“Masonic membership in the United States has declined every year since 1959,” California Freemason and co-host, of The Masonic Roundtable, Jon T. Ruark tells us. A survey has been set up to enable Freemasons to report on their experiences of the fraternity, and what they would like more of, find inspiring, dislike, and so on. If you are a member of the fraternity you can fill it out here.
Let’s be blunt. Lodges and Grand Lodges are failing Freemasons — badly. But Freemasons are also failing themselves. And that might be worse.
Some Personal Experiences:
Let me mention a few points in my own Masonic journey that may resonate with you. Not long after becoming a Master Mason, I approached the Master of the Lodge, and asked if I could give a talk on Freemasonry. Until then, all of the talks had been on tax law, men’s health, and I forget whatever else. It struck me that, at dinner, Brothers talked enthusiastically about Freemasonry, but as soon as they went back into the Lodge, the discussion ended. Then it was either hours of the most tedious “business” discussion imaginable, or talks on subjects that had little to no relevance.
I gave a talk on runes and stonemasonry a couple of months later, relating it to Freemasonry — because, after all, my knowledge of the fraternity was not as strong as I would have liked, at that time (2002).
What became almost immediately evident was that even the older Freemasons I had written off as having no real interest in the Mysteries, immediately came alive. Several Brothers approached me after to tell me of their interest in mythology and other related subjects. Several asked the Worshipful Master when I would speak again. I gave a couple of other talks, and another Brother or two also, later, gave talks, and the next Worshipful Master also got the Director of the Masonic library to give the Lodge a tour (many of the brothers didn’t eve know there was a Masonic library and museum in the building where they met — today, I am sure that many still do not).
A while later I left the country. Returning a few years after, I visited my Mother Lodge one evening, quite enthusiastically. But that enthusiasm was soon strangled by the Lodge meeting. Yes, it was great to see some old friends. But the actual meeting consisted solely of “business” — as tedious as anything imaginable. Worse, it went on for an entire four hours. Four hours of nonsense. Four hours of mediocrity. Four hours of something utterly irrelevant to my life. At 10pm we finally went for dinner — some of us. The Masters had to have another, private meeting. By 10:30, hungry, with the Masters still not having arrived, and having not ordered food, I left.
If this were my first Lodge meeting would I have attended again? No. No. No.
Solutions to the Problem:
(1) Freemasons expect the Lodge to be the place they go to learn about Freemasonry. It’s just that simple.
I attend a martial arts class. I go regularly. I pay my dues early or on time, even though, annually, it ends up being way more expensive than my Lodge. But I attend and pay my dues without any hesitation. I want to do both. Why? Because martial arts is the focus of my martial arts class. Freemasonry, in contrast, in not the focus of my Lodge. If my martial arts class behaved like my Lodge, I’d have quit after a month.
Lodges need to do more than keep business to a minimum (though that’s essential). They need to make Freemasonry the focus of the Lodge. Every meeting should have a talk on Freemasonry or a related subject. Other subjects could include: esotericism (e.g., schools of Eastern and Western esotericism), symbolism and semiotics, ancient philosophy, ancient religion, ancient cultures, world mythology, monastic tradition, martial arts, exercise and diet for men.
(2) Educate new Freemasons to be leaders, not managers.
The problem is not, when all is said and done, with Grand Lodges and Lodge Masters. The problem is the Brethren. When meetings are boring, it is because no member has stepped up to the plate to give a talk on something of relevance. That is a fact.
As Seth Godin has pointed out in his book Tribes (probably every Freemason should read Tribes, by the way), leaders act like underdogs. They change things. Masonic hierarchy serves a purpose only if it functions to pass down knowledge. The problem is it has ossified. It’s a fossil. It is worse than useless. No real knowledge is passed down. Instead it serves only to keep new Masons from acting on their own initiative.
New Freemasons need to be strongly encouraged to make use of resources such as Masonic libraries, and to do their own research. Lodges should require that they give a short talk not long after being made a Master Mason — just a few minutes; enough time to require work, but not enough time to overwhelm them. They need to be told that it is expected that all Freemasons will give talks, join in discussion in Lodge, etc. Older members need to hear this too, and should be told to take the lead.
(3) Freemasons need to be rebels.
Simply, it is not up to everyone else to make Lodge interesting. If it isn’t interesting to you, then give a talk on a subject, or bring in someone who can — a Masonic scholar; an author on spirituality, myth, etc.; a martial artist; a physician who can teach about health, diet, weights, etc.
(4) Table Lodges and communal meals.
After even a short talk, Brothers should enjoy quality time, dining or feasting together, to give members a chance to talk, discuss the lecture or fraternity, etc.
(5) High quality ritual, etc.
All ritual tools and paraphernalia should be clean and well-kept. People should have learned their ritual parts well. Things should look good.
I would say that 95% or more of the fraternity is very interested in Freemasonry, ritual, symbolism, myth, etc. So are potential members. No one will join for friendship (people are connected on Facebook), business contacts (LinkedIn) or meals. Just won’t happen (or won’t last if they do). People will join Freemasonry because they want to learn more about Freemasonry, more about symbolism, the Mysteries, and so on. If that is the focus, Freemasonry will be healthy. Maybe the numbers won’t grow. We live in a different time to 50 years ago. But by making Freemasonry the focus of the Lodge, it will lose fewer members, and it will create an experience worth attending and paying for.