Is Freemasonry Dying or Evolving?

Is Freemasonry Dying or Evolving?

Time is a river in which all things must sink or swim, and change is a necessary component of what allows any living thing to survive. Freemasonry is no exception. However, today, Masonry seems to be facing some challenges. Statistically, Freemasonry is seeing a major decline, at least in mainstream (masculine, male-only) Masonry. Some Brothers are even saying that Freemasonry is dying.

Is it?

Freemasonry is a tradition which traces its origins as far back as medieval Europe, ancient Egypt, or, some Masonic thinkers even believe, lost pre-historic civilizations. While there are competing theories and narratives about the history of freemasonry, we know that Masonic ritual and culture has not always been the same; what we have today is certainly not a carbon copy of what took place in the ancient world, or even in the Middle Ages. That is certainly a good thing; as much as we love to relish our deep history and connection to the past, ultimately, all traditions must change and adapt to remain relevant, especially today. Is Freemasonry failing to meet that challenge?

As always, this writing does not reflect the official views of Universal Co-Masonry, but is solely the reflections of one Co-Mason.

Evolution is Not Optional

freemasonry failingAs the saying goes, the numbers don’t lie, and all of the relevant statistics are given in the blog post by Brother Lance Kennedy linked at the beginning of this work; I won’t spend time re-hashing them here. If you consider Freemasonry in its mainstream form, there certainly is an undeniable downward trend. Many are making efforts to turn the tide, perhaps with some degree of success, but how best can Freemasons know exactly what needs to be changed, to breathe new life into a seemingly fading institution? While change is obviously necessary, exactly what changes are needed is also a matter of critical importance.

One useful point of comparison to learn what will help Freemasonry thrive and proceed into the future is the much higher growth rates being seen by alternative Masonic Orders, such as our own. Universal Co-Masonry is rapidly growing in numbers, and other Co-Masonic bodies around the globe, although still small in comparison to the nearly ubiquitous masculine Lodges, also appear to be healthily thriving, even as traditional masculine Masonry’s numbers decline.

So, what is Co-Masonry doing right that traditional Masonry is falling short of, that leads greater numbers of young initiates and even former mainstream Masons into our ranks?

The Elephant In the Lodge

women and freemasonryA reasonable way to approach the topic is to look at the key differences between the Orders. It appears that some of the things which once contributed to Masonry’s growth and popularity are now contributing to their decline. This includes the exclusion of women (as equals) from the Lodge, as well as the segregation of Lodges by race, in some jurisdictions. This is the most obvious difference, and was the primary motivation for our Co-Masonic Orders to emerge, or rather, diverge. This is primarily why Co-Masons, considered by masculine Masonry to be “clandestine,” came to exist, because Mainstream Masons refuse to acknowledge the enormous discrepancy between the modern recognition of the moral necessity for Equality in any organization, and their continuation of institutionalized inequality.

I believe that for most Masons under the age of 40, what is most mysterious is why this trend of young seekers favoring Orders based on Equality would be mysterious to anyone, in 2018. In an age of global culture and rising concern for equal rights for all people, the idea of a “Men-Only Club” seems inherently antiquated. To many young minds, it probably calls forth an image of stodgy old Victorian gentlemen, puffing pipes and pontificating through monocles in leather armchairs over how best to maintain their power and wealth, with wives obediently cooking after-Lodge dinner, nearby. I mean no offense to our masculine Masonic Brothers (and we do consider them Brothers, whether they recognize us or not), but this is a very real perception and state of affairs which is, perhaps in more symbolic ways than one, an elephant in the Lodge.

Pancakes Are Only Slightly Magical

masonic pancake breakfastHowever, in this author’s opinion, while inequality is one of, if not the primary factor, there are other major differences which are contributing to Co-Masonic success and mainstream Masonry’s decline, as well. After speaking to Masons who have been members of both, or have transitioned over, I believe I can accurately point out another huge problem facing Masonry, today.

One of the major complaints about mainstream Masonry is that it doesn’t deliver what the seekers drawn to it are looking for. Around the turn of the 20th century, Masonic organizations shifted their focus to charity instead of esoteric matters, mostly in response to growing anti-masonic sentiments, often associated with religious fundamentalism, and suspicions of the occult. Now, huge portions of time in the meetings are consumed with business matters and planning charitable events such as pancake breakfasts, and relatively little is devoted to esoteric study. While charity is ultimately a worthy and necessary aspect of Masonry, it’s not really what most of us come to the Fraternity looking for.

No, there are any number of charitable organizations out there which any young person can join, if they simply want to help/feed/educate people, which don’t involve commitments to secrecy, hours of memorization, and participation in rituals. What young people approaching Masonry today are seeking is more along the lines of guidance in their personal development, spiritual brotherhood, and revelations of arcane knowledge preserved against the eroding forces of time and religious suppression. The unfortunate fact is that masculine Masonry is generally not delivering on that promise, while Universal Co-Masonry emphasizes these things above all else.

Evolution or Extinction

masonic phoenixUltimately, the challenge facing Freemasonry today is the same as the challenge which has always faced every organism throughout all time: evolve, or go extinct; adapt, or fade away; iterate, or fail the market; upgrade, or become obsolete; sink, or swim. I really believe it is as simple as that. As we know from biological evolution, the branches of the evolutionary tree which will survive are those which are most suited to their environments. At one point, our rodent-like ancestors were not so different from their dinosaur cousins, but the differences they did have were a matter of life and death, the difference between inheriting the Earth, or fading into oblivion.

Luckily, the fate of Masonry today does not have to be determined by slow mutation, but rather, the willingness of each individual Mason to cast off the dry, scaly husk of the rigid, unequal, and mundane aspects of Masonry, and walk hand-in-hand with Brothers of all genders and creeds into a new dawn of spiritual enlightenment. If we wish to pass on the treasures which the Craft represents and guide humanity to a higher state of existence, it is the only way. So mote it be.

6 responses

  1. As a member of mainstream Freemasonry, I see the rigid adherence to superficial activities to the exclusion of the esoteric which is the core of what separates Freemasonry from mere social clubs. I am the charter Master of Arts and Sciences a new lodge in Hilliard, Ohio that is setting a new course. We are chartered by the Grand Lodge of Ohio and follow all of their requirements. However, we place education at the core of our existence and purpose. We have been experiencing great success in the past 10 years while those around us continue to struggle. Other lodges in the mainstream Grand Lodge system have made similar choices to reinvent themselves or groups of Brothers have formed new Lodges with such an emphasis. For more information on our lodge, how it works, and how we operate, you can consult an excellent book titled the Craft Driven Lodge available at Macoy Masonic publishers.

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  2. With all the complexities in Freemasonry, one thing is simple, to this Mason anyway. Freemasonry is for men. Before you consider me a Neanderthal, hear my argument. Men in the company of females behave differently, by design. There can be bravado, posturing and sexual tension between the sexes that is currently not as much an issue. Also, throughout our history, the gentleman attending lodge regularly could go safe in the knowledge that his wife wholeheartedly supported his membership (as per our guidelines when first nterviewingvprisoective, married gentlemen for membership). Men and women will forever compliment each other in all facets of life, regardless of plumbing, but Freemasonry cannot, in our current traditional form, be expected to thrive in mixed sex lodges. The dynamic would change us too much. IMHO.
    Billy Wilson, PM
    Acacia #20, Dover, NJ

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  3. Excellent article!
    Just like Heraclitos idea. nobody bathes twice in the same waters of a river. “The thought of this philosopher is archetypal for the problem of becoming.

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  4. Pingback: Is Freemasonry a Time Capsule? « Universal Freemasonry

  5. I would add to the discussion the idea that the social characteristics and democratics of the parent community makes a one size fits all approach unlikely to lead to widespread success. Having participated in the successful resurrection of one dying lodge and now committed to the rescue of another, I’ve come to realize the results are not repeatable. The lodge in question is in a very small town an hour away from a major mountain resort area. The countryside is rife with energetic youth from the upper class and the elite athletes who instruct and guide them as well as the hip young appearance advantaged service workers whose daily commute takes them right past our door. I try to market to these social influencers in their own preferred media, all to no avail. We have a steady flow of candidates for the most part all tradesmen from neighboring communities most an hour away. As yet none have proved up and taken their place among our small cadre. We have the fortunes and artifacts of two defunct craft lodges and a handful of appendant bodies. I seriously doubt we can initiate our way out of this present predicament. We can try, but but if closing the door becomes inescapable, we should have a standing procedure in place for preserving our resources and history for the good of the order. The Grand Lodge has lots of experience in closing lodges but I don’t see any evidence of a shift in perspective toward fortifying the strategic position of a much smaller jurisdiction in the future. It’s not our rural setting that bodes our demise, but our loss of desirability among the upper class. It’s great to sit around and wax nostalgic about the Masonic ties of our founding fathers but freemasonry is no longer a fad among the movers and shakers of our society. They really do deem it derogatory to their dignity to level themselves with the fraternity. For all its promise in a world bereft of real substantive human relationships masonry has become the organizational equivalent of a bowling ally. The only way to change that is to live up to our values and become what we profess to be, a band of friends and brothers dedicated to moral and intellectual development and supporters of one inclusive family of man, divorced from religious doctrines politics and nationalistic aims. Ask yourself, is that even possible?

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