Monday, July 20, 2009

The Lost Symbol and Masonry, Part 4: What the Individual Mason Can Do

In Part 1 of this series, I explained that the Scottish Rite (and, perhaps, Freemasonry in general) are likely to be featured in a very negative light in Dan Brown's forthcoming novel, The Lost Symbol. In Part 2, I explained why it is that all Freemasons -- Blue Lodge, York Rite, and Scottish Rite of either the Southern or Northern Masonic Jurisdictions -- should be concerned about this. In Part 3, I described what it is that Freemasons could do to address this situation -- and this opportunity -- at the level of their organizations: Grand Lodge, local lodge, Valley and Commandery, etc. In this post, I explain what it is that the individual Mason can do.

What individual Masons can do falls into three categories: interacting with their local Masonic community and leadership, volunteering to help in group actions, and individual preparation. I address each of these below.

Encouraging the Community and Leadership to Take Action

Whether Dan Brown puts Freemasonry or the Scottish Rite in a good light or a bad one, he will reach tens of millions of readers and affect the public image of Freemasonry for at least a decade. Freemasonry can take advantage of this situation by making preparations now to inform a newly curious public about the truth of Freemasonry through interaction with the press and open houses for the public.

However, to make these things happen, we need to use the marvelous capacity that Freemasonry possesses for organized group action. To do that, it is not enough for us to be informed and excited about this ourselves; we need to have the leadership of our organizations informed and excited about this, as well.

Thus, one of the things that you can do, as an individual Mason, is to send this series to your leadership. Part 5 of this series is an index to the entire series. To encourage your Blue Lodge District or Grand Lodge to take action, send a copy of Part 5 to your District Deputy Grand Master. To encourage your Scottish Rite Valley to take action, send a copy to the Personal Representative for your Valley (in the Southern Jurisdiction), or to the Commander-in-Chief of your local Consistory (in the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction). And so on.

You can send Part 5 by e-mail by going to that part of the series and pressing the envelope icon at the end. Add a personal note on the e-mail expressing your thoughts and interest.

Beyond that, you can send a copy of Part 5 to your Masonic friends, and encourage them to pass it on to their leadership, and their friends, and so on.

Frankly, if I were a Masonic leader and received 5 to 10 e-mails from my brethren encouraging me to consider a project, I would give it very serious consideration.

As of today, there are 24 official "followers" of this blog. The blog is also read by a much larger number of people, some of whom comment now and again, most of whom don't. (I hear about it in personal e-mails and so forth.) Thus, all in all, this blog has a substantial number of readers. If a third of everyone who read this blog -- including non-Masons! -- sent copies of Part 5 out to their Masonic friends and (if Masons) to their Masonic leadership, and so on and so on, pretty soon a large fragment of the Masonic world would be informed about this approach.

Our leadership needs to sit around a conference table (illustrated) and discuss what actions organized Freemasonry will take concerning Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol. Let's fill up that table. (Hey, volunteer to sit at that table!)

We can do this, people. Let's do it.

Volunteering to Help at Public Events

The second thing that the individual Mason can do is to volunteer to help at public events (like open houses) that the various Masonic organizations will organize to respond to The Lost Symbol. Public events need a lot of warm bodies to perform various functions, people who have to be in place before the first visitor arrives at the event. One need not be a Masonic scholar to greet visitors at the door of an open house. Signing up for an hour of service takes that much of the load off the shoulders of the brother who's running this particular show.

Personal Preparation

I expect that, as a rock-bottom estimate, 40 million copies of The Lost Symbol will be sold in the United States. That's something like 1 copy for every 2 to 4 adults in the country. You are going to hear people talking about this book. It would be good for you to prepare to answer questions about its accuracy regarding its depiction of Freemasonry. That means personal study.
Some of the readers of this post will already be well-read regarding Freemasonry; some will not. The suggestions for personal study that I outline below take a soup-to-nuts approach; adapt these to your personal circumstances.

Freemasonry: The Basics
  • W. Kirk MacNulty, Freemasonry: Symbols, Secrets, Significance (New York: Thames and Hudson, 2006). [Hardcover lists at $45; at the Scottish Rite online store website, $35; on Amazon, $29.70.] This volume covers the basics of Freemasonry, in somewhat less detail than the Dummies or Idiots books mentioned below, but with lavish illustrations (many not previously published), and with a focus on the possible connection of Freemasonry to esoteric spiritual traditions.

  • Christopher Hodapp, Freemasons for Dummies (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2005). [Paperback lists for $19.99; on Amazon, $13.59.]

  • S. Brent Morris, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Freemasonry (New York: Penguin, 2006). [Paperback lists for $19.95; on Amazon, $13.57.]

It's impossible for me to tell which of the above two books you will like more; they're both very good about covering the basics of Masonic history, organization, and symbolism. Yet, they are different enough that each offers something special.

  • Arturo de Hoyos and S. Brent Morris, Is It True What They Say About Freemasonry? The Methods of Anti-Masons (New York: M. Evans, 2004). [Paperback lists for $14.95; on Amazon, $10.17.] Every single Freemason in the entire world should read this book, because it it the only book I know that is entirely devoted to dealing directly with an unpleasant but important reality: the accusations made by anti-Masons. The second chapter is an excellent treatment of the Taxil hoax (where Taxil has Albert Pike supposedly writing "Yes, Lucifer is God": this is the source of the nonsense one reads on the Internet). Chapters 3-9 deal with specific authors of anti-Masonry, such as Rev. John Ankerberg and Rev. James Dayton Shaw (The Deadly Deception), and the falsehoods they have spread about the Fraternity.

Masonic History

  • See Angel Millar's book, listed in the next section.

  • Christopher Hodapp, Solomon's Builders: Freemasons, Founding Fathers, and the Secrets of Washington, DC. (Berkeley, CA: Ulysses Press, 2006). [Paperback lists for $14.95; on Amazon, $10.17.] This accessible book focuses on the Revolutionary Period, and also considers in detail the whole idea of Masonic symbolism built into the streets of Washington, DC--each of which is sure to be a focus in Dan Brown's novel.

  • Mark A. Tabbert, American Freemasons: Three Centuries of Building Communities (Lexington, MA: National Heritage Museum, and, New York: New York University Press, 2005). [Paperback lists for $24.95; on Amazon, $16.47.] An excellent and well-illustrated academic history, focusing on the Craft in the United States.

  • Steven C. Bullock, Revolutionary Brotherhood: Freemasonry and the Transformation of the American Social Order, 1730-1840 (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1996). [Paperback lists for $30; on Amazon, $23.73.] An excellent academic volume focusing especially on the Colonial and Revolutionary periods through the Anti-Masonic period (1826-1842).

The Esoteric

I do not mean "the esoteric work," as Masons understand this phrase. I'm talking about the possible connections between Freemasonry and other esoteric spiritual traditions, such as kabbalah, alchemy, Rosicrucianism, and so forth.

This is, of course, a highly controversial area. This is not the place to address the merits and problems with each of the several sides of this debate. (I may well do so in future posts.) There is also a lot of looney stuff published in this area. However, Dan Brown will almost certainly be going in this direction in his novel. Consequently, I have selected a few of the better books in this area to give the Mason a sense of the issues involved when Masonry is considered in connection with esoteric traditions of spirituality.

  • Angel Millar, Freemasonry: A History (San Diego, CA: Thunder Bay Press, 2006). [Hardcover out of print, but available through Amazon for $7 and under.] Brother Millar, an accomplished artist, has written an excellent history of certain aspects of Freemasonry as it developed in England, such as the development of the three degrees. This includes a non-hysterical, and carefully considered, look at the possible connections of Freemasonry to other esoteric traditions, such as the Rosicrucians and alchemy. It is also lavishly illustrated with many pieces not previously published.

  • Mark Stavish, Freemasonry: Rituals, Symbols, and History of the Secret Society (Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 2007). [Paperback lists for $21.95; on Amazon, $14.93.] Brother Stavish writes in a non-hysterical way about the possible connection of different branches of Freemasonry with Rosicrucianism, alchemy, and ritual magic.

  • W. Kirk MacNulty, Freemasonry: A Journey Through Ritual and Symbol (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1991). [Paperback lists for $19.95; on Amazon, $13.57.] Brother MacNulty's book connects Freemasonry with esoteric traditions involving the Temple built by Solomon, hermetic studies, and other esoteric traditions that emerged during the Renaissance.

  • The works of Br. Timothy Hogan may also be useful here. (I cannot recommend them in detail because I have not yet read them; however, they come highly recommended by others.)

For the sake of completeness, I should mention that I suspect Dan Brown is going in the direction of the authors of The Hiram Key, alleging that Masons had Washington DC laid out in such a way as to align with certain star patterns. It is hard for me to recommend the books in the Key series to anyone, because (a) the books say things that are patently untrue, (b) the authors, in my opinion, violated their Masonic obligations to write these books, and (c) the authors show a decided lack of critical thinking in the way that they use weak evidence in support of some really outrageous claims. However, it may be useful to know something of them (as well as David Ovason's books on the "secrets" of DC streets and the dollar bill's symbolism), if only to be able better to explain to people that Masonry "isn't like that."

The Scottish Rite

It is clear that Dan Brown is going to do something with the Scottish Rite, and probably with Albert Pike; my sense of the situation is that he's going to slam Albert Pike as a conspirator with the pro-Confederate Knights of the Golden Circle, planning a second Civil War. Brown's publisher's clues also show an interest in Scottish Rite symbolism. So, to learn more in this area, I recommend the following:

  • Arturo de Hoyos, Scottish Rite Ritual Monitor and Guide, Second Edition--Revised and Enlarged (Washington, DC: The Supreme Council, 33rd Degree, Southern Jurisdiction, 2009). [Hardcover available for $65 through the Scottish Rite, SJ website, or for $35 bundled as part of the Master Craftsman program -- making the Master Craftsman program one of the greatest bargains in Masonry.] Pages 75-118 give an excellent brief history of the Scottish Rite, and the development of the Scottish Rite rituals. Scottish Rite symbols are the focus of pp. 139-167. Traditional Scottish Rite ciphers (i.e., codes) are illustrated on pp. 963-973; his fans know how much Dan Brown loves codes. Of course, the lion's share of the book, pp. 169-914, deal with the ritual, symbolism, and ethical theory of the 4th through 32d degrees, as conceived in the Southern Jurisdiction.

  • Rex R. Hutchens, A Bridge to Light: The Revised Standard Pike Ritual: A Study in Masonic Ritual and Philosophy (Washington, DC: The Supreme Council, 33rd Degree, Southern Jurisdiction; 3rd ed., 2006). [Paperback available for $15 through the Scottish Rite, SJ website.] This 2006 edition is well worth reviewing as a guide to the basic Scottish Rite experience in the Southern Jurisdiction, and how the degree symbolism connects with the symbolism of several spiritual and esoteric traditions.

  • William L. Fox, Lodge of the Double-Headed Eagle: Two Centuries of Scottish Rite Freemasonry in America's Southern Jurisdiction (University of Arkansas Press, 1997). [Hardcover lists at $49.95.] This is the best available one-volume history of the Southern Jurisdiction. It is full of detail regarding the history of Albert Pike, as well.


This is our moment in history, the moment of our lifetimes when the popular culture is shining its spotlight of attention, however briefly, on Freemasonry. While the moment lasts, let us do what we can to let men of good character and good will know about us, and to prepare ourselves to give a good accounting of our Fraternity to the many curious people who will have questions.

[The image above of a conference table was obtained from Wikimedia Commons. It is used here under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.]

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