Monthly Archives: June 2016

Seven Surprising Things I Wish I Knew Before Joining the Freemasons

I joined Freemasonry in 2007. I hadn’t ever considered it before joining the Johannite Church, but the Church has a historical connection to the Masons, so it seemed like a good thing to do. There’s no official relationship between the Church and Freemasonry today, but the original public incarnation of the Church was founded by Freemasons in the early 1800s. I’ve learned a lot in Masonry, and I don’t regret joining, but there are a few things I wish I knew before I joined. Of course, your mileage may vary, as each jurisdiction, and indeed, each lodge is different.

1) It’s Not Really So Esoteric

I expected to join the fraternity and immediately be told the secrets of the Perennial Philosophy that has been taught to all Master Masons since King Solomon (not to mention the location of the secret treasure under Mount Rushmore we were charged with protecting). Sooooo… Not so much. In fact, it’s actually pretty hard to get any secrets out of the brothers in Masonry. It’s not really that there are no secrets, see my earlier post about that, it’s just that not too many Masons really care about that part of the Craft. With Masonry’s membership problems and generally aging population, I’ve found that most of the members simply see Masonry as a night out of the house away from the missus, with a smattering of moral instruction if you’re feeling fancy. Want to talk alchemy, hermetics, kabbalah, or the magics? Take that crazytalk elsewhere sonny! We have baked chicken to cook.

Now, I’m heartened to see more lodges, specifically those with younger demographics, who talk more openly about the esoteric secrets buried with the Widow’s Son, and I hope this trend continues. In fact, I think it might be the thing that saves the fraternity.

2) It’s Not Really Taken That Seriously

This goes hand-in-hand with the previous point. Many Masons just don’t understand that Masonry is important on its own terms. These “social Masons,” for lack of a better term, think that the rituals and traditions of Masonry are simply something to be tolerated in exchange for the camaraderie that the fraternity provides. These are the guys you see snickering through the ritual drama of the third degree, or making sarcastic comments from the sidelines. If you believe, as I do, that initiation is Very Important™, then these social Masons will frustrate you.

3) No Girls Allowed

I’m not sure I’d say I’ve changed a lot since I joined the fraternity, but I’ve definitely changed my opinions about feminism. In that back then I didn’t really think about it at all, and now I’m firmly in that camp. On the one hand, I do think that people should be able to voluntarily associate with the people they want, but I have to wonder if (regular) Freemasonry provides a specific benefit that women don’t have access to. If you had asked me 150, or even 50 years ago I would have definitely said yes. The social networking and back-room dealing was absolutely a thing, but now I’m not sure it really plays as much of a role. The spiritual benefit can be replicated by a good 30 minutes of Googling, really, so that’s not a big deal. Would I join an organization today that excludes women? Probably not. This is a particularly tricky issue for me, and I honestly don’t know where I stand on it, but I think about it a lot.

4) Politics

Two things that are forbidden to discuss in a Masonic lodge are sectarian religion and politics. Of course that doesn’t mean there are no politics in Freemasonry. In fact, you’ll find factions and backstabbing and people being awful to each other for personal gain (such as there can be within the Craft) pretty much all the time. Institutions are made of people, after all, and some people are dicks.

5) People Think We’re a Bit Silly… or Evil

Non-Masons see us at parades, funerals, and public events in our aprons and gloves and silly hats and think we’re kinda ridiculous. Those are the good reactions. There are lots of strongly convicted religious people and conspiracy theorists who actively think we have malevolent motives. I can’t speak for all Masons, but Satan has never really come up in any of the meetings I’ve attended, and I wouldn’t know the first thing about how to run a shadow government. Maybe I’m just bad at Masonry?

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6) Riding the Goat

There’s no goat, but it’s a common trope to describe the hazing associated with Masonic initiations. I say associated because it’s very clear to me that hazing has absolutely no place in the solemn initiation rituals of our fraternity. In my jurisdiction, the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, we are very specifically told, before every third degree, that we shouldn’t be hazing the candidates. The fact that we are required by Masonic edict to read a statement like that every single time indicates that this has historically been a bit of a problem. Even to this day I hear Masons proudly telling stories about how hard they hit the candidates in their initiations. I’ve never seen it rise to the level of something that I might consider calling outright assault, but you have to ask yourself why these brothers think hitting people is so much fun.

7) You Get Out What You Put In

This is actually a plus, in my opinion. It would be great if Masonry, by its very nature, imparted the mysteries and moral teachings by beaming them directly into your brain, such is not the case. You have to do the work. Like anything that’s worth doing, it’s worth working hard to accomplish. You’ll find yourself better off if you get involved, learn the ritual, find out what it’s like to initiate somebody, read books on Masonry and the western mysteries. If you join and just attend meetings once a month, you won’t find what you were looking for.

What do you think? Are you a Mason? If so, what did you wish you knew? If you’re thinking about joining Masonry, what questions do you have? Post them in the comments!

Thanks to everyone who participated in my quick poll about this on Facebook. Turns out we all pretty much see things the same way.

Bad News Vlog

This was a pretty tough couple of days, with the shooting in Orlando and some bad news about the place where we record most of our shows. I just need to get some things off my chest in this vlog.

Ritual for Global Enlightenment:

Any opinions expressed in this vlog are not necessarily those of the Gnostic Wisdom Network, the Apostolic Johannite Church, or any other organization.

7 Weird Alchemical Practices You Can Try

Alchemy is known for its secrecy and coded language, but that doesn’t mean you can’t try some things yourself at home! (Don’t try most of this at home, some of it is actually really quite dangerous) If you’ve heard of alchemy, you probably think it’s all about turning lead into gold. It is, to some extent, but some people take that more literally than others. While it’s hard to know what the medieval and renaissance alchemists actually meant when they wrote their manifestos, contemporary alchemists tend to fall into two camps (generally, with some overlap): Practical, or laboratory alchemy, and inner alchemy. Both styles follow pretty much the same formula. Take a thing, separate the thing into its constituent components, purify those components, then recombine them into the more pure essence of the thing.

Practical alchemy is what most people think alchemy actually is. It’s an old bearded dude wearing a robe in a dark, hot basement, surrounded by glassware and furnaces. Practical alchemy is concerned with the operations of plants, minerals, and, in some cases, animals. The alchemist applies the above formula to, say, a plant or a mineral in order to “spiritualize” it. These purified elements can be used to make medicines and other supernatural potions with some astounding qualities. Also gold. Who couldn’t use a little more gold?

Inner alchemy, on the other hand, is concerned with the purification of the alchemist herself. This path is largely meditative and ritual, and those who practice it use the symbols of practical alchemy to focus their inner work. The lead of the mundane human is transformed into the gold of the divinized human.

All that being said, here are seven examples of alchemical practices that have been taught teacher to student for centuries. Your milage may vary, and some of these require lots of practice in order to understand the subtleties of the processes involved. I won’t go into too much detail, but suffice it to say that you can find these methods without too much trouble.

Plant Extracts and Tinctures

Probably the most basic of alchemical work, and it’s a pretty good place to start. You start with a plant of your choice, usually chosen for its medicinal properties or planetary correspondences. The plant is digested in water or alcohol for a time, then distilled, and, depending on the result you want, perform other actions on it until you have a plant extract that can be used for medicine or some other purpose.

The Plant Stone

The plant stone is the divinization of a plant, and represents the process of the Great Work in microcosm. The plant is separated by various means into its essential salt, sulphur, and mercury. These elements are individually cleansed and purified and then recombined to create the most perfect, most divine form of the substance.

The Homunculus

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A homunculus is a tiny person, either a physical person or a spirit, that you can create in your lab. It involves human semen and the uterus of a cow (or possibly cow manure). How you get the semen in there is up to you. Some say the homunculus can tell the future or find things for you. Useful things, but there isn’t a lot of documentation about them.

The Glow From a Glow Worm’s Tail

Alchemists made a lot of scientific discoveries, including the element phosphorus. A lot of them wrote about substances that produced light, and one way they explored this phenomena is by murdering thousands of innocent glow worms, cutting off their tails, distilling them and looking at the pretty glow for a few hours. Progress? Gotta break a few eggs I suppose.


Here’s what you came here for, turning something into something else. Mostly it’s turning lead into gold, but the same principles apply. It is said that an alchemist of sufficient skill could use their talents, the Philosopher’s Stone, vitriol, and other substances to break down a mineral and transmute it into a higher state. Many people today see this as a metaphor for internal spiritual work, and that’s a good use for it, but it would also be useful to have a little extra gold lying around.

The Panacea

The panacea is a cure-all substance that is said to be able to pretty much cure anything that ails you. This is a step beyond the plant elixirs described above, and is said to be related to the process by which the Philosopher’s Stone is created.

The Philosopher’s Stone

The Philosopher’s Stone is supposed to be one of, if not the ultimate end goal of alchemy. With it one is said to be able to perform all kinds of miraculous works. It grants immortality, can cure all illnesses, and simply touching it to lead will turn it to gold. It’s like the busy alchemist’s shorthand. If you can make yourself one of these you can pretty much be set for the rest of your preternaturally long life. Let me know if you do, and remember who told you about it!

You can find out more about alchemy at the appropriately named Alchemy Web Site: