Monday, January 25, 2021

Robert Burns

Today we celebrate the memory of the man and Mason, Robert Burns, who was such a passionate Scotsman and poet that, after Queen Victoria and Christopher Columbus, he has more statues dedicated to him around the world than any other non-religious figure. He was born into poverty which he struggled with throughout his life and, due to health issues, he died when he was only 37-years old, but in that time, he left such a mark that he is remembered as the "National Bard", the "Ploughman Poet", and many other names.

Robert Burns was born on January 25, 1759, in Alloway, south of Ayr (southwest Scotland). He was the eldest of the seven children of William Burnes, a tenant farmer, and Agnes Brown (sometimes seen as Broun). Tenant farmers in that time often faced a lose-lose situation because if a farmer was able to improve the land and make a profit, the rent would be increased which would negate his profits and keep him impoverished. Such is the tale with the Burns family because when Robert was 7-years of age, the family had to give up the farm and move to another farm southeast of Alloway. Robert would grow up to be one of his father's main laborers on the farm and many believe that living in such conditions as a child led to his poor health in adulthood.

Even in these conditions, Robert's father saw the value of educating his children. He learned reading, writing, arithmetic, geography, and history from his father, but would later receive a more formal education where he would learn Latin, French, and mathematics.

Robert's father, William, would move the family in 1777 to Lochlea, near Tarbolton, where the family lived until William died in 1784. It was in this town that Robert Burns joined Freemasonry. He was initiated an Entered Apprentice into Lodge St. David on July 4, 1781, at the age of 22. He was passed to the degree of Fellowcraft and raised to the sublime degree of Master Mason on October 1, 1781. This Lodge had some internal disputes and the Lodge split where Robert went to Lodge St. James where he was elected as Deputy Master on July 27, 1784; it was said that the Worshipful Master was more an honorary position while the Deputy was the one in charge. He was a loyal attendee of his Lodge as his name is recorded dozens of times.

Robert Burns was no stranger to the ladies as he would father several illegitimate children. He had desired the hand of Jean Armour, but her father, a Mason himself, would not allow the marriage even though she is said to have been pregnant with Robert's baby at the time. Robert would meet Mary Campbell who died some months after giving birth to another illegitimate child in 1786. Emotionally and financially this was straining Robert and he faced the prospect of fleeing to Jamaica.

This did not occur though as Robert was approached by Gavin Hamilton who suggested selling his poems. Many who bought subscriptions were his Masonic Brothers and propelled him to celebrity status across the country. This support is what kept the Scottish flavor and cultural roots in his writings. Having grown up in a system that kept his family in perpetual poverty, Burns was constantly frustrated by the political and religious institutions of Scotland. Freemasonry was also an extremely positive influence in Robert's life as it did not reject him based on his social status and when he needed support his Brothers were there. His love of this international brotherhood inspired and is embodied in one of his most famous works "Auld Lang Syne."

While in Edinburgh, he was made an honorary member of multiple Lodges to include Lodge Kilmarnock Kilwinning St. John where he would write a song in honor of the Lodge and its Worshipful Master. Even the Grand Master of Scotland would recognize Burns for his writings and honored him during a toast given at Lodge St. Andrew in Edinburgh in 1787. He is said to have been made a "Poet Laureate" of Lodge Canongate Kilwinning. 

Robert Burns was exalted a Companion in the Holy Royal Arch on May 19, 1787, at St. Ebbe's (sometimes spelled St. Abb's) Lodge in Eyemouth (east of Edinburgh along the coast). Some speculate that he was also initiated into the Knights Templar, but I have not seen another source to confirm this claim.

In 1788, he finally married Jean Armour who would bear him several children and would help raise the illegitimate ones. Burns moved to Dumfries in June where he would work as a customs officer. and would join Lodge St. Andrew on St. John's Day. In 1792, he was elected as Senior Warden and this would be the last Masonic office he would hold before he died.

It was in Dumfries that he would write over 100 songs and his masterpiece "Tam O' Shanter". Many of his songs were lyrics adapted to older traditional songs. Burns sought to preserve as much of Scottish folklore and culture as he could. His writings covered topics from romanticism, Scottish patriotism, social struggles, the religious turmoil that still existed in Europe, and Freemasonry.

His life was prematurely cut short when he died on July 21, 1796, at the age of 37, from a rheumatic heart condition. Originally, he was buried in a simple grave, but in 1817 he was moved to a family mausoleum where it has stayed since. He wasn't perfect, but he was an honest and humble man. I believe it was his hardships and transgressions that inspired his works and endeared him to the world.

Today we commemorate the memory of Robert Burns by holding the annual Burns Night, Burns Supper, or Rabbie Burns Day. The format of these dinners is usually as follows:

  • Welcoming the Guests
  • The Selkirk Grace
  • Piping in the Haggis 
  • Address to the Haggis 
  • Toast to the Haggis 
  • The Meal 
  • The Drink
  • The first entertainment 
  • The Immortal Memory (dedication to Burns) 
  • The second entertainment 
  • Toast to the Lassies 
  • The final entertainment 
  • Reply to the Toast to the Lassies 
  • Vote of thanks 
  • Auld Lang Syne 

Such was the character of Robert Burns that friends and admirers held the first "Burns Supper" in 1801 and the tradition has spread around the world. His works have spanned two centuries and work like "Auld Lang Syne" is still sung on New Year's Eve. "A Man’s a Man for a’ That", considered a Masonic anthem, was sung at the opening of the 1999 Scottish Parliament. "Scots Wha Hae" served as an unofficial national anthem for Scotland.


References

1. 20 Facts about Robert Burns. (n.d.). Retrieved from Scotland is Now: https://www.scotland.org/events/burns-night/20-facts-about-robert-burns 

2. About Robert Burns. (n.d.). Retrieved from Visit Scotland: https://www.visitscotland.com/about/famous-scots/robert-burns/ 

3. Alexander. (2009, December 14). Robert Burns: Scotland’s Masonic Bard. Retrieved from Masonic Network: http://www.masonicnetwork.org/blog/2009/robert-burns-scotland%E2%80%99s-masonic-bard/ 

4. Brother Robert Burn. (n.d.). Retrieved from Grand Lodge of Scotland: https://www.grandlodgescotland.com/2018/07/23/robert-burns/ 

5. Burns and Freemasonry. (n.d.). Retrieved from The Burns Encyclopedia: http://www.robertburns.org/encyclopedia/FreemasonryBurnsand.368.shtml 

6. Burns Night. (n.d.). Retrieved from BBC: https://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/robertburns/burns_night_running_order.shtml 

7. Burns Supper. (n.d.). Retrieved from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burns_supper 

8. Celebrating Burns Night. (n.d.). Retrieved from Visit Scotland: https://www.visitscotland.com/about/famous-scots/robert-burns/burns-night/ 

9. Reno, A. (2017, April 16). Robert Burns: A poet and a Freemason. Retrieved from Tetraktys: https://tetraktys.co.uk/robert-burns-a-poet-and-a-freemason/ 

10. Robert Burns. (n.d.). Retrieved from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Burns 

11. Robert Burns. (n.d.). Retrieved from Masonic Dictionary: http://www.masonicdictionary.com/burns.html 

12. Scottish Poet and Freemason: Robert Burns. (2018, August 03). Retrieved from Crusader History: https://crusaderhistory.wordpress.com/2018/08/03/scottish-poet-and-freemason-robert-burns/ 

13. Wilkinson, T. J. (n.d.). Robert Burns as a Freemason. Retrieved from Alexandria Burns Club: http://www.robertburns.org.uk/freemason-robertburns.html


Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Sights and Places: Grand Lodge of New York

Located in the borough of Manhattan is the Masonic Hall that sits as the headquarters of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of the State of New York. Today it consists of two buildings: one was built in 1907 (and located at 23rd St. and 6th Ave.) and the other in 1913 (facing 24th St.). This first building was erected over the previous Masonic Hall and was designed by Harry P. Knowles and the rooms were renovated from 1986 to 1996 by Felix Chavez. This building on 23rd St. is composed of a commercial building where rent brings in revenue needed for the upkeep of the building on the 24th St. where Masonic activity occurs.

The Masonic Hall house the Grand Lodge office, Lodge meeting rooms, Grand Lodge meeting rooms, and the Chancellor Robert R. Livingston Library and Museum. Blue Lodges along with numerous other Masonic bodies meet in this building.

The Grand Lodge Room is a two-story, auditorium-style room that seats over 1,000 people.


The Renaissance Room, located on the 6th floor, is decorated to look as if the room is carved from stone and gold with murals and frescos.

The Hollander Room is, located on the 6th floor, is a small library-conference room with a famous statue of George Washington sculpted by Brother Bryant Baker, but incorporates Mayan and Incan motifs.

The Ionic Room, located on the 6th floor, is decorated in Mediterranean motif and takes its name from one of the classical orders of architecture.

The Corinthian Room, located on the 8th floor, is decorated with strong colors with art that has a porcelain appearance, and this room takes its name from another of the classical orders of architecture.

The Jacobean Room, located on the 8th floor, is decorated with heavy woodwork and medieval motif that would make a knight feel at home.

The Doric Room, located on the 8th floor, is decorated with a Greek motif and takes its name from another of the classical orders of architecture.

The French Ionic Room, located on the 10th floor, is decorated with a French motif that includes oil paintings, busts of George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette, gold filigree throughout the room, and Ionic columns.

The Colonial Room, located on the 10th floor, is decorated and furnished, as the name implies, with a colonial theme.

The French Doric Room, located on the 10th floor, is also decorated with a French motif, and the walls are lined with Doric columns, but the oil paintings in this room focus more on countryside scenes.

The Empire Room, located on the 12th floor, is decorated with early 19th Century French Neapolitan style with Greek and Roman influences.

The Gothic Room, located on the 12th floor, is modeled after the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, with the blue and white fleur-de-lis design stenciled in the false windows, and carved gargoyles on the ceiling beams.

The Chapter Room is decorated with terracotta colors and an Egyptian theme.

The Chancellor Robert R Livingston Masonic Library, located on the 14th floor, is one of the world's largest Masonic libraries. According to its website, the Library "has pursued its mission to collect, study and preserve the Masonic heritage, focusing its efforts on the history and impact of Freemasonry in New York State."

I have never been to the Grand Lodge of New York, but this is one of the items on my Masonic Bucket List.

References

1. About Us. (n.d.). Retrieved from Chancellor Robert R Livingston Masonic Library: https://nymasoniclibrary.org/home/

2. Chancellor Robert R Livingston Masonic Library. (n.d.). Retrieved from Atlas Obscura: http://www.atlasobscura.com/places/chancellor-robert-r-livingston-masonic-library

3. Dubé, B. (2006, October 18). Masonic Lodge. Retrieved from New York Daily Photo: http://newyorkdailyphoto.com/nydppress/?p=218

4. Elliott, M. (2014, October 15). A Look Inside Manhattan’s Masonic Hall: Grand Lodge of New York. Retrieved from Untapped New York: http://untappedcities.com/2014/10/15/a-look-inside-manhattans-masonic-hall-grand-lodge-of-nyc-photos/

5. Masonic Hall (Manhattan). (n.d.). Retrieved from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Masonic_Hall_(Manhattan) 

6. Our Grand Lodge. (n.d.). Retrieved from Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of the State of New York: https://nymasons.org/site/grand-lodge/ 

7. Venues. (n.d.). Retrieved from Masonic Hall NYC: https://www.masonichallnyc.org/venues/


Wednesday, January 6, 2021

The Three Magi

Today is the Epiphany, or the Day of the Three Magi, which marks the end of the Christmas Season as well as commemorates a number of different events in the life of Christ: the revelation to and adoration of the Three Magi, the baptism of Christ by the Baptist, and the miracles at Cana; it is also sometimes known as Theophany meaning "manifestation of God." According to the Gospels of Luke and Matthew, three wise men, or magi, named Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar, were visited by an angel who declared the Messiah had been born and these three traveled to Bethlehem, following a star in the sky said to rest over where Jesus was born. When they found the baby Jesus they praised his glory and bestowed the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh which were respectively symbolic of His royal standing, His divine birth, and His mortality.

The Book of Matthew is the only of the four gospels to mention the Magi. It doesn't mention an exact number, but it is thought to be three due to the three gifts they bring. This number was favored by Origen, St. Leo the Great, and St. Maximus of Turin. In Eastern Christian traditions, it is believed to be twelve Magi not just three. Other depictions display two magi and, in another, four. These magi were said to be kings in regards to Pslam 72:11, "Yea, all kings shall fall down before him." Some suggest that the visitation of the Magi is a fulfilled prophecy by Balaam, a non-Israelite prophet, mentioned in the Book of Numbers. Biblical scholars believe that Isaiah prophecized the gifts given by the Magi.

It wouldn't be until the sixth century that the names Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar were attributed to the visiting magi. The "Excerpta Latina Barbari" refers to them as Bithisarea, Melichior, and Gathaspa. From the "Excerpta et Collectanea", written by the English monk Bede, states that the first magus was named Melchior who was an old man with white hair and a long beard, the second one was Caspar who was young and beardless, and the third was a man with a dark complexion and beard named Balthazar. A Syrian manuscript names them Hormizdah, King of Persia, Yazdegerd, King of Saba, and Perozadh, King of Sheba although some traditions list them as kings of Persia (Melchior), Arabia (Balthazar), and India (Caspar); Syriac Christians named them Larvandad, Gushnasaph, and Hormisdas; Ethiopians named them Hor, Karsudan, and Basanater; and Armenians named them as Kagpha, Badadakharida, and Badadilma. The names Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar stuck due to mosaics of the magi commissioned by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian that included these names.

Melchior comes from the Hebrew words meaning "king of light" or "king of splendor" which would coincide with his gift of gold. It is said that he was a king in Persia, but the territory that he ruled over is not known. The name Caspar is derived from the # word "Gaspar" which is itself stemmed from the Chaldean and Hebrew word "Gizbar" which translates as "treasurer." He is said to be a king from India, but the exact area of his kingdom is not known; some suggest southern India while others speculate farther east towards Thailand and the Malaysian peninsula. Balthazar comes from the Babylonian word "Balat-shar-usur" which translates as "save the life of the king" which alludes to his gift of myrrh as it was used for healing purposes in the Far East. Having a name derived from the Babylonians, it is no surprise that he is said to have been a king in Arabia.

From the Bible, we learn that after the Magi visited the Savior, God sent angels to the Magi to warn them not to return to Herod and they left back to their homes. There are many legends about what happened after. One legend states that St. Thomas, who traveled to India, is said to have baptized and ordained them priests 40-years after their visit to the Christ child. This goes with the stories of a 17th-century Portuguese poet named Luis de Camoes who identified the magi as Indian Brahmins. Another legend is that in 54 AD, the Magi met at Sewa (now Sebaste in Armenia) to celebrate Christmas. The following month they each died: Melchior on January 1, Balthazar on January 6, and Caspar on January 11. How they each died, but tradition holds that they were all martyred which would make sense of the fact that they all died within days of each other. Their relics are said to be housed in Cologne after being taken there by the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa of Germany in 1162 AD.


References

Balthazar. (n.d.). Retrieved from Etymology Online: https://www.etymonline.com/word/balthazar 

Balthazar. (n.d.). Retrieved from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balthazar_(magus) 

Landau, B. (n.d.). The Magi. Retrieved from Bible Odyssey: https://www.bibleodyssey.org/en/passages/related-articles/magi 

Longenecker, D. (2018, January 2). Caspar, Balthasar, and Melchior? Where Did That Come From? Retrieved from Standing on my Head: https://dwightlongenecker.com/caspar-balthasar-and-melchior-where-did-that-come-from/ 

Magi. (2020, December 9). Retrieved from Encyclopedia Britannica: https://www.britannica.com/topic/Magi 

Melchior. (n.d.). Retrieved from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melchior_(magus) 

Melchior Name History. (2013). Retrieved from Ancestry.com: https://www.ancestry.com/name-origin?surname=melchior#:~:text=German%2C%20Danish%2C%20Dutch%2C%20Spanish,to%20one%20of%20the%20Magi. 

Saint Caspar. (n.d.). Retrieved from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Caspar 

Saunders, W. (n.d.). The Magi. Retrieved from Catholic Education Resource Center: https://www.catholiceducation.org/en/culture/catholic-contributions/the-magi.html 

Sebothoma, M. (2017, July 31). Balthasar, Melchior and Gaspar? Retrieved from The Southern Cross: https://www.scross.co.za/2008/11/balthasar-melchior-and-gaspar/ 

Zielinski, E. (2020, June 23). Gold, Frankincense, & Myrrh - The Truth About Their Significance. Retrieved from Natural Living Family: https://naturallivingfamily.com/gold-frankincense-and-myrrh/