Thursday, December 31, 2009

And the Greatest of These is Charity

I wrote an article for the Journal of the Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia, entitled, "And the Greatest of These is Charity."

This is a link to a PDF of the article:

http://dcgrandlodge.org/content/volume-26-number-4-2009#attachments
(please copy this and enter in your browser)

In this time of the year, our hearts and minds are turned to giving. Charity is more than this. It is the source, not the act of giving. Charity is at the heart of all of our religions and best intentions.

I have been corrected on two points: I made an incorrect citation of a passage from the Q'uran, and I misstated that the words were from the Prophet. The words in the Q'uran are from God, conveyed by the Prophet. My apologies for these mistakes.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Also Civilization

Masonry is, at its heart, the mark of civilization. It requires planning, vision, technology and manpower. Groups of people that rely on hunting and gathering, or basic agriculture, seldom have the manpower to spare for projects that take a long time, or don't have a plainly pragmatic purpose. From the classical point of view, religion is practical. Religion informs and insures planting, hunting and life successes. Holy places, therefore, may be viewed as having a practical societal application, beyond social and bonding, which are also important to human survival, and may be served by cultic practices and places.

There are many examples of holy places around the world. Some are more obvious than others, and some have deliberately been efaced by the successors of their particular cult. Exemplifying this are the "high places," spoken of in the Old Testament of the Bible. These religious centers were in competition with the center at Jerusalem, ie the Temple. The Jerusalem priesthood won out in the end, and these centers were destroyed, leaving little or no evidence of their being.

I have chosen to discuss one of the most obvious masonic structures on Earth, and as a consequence of its celebrity, one of the least explored. Stonehenge.

Of course there have been many archeological investigations of this massive structure, begining, perhaps with the Romans, who left markings of their passage carved into the stones. Greek historians wrote about it, and it has been excavated repeatedly up to our day.



Why do I chose this so obvious monument? Because of its implications as a symbol of Masonry in Civilization. The symbols of the structure alone are well known to the Craft, and shan't be discussed at this point, but in the most general terms, I want to look at one symbol, and the overall implication of the monument.



In the first picture, above, you see the first structure of Stonehenge: the henge itself. A henge is a ditch and mound. It forms a false horizon along which an observer located at a Point Within The Circle, may make observations of celestial events, such as sunsets and sunrises, or the rising, setting and travels of other heavenly bodies against a fixed and level horizon. The ditch may be filled with water, and provide another point of view for observation by looking at the reflections of these bodies in the circle of water.

In the second picture, you see "The Long Man of Wilmington," a figure carved through the turf into the underlying chalk. You may notice that he is holding two staves, or columns. In our Craft, the significance of the point in a circle, and the two columns are commonly placed together.

Stonehenge memorializes the two primary solar events of the year, the two solstices; the two columns are reflective of these events as well, as are the saints' days of the Saints John.

So why am I looking at this as a unique memorial? As a unique mark of civilization among people who have been classed as howling barbarians by some archeologists? Why do I see this as unique among paleolithic monuments of the world. Answering these questions is the point of this series of discussions.

Think about the following for our next session: technology, planning, logistics, diplomacy, and devotion.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Civilization?



This is a sort of rambling post. It's feeling my way into what I hope will be a worthwhile look at some of the work of our operative forefathers. I have been looking at neolithic and paleolithic structures in Europe, Asia and Africa. Of course, they are awesome in appearance and stunning to contemplate the sheer labor that they required. Possibly the most stunning thing is that people realized that these structures would last forever.

Did they have a concept of forever? Was this one upsmanship on the part of the rulers, or was it truly a monument to eternity?

Stonehenge is the most famous of these structures, probably. It took generations to build. The circle of small white dots that surround the giant stone structure mirror a cycle of lunar eclipses that alone took at least three generations of observation. Probably more, just to notice the pattern.



I've entitled this post "Civilization?" to ask the question what constitutes civilization. We look at the monumental masonry of Egypt and the Sudan, and we accept them without much of a shock because these were "civilizations." They had lots of labor available and leaders and mathmeticians and priests to encourage, or require that these be built. They paid the laborers with salaries, room and board; good medical care. We look with a bit more surprise at the castles and buildings of Great Zimbabwe, because here we don't have what the west would call a "civilization" on the scale of Egypt. Of course this is ridiculous, because clearly these monuments are sufficient record of a great and advanced civilization. Or are they? That's the theme of this entry and some more to come.

In the case of Stonehenge, the builders of this would be, by our standards, howling barbarians, with the most primitive social structure: hunter/gatherers, possibly nomadic, certainly ruled by strength, not democracy. Or were they? This building required vast astronomical, engineering and masonic knowledge. It required a sense of eternity.

Eternity, because the place is unneccesary. The giant stones, imported from long distances were not needed for any practical purpose. There is evidence of less permanent sites that served similar purposes with similar technology. Sites build of wood, like "Woodhenge." that show only the stubs of the standing logs that remain in the earth.

This was a society that was short on wealth. People had to hunt for food, clothing and shelter. If you didn't produce, you died. And yet they fed, clothed and housed several generations of workers, scientists and priests who were producing only this immense structure. This is evidence that this society placed value on other than mundane things.

An argument can be made that there was a practical purpose for such a structure as stonehenge: agricultural, religious, political. It is generally understood that Stonehenge is an observatory as well as a temple. And yet, a far less complex structure would have served as well, and did in many other places. Was this, then the ego of some forgotten ruler, a British Ramses, memorializing himself with a lasting structure? Hardly likely. No one would remember who built it withing a few generations. No one does.

No, this is a memorial to the mind of man. It is conceived and executed as a building unto eternity. It brings together geometry and hard real nuts and bolts building. Or rather big, heavy stone building. Stones harder than than the tools available to work them. Stones that required marine engineering, masonry, and transportation. It requred logistics and vision.

I hope to expand upon this exploration of these monuments. Perhaps we can find other meanings and purposes for them to share with one another. Any references and ideas are welcome.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Frugality

Just a thought: for the sake of frugality? How many of us repair stuff? How many sew on new buttons, or stitch up torn pants? Can a TV even be fixed these days? Why can't a car run as well as a refrigerator compressor? How many of our missing brethren have we contacted in 2008 to invite them back to lodge, or even just to see how they're doing?

Not to dun anyone for dues, but for brotherly love?

What This Blog is About

This blog is the thoughts of a Freemason. It's not affiliated with any Masonic body, and doesn't speak for Freemasonry in any sense of the word. My purpose is to raise questions, not dictate answers. If you read this blog, please comment; please subscribe, so we can look for answers to these questions together.