Category Archive: News

Enough is Enough

The United Grand Lodge of England has determined to take a public stand against Anti-Masonry, after a series of articles slandering the Fraternity appeared in the Guardian newspaper last week.  We reproduce here, in full, their CEO’s statement of this morning.  Please feel free to share from the UGLE website and/or from their Facebook page.

What follows is a personal letter by our CEO Dr David Staples. This has also been placed as a full page advert in The Times and Daily Telegraph

At the United Grand Lodge of England, we value honesty, integrity and service to the community above all else. Last year we raised over £33 million for good causes.

As an organisation we welcome individuals from all walks of life, of any faith, age, class or political persuasion. Throughout our 300 year history, when people have suffered discrimination Freemasonry has embraced them into our lodges as equals.

The United Grand Lodge of England believes that the ongoing gross misrepresentation of its 200,000 plus members is discrimination. Pure and simple.

We owe it to our membership to take this stance, they shouldn’t have to feel undeservedly stigmatised. No other organisation would stand for this and nor shall we.

I have written to the Equality and Human Rights Commission to make this case.

I appreciate that you may have questions about who we are and what we do, so over the next six months our members will be running a series of open evenings and Q&A events up and down the country. These will be promoted in the local media and on our website.

I am also happy to answer any queries directly. Please feel free to write to me here at Freemasons’ Hall, 60 Great Queen Street, London WC2B 5AZ and I will come back to you.

We’re open.

Dr David Staples
Chief Executive
United Grand Lodge of England

Tenth Annual Dinner and Meeting

The Masonic Society - Logo

The Officers and the Board of Directors
cordially invite you to attend

The Tenth Annual Dinner and Meeting
The Masonic Society

At Masonic Week 2018
The Hyatt Regency Crystal City at Reagan National Airport
Arlington, Virginia

Friday Evening, February 9, 2018
Gather at 6:00 PM
Dinner at 6:30 PM

Featured Speaker:
WBro. Eric Diamond

All Freemasons and Ladies are Welcome!

Please make all reservations through the Masonic Week 2018 Website:

The Masonic Society will not have tickets for sale.
All tickets MUST be purchased in advance from the Masonic Week organizers.
Tickets will NOT be available at the door.


Sorry — No TMS Masonic Week Hospitality Suite in 2018

Unfortunately, we are not in a position to operate a hospitality suite this year.  We know this is a popular activity and we look forward to returning to hosting a suite in 2019.  Please catch us in the lobby bar or in other places around the Week.

TMS Change of Postal Address Effective 29 Dec 2017

UPDATE, 21 Aug 2018:  The membership application form in Issue #41 of the Journal (Summer 2018) incorrectly contains the OLD mailing address.  If you are signing up by postal mail, please be sure to use the NEW mailing address, or your mail will be returned.  We regret the error and apologize for any inconvenience.

We also continue to receive dues payments via bank-generated checks that are addressed to the OLD address.  If you pay your dues this way, please take the time to log into your bank portal and change the Payee Address for The Masonic Society accordingly.  We cannot guarantee that mail sent to the old address will continue to be forwarded, as it has now been over six months since we registered the change of address with the USPS.  Thank you for your cooperation in this matter.

TMS was given notice this morning that our private mailbox provider is shutting down at close of business tomorrow (30 Dec 2017).  So I did a bit of a dance to get new mailing address in place today.

All postal mail should now be sent to the following address:

The Masonic Society
PO Box 80126
Indianapolis, IN 46280-0126

Anything that comes in to the old address starting Tuesday, January 2, 2018, will be returned to the post office (luckily, the same one where we just rented a box) and held for me to pick up, so hopefully we will not lose any mail.  I picked up the mail today (29 Dec) and processed received payments from members 02366 and 02912.  I will check again tomorrow (30 Dec) and pick up anything else that has been delivered by that time.  After tomorrow, I will check once or twice a week at the post office for any mail returned from the 1427 W 86th St address.

If mail is returned to you from the 1427 W 86th St address, please resend it to the new PO Box, or, if it was a renewal, you might consider renewing online instead.

Thanks for your understanding.  We certainly had no idea this was going to happen, or we would have made the change months ago.


Nathan Brindle, Secretary-Treasurer

At The Tomb Of The Unknown Soldier

At The Tomb Of The Unknown Soldier

by Midnight Freemasons Contributor

Todd E. Creason, 33°

Reprinted by permission

The first time I saw the changing of the guard at Arlington National Cemetery, I was five years old. We were in Washington, D.C. on a family vacation. I remember it very clearly. That solemn ceremony left a very deep impression on me. I’ve watched on television as Presidents on Memorial Day have laid the Memorial Day wreath many times, and every time, I’m struck with that same sense–a mixture of American pride, patriotism, honor, and deep respect for the sacrifices that have been made in the name of freedom.

Two years ago, I saw the changing of the guard again–more than forty years later. Fellow Midnight Freemason Greg Knott and I flew to Washington D.C. for a Masonic event, and less than an hour after the plane landed at Ronald Reagan International Airport, we were standing at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The Boy Scouts were there that day, and during the changing of the guard, they presented a wreath–the same exact ceremony the President takes part in on Memorial Day. We both knew what we wanted to do on our next trip out–to place a wreath on behalf of Freemasons everywhere to honor our fallen heroes. In February, we were able to do just that. Greg and I on behalf of Homer Lodge No. 199 (IL) and with the blessing of Our Grand Master of Illinois, Anthony Cracco. We also asked the President and Past President of The Masonic Society to join us–Kenneth Davis and James Dillman were only too happy to do so.

The reality didn’t really set in until I was standing at the top of the steps looking out over the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the cemetery beyond as the Relief Commander slowly ascended the steps before us. The wreath we provided was already in place waiting for us as we descended together in step.

It was about thirty-five degrees with a thirty mile-per-hour wind, but the four of us barely felt the bracing cold. We were there to represent Freemasonry, so we left our winter jackets behind in favor of our suits, jewels, aprons, and gloves. We were about to honor our fallen veterans on behalf of Freemasons everywhere by laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Solider.

Once the wreath was placed, a soldier played Taps. It was an indescribably moving experience listening to Taps as I fixated on words on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier: HERE RESTS IN HONORED GLORY AN AMERICAN SOLDIER KNOWN BUT TO GOD. It was an experience I don’t think any of us will ever forget. I certainly won’t.

Left to right: Todd E. Creason, Gregory J. Knott, James Dillman, Kenneth Davis

Afterwards, we stood and watched the guard for some time. It occurred to me that there had been a guard watching the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, 24-hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, uninterrupted, since I’d been there as a five year old child. It was that important. And the honor of being able to serve in that capacity is considered one of the highest honors in military service.

As we left the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a funeral procession was in progress–something that happens on average twenty-four times a day at Arlington National Cemetery. Greg Knott and I walked to a large tree in the center of one of the plots to get a better view. As the horse drawn cassion passed with the flag draped coffin on top, and I looked out across the cemetery at the thousands and thousands of identical stones, I was struck by the high price Americans have paid for freedom. And yet it’s a price that generation after generation of Americans have continued to pay, because in the end, there is nothing more important to who we are as the American people than those freedoms provided us under the United States Constitution.


Todd E. Creason, 33°, FMLR is the Founder of the Midnight Freemasons blog, where he is a regular contributor. He is the award winning author of several books and novels, including the Famous American Freemasons series. He is the author of the From Labor to Refreshment blog. He is the Worshipful Master of Homer Lodge No. 199 and a Past Master of Ogden Lodge No. 754, where is currently serves as Secretary. He is the Sovereign Master of the Eastern Illinois Council No. 356 Allied Masonic Degrees. He is a Fellow at the Missouri Lodge of Research. (FMLR) and a charter member of a new Illinois Royal Arch Chapter, Admiration Chapter U.D. You can contact him at:

This article was originally published on The Midnight Freemasons website, and is reproduced here with WBro. Creason’s kind permission. WBro. Creason retains all rights to his article. Please contact him directly for republication permission.

Original URL:

Paul Bessel’s Website Up and Running Again

By Chris Hodapp, Editor Emeritus, The Journal of The Masonic Society

After more than two months of disappearance, Paul M. Bessel’s enormous website at is once again up and running. Brother Paul’s site contains more than 200 individual pages of research that took him over two decades to compile, including Masonic statistics, lists, maps, and other resources that have been indispensable to other researchers for many, many years. His information regarding Prince Hall recognition alone is one of the most commonly referenced resources of its kind anywhere.

Restoring his site was accomplished with the gracious permission and assistance of Paul, and with the sponsorship and under the auspices of the Masonic Society, especially Nathan Brindle. In fairness, I kind of shoved it on Nathan when I saw the site had vanished around Christmastime, and we plunged ahead without really asking permission of the Society’s Board to do it on their behalf beforehand. Nevertheless, it’s up, it’s fixed, and it’s there to stay now, and the Board thankfully agreed it was the right thing to do.

The current goal has been to just get Paul’s old site back up and restore the thousands of hours of hard and tedious work he had done before. Numerous pages and graphics files were lost suddenly when his hosting company switched servers last year, so those had to be rescued from Wayback Machine archives. Additionally, Paul himself had not updated the site in several years. I’m sure it was a big job requiring constant tending and it undoubtedly became a chore after a while. My reason for wanting to restore the site was to ensure that the 20 or so years of research he had done before not be lost forever. Additionally, hundreds of other websites all over the world, as well as references in numerous books on Freemasonry, and even Wikipedia articles, had links or footnotes that pointed to data contained on his website. I felt it would be disastrous for all of those references to Paul’s information to just vanish into thin air and a 404 error message page.

Thankfully, Paul agreed and was very accommodating in permitting us access to his account and authorization to take over its administration. In return, we left Paul the option to update his site should he have the desire to do so in future. Somewhere down the road, we may tackle attempting to update selected pages – but bear in mind that his site is enormous, and it took him two decades to get it to where it currently stands. To truly go in and update the constantly changing things like grand lodge email or physical mailing addresses and websites, annual statistics, and much, much more, in addition to his numerous other pages that need tweaking, would be a major undertaking. It was his personal devotion that made the site so indispensable over time, and it would take an equally dedicated person or group of researchers to fix it all and keep it up to date again. And finally, I will just also add that Paul constructed the site with software that has been long outdated and unsupported, so it would also require technology changes to fix it properly without breaking anything. (My own websites suffer from the same problem, and I dread wading into it for my comparatively small website, much less one the enormous size of Paul’s.)

Some of this got discussed on the Philalethes Society email list last month when others began to notice the site was gone as well. In the wake of Paul and I explaining what was going on, I began to get private messages with suggestions for changes, or updated information from around the world, especially from folks in jurisdictions whose contact information or web addresses had changed. Please note that the immediate objective has been to preserve Paul’s existing work, and that has been accomplished.  I appreciate the updated information brethren passed along, but I’m afraid it will be a while before anyone gets around to taking a stab at the kind of serious updating the site needs if it is to truly become up to date again. Thanks so much for everyone’s kind offer of assistance, nevertheless.

There are few Masonic websites that are trustworthy, well researched and documented, and truly indispensable for Masonic and academic researchers of the fraternity: Paul’s site; the incredible website of the Grand Lodge of British Columbia & Yukon that is largely the dedicated work of the inexhaustible Trevor McKeown; the ever growing PhoenixMasonry Masonic Museum and Library site which is the labor of love of David Lettalier; and the Anti-Masonry Points of View website of Ed King. There are certainly others, but these four continue to stand out as massive online storehouses of reliable information any Masonic researcher or casual observer needs to have ready links to at all times.

Finally, take this as a cautionary tale. If you have a lodge, grand lodge, company, or personal website of any size or complexity, and you don’t wish it to vanish into the aether upon your death, incapacity, technical obsolescence, or just plain neglect, take steps to preserve it now before it becomes almost impossible for you or others to retrieve. Paul’s original files were partially on an outdated home computer he was able to access enough to create a DVD copy to send me, but not all of his files were there. His hosting company’s administrator went beyond the call of duty and seriously earned his hosting fee by painstakingly rebuilding the missing parts of the site from Wayback Machine captures for us. Don’t make the same mistake and force others to salvage your website the hard way. Make complete site backups and make sure others have access to your site passwords and account sign-ins somehow if something prevents you in future, for whatever reason.

* * *

This article was originally published on March 5, 2017, on Chris Hodapp’s Freemasonry for Dummies website, and is reproduced here with his kind permission.  Bro. Hodapp retains all rights to his article.  Please contact him directly for republication permission.

Original URL:

President’s Message, Issue 34: TMS 2016 Annual Conference

President’s Message, Issue #34, The Journal of The Masonic Society

How good and how pleasant it is …
by Kenneth W. Davis, FMS

I’m recently back from one the most interesting and informative Masonic events of my life, the 2016 Annual Conference of The Masonic Society, which took place October 7-9, in beautiful Morgan Hill, California.

2016 Annual Conference Program CoverHonoring the conference theme, “Freemasonry on the Frontier,” speakers took participants on a fascinating historical tour of the expanding North American frontier, from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

Kicking off the conference Friday evening was Jefferson H. Jordan, Jr., immediate past grand master of Masons in New Mexico, speaking as Samuel Langhorne Clemens, “Mark Twain.” Clemens’s talk emphasized his Masonic experience and his travels on the Western frontier of the United States.

The first presentation Saturday was by William Miklos, who invited us to participate in “an Imaginary Conversation among the Thirteen Masons of the Continental Convention.” Bill is founding master of the Golden Compasses Research Lodge, past master of the Northern California Research Lodge, and a founding member of TMS.

Following Bill were Moises Gomez, past grand historian of the grand lodge of New Jersey, who spoke about the early traveling lodges of his home state, and Kyle Grafstrom, junior warden of Verity Lodge 59 in Kent, Washington, speaking on “Freemasonry in the Wild West.”

Saturday afternoon began with Adam Kendall, a founding fellow of TMS and editor of The Plumbline, the journal of The Scottish Rite Research Society, who presented “Pilgrimage and Procession: The 1883 Knights Templar Triennial Conclave and the Dream of the American West.”

He was followed by Wayne Sirmon, treasurer of Mobile Lodge 40 and past master of the Texas Lodge of Research, who spoke on “West by Southwest: The Expansion of Frontier Freemasonry from the Old Southwest”—by which he meant, to my surprise, not New Mexico and Arizona, but Alabama. (Who’d have thought?)

The “frontier-themed” presentations ended with a fascinating look at “Freemasonry and Nation-building on the Pacific Coast,” by John L. Cooper III, past grand master of the Masonic Grand Lodge of California. We were especially honored to have John present, as he is currently president of our sister organization, The Philalethes Society.

After Saturday dinner was a special bonus presentation by Moises Gomez, who in addition to his Masonic honors is a twenty-eight-year veteran of the Emergency Service Unit of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. As such, Moe was among the first responders at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. He spoke on his experiences at “Ground Zero” and the Masonic values he saw embodied there, and he presented conference participants with a commemorative pin.

9/11 Commemorative PinThe single most important person in making the conference a success was TMS board member Gregg Hall, who coordinated all local arrangements and pitched in with preparing our gourmet meals.

The year 2017 will include two already-scheduled TMS events. The first will be our seventh annual dinner at Masonic Week, February 9-12, at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City in Arlington, Virginia. The dinner will take place Friday, February 10, at 6:30 pm, and will feature an after-dinner talk by Mike Poll, past president of TMS and editor of this journal. All Masons, ladies, and guests are welcome!

Our 2017 conference will be held September 7-10, at Embassy Suites in Lexington, Kentucky. The conference, tentatively titled “Celebrating 300 Years of Freemasonry,” is being coordinated by Masonic author and TMS board member John Bizzack and is being cosponsored with Lexington Lodge 1 (chartered in 1788), The Rubicon Masonic Society, The Grand Lodge of Kentucky Education Committee, William O. Ware Lodge of Research, and Ted Adams Lodge of Research.

Besides presentations by nationally known speakers, the conference will include tours of the Kentucky Horse Park and Ashland Estate, the home of famed nineteenth-century Mason Henry Clay, as well as a formal festive board at historic Spindletop Hall.

As a former faculty member at the University of Kentucky, a thirteen-year resident of Lexington, and an official, governor-proclaimed Kentucky Colonel, I know first-hand the beauty of the Bluegrass State and the hospitality of its people. Just as my wife, Bette, and I took advantage of the location of our 2016 conference to make a spectacular trip down the California coast, I hope many of you will take advantage of the equally beautiful and historical setting of the 2017 event.

(An aside: when I lived in Lexington, I was not yet a Mason and did not know John Bizzack. Only recently did we discover that I served on the very grand jury that indicted the criminals whom John and his fellow police offers rounded up in a sting operation. The Masonic world is a small one.)

I look forward to seeing many of you at Masonic Week in Virginia in February and at the TMS Conference in Kentucky in September. Each of them will be a must-go event in this Masonic anniversary year. Be there, and on the square!


Kenneth W. Davis

New Year, New Look

Well — newer look, anyway 🙂

TMS has just completed a hosting switch, and moved from an old clunky Joomla CMS front end to a nice shiny WordPress front end.  It was less work than I anticipated, but it was less than easy because of the need to move a lot of home-brewed functionality over into WordPress.

While the new site looks a lot like the old site, the move into WordPress has given us more latitude to change look-and-feel, and to add new features, going forward.

In the move, I tried to click everything I could click and ensure that everything worked.  We’re still finishing up a few minor things like contact forms, but everything else should be working.  Should you run across something that throws and error or doesn’t seem to work properly, please feel free to let us know at webmaster – at – .



Ninth Annual Dinner and Meeting

The Masonic Society - Logo

The Officers and the Board of Directors
cordially invite you to attend

The Ninth Annual Dinner and Meeting
The Masonic Society

At Masonic Week 2017
The Hyatt Regency Crystal City at Reagan National Airport
Arlington, Virginia

Friday Evening, February 10, 2017
Gather at 6:00 PM
Dinner at 6:30 PM

Featured Speaker:
WBro. Michael R. Poll
Masonic Author, Publisher, and Bookseller
and Editor-in-Chief of The Journal of The Masonic Society

All Freemasons and Ladies are Welcome!

Please make all reservations through the Masonic Week 2017 Website:

The Masonic Society will not have tickets for sale.
All tickets MUST be purchased in advance from the Masonic Week organizers.
Tickets will NOT be available at the door.


Masonic Week Hospitality Suite

The Society will once again sponsor a hospitality suite at Masonic Week 2017. Please check at our membership table for the room number.

President’s Message, Issue 33

President’s Message, Issue #33, The Journal of The Masonic Society

Point to Heaven . . .
by Kenneth W. Davis, FMS

You won’t be surprised to learn that my Masonic e-mail signature block includes the line “President, The Masonic Society.” However, the line before that carries another Masonic title, “Chaplain, Albuquerque Lodge 60 and the New Mexico Lodge of Research.” I value deeply my office in TMS, but I value equally the honor of serving as a chaplain. As chaplain, I try (succeeding only in part, of course) to follow the injunction given me when I was installed (from the monitor of the Grand Lodge of New Mexico):

“Reverand Brother . . . it is your special duty to conduct the devotions of the Lodge, and to present before the throne of Heavenly Grace the spiritual needs of your Brethren. In all your intercourse with your Lodge, it is expected that you will ‘point to Heaven and lead the way.’”

As chaplain, I recite the opening and closing prayers, as well as the prayers within degrees. But I also love—though I am a layman—the occasional opportunities to be “pastoral” for my brothers.

When we elect a new candidate for degrees, and after the secretary has called him, I give the candidate a phone call. I introduce myself, extend my congratulations, and ask him three things.

First, I ask him what Volume of Sacred Law he wishes to take his obligations on. I tell him that no one, at least in the context of blue-lodge Masonry, will ask about his specific religious tradition again. As our twenty-first landmark requires (again in the version within the New Mexican monitor), “that a Book of the Law, a religious code of some kind puporting to be an exemplar of the revealed will of God, shall form an essential part of the furniture of every Lodge.”

I often ask the candidate to check the website of the Grand Lodge of Israel. In that highly contentious country the seal of the Grand Lodge of Israel displays the Jewish Star of David, the Christian Cross, and the Muslim Crescent.

Second, I ask the newly-elected candidate to not read any details of the degree rituals, so he can experience the degrees without foreknowledge and preconceptions.

And third, I tell him about chambers of reflection. Like, I suppose, most North American lodges, the two blue lodges of which I’ve been a member do not have such chambers. So I ask the candidate to find three blocks of time between then and the degree—at least fifteen minutes each—when he can sit alone, in the dark and in silence, and meditate on his past, present, and future, including his eventual death.

(Incidentally, though I don’t have a skull on my personal home “altar,” I do have the polished box, provided by our cremation service, that will one day hold my ashes. That’s a pretty good memento mori for me.)

The most moving event in my service as chaplain happened in June of this year. John Baker, a fifty-year Mason and Albuquerque 60’s marshall and oldest active member, passed away. I had sat next to him in lodge for several years, and had come to rely on his friendship, advice, and occasional prompting.

While John was hospitalized, I had visited him and said a prayer, but a Masonic commitment prevented my attending his funeral. So I was grateful to be invited to his cremation. Three members of the lodge were there, along with John’s son-in-law, an artist.

We gathered around the uncovered cardboard box in which John’s unembalmed body lay. We each said our goodbyes, and I offered prayers. John’s son-in-law, though not a Mason, had painted on wood an abstract image of an all-seeing eye. He laid it on John’s chest, and asked him to personally present it as an offering to God.

With the funeral director, we put the cover on the box, wheeled it into the cremation room, and slid it through the open door of the furnace. The funeral director closed the door, and the other four of us together pushed the green button that started the flames. I had never before felt so powerfully the reality of the words from Ecclesiastes 12:7 recited in the Master Mason degree: “Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was; and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.” I’ll tangibly felt John’s spirit making its final exit from his body.

Thanks for letting me honor John by telling that story. Please send me your own “chaplain” stories, or better yet, post them on the TMS member’s forum.

By the way, an excellent source for Masonic prayers, for many occasions, is the pocket-sized Compendium of Masonic Prayers and Graces, by Rev. Neville Barker Cryer, published by Lewis Masonic.

A final note:

This journal’s editor-in-chief, Michael Halleran, who gave us more than four years of excellent work, has resigned. I’m proud to announce that he has been replaced by Michael Poll, whose service begins with this issue. Mike Poll is eminently qualified for the job, and he has gathered an outstanding team: Assistant Editors Mark Robbins, Christopher Rodkey, and Christian Christensen; Art Director John Bridegroom; Advertising Director Jay Hochberg; and Review Editor Tyler Anderson. Please give them your thanks and support!


Kenneth W. Davis

President’s Message, Issue 32

Important: For new information on the TMS Conference, Scholar, and School, see the tabs above.

By the Exercise of Brotherly Love . . .
by Kenneth W. Davis, FMS

Here in New Mexico, the first-degree lecture lists the “Tenets of a Freemason’s profession” as “Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth”—doubtlessly not a surprise to Masons everywhere.

The lecture continues by defining brotherly love:

By the exericise of Brotherly Love, we are taught to regard the whole human species as one family—the high, the low, the rich, the poor—who, as created by one Almighty Parent, and inhabitants of the same planet, are to aid, support, and protect each other. On this principle, Freemasonry unites men of every country, sect, and opinion; and conciliates true friendship among those who might otherwise have remained at a perpetual distance.

In the US, the “perpetual distance” between people of different religious and political tribes seems large. Even in some Masonic lodges, religious and political differences among brothers are causing discord, even hatred. Young brothers are being told, for example, that Freemasonry is for members of only one religious tradition.

How did our Craft get into this situation, and how do we get out? One answer, although certainly not the only answer, may seem puzzling at first. I suggest there may be a correlation between true brotherly love and a deep devotion to our ritual—including lectures like the one I quoted above—and to what it stands for.

Freemasonry is often defined as “a peculiar system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.” We live in an age filled with signs but almost devoid of symbols. In the sense I am using the word sign—a sense drawn from the science of semiology—signs have single, simple, explicit, surface meanings. An octagonal yellow road sign usually means stop, and nothing else. (Even those who choose to ignore that meaning acknowledge it.) In contrast, symbols have multiple, complex, implicit, deep meanings. The American flag is not just a sign, but a symbol, with a wide range of meanings around the world, positive or negative or both.

To complicate the matter, something can be a sign to one person and a symbol to another. To someone who lost a loved one because of a driver running a stop sign, the octagonal yellow road sign may call up a host of associations and feelings; it may become a symbol. And to someone in the world with no particular feelings either way about the United States (can we imagine such a person?) the American flag will be just a sign, simply identifying the USA. The fading Coca-Cola painted on the side of my childhood home (an apartment over our newspaper shop) can be seen as a mere sign, pointing to a particular brand of soft drink, or as a symbol, representing a whole cluster of economic and sociological and psychological and historical meanings.

In some earlier cultures, people lived lives surrounded by what they saw as symbols. A rock wasn’t just a rock; it was a part of the body of Mother Earth, or the residence of a god, or an emblem of solidity, or an instrument of punishment, or all of the above. Our culture, in contrast, has few symbols. We tend to focus on surface meanings. A rock is just a rock—or at best an example of granite or marble or sandstone. Most of us are “fundamentalists” in one way or another, taking what could be symbols and reading them as if they were merely signs, with simple, single, knowable meanings, religious or scientific. The literalist religious fanatic and the radical atheist have much in common.

The language and imagery of Freemasonry is remarkably rich in symbols, if we respect them as such. As Masons, we have the opportunity, in every lodge meeting, to move beyond our everyday world of signs into a highly charged, deep symbolic world.

In my mother lodge, one of my brethren was an ordained Gnostic bishop steeped in Western esotericism, while others declared—quite vocally—that they hold little truck with esoteric interpretations. From my Gnostic brother, I was reminded that the letter G in the east end of a lodge can stand not only for geometry and God (the latter mostly only in Germanic languages), it can also stand for gnosis, the inner sacred knowledge—light, if you will—that we Freemasons seek. For me, now, when I see the G, I recognize that it is not just a sign: it has at least three symbolic meanings for me.

So Masonic ritual, if taken seriously, is deeply symbolic. What’s that have to do with brotherly love?

My answer is that the way we see things as signs or symbols is reflected in the way we see people. In the industrialized, materialist West, too many of us—especially men, I think—see most other people has having simple, single meanings. One way we do that is through labeling: he’s a Republican, she’s a Mexican, he’s gay. By giving a person a neat label, we can avoid—we can’t not avoid—looking into the depths of meaning that person carries. Another way we attribute simple, single meanings to people is through seeing them as functionaries, as things that exist solely to serve a narrow function for us. As an unknown (to me) writer put it, “People were made to be loved. Things were made to be used. The reason why the world is in chaos is because things are being loved, and people are being used.” We go through our days not really seeing the people who wash our cars, or clean our restrooms, or fight our fires, or teach our children.

A former colleague of mine who taught psychology was once leaving a ice cream shop near the University of Kentucky campus holding hands with his wife and carrying their young daughter on his shoulders. They passed two students heading toward the shop, then overheard one of the students whisper to the other, “If I didn’t know better, I’d swear that guy was my psych professor.” To that student, my friend existed only in the classroom; he couldn’t possibly eat ice cream, much less have a wife and daughter.

Because we men, especially, tend to look at other people in these ways, we find it very hard to develop close, initimate, deep male friendships. I suggest that a fundamental cause is our male tendency to dismiss other people as having simple, single, superficial meanings rather than complex, multiple, deep meanings.

When, as a brand new Mason, I learned that some of my brothers had partisan political views almost diametrically opposed to mine, I honestly questioned whether I had joined the right lodge. After all, I had spent much of my adult life avoiding relationships with “that” kind of people.

I’ve since learned how foolish that reaction was. (I was about to say “juvenile,” but realized that would be an insult to children.) I share with those brothers a respect for the deep symbolic language of our ritual, for its rich multiple meanings. Having this mutual respect, we are able to look past surface differences into the depths of each other’s being and respect what we find there. That’s not sappy sentimentalism, but a truth I’ve learned, to my great surprise, in my seventh and eighth decades of life. I believe I was a good man when I became a Mason at the age of sixty. Now, thanks to Masonry, I’m a lot better.

Millions of men in our culture are seeking that truth, without even knowing it. They are looking for deep symbolic meanings below the surface of things, and they are looking for deep male friendships. I suggest that those two yearnings are closely related, and that Freemasonry is uniquely positioned to fulfill them. Many lodges are finding that deep respect for ritual can lead to deep respect for one another.

In our time—with deep divisions among people and cultures that seem to remain “at a perpetual distance” from each other—the world desparately needs Masonic respect. It’s a gift Freemasons, in our daily encounters, can give the world. We call it Brotherly Love.

Kenneth W. Davis

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