Why You Shouldn't Be a Freemason

Note: This article was originally posted on Braden Lodge‘s website, but has been moved here by its author. It is presented here in its original form. An updated version has been incorporated into Welcome to the Brickyard.

Matt Gallagher

Freemasonry  is shrouded in a pop-culture mystique of danger and intrigue. Now I won’t comment on if any of those intrigues are true (hint), but one thing is for sure,  Freemasonry has gotten a reputation as an organization in decline. This is very much not true.

Freemasonry is growing almost everywhere in exciting ways. Lodges are bringing in young, vibrant members, eager to learn traditions and add their own modern perspective. What is true, however, is that Freemasonry, along with every other fraternal club, saw huge booms in the twentieth century, and those boom times are gone. Frankly, those boom times were probably not that great for Freemasonry. They drew the focus away from self-improvement and brotherhood, and into more publicly-focused areas. Rather than helping each other grow better, many used their brotherhood to help each other grow richer. Charity became an industry, rather than a personal offer of relief, and to the receiver an acceptance of responsibility.

When membership declined from these lofty heights, some Masonic lodges moved toward an any-and-all-comers view of membership. But Freemasonry is not for everyone. Sadly, it’s not even for most people. And joining a Masonic lodge when you shouldn’t isn’t good for you, or your lodge. Here’s why you shouldn’t join Freemasonry.

Are Angry People Actually “Angry People?”

Are you an angry person?

I’ve done my fair amount of shouting in my life. Yelling at the kids, snapping at the wife, shouting to the sky and cursing the gods. You know, the regular stuff. Everyone does it. Some people, usually guys, do it more than normal.

Psychologists tell us that men often process depression through anger, and that’s probably true, but why is that? And what can we do about it?

Well…I’m not sure. If I knew, I’d be doing it, right? But I had a weird thought to share. You’ve heard of the phrase “spectrum of emotion,” and that got be to think about light and color.

Why is a blue object blue?

Physics tells us that it’s not blue. In fact, blue is the one trait in the whole universe we know it doesn’t possess. Anything we see in our world is nothing more than light bouncing off the object and into our eyes. Light is composed of a spectrum of stuff, and one of those is color. When white light hits an object, it’s bombarded by red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet wavelengths. Objects either absorb or reflect these wavelengths. When they’re all reflected back to our eyes, the object appears white. When they’re all absorbed, the object appears black. And when, for instance, they’re all absorbed except for blue, and blue is reflected back at us, we see the object as blue.

But it’s not blue. It doesn’t absorb blue. It absorbed all the other colors within it. Those other color wavelengths are, in a sense, a part of the object. Except blue. Blue was rejected and expelled.

Does emotion work the same way?

What if, rather than color, we’re bombarded with emotional wavelengths? Happy, Sad, Angry, Envy, Disgust, etc. And most of us can absorb most of these wavelengths most of the time. We can absorb them, and process them. But some emotions we can’t all absorb. Some emotions we bounce back.

Is an angry person angry? Do they generate and radiate anger? Or can they just not absorb anger, so they end up rejecting it, and bouncing it back. Like the blue object, others would view them as an angry person. But in reality, angry might be the one thing they’re not, on the inside. They’re not built to process anger. It’s a foreign body and they reject it.

This could be a dumb idea. I’ve had a lot of those. But consider it. What if the person you think is an angry person isn’t angry. And the happy person isn’t happy. And the sad person isn’t sad. They just reflect instead of absorb. Maybe we should approach these people differently. And we can send them wavelengths they can absorb and process, rather than playing a game of Pong between you.

Just a thought.

What Are the Secretive, Mysterious Origins of Freemasonry?

…I don’t know.

But to be fair to me, neither does anyone else.

There are very few records of our beginnings. Freemasonry either started in ancient Egypt, the Crusades, Middle Age Europe, or the exact date of the founding of the United Grand Lodge of England, depending on how tight or loose you play with the facts.

If we just go by authenticated records, it seems like it started in the Middle Ages when the operative masonry guilds, the ones who actually built the cathedrals, castles, and shithouses of Europe, let non-masons sit in on their meetings, and then eventually let them (or at least didn’t stop them) from branching off into their own speculative form.

And to this I say bullshit.

Whenever I think of any old timey people doing weird things, like freemasonry, or alchemy, or religion, I do my best to try to put myself in their shoes and remember three inviolable truths:

  • Different people are different
  • Different times were different
  • People are all essentially the same

People are a unique product of their genetics and experiences, which are necessarily different than mine. Also, people adapt to the zeitgeist of their times. But, we all have the same deeply-rooted motivations.

The fact is that up until very recently, probably 99% of humanity spent probably 99% of their time trying to not die. Even the rich and the powerful had their own, more expensive problems in this regard. As this occupation left very little time for extracurricular activities, that means that anyone spending any of their time doing something weird had to have a very important, very convincing reason to do it.

So when we ask “Was alchemy about self-improvement or was it about making magic rocks and gold?” We have to apply a dose of realism, and say that it was a mix. Probably people thought it could make them rich, and the ones who stumbled upon useful medicines and chemicals probably did get rich, and the ones who didn’t could at least claim they got something out of the process.

So I ask myself what motivation would a medieval trade guild have for letting outsiders sit in on their meetings and giving them their secrets?

Operative masonry existed in a wholly different world than the one in which we live. Kids didn’t go to school. They were essentially pawned off as apprentices, and some at a very young age. If you’re the architect and foreman of a worksite, the last thing you need are a bunch of dumb kids, and rash adults starting fights, sleeping with each other’s wives, and cutting corners to make a buck, so it’s perfectly believable that in these operative lodges they would talk time not just to teach their trade, but to educate their apprentices, and to give their workers solid expectations and codes of conduct to live by, and if these things can be taught with a religious flavor and a touch of sacredness, then all the better. And it’s natural that they would use their own tools as analogies to teach obscure moral concepts.

This would be very interesting, and appealing, to any onlookers. But why would there be onlookers? Ask yourself, did operative trade guilds use secret passwords?

Probably, yeah. If you’re walking from Scotland to England, and hop over the Channel to France, then off to Germany and Italy, until you bump into the Ottoman Empire, you’re going to try making a living at every stop in between. How do you prove to the local builders that you know what you’re doing?

Sure, you could give them a demonstration. It probably wouldn’t take long for a master to figure out if you’re competent. But just because you can cut and carve, does that mean you can build an arch? Or raise a vaulted ceiling? Or design a cathedral? No one’s checking your medieval LinkedIn page. There’s no Castle H.R. checking on your references. But if you knew the pass, which you could only have gotten by demonstrating your proficiency before regular lodge of master masons, that’s as good as gold.

Could you have wrestled the password out of a mason you waylaid on the road? Possibly, but such a thing would be so connected to your personal and professional honor some would surely have died to protect it. And those who wouldn’t have were probably safe enough anyway, because it would only be of use to someone who was already a working mason, and I’d imagine (and it doesn’t take much imagination) that the punishment for anyone who got caught imitating a master mason, a cowan, for instance, would be dire indeed.

The last thing any trade guild would do is give away their literal trade secrets to the unskilled. It would defeat the entire point of them.

So where DID it come from?

I can think of exactly one likely scenario.

In a world before workers comp, a mason having his hand or his leg crushed by a stone was probably not a rare occurrence. Nor was probably a craftsman being conscripted and injured in a war he wanted nothing to do with. That probably left a lot of masons with a lot of time on their hands, and a lot of education in their brain. No doubt whatever passwords guilds used would be changed from time to time, and they’d have no way to get new ones, so that’s not a big concern anymore. In such a scenario I could easily see these retired masons sucked into tavern conversations with other local philosophers, religious-minded folk, students, and even alchemists, and finding they had something in common, would share information.

If you’re one of a few retired stonemasons in town, and your family has all died of the Black Death, it would be very appealing to “get the band back together” so to speak, and start a “lodge” of masons solely because you miss the camaraderie. You invite some of the guys from the pub, because you think they’d be into it, and maybe you even agree to take in some of the local kids who couldn’t secure apprenticeships for one reason or another. They could learn the basics of a trade, a little philosophy, a little practical education from the kooky alchemist. Maybe you give them some “secret passwords” so they feel a part of something bigger. You like it. It gives you something to do. It gives your post-employment life a little meaning. And it just sort of…catches on.

As people scatter, from town to town, the philosophers enjoy the brotherhood they could never get because they probably never went to war, and the masons get a purpose again.

Is any of this true? Did any of this happen? Almost certainly not. It’s all speculation. I have no idea how speculative freemasonry started.

And yet, it almost has to be true, doesn’t it? Because isn’t that how things happen? Little things, done for little reasons sometimes become contagious, and become big things done for big reasons. Freemasonry was, and is, a meme. A unit of culture, as Richard Dawkins put it, that caught on.

Are You a Practicing Freemason?

On September 1, 2019 we are launching The Practicing Freemason, a newsletter of lodge instruction, talking points, and other exercises of Self-Craft. For as little as $1 per month, you can be a hero at your lodge, and bring in a stack of printed copies for your brothers, or just enjoy it all for yourself!

Each issue comes with:

  • A Ready-to-Read lecture of relevant, practical freemasonry.
  • Discussion prompts for your own philosophical talks over coffee.
  • Book-of-the-month recommendations.
  • Innovative lodge ideas to stimulate enthusiasm.

It kinda looks like this!

Want more? Subscribe via Patreon Membership!

Freemasonry is Dying… That’s a Good Thing

Dang zombie masons…

Freemasonry is in a membership crisis. Let’s face it. The Craft is dying. Literally. From 2016 to 2017, Masonic numbers dwindled a net 40,928 members to hit an all-time low in the last century, according to data compiled from the Masonic Service Association of North America. That’s up from 40,433 members the Craft bled in the year prior. And if the rest of North America is anything like my state, 55.4% of those loses are due to death.

Good.

That’s what I say.

Because I don’t want the dead in my fraternity, dabgummit! The dead make the worst masons! They NEVER show up to meetings. They NEVER pay their dues, not even their lifetime memberships anymore! When the Worshipful Master asks for volunteers for a charity event, do you know who’s the first ones to raise their hands? Alive people. And who’s nowhere to be found? That’s right. The dead.

I’ve never seen a dead mason show up at a building clean up day. I’ve never seen a dead mason do quality ritual work. I’ve never even seen a dead mason sit in an officer’s chair!

…I mean, I thought I saw it this one time, but it turned out the Tyler was just napping.

We don’t like to talk about it, but I’m just going to come out and say it.

THE DEAD MAKE TERRIBLE FREEMASONS!

And thank the Great Architect of the Universe that every grand lodge in North America agrees with me! Because you know what the first thing we do the moment we find out one of our brothers is dead? We revoke their membership!

That’s awesome.

I’ve heard my grand lodge say “Once a Mason, always a Mason” and yeah, that sounds good. And if they found out that a brother was an Atheist, or had transitioned from a woman, or transitioned to a woman, or maybe even was secretly a woman the whole time, they don’t do anything about it, because they’ve already been made a mason. And that’s great. I’m tolerant. I’m open-minded. But once a brother shows up to lodge dead? We strike ’em right off the books!

In fact, I’d like to make a modest proposal right now. I think we need to check every new petitioner–no, every current mason, and before each meeting–for a pulse!

We can’t have them here! You know the old saying: DEADS UNDER THE BED! And we’ve got to weed them out!

And here’s the best part! Since you apparently have to be alive to be a mason, I say that any “brother” who commits that immoral, unforgivable sin of dying should have their status as a mason retroactively revoked!!! Which means that in 2017 we only lost about 22,500 masons! This one idea just cut our membership problems by 55%!

No, Of Course I’m Not Serious

But it’s strange, isn’t it? Because isn’t this effectively how we act? We say things like “My grandfather was a mason,” like he somehow stopped being one when he passed on. Our membership numbers look so dire, in great part, because people die.

But people are supposed to die. That’s the high cost of living.

Freemasonry is accepting of pretty much all creator-based beliefs, so this might be too blankety of a statement, but can’t it be said that all our rituals, all our ideas, and standards, and practices, and traditions, are for the purpose of preparing oneself to die? And to assure one’s place into whatever hereafter they belong?

Some people forget that Dante’s Inferno has two sequels: Purgatorio, and Paradiso. Dante transverses thirty levels from the ice prison of Satan up to the throne of God. Each level represents a vice which needs to be suppressed or a virtue which needs to be attained. In Freemasonry, we attempt to impart upon your mind as many practiced virtues, and eliminate as many vices as possible so when you die, you hit as high a level as you can, commiserate to whatever faith you follow. And, like in the Divine Comedy, you continue your journey, onward and upward.

To a mason, death is a feature, not a bug.

In a purely rhetorical world, I would love if we never crossed a deceased brother off our books, but rather only marked him as affiliated with the Eternal Lodge, and in that way our membership would never go down as long as there was a single brother passing along the secrets. But we don’t live in this world, and we have to know our trajectories.

But don’t panic. Masonry isn’t dying. People die. That’s okay. And there’s nothing masons can, or should, do to stop it. So let’s stop worrying. Let’s just focus on doing good works, and keep our eyes on our lodge brothers. Freemasonry grows when genuine men are excited by great experiences.

Freemasonry: 10 Signs You’re Doing It Wrong

We all love to think we’re worth this institution, and we’re doing things more or less correctly, but are we?

You could have Grand in front of every title in the Craft you’ve earned, and yet your day to day fraternal interactions could be poisoning your lodge and brothers, bit by bit, because success isn’t a goal that is reached, g but a trajectory that is either going up or down.

Here are 10 signs that you might be contributing to a downward trajectory.

“Wow, you’ve got a lot of passion for the Craft.”

A couple months ago I was reflecting on what kind of a mason I was when I first joined. Lemme tell ya, it wasn’t top tier.

Oh, I came to all the meetings. I learned the lectures and the rituals. I was a smart mason. Too smart. Too smart for my own good, because like many young men I lacked a principle quality for success: humility.

“But I’ll say this for him. He was a man of his word.”

In Freemasonry and its related bodies we tell a lot of stories with a purpose. Ask any copy of Joseph Campbell’s Hero With a Thousand Faces and it’ll tell you that stories are how humanity learns character. Good character, ideally, but we also learn from those who have bad character.

One particular story features an antagonist with a particularly bad character. And in what I suppose would be the complicating incident of the tale he utters something to the effect of “that which I say, I will do.”

Practical Alchemy: What is Alchemical Gold?

Alchemy is and isn’t Freemasonry. Think of it like this: a long time ago, well before the Enlightenment, possibly even all the way back before the beginnings of civilization itself, Man had been perfecting a singular craft. This Ancient Craft, even and Art or a Science if you will, was called “Believe Everything I Tell You To, Or I’ll Poke You With This Pokey Thing.”