A Father’s Day appreciation.
My father, from the time I was four years old, and for the next 50 years (until his death) was a Freemason — and a Shriner, and a member of the Knights Templar, a Royal Arch Mason (UK) and honorary member of at least 17 other DC area lodges as well as countless others overseas. He was twice (consecutively) Grand Master of Masons of the District of Columbia. He was an honorary Grand Master of Masons of Puerto Rico. You could say Freemasonry dominated his life and influenced his thinking. That would be an understatement.
Recently, in response to one of my Facebook friends who is a devout conspiracy theorist, I posted a quote from the website of a fellow Mason, Bro. Gary Frazier, a 32nd degree Scottish Rite Mason, attorney, and holder of degrees in theology and apologetics. Bro. Frazier posed the question: “What is Freemasonry” and answered his own question, which I used to try and perhaps enlighten, a little, the conspiracy buffs. Frazier’s answer is:
“Devotion to the interests of the People; detestation of Tyranny; sacred regard for the rights of Free Thought, Free Speech, and Free Conscience; implacable hostility to Intolerance, bigotry, Arrogance and Usurpation; respect and regard for labor, which makes human nature noble; and scorn and contempt for all monopolies that minister to insolent and pampered luxury.”
There is more, of course; much more. But this addressed the suspicions of a particular group who love to mention The Craft alongside The Elders of Zion, the Bilderberg Group, the Trilateral Commission, and countless other bugaboos, many of which are simply non-existent but who populate the world of conspiracy theory along with some very real, very culpable parties. Too many to mention, in fact.
The quote brought forth a number of responses, and they were positive. One person said, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, that “Those guys sound like a bunch of socialists.” I replied that while there are those who would be offended by such an idea, the truth is more that than not, and the Frazier quote lines up nicely with the philosophies espoused by our Republic’s various founders.
There was one response that caused me to write this post. That was a question posed to me that asked how being raised in the shadow of a Freemasonic legacy (and I would add, a legendary one, my father) had affected me. That got me thinking right away, and here is my response:
Growing up with my father was not easy. Those who’ve known me here for any length of time have read my references to the strange, intensely loving, intensely strained relationship I had with my father for the fifty years I had him in my life. We were so close we could not but butt heads, and we tested each other constantly from my earliest recollections. This was in part because my mother, a truly remarkable woman and an equally powerful influence on me, had a very different personality than that of my father. Then again, she was also a woman. This matters more than one might think, and I’ll get back to it.
In as few words as possible (for me) the Masonic influence on me was what made me who and what I am. It gave me the hardware, hard-wiring, armor, to become a questioner of authority and the regular order of things. It made me a free thinker and constant speculator. It made me a gnostic. It led me, indirectly, into a lifelong obsession with metaphysics and quantum physics. It assured I would not (so far) become an atheist, even though I have some dear atheist friends who insist I qualify. There is that one sticking point, however: to be a Mason one must confess a belief in a supreme being, a God, a First Cause. No religious test per se, exists, save that one. The Grand Architect of the Universe is a term that would seem to beg for an anthropomorphic God, and for some Masons, we being free thinkers and free to think, may believe in. Some do.Many do, in fact. Others do not, yet they do believe there is some First Cause, some Ground of Being. It may be (and to me it is) impersonal and even rather random-behaving, but there is, for me, something — science, mathmatics — that explains how everything works, and for me, science and mathematics constitutes God (though I prefer not to use that word, at least capitalized), or at least the ground of our being. There is natural law, scientific fact, which changes frequently as we learn more (and speculation, both scientific, mathematic, and metaphysical, are what come of advancing through the higher Scottish Rite degrees). Quantum physics is the law, and Pythagoras is like unto Jesus in this “church,” which is by no means a religion. Thus the following:
Freemasonry has been called “the religion of reason,” and that’s as close as it gets to a religion, and of course anyone who accepts organized religion by definition abandons some degree of reason. And yet…
I was also raised amidst religion. I was brought up originally in the Disciples of Christ Christian Church, and that program had its usefulness — up to a point. At that point I outgrew it, but I did maintain certain ties with it, as with other religions and systems of belief and thinking. I was raised among lapsed Irish Catholics, Jews, Southern Baptists, snake handlers, Hindus, Eastern Orthodox followers, and even Santeria and Voodoo. I took from each what seemed useful and perhaps reasonable, and incorporated it into my understanding of how society works. I continue to do this, even though I subscribe to none in its entirety nor even its particulars. I do find certain common threads, and those threads all lead back to the Egyptian mystery schools, which is where Freemasonry, especially Scottish Rite Freemasonry, finds its roots. The pantheon of gods and goddesses form a sort of reference or cheat sheet to the recognized personality types and disorder in psychoanalysis. Christianity owes its overriding theme to the Egyptian mysteries.
In my teens, because of my esposure to the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine (AAONMS or, most commonly known as The Shriners), I moved toward the Moorish Orthodox Church, which has close ties to the Shriners and is not a proper church at all. These agents of chaos are the Masonic ADD cases who, in exchange for all the seriousness they invest in humanitarian work, blow off steam by acting out in public like…like…well, they make an OWS occupation look like a high school field trip. They also have very close ties to the Moorish Science Temple and Moorish Orthodox Church of America, the latter my default “relgion” checkbox, and a repository of ontological anarchy. But that is sort of another story.
There is also the question of the Masonic beehive symbol, shared with the LDS (Mormon church), and that cross-and-crown Knights Templar logo, shared with the Christian Science Church. Why? The latter, in particular, has a very sound reason, but doesn’t answer the question of how I was influenced by my Freemasonic upbringing. Well, it was there, for better or worse, as my father was an attempted Christian Scientist also, because of his mother (a fanatic of the sect), and so I did learn how the two touch, if not actually connect. And because of that I was introduced to quantum physics earlier in life than I otherwise would have been.
I hated Mary Baker Eddy. I think I still do. Nevertheless, there was that.
My father was unable to keep to himself his deepest wish: that he someday raise me as a Master Mason in his home lodge. This eventually did happen, but only after his revelation, later in life, that while he had always pursued a noble path in life, that he had been seduced by Kipling’s “The Man Who Would Be King,” having Merovingian blood (a small amount, but that didn’t matter) and this did, at least, drive the old man to dedicate himself to Freemasonry and its studies more fully than almost anyone else of his generation. When the accumulated learning finally came together in his head late in life, he acknowledged to me that I had been “right” all along, and caused him to say “If I knew then what I know now…” which were all I ever needed to hear from him. He had taught me, by the clumsiest, most ham-handed and firm way, what the “hardware” or “armor” of character was. My mother, as his wife and his lady, taught me the softer aspect of that: how it was to work in practice. This is the reason every Knight of the Temple (of Solomon — every Knight Templar — and so every Scottish Rite Freemason, by the 14th degree) realizes he is in thrall and in the service of the divine feminine. If there are few women who are Freemasons (so far — it is changing) the reason is sound, given the chivalric history of the order. What the women want to be carried out, the heavy lifting, the battling, is done by the men, and when the women don’t know where the men are or what they are doing, that information cannot be extracted from them. They are protected, symbolically, by not knowing what goes on in those lodge halls (though this is becoming something of a veil at this point as the “secrets” are slowly disseminated to the interested public). There is also the occasional Joan of Arc. The secrecy — the handshake, the signs, the symbols, the blood oaths, the Lost Word, all are only used to teach us how and why it is important to know how to keep a secret, to respect and honor a trust.
Meanwhile, my father’s obsession with his lineage handed me a personal version of “The Davinci Code,” even though I find some serious fault with Dan Brown’s reasoning, if not his “facts.” Still, there it is.
Does no one have a secret? Does no one keep secrets known about others? Is nothing sacred? Well it requires a certain character armor to be able to keep a trust, no matter how small, how simple, how relatively unimportant it may be to the world at large. So a Mason can be trusted. When an issue is strictly “sub rosa” (beneath the rose, the sacred rose of the 18th degree or the Rosicrucian Order, the Rose Croix or Rosy Cross) it does not leave the room. When it is “on the square” it is true, and it is only between the people entrusted with that information, whatever it may be. Same thing with “on the level.” And of course due to The History Channel we now all know that Friday the 13th was the day of the week all the Templar knights were rounded up by King Philip of France in league with Pope Clement XIX, and which ended with the disbanding of the Templars, the burning at the stake of their last Grand Master, Jaques Demolay, and which drove the order out of France, to Scotland, where it remained underground for some 300 years, before emerging finally in the early 18th century as the Freemasons.
There is something here about honor, loyalty, freedom, tolerance, understanding how the universe works, something like that. That’s what I grew up with, that’s what I absorbed: science, mathematics (especially geometry), architecture, respect for the thoughts and beliefs of others, protectiveness, valuing women as the font of true wisdom, and of a dream of creating a workable sane society, Heaven on Earth, or at least something pointing in that direction.
Did I mention George Washington?
In his book, “The Lost Symbol,” Dan Brown finally got serious about what he was writing, and in the course of his research, he says, he became converted in his thinking, in a positive way. His story, a novel, need I remind you, demonstrates how even the best of institutions has a crack in it, and not only light, but darkness can get in. It also demonstrates, as I was taught all my life, that light banishes darkness, that knowledge, intelligence and reason are the only cures for ignorance, fear and irrational authority. A friend, about to embark on a reading “The Lost Symbol,” said to me “You’re in it, aren’t you?” She was right, of course. I wonder if she’s figured out where, exactly. The book was very personal and truly shook my world.
And what of that Rose Croix, that cross? And those letters, the “I N R I” that goes with it? Rest easy. The Rosy Cross, which comes from a good 3000 years BC, is not a cruciform symbol, and I N R I does not indicate what we are taught in Christian religions that it means. As always, what Robert Anton Wilson called “The Rosy Double-Cross.” Distraction, crazymaking symbolism, never knowing for sure what the “secret”really means, what the symbol is, just what is going on, why one is “hoodwinked” in the Third Degree of Blue Lodge Freemasonry, when one is symbolically killed for keeping a secret, and then is symbolically raised from the dead, or the fact that in being raised to enlightenment, one has only just stepped upon the starting line. The road goes on forever, if one chooses to keep on studying, speculating, learning. As my father often and infuriatingly told me, “Just because you know how to add and subtract doesn’t mean you can solve algebraic equations — but it does give you the necessary foundation to learn higher math.”
I learned that from him. He was right. I learned that from him when he was sober. When he’d been drinking he was prone to tell me more things I wasn’t supposed to know, but it was okay, because none of it made any sense — then. It does now, and it continues to, as I continue to ascend the spiral staircase of enlightenment, my father’s gift, which was designed to carry out my mother’s gift, which was simply an instruction to “Be kind.”
I learned how to do those things. I’m sure there were simpler ways, tidier ways, but this is what I got, and it is how I came to be who and what I am.
(An aside regarding learning, and a touch of humor, regarding that beautiful building in the photo above: One day when we were both grown men and Masons, my father took to to tour The House of the Temple and in the course of it he took me down into the bowels of the building because “I want to show you something.” We descended in the hydraulic elevator to the basement, walked through some corridors, and came to a staircase which led down even further, to a vast room full of rare and precious, often ancient, Masonic items. Dad led the way, and I hung back, not sure if I was even allowed down there. At the bottom of the stairs the Old Man suddenly executed a forward roll, and in a single motion leaped to his feet, grinning. I thought “Oh God, no, that can’t be something one has to do when entering this chamber. I’d kill myself.” In fact I was mind-boggled by the prowess with which Dad had flipped down those last few stairs and stood, erect and smiling. I felt like I was losing my mind, in fact, until he said “Watch that last step! It’s hard to see, and I almost cracked my skull on that table there. Use the rail.” I started to laugh — hysterically — as I descended, carefully, to join him down there).
What I learned, most importantly, was the maxim that hung in the shop of the father of Balian the Blacksmith, possibly the father of the Templars as we know them, in the movie “Kingdom of Heaven,” and repeated later in the film, and over the course of my life for many years before the film was ever made:
“What man is a man who does not make the world better?”
As I ascend that staircase, as I get higher, I find I am able to see more and more, see for miles and miles and miles. I am becoming The Eye in the Sky. If that brings to mind a song by the Alan Parsons Project — or if something here resonates with the work of Van Morrison, well, that’s no accident. There are no accidents, and certainly no man — or woman — is an accident.