True Secrets of Freemasonry

Those who become Freemasons only for the sake of finding out the secret of the order, run a very great risk of growing old under the trowel without ever realizing their purpose. Yet there is a secret, but it is so inviolable that it has never been confided or whispered to anyone. Those who stop at the outward crust of things imagine that the secret consists in words, in signs, or that the main point of it is to be found only in reaching the highest degree. This is a mistaken view: the man who guesses the secret of Freemasonry, and to know it you must guess it, reaches that point only through long attendance in the lodges, through deep thinking, comparison, and deduction.

He would not trust that secret to his best friend in Freemasonry, because he is aware that if his friend has not found it out, he could not make any use of it after it had been whispered in his ear. No, he keeps his peace, and the secret remains a secret.

Giovanni Giacomo Casanova, Memoirs, Volume 2a, Paris, p. 33

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Five Faces of Freemasonry

Freemasonry has stood the test of time, and as we move toward the end of the first decade, admittedly two years off, things are getting better for our ancient and honorable craft. The decline in numbers is slowing or turning into growth, Masonic Education is again being implemented in lodge, and changes are being implemented in most jurisdictions to keep Masonry fresh and relevant to today’s masons.

So today, I wanted to take a look at the five faces of Freemasonry and what they mean to our craft.

The First Face of Freemasonry: Younger Masons

More than ever before in the history of the craft, the fraternity is appealing to younger men, so the first, and most hopeful of the faces is the “youthening” of the craft. Movies, books, educational specials, newspapers, magazines, and word of mouth have raised the visibility of the craft. Couple that with the social vacuity, the internet, increased work and family demands, and you have a population of men seeking… more.

Young men today are seeking more value, more real and sincere fellowship, more social relevance, a sense of belonging to something more important than themselves. Politics is vacuous and worse, its backbiting, self aggrandizing politics of personal destruction, with no side seeming to offer anything of great value but more bloviation, and the work environment isn’t much better.

Job security is non existent, and friendships and connections made through work are tenuous and fluid. Men want and need something stable in their lives, something with meaning, something unchanging, timeless and yes, spiritual All of these factors, and many more have young men are flocking to the craft seeking the meaning and the sense of belonging that is missing in today’s increasingly isolated “society”.

The Grand Lodge of California noted at a recent Junior Warden’s Retreat that since the formation of the Grand Lodge of California in 1850, the average age at which a man joins a lodge has been 47. This was unchanged for 155 years. However, in 2005, the Masonic code was changed to allow men of at least 18 years to join, and since then, the average age has dropped to 37.

Freemasonry recognizes that change and is making adjustments which are overdue, to address the needs of these, in most cases, well educated members. These are men which have researched the craft before joining, have often read books about it, and made an informed decision and are truly seeking to better themselves and society through freemasonry.

These men want the education, philosophy, history, and in many cases, the esotericism which Freemasonry holds out and lays claim to providing. They want more than their father’s and grandfather’s social and moral club, they want it all. Morality, belonging, brotherhood, spirituality, personal growth, social value, and philosophy… which brings us to Masonic Education.

The Second Face of Freemasonry: The Esoterics and Education

Freemasonry in the 17th century was a philosophical/social/moral support society. Freethinkers of the day gathered to discuss the issues of the day, to share their successes and failures, and to aid and support each other. There have been esoterics in Freemasonry from the beginning, though in recent decades, they have taken a much smaller seat in the lodge in favor of simple brotherhood.

To a certain extent, the current “flavor” of freemasonry is more exoteric than esoteric, to the point where the esoterically oriented mason can find himself alone in lodge in his search for more light. We all search for light in different ways, and for some brothers, exoteric Masonry, fellowship, morality fulfills all their needs. This type of Masonry is often referred to derogatorily as “Fish Fry” Masonry, which is unfair to our exoteric brothers.

Freemasonry is about balance in all things. Too much esoteric or too much exoteric and the purpose of Freemasonry is lost. Regardless, Freemasonry teaches us tolerance, and of late, esotericism in Freemasonry is once more growing and receiving the respect that it is due as a vital part of the craft.

A part of education is ritual, tradition, contemplation, majesty… in a word stateliness. We learn in a number of different ways, reading, watching, listening, and participation. There are few teaching methodologies that reach a man on all four levels, that reaches right into his psyche like ritual. Some lodges treat ritual as a time for play, some for letter-of-the-law, and some for an approach that is at once serious and overwhelming in its grandeur.

The experience by the candidate in his degrees is a matter of how the ritual is enacted, the mien that the officers and brethren bring to the lodge, how the candidate is prepared, the education process after the degree, how the candidate is treated by the brethren. It is the gestalt of the degrees and education afterward.

In part, a response to this growing interest in esoteric and more “traditional” style Masonry are the European Style Lodges being formed across the United States. Though these European Style Lodges are not exclusively esoteric in nature, they are given over to the philosophical contemplation, study and discussions of issues Masonic.

This type of lodge is also called Traditional Observance Lodges. Whatever they are called, these lodges are a growing phenomena, spreading across the United States like a grass fire. More Grand Lodges not only allow, but encourage it with each passing year. Currently, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Vermont, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Arizona, Louisiana, Virginia, Washington D.C., Maine, New York, and California have a growing population of these European Style/Traditional Observance lodges.

Parallel to these European Style Lodges are many grand lodges re-engineering Masonic Formation, that is, holistic Masonic formation programs. They are gathering together existing materials, expanding on them, creating program and methodologies that lodges can use. Masonic Formation is a resource to the lodges, providing materials, ideas, and resources to assist them in educating and forming masons.

Yet, in all good, there is an admixture of bad. As young men are joining freemasonry to receive the benefits and responsibilities of our ancient and honorable craft, we have a few, vocal, internet savvy brothers who may not have clearly understood the lessons they received in the first degree.

The Third Face of Freemasonry: Masonic Impatience

Freemasonry teaches us that Time, Patience and Perseverance will accomplish all things, and that as masons we should act with justice and temper our actions with prudent judgment. There is a small problem however, and in large part, I suspect this is due to the internet.

Some few men, and its really a small number, have lost track of the lessons of Freemasonry… a less just opinion would be that they did not learn the lesson in the first place… and set themselves up as judge, jury and executioner of the fraternity they claim as their own. Instead of working within the system, they decide that their obligations do not obtain except where they decide.

Of course, these men are not always wrong. There are serious issues that need to be addressed by the brethren. There are cases where, for example, a grand master summarily ejects brothers from Freemasonry entirely, without a trial, and a case recently where a grand master set aside the legal vote of the brethren at the grand communication, and then ejects brethren for objecting to that action.

We all know Freemasons aren’t saints… we are men, good men for the most part, working hard for the benefit of the craft. If you are reading these words, its likely you have an internet connection, and have followed the antics of certain brethren who have decided that they know better what is good for Freemasonry.

These are brothers who violate Masonic tradition by agitating for political candidates as masons, who defame every grand lodge officer at every turn, who defame any mason who likes, admires and enjoys his Freemasonry. Every group has them, malcontents and agitators who do not work for the best interests of the group, but only for their own selfish wants and needs.

These men do nothing to help, and are content to do nothing but complain. They most often do this complaining from behind shadowy aliases, then scream like scalded cats when a brother dares to draw back the sable curtain they hide behind, claiming the protection of the obligation they revile at every turn.

The good news is this face of Freemasonry is only internet based… and their words are read by less than 1,000 men WORLDWIDE. They do no damage to Freemasonry, and for the most part, are harmless brothers with delusions of grandeur and power that is, fortunately, well out of their reach.

The Fourth Face of Freemasonry: Non-Regular Masons

There are some who would argue that non regular Masonic obediences AREN’T Masonry at all. The reality is that, as the saying goes, “if it acts like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, chances are, it’s a duck.

The problem is, because these other obediences are not regular, that is, part of the Grand Lodges in Amity with each other, it is difficult to for the average mason to separate the wheat from the chaff. Also, frankly, there is little interest by most regular masons TO take the time to separate the wheat from the chaff. Most regular masons, and that is the majority by far of all masons in the world, are satisfied to leave the whole issue to their respective Grand Lodges.

Most regular masons “know” who the non regular masons are. First of all, they are referred to officially by all regular Grand Lodges as “Clandestine” and “Irregular”. Primarily, they are the female only lodges, co-ed lodges, and other “Grand Lodges”, like the Grand Orient of the United States, the United Grand Lodge of America, and the American Masonic Federation.

Yet, these non regular masons are ALSO a face of Freemasonry. The state of California alone has over 50 organizations that style themselves as Masonic, though only two, the Grand Lodge of California F&AM and the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of California, Inc are considered regular. The others vary in their practice from regular, other than that they admit women, to wildly non Masonic.

This is not, however, a new phenomena. Breakaway lodges without a warrant or charter and self forming “Grand Lodges” open, and often as not, as quickly close, and have done so ever since June 1717 when the first regular grand lodge was formed at the Goose and Gridiron by four extent lodges.

Regardless of the official position of any grand lodge, and here is a good time to remind my readers that I am NOT an official spokesman for any grand lodge, I speak only for myself, there are non-regular (clandestine to use the correct masonic word for it) women only, male and female joint lodges, and of course male only lodges. Most of these lodges can be found only in very large cities.

The numbers I have indicate there are about 100,000 women masons worldwide, and perhaps that many again that belong to co-ed Masonic lodges. Throughout the world, there are about 3.5 million regular masons, and perhaps another 1 million total masons from the various other male only orients and non regular grand lodges around the world. This means there are about 5 million masons of all kinds, who can be found in every country in the world.

The Fifth Face of Freemasonry: Men who are Happy the way Masonry Is Today

Lest we forget, the last face of freemasonry is the brothers who, for the most part, make up freemasonry today. These are the brothers who make up the lodges in great part, and are the backbone and support of the craft.

These are the men who more often than not are the officers in your lodge, they are the Lodge Secretaries, the Tylers, the committee members, they are the men who have kept freemasonry alive. More often than not, they are veterans, and they are happy with the craft as it is today. They have attitudes and ideas from years gone by, but those are ideas that have, for the most part, worked for them.

We should ever remember and honor them. I mention this as there is a tendency among some younger masons to push the older men out of the way, to shunt them aside. Not all that is new is good, and not all that is old is bad. They are, after all, our brothers.


Masonry is a wide and varied initiatic society that, far from declining, is actually restoring itself, as it always has done. Time, patience and perseverance are the watchwords of our ancient and honorable fraternity. Like any mature organization that is spread all over the world, Freemasonry presents a number of faces, all of which reflect a part of the whole.

It’s an awesome time to be a mason!

May the blessing of heaven rest upon us and all regular masons. May brotherly love prevail, and every moral and social virtue, cement us.


giovanni lombardo said...

Man has not to confuse the esoteric side of FMy with education.

The main purpose of FMy is to make men better. To do so they have to do inner work, that is, to explore themselves within and to mend their flaws.

By listening other Brethren's words, they ponder and find new sources, new hints for their journey.

In this connection, articles, papers and books are surely useful, for they are drops of wisdom given by past Brethren.

All this, however, would be useless if it had no impact on their way of life.

Pendentive said...

Even if this post is now a few years old, I am grateful to you for writing it.

As someone who will soon be a an EA in a F&A Lodge, you sum up in a very concise way what is really important to keep in mind.

Thank you very much for sharing this wisdom!

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