Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Struggles of an Esoterically Inclined Freemason part 2

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.

My vision of a Masonic lodge is a small group of like minded individuals who wish to explore the deeper meaning of life and to help each other become better men in every way. I believe that the rituals of Freemasonry are a tool to be used to enlighten a new comer or Brother and to test the dedication of the man to the lodge, but they are not the end all be all of the craft. Brotherly love is not something to be handed out flippantly. A man must prove himself worthy of the greater trust that comes with the ever expanding understanding and obligations of the order of Freemasons. Once earned that trust can be used to sit in a selective meeting where men can discuss things that they would not dare to in mixed company and to use the tools of the Freemason to help each other and the world they live in. This will naturally lead to the Brothers in being very selective of who they let into this mystic tie or band of Brothers. When men of a like mind come together in order to do things that improve themselves it will naturally lead them to try and improve the world around them as a unit. Charity should not be something that is forced upon a brother but something that wells up naturally. These are some of the things I believe in and want to dedicate my very valuable free to to.

I am not going to join another ‘lodge’ but I am desperately searching for a lodge. The quest begins anew.


Mr. Ives said...

Wow - that was a great post. You were able to articulate many of the feelings I have been having as well. I often feel that as a younger mason, the more established brothers sometimes see our demographic as a threat to the established status quo that they themselves helped to develop. I hope that you realize that there are many of us scattered throughout the established lodge system that are looking for something more, but not quite finding it. This may have something to do with the large number of Brothers that drop due to NPD - a lack of genuine connection to what is going on in lodge. I very much appreciated and understand your comments.

Tom Accuosti said...

When King Solomon was inspecting the site of the Temple, his chief surveyor pointed to the ground with his finger and said, “Your majesty, this is the spot where the Sanctum Sanctorum shall stand.”

King Solomon took a blade of grass, stuck it in the ground and said, “It is built.”

--from ZenMasonry

Unknown said...

I just read your latest post and wanted to take a moment and let you know that you're not alone. I too had a long journey to learn that my "lodge" couldn't become what I was actually seeking. I spent a lot of time cleaning, fixing and building a "lodge" that we eventually had to sell and it was difficult to separate the feelings of losing the building and realizing that I had to broaden my search for what I was really looking for. For awhile, I thought these feelings came from the same place, but they weren't. Even if we kept the building, I still would have felt unfulfilled.

Luckily, I've found that this emptiness can be filled by the very nature of our craft. As masons, we're meant to do two things; labor and travel. I think that most masons confuse labor with work and travel with visitations. Masonic labor is always spiritual and can never be fulfilled by physical work. We must labor with our minds and spirits, but this must be accomplished with our brethren and not alone. Laborare est orare. To work is to prey. Travel isn't just about physically changing locations. It's about leaving your comfort zone and experiencing something new. Many masons like their "lodge" because it's always the same and doesn't challenge them. As masons we should always be challenging ourselves. I appreciate reading your blog because you're always pushing yourself and exploring new territory.

These items are at the heart of what we've tried to do with Quinta Essentia Lodge U.D. (www.quintaessentialodge500.org). We've tried to form a group where we're always exploring, we're always searching. And we're giving the other brothers of our jurisdiction a place to travel to, where they will also be challenged. You can't make a perfect ashlar with a flawed stone. Sometimes you have to start new to find what you've been looking for.

Another Brother said...

Buddhists believe that attachment to temporary objects, such as a 'lodge' building, leads to suffering. They might say that leaving behind the building you attached yourself to will eventually lead to greater inner peace. A good way of getting through tough challenges, like finding a new group to belong to, is to think of these not as challenges but opportunities, maybe an opportunity for feeling more fulfilled.

Millennial Freemason said...

As a practical matter, I think having a building owned by multiple lodges in a separate organization, like in England, with an attached restaurant, pub, place for libations, could truly encourage the Masons of our day to focus on the internal and not the external aspects of Masonry. In fact, I would argue that each small town should have at least two lodges with smaller memberships.


M.M.M. from the North Eastern Corner said...

Brothers All,
Your words of encouragement and understanding have been a wind under my wings. I wish I could thank you all personally but this is the best I can do.
Thank You,

ScholarLost said...

I have recently joined Freemasonry myself - I am a Fellowcraft, to be raised early in 2012. I think my motivations to join are similar to what you have described here, though I have yet to do a lot of the background reading (I want to wait until I am a M.M.). When I joined, I realized that it probably wouldn't be the Freemasonry of old - of philosophy and the esoteric. (and to be fair, the Freemasonry of old probably wasn't the freemasonry of old either - what we have the are idealized, sepia-toned memories of other people).

My relaxed expectations allowed me to find a bit more of that than I might otherwise have found, realizing that each man there wrestles in their own way with the object of the esoteric, even if it be in exoteric ways. (a blade of grass?) My hope is that Freemasonry begins a journey to find others to discuss these things with.

FD2L said...

My vision of a Masonic lodge is a small group of like minded individuals who wish to explore the deeper meaning of life and to help each other become better men in every way. I believe that the rituals of Freemasonry are a tool to be used to enlighten a new comer or Brother and to test the dedication of the man to the lodge, but they are not the end all be all of the craft. Brotherly love is not something to be handed out flippantly. A man must prove himself worthy of the greater trust that comes with the ever expanding understanding and obligations of the order of Freemasons.

You just described AMD, and really is the body for this as it's emphasis is degrees, bettering oneself and one must be active in Freemasonry, continue to be active in AMD to continue their membership.

Because of the void of generations in Blue Lodges, Past Masters really run the lodge and the Worshipful Master is less about being WM, and more of being a Past Master in training. The WM either goes with the brain trust, gets his rocker and move on, or have a year filled with conflict and angst, in which the PM brain trust will label it as a "bad year". That is why I continue to have conflict in being in the line up. Every serious Mason should try to make the journey to the east, some that is all they care about. After seeing WM after young non-legacy WM sit in the east and either do nothing their year or cause conflict, and then you become that brother.

GEN Stan McChrystal gave an excellent speech about this, and that his job as a senior leader was to always try to understand the youth, otherwise he could never really be effective as a senior leader, I know that the majority of senior Masonic leaders do not follow this practice.

-Bro Vick

M.M.M. from the North Eastern Corner said...

Unknown, I have no regrets in joining the Fraternity and neither will you. I too waited to read anything deeper about Freemasonry until I received my MM degree so your intentions are definitely pure. You will with out a doubt find more men like yourself in your travels, as I have, and your attitude is very advanced and well thought. I wish you nothing but the best in your journey.
Bro. Vick your comment is dead on as always. We are all blessed to have you back! I definitely did not settle into my rocker after my sunset and paid the price. Cest la vie.