Thursday, July 2, 2009

Masonic Baptism?!


I received my copy of the Journal of the Masonic Society about two to three weeks ago (yes, I have taken that long to finish this article). As I flipped through the finely crafted magazine, I arrived at a story that shocked me. In Colorado, a Lodge and Scottish Rite Valley performed the rare ceremony known as a "Masonic Baptism". What, what, what, what?! I thought to myself, "isn't Baptism a Christian Rite and aren't we a non-sectarian group?" Oddly enough, this was not my first time hearing about this ceremony but it doesn't make me less queasy about this strange ceremony.

I have a friend who described how her brother was given a "Masonic baptism" and warned me to fear those elements within the Craft. It truly creeped me out about the idea that there is some shadow element within Masonry set on giving the child to the community. At the same time, some part of me wanted to disbelieve that such a thing existed. "It can't be true."

I did a few searches on Google at the time but found nothing substantial. Then this article appeared in the Journal, and my mind immediately started to hear the word, "NO" repeated several times in quick succession. I have to say that I agree with my friend on baptisms in any Masonic body. It really didn't matter to me that Pike describes a world of ritual cleansing through immersion in water in all parts of the Earth, baptism is a very particular ceremony for a very specific religious purpose.

It is true that many cultures use water to cleanse and purify one's body for ritual. In Judaism, to be ritually clean, one must go through מִקְוָה, or mikvah. This ceremony has different purposes depending on what Jewish community of which you are a member. Some communities view mikvah as a means for ritual purity while other groups see mikvah as something outdated for our modern times.

Islam also follows two methods of ritual cleaning, غسل or Ghusl and الوضوء or Wudu, each having a different use depending on the amount of ritual cleaning one needs as written in the Qur'an. Islam is very much a religion of both belief plus action as a way to submit to Allah. Cleansing one's self is a way to purify one's self for his devotional reverence of Allah.

Hindus will immerse their bodies in the Ganges river to remove past sins and to cure illnesses. They can do this as many times as needed as a way to salvation. Many Hindus will throw the ashes of loved into the waters as a final plea for their soul.

In Japan, believers in Shintoism will take part in or Misogi (which is actually more broad than water absolution) to purify their souls. I watched an episode of "No Reservations" where Anthony Bourdain was in Japan and visited a Shrine with a waterfall for absolution.

The Christian ceremony of Baptism is used for a few different purposes, namely, to remove original sin (infant baptism), or as a way for an adult to be saved or to show their profession of faith in Jesus Christ. While Judaism and Islam view the use of water as a path to G-d or Allah being done as frequently as needed, baptism in Christianity is similar to a door, allowing the believer to enter into the Christian faith and community.

So, after all this discussion, why do I still have a problem with the Masonic baptism? For me, it is the fact that the Masonic Baptism is focused on entering the child into the protection of the brothers just as it is used by some Christian church denominations. The use of the term "baptism" makes the practice immediately suspect. Also, the ceremony is done by another unlike other ritual cleansings in different cultures which are done by a single worshipper.

What is the purpose of the immersion of the child? I believe that it is because the child is being entered into a specific faith community, which is a big no-no. Albert Pike's assertion is just plain wrong that this is just a ritual involving immersion of water found in all cultures and societies, it is more than that. The ritual is not repeated nor is it used to cleanse the child. It is being used as a way to initiate the child into a Masonic quasi-religious community.

Another problem is the idea of an non-clergy person performing a rite reserved for the clergy. It is true that Masonry has the office of Chaplain which can be held by a non-clergyman, however, the chaplain leads the brethren in prays determined in advance without a sectarian message. Baptisms are a specific rite are done only by a clergyman. When a non-clergyman performs the baptism, the rite is reduced in significance as well as possibly violating a certain Christian sect's rules on rites being performed by non-clergy.

My final thought: it is always interesting to see what add-ons are within Masonry but there are times when the line is crossed. In my mind, to engaged in a Masonic baptism is to cross a line drawn in concrete. The ritual cleaning of the child is only done once and it is used to have the child enter the community of Masonry, this smacks of a Christian rite. It is the mixture of sectarian belief in a non-sectarian organization and should be avoided.


Update:
If you would like to read Albert Pike's version of the Masonic Baptism ritual, you can read it below:



McClenachan, Charles T., The Book of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry. New York: Masonic Publishing and Manufacturing Co., 1868.

21 comments:

Charles E. Martin said...

I would like to get a copy of the subject article. I have heard of these baptisms, but I always found them to be rumors. cemab4y@hotmail.com

LinuxGeek said...

Nick,

I would like to see more scholarly information to accompany this blog post. I have never heard of such a thing (that's not saying much), but like many masons, I try to educate myself as much as possible on all things masonic.

It's important to remember that Freemasonry is like ice cream. It's all made up of the same ingredients, but an extra ingredient here or there is what sets each flavor apart from the others. One particularly odd flavor does not ruin the idea of ice cream, it mearly speaks to the fact that ice cream can have nearly any flavor and still be ice cream.

Now... where's the freezer?! =D

LinuxGeek said...

It seems you updated the post while I was writing my comment.

Thanks for the update!

LinuxGeek said...

While not baptism, this does remind me of a practice I have heard practiced by masons outside of America. In the case of a mason passing on, some lodges will informally adopt the mason's child until after college. The lodge will cover any costs the mother is unable to pay for until the child is able to make his or her own way in the world. This can include food, clothing, shelter, and any school costs, including college.

It would comfort me greatly to know that the brothers of my lodge would actually take care of my widow and orphans in the event of my untimely passing rather than hoping someone else would.

Have frequented your blog enough today, I hope I have helped to shed further light on the topic at hand.

Justa Mason said...

I found a NY Times story about Pike performing one of these. It sounded pretty innocuous.

LinuxGeek said...

Do you have a link to the article you could post?

James McNeely said...

Nick,

Very interesting post. In most protestant sects any member can confir baptism. This can be done in any setting with virtually any liquid including Mt. Dew.

J.Luis Castañeda said...

Bro Nick,
I would imagine that you and I share a more or less an equal degree of apprehension concerning the idea that any particular dogma might be given preference in the craft. Still, I am not sure what to think about this one.

I am playing devil’s advocate here to some extent, but I really am considering these possibilities.
Could it be the case that someone might want o replace a particular religion’s ritual with a non-sectarian one? For example; I am getting married this week. I purposely chose a brother from my lodge to perform the ceremony. He is a clergyman but the ceremony will not contain anything alluding to any formal religion. He will talk about the allegorical significance of the ring, what it symbolizes and the lessons it teaches us regarding the union of two indiviuals. It is not in any way a Masonic wedding ceremony, but some of the themes invoked happen to be informed to some degree by Masonic ideals. Ideas that are applicable to any moral situation.

I guess my point is that sometimes it is just about the ritual, celebration or formal acknowledgement. AS we all know ritual fills a need in mankind. In this case it might be the formal welcoming of a new member to the brotherhood of man, not masonry but humanity and it so happens that the backdrop is Masonic due to the preferences of the celebrant. Of course this is all conjecture on my part; be that as it may, it might be something to think about.

Fraternal and sincere regards,
Jorge

The Millennial Freemason said...

First off Jorge, congratulations brother!

I agree that ritual is so necessary to the human condition. I think there are some instances when a brother wants to make Freemasonry something it's not, a religion. Masonry rides a very fine line between the two and I think it takes some sense to keep them separate.

Nick

baptism cakes said...

Masonic baptism sounds painful, who would want a load of bricks dropped on their head?

Tom Accuosti said...

Never mind that, it's the Masonic circumcision that has me worried.

Cliff Porter said...

I understand apprehension. I understand also that we have an opportunity here to reach deep, practice, tolerance, and research. The history of baptism is a wonderful and rich one. It is not necessarily religious.

I am the author the most current Masonic Baptism ritual that has been worked in the U.S.

I assure you I am a Christian and a Mason.

www.masonicbaptism.com

The Millennial Freemason said...

Cliff,

I am sure that you have a strong belief that Masonic baptism is non religious but for me, it just seems to be a mixture of religiousness in a Fraternity that has been pulling away from religious identification since the inclusion of brothers of non-Christian faiths. However, if a brother wishes to have this rite performed on their child, it should be left up to their choice.

Nick

pictures of birthday cakes said...

I always baptize my bricks with cement before laying them, this ensures a good strong bond with adjacent bricks and i feel my bricks are happier because of this.

Scott Wynn said...

If we read the ceremony closely we see that it is Masonic in ritual. It invokes the blessing of the Deity and charges all present to look after the child and help guide him to lead a moral life.

The ceremony promotes the basic tenants of the craft and encourages our community to be a part of our childs moral development.

Thanks for posting this, but I would respectfully disagree with you.

Bro. Scott A. Wynn
Shekinah Lodge #256
Crystal City, MO

Cliff Porter said...

A discussion of the book as well as other issues in Masonry can be found at www.blogtalkradio.com/Masonic-Central

David Riley said...

I think the use of the word "Baptism," which has become very closely associated with Christianity, is the real difficulty. Take away the word, take away, I think, much of the objection.

Unknown said...

So to be a mason you have to be circumcised ?

Willie Matney said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Willie Matney said...

If you notice, it states that the baptism ceremony "is frequently performed in Europe, but has not been generally adopted in the United States". That European country would be France, and at the time of this book, 1868 & 1914, those Lodges were irregular, (under the Grand Orient), since 1877, only 9 years after the first printing. I doubt a regular Lodge doing this, in France, that was in amity with the UGLE, after 1877. Also, since it was never in a Ritual and Monitor, nor adopted by the United States, it would be irregular. I have had many brothers tell me, including several in the UK, that McClenachan's book is not regular, and it is not recognized as a ritual and monitor. As a matter of fact, as far as a ritual, this book is the only one in the US, that has the baptism, that I am aware of, so I would not give it any merit, and it is my opinion, that what was done in Colorado, was irregular. Especially, since baptism is only done in church, or with a churches clergy. On top of that, Colorado is in the SJ, and this book was written in the NJ, one year after the NJ and SJ was healed on May 15, 1867, so the book was probably written during the Cerneau time, and finally published in 1868.

In M&D, Pike speaks of baptism in the 26th degree, but in reality, it is talking about being baptized in church, in that degree. It is saying that to become perfect, one should be baptized, as the next question and answer is about talking communion. Both being part of the Trinitarian faith, which the degree is about.

Pike speaks of baptism several times, and talks about not only the Christian use of it, but how other religions have used baptism over the years.

McClenachan's book seems to have everything regular, and a bit of irregular in it, too, over this. I would not sit in a Lodge performing it. There are other legal ways, of having the Lodge look out for a child of a Mason, if it is needed. Freemasonry is not a religion.

Anonymous said...

I had a very profound dream on this subject. Let me know if you would like to hear it.