When I first came on the Masonic blog scene with The Burning Taper three years ago, writing about my experiences in my local lodge, many — perhaps most — of my Masonic readers couldn't or wouldn't believe the strange state of Freemasonry in Georgia.
Countless readers have written to me over the years, publicly or privately, saying "that's not my Freemasonry," or saying I must be making stuff up, because "Masonry is not like that." When I made blanket statements about Freemasonry, I was speaking of what I had personally experienced. Now someone else has verified some of the things I've been saying all along.
Brethren from my home lodge, Pickens Star Lodge No. 220, F&AM, of Jasper, Georgia "performed" their version of the Master Mason ritual at a "cave degree" in Tennessee recently. Over 250 Masons from 14 states, Canada and England were in attendance for a show that is sure to be talked about for years: The Three Stooges Degree.
Here's what a visiting brother from Indiana emailed to Bro. Chris Hodapp after witnessing Pickens Star's Master Mason ritual:
Hi, Chris,I've seen the performance several times — once as the Center of Attention — and each time I've thought to myself, "This can't be the way it's supposed to be!"
Back from the Cave Degree in TN... this was my third year, and it's generally been a wonderful time. This year left me with a really bad taste in my mouth.
In short, the Degree Team from Georgia put on the most banal, disgusting parody of the MM that I've seen in all my 26 years as a Mason. If I had been Raised with such tomfoolery, I'd never have set foot in a lodge again. Period.
If I were their GM, I'd jerk their Charter so fast, they'd find their butts spin-driven into the ground. But apparently, GA is a very different place than Indiana.... If (as it's reasonable to assume) a Degree Team invited to another Jurisdiction is putting on their most solemn, refined Work, GA insulted every Brother in attendance. I'd heard that GA was "a little rough" on their Candidates. I don't even want to think about how bad it would get, if they weren't on their "best behavior".
The Three Ruffians were literally transformed into the Three Stooges. "Nyuk, Nyuks,", noogies, head-slapping, eye-poking, pratfalling fools. (Jubelum was actually wearing a black, bowl-cut Moe wig, to make the slapstick all the clearer.)
If that wasn't bad enough, the Graveside Prayer turned into a 25-minute Sermon, calling Jesus down to Bless us, our Children, our Grandchildren... and damn the Unbelievers into the Fiery Pit for Eternity if they don't see Jesus (mentioned at least 25 times) as Lord and Master of all. I was half-expecting the guy to pull out a basket of snakes from under his Apron, and start handing them around.
It was so bad, that most of us who hadn't escaped beforehand were in slack-jawed shock by the end, and the cave emptied in record time.... I haven't begun to chip at the iceberg. IN and TN are fairly distinct in our Working... yet our Bro. down there was just as appalled as I was. Rewording the Obligation (to explain that "Clandestine" means "Prince Hall" in modern English) really riled me.
I'm sorry to have bothered you with this... but I don't know anyone who's Travelled as you have. Their disgusting, juvenile performance has left me a little wounded.... I've never seen anything so utterly Unmasonic as what was pulled on us last Saturday. I know it's not the norm... but have you ever seen anything similar?
Once, a month or two after I was Raised, I was even drafted into a minor role as a spear-carrier. I donned a shiny robe made of Halloween-costume material and a matching bellboy/flying monkey cap, and was roughly pushed to the appropriate mark at the head of the soon-to-be-raised brother.
I've seen the silly wigs and the tattered and frayed "Hulk" pants the Indiana brother mentioned, and grimaced at the nyuks and giggles from cast and sideliners. I always thought the costumes, wigs and beards looked like props from B-grade monster and Flash Gordon movies of the 1930s.
Especially disturbing are the laughs and catcalls as the man becoming a Master Mason meets the Three Ruffians and his fate. Giggles galore. For some reason, the larger the man, the funnier the crowd thinks it is.
The "loud and long" prayers to Jee-zus! have been discussed before.
I've also written before about how, at the end of the show, one of the brothers takes it upon himself to remind the New Brother what he has just learned. Indeed, he is told that he cannot sit in lodge or discuss Masonry with anyone from a "clandestine lodge, and the only clandestine lodges we know of are the black lodges."
Forget for a moment the oxymoron of "knowing of a clandestine ('unknown,' 'hidden') lodge." Instead, focus on what the New Brother, eager to take his place in a fraternity dedicated to the universal brotherhood of all mankind, is told: "You're not a brother to black Freemasons, and they are not brothers to you."
As I've said before, my first thought upon hearing this was, "Oh, shit! I've just joined the KKK!"
I've had other moments of wondering how many of my local brethren were Ku Klux Klan members, but that's fodder for another article, another time.
Here's the saddest part of all: My brothers at Pickens Star Lodge actually think the chuckles and Jesus-prayers are proper, that the ritual should be enacted exactly the way they do it, that this is the way Masonry is supposed to be. As odd as they act, they are sincere in their belief that Freemasonry the way they interpret it is what Freemasonry is and should be.
As I was told many times back when I was an active member of my lodge, "that's the way we do it!"
If you have not yet read about my adventures at Pickens Star Lodge, click on "Small Town Freemasonry 1: A Bucket of Rattlesnakes" (under "The Burning Taper Backstory" in the right-hand navbar) and read through Part 4 and beyond.
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