Thursday, September 6, 2012
A Modest Proposal for a Modern Freemasonry
Although Masonic blogs for a while sprouted periodic dialogs in which the authors detailed their personal epiphanies concerning the best way to save the craft from imminent doom, ie itself, these have mostly quieted down. I assume the silence is due either to pressure or apathy. Either way, they only serve to highlight an apparently inevitable decline in enthusiasm experienced by the bloggers themselves, as they watched the continuing dip in numbers when nobody embraced their solutions. Some continue to rail, others have monetized their blogs and moved on.
Apparently, young men are not interested in cold soup at expensive clubs that do not have a wine list and don't allow them to bring their girlfriends, wives, or boyfriends. So, what is a potential source of new membership for Freemasonry, and who will bring them in?
There exists a group of young people actually interested in initiations and becoming a part of a fraternal organization to spend an evening practicing and discussing ritual and the history of such societies. They are called esotericists and hermeticists, and there are more of them out there than there have been for nearly a hundred years. The problem in winning them is several fold.
What I wish to suggest is that mainstream Freemasonry in North America needs to realize is that soon they will have real competition for these profanes, that is if the grand lodges don't bow out of the race before it begins. Why? Because there is an increasing interest, however small, in liberal, mixed, esoteric, hermetic, and yes, even ethnic Freemasonry.
Several trends are converging, and I will touch briefly on both. Gradually, small groups of ethnic Freemasonry have been growing as a result of the changing ethnic makeup of the US. The young esotericists are one trend, the ethnic mason another.
Liberal and Mixed Freemasonry has had a "mixed" history in the US. There are a small number of long standing, or slumbering institutions that have become as exciting as any mainstream Grand Lodge system, and there have been the dramatic implosions of small groups wracked by internal politics, not to mention the fantasy driven Pseudo-Scientific Neo-Harmonic revivals, mostly never more than a series of websites proclaiming non-existent lodges world-wide. However, while mainstream lodges have laughed these off, assuming they proved their positions unassailable, a generation of people have grown up who have immersed themselves in esotericism, hermeticism and ritual studies and for whom, while a Masonic experience is desired, the offerings of mainstream masonry represent a pale reflection of what they know they should expect of the craft. And they don't give a hoot about claims of regularity or the myth of 1717. The few very reserved efforts at accommodating serious students that the mainstream has deigned to offer will not suffice.
This, combined with the general lack of welcome that greet the non-European aspirants who knock at the lodge door, has created a perhaps small but serious class of potential masons who are looking elsewhere, and when they do not find what they are looking for, they are prepared to build their own solutions. Added to these numbers are of course, the women. There are serious Liberal obediences willing to support those who are capable and prepared to do the work. It is reasonable to assume that in addition to the current and the new obediences on the North American scene, there will be more to follow. Add to this growing and real academic research which is pushing back against the myths of the past upon whose sands the Grand Lodge system was fabricated; myths which have become articles of faith but which are empty, such as territorial exclusivity and the claims that masonry began in London in 1717. The first always was an empty claim and the latter has since been proven false by solid scholarship backed up with original source materials. What's more, small is the new big.
As a supporter of Liberal Freemasonry, I will fly in the face of what most might think is in my own self interest, and suggest a solution that might allow Mainstream masonry to regain the upper hand. I know of course, it is probably too radical for even the most liberal leaning of the Grand Lodges to consider, and that perhaps is part of why I feel free to offer the advice. Forget the "European Style" Lodges (which are European in name only) or the Traditional Observance Lodges (which offer a lot of structure and very little excitement), and get radical.
The radical plan is quite simple. Allow lodges, new and old to experiment with any historically documented rite they wish, in the language(s) of their choice. If old lodges won't agree, allow the interested parties to easily create new lodges that will. Then those really bohemian Grand Lodges can allow women in.
I guarantee that if this is done, and those lodges are allowed to engage in an open study of either esotericism, hermeticism, or a serious and academic study of philosophy and symbolism, that the numbers will turn around. Of course, it won't be your grandfather's Freemasonry anymore. It will be your Great Great Great Grandparents' Freemasonry. And it will thrive.
In the meantime, the rest of us will continue to work on gaining ground, and we don't have to worry about the electric bills you guys have.