Friday, September 18, 2009

Tarcher Talks: Episode 5: Freemasonry: The History, Mystery and Truth

American publisher Penguin will be republishing a number of Manly P. Hall books under its Tarcher imprint. Gearing up for the incoming onslaught of Dan Brown and "the Lost Symbol", Penguin has decided to dedicate one of the episodes of its video series, "Tarcher Talks" to the topic of Freemasonry. Joe Fotinos, vice-president of Penguin, asks questions of Mitch Horowitz, author of "Occult America" and non-Freemason, about a wide range of topics about the Fraternity from the usual, "who is a Freemason" to Freemasonry's connection with the Mormon Church. There is even a surprising connection between the Shrine and Sufism.

I really like the candid nature of these videos. There really is no glossing over of the victories and challenges facing the Craft. There are some mistakes made in the videos, including Ronald Reagan being named a Freemason. (He was not a Freemason but he was made an honorary member of the Scottish Rite.) However, I really thought that Mr. Horowitz had some good points about what Masonic Lodges must do with the candidates now that many will seek out our more esoteric side. We can't just continue on as a civic organization while ignoring our deeper past. Much of what is focused on in the episode comes from the books by Manly P. Hall.

For those not in the know, Hall was the prominent esoteric Freemason of the 20th century. Unlike most writers of the time, he sought a deeper meaning within the symbols of Masonry. He was a prolific writer and speaker on the Craft, giving thousands of lectures and authoring over 150 books. He was awarded the 33rd degree in 1973. He was also the founder of the Philosophical Research Society in Los Angeles.

In the end, I really enjoyed hearing an outsiders perspective on the Fraternity. Sometimes we become far to insular to truly understand how people view us. You can find the republished Manly P. Hall manuscripts on The Secret Destiny of America and The Lost Keys of Freemasonry. I have also posted parts of the episode below:

Part 3:
Part 4:

Destination D.C. and "the Lost Symbol"

Destination D.C., a private, non-profit tourism board for business and sites in the Washington, D.C. area, has created a website specifically tailored to the places found in the novel, "the Lost Symbol." The website includes sites like the US Capitol, the House of the Temple as well as little known Masonic-related sites like the National Museum of Women and the Arts. The new Dan Brown book looks to increase awareness everywhere as Washington organizations begin to piggyback on the "Lost Symbol" craze. Although Masonry won't feel any effects yet, our Masonic landmarks will be getting huge numbers of visitors following around the book's path. We'll see what caliber of men seeks admission into our Lodges; I just hope that we weed out those with "mercenary motives."

Destination D.C. has also created a video as well highlighting the Washington connection to the book.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Millennial Freemason Reviews: The Lost Symbol

Well friends, the Dan Brown storm has arrived and guess what, no one died. The book that was going to ruin the Fraternity and send pitchfork carrying villagers to kill the Masonic monster hiding in the Lodge downtown never came to fruition. Now that I have read through the book, I can honestly and unequivocally say that...

Chapter 2

Nick thought to himself, Should the public know what my opinion of this book is? Are they ready for the truth?

"Okay, I think I can tell my readers my opinion but I'm afraid of the ramifications."

"Ramifications?" The old man looked blindly at him, wondering what could possibly happen if the young man, the Millennial Freemason as he enjoyed calling himself, (as if he were the only one)decided to reveal his personal feelings about a piece of pop culture. Just say what you're thinking and get us out of this terribly written parody of a Dan Brown novel.

Damn, he knows I'm stalling. Nick looked at the old man and hoped he would just get out of this moment, this sad, stupid moment. Wait, where did this guy come from, anyway? Whatever.

"Alright, alright, I'll reveal my opinion of this book, but I don't want people to call me a sellout." He waited for the old man to speak, but he would be unable to in time; he never thought he would see something so magnificent.

Chapter 3

Whoops, sorry about that, I don't know what happened. The focus of "the Lost Symbol" is aimed directly at Freemasonry, specifically Scottish Rite Masonry. Reading the book made me remember why I liked his books; they are written in the glorious American tradition of pulp. Pulp novels, pulp movies, and comic books are great escapes for the mind. Yeah, you English class snobs (and you know who you are) will be saying, "if a book is not stimulating, such as Joyce's Ulysses or Milton's Paradise Loooosss, ow ow ow owwww!" Yeah, that's what I thought; now where was I... Oh yeah, these novels are not meant to be high art, nor are they meant to present as truth all those crazy ideas that are put in them. They are adventure novels meant as escapism. Think Dr. Samson, or the more modern example, Indiana Jones.

This book provided the right levels of escapism, adventure, patriotism, and a devotion to a higher belief that I came away thinking, "wow, Freemasons really are cool, which means, by association, I'm cool." (The editors of the "Millennial Freemason" take no responsibility for the claims made in the previous statement.) I enjoyed arriving at the end of a two page chapter and having no problem going in for another bite. It's like salty popcorn, not dangerous to your body, but you'll never survive on popcorn alone.

The story is basically a treasure hunt and race against time in one whirlwind trip. The book runs through the city of Washington, D.C. connecting seemingly unconnected works, places, and ideas into a cohesive story. Now, in reality, nothing in the "real world" is connected in the way the book tries to make it but I don't care, I had fun. The city of Washington is built upon the models of Grecian, Roman, and Egyptian architecture, turning the city into something foreign and familiar, exoteric and esoteric.

Whether Robert Langdon is running through the Capitol Crypts or speeding to the House of the Temple, Brown makes Washington alive, secretive, and illuminating. Now, for those who haven't read the book, I will warn you now that there may be some spoilers but nothing that wasn't revealed in other reviews.


The Masonic Fraternity is represented very well by this book. 33rd Degree is the central point from which this entire book revolves around, kind of like a circumpunct. Robert Langdon dispels many of the myths that have been spread by the Anti-Masons, including the head of the devil in the D.C. street plan as well as not hiding from some of the criticism that we also receive including no female Masons in CGMINA-recognized Grand Lodges. But ultimately, Dan Brown treats Masonry extremely fairly, we are the heroes.
The book reveals very little about our ritual which was in my mind surprising considering how mysterious our ways are. Ritual is our language and our code. Our path to illumination comes from the stones laid by the early authors of our ritual. Brown instead looks at our goals and teachings to give our Fraternity an air of intelligence, our goal of truth literally surrounding the National Mall. Our history is delved into in some parts but of course, it is simplified. (The Scottish Rite is viewed as a single body instead of the NMJ or SJ in the United States.) And yes, we finally learn why we keep eunuchs out of the Lodge room, ;).


In the end, the book is a bowl of popcorn, a book of fun and frolic on the same order as "National Treasure." I enjoyed myself and although I have read the works of Milton and Shakespeare, there comes a time when the mind should be given a chance to wander. “The Lost Symbol” may be pulp but it was good, clean, old-fashioned, all-American pulp.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Grand Master Answers WCCO's "Good Question"

Today, Tuesday 15th, the Grand Master of Masons in Minnesota, Most Worshipful Brother Thomas McCarthy, will be on WCCO's "Good Question" at 10 pm. WCCO is the CBS local affiliate and produces a series that seeks to answer many questions by asking people knowledgeable on the subjects. Because Freemasonry is now in the Dan Brown spotlight, the question of "What is Freemasonry" is being asked by many. I will be posting the link to the video once WCCO posts it on their site (Sorry, no embed code for me.)


As promised, I've linked to the article and video. I think that Most Worshipful Brother McCarthy did an outstanding job representing the brothers of Minnesota Masonry. Also, what a great spot to be at, outside the old Masonic building in downtown. It's always fascinating to see how the Profane world looks at Masonry but I think public perception is changing or perhaps its better to say public rediscovery.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Lost Symbol Response by The Masonic Society, MSANA and GWMM

The Masonic Society, with the cooperation of the Masonic Service Association of North America and the George Washington Masonic Memorial, has decided to provide a great, concrete response to "the Lost Symbol" in a website entitled, "The Lost Symbol and Freemasonry." The website provides answer to many burning questions about Masonry including what Freemasonry is and why Freemasons care about the Lost Symbol. The site also lists a very good list for seeking the truth about Freemasonry. The website will continue to be updated as more information becomes available. I'm very glad that the Masonic Society has taken this important step in PR.

As many of my readers know, I am a member of The Masonic Society, which provides great opportunities for brothers with a brilliant publication, "the Journal of the Masonic Society." If you have not already joined the Masonic Society, you should. If you are a Freemason, please send this link along to other brothers, family and friends. We should be ready for whatever happens after next Tuesday and this is a great starting salvo. I applaud my brothers at the Masonic Society.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Getting Dan Browned, TODAY?!

Monica Hesse and David Montgomery at the Washington Post have written an article entitled, "New Dan Brown Novel Set To Take Over Washington" about "The Lost Symbol." The authors have entered a new term into my lexicon, "Washington is about to be Dan Browned." The publishing world is about to hit with a tsunami of books, reprints, complementary, supplementary, and secondary media to feed the appetites of a hungry, book-buying public. The protections being used on this book to ensure that no mystery is revealed rivals that of a military base including keeping their stock under 24-hour guard and in protected area where access requires two different people with two different keys. Even the TODAY Show is in on this Dan Brown obsession with Matt Lauer revealing clues to what the book is about. (I’ll be updating this article with the new videos each day so that we know what is being reported, so stay tuned)

The media is grabbing onto this story and frankly, no one knows what will happen after next Tuesday. Now, I do differ in opinion with Brother Tabbert, quoted in the article as saying “We might have to spend the next 25 years responding to Dan Brown's fiction. That's what I dread." Most of the story in "the Da Vinci Code" and "Angels and Demons" was fictitious, just as hyperdrives and warp speed are fictitious in "Star Wars" and "Star Trek", respectively. (Wow that was nerdy.) However, it is no less entertaining to wonder, or to question what is true and what is not, and I’m okay with that. I’ve studied the history of Freemasonry in my four years of history and what I’ve learned is that we do not write our own history but we can write our own destiny.

There are really two approaches to dealing with any action, proactive or reactive. I’m of the proactive point of view. We can’t stop the media juggernaut, but we can get in front of it. Every brother should think of ways to discuss the Fraternity and trying to put our best foot forward. We aren’t all about pancakes and fish, but we are a Fraternity of an unknown past, of wild theories and observations, of symbolic, mystic, and philosophic wonders, in total, we are one of the most interesting organizations on Earth. People have written volumes and encyclopedias about the minutiae of our Gentle Craft. Research has been done on our connection to the Revolutionary War, Templar Knights, peasant revolts and the Ancient Mysteries of Egypt. We are a fascinating group to read up on as our story is that mysterious.

I think the most advantageous point that we will find with this book in everyday Lodge life is that there will be an abrupt return to the educational opportunities to which this book will lead that has been lacking in many Lodges. Some brothers may take this book as fact while others will attempt to debunk every assertion and that is a very good thing. I’m hoping to see an open dialogue among brothers about truth, which is one of our espoused values, in all things Masonic and allowing more than just business about lights to run the meetings. This book will not be absolute truth but it can serve as the string between the cans to get brothers to talk.

I think that in my own Lodge, the fact that our Friendship Night falls on the same day as this book's release is truly auspicious. I’m not concerned with gaining many more members but good quality men and perhaps this book will spark their interest even when they never had any inkling that we existed before its publication. For good tips on what Lodges should do, check out WB Chris Hodapp’s article entitled, “The Dan Brown Effect Part II, What Next.”

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Grand Lodge Podcasts

I was trawling the Internet and noticed that the UGLE has recently updated their website. It looks fantastic and shows that the UGLE has been a standard bearer for the Fraternity around the world. One of the best features of this new site is actually not advertised prominently; someone has had the good sense to create an RSS feed to subscribe to the speeches of the Grand Master and the Pro Grand Master at the Annual and Quarterly Communications.

I should mention that the first Grand Lodge to podcast is not the UGLE. The Grand Lodge of Ohio has been publishing a monthly podcast since the summer of 2008. I'm really glad to see Grand Lodges taking an active role in the internet space. The Internet is not only a place for men looking for the Fraternity but also as a way for brothers, new and old, to receive important information about the Craft. WB Mayfield over at the Palmetto Mason really presents the changes and challenges that the Internet presents to Freemasonry in a post entitled, "The Internet, A Blessing and a Curse for Freemasonry."

I applaud both of these Grand Lodges for becoming accessible to the public. Hopefully, more Grand Lodges will continue to add content to the ever growing Internet Masonic community.

To subscribe to these podcasts, enter

for the Grand Master of the UGLE and Pro Grand Master's speeches


for GL of Ohio's podcast into your podcatching client (instructions for them can be found here: iTunes or Zune).