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Thursday, September 21, 2017

Wrap Up: Masonic Society's 2017 Conference, Lexington, KY


This is really lengthy, but I've been working on it for 10 days.

I’ve been unconscionably remiss in not following up after the the Masonic Society's 2017 Conference, "Centuries of American Freemasonry" in Lexington, Kentucky September 8-10. Dr. John Bizzack (right), the members of Lexington Lodge 1, and the Kentucky’s Rubicon Masonic Society along with the other organizers did an incredible job at arranging what was one of the very best and most useful Masonic symposiums I’ve attended in a long time. Even the graphics and other printed materials were all beautiful and top flight. And the Festive Board they hosted at the nearby Spindletop Hall is something I wish I could pick up and transplant into at least one location in every jurisdiction of America to show others how to do it at least once. There were at least 85 attendees from 13 states and Canada, and if you weren’t there, you should have been. 

The overall theme to the whole event was to look forward to the future by using our past as a vast history lesson.


Thomas W. Jackson led off on Friday with his keynote, The History of the Future of Freemasonry. At 83, Tom’s been a Freemason for 54 years now, and during that time he’s seen some of its greatest successes. Anyone who’s spent time with him knows he’s well traveled, experienced, respected, and loves this fraternity. He’s also, on occasion, given to a pessimistic outlook about it in the US. I’m not hurting his feelings to type that out loud, as he freely admits it himself. But he's experienced so much that it becomes a bitter comparison sometimes to come back to US shores.

Tom didn’t quote this, but Isaac Disraeli once wrote, "It is a wretched taste to be gratified with mediocrity when the excellent lies before us." Tom’s speech asserted that external threats have always endangered us, but we are facing our greatest failure today, and the threat this time is internal, not external. This is no Morgan, no Holocaust, no conspiracy theory this time. And it has nothing to do with numbers of members. If Masons have lost our influence on society, it’s because we became something we were never intended to be in the first place. Our influence going forward needs grow out of respect for Freemasons, not how many members we have. 

Mark Tabbert followed Tom, and I'll explain later why I'm saving Mark for the end.

California’s Jordan Yelinek gave his presentation, Developing Lodges in the 21st Century, on starting a new lodge from scratch. He has been giving this Grand Lodge program all over his state, and there have been 14 new lodges chartered there in the last year alone. Starting a new lodge is not difficult as a process, although it certainly is in practice. It takes dedication and a common goal from at least the minimum number required. California held leadership retreats and surveyed 5,000 Masters and Wardens to identify what THEY want for the fraternity. ALL men want real true friends, to learn, and to make a difference in the world around them, whatever that may mean to them individually. If we can’t (or AREN’T) fulfilling that, or helping them to fulfill it, we are failing at what we do.

Consolidations don’t work, especially when two weak lodges form. They create a bigger weak lodge, never a better one. California found that while 70% of all of their members considered themselves to be “very engaged” Freemasons, they never attend lodge. If a lodge looks like crap, people are repelled. This is all common sense, brethren. If a Mason has no reason to come back to lodge, he won’t. And if you can’t convince your lodge to fix itself even with your help (and don’t just bitch, get in there and shovel coal, too), then stick a flag in the ground and start a new one. If it succeeds, encourage imitators, not bigger membership. If it fails, go out in a blaze of glory by showing what you were attempting to do.



Friday night’s Festive Board at the Lexington's Spindletop Hall was, as said above, tremendous in every way. 


The surroundings were ideal, the food excellent, the program just about perfect, and the conversation was hearty and positive. I urge any lodge to find the local historic mansion or library or catering site or other exquisite location and hold at least one event like this a year. Or six. Or twelve.





Andrew Hammer's speech that evening, The Heart, Mind and Soul of Freemasonry, only reaffirmed what I have known about him since he first began writing and speaking: that all he and the thousands of Masons who have bought and read his little volume Observing the Craft have wanted all along is the opportunity and the freedom to established regular, recognized American lodges that demand higher standards of behavior, manners, and what used to be called the "gentlemanliness" that most men once voluntarily sought to attain for themselves. Many still do want it. If Masons today want to be an organization non-Masons admire and seek to emulate and even perhaps join, why can't a handful of Masons at least be permitted enough flexibility to create such a lodge? 


Andrew didn't say it, but elitism is what Freemasonry was always intended to be from the start, and it's not he same thing as "snobbery," not at all. An ashlar cannot by definition polish itself. It needs patterns to model itself after at least, with the help of likeminded craftsmen. And hundreds of cookie-cutter lodges across a state do not provide the sort of encouragement and standards countless disappointed men seek. The truth is that variety and affinity lodges of all types are the only future our wider American Masonic fraternity has if it is to be anything but a tiny, boutique clutch of practitioners, no more significant than a monthly gathering of Japanese tea ceremony enthusiasts.

Anyway, I can't compliment everyone enough for the entire evening.


On Saturday, Alan Casalou’s presentation looked at the damaging effects that 20th century bigness have had upon American Freemasonry. Once we moved out of 18th century taverns, and then out of our 19th century town centers, we settled into our bigger and bigger “cathedrals” built in the last century. As much as I personally love them architecturally and historically, our grandest temples represent almost all that has subverted and eroded us as a fraternity. Throughout the 20th century, the vast and overwhelming majority of men felt that receiving the Master Mason degree was the ultimate experience the fraternity offered, and then never went back again. Attending lodge didn’t mean you were a Mason—a dues card did. Yet my own recent research has shown me, here in Indiana, we had several lodges with well over 1,000 members and even more than 2,000 in the 1920s. Nobody had to attend to be a Mason—we even tell them that in the EA degree today. Alan pointed out the avalanche of sheer idiocy (my term, not his) that got enforced by grand lodges, in part because of the human sea of members who knew nothing about the fraternity they joined. California forbade publishing Masonic papers in the 1920s, and banned tracing boards in the 1950s. Lodges of Research were specifically created in the US to control what was written about the fraternity at the GL level. It would take the anonymity of the Internet to finally upturn that grip on information nationwide (or almost, anyway). 

And even today, there is a US grand lodge that still enforces a recently enacted rule that doesn't even permit the open discussion of any Masonic ritual besides their own, much less a demonstration of one—even if it's from a jurisdiction THEY recognize as regular! 

As our membership skyrocketed and more and arguably “rougher” men poured in unchecked and unbalanced by more refined or educated or successful ones, the mania of obsessive rule making only exploded and GL rule books became thicker and thicker, as GLs stopped relying (or were able to rely on) the judgement and common sense of their own members. Alan didn’t say it, but when “Did his check clear?” and “Does he have a pulse?” replaced “How long have you been friends with him?” and “What does the community think of him?” GLs couldn’t rely on members to be the best and do the best anymore. And then the “best” of men in communities saw no reason to join anymore. And the cycle only perpetuated itself. 

Dr. Oscar Alleyne gave his presentation about Clandestine Freemasonry the US, and I have written a quite long entry about it before HERE. I earnestly recommend every jurisdiction to consider inviting Oscar to give this same talk to their own members, and as much as I don’t like to pick on anyone, I especially encourage Prince Hall grand lodges to do so. It should be given at both the Conference of Grand Masters and the Prince Hall Conference of Grand Masters, because this is a problem that continues to grow because of the Internet. Bogus “leg o' mutton" degree peddlers are at least as old a phenomenon as 1752, and they’ll never go away. But American Masons need to get ahead of this ongoing problem, and Oscar does it better than anyone. New “masonic” or “Illuminati” bogus groups pop up on a weekly basis in my email inbox alone, and they are damaging to the entire fraternity.

Patrick Craddock’s many years of research and work at creating bespoke Masonic aprons that harken to an earlier age has permitted him to spread that knowledge and interest to Freemasons all over the country. If you have seen his high quality, handcrafted aprons at The Craftsman's Apron based on historic, symbolic designs, you know the detail he puts into each one. The result has been his program, “Admit Him if Properly Clothed: Three Centuries of American Masonic Regalia.” Patrick’s presentation is an excellent one, and like Oscar’s, I encourage you and your lodge, district, or grand lodge to invite him to give it in person. 





In 2016, Jon T. Ruark sent out an appeal for responses to what he called the “Ultimate Freemasonry Survey,” and on Saturday, he gave his most extensive presentation of his results and analysis to date (he did do a much shortened version earlier this year at Pennsylvania's Academy of Masonic Knowledge, but he wasn’t quite finished with all of his collating and dot-connecting yet). Jon received 2,300 responses to his survey, and given the inherent bias in an internet-circulated poll taken this way that had zero support or assistance from a single grand lodge anywhere, certainly it has built-in lopsided results. But if you are the person who counts Masonic success by numbers and believes in analysis projections, things don’t look at all good as soon as 2027, and they look like an institutional gravesite no later than 2040. By then, we’ll all be able to meet in a phone booth. If anyone can find an antique phone booth on Ebay by then.

But those “numbers” didn’t really interest most of the Masons in that room, because we don’t count Masonry’s success or death by dropping beans in a jar. Jon will be making his results (and I believe a follow up that is planned) in a later publication. As a result, I’m not going to blurt them out here. He did the work, the results are his to share or hold back as he sees fit. But there were several figures I found just interesting enough that I WILL drop here. Just to set the stage:
  • All 2,300 of his results were from self-declared Masons (no real way to verify, but he didn’t include anyone who didn't say they were). 
  • The average age of his respondents was 45. 
  • 72.8% were married, 69.5 have kids, with an average income of $25-75,000 (just 12% made $100-250K)
(Jon also asked if his respondents had a declared religious preference, just out of curiosity, since we require a faith in a Supreme Being. It was a major issue for a very long time in the fraternity, both inside and outside of the US, so this is just an interesting observation: out of all of his respondents, 17.5% were Catholic. I have long suspected this, being raised as a Catholic and educated by Jesuits—though I attributed it to post-1966 Vatican II longing for the old Latin Mass and love of ritual and ceremony. But we're far enough away from those years that it's probably not the reason these days.)

But for our symposium, here were the money figures: 90% said that “Masonic Education” was “very important” or “important.” The vast majority of them specifically noted they wanted “esoteric” education. Out of those members who described themselves as being “disengaged” with the fraternity, 56% received NO education in their lodge. Pay attention to this.
  • 92% WANT “brotherhood.”
  • 80% liked ritual
  • 83% want “history”
  • And less than half want “higher degrees” 
I shared these numbers with a friend over the weekend who said they are almost identical with the results found in a recent survey by a large appendant body in the US.

Of course, all of these numbers are nice to have, and reaffirm what scores of us have yammered about for decades. But no one has ever figured out the role of the individual Freemason in all of this “wanting” and “preferring” and “very important-ing.” Masonic “education” (whatever that is) can’t be spoon-fed to our members. It can’t be shined in their eyes by some app on their phones. It can’t be found in a single article or book, or even a whole shelf of books. It has as much to do with improving ourselves and real human interaction as it does with some external person or force improving us—arguably more, MUCH more. 



So, John Bizzack, Cameron C. Poe, Richard A. Graeter and I took part in a panel discussion and audience back-and-forth about the future of the fraternity. As the ostensible moderator, I insisted that we NOT engage in any barstool air-bending about “Ya know what’s wrong with this fraternity…” Yes, we know. We ALL know. The conversation was a nuts and bolts, nitty gritty one about what does a single lodge do to either remake itself, fix itself, or give up and start again from scratch. The resulting discussion was constructive and worthwhile, hopefully for everyone. I hope somebody was taking notes, as I was busy.


To sum up, the overall thread that ran all throughout this event by accident or design was a very basic one: Excellence. Quality. Freemasonry is shrinking, but that’s probably all for the best. And history tells us, it is inevitable. Alan Casalou’s presentation centered around the phrase we have all heard countless time, “That the tender branch thereof will not cease.” (Job 14:1-12). On the eve of its first Revolution, France had a thousand lodges. Just seventy-five throughout that entire country survived the Terror. There's a big, fat lesson in there for all Freemasons going forward as each year's statistics roll in and long faces get longer.

Mark Tabbert’s talk on Friday morning brought up events and periods and developments from US Masonry’s history that few may have been aware of before. Mark has studied fraternalism on a much wider scale than just Freemasonry, and he can often see insights that Masons may not, and may never have. 

He mentioned a scandalous event in Vermont that predated the Morgan Affair in the 1820s, and despite all the press Morgan received nationwide, it was the earlier incident that nearly wiped out Freemasonry in that tiny and still young state. If we as modern Freemasons believe that we are living through rough times and woe is us that we have a budget shortfall this year over our state’s industrial-sized charities, consider this. The Grand Lodge of Vermont was saved by just two individuals and preserved by those two men for 20 years. Their entire state membership plunged to a mere 30 Masons at its worst. 

Yet, what was said by a Vermont Mason in the very darkest moments of their history? 
“Better we turn away unworthy men than to accept them just to survive.”
How about proposing that for your Grand Lodge’s motto next year? I'll second it.


Monday, September 18, 2017

Indiana Grants Dispensation To New Lodge


Just a quick post to congratulate all my Indiana brethren up in the northwest corner of the state for receiving their new dispensation from Grand Master Rodney Mann for their brand new lodge, Crowned Martyrs Lodge U.D. My understanding is that it is styled as a "European Concept" lodge.

Their lodge's mission statement is:
"To provide a Masonic Experience focused on dignity and decorum, provide substantive education presentations, and foster true brotherhood. To expand the Masonic experience to engage all of the senses, strive for perfection in our Masonic work, and create a sacred space where all brethren are elevated to a state that, while it remains level for all present, is elevated high above our common lives in the profane world outside our tyled doors. To break bread with one another as a way to bridge all distance between us, heal all wounds and absolve all greivances that may obscure the Light between brethren. To serve the Grand Architect, and erect ourselves as Temples for him to dwell within."
In the early 2000s, the Grand Lodge of Indiana dramatically reduced the number of Masons required to charter a new lodge from twenty-five down to just ten. That was done deliberately to make it much easier to establish a lodge than in more than a century, and to encourage more smaller, intimate ones. The philosophy at the time—and continues to be—that a smaller lodge helps to foster closer and greater brotherhood than a large one can. It was that sentiment that we originally had when we founded Lodge Vitruvian 767. In fact, we declared at the time that we would keep from accepting any more than just 36 members. That was done specifically because the more and more members a lodge has, the more anonymous they become to each other, which has long been the philosophy in Masonic jurisdictions outside of the U.S. The smaller the lodge, the closer the friendships, and when you keep the number below 36, you all know when Brother Charlie misses a meeting or loses his job, and are far more likely check on him. Additionally, it was always our intention that if more than 36 Masons ever wanted join us in future, they would be deliberately encouraged to start their own new lodge instead of increasing the size of ours. 

With that in mind, all the very best of luck going forward to Worshipful Master James A. Iles and his officers and the charter members of Crowned Martyrs Lodge U.D!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

MSA Disaster Relief for Florida Issued; Texas Ongoing


I didn't have to wait long after the previous post.

The Masonic Service Association of North America has just issued an official Disaster Relief Appeal for Florida a moment ago (click the image above to enlarge). The press release is as follows:
SEPTEMBER 13, 2017
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: SIMON R. LAPLACE, 301-476-7330
APPEAL FOR RELIEF – FLORIDA
Hurricane Irma hit Florida with the “longest-lasting powerful hurricane or typhoon ever recorded, worldwide,” according to National Public Radio. More than 60% of the state was without power. Widespread flooding, depleted grocery shelves, and damage from high winds have made life miserable for many.
The Grand Lodge of Florida has requested this Disaster Appeal to care forthe many brethren who live in Florida, and have been impacted by the storm. While the damage is still being assessed, the certainty of many months of recovery is expected.
 Donations can be made online at www.msana.com. When remitting by check, please mark clearly that you wish the funds to go to the Florida Disaster Appeal.
Please forward any donations you feel appropriate to help our devastated Brothers and their families to MSA. Please make checks payable to MSA Disaster Relief Fund and send to 3905 National Drive, STE 280, Burtonsville, MD 20866.
​MSA is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization.
​# # #
Simon R. LaPlace, PGM, Executive SecretaryMasonic Service Association of North America3905 National Drive, STE 280
Burtonsville, MD 20866www.msana.com

PLEASE NOTE: Check with your own grand lodge to see if they are collecting donations as part of the MSA Appeal, just to prevent confusion as to whom is donating to what.  

Remember that the Texas Appeal is also ongoing. When remitting funds directly to MSA, please mark donations specifically to "Texas Disaster Appeal" or to "Florida Disaster Appeal" on the memo line of your check or on the envelope. To donate directly to the MSA Appeals by check, make checks payable to MSA Disaster Relief Fund and send them to: 
Masonic Service Association
3905 National Drive, Suite 280
Burtonsville, MD 20866
You can also donate via PayPal HERE. There are separate buttons for Florida and Texas.

The Masonic Service Association is arguably the best and most effective way to provide financial assistance to Florida and Texas Masons (or to any other jurisdictions that may also request these official Disaster Relief Appeals through MSA). MSA is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. That is important to remember, especially if you, your company, or foundation are making a large donation and are in need of a tax deduction in return. The charitable arm of the Masonic Service Association was specifically established for the purpose of raising tax deductible donations, and to effectively distribute and account for the funds provided to Masons who receive assistance. Your entire donation will be sent to the affected jurisdiction. MSA deducts nothing for administrative expenses or expenses of any kind. Meaning if you donate $100.00, all $100.00 gets to Florida or Texas Masons.

Florida Lodge Damaged in Storm


You never want a Masonic lodge to make the news this way.

As I was flipping channels Monday night, I caught a live report during The Five on Fox from Florida, discussing the hurricane damage from Irma and interviewing some of the folks there. What should pop up but a shot of a Masonic lodge with its roof peeled apart. Rick Leventhal reported from Ormond Beach, just north of Daytona Beach on the East Coast:
"The storm dumped eight to 12 inches of rain here in Volusia County in a very short period of time flooding countless streets and neighborhoods like this one in low lying areas and knocking down trees and power lines leaving hundreds of thousands of people in the dark in this county alone.

But some of the locals in the neighborhood just a few miles from us in Ormond Beach say, it was a twister, a tornado that did the worst damage in this storm roaring through like a free train at about 9:30 last night, splintering trees and knocking down utility post and ripping roofs off of houses, dropping them in neighbor's yards and right in the middle of the street. We talked to some folks who hunkered down inside the Ormond Beach Masonic lodge nearby. They'd thought they'd be safe there and instead, the storms ripped the roof, the brand-new roof off the structure and had the people inside thinking that the end could be near."

Brother David Poulin, Senior Warden, was interviewed outside of the heavily damaged Ormond Beach Lodge 326, as an unidentified brother looked on:


"They were sitting there playing cards. The lights flickered three times and they went dead silent and all of a sudden it sounded like a bomb going off. He did two tours in Vietnam..."
"Three." 
"Heh. And I said how close was that to Nam just last night and he says, it ain't going to get no closer than that."
Ormond Beach Lodge 326 has a website HERE and they also have a Facebook page HERE. They announced on the website before the storm hit that several members were in the area offering help, and both members and area residents were in the lodge building at the time using it as shelter. According to brother Chris Van Duyne, they have two lodges, an OES Chapter, York Rite bodies, and a Grotto that all meet there, so it's a vital Masonic link to the community. It's entirely possible, if not probable, that they still don't have power today. Sadly, I suspect that given the breadth of the hurricane with its surrounding effects, theirs won't be the only one that was hit.

I will say that as I drove north from Lexington, Kentucky on Saturday, before the storm even hit the mainland, a mile-long convoy of tree service and power trucks were already headed south to prepare for what they knew was coming.

I have not seen an official MSA Disaster Appeal for Florida yet either, but I will certainly post such an announcement if and when it comes (the Texas one is ongoing). From the sound of reports, everyone across Florida has their hands full right now, so it will undoubtedly take a while for offices to get back up and running. MSA posted last night on its Facebook page that the office of the Grand Lodge of Florida has been closed, but they have been in touch with them. After Grand Master Richard Hoover is able to evaluate the situation, he will decide if a Disaster Relief Appeal is warranted. 

I am unable to find any updated online presence coming from the MW Union Grand Lodge of Florida PHA, aside from their website. Their GL offices are in Jacksonville, and that area got hit as well. If anyone wants to pass along an official Facebook link for them, please let me know.

NOTE: The Scottish Rite-SJ's Tyler's Place podcast interviewed Brother Pedro Nicot Santana in Puerto Rico and Florida's Grand Secretary, Richard Lynn on Saturday.



In the meantime, please keep all of our citizens in Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and all of the other affected areas ravaged by both of these recent storms in your prayers. And if you have a lodge meeting coming up, please pass the box of fraternal assistance with them all in mind. It will be needed.



(This post has been updated as of September 13th at 1:25 PM. Thanks to those who supplied new information. More as I get it.)

Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Curious Decisions of Foreign Book Licensing


Wiley Publishing, the company that produces the whole For Dummies series in the United States, licenses its various titles to different foreign publishers, and I've been especially surprised and happy over the years over the growing number of editions created by the French publisher, First EditionsI was extremely gratified when they hired my French Masonic Brother, Philippe Benhamou as the co-author to rework my initial framework and tailor the French version of Freemasons For Dummies (La Franc-maçonnerie Pour Les Nuls) to better suit that unique market. 

First, there was the original edition, which was a substantially reworked version of my own original book for the French marketplace—but one that went far beyond a mere translation. Take a look at the way that French Amazon describes the book on its website (taken from that book's introduction) and you can immediately see why many alterations had to be made:

"[T]he double door opens. You are invited to enter. You are at first surprised by the calm and harmony of the place. Your eyes adjust to the soft blue light that falls from the star-decked ceiling. You start to see the different elements that adorn the temple: first the Sun and Moon framing a large luminous triangle with an eye in the center. Then, on the ground, black and white tiles and three small columns each surmounted by a lighted candle. On each side, you feel presences, but you dare not even turn your head.
"The door closed quietly. You walk slowly towards what looks like a small altar with an open book that supports a compass partly covered with a wooden square. No doubt, it is indeed a Masonic lodge. Behind the altar, the one facing you seems to chair this meeting. He holds in his right hand a gavel with which he strikes a blow, and then speaks:

"Welcome to the Temple of Freemasonry. Here you'll discover what attracts nearly 3 million women and men around the world to meet regularly in temples like this to work in a rigorous ritual. We will visit all of the varied Masonic landscape. Varied, because there are both atheists and believers, Catholics, Jews and Muslims, young and not so young, ambitious and modest ... While every Freemason has his own individual commitment, all share a faith in man and in his development; they agree on the fact that the world has meaning, which it suits everyone to discover in order to find their place.
"Entering the temple of Freemasonry is to therefore first share these values: freedom of thought, respect for others, tolerance and brotherhood. These ideals were born during a history of almost three hundred years we will explain. You can then explore the differences, for instance, between American Freemasonry and European Freemasonry, between the French Rite and the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, or between a "Compangnon Freemason" and a "Compagnon du Tour de France."
"More so, you'll have access to a practical guide to Freemasonry for the use of non-masons: discover the method of initiation by degrees, including the initiation ceremony, visit a lodge, decode the symbolic language. All that punctuates the life of a Freemason since the first day of his initiation will be presented to you in the familiar style of the readers of this [For Dummies] series. 
"So advance one step, approach the square and compass, and let us guide you..."
And that's just the first page.

Philippe's name on the cover is placed above mine for a damned good reason: he had to subtract the strictly US/Anglo-Saxon Masonic material, and then compile all new information that was specific to the far more complicated minefield that makes up the French Masonic world. That meant creating a book that would be applicable to the members (or potential ones) of the Grand Orient de France, the Grand Loge de France, the Grande Loge Nationale Française, and more; PLUS the feminine AND co-Masonic organizations (since women make up more than 20% of French Freemasonry). He had to include all original material specific to French Masonic history that I had no reason to address. And to make it even more complex, French appendant orders and bodies are also very different, as well.

Next came a pocket-sized edition—actually a bit too big for the average pocket, at 400+ pages. Maybe better suited for a sturdy backpack... or a Masonic apron case. But that still wasn't enough for our French publisher.

I was downright, drop-dead jealous when the next version was a hardback, full COLOR illustrated French edition of La Franc-Maçonnerie Pour Les Nuls. Never before had I encountered a hardback For Dummies book in ANY language (much less one with my name on it). And for those too embarrassed to be caught reading a bright yellow For Dummies/Pour les Nuls book that could be spotted from low earth orbit (as the former Prime Minister of Senegal discovered the hard way several years ago), the paper dust jacket was easily removed, revealing a bland, inconspicuous, black cloth volume, complete with a bookmark ribbon sewn into the binding. (Would that Wiley's U.S. editions offered such a beautiful version here, since we have a MUCH larger potential audience.) Philippe and the French publisher amassed an enviable array of more than 100 illustrations of artwork, objects, symbols, jewels, aprons, and lodge rooms, including more than a few images I had argued (to no avail) to be put in my original U.S. version six years before.

Now, First Editions has just released La Franc-maçonnerie pour les Nuls en 50 Notions Clés (Freemasonry for Dummies in 50 Key Concepts), a sort of abbreviated, introductory arrangement of the 50 most important topics needed to have a basic understanding of French Masonry. And a mere bargain at the paltry sum of just €8.50!
"Welcome to Freemasonry!

"Freemasonry is surrounded by many clichés, assumptions and misconceptions. But close your ears to rumors. This book invites you to discover from the inside one of the oldest secret societies of the Western world: Freemasonry. Clear, precise, playful, it helps to better understand the mechanisms and the sanctity of the initiatory experience while dusting some legends attached to the Freemasons. What is Freemasonry, what is its history, what philosophy underpins its work, the meaning of the Masonic symbols, or what the initiation, many questions, and many others, who will find their answers in a didactic work devoid of jargon!"

Philippe is a talented author and has written several other books on French Freemasonry, and even L'Histoire de l'Aviation pour les Nuls (History of Aviation For Dummies), motivated in part by his role as an engineer in the French aerospace program. He ventured into fiction in 2014 with Madame Hiramabbi: La concierge de la rue des trois frères, which features more than just a little symbolism that some of us will recognize—beginning with the title, along with Mme. Hiramabbi's cat Solomon...


Back in 2007, I also had the happy experience of accidently meeting the Brother who was translating Freemasons For Dummies into Dutch (Vrijmetselarij voor Dummies). Jimmy Koppen is a Mason from Belgium, and I had the pleasure of stumbling into him by total accident in Edinburgh, Scotland at the International Conference on the History of Freemasonry that year. He had contacted the Dutch/Flemish publisher of the Dummies books and asked if such an edition was being planned. He suddenly found himself plunged into the business of translating my American original, AND Brother Phillipe Benhamou's French version, along with making even more specific alterations to explain the variations of Freemasonry in both Belgium and the Netherlands, PLUS incorporating the history of the Craft in those nations. Because of the unique way that Belgium was created with its melding of French, Dutch and German societies, along with having to make the book applicable to both Belgium and the Netherlands, Brother Koppen's job was equally complex.

Sadly, the Dutch/Flemish edition didn't catch on like the French one did, and it was never reprinted after its original publication. However, Jimmy Koppen did establish a Dutch language Masonic blog of his own at VrijmetselarijVoorDummies.blogspot.com that was updated continuously up until at least two years ago. He has also written other books on Freemasonry, as well as Belgian Politics For Dummies (Belgische Politiek voor Dummies).


Over the years, there has also been a German version, Freimaurer für Dummies (a straight translation without any customization by Harmut Strahl, and I have no idea if he is a Freemason or not). Despite the fact that it is just a German language version of a pretty distinctly American book, it too has recently been published in both full sized and pseudo-pocket sized editions. And it's done well enough to warrant a new cover in 2015. It's unfortunate that it doesn't even include at least a chapter about the complex and unique arrangement of the United Grand Lodges of Germany. Theirs is a complicated Masonic landscape to negotiate, and both the fraternity and the general public would have been better served if the publisher had involved a knowledgable German Mason with it.

Over the years, I've heard rumors of a Romanian and a Russian translation on the horizon, but I haven't seen them. Interestingly though, there is a Turkish translation of Conspiracy Theories and Secret Societies For Dummies (Komplo Teorileri ve Gizli Cemiyetler) but not of the Freemasons book. It also appears to be a straight translation without being locally customized for the Turkish market. I suspect the potential audience in Turkey will be woefully disappointed with it however, since Alice and I wrote the book several years before the feud between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his nemesis Fethullah Gülen really kicked into high gear. They'll find no mention of Gülenists anywhere in its pages.

While more than a few people have requested it, there remains no Spanish language version of Freemasons For Dummies for either the U.S. or especially the Mexican market, which is definitely needed (the actual masonic market in Spain is pretty small by comparison). As in Europe, the Mexican Masonic landscape is complex, with its competing grand lodges and supreme councils which are not uniformly recognized throughout the Anglo-Saxon Masonic world. There are more than a few American states, the UGLE, and the other Home Grand Lodges that do not recognize the same Masonic bodies in Mexico, and a version of the Dummies book localized for them (or Brent Morris' Complete Idiot's Guide to Freemasonry, or frankly ANY sort of similar guide, not just mine) would be helpful. And popular.

The same situation is also true for Brazil, which also has large, multiple, competing Masonic groups. A Brazilian Portuguese edition would be invaluable in that country, as well. (NOTE: See below.) And after last week, I have a feeling a Tagalog translation for the Philippines would fly off of shelves, as well. But we authors have almost zero input on licensing decisions like this. It often just takes an excited and qualified translator and author in a foreign country to push for such an edition on their own. That's how Brother Koppen got the Dutch edition published.





UPDATE 9/13/2017

Brother Kennyo Ismail posted a comment yesterday letting me know that there IS indeed a Brazilian edition of Freemasons For Dummies. Maçonaria Para Leigos was published in December 2015 by Alta Books, and he wrote a very kind introduction to it, as well. Kennyo acted as the technical reader and editor on that edition, and he made a few tweaks to ensure it was not baffling to Brazilian brethren when it ventured into purely American Masonic practices and structure. I never received a copy from Alta by way of my own publisher, so I have no way to currently flip through it to see if anything major was adjusted. Kennyo and I had spoken about such an edition back in 2012 and 2013 at Masonic Week, but I presumed nothing had ultimately come of it after that. So I'm happy to know it actually did make it into print. 

I also dug a little bit and saw an old note from 2014 that there is supposed to be a Hungarian edition of the Conspiracy Theories/Secret Societies book published by Taramix Kft., but I've never seen that one, either.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

STARTS TOMORROW! Masonic Society Conference, Lexington, KY September 7-10, 2017




The Masonic Society's 2017 Conference in Lexington, Kentucky begins tomorrow evening, and you don't want to miss it! This promises to be one of the best of these events the Society has ever hosted, and John Bizzack and the other organizers have done an outstanding job. An amazing list of speakers, panelists, and presenters will be on hand for a VERY intensive program.

PLEASE NOTE: You do NOT have to be a Masonic Society member to attend this event. We'd love for you to join TMS, but anyone may sign up for the Conference regardless.

Speakers and panelists will include:

Thomas W. Jackson
Mark Tabbert
Jordan Yelinek
Dr. Elquemedo Oscar Alleyne
Patrick Craddock
Allan Casalou
Andrew Hammer
Jon T. Ruark
Dr. John Bizzack
Cameron C. Poe
Richard A. Graeter
A certain Dummy

Early check-in begins at noon tomorrow, Thursday September 7th, with a Welcome Reception at 6PM. The main Conference events kick off at 9AM on Friday with introductions, followed by Tom Jackson's opening presentation of The History of the Future of Freemasonry. Speakers and panels will take place throughout Friday and Saturday, and I'll be moderating a panel on Friday afternoon on the topic of "Freemasonry and the Next 100 Years." There will also be a closing panel discussion on Sunday morning from 9-11AM for those still in town. The current program may be seen HERE.

Lexington is a fascinating city with a very storied history of its own. Included with the Conference fee are optional tours to Kentucky Horse Park and Henry Clay's historic home in nearby Ashland. Please sign up for these on the registration so the organizers know how many people to expect to accommodate. (Note: spouses or friends not attending the Conference itself can sign up for the tours for $20 apiece.)

The Conference website is available HERE.  Registration is $125 for the Conference only, plus $45 per person for the Festive Board on Friday evening (this dinner is for Masons only - back tie or business suit, please). If you happen to be a member of Lexington Lodge 1, there is no charge for the Festive Board, as you are the local hosts.

All events will be held at the Embassy Suites in Lexington. I have no idea if there are any rooms left in our bloc, but online reservations using the Masonic Society Conference code, CLICK HERE.

By the way, speaking of John Bizzack, be sure to check out his new book, Island Freemasonry, published by Macoy Publishing. It is an absolutely outstanding exploration of the explosive, rapid expansion of the fraternity on the frontier of America in the late 1700s and early 1800s. On the one hand, Freemasonry was a positive, civilizing, leadership-training influence that attracted the best of men, while encouraging others to emulate them. However, that unbridled expansion into distant, often rugged, uneducated men on the frontier also laid the seeds of the Morgan Affair and numerous other troubles that have plagued us ever since, and was as much about political and practical expansion at the time as it was about brotherhood. Arguably more. John has done an excellent job of connecting history's dots, and it is well worth your time to read this tremendous work of scholarship.

To become a member of TMS, visit the website at http://www.themasonicsociety.com

Monday, September 04, 2017

MSA Issues Hurricane Harvey Disaster Appeal for Texas



You are more than aware by now that the entire Gulf Coast of Texas and parts of Louisiana have been smacked by Hurricane Harvey in the last week. Many U.S. Masonic jurisdictions are circulating this message, but I will do it here as well, in case yours hasn't yet.

The Masonic Service Association of North America has issued an official Disaster Appeal HERE  on behalf of the Grand Lodge of Texas AF&AM:

The entire Gulf Coast of Texas was deluged with high winds and rain from Hurricane Harvey, setting records for rainfall from any single storm anywhere in the continental United States.
Extensive building and property damage, electrical outages, unhealthy conditions caused by flooding, and widespread disruption of normal living conditions has occurred.

The Grand Lodge of Texas has requested this Disaster Appeal, to assist their many brethren who have been injured or who have received extensive damage to their homes from Hurricane Harvey.
Donations can be made by check or online at Texas Disaster Appeal.
Any donations received by MSA and designated for Texas will be collected and forwarded to that jurisdiction. Thank you for your concern.
We were asked if any of your donation to a disaster appeal is deducted by MSA for administrative expense, say 10%, and the answer is "No." All expenses, charges by PayPal, bookkeeping, or cost of thank you letters, everything, is absorbed by MSA in its operating budget. The entire gross donation will be sent to the affected jurisdiction. That's the way it's always been, and that's the way it will continue.
Please forward any donations you feel appropriate to help our devastated Brothers and their families in this stricken jurisdiction to MSA.

PLEASE NOTE: Check with your own grand lodge to see if they are collecting donations as part of the MSA Appeal, just to prevent confusion as to whom is donating to what.  

When remitting funds directly to MSA, please mark donations specifically to "Texas Disaster Appeal." To donate directly to the MSA Appeal by check, make checks payable to MSA Disaster Relief Fund and send them to:
Masonic Service Association
3905 National Drive, Suite 280
Burtonsville, MD 20866
You can also donate via PayPal HERE.

The Masonic Service Association is arguably the best and most effective way to provide financial assistance to Texas Masons (or to any other jurisdictions that may also request these official Disaster Relief Appeals through MSA). MSA is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. That is important to remember, especially if you, your company, or foundation are making a large donation and are in need of a tax deduction in return. The charitable arm of the Masonic Service Association was specifically established for the purpose of raising tax deductible donations, and to effectively distribute and account for the funds provided to Masons who receive assistance. Your entire donation will be sent to the affected jurisdiction. MSA deducts nothing for administrative expenses or expenses of any kind. Meaning if you donate $100.00, all $100.00 gets to Texas Masons.



The Grand Lodge of Texas AF&AM is also collecting donations directly on their website HERE.  There is a link on that site to donate via credit card, as well. 

From the Grand Lodge of Texas  website:
Please donate to the Official Grand Lodge of Texas A.F. & A.M. Hurricane Harvey Masonic Relief Fund. All funds will go to the Lodges that have been effected by this tragedy. Many, many Lodges are suffering damages from this once in a 500 year disaster, and can use all the aid and relief you can provide to get them, their Brethren, and their families back on their feet. Please donate what you can today! We thank you for your charity!





The Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Texas has also issued the following message on their website HERE:
Individuals and families who are members of the Texas Prince Hall Family and who have been impacted by Hurricane Harvey and who are in need of immediate temporary emergency financial assistance may be considered for financial donations through the Prince Hall Charitable Foundation.

The letter and form to request Hurricane Harvey Assistance can be found HERE.

I have not found any such official appeal out of Louisiana as of yet, but will update this post if I'm made aware of it.

Meanwhile, Hurricane Irma is now gaining in strength in the Caribbean as I type this, heading for Puerto Rico and Florida, and perhaps elsewhere. Please keep our brethren in these affected areas (as well as all of those who are in the approaching harm's way) in your prayers and in those of your upcoming meetings.