Friday, May 6, 2011


In August last year I joined a masonic lodge. Technically speaking, I initiated into the 1st/Entered Apprentice degree, of a Blue/Craft lodge (Lodge Southern Cross, #91 of the United Grand Lodge of New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory).

A friend from my board gaming group had, during some gaming sessions, occasionally mentioned his masonic lodge. As I have come to know him better over the years, I trust and appreciate him. He is someone who consistently displays creativity, compassion and integrity. He is much younger than me (not an unusual occurrence these days), and displays a very different personal style from mine. When I thought about masons, he was far different from the image that first came to mind, so my curiosity was piqued.

He invited a few of us to the dinner following his 'raising' to the 3rd/Master Mason degree. It was gratifying to be invited, and I wanted to honour his achievement (though I didn't know what that achievement was). I went to the dinner with a few other friends. I was impressed by the warm welcome from the lodge members, and the comraderie they enjoyed. I was intrigued about what Freemasonry could offer me.

My grandfather had been a mason in a small town in Wisconsin. He died when I was quite young, before I was mature enough to know or appreciate him. I remembered him as a very upright and conservative man (I don't know what his politics were, but he had sound values and strict morals, unlike today's political conservatives). He was the sort of person who would never involve himself in something sinister or untoward. I didn't find out he was a mason until well after his death, when my brother mentioned that he thought the masonic ceremony (which was probably a "Lodge of Sorrows") his lodge had for him was much nicer and more thoughtful than the actual funeral.

I attended further masonic dinners. I was never promised anything, but I observed warmth and generosity. While there was some mystery surrounding what actually happened in a lodge meeting, it all seemed OK, and the brotherly love was clearly evident. Still intrigued, I applied to join the lodge. There was an application form, some interviews, and a little paper to write about myself. A few months of waiting. The guys in the lodge voted on my admission, and I guess I hadn't offended anyone, so they allowed me to join. I took part in the initiation ceremony in August 2010, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

As an Entered Apprentice Freemason (EAF), I constantly found myself either over-, or under-dressed for functions. Much of the ritual was confusing. I often made the wrong gesture, or didn't know the words to odes (short hymns) that were sung. I reasoned that the purpose of apprenticeships is to learn from my mistakes, so I wasn't too worried. Fortunately my brothers quite freely forgave my transgressions. I was sometimes corrected, but never chastised.

I do put some effort into learning the various things I am expected to learn and/or memorize. As I have not been a member of another lodge, I can't say what they require of their members to move forward, but I suspect for some it may be just a process of memorizing a couple of question/answer phrases and a few gestures. My lodge puts some emphasis on it's members experiencing personal growth as part of the process of moving through the degrees. So we have to learn a bit more history, visit other lodges and see how they do things, memorize a few more things, demonstrate masonic knowledge, and write some papers. The papers are structured as questions with long answers, but are really a hint to start a personal inquiry into the personal benefits available from the lessons of Freemasonry.

Lodge Southern Cross is quite successful, with growth in membership, and a long list of guys wanting to join. We are a mostly very young group of fellows, of quite a variety of professions, backgrounds and interests. I put the success down to the focus our lodge puts on personal growth.

Freemasonry has been around for hundreds of years, so it must offer some personal benefit to people. At this point the reader (yes, this means you), might be thinking about the networking aspect (i.e. corruption). I have not seen any evidence, or had any benefit of that sort, and I don't expect to. While I have met many extraordinary people in masonry, and a small number that hold or have held significant positions in society, most I know or have met have just been average Joe's (tradesmen, clerks, workers, etc). None seem to have benefited in finance, position or otherwise from the network. That said, given that much of the masonic lessons seem to involve honesty and integrity, I might be inclined to ask around the lodge for a masonic tradesman I can more likely trust when I am in need of a skilled person/service. I haven't ever been offered any special deals. Many of the guys I have met outside my lodge are well and truly retired.

What is it I like about Freemasonry? The fraternity is fun. The term fraternity brings with it imagery of the American college fraternity, where drunken, misogynistic clods find ways to cheat on their education. Wrong image for my lodge, or any lodge I have visited. We kid around, we share meals, we treat each other equally, we honour and respect the women around us, we enjoy each other's company.

One of the things I enjoy in Freemasonry is the public speaking. Within lodge, and in toasts at the 'South'/'Festive Board' (post lodge dinner) afterwards, I sometimes get to speak, present a paper, or just give or respond to a toast. In high school I had been in the speech club, and in later years a Toastmasters club (which is nothing like Freemasonry), so I actually enjoy getting up and talking in front of a group of people.

Freemasonry has history. The rituals are interesting, and sometimes intellectually challenging. I have seen them presented in monotone, and with colour & vitality. There are gestures that have a theatrical formality, and allow us to communicate on a physical level that displays equality.

Freemasonry isn't a religion, isn't based on religion, and isn't in competition with any religion, although there are some non-masons around who know nothing of Freemasonry, who think it is some sort of competition to their religion. I have seen Jews hugging Muslims, Zoroastrians embracing Christians, just the sort of thing that fellow Jesus would have liked to see. Some of the allegorical lessons have a religious source, but they are really just a story/framework to present the lesson, rather than a promotion of any particular belief. I am allowed my own spiritual beliefs, which are never discussed, which is all well and good as I personally find most organised religions reprehensible.

Politics aren't discussed. I have very strong political convictions, as a humanist. I know that from evidence outside the lodge, that many of my masonic brothers have very different political views. Politics never gets in the way of me enjoying their company.

I look forward to lodge night. We meet on the level, as equals, and just enjoy each other's company. There is a clear focus on not just bettering ourselves, but contributing to society and charity.

It appears that some people view Freemasonry with distrust. Yes, there are some masonic secrets. And if I were to reveal them to you (which I won't), the most likely result would be a very emphatic "so what?" from you. The secrets are nothing to get excited about. I suspect most have been published anyways. The rituals are veiled in a bit of mystery, but that just makes them a bit more fun and interesting. Christmas wouldn't be as much fun if we knew what presents we were going to get. I do think some of the mystery is about focusing on, experiencing and learning from the journey of Freemasonry, which might not hold as much weight if we knew ahead of time exactly what was to be revealed.

Masonic craft lodges don't accept women as members. This seems to be a big problem for some people (mostly women I guess). In the last few decades there have been many initiatives in our society to promote equity for women. Some have been successful, others, less so. I think in some ways women are still disadvantaged in western society, although in my experience this is sometimes not solely the fault of men themselves, but women too. Should every aspect of the world have complete equality, or can we say that some institutions may be better served as separate? In lodge, there is no pretense, or sexual competition, or concern for appearance. In lodge, one is comfortable, and can focus on the task at hand. There are some organisations that women can join, such as 'Co-Masonry', that apparently follow similar rituals. They aren't too popular, but are available for anyone who feels left out. Also there are some organisations allied to Freemasonry which allow female members, such as the 'Order of the Eastern Star', but one must be related to a mason to join. And frankly, women just don't look good in a dinner suit.

A sad fact is the popularity of Freemasonry has been in decline in the last few years. Visiting a suburban lodge, most of the members are very old. They haven't done anything to bring in new members for many years. They are lovely guys, have done much charity work, are very friendly, but dying out. My guess as to the reason for the recent decline in membership has more to do with how baby-boomers and gen-x/y/z have a habit of rejecting anything their elders value. Hopefully this is just a hiccup, as Freemasonry still has a lot to offer society.

Freemasonry has been around for hundreds of years. It has survived many social and technological changes in society. The lessons and benefits it provides are no less pertinent today than they were 50 years ago. Will it fix all the world's problems? It hasn't so far, but that is not to say that it hasn't made (or won't make) significant contributions to the betterment of men & society.

In February I was passed to the 2nd/Fellow Craft degree at a ceremony in Kiama. The ceremony was held by Lodge Highway (a biker lodge) in a 120 year old masonic building. It was moving, interesting, and a lot of fun.

My journey continues.