In the biggest of Big Pictures—the one where we seek to obtain and to propagate Strength, Wisdom, and Beauty in the world—it is important to correct such fantasies. One cannot place one’s pillars on the shifting sands of Falsehood and expect them to stand.
Even on a smaller scale, it is still important to correct false notions about Freemasonry. Such fantasies get in the way of Freemasons doing their real work in the world; people hear that you’re a Freemason, and (depending on the precise fantasy they hold), they either expect you to rule the world, slit their throats, or suck their brains right out of their heads like the alien celebrities on those Hulu commercials. In addition, such fantasies keep men who would be interested in the real thing from finding their way to the Western Gate. (Certainly that much has been accomplished for many men by the German Bishops’ statement.)
Thus, from time to time on this blog, I shall do what I can to correct fantasies about Freemasonry. Today’s entry involves the theories of a gentleman named Gary Osborn.
Mr. Osborn authors a website titled P A R A D I G M S H I F T. He recently commented on a post at another blog of mine, in which I was addressing the fact that, in The Lost Symbol, Dan Brown implies that the pyramid is an important symbol in Freemasonry (which, of course, is not true). Mr. Osborn invited the readers of my blog to look at a specific post on his website, a post titled, “The Pyramid of Washington DC and The Lost Symbol.”
There is a lot on Mr. Osborn’s post. Confining myself just to what was written about Freemasonry, I encountered there a full-blown Fantasy of Freemasonry. I attempted to respond within the limits of a comment on my own blog, but there was insufficient room. In addition, if I am encountering this sort of stuff, surely many other people are as well, and there is value to responding in a full-blown post here to this sort of Fantasy About Freemasonry.
Thus, below I respond to the major points about Freemasonry that I found on Gary Osborn’s post. I consider some points that are particular to what Mr. Osborn claims, and then I describe some general points that will be useful to people interested in learning about Freemasonry and evaluating what they read. My hope is that readers here will find this material useful enough to pass along to others.
Myths About George Washington and the 33rd Degree
Mr. Osborn states in his very first sentence that “As many of us know, the US Capital City is Washington DC, named after the first American President George Washington—a 33rd degree Freemason.”
At the risk of mentioning the obvious, George Washington was never a 33rd degree Freemason. Washington died on December 14, 1799. The Supreme Council of the Scottish Rite—the body which confers the 33rd degree—was founded at Charleston, SC, on May 31, 1801, well over a year after Washington was dead and buried. The organizations that were predecessors to the Scottish Rite did not have 33 degrees. Consequently, there was no 33rd degree of Freemasonry for Washington to have received. There is certainly no evidence that I have ever seen presented to the contrary.
Why do people believe things like this? My guess is that it helps to support the Legend of the Mighty Thirty-Thirds, the myth that the holders of the 33° run the world. My sense is that there is a deep psychological need that is fulfilled by this belief—something of a pathological need, quite frankly—and the myth that the Father of our Country was one of the Mighty Thirty-Thirds helps to address that need.
The Street Layout of Washington, DC
Like many others before him, Mr. Osborn makes much of the geometry of the streets of Washington, DC. However, what he already knows about the source of this geometry should be enough to tell him not to read too much into the patterns of triangles that emerges from the layout of the DC streets.
Mr. Osborn notes, correctly, that the streets of DC radiate out from the White House and the Capitol. If one creates a street plan based around streets radiating out from two or more central points, it is inevitable that triangles of various sorts shall show up. It is geometrically unavoidable, in fact.
Masonic Involvement in the Design of Washington, DC
Mr. Osborn says that that it is “officially denied” that Jefferson and L'Enfant were Masons. This subtle choice of wording is actually quite misleading.
There is no centralized authority for Freemasonry, no central registry of all Freemasons that could issue an “official denial.” There is no Masonic equivalent of the White House Press Secretary that could issue an “official denial.” However, to state that something about Masonry has been “officially denied” is to play into the widespread and essentially paranoid fantasy that there is One Über-Lodge to Rule Them All. This simply is not so. Sure, there are various Masonic organizations that may make statements, but none of them is empowered to issue an “official denial” on behalf of Freemasonry.
For the record, neither Jefferson nor L'Enfant were Masons. People who claim otherwise should either cough up the evidence or give up the assertion. This playing about, as Mr. Osborn does, with phrases like “it's likely that so-and-so was a Mason” is just so much twaddle. As it happens, I have taught over a dozen class sections of statistics at the university level: I know from “likely.” I see no evidence to support such an assertion. On what basis is this claim of “likely” being made?
Mr. Osborn states that “there is no question that many of the new city’s [that is, Washington, DC’s] architects were Freemasons.” Actually, there certainly is such a question—and I am raising it. What evidence does anyone have for this assertion? Of course, the real issue is, what evidence does Mr. Osborn have that any of the people who laid out the capital city—not just any architects working in DC, but the people who actually laid out the streets of the city itself—were Masons?
The Scottish Rite, the House of the Temple, and Washington, DC
There are times, I must say, when I wish the Southern Jurisdiction of the Scottish Rite were headquartered in Baltimore, Baton Rouge, Bayonne, Brooklyn, anywhere but a mile directly north of the White House, a location that cannot but help to feed the paranoid fantasies that make the Mighty Thirty-Thirds The Rulers of The World. As it is, Mr. Osborn implies that Washington, DC, is built around the headquarters of the Southern Jurisdiction, the beautiful House of the Temple, which Mr. Osborn describes as the “Temple of Freemasonry.”
The simple fact that the Scottish Rite did not exist until 1801 should suggest that Washington, DC was not designed around, let alone at the behest of, the Scottish Rite. The city was founded in 1790. Congress held its first session in DC in November 1800. The Scottish Rite had its headquarters in Charleston, SC, when it was established in May 1801, and there it remained until 1870, when the headquarters moved to DC. The Supreme Council met at several locations until the House of the Temple was constructed, a process which lasted from 1911 to 1915, a full century after DC was laid out; DC was clearly not designed around the House of the Temple.
It is important for people to understand that the Scottish Rite is only one of several "rites" of Freemasonry, and does not run or command Freemasonry as a whole, a matter I described at length in another Dan Brown-related post. The Scottish Rite has no authority whatsoever over the Masons of the Blue Lodge, the York Rite—anyone at all except other Freemasons of the Scottish Rite (who themselves are divided into two separate Jurisdictions in the United States alone). The House of the Temple is, strictly speaking, of administrative importance only to the Southern Jurisdiction of the Scottish Rite, not even to other Scottish Rite Freemasons, let alone other Freemasons; it is lovely and impressive, but it is not the “Temple of Freemasonry.”
Pyramid Symbolism and Freemasonry
Like many other people uninformed about the Fraternity, Mr. Osborn insists that the Pyramid is an important symbol to Freemasonry. As I demonstrate elsewhere, there are a few distant echoes of pyramid symbolism in Freemasonry, but the pyramid certainly is nothing important among the many symbols of Freemasonry as these have been recorded over the last three centuries. If some person is so sure that the Pyramid is an important symbol in Freemasonry, then that person should please tell us where exactly the symbol occurs within the ritual or symbolism of contemporary or historic Freemasonry.
Freemasonry and the Illuminati
(Messrs. Icke and Marrs: if you don't like what I have to say here, you can reach me through my home page. I would delight in debating any one of you—or all three together—in public in New York City. Three writers given to fantasy versus one who insists on evidence: I’d say that the odds favor me.)
The Use of Horrifically Unreliable Sources About Freemasonry
Mr. Osborn mentions the late Reverend Jim Shaw's book, The Deadly Deception, as if it were a reliable source of information about Freemasonry. The nicest thing that one can say about this book is that its late author was a fraud and a liar; my only regret in saying this is that he is no longer alive for me to say this to his face.
I strongly suggest that anyone confronted by this book read Chapter 8 of the book by Arturo de Hoyos and S. Brent Morris, Is It True What They Say About Freemasonry? (New York: Evans, 2004), which is available not only through Amazon but simply off the shelf at many major bookstores; their book demonstrates that the late Rev. Shaw lied extensively about his involvement with Freemasonry.
There are fine sources to use to learn about Freemasonry. I mention several of them in a basic post about Freemasonry. The sources are easy to obtain.
Now it is time to step back from the specifics of Mr. Osborn's claims and consider some general principles.
Basic Principle #1: We Can and Should Tell People That They Simply Don’t Know Much About Freemasonry
The first basic principle that comes to mind is that we should be kind, we should be gracious, but we should also be quite direct in telling people who make wildly inaccurate statements about our Fraternity that they simply do not know that much about real-life Freemasonry.
Yes, I know that, in this feel-good age, that all just seems so very rude.
So be it.
At public and private universities in the Northeast and Southeast, I have taught literally thousands of students, many among them including future physicians, nurses, psychologists, counselors—people who will hold other people’s very lives in their hands some day. I have taught them subjects like statistics, where there are right and wrong answers, and counseling, where right answers are in short supply, but wrong answers abound throughout the kingdom. I have always found that, when these people err, the most merciful way to help these people and their future patients is to tell them, nicely but extremely directly, that they are just plain wrong, and why.
Freemasonry is a real set of principles with a real history. It is not just a matter of someone’s opinion. (Contrary to what many people seem to believe these days, let me state quite clearly: “God was not elected. Truth is not a matter of opinion.”) And yet every day there are people teaching nonsense about Freemasonry—perhaps because the process of actual study and reflection and critical thinking is so challenging. These spun fantasies become so much more rubbish obstructing the way to the Western Wall. Beyond that, every unchallenged Fantasy is another message to the youth of America and the world that The Truth Does Not Really Matter—Just Make It All Up! Not a good message to send, brethren. Remember: these are the people who will be running your nursing home and performing your surgeries some day. (Now that is a scary thought.)
Basic Principle #2: Use Simple But Powerful Logical Principles to Evaluate Claims
This would be a long topic by itself to handle well. For now, it will have to suffice to note that so much wild writing about Freemasonry uses weak logic, as evidenced by phrases like “there is no doubt that,” or “it is likely that.” By contrast, a strong thinker both presents and asks for specific evidence. In addition, as put by Carl Sagan (in paraphrasing Marcello Truzzi): Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. For example:
- You want to claim that so-and-so was a Freemason? Fine. Show me a dues card, a signature on a lodge register, a private diary entry or a letter where the writer claims membership. Rumors or traditions simply don’t count.
- You want to claim that some Masons actually murdered someone? Okay, I’ll listen. But show me a body, first of all. Show me a reliable eyewitness who is disinterested in the case, who can through personal experience connect persons A, B, and C with crimes X, Y, and Z. Video would be nice. Show me the kind of evidence that you would need to convict someone, if not in criminal court (where one must prove something beyond a shadow of a doubt), then at least in civil court (where a mere preponderance of the evidence will do).
- You want to claim that Masons run some sort of conspiracy? Hey, I’m all in—like my wife asks, “where’s my gold bar?” But show me documents, video, signed confessions and affidavits. Show me bank records, travel records, phone records, e-mails, telephone recordings. (“Follow the money,” Deep Throat said to Woodward and Bernstein. Here was a man near the top of a conspiracy run from the office of the President of the United States, the veritable Leader of the Free World. You did not hear him suggest that Woodward and Bernstein settle for rumor, did you? No, you heard him push for hard evidence.)
- You want to claim that the Masons are run by shape-shifting aliens who drink human blood? Hey, it’s all good, baby. But you’d better be ready to show me tissue samples collected in the Lodge, video recordings from the Lodge, satellite imagery of their craft, ground radar showing their underground bases. I want samples of scales, alien blood, extraterrestrial implants--all collected from within the Lodge. At this level, simple personal testimony is no longer good enough.
Yet, what we see so often in the world is that, the more outrageous the claim, the less evidence is presented. What we get instead are excuses. It’s as if somehow lack of evidence was itself evidence.
Well, here’s a tip for all those on the fringe of the Fantasy Theories: Lack of evidence is not evidence. Lack of evidence may actually mean there is no evidence—because there is nothing to have evidence about. Lack of evidence should inspire increasing skepticism, not wide-eyed devotion.
Do I sound a little cranky here? I’m sure I do. But there is a reason for crankiness like this. The older one gets, the shorter the days become, and the more one resents having to put up with nonsense. Perhaps now there will be just a little less nonsense to put up with in the world.
Mr. Osborn, I hope you take this in the spirit in which it is intended. I am actually trying to help you. For if there is any bit of Masonic symbolism that should be known to the public at large, it should be this: to really make one’s way in the world, one needs the light of true knowledge, not the darkness of ignorance. Not to put too fine a point on it, but statements such as you have made betray a profound ignorance of real-life Freemasonry. If you intend to connect Freemasonry to your theories, you really ought to learn a great deal more about it, from reliable sources.
[The photo of a Griffin at Kasteel de Haar, in Holland, was taken by Ellywa on 20 July 2003. It was obtained from Wikimedia Commons, and appears here by license under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License.]
(Copyright 2009 Mark E. Koltko-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.)