Masculinity, manhood, virtue, integrity. These are ideas that seem to confuse young men of today. What does it take to be a man? What does manhood mean in the 21st Century? Well, Brother Brett McKay has been trying to help find that out through his website The Art of Manliness (http://www.artofmanliness.com). The site went up in 2008, and since then has been a wonderful resource for young men to get in touch with the “vintage” ideals of manhood. As a young man myself, I found the site to be a cool glimpse into how my grandfather acted throughout his life and different lessons his father may have taught him.
Brother Brent Williamson, as a part of Man-Month, was able to reach out to Brett and arranged an interview with the Lodge over dinner and webcam. They discuss the origins of the Art of Manliness, how Brett got involved in Masonry, and how the site and what it offers has affected men all over the world!
I want to extend a major Thank You to both Brent for his dedication and work to get this wonderful presentation going; and also one to Brett for spending time with us and shedding some light on what all he has been able to do the past several years.
Myosotic arvensis– from the Greek, meaning “Mouse’s Ear,” after the shape of its five petals. These little blue flowers are perennials, springing up again year after year. They grow widely in Europe, Asia, America, even as far as New Zealand. In most languages, however, this flower is known by its much more common name; the forget-me-not.
They symbolize true love, enduring memory, and faithfulness. It’s where we get the phrase “True Blue.” At the start of its flowering season, flashes of blue display dazzling proof to the world that though it may have appeared dead through the long cold winter, it was only dormant, and come spring it bursts to life, its color begging the world not to overlook this tiny flower.
There are many legends surrounding the origins of the forget-me-not, and its name. One legend says that when the creator had finished giving out the colors to all the flowers, he heard a tiny whisper, “forget-me-not!” All he had left was a tiny bit of blue, which the little flower was delighted to wear. Other legends say that the flower cried out “Forget-me-not!” to Adam and Eve as they fled the garden of Eden.
Others claim that the Christ child created the flower for his mother Mary, so the world would never forget the color of her beautiful blue eyes. Given that Mary was a middle-eastern jew, that story seems doubtful.
Others say the name comes from its leaves, that they taste so bad, if you eat them you’ll never forget it.
In Germany in particular, the forget-me-not has a strong history. According to German legends, when the Creator was naming all the plants, the flower cried out “Forget-me-not!” and he decreed that that should be its name.
Another German legend tells of a knight, who was walking along the riverbank with his true love. He bent over the bank to pick her some posies, but the weight of his armor caused him to fall into the river. As he was drowning in his heavy armor, he threw the posies to his love on the shore, and shouted “Forget-me-not!” And there the flowers grew.
The Forget-me-not has always been a symbol of remembrance. In Canada, it is worn every July 1st to remember those who died in World War 1. It has also symbolized true love and steadfastness. Its perennial cycle has also been used to symbolize a long awaited return; Henry the fourth used the forget-me-not as his symbol during his exile in 1398, and retained it after his return to the throne. Those symbols of remembrance, dormancy, and rebirth became closely tied to Masonry in Germany during World War II.
Following the First World War, Germany was plunged into a terrible economic crisis. In 1926, at their annual communication, the Grand Lodge of Germany gave its members a forget-me-not pin, to remind the brethren of their charitable obligations. The pin became widely used throughout Germany as a sign to remember the poor and distressed. Thousands of masons wore this pin in the years before world war 2, performing acts of service and charity to their many destitute fellows. This charity was vital during Germany’s depression.
However, that same economic crisis which called those masons to charitable action also propelled Adolf Hitler into power. By 1934, it was clear that Freemasonry was in danger. Hitler decried it as a conspiracy with the Jews to suppress national self-preservation. Goring stated “In National Socialist Germany, there is no place for Freemasonry.”
The German Ministry ordered the disbandment of all lodges, and confiscated all lodge property. They even staged exhibitions to display all the masonic regalia they had seized. Masonic brothers were eventually confined to concentration camps, and forced to wear the inverted red triangle of a political prisoner.
Similar persecutions took place in Italy and other Nazi states, and Freemasonry was officially outlawed in the Nazi empire. The number of Freemasons executed during World War 2 is unknown, but estimates place anywhere between 80,000 and 200,000 killed.
But masonic legend tells that in the midst of the war, the German Grand Lodge of the Sun adopted that little blue forget me not pin, not as an emblem of charity, but as a substitute for the square and compass. The flower was used a sign of recognition for the brethren, reducing their risk of exposure to the Nazis. During the ensuing decade of Nazi power a little blue Forget Me Not flower worn in a Brother’s lapel served as one method whereby brethren could identify each other in public and in cities and concentration camps throughout Europe. The Forget Me Not distinguished the lapels of countless brethren who staunchly refused to allow the symbolic Light of Masonry to be completely extinguished, even under penalty of death.
It was a symbol that masonry, like the flower itself, was not dead, but had merely gone dormant to weather the decade long winter. It was a symbol to its members not to forget each other, or their masonic vows, until spring had come again and the blue of masonry could flourish once more.
In 1948, after the war ended, at the first Annual Convent of the new Grand Lodges of Germany, a few hundred forget-me-not pins were made. They began to hand them out as a Masonic symbol wherever they went. The pins exploded in popularity, and became widely used to remember the sacrifice of masons during the war, and the perseverance of a brace few.
The accuracy of the story of the forget-me-not has been called into question. There is little evidence that it was ever worn as a secret symbol of recognition among German masons during the war. In fact, it seems unlikely, given the strict Nazi laws barring any kind of pin or emblem not sanctioned by the party.Masons did wear the flower as a symbol of charity before the war, and a symbol of remembrance after, but its use in the midst of the war is questionable, and there is no evidence of it being worn in concentration camps. However, this lack of evidence could merely be proof of the effectiveness of the secret symbol, as believers hold that the secret remained unbroken for the duration of the war.
Regardless, today the forget-me-not it is an interchangeable symbol with Freemasonry. Some use the forget-me-not to remember those Masons who were victimized by the Nazi regime. Some use it to remember the legend of those who wore it in secret, refusing to allow the light of masonry to go out, even in the darkest days of the war. In modern Freemasonry it is now commonly worn to remember those that have died as a symbol that while they may be gone, they are not forgotten. Worldwide, tens of thousands of brethren display it with meaningful pride.
The history of the forget-me-not is laden with legend and symbolism. And quibbling over historic accuracy merely clouds the true intent of the story. Legends like these are not told to teach us historical fact; they are meant to teach us enduring truth, or even truths, plural. And the truths of the forget-me-not are these; we must never forget our duty to the poor and distressed. We must never forget to persevere through troubled times, as light and life will always spring anew. We must never forget those who have come before us; the sacrifices they made, and the love that they shared with us. We must never forget our duty to honor their memory, and continue their legacy of brotherly love, relief, and truth. Amor fraternus, levatio, veritas. Forget. Me. Not.