Livingstone here. Welcome to Masonology. The blog about Freemasonry and all things related to Masonic Self-Improvement, Masonic Thought, and the Freemason World.
So I was doing my daily Masonic reading when I read a post today by the distinguished Nick Johnson over at his blog titled The Millennial Mason. Nick is one of the leaders in the online Masonic community and someone who always thinks and works respectably.
He had an interesting post yesterday about Masonry and its “High Church. Here’s the blog entry.
Here are some choice quotes.
As I have been exposed to different worship services and styles, I have found myself gravitating to what might be described as “high church” or “broad church.” (In this case, I’m not describing doctrinal high church, rather formalism in the church service.) Sometimes, this is pejoratively styled, “smells and bells.” And apparently, I’m not alone.
I view Masonry through the lens of tradition. I think, in the Fraternity’s transformation from the pre-World War II era to the post-World War II era, something was lost. The Fraternity ebbs and flows often. You know, maybe that’s not the right phrase. The Fraternity is a double edged sword; on one side, it’s a search for philosophy, for meaning, in other words, an introspective journey, and on the other side, it’s a search for fraternal love, belonging, in other words, a community building organization. Frankly, we’ve been cutting with the fraternal side so much, it’s becoming dull and blunt.
My optimal Masonry is focused almost solely on education, ritual, and tradition. In my mind, I see real candles for the lesser lights, formal dress (not tuxedos because they have been done to death), classical music or even better, organ music, incense, and deliberate take on the ritual. It’s not that I want to make Masonry into a church. Masonry is not a religion. Instead, I want more focus. I don’t want business meetings that drag on, I don’t want brothers to look forward to the outer lodge because the lodge experience itself sucks.
It’s a premise I could not agree with more. Masonry has always existed as this nebulous force that ebbs and flows. Right now the flow to Masonry these days is pancake breakfasts and quick meetings and because of that, the fraternity got it’s legs taken out from under it. The numbers don’t lie, Masons are vanishing. For most other organizations, this would be a call for alarm. A frantic question of what are we going to do as panicked decisions are made. But Masonry has been “killed off” a number of times before throughout history and always seems to come right back and become an influencing factor.
I don’t blame the fraternalism. Heck, I have had some newly raised brother who are EXTREMELY dedicated to brotherhood. That’s something that is a major part of Masonry. But what has become of Masonry is very ironic. In a ritualized society, just showing up has become a ritual routine itself. Sure it’s great to show up but Masons have forgotten why they’re showing up!
Right now, there is a push by younger brothers to have the lodge experience become more esoteric, spiritual, thought-provoking, educational, and ritualistic. This harkens back to how Masonry was during the 1750s, a few decades after it emerged out of the shadows and during the heart of the enlightenment. Back then, secret societies, radical thought, mind-expanding education and disciplined ritual were all the rage among the power elites. Masonry exploded in popularity as it was also a way to get people of radically different backgrounds and world views to come together in a communal experience. Many people in power and not in power did want to be in community and not always fighting each other. Masonry became a place for people with opposing world views to come together in harmony.
And I would argue it’s not just bringing people together of different world views, but giving all those people a different world view through Masonry. We need to give people that experience that lets them see the world in a different way. Masonry is so much about standing apart from society to see things differently and this is an amplification of that. The ritualized elements that Nick is speaking about also serve as a way to give the Mason a new and different experience then what they are used to in the outside world. And to also serve as a way to bring focus and lucidity to the mind.
We’re a culture of binge information consumption. We read many articles each day, scan tweets, analysis Facebook posts and so forth. But how much of that do we really remember? We remember parts of it probably. And learning something, and only remembering a part of it is not how Masons work. An idea is like a building. You must have every brick in place for the building to take form. The idea is the same way. If you know of part of the building and only have a muddied view of the rest, the idea won’t stand. You cannot lay the foundation of your knowledge on binge information consumption. You must plant the idea like a seed and continuously water it.
Rituals can be very powerful at causing information to be imprinted. As Masons, we learn very quickly that these rituals are fantastic at causing certain moral and scientific ideas to be “lodged” in your brain. Pun intended. Because that powerful experience as part of the information absorption causes your mind to clear out everything else and focus with intensity on what you are learning.
Now you ask, what would I have in mind for this “High Church”. I know speaking to Nick on Reddit, has is planning to write a piece on what the High Church of Masonry would look like. I’ll attempt to do the same here but make sure to read Nick’s post too because of his wealth of knowledge.
1. Wearing suits to lodge. What you wear is an element of your character and wearing clothing of status and regal background adds to the lodge experience. I’m not sure about wearing tails, tuxes or gloves the way Traditional Observance Lodges do it but I can be open minded.
2. Education. There must always be an educational presentation related to Masonry at each stated meeting. Something to expand our mind and elaborate on the things we learn through the ritual.
3. Leave cellphones outside. For some of you, this might be life or death so I am willing to make an exception there. But during meetings, there should not be any cellphone checking. Also because I strongly respect my obligation to secrecy, cellphones are a great way to record things and no recording device should be allowed in lodge. The cellphones should be put in a basket at the door before entering.
4. Light and dark. Light changes should be a more integral part of the stated meeting. The opening should have more pomp. More light change to symbolize the change from a mere room into a lodge of Masons. This may see hard to understand at first but here’s an example of how light can be used to add focus. Example
5. Incense, dust and bells. Look at how this church handles their service. The sound of the bell to denote change. The dust in the air to modify the feeling on our skin. The incense flowing through us to alter our sense of smell. This isn’t just some arbitrary element. These are environment modification elements designed to change how the mind reacts to the world around it. If the brain senses the environment has changed into a way it isn’t used to, the primal alert devices kick in and you REALLY start paying attention. It’s true. Your most vivid memories are when you experience something new and for the first time. This will really get people to pay attention. And once it becomes a theme, it will create a Pavlov’s Dog situation. The environment changers would alert the mind that education, solemn behavior and due form are now what is occurring.
6. Strong ritual work. This is usually something you always hear but it’s part of the equation. If you nail your lines and floor work, the experience becomes far more vivid for those involved. And that discipline you learn from working hard on getting your lines right and your ritual regimented is something that absolutely changes your habits. You become more disciplined and focused on all your endeavors.
So consider the “High Church” of Masonry for your lodge. It is something that many men are attracted to and it can help create a lodge environment more conducive to Enlightenment Masonry.