The struggles of an esoterically inclined Freemason continue…
After another humiliating defeat at the hands of those who think that younger Masons only goal is to change things for changes sake, I have spent a lot of time reflecting on the definition of a lodge and what the term has come to mean.
The lodge in its classical definition is a group of Freemasons from a particular town or neighborhood assembled and chartered by a Grand jurisdiction to perform the degrees of the craft. One of the most confusing things about the term lodge is that it becomes synonymous with the building or place the lodge meets. When masons were actual builders of structures they would often meet at their place of employment to instruct each other, to gain skill and help and support each other. I have always imagined a tent hastily thrown up on the side of a cathedral with masons doing business by candle light. When the first non-builders began entering into the craft there was no central meeting place as we have now and meetings would be held in any place that could properly be guarded from people who were not part of the group. Back then there was no confusion as to the meaning of the term lodge; it simply was the term to call the group, like a congregation or flock.
As more and more non-building masons entered into the fraternity speculative masonry was born. A lodge was no longer a place that men of a particular skill set met and discussed work, it became a place where philosophical and moral allegories replaced the simple building principals and instructions. The main reason this happened, in my opinion, is because that at the time many of these men lived in oppressive and authoritarian societies and the secret modes of recognition of masonry allowed them to be very selective in the company they kept in order to discuss enlightenment ideals that could have easily led them to incarceration and or death at the hands of their oppressors. New members were carefully investigated because if they let in someone of lesser ideals or morals it could literally endanger their lives. It mattered not where you came from or what your place in society was, all that mattered was that you could meet with men of a like mind on the level to expand your understanding of bigger things and help each other out as Brothers. This selective association aspect of a lodge is very important but I will address that later. As the ‘speculative’ masons replaced the ‘operative’ masons they needed a place to meet and since it was not near the place that employed them anymore it became a place that was convenient to the members of the lodge.
Freemasons began to meet in taverns, public houses and coffee rooms and the modern lodge was born. The place where you met almost became as important as the people you met there and the confusion began. A lodge of masons meeting at the Goose and the Gridiron Ale House would be loosely known by the place where they met. As speculative Freemasonry exploded and the separate lodge’s treasuries grew the Masonic temple was born. The men who met regularly as Freemasons wanted a permanent place to carry on their traditions and with a lot of money from its membership they began to build like their predecessors but this time for themselves.
Temples and Halls sprang up around the globe and since the Freemasons who met there were as a group termed a lodge, a Masonic ‘lodge’ took on a whole new definition and existence. The men who met in the lodge became less important and the ‘lodge’ became the focus of attention. The ‘lodge’ was the recipient of grandiose gifts and decorations of its dedicated members and the men of that lodge belonged to the ‘lodge’ and not the group of men who met there. The name and number of the ‘lodge’ you belonged became a badge of honor that you wore on a sleeve and its history and traditions were carried out with sacramental reverence and esteem. It was something a man could attach himself to, if he so wished, to add legacy to his own existence.
Herein lies the problem, when the lodge of Freemasons took on the existence of the ‘lodge’ it became less stringent upon the members and more focused on membership. The temples and halls needed vast amounts of money to operate and in order to accommodate this need a ‘lodge’ brought in as many men as it could and this only exacerbated the problem. A lodge of Freemasons no longer was a group of men who wished to discuss philosophy and morality in a selective and secret environment to help and support each other as brothers, it became a place where a man went to see the rituals of Freemasonry on a grand stage. Lodges with 100’s of men in membership became common and the institutionalization of Freemasonry occurred.
Unfortunately the spirit of the craft was lost in this institutionalization. The ‘lodge’ did things for the ‘lodge’s’ sake and the traditions of each lodge trumped the fraternal communion between Brothers. It was impossible to know and care for such a large group of men which was one of the principal reasons for a lodge of masons to form and the care of the ‘lodge’ became the focus.
When I joined this fraternity I was drawn into it not because of any ties or bonds to a ‘lodge’ but out of a search for the answers to the bigger questions in life. When I knocked on the door of a ‘lodge’ I was quickly lulled into the belief that the ‘lodge’ was the most important thing and that only by building or rebuilding that ‘lodge’ I could then start the quest that I originally began. There was only a small number of men in my ‘lodge’ that even dared to delve into the deeper aspects of the human condition and the majority were very happy to watch or participate in the dramatic aspects of the ritual and never take it to the next level. I existed in this environment with the belief that if only my brothers could save our ‘lodge’ and take part in the rebuilding could they discover the deeper aspects of our craft. This belief led me to experience many different lodges and ‘lodges’ in order to find something that would unite my ‘lodge’ into a lodge. (I am sorry for the confusion.)
This zeal for building led to me making excuses all of the time for some of the men I called brother that I would never associate with outside of Freemasonry. It was an easy exemption to make because I wanted my ‘lodge’ to be the best and in order to be the best we needed as many dues paying members as possible. In six years the amount like minded brothers I gained within my ‘lodge’ was very small and we would talk all of the time of how our common needs and desires not being met by our ‘lodge’. Time is a very precious thing and the only time many of us would finally have these philosophical discussions was after ‘lodge’ and since the more theatrical aspects of Freemasonry take a very long time, sometimes we found ourselves squeezing these conversations into a tiny scrap of time or way too long into the night, neither of which is very efficient or fair to men with families. Our solution to this problem was to try and turn our ‘lodge’ into what we came into Freemasonry for. We convinced ourselves that deep down in every Freemasons heart was this same desire and we believed if they only experienced this esoteric side of the craft the other brothers would join us in our quest.
It took two very humiliating defeats at the hands of the men who did not want to change their ‘lodge’ for me to finally realize that my ‘lodge’ can never become the lodge I wanted to be in. The lodge I was a part of had to meet at a different time than my ‘lodge’ and the dear brothers to whom I wanted to associate with and have the discussions of the deeper things in life were slowly being disillusioned with the fraternity and our ‘lodge’. I mean in no way to put down the men of my ‘lodge’ who do not think my way. They are happy with the Freemasonry that is delivered to them and it was very wrong of me to think that I could change things that they believe are sacred and unchangeable. They love the ‘lodge’ for the ‘lodges’ sake and it was a small group of newcomers with vision and initiative that tried to upset that belief. I have requested a demit from the ‘lodge’ I spent six long years trying to change because of this realization.
I am not going to join another ‘lodge’ but I am desperately searching for a lodge. The quest begins anew.