Green Frog Cafe

"Living in nature, listening to the rain, Green Frog Cafe, that's where I want to be. The hemlocks are green, the creek is tricklin, there's geese on the pond, the forest sighs. Green Frog Cafe that's where I want to be, home of my soul, spirit of the mountains." Ruminations of Rhona McMahan

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Masonic Values Handed Down to Me

It has become fashionable in recent years to study the values of freemasonry which were a strong influence on many of the founding fathers of the Unites States, and which have been shared by many people in the UK and Europe. When I was in the Mirabai Bookstore in Woodstock several days ago I was struck by how many books are on the shelves which purport to impart the secrets and the wisdom of the masons. I have never been a member of a Masonic organization, and actually resisted some suggestions from family members that I should join up when I was in my teens. My resistance to masonry was part of my youthful rebellion, subtle as it was. In later years I came to regret that I never took the opportunity when I had it. I have been surprised at the attention given to masonry since the publication of the “da Vinci Code”, as I always saw the Masonic organizations I knew as a child growing up in a Western Pennsylvania steel town as a variety of social club which sometimes held interesting events. My favorites were the Easter Breakfast held by the Beaver Valley Commandery of the Knights Templar in Beaver Falls, the Childrens Christmas Party held by the Blue Lodge in Aliquippa, The Shrine Circus at the Syria Mosque in Pittsburgh, and best of all, the Shriners Picnic at Kennywood Amusement Park near Pittsburgh in August every year. I liked the Shriner’s events because I thought their fezes were neat, and I got to wear my father’s sometimes. The Knights Templar swords carried by my father and grandfather and two uncles were fascinating, as were the plumed hats they wore. I took it as a matter of course that the men in the family liked to dress up in their knight’s regalia and go off to meetings of the commandery, consistory, and grand encampment at frequent intervals.

The women in the family were masons also. My mother, grandmother, and aunts were all in the Eastern Star, and my Grandmother and aunt were involved in the Ladies Auxiliary of the Commandery. They often participated as the ladies of their Sir Knight husbands as they attended various events. Dinner table conversation at Christmastime usually included a good deal of commentary about who was 32nd degree and who was 33rd degree, and what the difference was between York Rite and Scottish Rite.

My father, Paul Martin Moore, dropped out of the Knights Templar in the late 1940’s because of his heart condition and the strain of wearing the heavy uniform. His brother, James Harvey McGeorge Moore, continued on through the line of state offices to become Grand Commander of Pennsylvania, and my great uncle Paul Miller Moore, made it all through the line to become Grand Commander of the Grand Encampment of Knights Templar of the United States.

Even in my generation there was Masonic involvement. My sister and my two close cousins were all active in the Rainbow Girls as teenagers, but I never became involved in any of the Masonic related activities. Jackie Gleason and Art Carney going of to meetings on “The Raccoons” in episodes of the “Honeymooners” was about the way I viewed the whole proposition. I certainly never had an inkling that the masons had anything at all to do with “hermetic philosophy,” or that Friday the 13th is viewed as unlucky in our culture because that was the day Pope Clement the 4th and the King Philip the Fair of France initiated the campaign to eradicate the Knights Templar in 1307. I never knew that there was a vast “Templar National Treasure”, that the Jolly Roger flown by pirates of the Caribbean is derived from the Templar flag, or that legends of a vast treasure of the Templars in Nova Scotia continue to this day. I was aware that Templars never refuse help to the son of the widow, but I thought this was just due to the generosity of my uncles, not because it was a Templar tradition related to legends of Hiram Abiff. I never dreamed that Baphomet would be a key figure in Masonic traditions.

What I did get from my Masonic family was a day to day education in applying Masonic values. I list them here from memory: support spirituality and religion, help people in need, be honest, work hard, be sensibly frugal, take people for who they are, use a practical approach to problems, be generous, be pragmatic, be an active citizen, pay your bills, keep up your family ties, be active in civic associations, strive for success, be supportive of parents and children, and be politically realistic on the conservative side.

Today I am touched to find that my father, who died in 1951, is still listed online as a Past Master of the Blue Lodge, and that my great uncle Paul has a DeMolay Chapter in Butler Pennsylvania named for him. I will never be a mason, although I have been reading a good deal about them recently, and find them highly interesting at this late date in my life. Maybe my own son, or my grandson will carry on the tradition someday. Certainly I have a great deal more respect for masonry than I did as a youth, and I observe the contemporary renaissance of the craft with great interest.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Yemanja and Marilyn

I was a party to a legal proceeding in the Town Court of Catskill last Thursday as a result of my role as Treasurer of the Maetreum of Cybele, Magna Mater, Inc. and as a legal resident of Central House in Palenville. The MCMM Inc. owns Central House, which serves as the physical base for the “church” of which the corporation is the legally registered temporal entity. All of the residents of Central House had been served with an eviction notice by one of the Green Country Deputy Sheriff’s 10 days earlier, and had spent the subsequent period in an intense activity of collecting the legal documents necessary to fight the eviction. The eviction action had been brought by the person who had previously been the Battakes of the church (and one of the founders) as well as the first president of the corporation which owned the residential facility. This person had been replaced as president of the corporation by a special emergency meeting of the Board of the church on January 20, 2007, then replaced as Battakes and given the honor of being Battakes Emeritus at the regular annual meeting of the church on March 24, 2007, and then removed from church membership at a special extraordinary meeting of the Church Board on May 31, 2007. The three aforementioned actions of the Church Board had been taken very reluctantly, after many attempts at compromise and reconciliation, and with due deliberation by the Board. (I have used commonly accepted terms for some of the church bodies mentioned above instead of the true nomenclature of the MCMM in order to facilitate understanding of non-members on the off chance that anyone ever reads this blog.)

The Catskill Town Court is a special court designed to resolve relatively simple legal issues without forcing them into the clogged channels of the higher levels of the court system. One of the issues commonly addressed by the Town Court is landlord tenant disputes.

All of the above explanation is merely to set the stage for a description of the emotionally charged yet anti-climactic scene which ensued in the Catskill Town Court.

The four of us affected by the eviction notice, plus a friend who had formerly been evicted, met with our lawyer 45 minutes before court at the Muddy Cup coffee house on Main Street Catskill, across from the Town Offices. The atmosphere among us was tense, as most of us had never been through anything like this before. At around 2:10 someone said “she just drove past,” meaning the person bringing the eviction action against us.

At 3:25 we walked across the street to the courtroom, following docilely behind our lawyer like kindergartners on a class outing. As we walked into court we passed alongside our former friend, sister, Battakes, and President, sitting in the second or third row of folding chairs of the theater-type setup of the courtroom. The judge and the clerks were not yet present. Sitting beside our opponent, and in solidarity with her, was Marilyn, a friend of mine since early 1995. Marilyn is a young woman in her late 20’s, who arrived at my home in Brooklyn at the age of 18 or 19, and “came out” over the next two or three years before moving on to other places. I was not surprised to see Marilyn there, and a part of me was even glad to see her there. She did not look toward me as I walked past.

Marilyn is a person with a spiritual vocation. Over the years I have learned a great deal from her, and at times have been inspired by her. During the period when she was first living in my home she was experimenting with spirituality oriented toward Santeria, the syncretic admixture of Roman Catholicism and traditional African and Native American spirituality. Our house used to be replete with little shrines, images and altars set up by Marilyn in the course of her religious practice.

My first experience of being in the Albany Capitol Region was when I drove with Marilyn to see her mother and stepfather to acclimatize them to the fact that Marilyn had come out of her shell and was an independent woman. In the course of that visit Marilyn and I stayed overnight in the home of one of her grandmothers, and I got a glimpse through her grandmother’s eyes of the person she had been as she grew up.

Sometime around the turn of the century, after Marilyn had been living elsewhere for some years, she called me to say that she was homeless, and wanted my advice on where to buy a good backpack in which to keep her things while she lived in the New York subway system. At first I recommended Paragon Sporting Goods, and then I realized what I was saying, and invited her to come back to Transy House, where I have always considered her to be one of the core spirits even if not in residence. She stayed for several months, and then moved on again.

On one of her visits she took all the artifacts which I had placed on my altar in the dining room and carefully cleaned then before replacing them in proper order. It made me feel good that she respected the altar assembled by me, when no one else in the house ever took it seriously. This altar was dedicated to the Goddess in her form as Yemanja, Queen of the Seas. My first exposure to Yemanja had been on a visit to Santos, Brazil, with Amelia Stefani, a Brazilian friend, in 1967. Amelia led me through the crowds of believers on the Santos beach at midnight on the “Festival de Yemanja”, looking out at the beautiful image of the Goddess rocking gently in a small boat about 100 meters offshore, illuminated by the lights of the bars and cafes ringing the beach. In Brazil Yemanja is respected by all, and especially the maids and hookers and travestis and all the women living a precarious life on the edge. As I have gradually become more open to pagan spirituality over the years since that time it has been through focus on Yemanja that I have found my point of access to a sense of contact with the magical realm and spirit worlds. Learning from Marilyn about Santeria, the more Hispanic oriented versions of Candomble and Macumba, I felt that I gained in understanding and strength.

Many of us walking into the courtroom in Catskill were very sad that our community had been riven, and friends had been pitted against friends. The person who had brought the eviction action against us would have been alone in court had Marilyn not been there beside her. I felt a sense of appreciation for Marilyn that she was there, even in support of a person who felt aggrieved by me, and who was in opposition to me and the people with me as well as to the broader “church” which we represented.

When the judge came out he called the person who had brought the eviction action up to the bench along with the attorney who was representing our church and the people directly being evicted. The judge dismissed the petition for eviction “without prejudice”, saying that it had not been properly notarized. It could be reintroduced in the same court when revised. He mentioned that the issue being brought were not, strictly speaking, landlord-tenant issues. He also dismissed “without prejudice” the counter petitions presented by our attorney, saying that he felt that the issues involved were not of the type which should be dealt with in the Town Court.

Marilyn and our opponent left the courtroom immediately, followed soon afterward by our contingent. The blackness of conflict, fear, and uncertainty continues.

I hope I shall have the opportunity someday to talk again with Marilyn. I miss her, and as always, respect her right and duty to herself to stand up for what she believes.