Friday, May 25, 2018

National Poppy Day

Today is Poppy Day, sometimes referred to as Remembrance Day, which is a memorial day observed by many nations since the end of World War I to remember all who have died in the line of duty. For most nations, this day corresponds to Veterans Day in the US, but last year the US Congress, with much support from the American Legion, passed Resolution 309 which established the Friday preceding Memorial Day as National Poppy Day.

To symbolize this day and our honoring of those fallen heroes, we wear the red poppy:
Poppies were worn for the first time at the 1921 anniversary ceremony. At first real poppies were worn. These poppies bloomed across some of the worst battlefields of Flanders in World War I; their brilliant red color became a symbol for the blood spilled in the war.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Tarot Card of the Month: The Lovers

The Tarot Card for May is The Lovers. The Lovers is sometimes called the Twins and is the Sixth of the Major Arcana in Tarot card decks. The Lovers symbolize the planet Mercury, the element Air, the zodiacal sign of Gemini, and the archangel Raphael whose name means “It is God who heals.”

The Lovers represent duality and balance, but can also relate to intimacy, attraction, physical, transparency, and spiritual union, connections, and relationships. The Lovers may also represent an either-or choice one has to make or a dilemma one is facing. Some draw a contrast between it and the Devil card where the former may sometimes represent blissful unconsciousness and the latter represents suffering caused by unconsciousness

As the Lovers follow the Hierophant, associated with institutions and external beliefs, the Lovers helps one define their own personal beliefs, making choices that conform to our own principles. By doing this, we understand ourselves better (To thine own self, be true) and are able to forge more meaningful relationships with others.

While there are different versions, this card I've chosen has a great deal of symbolism. This card shows a scene of a naked man and woman beneath an angel. Behind the man is a tree of flames (twelve of them representing the twelve zodiacal signs) while behind a woman is a tree with a snake around it. Between the man and woman are a distant mountain and a cloud above it. Located above the cloud is an angel which is adorned with a purple cloak, hands lifted upward, wings of crimson, and flame for hair. Above the angel, there is the sun spreading its rays. The nude couple is said to represent Adam and Eve at the time they are being told about the Tree of Knowledge. This serves as a metaphor for all relationships meaning that while they start off pure, the best must be made out of it after the initial bliss is gone.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Latest on my Father

It has been some time since I updated everyone on how well my father is doing. The end of March delivered a devastating blow to my family as we were informed that the drug therapy my dad struggled through was not effective. The cancer has not only spread to his liver, but the lumps in his lungs have grown. The medical staff have put my father on a new set of medications which is easier for him to deal with; nausea is not as severe. However, there has been one side-effect that surprised me, his hair is turning very white.

With all of my traveling in April for work and the Grand York Rite Sessions, the emotional rollercoaster I was on took its toll on everyone in my family, but my father is keeping up the fight and I will be there to always support him. My family is still meeting every Sunday and the last few weeks my dad seemed like his old self. He was eating, joking, and laughing. Mother's Day I spent most of the day with him. The next medical mile marker is the end of June.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

A Mason's Wife

From active Masons, resolute, 
Our wives and families we salute; 
We surely know the price you pay, 
Who sit alone while we're away. 
No high degrees on you conferred, 
In Lodge, your name is seldom heard; 
You serve our cause though out of sight, 
While sitting home alone tonight. 
Masonic papers list our names, 
Awards are given, fit to frame; 
But yours is who strive, 
To keep our fortitude alive. 
You're part of every helpful deed, 
On your encouragement we feed; 
Without your blessings, how could we, 
Continue acts of charity? 
And so, this poem, we dedicate, 
To every Master Mason's mate; 
And offer our undying love, 
Rewards await in Heaven above

Thursday, May 10, 2018

GHP Visits: Mesa Freemasonry

I've spent the last week in the Phoenix area of Arizona for work and while I was here I had the chance to enjoy Freemasonry. On Tuesday, I guest-hosted the Masonic Roundtable where we talked about the Royal Order of Scotland.

On Wednesday, I had the luck to attend the meeting of the Mesa York Rite bodies: Damascus Chapter No. 21, Royal Arch Masons; Mesa Council No.15, Cryptic Masons; and Apache Commandery No.16, Knights Templar. The Right Excellent Grand Scribe of Arizona attended as well and the hospitality of the Companions and Sir Knights was great.

Thursday evening, I attended Apache Lodge No.69 in Mesa. At the dinner, I met the Right Worshipful Senior Grand Warden of the Grand Lodge F&AM of Arizona and many dedicated Brothers. I definitely look forward to my next visit to Arizona.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Order of the Secret Vault

There are a number of awards and honors found within the York Rite. The General Grand Council of Cryptic Masons International has the following awards: Medal of Honor, Columbian Medal, Mordhurst Medal, Cryptic Mason of the Year, Adult Youth Leadership Award, Grand Master's Lapel Pin, Ritualist Award, Lady of the Council, 10% Gain Certificate, and the Order of the Secret Vault. The last one, the Order of the Secret Vault, is one of the newest awards to come from the General Grand Council, and many Masons, even York Rite Mason, have never heard of it.

In 2012, the General Grand Council established the College of Preservation in order to honor those who have provided exemplary service to their Grand Councils and/or to the General Grand Council. This purpose of the College of Preservation is to establish the Order of the Secret Vault and confer the honor of the Companion of the Secret Vault on worthy Companions in order to support the Corporate Foundation and through that Foundation build a financial base ensuring the future stability of the General Grand Council, Cryptic Masons International, and its Honors Programs.

The General Grand Master of Cryptic Masons International is0 the Grand Master of the College of Preservation and is the head of the Order of the Secret Vault. The Deputy General Grand Master, General Grand Principal Conductor of the Work, General Grand Treasurer, and General Grand Recorder are the governing body of the College of Preservation. Each Grand Council has one to two College Deans that are appointed by the General Grand Master and who have the authority to select those worthy Companions to receive the Order of the Secret Vault in their respective jurisdiction.

Jewel of the Order
of the Secret Vault
The Order of the Secret Vault is by invitation-only and only those who have received this honor may nominate someone to receive it. All nominations go to their College Dean who makes the final selection and sends it on to the College of Preservation who has the final say as to who receives the order. Recipients of this order are known as Companion of the Secret Vault. They receive a certificate as well as a jewel. The jewel (see the pic on the right) is suspended from a purple ribbon. It may be worn with a sports jacket, suit, or tux at any York Rite function, public or private.

The ceremony is short and simple, but memorable in that it charges the Companions of the Secret Vault to preserve the degrees of the Council and preserve the General Grand Council. This ceremony can be done in private or in public. For Idaho, it usually occurs just after the Public Opening and Introductions so that a larger crowd may take witness to this investiture. As of January 1, 2018, there are 414 members worldwide.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

What Level Are you?

This is a question I have been asked by anti-Masons and non-Masons alike...although mostly by the former. Not meaning to sound hostile, but being completely honest, this question is one of the most annoying asked me concerning Freemasonry not because it's bad to ask questions, but, more often than not, it is meant as an attempt to discredit a Mason if they are challenging a myth or lie about Freemasonry. However, to me, it is an indication of one's ignorance, whether innocently or intentionally, concerning how Freemasonry is structured not only in the degrees of Freemasonry but it in the hierarchy and governance of the Craft. The purpose of this article will be to discuss this misconception.

Terminology: "Level"

To start off, as Freemasons, we do not use "level" as an indication of one's progress through Freemasonry. For the Blue Lodge and several other concordant/appendant bodies of Freemasonry, the term used is "degree", but you sometimes see "order" or "grade" used. A degree can be defined as "one of the progressive stages of advancement in the lodge and conferred using a ritual ceremony"  (paraphrasing off of Chris Hodapp's definition).

Freemasonry does use the term "level", but it is used in a different context. In Freemasonry, the Level is a symbol of equality and in old times was used by Operative Freemasonry to prove horizontals. It is used in Speculative Freemasonry as the jewel of the Senior Warden and symbolizes equality which is contradictory to this misconception where many think degree equates to rank.

How Freemasonry is Structured

Figure 1
Figure 2

Far too often when confronted by anti-Masons hold a belief that Freemasonry is a pyramid structure that paints a picture of anti-democratic, autocratic, and centralized government that controls every thought, word, and action of its members, and where the leaders of Freemasonry are those who have attained some fabled "higher degree" such as the 33°. If one spends any time on the Internet researching Freemasonry, you'll come across a picture similar to Figures 1 or 2. I've even seen anti-Masons take commonly used Masonic charts (see Figure 3) literally in that because a group is shown above others that they must be considered superior to those drawn below it.

Figure 3

In reality, Freemasonry consists of three degrees: Entered Apprentice (1°), Fellow Craft (2°), and Master Mason (3°). The Third Degree is considered the highest degree in Freemasonry while the degrees, orders, and grades of concordant and appendant bodies are considered complimentary not superior to the Third Degree. These first three degrees compose the main body and basic organizational unit of Freemasonry known as the Blue Lodge. The Blue Lodge is the center of activity from which all other Masonic organizations spring. The Blue Lodge is presided over by a Worshipful Master who is elected on an annual basis. Blue Lodges are subordinate to a Grand Lodge. A Grand Lodge is the overall governing body of Freemasonry in a given jurisdiction. Typically, a Grand Lodge's jurisdiction is based upon that area's civil government where Grand Lodges govern Blue Lodges within a particular national or state boundary. The Grand Lodge is presided over by a Most Worshipful Grand Master who is elected on a regular (most often annual) basis by the voting members of that Grand Lodge. There is no central body to oversee all of the Grand Lodges around the world; each one is sovereign and independent of the other. Each Grand Lodge chooses its own policies, rituals, practices, rules, and what other Grand Lodges it recognizes.

When one attains the Sublime Degree of Master Mason he has attained the highest degree in Freemasonry, but one can continue to seek further light by joining a concordant body such as the York Rite or Scottish Rite. The York Rite and Scottish Rite are often seen as two branches in competition, but in reality, they both seek to impart further Masonic light to an aspirant. It should be noted that while the Scottish Rite uses a numbering system, those degrees are not superior to the Master Mason degree.

The Ancient & Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemason, or simply known as the Scottish Rite is perhaps the most known appendant body of Freemasonry, maybe second only to the Shriners. It confers a series of progressive degrees. This Rite is one of several appendant or concordant bodies in the Masonic fraternity. They confer from 4° to the 33°. These degrees build upon the ethical and moral teachings and philosophies offered in Craft Masonry, or more commonly known as the Blue Lodge, through dramatic presentations. These degrees are conferred by several controlling bodies: The Lodge of Perfection confers the 4° through the 14° and is presided over by a Venerable Master, the Chapter of Rose Croix confers the 15° through the 18° and is presided over by the Wise Master, the Council of Kadosh confers the 19° through the 30° and is presided over by a Commander of Kadosh, and the Consistory confers the 31° and 32° and is presided over by a Master of Kadosh. All of these bodies unite under a body referred to as a "Valley." These Valleys unite under an "Orient" which is presided over by a Sovereign Grand Inspector General (SGIG). These Orients fall under the auspices of a central authority known as a Supreme Council. In the United States there exist two Supreme Councils: Northern Jurisdiction and Southern Jurisdiction. For certain members who have given meritorious service to the community and to Freemasonry, the Rite may confer the 33°.

While the Scottish Rite is a unified body, the York Rite is more accurately described as a confederacy. The term York Rite is a misnomer though and should more accurately be called the American Rite as this rite is comprised of degrees and orders uniquely structured in America in comparison to that seen in such places as the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Scotland. The York Rite is composed of three main organizations that each operate with their own hierarchy and enjoy their own autonomy. These three bodies have united in a confederate system to ensure mutual continuation and prosperity. These three bodies are known as the Royal Arch Masonry, Cryptic Masonry, and Knights Templar. True to all 3-bodies of the York Rite, there is a local body, Grand body, and International body. For the Royal Arch, there is the Chapter, Grand Chapter, and General Grand Chapter. The presiding officer of each of these levels respectively is High Priest, Grand High Priest, and General Grand High Priest. For the Cryptic Masons, there is the Council, Grand Council, and General Grand Council. The presiding officer for each of these levels respectively is Illustrious Master, Most Illustrious Grand Master, and the Most Puissant General Grand Master. For the Knights Templar, there is the Commandery, Grand Commandery, and the Grand Encampment, Knights Templar, USA. The presiding officer for each of these levels respectively is Eminent Commander, Right Eminent Grand Commander, and the Most Eminent Grand Master.

I used the York Rite and Scottish rite as examples of the diverse nature of hierarchies in Freemasonry, but there are many other concordant and appendant orders with their own hierarchy. The authority and scope of each Masonic order are specified in their Constitution and By-Laws. And if it were not all confusing enough, I am speaking primarily to Freemasonry in the US. When you travel outside the US, there will be differences in the degrees conferred in some of the bodies, but my main points still remain the same.

Degree vs Rank

A Master Mason may choose to decide a concordant or appendant body such as the York Rite or Scottish Rite, but it is not required nor considered derogatory if he does not. If one does continue his journey into a concordant or appendant body, he may attain the highest honors one of those groups possesses, but those accolades do not translate to superiority or authority over Masons, not in those groups. There's also a misconception that degree equates to rank in Freemasonry. It doesn't. An office one holds in a Masonic group equates to rank, but that rank, with one exception, does not translate across to other groups. The exception is that of Most Worshipful Grand Master which is often accorded welcome and honored across Freemasonry.

I'll use Brother Joe Alexander, the Sovereign Grand Inspector General (SGIG) of Idaho, as an example. He sits as the ranking Scottish Rite Mason in Idaho, but when he visits a Lodge, he wouldn't be introduced as the SGIG, he'd be introduced as a Past Grand Master of our Grand Lodge. In the York Rite, he is a member and holds no particular rank.

Simply put, the degrees one has gone through simply show the steps and instruction a Mason has taken to help better himself and understand the world around him. The degree should not be seen as collectibles or for the end of the journey. once one attains any degree it is not the end, but a milestone in a career that should be noted for service to God, country, in one's fellow man.

Origin of the Misconception

So where does this misconception come from? One possible source of this misconception is the cherry-picked quote from Morals & Dogma:
The Blue Degrees [1º–3º] are but the outer court or portico of the Temple.
As I mention in Satan and Freemasonry, Pike remains the favorite "whipping boy" of the anti-Masonic movement who often exaggerates his importance and misquote Morals & Dogma. Anti-Masons go so far as to say that Moral & Dogma carries the weight of Masonic canon or law. It seems to me that most anti-Masons gloss over most of the book to include the Preface of the book where Pike states: "Everyone is entirely free to reject and dissent from whatsoever herein may seem to him to be untrue or unsound." This doesn't seem like a way to start a book that is supposedly the standard of knowledge by which all Masons must believe. Brothers Arturo de Hoyos and S. Brent Morris state, in Is It True What They Say About Freemasonry, "Just because Albert Pike was a brilliant ritualist, an able administrator, and a well-respected Mason doesn't mean all of his opinions are right." This again falls in line with most anti-Masons' lack of understanding or denial of what constitutes authority in Freemasonry. I have found that most anti-Masons quoting Pike have never actually read Morals & Dogma, but just copy and paste from some anti-Mason website.


The use of "level" when trying to discuss Mason's rank is a misnomer. We Masons do not use "level" when discussing advancement through Freemasonry. There are degrees, orders, and grades, but not levels. It's not degrees, but offices that equate to rank or authority in Freemasonry. As mentioned before, with the 3º being the highest degree in Freemasonry, all Masonic authority begins and ends with a Grand Lodge. To test this premise, one only needs to look at the implications of a Mason being expelled from the Blue Lodge versus being expelled from any other concordant or appendant body in Freemasonry. If I were to be expelled from the Shriners, I'd only lose membership in that group. If I were to be expelled from the Blue Lodge, I'd lose membership in every Masonic group.