I recently took the opportunity to binge watch Lodge 49 (currently available on Hulu). I was a fan of the show when it premiered up until it’s untimely cancellation after two seasons, with only half the story told, but this is the first chance I’ve had to watch it straight through, from beginning to end, and the experience was a mixed bag of emotion. Happiness because the show was so good, and a certain sadness because my lodge is not quite as cool as Lodge 49.
If you’re not familiar, the show follows the exploits of a character named Dud who, after a series of family misfortunes, finds himself penniless, homeless, and scrounging the beech with an old metal detector when he suddenly finds a strange ring in the sand, which his loan shark identifies as belonging to the Ancient and Benevolent Order of the Lynx. Believing that the local chapter, Lynx Lodge 49, can give him some direction in life, he and a cavalcade of unusual side characters embark on a surreal adventure into the world of esoterica, alchemy, intrigue, and pancake breakfasts.
Get a few episodes into this masterpiece of a show and you’ll see how eerily accurate it is at portraying an adult fraternal order, from the weirdos, to the drinking, to the guy who wants to put TVs everywhere in the lounge. What Lodge 49 probably gets most accurate is portraying a lodge trying to maintain a building that is unsustainable to save a fraternity that is dying in order to preserve principles that they’ve all more or less forgotten about.
But as familiar as that is, Lodge 49 portrays a fraternal order that actually works exactly like it’s supposed to, and there are a lot of lessons Freemasonry can draw from the show. Here are ten things Freemasonry can learn from Lodge 49.
Don’t lowball a new prospect
When Dud first enquires about membership, Ernie, Lodge 49’s equivalent of a Senior Warden and a character who found himself in a cash-fix, quotes him an annual dues fee of $2000, instead of the actual fee of $200. Dud, having no context to know this was unusual, and feeling driven to join, happily takes out a high-interest rate loan to pay it.
I’m not telling anyone, of course, to fleece their candidates but it illustrates a truism that most Masons are too close to Freemasonry to see anymore, which is that value is a product of expectation and emotion, and that new men interested in Freemasonry rarely come in with any pre-conceived notions what everything we do is worth. They knock on our door seeking belonging and transformation, and while not everyone can afford hundreds or thousands of dollars, I’ve never met a candidate who thought such prices were intrinsically too high. If initiation costs $2000, they assume it’s worth $2000.
The issue is that most Masons don’t think it’s worth $2000, and that says something about our attitudes as we conduct our degrees and lodges. If we think Freemasonry should be priced cheap, we will instinctually treat it cheaply. Now, I don’t care how pricy or cheap your lodge’s dues are, but we need to learn that the true value of the lodge has no particular effect on new candidates, so let’s stop fooling ourselves. This is about us. How much was our transformation worth? How we perceive our value is a direct reflection on how we see ourselves and what we can do for our fellow man.
Respect the Master/Apprentice relationship
The Order of Lynx doesn’t have masters and apprentices, they have knights and squires. Dud is made a squire to his mentor, Ernie, a Luminous Knight. This knight/squire relationship plays out throughout the two seasons of the show. Ernie is truly a mentor to Dud, and in turn, Ernie begins to see the world again through the younger, dreaming eyes of his squire.
I think it’s one of the greatest failings in so much of the Freemasonry that I’ve witnessed, that we do so little to encourage this mentoring relationship. Usually an experienced mason is always willing to help a new brother with his catechism, but then brothers are frequently cut loose after their third degree, and at best they start hovering around people they enjoy. This is a kind of soft mentoring in itself, but that sense of “this is your big brother/knight/master mason and he’s going to take responsibility for you, teach you everything he knows, and make sure you get what you want out of this fraternity”…I never see it done, and if it’s done anywhere, it’s not done nearly enough. We literally use the terms “master” and “apprentice” like we’re Jedi, but do we waste it?
Care about the cosplay
Lodge 49’s regalia is actually really nice. Cool robes, cool hats, cool sashes. But it’s not just the quality of the work. As the members ascend in knowledge, they seem to add bits to their sashes like a Boy Scout. In American Freemasonry we so frequently pull out a box ragged, cotton, coffee-stained white aprons and call it equality, but while we do not judge man for his outward appearance, what does that say about how we view ourselves and what we do?
Have secret rooms
This isn’t a metaphor. We should literally have secret rooms in our buildings. Many of our Masonic Temples have some twists and turns or maybe a bevy of storage rooms and closets in the basement. If you find one it’s probably filled with old Christmas decorations, or maybe nothing at all.
Imagine snooping around the basement of your temple, looking for a mop and bucket, and you turn the rusty knob of a room to find a meditation chamber. Or an old alchemical lab. Or a lost esoteric library? Do you tell the lodge? Or keep it a secret? Who put it there? Who knows? It’s a mystery.
That kind of thing is magic. Whether it’s something that only the active, dedicated brothers know about, or some mystery door that the Secretary hasn’t had a key to in decades, the idea of running into something like this in my building sends shivers up my spine. Alas, I think I’ve been in all the rooms, and it’s been mostly mops and Christmas decorations. But hey, maybe future generations could have a better thrill. I mean, why not? I can keep the mops in the same room as a Christmas trees just to free up space for a mysterious, alchemical chamber.
It never hurts to find a dead body once in a while
This one is a metaphor, but it’s along the same line as the Secret Rooms. Sometimes it’s nice to run into a little mystery in your lodge. Perhaps it’s a portrait with no title or description. Maybe it’s a wall covered in arcane symbols that, after a great deal of research, are discovered to be Master’s Marks from past brothers. Maybe it’s the minutes and records for a Masonic trial that has long been swept under the rug.
I think we all appreciate the art of good record-keeping, but mysteries sprinkled throughout the lodge are an irresistible treat to many Masons. Early in my Masonic life my lodge was leaving a building we had shared with another lodge for over 70 years and we were trying to unravel the mystery of what furniture belonged to which lodge. Now I’m not saying remove any labels and context from your Masonic goodies, or set up fake murder mystery clues throughout the building (though that would be pretty cool), but when you see something unusual, don’t just throw it back into the back of the closet. Bring it up in lodge. It’s a mystery that might need solving!
The character of Blaise, a head-shop owning, esoteric, alchemist dreamer has a familiar feel to me, coming from lodges who had a few legit spooky brothers in them. Lodges dedicated to alchemy, esoterica, and even magic (oh, they’re out there) always seem a bit out of balance to me, but I think every lodge needs at least one or two highly esoteric weirdos, and the weirder the better. They just bring an energy of possibility with them, that one, make for great conversation, and two, make for an environment of mystery and that maybe, just maybe, our “Masonic secrets” are not just our modes of recognition and the legend of the third degree. Maybe we do actually, even unknowingly, guard an ancient secret we pass down from generation to generation. And that would really mean something.
In season two of Lodge 49 the Lynx brothers find themselves in the middle of a heist, trying to recover lost scrolls written by their founder, and you know what? A good heist really brings brothers together.
For legal purposes I have to say that I am NOT recommending your lodge plan a heist. But you know what? Get in trouble a bit. Whether it’s a polite slobberknocker with your Grand Lodge over reinstating the ancient penalties, or starting a possibly ill-advised podcast where Freemasons act like real people, or even just dimming the lights in lodge assembled to the grumbling disapproval of your area deputy, little acts of rebellion help bond us together. And as long as you don’t let it get personal, and keep the principles of our brotherhood in mind, hey, go nuts.
A building is the body of the true lodge
In Lodge 49, saving the building is a minor theme due to some financial shenanigans by their previous Sovereign Protector, but it’s not a primary plot point. What is sewn throughout the garment of the show, however, is how important the lodge building is to Lodge 49. When Dud steps foot inside the building, he strongly feels like he’s been there before. Another character has a similar experience later. They building is their history, the bar is their round table. They protect it, and care for it.
In Freemasonry we frequently say a lodge is not the building, it’s the brothers, and this is absolutely true. In fact, I know of two successful lodges that haven’t got a building at all. But, we can’t minimize the importance of a home to the brothers of our fraternity. And, in fact, I believe those of us who do own and operate our own Masonic temples have a strange relationship with them.
I’ve always had the uneasy feeling that the brothers in the lodges I’ve been apart of believe that they inherited their building from a generation of super-masons, and their job is merely to keep it around until a much more talented generation arrives in the future. By this I mean they don’t leave their mark on it. They don’t personalize it. They do a great job of preserving the past for the future, but forget that they are the Superman they’ve been waiting for.
Put your pictures up. Redecorate the lounge. Rearrange the furniture. Make your building yours. It is the Salt of a lodge. It is your Body. Yours. And when that new generation of Masons come along, they get to make it theirs. And everyone benefits because they’ll be meeting in living history.
Discussion is the mind of the true lodge
Talk, either esoteric or mundane, is what keeps a lodge exciting and fresh. Educational lectures are an important part of this process, but even better is education that involves engagement by the brotherhood. This could be in a Q&A at the end of a lecture, or a Socrates Café after lodge. The hidden mysteries of Masonry may be coded deep within our rituals and degrees, but they’re not going to be unlocked through those rituals and degrees, but rather by open discussion and debate among Masons, preferably over drinks.
Fellowship is the soul of the true lodge
Opening. Minutes. Votes. Close. Car.
Too many lodges operate strictly by these five words. It is such a tragedy because that is not only a cold, soulless way to practice Freemasonry, but it is not how any of this was intended to be. Lodges first met in pubs. They met over meals. Yes, they are places for solemn contemplation, but also places of good cheer.
Fellowship after lodge, or outside of lodge, is a critical lifeblood of Freemasonry.
So get together for drinks. Plan a heist. Decorate a secret room. Do anything but be boring, because when we are boring, we die. When we are exciting, we thrive.