'traditional observance' lodge? (2007, May 03). Retrieved from The Burning Taper:

Note: this article is the opinion of the author and not the opinion of any Lodge, Grand Lodge, or any body found within the Masonic family.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Elias Ashmole

The history of Freemasonry is often vague and lost to the fog of time, some of it lost for all ages. The early days of Speculative Masonry fall into the category of obscure and one of the earliest records of Speculative Masonry are found in the diaries of Elias Ashmole. Described by a contemporary, Anthony Wood, Elias Ashmole was "the greatest virtuoso and curioso that ever was known of or read of in England before his time." He was a soldier, an antiquarian, an alchemist, a Freemason, a philosopher, an astrologer, a politician, and an officer within the royal court.

Elias Ashmole was born on the 23rd of May in 1617 at Breadmarket Street, Lichfield, Staffordshire, England. He was born to a family that at one time was considered prominent, but had fallen on hard times. His mother was the daughter of a wealthy Coventry draper and his father was a saddler. Elias attended Lichfield Grammar School and became a chorister at Lichfield Cathedral. In 1633, he moved to London as a companion to the son of James Pagit, a Baron of the Exchequer and relative to Elias's mother. In 1638, he became a solicitor, or a lawyer who focuses upon legal documentation such as wills, with a successful practice in London and married Eleanor Mainwaring. This marriage stood until 1641 when she died while pregnant on the 6th of December, but would marry again in 1649.

The following year kicked off a series of armed conflicts known as the "English Civil War" which was between Parliamentarians and Royalists in the Kingdom of England and which surrounded the manner of its government; this war last from 1642 to 1651 with the Battle of Worcester. This war ended with a victory by the Parliamentarians which resulted in the trial and execution of Charles I, the exile of Charles II, the end of the monopoly of the Church of England on Christian worship in England, and the precedent set that an English monarch cannot govern without Parliament's consent. During the conflict, Elias was a Royalist, supporting Charles I. When the conflicts first started, Elias left England for his in-laws at Smallwood in Cheshire. In 1644, Elias was appointed King's Commissioner of Excise at Lichfield. Later he was appointed as an ordinance officer at a military post in Oxford. When he was not on duty he studied the liberal arts and science, specifically mathematics, astronomy, and physics. He also had an interest in astrology and magic. He never officially earned a degree from Oxford, but because of his devotion, he was given an honorary M.D. from Oxford in 1669. In 1645, left Oxford for Worcester where he served as Commissioner, Receiver, and Registrar of Excise. While never serving in any battle, he continued his assignments with infantry and artillery units until the defeat of the Royalists at Worcester in 1646.

After the surrender at Worcester, he left for Cheshire and during his travels learned that his mother had passed away a few weeks prior from the plague. It was on the 16th of October of this year that, through an entry in his diary, that he was "made a Free Mason at Warrington in Lancashire." Although he makes only one more entry in his diary about Masonry, it is seen that he is attending meetings 35-years after his initiation, but the specifics of these activities is unclear. His diary is important as it displays some of the earliest records of Lodge activity long before the establishment of the first Grand Lodge in 1717. Some have speculated that he was the first person to be made a Speculative Masons, but in reality, he is just the first recorded name and that his Lodge was considered speculative long before the initiation of Elias Ashmole. It is important to note that in this time of Masonry there were only two degrees worked, the Entered Apprentice and Fellow Craft degrees; there was no 3rd degree conferred in that time, as far as records show.

Following the English Civil War, England was considered a commonwealth and led by Oliver Cromwell. After Cromwell's death in 1658, a vacuum of leadership existed, and which led to the restoration of the monarchy in 1660. Charles II had been in exile for the past 9-years and was invited back to England. He was officially coronated as King of England, Scotland, France, and Ireland on the 23rd of April, 1661. As Elias had sided with the Royalists, Charles II rewarded him with several profitable positions. Such positions include Comptroller and Auditor of the Excise for the city of London, Windsor Herald of Arms in OrdinarySecretary and Clerk of the Courts of Surinam, Comptroller of the White Office, and Accountant General of the Excise. He was also charged with caring for the King's medals which included preparing a catalog of the coins and medals held in the Royal Collection, and appointing a commission responsible for tracing items from the collection which had been dispersed or sold by the Parliamentarians. He also studied and wrote a book in 1672 on the history of the Order of the Garter which was titled "The Institution, Laws, and Ceremonies of the Most Noble Order of the Garter." This book he dedicated to Charles II and made special copies for certain foreign dignitaries who were also members of the order.

Elias Ashmole was an antiquarian and his personal library reflected his love of knowledge and his library included works on English history, law, numismatics, chorography (a subsection of geography), alchemy, astrology, astronomy, and botany. Elias Ashmole was a founding member of the Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, commonly known as the Royal Society which still exists today and acts as a scientific adviser to the British government. He was not very active as his interests were more into the mystical realms, not just scientific. He was a known Rosicrucian and published or compiled works inspired by the Rosicrucian manifestos: Fasciculus Chemicus (1650), Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum (1652), and The Way to Bliss (1658).

In 1649 he married Lady Manwaring, a widow who was 20-years his elder. She was wealthy and which allowed him to pursue some of his more expensive research engagements to include being a patron of the arts. From historical writings, the marriage was a disaster and not one made from love. They were married until the 1st of April, 1668, when she passed away, and Elias married Elizabeth Dugdale in the same year. In 1677 the King offered Elias Ashmole the position of "Garter King at Arms" which would have also given him knighthood, but requested that this post be given to his father-in-law, William Dugdale

In the 1680s, his health began to decline and as a result, he started to donate much of his priceless collections to Oxford, which made for the initial source of the Ashmolean Museum, still in existence today. He continued to until his death as an excise officer, but was not very active in the day-to-day affairs. Elias Ashmole laid down his working tools on the 18th of May, 1692. He was buried in St. Mary's Church in Lambeth (a district of Central London) on the 26th of May in the same year.


1. Ashmole, E. (n.d.). The Origins of Speculative Freemasonry. Retrieved from The Masonic Trowel:

2. Cerza, A. (2014, March 22). Masonic Events in History. Retrieved from The Masonic Trowel:

3. Elias Ashmole. (n.d.). Retrieved from Wikipedia:

4. Elias Ashmole. (n.d.). Retrieved from Grand Lodge of British-Columbia and Yukon:

5. Elias Ashmole. (n.d.). Retrieved from Pietre-Stones Review of Freemasonry:

6. Elias Ashmole and the Warrington Lodge. (2008, August 20). Retrieved from Grand Lodge at York blog:

7. English Civil War. (n.d.). Retrieved from Wikipedia:

Monday, May 12, 2014

The August Order of Light

Freemasonry is filled with many appendant bodies that can be found worldwide. Some are well-known, but there are a few that are relatively unknown. One such group is the August Order of Light, which has one Temple in the United States. This group should not be confused with "Sat B'Hai" which started in 1875, a similar society found in India. This organization is concerned with intellectual and spiritual stimulation and enlightenment.

This group is unique as it incorporates ideas from the Orient. The Order and ritual were originally organized by Maurice Vidal Portman, a politician, and occultist who had traveled to India around 1876 and became learned in the ritual, arts, and lore of the Far East, particularly of the Hindus, Buddhists, Jainists, and other faiths. It is thought that Portman may have been influenced by the rituals of Sat B'Hai, but this is only speculation. It was also thought that John Yarker assisted in the writing of the rituals, but the Order states that he was never a member and had no connection with it. Originally the Order did not take foot in England. It would be by the assistance of others that helped establish this order. The rituals were revised around the turn of the Century by two followers of Portman, T.H. Pattinson, and Dr. Bogdan E.J. Edwards. These two through studying and communicating with those in India reformed the rituals.

The August Order of Light seeks to explain the symbolism of Craft Masonry by reference to the old world religions, particularly the mythologies of India, ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome. This order is not adding to or replacing the ritual of Craft Masonry, but providing keys to explain it. It is their ardent wish "that all members will receive some degree of illumination from participating in the mysteries of the Order, thus rending the veil of darkness between the physical and spiritual planes."

The order was founded in 1902 and flourished in Bradford (Northern England) in the basement of a pub. They would move into a warehouse in 1924 and in the 1960s they would move into a building of their own. The trouble would start to fall into troubles, particularly with the loss of property in Bradford, and those who sought to keep the order alive suggested that it should be absorbed into the Allied Masonic Degrees (AMD), but the Grand Master of the AMD rejected the idea. Its present headquarters is located in Halifax in West Yorkshire. At the proposition the members came together and kept the Order going, spreading it to now two Temples in England, two in Australia, one in the United States, and one in India. Each Temple is named 'Garuda Temple', with numbering identifying precedence within the Order.

The August Order of Light is open to all Master Masons in good standing in a Lodge recognized by the United Grand Lodge of England. The order looks for Masons would benefit and be a benefit to the order.

The Order has two Arch Presidents of the Center who are appointed for life and appoint their own successors. This order is not democratic in that the Arch Presidents have absolute discretion in the governance of the order; they have the ability to shut down the entire order or close down an individual temple, and may exclude from it, temporarily or permanently, any member or officer, giving reasons in writing if requested. The Arch Presidents are the approving authority for the creation of new Temples and are the Custodians of the Archives of the Order. The two Arch Presidents rule all temples directly from the center; there is no Grand or Provincial structure. Admission to the order is overseen by the Council of Agni. This Council is made up of the Presidents of Garuda (leader of each temple) and brethren selected by the two Arch Presidents. Each Temple of the August Order of Light is administered by its Council of Garuda.

The order is comprised of 2-degrees and a "connecting path": The First Degree, the Passing Degree, and the Second Degree. The regalia of Order is a robe and belt, with variations in each degree. With the First Degree, the Brothers wear a breast jewel. In the Second Degree, they wear a neck jewel, and the belt changes.

The charity of this group raises money that helps pay for eye surgery for those that cannot afford the procedure on their own. The Order is thus dispensing Masonic light in a practical sense and assists those who are so afflicted.


1. Beresiner, Y. (n.d.). The August Order of Light: Origins & History of a little known and respected Order. Retrieved from Pietre-Stones Review of Freemasonry:

2. Bottomley, M. S. (2014, May 12). Arch President. (B. E. Newell, Interviewer)

3. Stephenson, A. B. (n.d.). History of the Order. Retrieved from The August Order of Light:

4. The August Order of Light. (n.d.). Retrieved from Garuda Temple #3:

Thursday, May 1, 2014


by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Match'd with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: All times I have enjoy'd
Greatly, have suffer'd greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone, on shore, and when
Thro' scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea: I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honour'd of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro'
Gleams that untravell'd world whose margin fades
For ever and forever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish'd, not to shine in use!
As tho' to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle,—
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfill
This labour, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and thro' soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.

There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:
There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toil'd, and wrought, and thought with me—
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads—you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.