Monday, March 12, 2018

Tyler Pete

The following is based on a true incident that happened in my Masonic Lodge. Names have been changed to protect the innocent, even though no one was innocent. It was first published on the Midnight Freemasons blog and it's about the aftermath of a dinner we had at the Lodge and a crazy idea that didn't work out so well. So with many apologies to Brother Robert W. Service and a poem he wrote about the cremation of a guy named Sam McGee I give you Tyler Pete And The Stairlift Chair.

There are strange things done in the Lodge, my son
By the Wardens and Stewards and such.
The kitchen crew has stories for you
That would make you lose your lunch.
The banquet nights have seen such fright
But the scariest night I swear
Was the Fourth of July when things went awry
And Tyler Pete crashed the stairlift chair.

Now that Tyler Pete he had two flat feet; he'd been there since time began.
No one cares when he went through the chairs, but he was Master way back when.
He moved around slow, yet gave it a go as the evening's chores accrued;
But he'd let you know with a tale of woe, "Dishes I don't want to do."

On the Fourth of July we had cake and pie and heaps of Masonic green beans.
The Lodge was well fed, "Too much food," they said, "have to take it home, it seems."
They packed it all up on plates and in cups and sat it all by the door.
There were many loads to get on the road, all stacked from ceiling to floor.

Now that Tyler Pete with the two flat feet, was still as sharp as a tack.
"Oh, I know," he said, "with his arms outspread, we'll put it all in a stack.
And the stairlift chair will take it down there... It cannot fail, I swear.
In no time at all, we'll get to the hall at the bottom of the stairs."

So he packed it up, every plate and cup and balanced it without fear.
Then he hit the switch but a little glitch made the whole load buck and veer.
Well, the chair, it stopped, but the load atop, shot out like a cannon ball.
The whole pile of trash dropped down with a crash, a big hot mess of a fall.

At very bottom, there was a problem: it was our big plate glass door.
The big ball of goop, pie, cake, beans and soup exploded through with a roar;
And glass and our food on the street it spewed — cars crashed in slime and meringue.
The last crash was shrill, but then it was still. The mishap stunned the whole gang.

Now Old Tyler Pete said, "It's not defeat. There's a good side to it all.
It may be a mess, but really we're blessed. Let's try not to be appalled. 
It's really a boon, as you will see soon. The good side of this shines through.
I'm happy you see and soon you will be: the dishes we don't have to do."

There are strange things done in the Lodge, my son
By the Wardens and Stewards and such.
The kitchen crew has stories for you
That would make you lose your lunch.
The banquet nights have seen such fright
But the scariest night I swear
Was the Fourth of July when things went awry
And Tyler Pete crashed the stairlift chair.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Jack the Ripper

It seems almost any high-profile mystery brings conspiracy theorists out of the woodwork with at least one angle pointing to the Masons. From the street patterns of Washington, DC, to alleged Masonic symbolism on the dollar bill to the Kennedy assassination there are those who would put the Freemasons behind it all. Not surprising, then, is the belief by some that the Jack the Ripper slayings of the late 19th century, also known as the Whitechapel murders, were a devious Masonic plot.

There are varying accounts as to how the Masons were involved, as is usually the case when speculators don't let facts get in the way of their theories. They all, however, identify Sir William Gull as the infamous Ripper. Gull appears as Jack the Ripper in books, movies and countless Internet posts including the 1988 TV adaptation Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution by Stephen Knight and the 2000 graphic novel (roughly a novel in comic book form) From Hell written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Eddie Campbell. Subsequently the Hollywood Movie From Hell starring Johnny Depp was loosely based on the novel.

William Withey Gull was a respected physician credited with many significant contributions to medicine including advancements in the diagnosis and treatment of Bright's disease, myxoedema and paraplegia. He also named the devastating eating disorder anorexia nervosa.

He became personal physician (Physician-Ordinary) to Queen Victoria and the Royal Family. The conspiracy theory and premise of the movie (which parallels most of the Ripper Masonic theories) begins with the historical inaccuracy of Prince Edward Albert contracting syphilis. This allegedly tarnishes Gull's reputation as the Prince's physician because Gull was unable to treat him. Gull, portrayed as a Freemason in the film, takes it upon himself to eradicate the prostitutes that caused the Prince's affliction. He does this by murdering the prostitutes with the implication they are ritual killings associated with the Freemasons.

Not to leave any stone unturned, the movie also depicts the Prince as taking on the identity of Walter Sickert. Sickert, rather than being an alias of the Prince, was in fact a 19th century painter. Some believe he once lived in Jack the Ripper's apartment, a speculation likely due to the fact one of his paintings was titled, "Jack the Ripper's Bedroom."

To be sure, historically Prince Edward Albert and Sickert were separate individuals, but in the movie, the Prince becomes Sickert and marries Ann Crook, taking her away from her life as a prostitute. Together, the Prince and Ann have a daughter, Alice. By English law therefore, Alice becomes an heir to the throne and the film surmises Queen Victoria ordered that this problem be eliminated. Gull, as the Ripper, takes it upon himself to do so in a far more grisly way than Queen Victoria had intended.

In the denouement, Depp portrays Frederick Abberline, the actual Ripper case investigator, confronting Gull, and taking some off-the-wall liberties with the Masonic ritual, not to mention the actual facts of the case:

Abberline: "The arrangement of the coins at Dark Annie's feet and also the locations of the bodies form a pentacle star. The pentacle star is a symbol of the Freemasons is it not, sir?"

Gull: "Yes"

Abberline: "And the way all these women were killed... throats cut left to right, organs removed... they're reenactments, aren't they, sir?"

Gull: "Reenactments of what?"

Abberline: "The Jews. The traitors who killed Hiram Abiff, founder of the Masons, that's how they were executed."

Gull: "Ah, yes... so the great book tells us."

Abberline: "So, Jack the Ripper isn't just merely killing whores. He's executing traitors. He's a Mason, fulfilling a duty."

Gull: "Yes, I'm afraid, Inspector, that you won't be permitted to arrest him."

Abberline: "I don't want to arrest him. The Ripper has one more traitor yet to kill; and I will stop him. Did they come to you, sir, as a loyal Mason? Did they ask you to help and cover up the Prince's secret marriage?"

Gull: "That's how it started, yes."

Abberline: "And then you discovered the Prince had syphilis."

Gull: "He's going to die of it, Inspector. Would you like a tour of the syphilis wards?"

Abberline: "You're a physician, an Ordinary to the Queen, entrusted with the well-being of the heir to the throne. Only you had reason to believe that these unfortunates, these whores, these traitors destroyed your life's work."

Gull: "Below the skin of history are London's veins. These symbols... the miter... the pentacle star... even someone as ignorant and degenerate as you can sense that they course with energy and meaning. I am that meaning. I am that energy. [Scream and killing scene]. One day men will look back and say I gave birth to the Twentieth Century."

Although paragraphs could be written about it, the pentacle star, an Eastern Star symbol, is not generally accepted as a Masonic symbol: "[The five-pointed star] was a Pythagorean symbol, but is not mentioned in the Masonic ritual and seems never to have been a Masonic emblem. There was and is a Blazing Star in the center of the Mosaic Pavement, which is a different symbol." (Coil’s Masonic Encyclopedia (1961), s.v. “Five-Pointed Star; Pentalpha”). Added to this is the fact that the locations of the Whitechapel murders were not in the form of a five-pointed star.

Jurisdictional details may differ, but in most the method of execution of the traitors in the Masonic ritual is not completely specified, except that in most depictions it is assumed they were beheaded. As all Freemasons know, symbolic references to throats being cut and disembowelments appear elsewhere in the ritual.

The movie's reference to the Jews derives from a chalk graffiti found at the scene of one of the murders saying (with variations), "The Juwes [sic] are the men that will not be blamed for nothing." The movie and other conspiracy theories claim the misspelling in the message to be an illusion to the three ruffians who killed Hiram Abiff, Jubela, Jubelo and Jubelum. Masons do not refer to the ruffians as such and originally, until 1760, they were unnamed. The names of the ruffians were not used in English rituals at the time of the murders and there is no reason to believe Masons at the time knew them. It is more likely the note is nothing more than a misspelling and the connection was made later, after the names were known. (The Three Ruffians, Grand Lodge of British Columbia

Finally, there is the issue of Dr. Gull himself. In the movie, Gull is portrayed by Ian Holm, who was, at the time of filming, 68 years old and in good health. His character is spry enough to carry out the brutal and physical murders. The five murders attributed to the Ripper happened between August and November, 1888, when Gull was 72. The previous year, Dr. Gull's health began to decline. He suffered a series of strokes and a heart attack that, by the time of the murders, had rendered him unable to commit the crimes. The London Times reported Gull's first stroke paralyzed him and he was never able to resume his practice.

Even the movie's fictional Gull makes an issue of the physical nature of the murders when Abberdine suggests the Prince could be the murderer, "The disease [syphilis] is far enough along that the Prince's hands tremble uncontrollably. He's very weak; and the killings of Jack the Ripper require sure hands and considerable vigor." The stricken Gull, at the time, did not have "considerable vigor."

At the end of the movie, the exposed Gull disavows the Freemasons, a fact that may be lost on viewers and conspiracy theorists alike, "I have no peers present here... No man among you is fit to judge the mighty art that I have wrought. Your rituals are empty oaths you neither understand nor live by. The Great Architect speaks to me. He is the balance where my deeds are weighed and judged... not you."

Dr. Gull died of a final stroke January 29, 1890. The final Whitechapel murder occurred after his death, although authorities did not conclusively attribute it to Jack the Ripper. Whether or not that final killing was his or not, the facts are certain that Gull was not Jack the Ripper, nor were the murders some sort of Masonic ritual.

One final thing: there is not a shred of evidence that Dr. William Gull was a Freemason.

For the Whence Came You podcast, this is Steve Harrison with the Masonic Minute.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Council of Grand Masters Badge

Le Chevalier d'Eon de Beaumont

The James Bond of his time, d'Éon de Beaumont, was a French knight, a spy in the elite secret espionage force of King Louis XV and a swashbuckling swordsman. A member of La Lodge de l'Immortalite 376, London, he was also a member of the Royal Court, a captain of dragoons wounded in the Seven Years War, and a recipient of the coveted Order of Saint-Louis for service to France; and King Louis XVI, assuming the throne upon the death of his grandfather, ordered de Beaumont to wear a dress for the rest of his life!

You heard that right. The bizarre story of le Chevalier d'Éon de Beaumont puzzled his contemporaries and has caused historians since to speculate about the motives behind his quirky personality. It all started when Louis XV decided to stick his nose into Russian affairs. He needed a spy...

Fair-featured, one reason de Beaumont enjoyed stunning success as a spy was his ability to disguise himself as a woman and move about unnoticed. He was so convincing in this role that he conspired with Russia's Empress Elizabeth to pass himself off as her maid of honor.

After de Beaumont's mission in Russia, King Louis XV developed secret plans to invade England. He shared those plans with de Beaumont and sent him there to spy on the English and gather information that would facilitate the impending conflict. De Beaumont was so successful Louis XV appointed him Minister Plenipotentiary — the most powerful French citizen in England. De Beaumont enjoyed his elevated status in England until the King abandoned his plan to invade England and appointed the Count of Guerchy as that country's French ambassador. In the same action, the King demoted de Beaumont, betraying his years of loyalty. De Beaumont, in return, used secret French documents to discredit Guerchy and have him convicted of corruption.

De Beaumont shrewdly held back the documents which exposed the plans King Louis XV had devised to invade England. Not only did this in all likelihood save his life, but it also gave him an enormous amount of leverage in his future negotiations with the French government; and negotiate he did, obtaining a generous pension and keeping his job as a spy, although the King refused to let him return to France.

Continuing to live in England, de Beaumont began to dress openly as a woman and rumors circulated that he actually was a female. He refused to cooperate with requests to prove his sex.

Homesick, de Beaumont negotiated his return to France by agreeing to relinquish the damning documents detailing France's previous intention to invade England. He also demanded the French Government officially recognize him as a woman. King Louis XVI agreed but, in return, ordered him to dress as a female for the remainder of his life. De Beaumont consented and astonishingly, King Louis XVI paid for his wardrobe. His Masonic records are lost but from that point it is certain de Beaumont never entered a Masonic Lodge again.

Speculation raged over his true gender. De Beaumont continued to insist he was a female, but never offered proof. He lived another 33 years after returning to France — all the while claiming to be a woman. He lost his pension and died penniless in London in 1810. Finally, an autopsy ended speculation about his gender when it determined conclusively that le Chevalier d'Éon de Beaumont was, anatomically at least, a male.

A Charles Jean Robineau painting of a match between d'Eon de Beaumont and Saint George circa 1789.

Monday, January 29, 2018

The Farmer

Rummaging through some papers last week I found a note scrawled in longhand describing a Brother's Masonic journey. This account started with the mundane tale of a farmer who wanted to become a Freemason. This simple story was informally jotted down in 1952 as a recollection of events that took place long before, shortly after the turn of the century. I thought it was worth sharing with you. Here is that farmer's Masonic tale:

One day I was in the barn lot at home on the farm discussing things with a cousin of my mother. I told him I was interested in Masonry and hoped to become a Mason someday. This was in November, 1908.

A short time after I received an application for membership. I signed it and was elected for initiation, which happened on February 9th 1909. I studied faithfully and was given the third degree on March 9th 1909.

Shortly after receiving the third degree the grand lecturer, came to town to hold a lodge of instruction. I attended all three days and then accompanied brother to other towns for more instruction, becoming proficient in all three degrees.

I was elected Junior Warden in 1910. In 1911, I sent a petition to The Grand Master asking for the establishment of a Masonic lodge near my home. A lodge under dispensation was set up with myself as Master, under dispensation, In the spring of 1911. At the fall meeting of the Grand Lodge the new lodge was granted a charter. I was elected Master of the lodge. It was a very active organization and continued to grow. I became Master a second time when the lodge was 4 years old — and then secretary.

World War I came along and I went to France. The lodge hall burned down, destroying all the records. But the lodge continued to grow.

When I returned from overseas after World War I, I took an active interest in Masonic Affairs in the whole country. When the District Deputy died I was appointed to the place in 1924. I entered politics in 1922 and was elected again in 1926 after a defeat in 1924.

In 1930, William R. Gentry was elected Grand Master of Mason's of Missouri. He appointed me to the Grand Lodge line and in 1940, I was elected Grand Master of Masons of the Grand Lodge of Missouri.

In the study of the Masonic lectures and the reading of the biblical references I was impressed with the moral code taught by the lectures and the Bible.

I always tried to live and act by this moral code.

Harry S. Truman, the White House, Washington DC, December 31, 1952

We Are All Scientists

You are a scientist. I am a scientist. In fact, I have a framed piece of paper from a major university on my office wall declaring I am a scientist. But that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about the fact that I am a Freemason. Have you ever considered that as Freemasons we are all scientists? You are, indeed, a scientist. Welcome to the club.

Consider the Winding Staircase. The closer you get to the top, the closer you get to the natural sciences and their tools. Logic: Science cannot survive without logic. Arithmetic: mathematics is the basis of many branches of science. It is the language of the study of the universe. Geometry: the root of our craft upon which our skills are developed and based. Astronomy: the fabric of the universe and the science which reveals its grandeur.

You are a spiritual individual. I am a spiritual individual. And just as before, I'm talking about the fact we are Freemasons. We were asked in whom we put our trust. And our answers revealed our spirituality.

You may have heard there is some sort of conflict between spirituality or, if you will, religion and science. Well, it can't exist within the hearts of millions of Freemasons… Through symbolism, observation and study we understand they are related and compliment each other.

I am intrigued by the experience of Dr Eben Alexander, a neurosurgeon, no less, who admitted to being a marginal, skeptical Christian. He clinically died of meningitis and was revived into a comatose state. Doctors claim near-death experiences are a function of the dying brain. But Dr. Alexander was measured to have no brain activity at all and yet had an amazing journey through what he calls "the realms of heaven." The journey couldn't have been a hallucination in his brain since it was completely inactive. After a week, he returned to consciousness and told his story in his book, Map of Heaven.

In it, as he vividly describes heaven, he says, "Nothing is isolated in Heaven... Nothing is disconnected. Everything is one… Everything is connected to everything else.

He is almost describing a phenomenon scientists call "quantum entanglement," whereby quantum particles that have had previous interaction will continue to instantly interact no matter the distance between them, even if it is millions of light years. They are connected. They are one. An interaction on one will be sensed by the other… instantly. This is no pipe dream. This has been observed and proven by experiment. Einstein himself couldn't explain it, calling it "spooky action at a distance." If Einstein couldn't explain it, I'm sure none of us can.

There is so much we don't know that rests on the threshold of the physical universe and heaven. A conflict between science and spirituality? Not at all. By our science we may curiously trace nature through her various windings to her most concealed recesses. By it, we discover the wisdom, power and goodness of the Grand Architect of the Universe and view with delight the proportions which connect this vast machine.