Monday, April 23, 2012

Welsh Freemasonry

I came across this fascinating paper on the history of Freemasonry in Wales and I thought that it was very interesting. I have been trying to learn more about the Welsh culture and language, as it is the land of my forefathers. If you are having trouble pronouncing Iolo Morganwg's name, it is pronounced "'jolo mor'ganug."

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Angelo Soliman: A Famous Mason Meets a Ghastly End

I recently gave an LEO presentation at Red Wing Lodge #8 on Angelo Soliman. I started the presentation by asking how many people had heard of Sir Isaac Newton, Prince Hall, and Benjamin Franklin. After each name that I announced I asked for a show of hands and everyone in attendance raised their hands after each named mentioned. Then I asked for a show of hands of anyone who had ever heard of Angelo Soliman. Not a hand went up, which was no surprise to me, as I had not heard of him up until a couple weeks before my presentation. Who was Angelo Soliman and why, as Masons, should we know his story?

Angelo Soliman, was born Mmadi Make was born around 1721 in what would be today's northeastern Nigeria/Cameroon. He was a member of the Kanuri ethnic tribe and at about the age of 7, was taken as a slave to Marseilles, and later taken to a house in Messina where his education was oversaw by a marchioness. He chose his name out of love of another servant girl, Angelina. In 1734 he was given as a gift to Prince Georg Christian, Furst von Lobkowitz, the imperial governor of Sicily. He was the Prince's valet and travelling companion and once saved the Prince's life in the field of battle. After the death of the Prince he was transferred to the house of Joseph Wenzel I, Prince of Liechtenstein where he rose to the rank of chief servant and tutor to the Prince's son, Aloys I. During this time he was reported to have learned six different languages.

Soliman was considered by many in Vienna to be 'exotic' as he was from Africa and it is widely considered that he was the first African to have lived in Venice. Soliman was also an educated man and was a very skilled chess player who had beaten a chess-play-automat known as the 'Turk.' The 'Turk' was actually a very good chess player seated inside the automat. It was designed by Wolfgang von Kempelen and he would tour around Europe with his invention. Soliman was also a renowned Faro player and won a huge sum, at that time, of 20,000 guilders, or about 940 current U.S. dollars. He invested most of this in a cobalt mine but last it due to the mine's poor administrative management. Shortly after he married a widow of one of Napoleon's generals which angered Liechtenstein,which led to his dismissal. Soliman purchased a small garden home and devoted most of his time studying history and science. His only child, Jospepha, was born in 1772. Upon the death of Liechtenstein, his nephew rehired Soliman and he became to tutor to his son, which brought him an annual salary of 600 guilders.

Between 1781-1786, Soliman became a member of  the  "True Harmony" Masonic Lodge. The Lodge had many famous members such as Mozart and Haydn. Soliman rose to the level of  "Vice-Grand Master of Ceremony," what we would call the Worshipful Master in our modern-day Lodges. It was in this role that he initiated one of the biggest changes in the ritual of the Lodge, one that has reverberated down through the ages. Up until this time, the Lodge was often just a time for Brothers to get together to eat, drink, and be merry. So what did Soliman do to change all of this? He changed the ritual to allow the reading of scientific papers within the Lodge. This was a very risky thing at the time, as The Church could very easily label someone a heretic, or even worse. By implementing this change Soliman opened the door for many famous Masons to be able to speak and present ideas and theories without the fear of The Church finding out. The idea spread quickly throughout Europe and enhanced the reputation of Freemasonry being a society of intellectuals.

It was at this time that Soliman chose 'Massinissa' as his Masonic name, which alluded to the Numidic king of the same name that lived from 240-148 B.C., and was the leader of the new Numidic state, one that was made up of a culture of Carthaginian-Hellenistic roots.

Sadly, Soliman's final years were full of disappointment and tragedy and his 'exoticness' led to a ghastly ending that sounds like it could have come out of a horror novel. In 1796 his house was seized for unpaid debts and was forced to move back to the Liechtenstein Palais where, although he was retired, he was fully paid. On November 21, 1796, Soliman suffered a stroke and died of apoplexy near St. Stephen's cathedral.  His body was taken to his home and a death mask was prepared before his body was taken to the Faculty of Medicine at Vienna's old University. Here, in the facility's anatomical theater, his intestines were removed, his skin and skeleton saved, and the rest of his remains were buried in a cemetery on the outskirts of Vienna two days later.
 A famed sculptor by the name of Franz Thaller stretched Soliman's skin over a padded wooden model. The model was kept in a wooden chest that was displayed in the Imperial Library as part of it's natural history display. Here his remains resided for ten years before it was used in displays with stuffed wild animals and the stuffed body of a little African girl and the former African zookeeper of the Vienna Zoo. The bodies would be dressed in what was considered to be 'authentic' African garb ans displayed along with the stuffed African animals. In 1848, during a resistance of students and workers, his body was lost, along with most of the museum, when a misguided magazine engulfed the building in flames.

There have been stories and rumored that have existed that Soliman wanted his remains to be preserved for future generations and that his Masonic friends had convinced him to do so. This is very hard to believe as most of his Masonic friends were shocked when they discovered what had happened to his remains. The order must have come from Franz II, the same family that Soliman had served for years. Franz had reversed a lot of the policies of Joseph II, abolishing many of his enlightenment ideas. Also, as tradition hands down through the ages, Franz II had a perverse addiction to human flesh, not unlike the Nazi's who would later make book bindings, lampshades, etc., out of human skin.

 Soliman left a lasting legacy that is still being felt today. Aside from his initiating the reading of scientific papers in Lodge, he was also rumored to be the inspiration for Mozart's characters Monostatos, in the 'Golden Flute,' and Bassa Selim, in 'The Abduction from Seraglio.' He is also the inspiration for the character of disgraced servant boy in Robert Musil's novel, 'The Man Without Qualities,' written about the end of the Austrian monarchy. The Wien Museum featured an exhibit last year, entitled 'Soliman: An African in Venice' and it was very well received. I hope that even more is discovered about Soliman in the years to come!

If anyone would like to present a LEO presentation to their Lodge on Angelo Soliman, I do have a power-point presentation that I can e-mail to you.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Let's Start Things Off With A Doozy!

If anyone is reading this outside of the St. Paul/Minneapolis area , you may have never heard of a local group called Catholic Parents Online, or 'CPO.' I may even take a gamble and say that many people in the St. Paul/Minneapolis have never heard of them, either. The goal of CPO, in their words, is:

"To build a network of faithful, dynamic, and informed parents, students, and alumni, committed to working with Catholic schools, other programs of education and the community at large, to ensure the authentic teaching and protection of our Catholic Faith, and to address issues that undermine our Catholic Faith and Morals."

CPO has a television show that they show every Sunday night on the St. Michael Broadcasting's network of UHF channels, 16.1-16.5. Since my family decided to dump our satellite T.V. provider this past October in favor of a convertor box, I am able to pick these channels up if the weather is just right. Although I am not Catholic, I do enjoy watching the SMB channels. They play classic movies from time to time, and often showcase beautiful churches from around the world and have informative shows that highlight different Catholic topics from the Saints, politics, etc.

One Sunday night this past January, I was flipping through the channels (all 28 of them, if the weather is in my favor,) and I was surprised to see that CPO was tackling the topic of Freemasonry in a 3-part series. The host, Colleen Perfect, introduced her 'expert' as being a nurse! I sighed a bit and rolled my eyes. What did I expect from them? To have Christopher Hodapp or another Masonic scholar on? Of course not, but I did expect them to at least offer a scholar who was a historian or a scholar in the Catholic Church that had some merit. Then I could at least respect where their opinions were coming from because they might actually have some weight to them. I really perked up, though, when Mrs. Perfect also mentioned that her 'expert' owned a travel agency that took Catholic pilgrims to Our Lady of Guadalupe church in Mexico City, Mexico. Now I was really hooked!

I watched the first episode, which featured on the roll that Freemasonry had to play in the Mexican Revolution. Afterwards, along with help from W.B, Nick Johnson (,) there seemed to be some 'teeth' to her story, as some Mexican leaders used Freemasonry as a way to rise to power, and then do unspeakable acts to gain control of the country. But it was Part 2 that really got my attention as it focused on what Freemasons 'believed' and how they are a 'diabolical religion' and their number one goal is to 'destroy the Catholic church.' I forgot to mention that we also believe that 'Man Is God' and that the letter 'G' represents a certain part of the male body.

I am posting the link to this video at the end of this entry and I hope that you check it out. This episode inspired me so much that I ended up giving a LEO presentation on it that focused on how, if stories are told long enough and the facts are never challenged, that they eventually become fact. I used a common nursery rhyme that we all know that is based in fact, but had been tweaked just slightly, therefore causing it to take on a whole different meaning. Add to that the Leo Taxil Hoax, and it made for a very interesting presentation, indeed!

I would like to add that by posting this, I am not attacking the Catholic Church in any way. I think that something like this is relevant and I think that we have a right to know what our detractors are saying about us.

Please watch the video and feel free to leave comments!

Will Somebody Please Press The 'Reboot' Button?

This is my second attempt at writing a blog. My first attempt never got anywhere, but after talking to my good friend, W.B. Nick Johnson, who has been blogging succesfully for a few years now at, he encouraged me to give it another try, especially since I am now the Lodge Education Officer for Red Wing Lodge #8 (,) in Red Wing, MN.

I know that there are probabay hundreds, if not thousands, of blogs out there dedicated to Freemasonry, and probably just as many of them dedicated to spreading anti-Masonic ideas and views. While I profess that I am a 'rookie' when it comes to blogging, I am going to do my best to share ideas, links, topics, etc., that will, hopefully, make the reader think and generate discussion here and in your local Lodges.

I have been a Mason since I was 19. I petitioned Star in the East Lodge #33 in Owatonna, MN., while I was a senior at Owatonna Senior High School. Two of my teachers were Masons and were my first-line signers. Freemasonry existed in my family, but had skipped a few generations. While I was going through the Degrees, unbeknowst to me, my older brother Steven was also going through the Degrees in a Lodge in Maine. I ended up becoming Master when I was at the tender young age of 21. I enjoyed my stint, but I will be the first to admit I was not very good. Mad Jack from Grizzly Adams would have called me a 'greenhorn.' But after taking a few years off from Masonry due to getting married, moving, and finding a new job, I was able to find a new home in Red Wing Lodge #8, where I served a back-to-back term as Master a few years ago. This time I was more mature and ready for the responsibilities of the Master's Station.

I have always found the historical connection to Freemasonry to be fascinating, and while I do not have a huge interest in esoterics, I am finding myself liking the Ritual, more and more, each time I hear it done or participate in the Ritual myself. The beautiful thing about Freemasonry is that it provides a lot of different interests for everyone!

I promise to do my best to provide topics that we all will find interesting, and if we do tackle one that may be controversial, that we please keep it civil. I am not a huge believer in the gratuitous use of profanities and I hope that you all will respect that. As I always tell juvenile inmates where I work, "There are thousands of words in the English language to describe things. Why limit yourself to just two or three!"

Thanks again for signing on and I hope to be able to spread a little more of the Light that Freemasonry provides for the world!