Sheffield, St. Andrews Day, November 30 2008
Dear colleagues and friends,
This newsletter comes with a slight delay, as the last month has been very busy, with a number of activities taking place and various initiatives being launched. First of all I should mention that we just returned from a very successful conference, “The Expression of Freemasonry”, arranged by Professor Malcolm Davies, the newly installed chair for research into freemasonry at The University of Leiden in The Netherlands. As we have numerous other events to report on, the conference will be treated in our next newsletter in December. We are also happy to announce that Working Paper No. 4 on freemasonry and the catholic church in Costa Rica by Ricardo Martínez Esquivel finally has been published on our website.
(1) Academic Society for Research into Freemasonry and [Fraternalism/Related Currents/Civil Society]
Over the past few years discussions have taken place among scholars in the field concerning the need to establish an organisation for the advancement of academic research into freemasonry and related topics. This later broadening and opening towards a wider perspective, within which freemasonry can be contextualised, can be branded in different ways and we have not yet exactly agreed upon a final name and definition for the proposed society. However, we are proud to announce that under the working-title of “ASRFF” we have now taken steps to establish such a society. Membership is open to individuals within the academic community and will include a reduced subscription fee to Journal for Research into Freemasonry and Fraternalism, the first edition of which will be published in May 2009. The draft constitution of the society and a subscription form can be downloaded from our website. At present the acting board members are : Prof. Dr. Malcolm Davies, Prof. Dr. Cécile Revauger, Dr. Henrik Bogdan and Dr. Andreas Önnerfors.
(2) Co-operation with Université de Nice Sophia-Antipolis/France
Following the positive relationship between the Centre de la Méditerranée Moderne et Contemporaine, at the university of Nice/France, and the CRFF we are happy to report back about past and forthcoming events and projects.
a) A dissertation on Dutch freemasonry in French exile around the French revolution, defended on 7th November in Nice
The director of the CRFF participated in the doctoral committee for a PhD-thesis submitted by Arille Chevalier (supervised by Professor Pierre-Yves Beaurepaire) , which is entitled “L’Exil des patriots Hollandais en France et la loge maçonnique ‘Les Vrais Bataves’ (1790-1795) à l’Orient de Dunkerque”. The thesis extensively covers the topic of Dutch exile, its political and historical background, context and networks in Dunkerque around the time of the French revolution. A particular focus is placedon the dynamic development of the “Les Vrais Bataves” lodge. This most remarkable work – granted with the highest degree by an unanimous committee and hopefully prepared for subsequent publication – provides many fascinating details, among which is an account of the perfectly intact correspondence on masonic issues between local lodges in northern France and the leadership of the Grand Orient in Paris, at a time when the nation was shaken by the violent events of the revolution. Furthermore, it emerged that anti-masonic feeling during the time of the revolution can also be ascribed to the fact that it was perceived to be a representative body of the Ancien Régime. This adds a level of complexity to the fact that in various conspiracy theories freemasonry has been held responsible for the revolution. Dr. Chevalier’s thesis is an all-too rare example of a carefully carried out case study.
b) Memorandum of Understanding under Negotiation
The directors of the CMMC and the CRFF signed a reciprocal agreement to work towards the establishment of a proper Memorandum of Understanding between their centres at the universities in Sheffield and Nice. This forms part of our strategy to actively strive towards deeper academic cooperation.
c) Participation in the CITERE project (“Circulations, Territoires et Réseaux en Europe de l’âge classique aux Lumières/Communicating Europe : Early Modern Circulations, Territories and Networks)”, funded by the French National Agency for Research (ANR).
We are also pleased to announce that the ANR French research council has positively assessed an application prepared in Nice for a project on the circulation of cultures and ideas in Europe during the eighteenth-century. This project is based upon the cooperation of 43 researchers from 9 countries working in 4 teams. The project will include the production of databases, cultural-geographical analyses of cultural exchange, conferences, workshops and traditional publications. Freemasonry is one of the topics treated as an example of early modern circulation and the director of the CRFF will be participate in this sub-project, where he will focus on the use of masonic certificates and masonic periodicals in the eighteenth-century. The entire project description can be downloaded from our website under HERA, follow the link to CITERE.
d) Conference on “Diffusion and Circulation of Masonic Practices in Europe and in the Mediterranean, 1720-1820” Nice/France, 2 and 3 July 2009
As a direct result of the successful application, outlined above, an academic conference will be organised next July in Nice. The Call for papers is published on our website in French and English and can be found in the News and Events sub-section, under “Conferences”.
(3) Report from the tenth annual Canonbury Masonic Research Centre conference by Dr. Robert Collis
The tenth annual Canonbury Masonic Research Centre International Conference, which took place in London between 25th and 26th October, attracted a fascinating range of keynote speakers. The theme of this year’s conference was “Freemasonry & the Sciences: Natural & Supernatural”, and in the early morning session on Saturday the assembled audience was treated to two French perspectives. The opening paper was delivered by Dr. Roger Dachez, who outlined the intriguing links between mesmerism and Freemasonry in late eighteenth century Lyon. The second French speaker, Alain Bauer, began his talk by speaking about the complex relationship between French and English Freemasonry. He then went on to provide a French perspective on the role of Freemasonry and Newtonian science in the development of the Enlightenment during the eighteenth century.
The international flavour of the conference was continued by the third speaker, Susan Sommers from Pennsylvania, who provided a stimulating glimpse into the world of a little-known English physician, Ebenezer Sibly (1751-1799). Sibly’s career provides an excellent example of the manner in which a physician could combine Freemasonry with a complex mix of science, religion and esotericism.
The afternoon session began with a thought-provoking talk by Edi Bilimoria on scientific and esoteric perspectives of consciousness. In essence, Dr. Bilimoria argued that consciousness cannot simply be understood by relying on the laws of modern science. Thus, he championed the theosophical principles of Helena Blavatsky as a way to understand consciousness, alongside the continued embrace of modern science. John Gordon also spoke in this session about the need to elaborate a new “modern metaphysics”, in which psycho-spiritual forces and energies ought to be recognised and understood as forces that affect the whole of nature.
Sandwiched between these two speculative papers was one by the director of our centre, Andreas Önnerfors, who spoke about the images and usage of the concepts of “art” and “science” within Freemasonry during the eighteenth century. Of particular interest in this paper was his analysis of Ephraim Chambers’ Cyclopaedia of 1727, in which “art” and “science” were clearly demarcated and knowledge was presented in alphabetical order, rather than in thematic segments.
The morning session on Sunday began with a heated debate on the true philosophical foundations of Freemasonry. According to Fabio Venzi, the Grand Master of the Regular Grand Lodge of Italy, one should look to Renaissance Neo-Platonic thought when seeking the philosophical roots of Freemasonry. However, in his paper on the Lodge of the Nine Sisters, Charles Porset championed the ideals of the French Enlightenment- typified by Voltaire- when searching for the cornerstones of the Craft in France. The speaker’s panel (conducted in Italian, French and English) undoubtedly provided the most entertaining spectacle of the two-day conference, with both men passionately espousing their own diverging viewpoints.
After the drama and tension of the first two papers, James North calmly expounded his insightful thesis regarding the possibility of attaining a deeper understanding of Baconian science by studying his use of the so-called Initiative Method. This method involved inserting connected clues into written books, such as Bacon’s Instauratio Magna, in order to provide a more profound knowledge for those sufficiently skilled in decoding.
The afternoon session began with a paper by Andrew Prescott on William Rand, a seventeenth century physician. Dr. Prescott outlined a powerful case for Rand owning of the celebrated Cooke manuscript, dating from the fifteenth century, which contains some of the earliest myths associated with Freemasonry. Moreover, the speaker raised the question of how our understanding of the manuscript’s production at the Grand Lodge in London in 1721 would be affected if Rand did indeed own the Cooke manuscript in the seventeenth century?
The author Philippa Faulkes, who discussed the relationship between Freemasonry and Allesandro Cagliostro, delivered the penultimate paper. This well known eighteenth century figure was assessed in light of an alchemical tradition dating back to Hermes Trismegistus. The final paper, by Gerarld Riley, undertook an examination of the Second Degree of Craft Freemasonry, and sought to interpret it as a celebration of nature and science.
As someone experiencing the Canonbury Conference for the first time, I was generally impressed by the diversity and scope of papers presented. However, a degree of academic rigour was missing at times. The conference was admirably chaired by Andrew Prescott. Congratulations are also in order to Carole McGilvery, the event organiser, who put together such a wide-ranging and stimulating conference.
(4) A short report by Dr. Andreas Önnerfors on the “Temple legend” workshop, which took place on 1 November.
The workshop on “The Temple Legend: Links between Freemasonry, Theosophy and Anthroposophy”, organised by the Centre in Sheffield, attracted around forty participants. After a brief introduction by the Director, the first speaker, Dr. Isaac Lubelsky, treated the relationship between the Theosophical Society and the emergent Anthroposophical Society and the background behind their final split in 1913. To a certain extent this split was explained as a clash between the main representatives of the different streams, Annie Besant in England and Rudolf Steiner in Germany. Whereas Besant stressed the importance of Indian/Eastern religion, based upon the teachings of H P Blavatsky, Steiner looked into the roots of a new spirituality in the traditions of Western esotericism, such as Rosicrucianism. Dr. Andreas Önnerfors investigated the roots of the Temple legend, as described in Steiner’s lectures, and presented hitherto unknown material on the figure of Queen Sheba in Masonic tradition dating back to an oratorio performed in Dublin in 1753 and the first edition of Ahiman Rezon (1754). Other sources also exist that suggest the involvement of the queen. The French writer Nerval first fully developed a version of the temple legend in which Queen Sheba plays a significant roll. Heckethorn subsequently used this version in his seminal work Secret Societies of all Ages and Countries (1875), a German translation of which was found in Steiner’s library. Beyond the textual level Önnerfors argued that the structure of the temple legend suggests that it was written for performance and not entirely as a piece of literature. In this light it is easy to imagine Steiner’s lecture being the stepping stone upon which initiation rites were able to develop., . In his lecture, Nick Thomas, a former president of the British Anthroposophical Society, elaborated on the relationship between freemasonry and anthroposophy, especially in regard to initiation. The workshop was concluded by Dr. Helmut Zander, who analysed Steiner’s own writings in order to assess how freemasonry was transformed by anthroposophy. Furthermore, Dr. Zander suggested that the Johannesbau in Dornach (Switzerland) was built for the purpose of initiation. Unfortunately it was not possibile to arrange a panel discussion after the lectures. This was a shame as a great deal of interest was shown and there was a need to discuss the many perspectives of this topic in an open approach. A lively correspondence has ensued after the event that emphasizes the importance of creating zones for the free exchange of ideas between the strict academic treatment of these topics and other approaches. We believe this is the only way forward. The Centre looks forward to arranging or participating in similar events in the future.
(5) Various engagements undertaken by the Director
Besides other commitments, on 3 November the Director of the CRFF presented a talk on “Freemasonry and the Press in the Eighteenth century” at the meeting of St. Lawrence Lodge 2078 in Scunthorpe (see www.pgllincs.org/views.shtml). On November 14th the Director was invited to speak in Oslo at the 60th anniversary of the Board for Masonic Education and Research of the Norwegian Order of Freemasons. The topic of his lecture was “Challenges and Experiences within Masonic Research and Education in the 21st century”. On the following day he also attended the fifth anniversary of the Niels Treschow research lodge. On November 19 the Director addressed the Leeds Lodge of Installed Masters on “The Freemason’s Magazine 1793-1797: an invaluable Tool for Research into Freemasonry”.Furthermore, he spoke two days later at the Tapton Masonic Study Circle in Sheffield on “The First Degree in Swedish Freemasonry”. Conference participation in Leiden/The Hague 25-28 November will be covered in the next newsletter. Finally, the Director participated in the annual conference of the Cornerstone society in London on November 29 (see http://www.cornerstonesociety.com/).
(6) Review of the Scottish Key
Review of ”The Scottish Key” by Dorothe Sommer (shown in cooperation with the Showroom Cinema on 10th November)
After the fruitful discussion following our first film at the Showroom Cinema in Sheffield (Les Forces Occultes), we were looking forward to the screening of The Scottish Key, a documentary on the origins of freemasonry. The expert panel assembled for the discussion following the film heightened this sense of excitement. Fortunately, we benefited from the presence of Francois de Smet, the co-scriptwriter and producer of the film, who travelled from Brussels; Robert Cooper, the curator of the Grand Lodge of Scotland in Edinburgh and Andrew Prescott, the former director of the Centre, now working at the University of Lampeter. As expected, the event attracted a lot of freemasons but also a pleasingly large number of ‘ordinary mortals’.
Contrary to the suggestive title of the film, The Scottish Key does not take up a pro-Scottish, anti-English position but rather explores various theories regarding the origins of the craft, which provoke discussion and dispute up to the present day. The filmmakers interviewed a plethora of outstanding academics and masons during the course of the documentary, including John Hamill of the United Grand Lodge of England; Jessica Harland Jacobs of the University of Florida; David Stevenson, of the University of St Andrews, as well as the above-mentioned Robert Cooper and Andrew Prescott.
One of the theories brought forward in the documentary supports the claims that early operative lodges were transformed into speculative lodges over the course of time. Hence it was through this development that modern masonry came into being. Opposed to this theory are supporters of the argument that one should look for the origins of freemasonry in the medieval Order of the Knights Templar or among alchemists. The documentary elucidates all kinds of different points of view - their reasoning and all parties are granted some words. The Scottish Key is refreshingly balanced in its coverage of Freemasonry. It does not try to take sides or influence its audience but sticks quite strictly to its task as a documentary and, compared to all kinds of other so-called ‘documentaries’ on freemasonry, which purport to reveal the real truth and indulge in multitudinous conspiracy theories.
Francois de Smet, the panellist and co-scriptwriter, was born in 1977 and currently studies philosophy in Brussels. The Scottish Key is his first film and has already been screened in Belgium and France, where it attracted large audiences. However, taking into account freemasonry’s somewhat tarnished image among the English public, the inclement weather on the night and the fact that a competition event (Café Scientific) took place next door, it was gratifying to see so many people that clearly enjoyed the screening and the ensuing open forum discussion.
Robert Cooper displayed expertise on Anderson’s background, explaining that Anderson’s forefathers had already been freemasons and therefore had provided him with an upbringing in a ‘masonic’ household. At the same time, he admitted that he had not seen some material used for the film. This was the case, for example, with the excerpt from the St Mary Lodge, where records dating from 1599 were shown. Andrew Prescott explained his understanding of the constitutions, which allowed different interpretations and could be utilised by masons to discover, re-discover or even invent various traditions. Francois de Smet revealed, that many more hours of film reel had not been included in the final edit and could be ‘recycled’ for a director’s cut. More questions were raised – for example concerning the connection between music, masonry and the inclusion of songs into the constitutions- but it would take too much space to delve into every single one.
Finally, one aspect should still be mentioned: the allusion of the art of memory, which plays a traditionally important role in Masonic circles in regard to the building of Solomon’s Temple. As Prescott pointed out, the temple structure itself serves as a mnemonic symbol: its architecture and different areas can be used as pictures for whatever was to be remembered. Since oral tradition always played a significant role in masonry, the training of the mind naturally took place during lodge meetings and was also practised during the rituals. Until today English lodges still emphasise oral customs vis-à-vis the written word.
In conclusion, I would like to add that the cooperation between the Centre and the Showroom proved to be very rewarding. This was not only because of the opportunity to discuss the films with specialised panellists but also thanks to the conducive atmosphere after the events, when people intermingled at the cinema’s bar, new contacts were made and topics were further discussed.
The next series of films will start in February 2009 and take note – you will be surprised!
2008. november 30., vasárnap
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