How does Sufism Relate to Freemasonry? A Search for Truth

How does Sufism Relate to Freemasonry? A Search for Truth

What is the purpose of religion? To be certain, the teachings of morality are fundamental to all of the world’s major religions. Each religion teaches a form of the Golden rule: do unto others as you would have done to you. In Judaism, followers are instructed, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow man. This is the entire Law; all the rest is commentary” (Talmud, Shabbat 3id).

Is the purpose of religion also to teach wisdom and enlighten the followers of that faith? Most religions provide exoteric or fundamental teachings, as well as, a path of esoteric study for those who seek it. Perhaps it could be said that once a fundamental understanding of the tenants of a religion is obtained, a door swings open providing the seeker a deeper level of wisdom and understanding. In Christianity, the Apostle Paul writes, “And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able” (1 Corinthians 3: 1prophet-depicted-624x420-2). Similar to all world religions, the dichotomy of basic and advanced study exists within the religion Islam, where Sufism serves as the esoteric branch of the religion.

What is Sufism?

Sufism is the esoteric school of Islam, which was founded for the pursuit of spiritual truth as a definite goal to attain. The word Sufi is Persian in origin, meaning “Wisdom.” From the original root word, many derivations can be traced into other languages, including the Greek, “Sophia.” Students of Sufism seek knowledge in order to understand reality as it truly is which they believe will ultimately allow the individual to achieve Ma’arefat: divine gnosis. Thus, perfect self-understanding will lead to the understanding of God, as the Prophet Mohammed stated, “Whoever knows oneself, knows one’s Lord.”

As with many forms of mysticism, the exact origins of Sufism are unknown, some evidence suggests that it dated back to ancient Egypt. According to the Muslim tradition, the descriptive term ‘Sufi’ was decided at a council of 45 mystics in 623 C.E.: the second year of the Islamic calendar and the Order was officially founded in 657 C.E.

The Teachings of Sufism

Sufism is rooted in the teachings of the Koran, the Holy Book of the Muslims. The central message of Islam is the declaration of faith, referred to as the Shahada which WhirlingDervishstates: “There is no god but God [Allah] and Muhammad is the Messenger of God [Allah].” From the esoteric perspective of the Sufi, this statement can be understood as “there is no reality except Reality.” Within Islamic esotericism, knowledge is made accessible depending on the integrity and cognitive abilities of the individual. This measured unveiling of spiritual truths is called Hikmat at-Tadrij: the “Wisdom of Gradualness.”

To a Sufi, there exists no gulf of separation between the Creator and His Creation. The perception of fundamental unity, however, is masked to most of humanity due to the limitations of the material and physical tools that mankind possesses. Sufism provides a pathway that can be followed through purification and meditation in order to perceive what is already a reality. When the heart is purified, the God is reflected in the mirror of the heart, transporting man from his carnal state to the true human being.

Poetry and Ritual of Sufism

One of the beautiful aspects of Sufism is the poetry written by its followers. Two of the most famous Sufi poets are Jalaluddin Rumi and Hafiz of Shiraz. Jalaluddin Rumi was a 12th century saint and mystic who provided the inspiration for the Order of the Whirling Dervishes, which practices the Sufi ritual of revolution in order to be in harmony with all things in nature offering praise to God.

You’ve no idea how hard I’ve looked for a gift to bring You.rumi

Nothing seemed right.

What’s the point of bringing gold to the gold mine, or water to the Ocean.

Everything I came up with was like taking spices to the Orient.

It’s no good giving my heart and my soul because you already have these.

So, I’ve brought you a mirror.

Look at yourself and remember me.

   Rumi

Hafiz of Shiraz also lived in the 12th century and is considered the greatest lyric poet of Persia, whose poetic form has been described as taking unparalleled heights of subtlety and beauty.

holytreeEven after all this time

The sun never says to the earth,

“You owe Me.”

Look what happens

with a love like that,

It lights the Whole Sky.

-Hafiz

Sufism and Freemasonry

How does Sufism relate to Freemasonry? Freemasonry is not a religion, rather, it teaches its members to respect all religions and faiths. Religious tolerance is an important tenet of Masonry because members of the Fraternity belong to allhaqq major faiths. It is not uncommon to find Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Buddhists all belonging to the same Masonic obedience and happily working together to assist humanity and to glorify God.

At its core, Freemasonry is a search for truth: a guiding principle the fraternity shares with Sufism. The Sufi Hadith wrote, “Our cause is the truth of truth. It is the exoteric, the esoteric of the exoteric and the esoteric of the esoteric. It is the secret of the secret; it is the secret of that which remains wrapped in secret.” In our modern world, confusion, ignorance, and falsehood blind humanity to the true nature of reality: the universal oneness of the All.

Like Masonry, Sufism requires the individual to be initiated, after a period of time where he or she has been subjected to various trials. In Sufism, these trials are aimed at provoking what is referred to as “Awakening of the Sufi” or the “Awakening of a Friend.” The Sufi Scholar Omar Ali Shah explains that the esoteric school is based on the “doctrine which seeks to remove the veil from the eye of the heart to see what is real.” Thus, initiates of both organizations are prepared in their hearts to serve and enlighten.

Stop! This is the Empire of the Dead

Stop! This is the Empire of the Dead

Six million people beneath your feet. Meticulously arranged and organized. Hundreds and hundreds of years of history. The Paris Catacombs are famous for being one of the most ominous and interesting sites below the city’s streets. I recently had the pleasure of visiting the Catacombs and experiencing its allure, and I found myself curious about the nuances of the former mining tunnels.

Into the Past

The Catacombs of Paris came out of necessity. The Les Innocents cemetery was rancid and overflowing. The cemetery, which since the mid-12th century had been Paris’s primary burial site, was a home to remains dating back hundreds of years. To account for all the city’s dead, the church began to place the bones of the deceased within the cemetery walls. Galleries, they were called. It became a mass grave.

Things became complicated when the basement of the church began to collapse under the weight of the cemetery. This was in the late 18th century. Consider the amount of bodies that must have been amassed by then, as burials with the Les Innocents cemetery did not stop despite the overwhelming conditions. Mines and other subterranean areas within the city were put up for consideration as the situation became more and more desperate.

FullSizeRender(1).jpgThus began the moving of millions of bones into tunnels beneath the surface of the city. The transfer took two years. The cemetery at Les Innocents was not the only burial ground emptied, it was only the largest and most problematic. Bones from at least five cemeteries were exhumed and moved.

The Catacombs Today

When you walk through the Catacombs of Paris, you are experiencing the bones of revolutionaries and soldiers. The bones of the elite, of the peasants and workers. The bones of the sick and the bones of the deprived. All of them together, connected. Where else might you see such a gathering? A true city, and community, of the dead.

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The arrangement of bones is fascinating. In the early 19th century, an effort was headed by the Paris Mine Inspection Service to transform the catacombs from a mere collection of the deceased into a mausoleum of sorts. Walls of femurs and skulls were constructed to contain the bones. Various patterns were used to compliment the dead. Traditional cemetery trappings were added to various sections of the tunnels, too: these included arches and inscriptions, as well as displays and memorials. It is truly a wonder seeing bones transformed into such beauty.

Since its renovation, the Catacombs have been open to the public. People have been witnessing the site for nearly two hundred years. Though it has been closed a few times due to vandalism, the Catacombs have endured through revolution, upheaval, and war. Of late, it has become an extremely popular tourist site, with lines stretching far away from its entrance in Montparnasse.

Through My Eyes

My experience in the Catacombs was hair-raising. Never before had I witnessed so much history in one compact space. “Stop! This is the Empire of the FullSizeRender(2).jpgDead” reads the entrance. And an empire it is, truly. There I was, walking through the lives of six million people. The empty eye sockets of skull atop skull staring me down. As an American, I almost felt out of place, like I was interrupting something profound. But there was nothing, only silence. The air in the cavern chilled me to my bones.

The attention to detail is astounding, almost haunting, as one display contained a heart shaped out of skulls, another a small diorama of buildings and other structures. Clever and beautiful, and quite utilitarian. You almost forget that you are underground, that there is an entire city bustling above your head. It almost humbles Paris: not only is it unique above the ground, but below as well. In a very different way, of course. It is quite literally a testament to the depth of such a city.

You may say that there are bones beneath every settlement, below every forest, every plain, every step, wherever you walk, but it’s nothing compared to the feeling of stacks and patterns of visible history: bodies of bones, an empire of the dead.

Posthumous Remorse

When you will sleep, O dusky beauty mine,
Beneath a monument fashioned of black marble,
When you will have for bedroom and mansion
Only a rain-swept vault and a hollow grave,

When the slab of stone, oppressing your frightened breast
And your flanks now supple with charming nonchalance,
Will keep your heart from beating, from wishing,
And your feet from running their adventurous course,

The tomb, confidant of my infinite dreams
(For the tomb will always understand the poet)
Through those long nights from which all sleep is banned, will say:

“What does it profit you, imperfect courtesan,
Not to have known why the dead weep?”
— And like remorse the worm will gnaw your skin.

 -Charles Baudelaire (translated by William Aggeler)

 

 

 

 

 

Freemasonic Influences on the Architecture and Planning of Washington D.C.

Freemasonic Influences on the Architecture and Planning of Washington D.C.

Among the cities of the United States, Washington D.C. rises above all others in its unique and complex design. Disregarding a strict grid plan that was common during the time, the architects of our Nation’s Capitol had a grand vision developed upon an elaborate pattern of diagonal avenues and traffic circles.  The city is a representation of unity as it symbolically brought together the union of the thirteen colonies struggling for independence.

L’Enfant’s Design

Map_of_Washington_D.CThe District of Columbia was the unique design to Pierre Charles L’Enfant: a frenchman who came to America to fight against the British in the Revolutionary War and became George Washington’s trusted confidant. Like Washington, L’Enfant was a Freemason, initiated into Holland Lodge No. 8 in New York City in 1789.

Established in 1790 as an Act of Congress, Washington D.C. was established and authorized as the federal district. With an eye towards unifying the thirteen colonies, D.C. was located along the Potomac River between the northern and southern states. L’Enfant designed the city from a blank canvas: putting to a paper his vision of a grand capital of wide avenues, public squares, and inspiring buildings. The designer’s centerpiece was a great public walk, known today as the National Mall, from Capitol Hill to the Potomac River. Historians note the egalitarian nature of L’Enfant’s design signalling to the world that all citizens were to have equal access to the Nation’s Capitol.

Washington D.C.: “As Above, so Below”

Washington D.C. has been mapped as an earthly reflection of the celestial canopy above, designed with over thirty different zodiacs matching the constellations in the sky. In the National Academy of Sciences, twelve of the zodiacs are displayed in relief on the metal doors of the building. The Federal Reserve Board Building adds an additional two zodiacs designed in glass which glow with light. The Library of Congress Building displays another five zodiacs, as do many other important buildings in Washington D.C.McMillan_Plan

Crucial to L’Enfant’s Design was Pennsylvania Avenue which stretched a mile west from the Capitol to the White House, which coincidently is oriented to the rising and movement across the sky of the star Sirius. Using Dupont and Logan circles as northern points, one can trace various interlocking streets to form a star, including the White House at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.

Latrobe, Architect of the U.S. Capitol Building

Although the cornerstone laying ceremony was held in 1793, the construction began in earnest on the U.S. Capitol when President Thomas Jefferson appointed Benjamin Henry Latrobe, Director of Public Works and set him to work as Architect of the U.S. Capitol. Latrobe was initiated in the Lodge of Antiquity No. 2, London in 1788. When he came to the United States, he affiliated with Lodge No. 54 in Richmond, Virginia. By 1814, the Capitol was almost complete when the British burned the structure as well as many of the other public buildings in D.C. From 1815 to 1817, Latrobe was engaged in rebuilding the Capitol, which rose like a Phoenix from the ashes on its original site.  U.S. Historian Talbot Hamlin wrote, “Aesthetically the entire structure is essentially Latrobe’s. . . . In this great building, then, Latrobe set the basic tone and established a standard for government building which was to persist for generations.”

Timeline of the Construction of Washington D.C.

  • 1783: The U.S. Constitution includes a provision for the construction of a federal city to be the permanent seat of the US federal government.
  • 1790: The Residence Act implementenational-malld the Constitution. Washington gives to Pierre-Charles L’Enfant the mission of designing and laying out the new capital on a virgin diamond-shape land.
  • 1803: Construction began on the U.S. Capitol Building, with Latrobe as Architect.
  • 1847: The Smithsonian Institution is established by Congress.
  • 1848: Construction of the Washington Monument began, which was not completed until 1884.
  • 1901: The McMillan Plan revived the L’Enfant Plan, with the implementation of the National Mall. A shared goal of L’Enfant and McMillan Plans was to let air and light reach the pedestrian level, an egalitarian design for all Americans.  
  • 1922: The Lincoln Memorial is built. In the first decades of the 20th century, some lands were reclaimed from the Potomac River, in order to expand L’Enfant Plan by building waterfront parks and new monuments.

Freemasonic Influence

Freemasons have laid a cornerstone in most, if not all, of the major buildings in Washington, D.C.  On September 18, 1793, President George Washington conducted the laying of the cornerstone of the U.S. Capitol. The newspaper of the day reported: “On Cornerstone_Laying_GWashingWednesday, one of the grandest Masonic processions took place, for the purpose of laying the corner-stone of the Capitol of the United States, which, perhaps, was ever exhibited on the like important occasion. About ten o’clock Lodge No. 9 was visited by that congregation so graceful to the craft, Lodge No. 22, of Virginia, with all their officers and regalia; and directly afterward appeared on the southern bank of the Grand River Potomack one of the finest companies of volunteer artillery that has been lately seen, parading to receive the President of the United States… The President of the United States and his attendant brethren ascended from the cavazion to the east of the corner-stone and there the Grand Master, pro tem., elevated on a triple rostrum, delivered an oration fitting the occasion, which was received with brotherly love and commendation.”

Perhaps, it should be of no surprise that Freemasonry, an organization constructed around the symbolic power of metaphor connecting architecture and art, should have had such a significant impact on the planning and building of the District of Columbia. It is estimated that approximately 28 of the 40 signers of the U.S. Constitution were Freemasons, including George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. Ultimately, Washington D.C. encapsulates many a secret which is no secret revealed through the Masonic influences on the architecture, sculptures, and the overall design of our nation’s Capital, awaiting only the open eyes of an individual ready for such a revelation.



Come let me lead thee o’er this second Rome

This embryo capital, where Fancy sees

Squares in morasses, obelisks in trees;

which second-sighted seers, ev’n now, adorn,

with shrines unbuilt and heros yet unborn.

–  “To Thomas Hume, from the City of Washington” by Thomas Moore


 

Mozart’s Masonic Opera: The Magic Flute

Mozart’s Masonic Opera: The Magic Flute

Described as “an Enlightenment allegory, veiled in Masonic ritual,” The Magic Flute was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s final opera. A prolific composer, Mozart’s portfolio of works included over six hundred pieces of symphonic, chamber, operatic, and choral music. Of all his compositions, The Magic Flute receives a distinctive status due to its critical acclaim and public intrigue over the Opera’s esoteric themes. The fact that Mozart and his collaborator Emanuel Schikaneder were both Freemasons has only added to the mystery surrounding his enigmatic masterpiece.magic_flute

Premiering on September 30, 1791 at Schikaneder’s Theatre in Vienna, The Magic Flute tells the tale of a prince compelled to complete a series of Herculean tasks, including vanquishing a wicked queen, assisted by the Princess Pamina. Mozart conducted the orchestra until his illness and death in December of 1791. Experienced through the eyes of the hero, the viewer shares in his enlightenment as Tamino gains knowledge and insight. At the beginning of the Opera, the prince believes without questioning what he sees and hears, however, through the journey, he matures in perception and understanding as he is eventually united with Pamina as members of Sarastro’s order.

Synopsis of The Magic Flute

Set in ancient Egypt, Prince Tamino is lost and pursued by a serpent. Collapsing from exhaustion, Tamino is saved by three ladies inthe service of the Queen of the night, who kill the serpent. When Tamino awakens, he meets a bird catcher named Papageno, who resembles a bird himself being covered with plumSchinkelDesignMagicFluteAct2Scene3age. When Papageno boasts that he strangled the serpent, the three ladies reappear and punish Papageno for lying to the Prince. The women place a padlock over Papageno’s mouth.

After he learns that the women killed the serpent, the Prince expresses his appreciation for their actions in saving his life. The women give him a picture of Pamina, the beautiful daughter of the Queen of the Night, who they say has been kidnapped by the evil magician Sarastro. Tamino instantly falls in love with Pamina. The Queen appears and entreats Tamino to rescue Pamina promising that he can marry Pamina if he is successful. He agrees to the quest, and the women give Tamino a magic flute that can change men’s hearts. Removing the padlock from Papageno, the women present him with silver bells to be used for protection. Papageno and Tamino set forth on their quest, guided by three boys.

In Sarastro’s Palace, Pamina is guarded by a villain named Monostatos, who is attempting to seduce her.  Sent ahead by Tamino, Papageno arrives and terrifies Monostatos into fleeing. Papageno then announces to Pamina that her mother has sent Tamino to rescue her. Pamina rejoices to hear that Tamino is in love with her.carl-offterdinger-papageno-the-bird-catcher-from-the-magic-flute-by-wolfgang-amadeus-mozart-1756-91

Lead by the three boys, Prince Tamino arrives at a temple. He finds three doors, but he is denied entrance to the doors of Nature and Reason. When he tries the third door, the Gate of Wisdom, a priest appears and explains that Sarastro is good and the Queen is the evil figure. After the priest leaves, Tamino plays his magic flute in hopes of summoning Pamina and Papageno and ward off wild beasts.

The tones of his magical instrument are returned with the sound of Papageno’s bells, causing Tamino to leave the scene. Papageno appears with Pamina and they are apprehended by Monostatos and his servants. Papageno plays his magic bells, and the villains are enchanted to release Pamina and Papageno.

Hearing the approach of Sarastro, Papageno is frightened and asks Pamina what they should say. She replies, “The truth! The truth! Even if it were a crime.” Sarastro and his followers arrive and Sarastro conducts a judicial proceeding. During the trial, Pamina confesses that she was trying to escape because Monostatos had demanded her love. Forgiving her, Sarastro informs Pamina she is free of Monostatos , but he will not allow her to leave. Arriving with Tamino as captive, Monostatos enters and tries to convince Sarastro that Tamino deserves retribution. Sarastro denies Monostatos’ claims and sentences him to receive 77 strokes of the bastinado. Tamino and Papageno are taken into the Temple of Trial to be purified, and the First Act ends with a chorus:

“Brethren! Initiates of the Temple of Wisdom; Servants of Isis and Osiris! Tamino, who is waiting at the Northern Gate of the Temple, is yearning to be free of the veil of the night, he wants to behold the sanctuary of Light.”

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Act II

A council of priests, including Sarastro, deliberate and determine that Tamino shall be allowed to have Pamina if he succeeds in passing through the Temple of Ordeal. The council does not want Pamina to be returned to her mother, the Queen of the Night, who they believe has infected the world with superstition. Subsequently, Sarastro prays to the gods Isis and Osiris, askings for the protection of Tamino and Pamina by requesting that the Gods take the two into their heavenly dwelling place should they meet death in the course of their trials.

Back at the Temple of the Ordeal, Tamino is cautioned that this is his last chance to turn back. He responds that he will undergo every trial to win his Pamina. The priest also asks Papageno if he will concede to every trial, but he replies that he is uninterested in obtaining wisdom. The priest responds that Papageno may receive a woman, Papagena, if he undergoes the trials. Papageno agrees to also undergo the trials. Tamino and Papageno are instructed that their first trial is that they must remain silent under the temptation of women.

Three ladies appear and tempt them to speak.  Tamino and Papageno remain firm, although Tamino must constantly restrain Papageno commanding him to be “Still!” Papageno confronts one of the priests demanding to know why he must undergo tests if Sarastro already has a woman that wants to be his wife. The priest responds that it is the only way.

In a garden, Monostatos approaches and gazes upon a sleeping Pamina with rapture. The Queen of the Night appears and tells Pamina that she must kill Sarastro if she wishes to remain her daughter. She gives Pamina a dagger with which to kill Sarastro. Observing the conversation, Monostatos tries to force Pamina to love him by telling her that he will reveal the exchange. Sarastro appears and rebukes Monostatos, while reassuring Pamina.  

Approached by Pamina, Tamino and Papageno continue in their ordeal mandated silence. Papageno can no longer hold his tongue, but Tamino remains firm. Since Tamino refuses to answer, Pamina believes he no longer loves her and is heartbroken.Yearning for his wo524cedc2640499297472a5cfc1001581man, Papageno plays his magic bells. At the first ordeal, an old woman approached Papageno declaring herself his bride. Reappearing, she has transformed herself into the young and pretty Papagena. The priests send her away with thunder and lightning. Frightened, She vanishes and Papageno is miserable. Shattered by Tamino’s rejection, Pamina attempts to commit suicide but is stopped by the three boys.

Counseled by two men in armor, Tamino is given advice and instruction. Sarastro and Pamina appear, and Tamino is allowed to speak with her and assures Pamina of his love. Pamina and Tamino are allowed to undertake their final ordeals together, fire and water. Pamina leads him through the ordeals, and they triumph with the help of the magic flute.

Contemplating suicide, Papageno is distraught wishing for Papagena. Three Boys appear and remind him to use his magic bells, which indeed summon Papagena. The two are united, stuttering at first in astonishment. Seeking to destroy the temple, Monsanto’s and the Queen of the Night reappear, but they are magically cast out into eternal night. Sarastro bids the young lovers welcome at the entrance of the Temple and unites them. The members of the Temple praise Tamino and Pamina for their success in enduring their trials and give thanks to the Gods. 

Masonic Symbolism in The Magic Flute

At the age of twenty-eight, Mozart joined a Masonic Lodge in the autumn of 1784 and spent a total of seven years as a Mason. Many of his compositions during this period demonstrate his dedication to Masonry, including his final masterpiece, The Magic Flute. The Opera celebrates several integral Masonic themes: the importance of morality, the destMozart_magic_fluteruction of ignorance through enlightenment, and the virtues of knowledge, justice, wisdom, and truth. Moreover, the Opera includes the evocation of the four elements of earth, air, water and fire and the requirement of silence.

The number three is repeated throughout the story and in the music of opera: three women in service to the Queen of the Night, three boys, three doors to the Temple, three loud chords at the beginning of the Overture, the three flats of E-flat Major key throughout much of the score.

“He who treads the road full of care,

Is purified by fire, water, air and earth.

If he can overcome the fear of death,

he soars heavenwards away from earth!”

Viewed within a historical and political context of the Age of Enlightenment, the Opera’s Queen of the Night was seen to represent the Austrian empress Maria Theresa who vehemently opposed Freemasonry. Her antagonist, Sarastro, symbolized an enlightened sovereign who ruled according to the principles of reason and wisdom. Providing an allegory to the ideal progress of humanity towards enlightenment, Tamino journeys from chaos as represented by the serpent through the religious superstition of the Queenof the Night, and eventually arrives at rational enlightenment at the Temples of 1000509261001_1707071048001_BIO-Biography-20-Composers-Wolfgang-Amadeus-Mozart-SFSarastro.

The Magic Flute demonstrates an enlightened portrayal of gender equality through Pamina’s invitation to join Sarastro’s order by undergoing her own initiation. Scholar Julian Rushton argues in the publication, New Grove Opera, that “the implication that women should become initiates is the opera’s title to true Enlightenment.” In the second act, the Two Men in Armor counsel Tamino and address Pamina’s fate stating, “A womanwho is not afraid of night and death, is worthy, and will be initiated.” Musicologist H. C. Robbins-Landon has postulated that the Opera demonstrated Mozart’s wish “to reform the St. John Masonry to which he belonged by asking that women be included in the Craft’s membership.”

Benjamin Franklin: Founding Father and Freemason

Benjamin Franklin: Founding Father and Freemason

Most Americans recognize Benjamin Franklin as one our Nation’s most influential Founding Fathers, but many do not realize that he was also a Freemason. In 1731, he joined the Masonic Lodge of St. John in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In 1732, Franklin helped to create the bylaws of his Lodge. By 1734 his hard work and dedication led him to the highest rank within the organization: Grand Master.  That year, Franklin also published the first Masonic book printed in America, The Constitutions of the Free-Masons, which was produced in Philadelphia. Devoted to Freemasonry, Franklin remained an active member for over sixty years until his death in 1790 at age 84. In 1776, he was sent to Paris to serve as America’s diplomat to France.  In France, he joined and became the Grand Master of the Nine Sisters Lodge in Paris.

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Franklin’s Early Life

Born in Boston, Massachusetts, Benjamin Franklin was the fifteenth of seventeen children of his father, Josiah Franklin, and his mother, Abiah Folger, who was Josiah’s second wife. Like all his siblings, Benjamin was raised as a Christian. He attended the Boston Latin School until he decided to pursue a career as a journalist. Ending his formal education, he went to work as an apprentice printer for his brother, James Franklin: the creator of the first independent newspaper in the American colonies.  At the age of twenty-four, Benjamin was hired by the Pennsylvania Gazette, where he was able to both publish and write editorials for the local community. One of Benjamin’s defining characteristics was his seemingly insatiable desire for knowledge. He was driven by a love of learning that ultimately led him to become one of the best writers, statesmen, and scientists of his day.

Franklin’s Role as a Founding Father

A political expert, Benjamin Franklin, was recognized for his great wisdom and ingenuity by other influential Freemasons of his day, including Paul Revere, John Hancock, John Paul benjamin-franklin-drawing-electricity-from-the-sky-by-benjamin-west-1816-wcpdJones, and George Washington. Franklin felt personally responsible for his role in shaping America’s future and devoted much of his life to U.S. politics. At the time of his birth the future United States. existed solely as a small and dependent British colony. Assisting in the drafting and signing of the Declaration of Independence at the age of seventy, Franklin took great responsibly in leading the colony through the Continental Congress. He also signed the Treaty of Paris and the U.S. Constitution. Franklin was a visionary who worked with dedication to create a more perfect society in America: an intellectual and humane civilization.

Devoted Scientist and Inventor

A celebrated inventor, he created many things including: the lightning rod, the glass armonica, bifocal glasses, a flexible catheter, and the Franklin stove. His renowned work with electricity earned him the Copley Medal from the Royal Society. In 1743, Franklin created the scientific-based American Philosophical Society, which was instituted to help scientists discuss their experiments and discoveries.  Describing the society, Franklin writes, “The One Society be formed of Virtuosi or ingenious Men residing in the several Colonies, to be called The American Philosophical Society, who are to maintain a constant Correspondence.”

Franklin’s Faith in Freemasonry

St.JohnsLodgeFranklin held deep respect for the institution of Freemasonry and Freemasons. He explained his trust of Freemasons to his skeptical mother in a letter: “I assured her that they are in general a very harmless sort of people, and have no principles or practices that are inconsistent with religion and good manners.”  He respected his Brothers for their peaceful ways, strong morals, and dedication to self-betterment.

Benjamin Franklin possessed a strong faith in God, “the Great Father,” and worked towards a universal Brotherhood of all mankind. He wrote, “Scripture assures me, that at the last Day, we shall not be examin’d what we thought, but what we did; and our Recommendation will not be that we said Lord, Lord, But that we did Good to our Fellow Creatures.”

Timeline of Ben Franklin’s Life

1706: Born on January 6, in Boston, MA.

1718: Apprenticed as a printer to his brother James Franklin

1724: Moved to London and worked in a London Printshop until 1726

1731: Became a Freemason joining St. John’s Lodge in Philadelphia

1732: Published his first Poor Richard’s Almanac

1734: Elected Grand Master of Pennsylvania

1737: Became Postmaster for Philadelphia

1743: Created the American Philosophical Society AmericanPhilosophicalSociety

1751: Elected to Pennsylvania Assembly; Published Experiments and Observations on Electricity

1753: Named Deputy Postmaster-General for North America

1754: Proposed a plan for Union of the Colonies

1756: Elected to Royal Society

1763: Sent to London representing Pennsylvania; Became unofficial spokesman for the Colonies

1766: Testified against the Stamp Act before the British House of Commons

1769: Elected President of the American Philosophical Society

1772: Elected to the French Academy of Sciences

1776: Assisted in Drafting and Signed the Declaration of Independence

1777: Negotiated French support for the U.S. War of Independence

1783: Signed treaty of peace with England

1787: Attended Constitutional Convention

1790: Died on April 17th in Philadelphia, PA.

Answering the Call to Adventure

In today’s technology focused culture, we are often rendered deaf to the Nature’s grand call to adventure. Why endure discomfort and unknown risk when we can comfortably sit on our couches and watch someone else’s adventure on television? My response: Why not? We all deserve to be the hero in our own great adventure story. Down deep, each of us has a hidden explorer awaiting an opportunity to face the unknown and emerge victorious. When the call comes, how will you answer?

The Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration

unnamed (11)The early years of the twentieth century were known as the Heroic Age of  Antarctic Exploration, and the South Pole represented the planet’s final unknown frontier. In the published maps of the day, the Antarctic interior was a blank canvas upon which inspired nations and ambitious men alike sought to make their mark. In 1914, an explorer named Ernest Shackleton answered his greatest call to adventure. He ambitiously set out to lead the first expedition across Antarctica starting from the coast of the Weddell Sea, traversing the South Pole and ending up at the Ross Sea.

Having been a part of two previous expeditions to the continent, Shackleton possessed experience and knowledge of polar climes. He was the rare sort of man who learned from his past mistakes and systematically sought to apply those lessons to his future endeavors. Knowing the psychological strain that the men would be forced to endure in Arctic conditions, Shackleton required a crew that shared his idealistic vision and tenacious spirit – men like those in one of Shackleton’s favorite poems who longed to mark “the map’s void spaces.”unnamed (2)

Methodical in his planning, Shackleton created a list qualities he was searching for that included: optimism, patience, imagination (combined with idealism), and courage. Shackleton reportedly then placed an advertisement in the London Times which read:

“MEN WANTED: FOR HAZARDOUS JOURNEY. SMALL WAGES, BITTER COLD, LONG MONTHS OF COMPLETE DARKNESS, CONSTANT DANGER, SAFE RETURN DOUBTFUL. HONOUR AND RECOGNITION IN CASE OF SUCCESS.” – ERNEST SHACKLETON

How many of us would respond to such an advertisement? Who would volunteer to sail through frigid seas to walk across an uncharted frozen abyss? Reportedly, thousands of men sought a spot on Ernest Shackleton’s crew and 28 were chosen. The Endurance is legendary, in the records of polar exploration, despite the fact that the expedition’s initial objectives were never reached.  

The Expedition

In August 1914, the ship set sail unnamed (1)for Antarctica by way of South Georgia Island, a whaling settlement off the coast of South America. Heading south, the wooden ship immediately encountered problems navigating through unusually thick packs of ice that created an ever moving labyrinth of destruction. By January of 1915, the crew aboard the Endurance was able to see the Antarctic mainland, but fiercely cold temperatures and polar winds trapped the vessel in ice.

Locked in place, the crew had no choice but to wait until the warmer temperature of spring could free the vessel. Shackleton demonstrated great leadership skills in keeping all crew members occupied in strict routines to mitigate the collective fears and anxiety of the men on board. Months passed and morale continued to sink as the ship remained cinched despite the warmer temperatures of summer. The sheer pressure of the ice was weakening the boat causing the emission of auditory signals that the boat’s collapse was imminent. Creaks and groans were interspersed with sharp explosions, reported by the crew to sound like gunshots and heavy fireworks. Tom McLeod responded in fear, “Do you hear that? We’ll none of us get back to our homes again.”

Yet, as the wood was violently twisted and pinched, Ernest Shackleton remained astonishingly calm, displaying remarkable self-control, optimism, and almost casual indifference to the impending doom.

Facing the failure of his mission, he rejected defeat by adapting his mission and setting his sights on a new objective. He wrote, “If the one goal had disappeared, we’ll have another one. And so if I can’t cross the continent, I am going to bring all my men back alive.”

After ordering the men off the sinking ship, Shackleton marched his crew out onto the ice with the barest of supplies to make camp. By April 1916, the ice began to break up and the men navigated in three row boats to the rocky, deserted refuge of Elephant Island. Knowing that inaction meant that all would perish there, Shackleton decided to attempt one of the most daring open-boat voyages in recorded history.

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In a small row boat, Shackleton and five of his crew managed somehow to navigate 800 miles to South Georgia through hurricane force winds and raging seas utilizing only a sextant, a handheld tool that provides direction via celestial positioning. Imprecise readings would have meant the waves, winds, and current would have led the small craft into the open ocean and certain death.  Due to the unparalleled navigating skills of Frank Worsley, the crew made it South Georgia, but they landed on the uninhabited side of the island. With almost no equipment, Shackleton and the men cross 30 miles of uncharted mountains in 36 hours. Reaching whaling station,  Shackleton enlisted the help of the crew of the Yelco, a Chilean Steamer. Traveling back to Elephant island, he rescues the remaining men on August 30, 1916. “I have done it,” he wrote to his wife, Emily. “Not a life lost, and we have been through Hell.”  Displaying the utmost devotion and responsibility for his team, his men returned his commitment with fierce loyalty and uncompromising faith in his ability to bring them home safely.

The Call of Freemasonry

In our modeunnamed (4)rn day, we may never face a life and death survival gauntlet like the men of the Endurance. We face more subtle foes of moral relativism, obsessive consumerism, and weak social networks created by distance and reliance on technology. Yet, we still must endeavor to create meaning and find purpose in our chaotic world.  Through self-improvement and service to humanity, we can chart our own course to happiness and fulfillment.

Freemasonry calls us to embark on a profound adventure in a realm unexplored and uncharted by most modern individuals: to know oneself. Through hard work and perseverance, Masonry provides us with the tools for the highest degree of moral, intellectual, and spiritual development for all Mankind.  Moreover, it teaches us the skills of leadership and reminds us the importance of caring for our fellow man. Supported by the bonds of Brotherhood, we can accomplish great feats of daring in our own inner quest. An admirer of the poetry of Robert Service, Ernest Shackleton included the poem, “Call of the Wild” in his journal writings during the Endurance Expedition. We are all called to such an adventure: a challenge to explore and conquer the deep recesses of the unknown.

Call of the Wild (Excerpt)

Have you gazed on naked grandeur

where there’s nothing else to gaze on,

Set pieces and drop-curtain scenes galore,

Big mountains heaved to heaven,

which the blinding sunsets blazon,

Black canyons where the rapids rip and roar?

Have you swept the visioned valley

with the green stream streaking through it,

Searched the Vastness for a something you have lost?

Have you strung your soul to silence?

Then for God’s sake go and do it;

Hear the challenge, learn the lesson, pay the cost.

Let us probe the silent places,

let us seek what luck betide us;

Let us journey to a lonely land I know.

There’s a whisper on the night-wind,

there’s a star agleam to guide us,

And the Wild is calling, calling. . . let us go.

-Robert Service

Ernest-Shackleton

Sir Ernest Shackleton [February 15, 1874 – January 5, 1922] was initiated into Navy Lodge No. 2612 of the United Grand Lodge of England on 9 July 1901. Shackleton attended the first regular meeting of Guild of Freemen Lodge No. 3525  in 1911 and was passed to the second degree by that lodge on 2 November 1911. He was raised to the degree of Master Mason at Guild of Freemen Lodge on 30 May 1913.