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

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Masonry Needs to Change

Masonry Needs to Change!

This is the battle cry of a few, very vocal men. Yet, there are several problems with this "Masonry Needs to Change" argument, and many, admittedly right things about it. Its the manner of seeking the change that we must seek out a balance upon.

1) They want masonic education above and beyond what is currently available.
2) They want less fish frys and more masonic activities
3) They want less "interference" from grand lodge
4) They want autonomy in their lodges
5) They want the freedom to try other things
6) Less racism in lodge
7) Less "Old Boys"

Lets examine these arguments for a moment.

1) They want masonic education above and beyond what is currently available.

On this, they are probably right, though short sighted. You see, going back over 200 years, the same comments have been made. Freemasonry is a personal search, not a college education. A brother is given the fundamentals upon which to erect HIS personal masonic superstructure. It has been up to the brother to study, to search, to contemplate, to discuss and to work at that education. Could the education and discussion be more open and available? Sure, you bet. As a matter of fact, grand lodges are recognizing this, and moving to address the problem. The Grand Lodge of California, Arizona, Vermont, Massachusetts, New York, and Oregon are just a FEW that are creating programs and putting them in place. I am ON the Masonic Formation Task Force in California, so I have a pretty good grasp of the efforts being made here along those lines. It has been received enthusiastically here.

2) They want less fish frys and more masonic activities

Ok, this is a fair criticism as well. They need to get on it and offer these things. If people participate, then it is wanted, if they don't participate, then it is not wanted. No organization will spend time and effort on something that three out of a hundred want unless the three are willing to get up and put in some effort.

3) They want less "interference" from grand lodge

This is the one that I find most irritating and easiest to dismiss. Children want less guidance from their parents, students want less guidance from their teaches, and some employees want less interference from their employers. Freemasonry has, over time, created a set of rules based on experience, to guide. The grand lodge is US, the members. Its not some entity out there in somewhereland that sits around thinking up ways to thwart the actions of a lodge. It follows traditions and the demands of the members over time. Since WE are the grand lodge, complaining about the grand lodge is complaining about yourself and your brothers, because the majority have created the grand lodge as it is today.

Realistically, if you feel the grand lodge is interfering, you need to go out and get a majority of your brothers to agree, then move to get grand lodge to change. They will not change without a good reason, nor did they put the rules they have in place without being pushed to over time by the brethren who saw a problem the rule addresses. In my grand lodge, for instance, there is a rule that the brethren cannot spend more than 30% of the lodge income on fraternal activities. Seems a little silly when your lodge is earning tens of thousands of dollars per year, until you look back on WHY the members of the grand lodge implemented the rule... because the master and wardens of a lodge enacted and got the lodge to vote for bread and circuses for a few years, bankrupting the lodge.

Sort of like the ex members of Halcyon did, voting the assets of the lodge out into an "independent" charity in violation of the rules of the Grand Lodge of Ohio, then "surrendering" their charter when the Grand Lodge called them on it so they would not have to return the multi million dollar asset to the lodge and so they could keep using it. The rule preventing that action was in place BECAUSE someone else tried exactly that dodge before, and is in place to prevent it happening again.

4) They want autonomy in their lodges

What does "autonomy" mean in this case? To be fair, it means being able to try out new things, like renting the lodge to a boxing school part time or to a church or to the county as a voting place, or, to a woman's lodge to generate income. Sometimes it means creating new programs the Grand Lodge has forbidden or has an objection to. More often than not, it means not having to obey the rules and regulations of the grand lodge that they may find inconvenient or problematic or troublesome. It means they set their opinion and ego above that of the grand lodge. Not a very masonic point of view.

Masonic would be trying to work out a change with grand lodge instead of telling them to go pound sand or whining about how they can't get their way.

5) They want the freedom to try other things

Ok, I am really on board with this one. There are many things that I would like to do in ritual, for instance, that my Grand Lecturer will not "let" me. For instance, I would really like to use the Chamber of Reflection in the conferral of the first degree. Or having the three principle officers step down onto the level in closing when the master asks how masons should meet, act or part. Or wearing white gloves, or... there are many things that I would like to change (some I cannot write, indict, print...). HOWEVER, there is a procedure for making changes, and a reason for having everyone working the same ritual... there is nothing that says I cannot exemplify other rituals or procedures... Also, in my grand lodge, if I feel strongly enough about it, I can try to effect change through legislation or by working with the ritual committee.

There are other issues, and I can understand and sympathize with brothers who feel stifled... but I would suggest that leaving the craft and starting another lodge/grand lodge/orient/whatever because one could not get his way might demonstrate more that the brother in question does not really understand freemasonry more than anything else. Its about working together, not one's ego. Its about accepting the things you can't change and working to change what you can, and knowing the difference between the two.

6) Less racism in lodge

Ok, I am fully on board with this one... but... there is always that but, isn't there? This is something that is not going to change overnight, and while it is morally reprehensible and unmasonic, in this masons opinion, one has to work TOWARD change rather than demanding that everything be done TODAY. Slow and steady wins the race, and while its not immediately satisfying to our needs and wants and desires (and g-d KNOWS Americans want what they want WHEN the want it, and want all problems to be resolved in an hour less commercials.

I have called for all lodges that recognize Prince Hall to withdraw amity from those who don't... on reflection, this is one of those emotionally satisfying positions that in the real world, would likely have the opposite effect from what I intend. The issue really isn't Prince Hall recognition, its allowing men of all colors, creeds, national origins and religions to join regular lodges. Prince Hall recognition is just a symptom, because, as Br. Arthur Peterson pointed out, it would just result in TWO SEPARATE Grand Lodges existing, one black, the other white. Separate but equal is not equal. "They" are still "over there" and not a part of "our lodge". I do not pretend any longer to have the answer, but I do think recognition and intervisitation between "mainstream" and Prince Hall lodges is a good FIRST STEP.

7) Less "Old Boys"

By this, they mean the grand line is pulled from the friends and associates of the current grand officers, thus perpetuating what they see as all that is "wrong" in freemasonry. I don't see this, being a member of the Grand Lodge of California, where anyone can be nominated for the Grand Oriental Chair at any Grand Communication from the floor.

None of these issues, however, in my mind, justify leaving the regular grand lodge system and starting up a new lodge/grand lodge/grand orient/whatever. That is just me, however. I am a member of a progressive Grand Lodge. I see these men leaving mainstream freemasonry, (and lets be honest, it hasn't been an exodus, or even close to a trickle) to go do "something else". These men know in their hearts that what they are doing is, in the long run, futile, for them. However, and argument has been made that their efforts will act as a wake up call to the mainstream grand lodge system. And it has.

The grand lodges are watching these startups, not with fear or trembling, and certainly not with benign amusement. They do see it as a symptom of a problem that many ARE addressing. The Grand Lodges also see many of the Grand Lodges stepping up and making changes... traditional observance lodges (Dennis Chornenky and the Masonic Restoration Foundation) , Esoterik Lodges (William Isabelle) and so on are examples. Masonic Formation by many of the grand lodges is also a symptom the grand lodges recognize the need and the demand be the brethren.

Some are slower than others. We need to face the fact that masonry was designed to be slow moving. It takes 4/5ths to make a change in most jurisdictions, and there is nothing people hate/fear more than change, so they fight back against it. Freemasonry has changed more in the past six years than it did in the 20 preceding it, and more changes are coming. There will still be those, who through lack of patience or lack of understanding, or through feeling pushed out will quit, or go to another lodge system. That is sad, but change always brings casualties.

My grand lodge has staunched the loss. We are now raising as many as we are losing through death, dimit and NPD, and members are staying as the craft is giving them what they need. Not everyone is as lucky, and I realize that, but I would enjoin my brethren to work in the system to effect the changes that are needed. Freemasonry was injured by the hippie era, as those "flower children" rejected everything their parents stood for... including the craft. Fortunately, THEIR children do not, and are seeking the lodges out and joining.

The average age of joining is getting younger. For almost 150 years, the average age of joining freemasonry was 47 in California. Today, it is in the mid 30's, albeit much of that is due to our allowing 18 year olds to petition and join. The fact is, the face of freemasonry is younger, more educated, more spiritual (strangely, given our culture), and they are seeking that which freemasonry offers. All we have to do is... give it to them.

And the Grand Lodges are seemingly starting to get it, despite frenetic claims to the contrary.
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...

Saint Augustine suggests us how to manage a group:

in necessariis unitas, in facultativis libertas, in omnibus caritas

For necessities unity, for optional freedom, for everything love.

Greg Stewart said...

\My Brother,

I could not agree with you more on each of these points. Definitely, things need to be re-examined, and probably re-tooled, or at least retrofitted to bring it more in line with the times.

On Education, it takes a lot of will an effort to produce something of value, and if no one in the lodge supports it, then there must not be much interest. You are absolutely right though; it is a self-directed endeavor in most cases.

Less Fish, more activity requires doing and not asking. I agree with the sentiment of wanting more, but wanting is nothing compared to doing it. Each brother that even hints at wanting something needs to volunteer to organize it. Perhaps the fraternities failure is not building up more of the ethos of can do or how to do. Planning meetings, strategy, and follow though.

Less interference from Grand Lodge, I agree with, but this gives structure, something I believe we could use on a larger more national level. The things that people forget is that just like Democratic representative government, Grand Lodge is made up of men who came from lodges just like the rest of us. If you don’t like it, then do something. Write Masonic legislation, lobby by traveling to lodges and interacting, work to fix the problem instead of just complaining about it.

More Autonomy is a good thing, but will only come about in one of two ways. 1. You change the rules in Grand Lodge (see item 3) or 2. The fraternity shrinks further evaporating whatever numbers you (and the Grand Lodge) have at present allowing you to do it how ever you want.

More Freedom comes from changing the rules by which we rule and govern with. See Item 3. You have to be a part of the system to change the system.

Less racism is a no brainer. If someone is openly racist in lodge, there should be no quarter and out the door the go. This would be better for the fraternity and a way to definitely bring us up to the modern era. There may even be some room there for the women in masonry issue too.

Less “Old Boys” requires more participation. I think when people come top the fraternity that they expect it to be free of the same predilections as other groups. If it’s not to your liking, then try talking to other people, or try another lodge. Where any old boy mentality exists only exists because nature abhors a vacuum. If you want to break a cycle of the Grand Line put in your dues, become a Master, and work for change. Ideas only become institutional when there are no new ones tested.

All of these are great points, and none of them are impossible to achieve. The important thing to remember is that action comes from effort, and effort comes from us. There is no “somebody outta”, because that somebody is us.

Unknown said...

Good post bro. Theron. Sometimes when reading posts from these brothers you talk about I am reminded of lines from a song by the band Queen: "I want it all and I want it now!".

Give my best to your wife and I wish her a speedy recovery.

Anonymous said...

Concerning black Masons, as a Yankee living in the South, I honestly don't understand why black men cannot be made "regular" Masons, but I also understand that the local culture does see things differently. In the jurisdiction I live, my understanding is that it's not the Grand Lodge or even the local lodge--it's the members. I was told that ANY man of ANY race can petition ANY lodge. But as we all know, it takes just black ball to reject a petition, and the likelihood of rejection is almost guaranteed.

It's sad but true, but it's not the fault of the Grand Lodge, but the members. Grass-roots influence is probably the only way to institute change.

Unknown said...

I did my family genealogy years ago and discovered MOST of my ancestors were not just high ranking freemasons, but men who CHARTERED lodges in Prussia, Austria, Russia, Canada, and Australia. I began reading everything I could both pro and con about Masonry. One day my wife suggested instead of building another bookcase, why don't I just join them? An excellent point! So I did. I particularly like the rituals and proceedings as I imagine my forebearers going through the very same motions. I find it very satisfying to feel connected to my family heritage by the very timelessness and sameness of masonic tradition. If my lodge became politically correct, modernized, popularized, and retooled by new members who did not value the ancient traditions I would feel cheated. There are other clubs for those things.
We are a tree with deep roots. Although the leaves and flowers are what people see, it is the roots that hold it up, that make the rest possible. Help new members value those roots!
Steve High

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