Do the Shriners Connect Freemasonry to Islam?

Do the Shriners Connect Freemasonry to Islam?

Who are the Shriners? How are they related to Freemasonry, and do they connect Freemasonry to Islam in some way?

While most believe the Shriners, or the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, to be merely a Masonic club where Masons get together outside the regular Lodge, to have fun, and do some charity work, is there actually a more mysterious history to the organization, beneath the surface level? Today, we’ll learn a few things about the Shriners and their origins, and investigate whether they truly connect Freemasonry to Islam.

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

Partying for the Greater Good?

One of the things that Shriners are best known for is being an organization in which Freemasons cut loose a bit, engage in socializing, convene and organize for celebrations or pursuit of various hobbies. One does have to be a Master Mason (3°) to become a Shriner, although the Shrine itself does not represent a new or different degree within the Scottish Rite.

Each Shriner Temple, often decorated in middle-Eastern style, draws Masons from a wide area, as they are fewer and further-between than Masonic temples are. Thus, these buildings are places where Masons from the surrounding region convene and are somewhat more like convention centers than a typical Temple. Each contains clubs or units within it, which are related to various hobbies or activities that Masons may take an interest in: ranging from chess clubs to motorcycle groups. Shriners also engage in fundraising activities for charity and organizing lively parades.

Relatively Recent Origins

Formed in 1872, the Shriners are a self-described “spin-off” from Freemasonry, with an added element of fun and philanthropy. The conventional story of Shriner origins goes that the organization was created by Walter M. Fleming and William J. Florence. This was after Florence, an actor on tour, was initiated by an Arabian diplomat at a party in France by virtue of being a member of the audience of a performance the diplomat had organized. Later, Florence and Fleming combined elements they had learned from Masonry with what Florence had seen from the performance at the party and created the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine. The organization grew from there, eventually becoming what it is today.

Of course, like anything connected to Freemasonry or any other “secret society,” there are Shriner conspiracy theorists, usually of the fundamentalist variety, which believe otherwise. These conspiracists based their arguments on the usual leaps to conclusions and sporadic dot-connecting we are accustomed to seeing from that crowd. They seem to think that the organization is connected to the religion of Islam, tracing back to the first millennium A.D.

While it is true that there is some Islam-related symbolism in Shriner regalia, not least of which some variations of their signature Fez including the word Mecca, there is no firmly established historical evidence tying the Shriners to Islam. Indeed, it would be difficult to adopt an Arabic aesthetic without some elements of Islam cropping up. The Fez itself long predates Shriners, originating in Morocco perhaps as far back as the 900s A.D., and was merely adopted by the Shriners.

Is It As Simple As It Seems?

However, as we saw in the standard origin narrative, it did begin with the initiation of two Masons into a secret society by an Arabian diplomat. Although this seemed to be a simple party initiation of not much consequence, something like “you’ve seen the play, now I declare you members,” at least from the story handed down to us. However, is that really the case? What was the organization they were initiated into that began this Fraternal spin-off?

I have not been able to find any information on the diplomat or even the name of the organization. However, some Shriner sources do mention that Bro. Florence got his inspiration for the Shriner aesthetic not just from that party in France but also from attending two more ceremonies, presumably of the same organization, in Algiers and Cairo.

I suppose we could speculate without much evidence, but what would be the point? There are no clear and concrete indications of the Shriner’s connection to Islam that I could find only conspiratorial suppositions based primarily on the icons they used and a mysterious question mark as to the organization that originally initiated them – via the Arabian diplomat. Is there more to be found here? Perhaps. But until then, I am not convinced that there is a connection. If anyone has more information on this topic, I would welcome it in the comments.

Masonic Motto: Ordo Ab Chao

Masonic Motto: Ordo Ab Chao

Of the many symbols and phrases of Freemasonry, a few mottoes are important enough to be prominently, and sometimes publicly displayed on flags, seals, or regalia. The phrase “Ordo Ab Chao,” is the motto of the 33rd degree, which can be found on the grand decorations of the Order of the Sovereign Grand Inspectors General, one of the highest honors and roles which can be bestowed upon a Mason. It is also featured on other seals and flags representing various Orders.

This phrase being depicted so prominently, particularly in relation to the 33rd degree, indicates a tremendous importance to Freemasonry. Indeed, Ordo Ab Chao, translated to “Order from Chaos,” is also associated with another latin phrase, Lux In Tenebris, which translates to “Light from Darkness.” Why is the idea of Order from Chaos or Light from darkness so significant to Freemasonry? Let’s explore this question together.

As always, this article does not represent the official views of Universal Co-Masonry, but are simply the reflections of one Co-Mason.

Historical Artifact, or Essence of the Craft?

One theory about the origin and significance of this phrase has mostly to do with Masonic history in the United States. In the early 1800s, there was some division and conflict between the Northern and Southern jurisdictions of the Scottish Rite, in the US. According to this theory, when the Rite being practiced in the North was found to be aorder from chaos fraud, and the conflict resolved in the restoration of the original Rite, this was where the original use of the phrase emerged.

Perhaps the most dismissive theory, in this case the “Order from Chaos” was simply the order restored from the chaos of the schism between jurisdictions, and all other meanings commonly attributed to it are purely speculative.

While it’s important not to rule out such an explanation simply because it’s only historically interesting, it’s hard to believe that the motto would be considered so significant if it didn’t have a deeper symbolic meaning. What are some other possible meanings?

The Universal Phoenix?

The first clue to the more profound meaning and significance of this phrase is the origin of it’s correlate, Lux in Tenebris. This phrase comes to us from the Latin translation of the Gospel of John, in which it is said “The Light shone in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” While Ordo Ab Chao can be traced to the early 19th century, this other phrase is obviously much older, and carries similar meaning.

What is meant when we say to bring Light from darkness, or Order from chaos? Much as the operative Masons of old took the rough stone of the natural world and hewed and smoothed it in such a way as to be fit for the construction of elaborate and pristine structures such as cathedrals, so the speculative Masons of today apply the same discipline, and even the metaphor of the builder’s tools, to draw forth Order from the Chaos of their own lives and minds. Just as God is said to have made a Light to shine in the darkness which comprehended it not, so are we to be as Lights of knowledge and integrity in the darkness and ignorance of the world, even when it does not understand that Light.

On an even deeper level, what is this universe made of? There are many ways to answer that, and one of them is that it is made of gradients of Order and Chaos. We can see in history and in our own lives that these are not two separate things, but are both a continuum, and a dynamic process of change. As Chaos ensues, old orders are broken down to allow new ones to emerge. Like Ying and Yang, death and rebirth, Order and Chaos follow from and give birth to one another, in an ever-renewing cycle of creation and evolution.

Why Have So Many Famous Jazz Musicians Been Freemasons?

Why Have So Many Famous Jazz Musicians Been Freemasons?

When we think of the connection between Freemasonry and music, where most people’s minds probably go first is to Mozart, who is the most famous classical composer to be a documented Mason, although some speculate about Beethoven as well. Indeed, Mozart even wrote Masonic themes into some of his music, as was discussed in another of our posts.

What many do not realize is that there are perhaps more famous jazz musicians who were Masons than classical composers, or perhaps any other genre. Why does Freemasonry count so many renowned jazz artists among its ranks? That’s what we’ll be learning about in this post: both the history and reasons for Masonry’s jazz connections.

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

A History of Great Jazz Masons

First, let’s just take a look at some of the big names from jazz history who have been a part of the Brotherhood. Duke Ellington, Irving Berlin, Nat King Cole, Count Basie, Glenn Miller, and Dizzy Gillespie are just a few household names you might recognize who were either proven or almost certainly Freemasons. There are yet more to list, but these are probably the biggest names who even casual jazz fans will recognize. 

sun ra freemasonSun Ra, an interesting character by any measure, is also theorized to have been a member of a Prince Hall Lodge, or a lodge of a related fraternal order, throughout his career. While not the most well-documented Mason, his flamboyant, Egyptian-inspired stage garb and “cosmic” philosophical expressions certainly make him at least the most colorful character to be associated with both jazz and the Masonic tradition.

So, why is there such a connection between Freemasonry and jazz?

Hip to Be Square

One of the suggested reasons that Freemasonry has been so appealing to musicians throughout history is that along with valuing music as one of the seven liberal arts, it also made it easier for those who lived on the road. By being a Freemason, traveling musicians could easily plug into any community and support network they encountered, via the local lodge. It also provided support at times of sickness and death, which to the sometimes empty-pocketed musicians, could be a godsend.

prince hall freemasonryJazz history is also intimately intertwined with African American history, and so it shouldn’t surprise us that many of these jazz musicians were connected to Freemasonry through Prince Hall Lodges. Prince Hall Freemasonry is an order that was chartered by the Grand Lodge of England for African Americans who were rejected from mainstream Lodges at the time, and are predominantly African American in their membership.

At the time when jazz proliferated, and many of the African American jazz Masons were in their hayday, much of the country was still segregated, and racial tensions were still quite high. Life as a musician already wasn’t easy, and if you add to that being part of an actively persecuted ethnic group, it’s not hard to see why the benefits of Fraternal Life would be appealing, even empowering to African American jazz musicians in the early-to-mid 20th century. 

However, it also seems likely that there are deeper reasons for the connection than simple utility and networking.

On the Same Wavelength

Jazz is known by most as a type of music, but it’s also a subculture, and that subculture has its own sort of philosophy and ethic. If we reflect upon both the ideas embodied in the music of jazz, as well as the culture surrounding it, we can find many correlations which give a deeper understanding to the connections between jazz and Freemasonry than simply being a useful fraternal organization for musicians.

Both Freemasonry and jazz, for instance, are about generating new ideas; innovation and forward thinking are qualities that are embraced both in the Lodge and in the creation of jazz music. There is also an inclusiveness to jazz, having originated in the intermingling of various cultures and musical styles in New Orleans in the early 20th century, and that symbiosis and confluence of cultures towards a common goal of progress together is certainly a value held by Masonry, as well.

freemasonry and musicOn a more abstract level, we can look at the actual musical nature and structure of jazz, some of which can be quite abstract, and draw another correlation. Anyone who has developed an appreciation for jazz, especially the more abstract variety, can understand how the phrase “Ordo Ab Chao” could be equally relevant to the craft of jazz as it is in the Craft of Freemasonry. 


Is Freemasonry a Conspiracy?

Is Freemasonry a Conspiracy?

Of all the many lenses we might use to view Freemasonry, this is perhaps one of the most colloquially familiar, even to the point of being a cliche. For some, the words “Freemasonry” and “conspiracy” may even be practically synonymous. While conspiracy culture has leveled any number of accusations and theories at the fraternity, much to the consternation or annoyance of most within the brotherhood, it may serve us all, whether from the inside or out, to ask this basic question: Is Freemasonry a conspiracy?

While some Brothers’ eyes may roll at the question, it is a legitimate inquiry. After all, although the rituals themselves are a matter of public record by now, having been revealed in various exposes, Brothers do still meet behind closed doors, and utilize symbolism and secret handshakes not understood by the average layperson; it should surprise no one that such things leave a lot open for speculation from outside the Lodge.

As always, this writing does not represent the views and opinions of Universal Co-Masonry, but is merely the reflections of one Co-Mason.

What Do Freemasons Have to Say About It?

masonic conspiracy historyThe definition of a conspiracy is “a group of people planning in secret, usually to do something harmful or unlawful.” The public statements of Freemasonry about its goals, purposes, and philosophy do nothing to indicate a conspiracy, by that definition.

Freemasonry has described itself as a “Beautiful system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.” Universal Co-Masonry goes a bit further, stating our intention to help all human beings to unite and work together for the perfection of Humanity.” However, anything so publicly stated could hardly be considered a conspiracy, even if it would be a benevolent one.

Brother Manly P. Hall, in his book Hidden Keys of Freemasonry, alleges that Brothers were heavily involved conspiratorially in both the French and American revolutions. If true, this would mean that some Masons at least admit to conspiracy, and are proud of the fact. Likewise, the secret colleges of the early enlightenment had a great deal to do with the scientific revolution, were intertwined with Masonic communities, and could also be considered conspiratorial in nature. These events of history are ones that some Brothers are happy to claim as benevolent Masonic conspiracies, so we cannot disregard the idea that Masons have historically conspired, altogether.

As far as current Masonic conspiracies, the accusation or speculation of conspiracy, by definition, implies an ulterior motive which is concealed behind any public persona of an organization. From that perspective, of course, it could never matter what any Freemason says to the contrary, because they would always be considered to be concealing this ulterior motive, which is perhaps an instance of the problem of radical skepticism. So, then, how might we know if, and to what extent Masons conspire, today?

Alleged Evidence of Masonic Conspiracy

Masonic ConspiracyThe amount of theorizing and accusation made by anti-masonic conspiracy theorists is far too vast to adequately cover in this brief post. Freemasons have been accused of anything ranging from being “shape-shifting inter-dimensional reptilians,” to being “atheists seeking to destroy religion.” However, when one examines the purported evidence of these ideas, it becomes apparent that great leaps of thought and belief, as well as a lack of deep fact-checking, are required to connect the dots in such a way as to believe any of them.

However, is it all false? Is it possible that corruption and conspiracy has entered some Lodges, in the past or even today? I’m going to be perhaps a bit controversial here, among Masonic circles at least, and say: Possibly. 

As an exclusive organization which does have private meetings, I regard it as entirely possible that some individuals or groups have used the organization of Freemasonry as a way to conceal activities and influences which would not be condoned by society, or most Brothers. There has been at least one historical case of serious Masonic conspiracy with relatively strong evidence, and many scattered clues to possible other cases, as conspiracy theorists love to remind us. While most of these are isolated incidences, hoaxes, or inconclusive at best, do they all amount to nothing?

Is Conspiracy an Illegitimate Concern?

all seeing eye masonicWe may do well to remember that it was the exclusive, structured nature of operative masonry which originally made it so appealing to those esoteric practitioners seeking shelter from authority so long ago, ultimately leading to the development of Speculative Masonry. If it was so useful to those seeking to hide their forbidden practices from religious persecution, why couldn’t it be likewise useful to those with other purposes? 

This is certainly not to say that Freemasonry in general is a grand conspiracy, as it is so often accused of being. I personally have seen nothing in my experience to indicate that it is. Perhaps we “conspire” to improve individuals and humanity as a whole in its path of evolution, but we openly admit to that in our declaration of principles, thereby rendering it non-conspiratorial. 

However, it’s also this author’s opinion that as Masons, we should never be so weary of conspiracy theorists’ wild speculations that we are overly quick to disregard actual evidence of corruption or bad actors among our ranks. Within the vast non-sense of conspiracy lore is perhaps a kernel of truth: that any organization which meets behind closed doors and communicates in arcane terminology, symbols, and signals is by this very fact an ideal hiding place. So, as such, we must be ever watchful of corruption by those who do things they wish to hide. 

Is Freemasonry a Sigil?

Is Freemasonry a Sigil?

The connection between Freemasonry and ritual magic is something which might be controversial to some brothers. The organization has intentionally de-emphasized such esoteric aspects of the Craft, at least in mainstream male-only Masonry, to focus instead on charity and fraternity. Universal Freemasonry for Men and Women, on the other hand, chooses to embrace the less mundane aspects of our tradition, so an idea like the one discussed in this writing is much less controversial among our Order.

As Masons, we enact rituals which change little over time, carry layers of philosophical significance and symbolism, and are meant to teach and transform each Brother. What is the magical significance, if any, of these rituals? Continuing with the theme of examining Masonry through various lenses, today we’ll inquire: Is Freemasonry a sigil?

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

Sigils, Symbols, and Sympathetic Magic

sigilWhat is a sigil? Sigils have been used throughout the history of magic, as a symbolic means by which to execute some magical action. This application has ranged from the sigil representing the name of supernatural entities, and therefore the power to summon them, to the more modern applications of Chaos Magic, which view them as symbolic representations of the magician’s intent.

In his excellent book Real Magic, Dr. Dean Radin discusses the scientific reality of what ancients called magic, and researchers today tend to call psi phenomena. Taking the more modern scientific view on magic, he includes a section about sigils in which it is explained that sigils use the law of correspondence, or sympathetic magic, to influence the world in some way and achieve a desired goal. While the mechanism by which this allegedly occurs is still unknown, many speculate that symbols or information may be fundamental to the fabric of reality itself. This is one way to explain why symbols, plus human intention, are able to affect changes in some mysterious, non-local way.

In the book, he recommends a simple sigil that illustrates the concept: take the letters of an acronym representing what it is you want to achieve, then rearrange and blend the letters together, to create a symbol. The main thing is that this symbol represents the desired goal to you, and gives it a graphic form, which you can then charge with intention, via a ritual, meditation, or method of your choosing. The combination of your intention and this symbol is supposed to literally reach out non-locally, to effect change toward achieving your goal in a magical or synchromystic sense. This is a basic illustration of the principle of sigils. 

Sigils, Sigils Everywhere

sigils symbolsIf one considers magic to be real, as current psi research indicates, and sigils to have a true effect by somehow utilizing nonlocality to extend human intention into the world, this brings up a possible re-interpretation of not only Freemasonry, but many other aspects of human culture, in general. If the sigil-effect is real, for instance, then how might that re-shape our view of art, corporate logos, architecture, city planning, and media in general?

While symbols are everywhere, the degree to which they have a magical effect is supposed to be determined by various factors, like how much human intention they’re being “charged” with, how often the ritual is performed, how many people are involved, etc., at least according to those who feel they’ve gained some understanding of this mysterious phenomenon. This means that symbols employed in a highly focused and regularly performed ritual would carry a great deal more power than a corporate logo, for instance.

Crafting a Spell of Awakening?

masonic symbolThus we arrive at the consideration of Freemasonry’s symbols and rituals, in a magical context. The origins of the Speculative aspects of Masonry came from traditions such as Hermeticism, Rosicrucianism, Alchemy, and Astrology, all of which were at least somewhat magical in nature. Therefore, its reasonable to suppose that those who originated the Craft were aware of, or believed in the power of symbol and ritual.

Considering the highly focused and disciplined nature of Masonic ritual, as well as the Fidelity and intention with which they are performed, it stands to reason that if the sigil-effect is in fact real, Masonic rituals performed regularly throughout the world must be performing a type of magic which reaches far and wide. While sigils in the traditional sense are a graphical symbolic representation, of which the Lodge and rituals contain plenty, it’s also interesting to consider that the rituals themselves may be a sort of 4-dimensional sigil, written into both 3D space, and the 4th dimension of time.

If Masonic Ritual is a sigil, what is the intention behind it? For most Brothers familiar with the Rituals, the answer would seem to be the uplifting and perfection of humanity, the bringing forth of Light from the Darkness, and the subduing of passion for the sake of Service to the Divine. What does Masonic Ritual mean to you?

Is Freemasonry a Time Capsule?

Is Freemasonry a Time Capsule?

Freemasonry can be and is many things to many people. Some see it as a conspiracy to take over the world; others, an ancient method to guide and improve humanity; yet others still, an old boys club with funny rituals and charitable activities. Following on the perspective theme of last week’s blog Is Freemasonry Dying or Evolving?, I’m going to explore yet another lens on Masonry: the possibility that it may be a kind of time capsule.

This may seem an odd take on our proud tradition at first glance, but bear with me. Without a doubt, Freemasonry is an institution passing down rituals often believed to be ancient in origin, with layers of meaning which are revealed as one progresses through the degrees. Great emphasis is placed on the idea that Masonic Ritual is passed on with regularity, with major changes typically requiring approval through the hierarchy.

This is not to say that Masonry never changes, nor that there are never outliers in terms of individual Lodges deviating from the norm, but rather that the ratio of tradition preservation to novel permutation is relatively high. So, if Freemasonry can be seen as a time capsule, what is it preserving?

As always, this post is not representative of the official views of Universal Co-Masonry, but is simply the reflections of one Co-Mason.

Ancient Origins?

masonic ritualSome debate goes on both within and outside of Masonic circles over the true age and origins of Masonic Ritual. More conservative and scholarly historians have settled on the Middle Ages as the coming together of operative masonry (builder’s guild) with it’s Speculative components (philosophy and esotericism), and the Renaissance founding of the Grand Lodge in England in 1717 demarcates the official culmination point of modern Freemasonry into what it is today. However, it’s possible that this is merely when Freemasonry came into its modern form, and began leaving a neat paper trail.

On the other hand, more speculative Brothers have traced its origins to the ancient mystery traditions of old, supposing it to trace back as far as ancient Israel, Egypt, even Atlantis. Certainly the Speculative Masonic elements which joined and transformed Masonry from an architectural guild into the modern spiritual tradition it is today were inspired by, if not actually directly descended from, those ancient mystical traditions.

In a way, the question we’re asking is two-fold, because it depends on what we’re referring to when we say “Freemasonry.” If, by that term, we mean the unified Fraternity we know today, under the auspices of Grand Lodges, combining the symbolism of Masonic Builders with the teachings of the ancient Mysteries, then the conservative historians are probably correct. On the other hand, if we are referring to the origin of the Mysteries it preserves, which are the Speculative elements that have made it significant enough to be preserved when all other such organizations from medieval times faded away, then we must look much further back into the past.

A Mystery Within a Secret Hidden in Plain Sight

masonic traditionWhat is a time capsule? It is a container in which is placed one or more items of significance which one wishes to preserve through the process of time. If those same items had not been placed in the capsule, they would likely have succumb to the inevitable forces of entropy and change. They would have been thrown away, fallen apart, or given away and forgotten about. The central intention of creating a time capsule is to preserve something so that it may be rediscovered at a later time.

You might be thinking that the comparison of Freemasonry to a time capsule seems a bit of a stretch, and in some ways, I’m inclined to agree. It is not merely a time capsule; but can we think of that as one of the purposes it serves?

Freemasonry in its modern form comes to us from a time when certain freedoms such as democratic government, open philosophical discourse, and personal spirituality had all but been eradicated from the Western world by means of despotism, mass psychological manipulation, torture, and genocide. Is it any wonder that those passing along these ancient virtues converged and found an adequate container in which to place them? Operative masonry, with its democratic hierarchical structure, secret terminology and tokens, and international nomadic mode of existence particularly lent itself to being an ideal container for these timeless Truths, to preserve them against decay and tyranny.

That being said, Freemasonry is also different from a time capsule in many ways. It does not simply sit there, buried somewhere, to be found at a later time; it lives on and raises men and women to higher stages of their own evolution, contributes to the world charitably, and attempts to steer humanity towards freedom and enlightenment. Yet, it would not be capable of doing so if it weren’t maintaining the ancient Mysteries within the container of symbolism and fraternal organization.

What do you think? Do you find this to be a useful perspective of the Craft?

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.