Saturday, May 25, 2013

Down in a Hole

This post began as a continuation of my last, but as it became longer and longer I decided to make it into a post of its own.  I'd be grateful if any reader could help me out with the unanswered questions contained within, as well as adding their thoughts to the role of caverns and vaults in Masonic contexts.

Are Freemasons obsessed with Caves?

The Masonic Grand Lodge of Arizona meeting in the cave in the mine of the Copper Queen Consolidated Mining Co. at Bisbee, Arizona, Nov. 12th 1897 / A. Miller. 

In his introduction to James Shelby Downard's Carnivals of Life and Death, Adam Parfrey writes: "As seen in this book, Downard believes caves are fundamental to Masonic beliefs and ritualism, part of the secret history of the United States."  Parfrey illustrates his text with the above photo of the Grand Lodge of Arizona, which can be obtained from the Library of Congress website.

As Albert Mackey states in An Encyclopedia of Freemasonry:  "In the ceremonies of Freemasonry, we find the cavern or vault in what is called the Cryptic Freemasonry of the American Rite, and also in the advanced Degrees of the French and Scottish Rites, in which it is a symbol of the darkness of ignorance and crime impenetrable to the light of truth."

The Masonic symbolism as Mackey sees it, then, is essentially that of Plato's Allegory of the Cave.

A.E. Waite's Encyclopedia has a slightly different take:  "We come to see that the Cryptic Grades, the Royal Arch of Enoch and so forth are not modern inventions in respect of their traditional histories.  The common basis of all is of course the literal existence of subterranean vaulted chambers beneath the site of the Temple."  Ultimately, "our secret vaults are like concealed treasures [lying] beneath temples not built with hands" containing the ""Ark of our salvation" [which] bears the true Mason to Eternal Mansions and the Everlasting Presence."

Nothing untoward in either of these definitions, contrary to Downard and Parfrey suggest.

Parfrey, also mentions the underground vault of the York Rite in his handsome book Ritual America, as well as (presumably under the influence of Downard) the importance of caves to Masonry in general.  To illustrate, he reproduces the very same picture of the Arizona cave meeting used in his intro to Carnivals.  In a second photograph, without any commentary, one can discern "Volcano Lodge" embroidered on a banner.  Sadly, the patchy text is pretty much as it is with the rest of the book; it's choc-a-bloc full of beautiful images but rarely provides enough context to properly understand what we're looking at.  It's clearly organized to be sensationalist and panders to the most negative views of Freemasonry out there, but having said that, Freemasons themselves have produced many of these unflattering, silly or sometimes sinister images.  It is these images that make Ritual America, subtitled A Visual Guide, a book worth having, with the caveat that one has to look elsewhere for a more nuanced history of the Craft.

Thinking that if caves are so important to Freemasonry, there must be other examples than two photos, one of which Parfrey uses in two books, I did some Googling and came up with a few more examples of Lodges using caves as meeting places or with other Masonic connections:

Zedekiah's Cave
The cave opening [to Zedekiah's Cave] is beneath the north wall of the Old City of Jerusalem; close to the Damascus Gate. From the entrance, the main path leads south for nearly 225 meters (~740 ft) till it reaches the main large cave called "The Freemasons Hall."

This cave may really be King Solomon's quarries, anyway being a real quarry and in the vicinity of the Temple Mount. This cave has special meaning for Freemasons in general, and for Mark Master Masons and the Royal Arch in particular. Starting in the days of the British Mandate, the cave was used for the ceremony of Mark Master Masons. This was temporarily suspended between the years 1948-1968. The impressive ceremony of the consecration of the Supreme Grand Royal Arch Chapter of the State of Israel was carried out in the caves in the spring of 1969, and ever since then, the Mark degree has been performed in the caves on the average of once a year. 

These are the "subterranean vaulted chambers beneath the site of the Temple" referred to by Waite and are also mentioned in the Ecclesiastical History of Philostorgius known only through a summary by Saint Photius.

Royal Arch Cave
There is a cave in the Chillagoe-Mungana Caves National Park called "Royal Arch Cave."  I can't find a specific reference to Freemasonry but it seems unlikely that the name is a coincidence.  There was a Masonic Lodge in Chillagoe at least as early as 1907.  This Lodge became Chillagoe Lodge No. 166 when the United Grand Lodge of Queensland was created in 1920.

Can anyone can confirm or deny that this cave was named for the Masonic body?

Malheur Cave
Malheur Cave is a classic example of a large lava tube cave.  The cave is 17 miles east of Crane Hot Springs and is owned by the Masonic Lodge of Burns [No. 97, Oregon].

In 1938 two members of the lodge, Ulysses S. Hackney and Charles W. Loggan, came up with the idea of holding an outdoor stated meeting in the Malheur Cave 52 miles east of Burns. They devised a plan to use the Malheur Cave for an outdoor meeting of Masons in Oregon.  Their idea was well received, and the first official outdoor meeting of Masons in the Western United States was held at the Malheur Cave at a stated meeting, under Special Dispensation, at 8:00 pm, October 1st, 1938....After supper the Lodge was opened in the cave on the Master Mason degree, and the MM degree was conferred upon Brother Fellowcraft William Merle Bennett.

Forty-nine masons registered, and twenty-one different lodges from seven states and one foreign country were represented. Lighting was by gas lanterns.

Perhaps not such a propitious name, for malheur in French translates to woe, misfortune or bad luck.....

Eblen's Cave
A Masonic degree is conferred every year in Eblen's Cave, a natural cave that can comfortably hold 300 people. It is located 8 miles east of Kingston on the Clayton Brashears farm. Over the years, degrees have been presented by lodges from Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, Delaware, California, Florida, Mississippi, Kansas, North and South Carolina, Virginia, Ohio and Maryland.

This event was inaugurated in 1972 "to institute an activity that would promote more interest in Masonry."

As I mentioned before, Parfrey's Ritual America also reproduces a picture of Volcano Lodge (No. 56, California), so a quick search turns up:

"Masonic Cave"

Volcano has an annual picnic usually held on the First Sunday of October at the "Masonic Cave" site (less than five minutes from the Lodge Hall). The Masonic Cave got its name from the first meetings there to organize a petition to the California Grand Lodge for a Volcano Lodge Charter.

Apparently the Lodge held some early meetings there as well.  That said:  "The caves were abandoned after five meetings when the Masons moved into their new meeting hall which they shared with the Odd Fellows, which was most likely a bit warmer and dryer."

George Washington Cave

Parfrey also mentions that George Washington used a cave as a Lodge meeting place.  Further inquiry reveals that the cave in question is George Washington Cave in Jefferson County WV.  "Tradition has it that the large three-room cave was the first Masonic meeting place west of the Blue Ridge. Samuel and John Augustine Washington were among a group of Masons who bought the cave in 1773 and in 1844 there was a major Masonic celebration there."

There a video about the cave hereUnfortunately, there is no proof that George Washington actually ever set foot inside the cave, let alone attended Lodge there; it's merely part of local Masonic folklore.  His signature is scratched into the wall, but this could easily be spurious.  As anyone who lives in the areas where George Washington roamed can tell you, if every place that claims "George Washington slept here" is correct, Brother George would have had to have been something like 300 years old.  I just pulled that figure out of my hat, but you get the idea.  George Washington is such a towering figure that everyone wants to claim a piece of him, like pieces of the True Cross or hairs from Saint Whatchamacallit's beard.

I think anyone wanting to make a case that Masons are mad for caves does have a few examples to support their case, but the evidence is scanty at best.  Proof that Masons are doing evil and creepy things underground, like so many lil' devils, has not been documented at all, Parfrey's offhand mention of Benjamin Franklin's attendance at Sir Francis Dashwood's visits to the Hellfire Club aside.

A handful of Lodges occasionally meeting in caves really is a trifle compared to the literally thousands that do not!  Zedekiah's Cave has a long and obviously very important place in Israeli Freemasonry and the Rites mentioned by Mackey and Waite, yet this is easily explained by it's proximity to the Temple Mount and that the Temple is the central metaphor of Freemasonry.   But even this cave witnesses only one yearly event.  Eblen's Cave and Malheur Cave also hold one event per year, and those only date back to 1972 and 1938, respectively.  Volcano Cave is also only used once a year.  At one point the cave was used for more regular Lodge meetings, but only five times, until a more suitable place was found.  The Washington Cave seems more important not because it was a cave, but because it has been linked, perhaps apocryphally, to George Washington.

As Parfrey, Waite and Mackey write, it is true that a cavern or vault plays an important role in the Royal Arch Degrees.  At one time some Freemasons considered that the Royal Arch was the true culmination of the first three degrees; indeed, a dispute over its place in Masonry in the early 19th century even led to a  "schism" in English Freemasonry, which at one point boasted rival "Antient" and "Modern" Lodges with differing views.

So, one cannot entirely cast aside Parfrey and Downard's belief that caves are central to Freemasonry.  That said, the subject takes up all of four paragraphs of text in the 300+ page Ritual America.  As for Downard's book of weird masochistic fantasy, I can only say that what he purports to be Masonry is a complete load of horseshit.  I've said this elsewhere:  pick a symbol, any symbol.  You'll find it in Freemasonry:  boats, hearts, anchors, daggers, flowers, beehives, rainbows, tools, etc. ad nauseum.  I don't know why caves or vaults would be especially troublesome.  The empty tomb is is many ways the climax of the Passion--er, that didn't come out right!  What I mean to say is that it "proved" for many that Jesus was in fact what he claimed to be.  Early Christians met in catacombs.  What is a catacomb but an extensive cavern and underground vault?

So, it's not a big deal either way, but it was interesting to follow up and I'd be grateful for anymore examples that might be out there....


  1. Hi Daurade,

    I have read all your Articles it's amazing.
    Nice Information you have been shared with us.
    Thank You.

  2. We the Freemasons of Burns Lodge #97 have been forced to close The Cave. A gate and No Trespassing signs have been installed. If you would like a tour please contact The Burns Lodge.

    1. Who forced you to close, and why? Such a shame!


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