Monday, June 23, 2008

We can't all be Wilmshurst

Yesterday I watched the first two parts of the John Adams miniseries produced by HBO earlier this year. While quite interesting, entertaining, visually stunning, and occasionally rousing (the patriotic indoctrination of the founding-fathers-as-demigods I received as a Massachusetts schoolchild remains surprisingly effective,) I realized that I would like to see the same production values applied to an adaptation of Freelon Starbird, a young adult novel told from the perspective of an 18 year old Philadelphian in the Continental Army during its hardships in 1776. I'm read about half of it so far, and I wish that I had been exposed to it as a kid; it paints a much more sobering picture of the complicated political climate in the colonies at the time, and how truly awful the conditions were.

The tale of the American Revolution has been mythologized to such an extent that it is very easy for us to forget how many colonists wanted nothing to do with any sort of rebellion, even if they weren't crazy about the whole taxation-without-representation business. This is portrayed to some extent in John Adams, but perhaps because we're so familiar with the cast of characters and the eventual outcome, it feels glossed over.

A few weeks ago I wrote about those 100 year-old "Masons these days don't study the ritual enough, they don't know what True Freemasonry is" quotes that often get trotted out as proof that Freemasonry is on a steady decline. I somewhat cheekily suggested that maybe all those quotes prove is that there have always been people who are never satisfied with anything. What I was really saying is that just as the uncomfortable or less interesting parts of the American Revolution often get glossed over, I think it quite likely that there were plenty of Masons 100 years ago who were just as dedicated to the Craft as Pike, Mackey, or Wilmshurst, but never saw what all the hullaballoo about esotericism was and never bothered to write books about what Masonry meant to them. Pike, Mackey, Wilmshurst, et al did, and have become canonized over the years; it has become difficult to separate what Freemasonry is from what they felt it was in their experience, in their times.

Again, I say this not to discount the idea that there may be deep esoteric meanings to the rituals, nor to discredit the work of these widely respected Masonic authors... just to point out that our Brothers didn't have Blogger in the 19th and early 20th century, so the perspective that got published is the one that has prevailed.


Masonic Traveler said...

Interesting you mention the Adam's series, I just watched the first two episodes this weekend myself. They were interesting, but I felt lulled in the drama of it.

As to the vigor of Masonic texts, I wonder if you could apply the credo "to victor goes the spoils?"

If no one talked about it, how can one assume their position towards it something? A brother in the Scottish Rite once said to me in every army, you have the warriors and the priests. The warriors tend to be the ones to carry the orders forward while the priests philosophize and talk about whats taking place. It just seems to be the order of things. If you find an intense passion about something, you tend to share it.

Perhaps passion is the guide.

A.C. said...

You're right, it's not fair of me to ascribe attitudes or behaviors to past Brethren without documentation.

"To the victor goes the spoils" makes me a little uncomfortable, though - a corollary to that statement is "history is always written by the victors."

A less speculative analogy I could use would be some of the old-time musicians I've played with around Massachusetts' Pioneer Valley. I've had the pleasure of playing at open sessions with some smoking hot fiddlers with bottomless repertoire and knowledge of dozens of old tunes. They've been playing for years, and clearly play a lot.

As talented and knowledgeable as they are, you won't find them on any record labels... but I don't see that as diminishing their dedication or passion for old-time music.

Masonic Traveler said...

My brother, you are so right, especially about the musicians. I think what we can see in that is the doing rather than the talking about doing.

Perhaps the "to the victors..." was a bit strong, what really was (is) there to win.

A.C. said...

Agreed, Brother! And I think that's what sometimes gets to me about Masonic discourse on the internet... Except for private communication among Brethren of a particular lodge or research society, it is by its very nature almost all talk. (And I'll be the first to admit, I have done plenty of talking over the past year!)

When the talk results in thought-provoking discussions like this, though, perhaps it does lead to doing if we apply our newly-gained insights to our local Lodges.