The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Masonic Lodge part 1

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ret_g10_img_0984_ohny.jpg by you.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

We came, and stood waiting upon the starting point of a path that they had set out for us. A bearded man portioned the larger than expected crowd into manageable units of 25, and each unit was released into the tour pattern every 20 minutes- or precisely every third of an hour.

This is the Grand Lodge of Masons, on 24th street in Manhattan, which was visited as part of the Open House New York event in 2009 (and to be absolutely clear, I’m not a Mason).

from brad.ac.uk‘s Web of Hiram

Our Lodge is supported by three great pillars. They are called Wisdom, Strength, and Beauty: Wisdom to contrive, Strength to support, and Beauty to adorn; Wisdom to conduct us in all our undertakings, Strength to support us under all our difficulties, and Beauty to adorn the inward man. The Universe is the Temple of the Deity whom we serve Wisdom, Strength, and Beauty are about His throne as pillars of His works, His Wisdom is infinite, His Strength omnipotent, and Beauty shines through the whole of the creation in symmetry a order. The heavens He has stretched forth as a canopy; the earth He hath planted as His footstool; He crowns His Temple with Stars as with a diadem, and His hands extend their power and glory. The Sun and Moon are messengers of His will, and all His law is concord. The three great Pillars supporting Mason’s Lodges are emblematical of the Divine attributes; they further represent Solomon, King of Israel, Hiram, King of Tyre, and Hiram Abif. Solomon, King of Israel. for his Wisdom in building, completing, and dedicating the Temple at Jerusalem to God’s service; Hiram, King of Tyre, for his Strength in supporting him with men and material and Hiram Abif, for his curious a masterly workmanship in beautifying and adorning the same. But as we have no noble orders in Architecture known by the names of Wisdom Strength, and Beauty, we refer them to the three most celebrated, the Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian.

ret_g10_img_0988_ohny.jpg by you.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The Masons on duty were working tirelessly, not for themselves but for their guests. The Masons conveyed their duties in a selfless manner, ferrying special needs guests and answering questions from the crowd. Every Mason did his part, taking pride in the assignment, and they worked in cooperation with each other to assure the smooth running of the whole operation- all the while obeying the rules and proscriptions of their society and striving to expand the knowledge and understanding of the uninitiated.

also from brad.ac.uk‘s Web of Hiram

The interior of a Freemason’s Lodge is composed of Ornaments, Furniture, and jewels. The ornaments of the Lodge are the Mosaic pavement, the blazing star, and the indented or tessellated border; the Mosaic pavement is the beautiful flooring of a Freemason’s Lodge, the blazing star the glory in the centre, and the indented or tessellated border, the skirtwork round the same. The Mosaic pavement may justly be deemed the beautiful flooring of the Lodge, by reason of its being variegated and chequered. This points out the diversity of objects which decorate and adorn the creation, the animate as well as the inanimate parts thereof. The blazing star, or glory in the centre, refers us to the Sun, which enlightens the earth, and by its benign influence dispenses blessings to mankind in general. The indented or tessellated border refers us to the planets, which in their various revolutions form a beautiful border or skirtwork round that grand luminary, the Sun, as the other does round that of a Freemason’s Lodge. The furniture of the Lodge are the Volume of the Sacred Law, the Compasses, and Square; the Sacred Writings are to rule and govern our faith. On them we obligate our Candidates for Freemasonry; so are the Compasses and Square, when united, to regulate our lives and actions. The Sacred Volume is derived from God to man in general, the Compasses belong to the Grand Master in particular, and the Square to the whole Craft.

ret_g10_img_1000_ohny.jpg by you.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The Masons stationed a speaker in each of the ornate rooms that the labyrinth of the tour would visit, a course which moved horizontally and vertically across multiple rooms and floors. The Grand Lodge is not so much a wizardly castle as it is a commonly held ceremonial meeting house for members from all over New York State. These Masonic organs book these rooms for moments of great import in the history of their individual lodge. The Grand Lodge also proffers the Masonic creed of continuing education and intellectual growth by offering the services of a privately curated library which is open to the general public. This library holds an enormous cache of esoteric and rare documents in anticipation of scholarly interest.

also from brad.ac.uk‘s Web of Hiram

The Degree of Knight of the Brazen Serpent relates to the time when the camp of the Israelites was pitched at Punon, on the eastern side of the mountains of Hor, Seir, or Edom, In Arabia Petraea, on the confines of Idumaea, after the death of Aaron, when the new moon occurred at the vernal equinox, in the fortieth year of the wandering of the children of Israel in the desert.
The duties of a Knight of the Brazen Serpent are: To purify the soul of its alloy of earthliness, that through the gate of Capricorn and the seven spheres It may at length ascend to its eternal home beyond the stars; and also to perpetuate the great truths enveloped in the symbols and allegories of the ancient mysteries of Faith.
THE LODGE – ITS DECORATION, ETC
The Lodge, in this degree, is styled the Council. The camp, standards, and tabernacle with its court, are as in the two preceding degrees. In the East is a transparency on which is painted a cross, with a serpent coiled round it and over the arms.
On the right of the presiding officer is a short column, on which is a winged globe encircled by a serpent. On the left of the Senior Warden and right of the Junior Warden are similar columns, on each of which is a serpent or basilisk, his body coiled in folds, and his head and neck erect above the folds. The globe and all the serpents are gildedThe Degree of Knight of the Brazen Serpent relates to the time when the camp of the Israelites was pitched at Punon, on the eastern side of the mountains of Hor, Seir, or Edom, In Arabia Petraea, on the confines of Idumaea, after the death of Aaron, when the new moon occurred at the vernal equinox, in the fortieth year of the wandering of the children of Israel in the desert.

The duties of a Knight of the Brazen Serpent are: To purify the soul of its alloy of earthliness, that through the gate of Capricorn and the seven spheres It may at length ascend to its eternal home beyond the stars; and also to perpetuate the great truths enveloped in the symbols and allegories of the ancient mysteries of Faith.

THE LODGE – ITS DECORATION, ETC

The Lodge, in this degree, is styled the Council. The camp, standards, and tabernacle with its court, are as in the two preceding degrees. In the East is a transparency on which is painted a cross, with a serpent coiled round it and over the arms.

On the right of the presiding officer is a short column, on which is a winged globe encircled by a serpent. On the left of the Senior Warden and right of the Junior Warden are similar columns, on each of which is a serpent or basilisk, his body coiled in folds, and his head and neck erect above the folds. The globe and all the serpents are gilded.

ret_g10_img_1008_ohny.jpg by you.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The crowd was a heterogeneous group, of every type and age and tribe of man, whose questions were answered patiently and with a pleasant humor. No matter how pointed or suspicious the tone of the petitioner- the answers from the Masons always returned a tone of dignity, expressed respect for the point of view evinced by the questioner, and acknowledged a considerate view of the opinions put forward by the crowd.

Someone actually asked “What secrets aren’t you allowed to tell us?”.

from wikipedia

Masonic historians such as William Bissey, Gary Leazer (quoting Coil’s Masonic Encyclopaedia). Brent Morris, assert that “the Masonic abbreviation G.A.O.T.U., meaning the Great Architect of the Universe, continues a long tradition of using an allegorical name for the Deity”. They trace how the name and the abbreviation entered Masonic tradition from the Book of Constitutions written in 1723 by Reverend James Anderson. They also note that Anderson, a Calvinist minister, probably took the term from Calvin’s usage.

ret_g10_img_1011_ohny.jpg by you.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The Masonic theme of personal responsibility, an iron creed which ignores circumstantial considerations (wealth and poverty, education or ignorance, illness or health) in its judgement of existential morality and the rightness of one’s actions, rang out in every word of the prepared and rehearsed speakers. The tour group was dazzled, and bathed in the peacock illumination of a gilded set piece.

from wikipedia

Freemasonry is a fraternal organisation that arose from obscure origins in the late 16th to early 17th century. Freemasonry now exists in various forms all over the world, with a membership estimated at around 5 million, including just under two million in the United States and around 480,000 in England, Scotland and Ireland. The various forms all share moral and metaphysical ideals, which include, in most cases, a constitutional declaration of belief in a Supreme Being.

The fraternity is administratively organised into Grand Lodges (or sometimes Orients), each of which governs its own jurisdiction, which consists of subordinate (or constituent) Lodges. Grand Lodges recognise each other through a process of landmarks and regularity. There are also appendant bodies, which are organisations related to the main branch of Freemasonry, but with their own independent administration.

Freemasonry uses the metaphors of operative stonemasons’ tools and implements, against the allegorical backdrop of the building of King Solomon’s Temple, to convey what has been described by both Masons and critics as “a system of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.”

ret_g10_img_1047_ohny.jpg by you.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Religious pluralists by definition, the Masons instruct that no man has the right to tell another human being what they must think or believe. Every member of our human race has an absolute right to freedom in every sense of the word. That all tyranny, in every form, is illegitimate and false.

In the French room, one finds statuary representing George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette (although I didn’t get a shot of them). The walls are adorned with the Coat of Arms of the Nation of France, and mythic iconography representing life in rural France. The metaphor is apt, and the room is an obvious tribute to the two greatest victories of the Masonic philosophs.

also from wikipedia

The obligations are historically known amongst various sources critical of Freemasonry for their so-called “bloody penalties”, an allusion to the apparent physical penalties associated with each degree. This leads to some descriptions of the Obligations as “Oaths”. The corresponding text, with regard to the penalties, does not appear in authoritative, endorsed sources,  following a decision “that all references to physical penalties be omitted from the obligations taken by Candidates in the three Degrees and by a Master Elect at his Installation but retained elsewhere in the respective ceremonies”. The penalties are interpreted symbolically, and are not applied in actuality by a Lodge or by any other body of Masonry. The descriptive nature of the penalties alludes to how the candidate should feel about himself should he knowingly violate his obligation. Modern actual penalties may include suspension, expulsion or reprimand.

Whilst no single obligation is representative of Freemasonry as a whole, a number of common themes appear when considering a range of potential texts. Content which may appear in at least one of the three obligations includes: the candidate promises to act in a manner befitting a member of civilised society, promises to obey the law of his Supreme Being, promises to obey the law of his sovereign state, promises to attend his lodge if he is able, promises not to wrong, cheat nor defraud the Lodge or the brethren, and promises aid or charity to a member of the human family, brethren and their families in times of need if it can be done without causing financial harm to himself or his dependents.

ret_g10_img_1029_ohny.jpg by you.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

A certain amount of self control was being practiced by your humble narrator when visiting these environs. I had to reign in my base desires to pry open locked doors, and allow my more intellectual side to wander freely about the place. Such temptations are selfish, after all, and charitable respect for another’s belief system is something I’ve been trying to cultivate in myself for awhile. An angry and broken shell of something like a man, I am often small and cruel to those I’ve perceived as slighting or insulting me, and have been attempting for the last few years to not write people off. To reflect control and cool discretion in the face of derisive fury is one of my goals. Cooley-cool.

the Widow’s Son, from wikipedia

Hiram Abiff is a character who figures prominently in an allegorical play that is presented during the third degree of Craft Freemasonry. In this play, Hiram is presented as being the chief architect of King Solomon’s Temple, who is murdered by three ruffians during an unsuccessful attempt to force him to divulge the Master Masons’ secret password. It is explained in the lecture that follows this play that the story is a lesson in fidelity to one’s word, and in the brevity of life.

Numerous scholars, both Masonic and non-Masonic, have speculated that the character may have been based upon one or more Hirams that appear in the Bible. For example, in the Masonic ritual Hiram is referred to as ‘the Widow’s Son,’ which is similar to a biblical reference to a Hiram found in 1 Kings 7:13–14.

ret_g10_img_1038_ohny.jpg by you.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The Mason in the French room, who was one heck of an enigmatic presence incidentally, spoke to the increasingly giddy crowd about the quality of Faith, and its central role in masonic traditions. Religious affiliation doesn’t matter to them, as the metaphorical or ritual cult names espoused by the world’s religions all refer to the same entity in masonic ideology. As long as a man believes in something, and acknowledges the existence of an immortal soul- he can be a Mason. While he spoke, the Mason was moving his right hand upon the altar in sweeping arcs intersecting with long horizontal and vertical movements. He continued on, saying that Faith must be the center of life, and commenting of the centrality of this philosophical and religious concept.

from wikipedia

In its ritual context, Freemasonry employs an allegorical foundation myth: the foundation of the fraternity by the builders of King Solomon’s Temple.

Beyond myth, there is a distinct absence of documentation as to Freemasonry’s origins, which has led to a great deal of speculation among historians and pseudo-historians alike, both from within and from outside the fraternity. Hundreds of books have been written on the subject. Much of the content of these books is highly speculative, and the precise origins of Freemasonry may very well be permanently lost to history. Some believe the scant evidence that is available points to the origins of Freemasonry as a fraternity that simply evolved out of the lodges of operative stonemasons of the Middle Ages. Others have disputed whether stone masons were ever organized formally into guilds, and have criticized the suggestion that Freemasonry evolved out of such organizations as a trite myth, stemming merely from the fact that the fraternity uses stone masonry as the core allegory for the organization of its symbolism. In any event, the matter of the origins of Freemasonry continues to puzzle and mystify historians.

The origin of Freemasonry has variously been attributed to: King Solomon and the construction of the Temple at Jerusalem, Euclid or Pythagoras, Moses, the Essenes, the Culdees, the Druids, the Gypsies, or the Rosicrucians, not to mention the intellectual descendants of Noah. Some of the more popular theories include Freemasonry being an offshoot of the ancient mystery schools, or that it is an institutional outgrowth of the medieval guilds of stonemasons, or that it is a direct descendant of the “Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem” (the Knights Templar).

ret_g10_img_1035_ohny.jpg by you.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The working of the tour, as it wound amongst ceremonial centers, amplified the thematic elements of good citizenship and obeyance of the law as not just being a precept of some otherworldly reward but instead describing lawfulness instead as a duty to all mankind.

from wikipedia

Freemasonry spread from the British Isles during the Colonial Era. All of the “original” Grand Lodges began to issue charters to individual lodges in North America, but the two English Grand Lodges (the “Ancients” and the “Moderns”) were the most prolific. Starting in 1730 The Grand Lodge of England (Moderns) began to issue Warrants for Provincial Grand Lodges in the colonies. Initially, these Warrants were issued to individuals, to act as deputies for the Grand Master in a given area for fixed periods of time, and some confusion resulted due to overlapping jurisdictions. To confuse matters further, with the formation of the Antient Grand Lodge, rival Provincial Grand Lodges were chartered under their jurisdiction.

Part 2 coming tomorrow

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Written by Mitch Waxman

October 24, 2009 at 12:15 am

9 Responses

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  1. [...] The second installment of a Newtown Pentacle accounting of the Open House New York tour of NY’s Masonic Grand Lodge in Manhattan (check out part one here). [...]

  2. [...] The second installment of a Newtown Pentacle accounting of the Open House New York tour of NY’s Masonic Grand Lodge in Manhattan (check out part one here). [...]

  3. [...] Pentacle accounting of the Open House New York tour of NY’s Masonic Grand Lodge in Manhattan. (check out part one here), and (part two [...]

  4. [...] Pentacle accounting of the Open House New York tour of NY’s Masonic Grand Lodge in Manhattan. (check out part one here), and (part two [...]

  5. [...] Pentacle accounting of the Open House New York tour of NY’s Masonic Grand Lodge in Manhattan. (check out part one here), and (part two here), with (part three [...]

  6. [...] Pentacle accounting of the Open House New York tour of NY’s Masonic Grand Lodge in Manhattan. (check out part one here), and (part two here), with (part three [...]

  7. [...] of the religious wars of 16th and 17th century Europe, producing “the enlightenment“, Freemasonry, and representative democracy by the 18th and 19th [...]

  8. [...] City of New York. Remember the weirding works at St. Michael’s Cemetery, the Grand Lodge of the Freemasons in Manhattan, or the witch knots at [...]

  9. [...] out parts one, two, three, and [...]


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