The Backyard Freemason

The Backyard Freemason, also known as Kerry Shirts, has been posting videos several months on You Tube and with a wealth of them on there now, I struck me to post some up and share them with a wider audience.

The author of the video is a relatively “young” mason but is already well steeped in the mysteries and philosophy.  Top it off with a well articulated position and some good information and you get a terrific video.

For now, sit back and enjoy the first episode of the Backyard Freemason.

Think of this as a primer of the videos to come as I’ll post more in upcoming weeks.


Burn a Koran Day with the Dove World Outreach Center

This event has been canceled – Follow the story about how the Fla. pastor will ‘not today, not ever’ burn Quran, from the Washington Post .

I want to start this with the question I finish this piece with: Are YOU ruled by your passions?

Dove World Outreach Center, a New Testament Church based in Gainesville Florida, is holding a Burn a Quran day on the 9th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The event is to be in remembrance of the fallen victims of 9/11 and to stand against the evil of Islam. The church’s maxim: Islam is of the devil!

Akbar Ahmed, in ‘Burn Quran Day’ an outrage to Muslims a Special to CNN,
suggests that the event “has already caused alarm in the Muslim world, with the pre-eminent Sunni university, Al-Azhar in Cairo, Egypt, condemning it as “stirring up hate and discrimination.”

After a measure of looking at the website for the Dove World Outreach, at the heart of their action is a fear that the United States is falling to the influence of Islam (suggesting that Europe has already fallen), and that if we (Americans) do not stand up now Muslim’s will dominate government political office and ideology, eradicating what Pastor Terry Jones (author of the book Islam Is of the Devil) says is an American Christian ideal.

This speaks to a broader notion of the America being founded on an Evangelical Christian premise (from the founding fathers up to present day), and if explored further is increasingly becoming a part of the political rhetoric behind the scenes in American government.

Each of these elements are a part of a greater whole, the building blocks that reach towards a pinnacle, an apex where the tipping point of is either balanced or overturned and a ideology takes hold. Even today, more Americans say Obama is a Muslim than they did when he took office, when clearly his religious affiliations were a part of the election rhetoric (remember Reverend Wright?).

Is this leading to a change in how we see religion in America?  Is it in an effort to change how Religion and politics interact (or at least shape public life)?  Or more specifically, in how we look at our relationship to Religion?  Is this a point in history when the notion of Religious Freedom is no longer relevant and a line in the sand is drawn to take a stand on what exactly is FREE and what is isn’t?  America is obviously less religious than it was 50 years ago, the Pew study on Religion and America from 2009 showed that more American’s are leaning away from the church rather than towards it, so is this new rhetoric a way to shock us and regain our attention?  Ahmed in his CNN piece mentions the perspective of the founding fathers saying “Not only does the burning of holy texts reflect the darkest days of medieval Europe and Nazi Germany, but it is hard to think of anything more un-American, by the definition of the Founding Fathers themselves.”

George Washington welcomed the Jews to America as the “stock of Abraham” while John Adams showed the utmost respect for Islam, naming the Prophet Mohamed as one of the greatest truth seekers in history. Benjamin Franklin called him a model of compassion.

…Thomas Jefferson kept the same Quran in his personal collection and it informed his decision to host the first presidential iftaar during Ramadan.”

This is a relevant conversation to Freemasonry in that it is not talking about faith, it is a dialog on how we intersect with it.  How can a society that is predicated on its membership having a faith stand by (or even support) the denigration of one of the faiths of its members?

What I suggest is that as Freemasonry recognizes ALL FAITHS, it therefore cannot tolerate the desecration of ANY FAITH, including the burning of a Holy Book that could share space on the very alter in which Masonic Oaths are taken.  This transcends the separation of faith and Masonry, and rests at the heart of what BEING a Mason is about.

But, I’m sure many would disagree with this position, that many Freemasons would see it not from the perspective of their affiliation to Masonry but through their faith, which I suggest puts them at odds with their Societies philosophy.

I am willing to take the stand and say that Freemasonry does not condone or tolerate the desecration of the Muslim Volume of the Sacred Law, and that the actions of the Dove World Outreach Center is anything but a peaceful extension of an Olive branch from a Dove as the centers name implies and is rather a means to declare A Christian Holy War on Islam. The message is coming from a church that declares Islam Satanic, I don’t know how else to interpret the message. The soldiers for this Christian Holy War are being made today, (see the film Jesus Camp if you need to see how), and Rev. Jones is firing the first shot to try and start it.

Without a doubt there is another way to commemorate 9/11 than the burning of a faiths holy scripture.

Are you ruled by your passions? Do you support the burning of the Koran on 9/11/2010?  Are you at odds with your Societies philosophy?

Cordoba House – Religious Expression or gross insult?

Surly by now you have heard about the proposal to construct an Islamic Mosque and cultural center near to the Ground Zero site in New York City. The proposal has passed a litany of hurdles already, and garnered the approval of both Mayor Michael Bloomburg and President Obama. Yet, many still have strong emotions and feelings against such a structure citing its lack of sensitivity to the catastrophe that took place there.

9/11 Families for a Safe & Strong America say of proposed Cordoba House that “a gross insult to the memory of those who were killed on that terrible day.’’ Yet, the proposed project was endorsed by Community Board No. 1 in lower Manhattan by a near unanimous vote in May.

This situation seems to necessitate me, as a Freemason, to look at it from the point of view of Anderson’s Constitution.

Anderson says:

But though in ancient times Masons were charg’d in every Country to be of the Religion of that Country or Nation, whatever it was, yet ’tis now thought more expedient only to oblige them to that Religion in which all Men agree, leaving their particular Opinions to themselves; that is, to be good Men and true, or Men of Honour and Honesty, by whatever Denominations or Persuasions they may be distinguish’d; whereby Masonry becomes the Center of Union, and the Means of conciliating true Friendship among Persons that must have remain’d at a perpetual Distance.

In the present context, the religion of the country is at first a challenge to find consensus, most would say that the U.S. is a Christian country. But, this becomes less the issue when we look at the Bill of Rights and the First amendment that says:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;

But this doesn’t tackle the issue of respect towards others feelings towards the proximity of the place of worship to the hallowed ground of 9/11.

It seems that this would be an excellent opportunity (Masonic or otherwise) for other faiths to partner and remold the idea of the Cordoba House into a place of Interfaith union.

This is a far stretch from its original intent of improving Muslim Relations with the West (which is off to a rough foot so close to Ground Zero) but in creating an interfaith temple it would provide a means to interact with all faith groups, to interact with the hallowed space of ground zero, and still be a focused point in the community to engage and broaden relationships, not just with Islamic groups and the west, but with all groups.

Truly, this would be a Historic Narrative.

In the mean time, the debate on the project goes on, and voices from both sides of the argument insist on being heard going so far as to demand the Federal government block the proposed construction because of its proximity to the site (never mind that there is a strip club a mere three blocks away). From Sarah Palin on Facebook to 40 prominnent Religious Leaders supporting its construction, lots of voices vying to be heard. At the heart of the matter is the construction of a Islamic temple in such close proximity to a site attacked in the name of Islam.

Is the opposition to Cordoba House just opposition to religious freedom, or is it more specific to opposition to the Muslim temple itself? Is it a gross insult to place it so close to Ground Zero, or should alternatives be considered?  As a Freemason, can we apply the ideas of Anderson and look at it from the perspective of the ‘Religion in which all Men agree’ and allow religious freedom to dictate?

As a Freemason, can we apply the ideas of Anderson and look at it from the perspective of the ‘Religion in which all Men agree’ and allow religious freedom to dictate?

So What? The Dynamic of Masonic Membership.

Logo of Freemason Information.

The following was originally published in 2007. It is one of several essays in the book Masonic Traveler, where you can find a more refined and extended version of this missive.

Since this original publication in 2007, the dialog increased only to taper off again to a quiet whisper, if heard anywhere at all. In 2008/9 Stephen Dafoe produced a rebuttal of sorts, not in the context – but in the meaning of the numbers. His conclusions can be found in the article There’s a Hole in our Bucket, but I recommend that you read it after this piece so as to put all the information into context.

Changing Masonic Membership

The question above has been an institutional answer (yes, I said answer) that has plagued Masonry for the last 50 years. When I first heard it’s asking, I wasn’t sure what to think about it. I wasn’t even sure if I should talk about as it seemed like an internal problem, and not the fodder for the rank and file (you and me) to ponder. It wasn’t until my own realization that it was the rank and file that was ultimately the cause and effect of the question AND answer when its implications became clear.

As the adage goes, if you don’t talk about it, how do you fix it? And in such a large fraternity I felt that we absolutely needed to talk about it, NOW.

In doing some research, I found myself at the website for the MSANA, which is the Masonic Service Association of North America which is a national clearinghouse for all things Masonic in North America, but specifically an informational collection agency that gathers data and publishes literature for the overall benefit of the craft.

One of the items I found there were statistics on membership (now in archive) from 1925 to 2005.

The statistics are the national numbers of membership in the United States from 1930-2000 not graphed, but in a pretty uninteresting grid of data.

From a surface analysis what it showed was an early high figure, a dip, a huge growth period, and then a dramatic down trend in membership, specifically from a period of 1960 to close to present day. The graph below was created from this data.

Graph showing the change in masonic lodge membership numbers from 1930 to 2000.

What it charts is the membership numbers from 1925 to 2005.

For a comparison, this graph is the US population in the same period.

U.S. population growth between 1930 and 2000.

Obviously, the numbers are dramatically different – Freemasonry at one to four million and the US population at 100 to almost 300 million, but what it illustrates by contrast is the dramatic rise in US population (about half of which are male +/- 51/49%) and the dramatic decrease to male membership.

What I want to illustrate here is that while the US population has steadily increased, the population of Freemasonry has steadily decreased, substantially.

So to the question, so what?

Most who have been members for a significant time know that the membership of Freemasonry is changing. Lodge rooms are seating fewer and fewer members, old buildings bought and built in the boom era are being sold off as membership roles shrink and charters evaporate. We know that already, this isn’t new information. Every Masonic publication has said this at some point or another – “our numbers are retracting, that we felt a boom with the returning vets of WWII and Korea, and that their numbers swelled our ranks to their record numbers, topping at a height of 4,103,161 in 1959” -the glory days of the ancient and honorable.

But since that high water mark we have been in a steady decline in membership.

Again the question, so what?

The decline of the 1960’s and 70’s is often blamed on the selfish attitudes of the “tuned out” generation, the hippy turned Baby-Boomer, with widespread distrust of past paternal institutions, and a growth in a personal individuality, no one wanted to join, even when they later came of age the attitude of “Forget doing what Daddy did” and “why do I want to be a part of a secret institution of good old boys” prevailed. But was that really the problem?

I’m sure if analyzed in an academic fashion, we could explore the “why Freemasonry changed” notion in the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s, but I wonder if it would be enough to give us a real answer.

Some have suggested it was the institutional change towards fraternalism. Others suggest that it picked up and patriotic flavor of Americanism with the high number of veterans that came to its ranks. Trying to associate the increase to any one reason is difficult at best.

What the numbers do tell us is that in 10 year intervals, from 1960 to 2005, membership dropped by an average of 560,152 members. On the graph, you can see the decline to 2005. Distilling the numbers, it comes out to an average of a 20% decrease in membership per 10-year period.

By the years it breaks out to:

  • 1959, membership at its height was at 4,103,161
  • 1960 – 1970 there was a loss of 336,006 a decrease of 8.19%
  • 1970 – 1980 there was a loss of 511,685 a decrease of 13.597%
  • 1980 – 1990 there was a loss of 719,885 a decrease of 22.14%
  • 1990 – 2000 there was a loss of 690,474 a decrease of 27.274%
  • 2000 – 2010* there was a loss of 542,714 a decrease of 29.477% (*Calculated by doubling the loss from 2000 to 2005)

Updated numbers at bottom.

The average loss, per year, was 20% (20.2%)

Again the question “so what”, we already know this, these numbers are not secret. They are published in an open forum for the public to see.

The overall calculation led to an extrapolation, if the fraternity lost on average 560,152 members, per decade – from 2010 to 2020, our national number of members would be under 1 million members at 738,303. In ten more years 2020 to 2030 our national member base would be 178,151.

That number again is one hundred and seventy eight thousand one hundred and fifty one TOTAL Freemason’s in North America by 2030, which led me to speculate that the last American Freemason would probably be somewhere in about 2034 or so.

Ok, so this is a worst-case scenario, this is an assumption that we will continue to lose the same 560,000 members a year, due to attrition, brothers passing, or low community interest. The overall numbers tell me that the loss % per year is INCREASING; not decreasing, but maybe the trend is just that, a trend. It should be said that at present, 2005 numbers show our fraternity at numbers lower than the 1925 watermark, when the US population was less than half of what it is today. What appears to be happening is not just a “correction”, that it is not simply the Fraternity going back to the “way things were” at the turn of the 20th century, rather that it is something much worse at play and further outside the scope of our control.

Taken from another angle, we can say that over the same 50-year period, we did average out to a 20% loss per year. These numbers are far less frightening and show a slower descent over the next one hundred years. In 2030, where the first model takes us to extinction in the percentage model we sit at just over 800,000 members. It isn’t until 2130 that we get to fewer than 100,000. But again, that is at a steady 20% decrease no ups, no downs, steady. The trend in the last 50-year cycle has been one of a steady increase in percentage loss, 8.9%, 13.59%, 22.14%, 27.27%, and 29.47%. This model, though more positive, seems less likely.

At the other end of the spectrum, some locations so seem to indicate an upward trend in membership. In areas that lost 4000 members, they took in 2000, diminishing the overall drop, but even these anecdotal statistics only suggest a change in trend without much ability to forecast realistically where the descent will level off.

Again the question, so what?

With those of us left, we become the inheritors of Freemasonry here in America, and need to address the question of what we are going to do about it. I have read a Laudable Pursuit as I am sure many other masons have, I attend meetings, pay my dues, and heed the length of my cable tow, but is that enough?

Are dynamic meetings, meaningful Masonic education, Traditional Observance Lodges, Festive Boards, or low cost spaghetti or fish fry dinners the answer? Are even the boldest Grand Lodge programs such as the Massachusetts Is there Greatness in you? Marketing Campaign or the California Masonic Formation movement, enough? What generated interest in the past?

To answer this question we need to ask what Freemasonry has lost — what component of our fraternity did we lose in the transition of the 1950’s into the 1990’s that closed us off from the moral imagination of society? What changed?

  • Was it the success of the offshoot “clubs” whose focus on charity or drama plays, rather than esoteric transference, took prominence?
  • Did we, institutionally, become afraid of what our own metaphysical/spiritual fraternity represented?
  • Were we marginalized as an increasingly religious America took over, forcing out interfaith institution?
  • Did American Freemasonry fall out of progressive step with the evolving landscape of American women’s issues, and racial equality taking the forefront but still at odds in the fraternity dedicated to the moral high ground?

It was in the periods of transition from the 19th to the 20th century that many esoteric or occult works were created that seem to evoke the spirit of the coming age of Masonry. Did their promise grow silent on the lips of those who took the reins of leadership?

Just a small (yet significant) marker I can point to that symbolically illustrates the transition was the name change of the monthly Scottish Rite Magazine formerly known as the New Age Magazine in 1989.

Its true that in the mid century a degree of quackery took hold of the metaphysical giving birth to an explosion of Self Help and “Occult” practices. Did Masonry’s hasty retreat from all things esoteric help steer the fraternity towards the rocks of fraternal obscurity? Did we become afraid of our own esoteric shadow marginalizing our own traditions effectively doing this to ourselves?

The one thing that so many outsiders look to Freemasonry to provide is a degree of esoteric wisdom and education, yet we can barely articulate to the answer to the simple question of “what does Freemasonry represent”? Our tradition is betwixt pointing one way with progressive learning, equality of faiths, and metaphorical death and members pointing another with social fraternalism, overt patriotism, and faux civic engagement – is it a social club or a path to self enlightenment?

As the numbers continue to descend, some possible scenarios to consider is the separation of the Shrine from the craft lodge system. With the success that the Shrine has enjoyed in this last century, why would they keep the requirement of the Blue Lodge membership, if the blue lodge can barely support itself let alone its drive for localized charity. Especially now in the face of diminished revenue and potential loss of its charitable hospitals. In its present configuration, can it afford to not take in now blue lodge members?

Another scenario is the separation of the Scottish Rite to become its own degree imparting body. What is to keep them from offering the degrees as more Craft lodges start to close? Maybe it makes more sense to pool the resources and go with the bigger temples that the Scottish Rite inhabits. The easy answer is, of course not, but as the feeder blue lodge membership continues to plummet, at what point will desperation take hold and other options become more enticing? Are the American Rites prepared to cease operations if memberships diminish to an unsustainable level?

So what? So what can we do about this?

The most effectual answer I can come up with, individually, to the “SO WHAT” question is nothing.

Masonic advertising on a billboard.

We can, at this point in time do nothing to turn this trend around. No matter how many open houses, public lectures, marketing campaigns, sports sponsorships, television commercials, radio spots, billboards, or finite programs promoted by individual lodges or Grand Lodges will stem the hemorrhage. Even if the blue lodge started giving away memberships, it’s doubtful that we could find enough people who even remembered who the Freemasons are, and even fewer who would want to become one. The damage is already done, and we are now in a free fall that threatens to erase the remains of North American Freemasonry. This means the closure and roll back of individual state Grand Lodges. This will mean the selling of more Masonic properties and assets, and the selling or divesting publicly of our privately funded billion dollar institutions.

This means the end of Freemasonry as we know it today.

But all is not lost and that there are things that we , individually, can do now to start to effect change. The greatest challenge will come in our re-shaping the perception of what the fraternity represents and that its history, both real and imagined, becomes a part of who we are. And by understanding that, we can embrace it and celebrate that diversity and begin to explore those ideas that we left off from a century ago. As a body we can pause and consider out institution and how it relates to its broader impact on civil society. Is OUR venerable institution living up to the promises that our very Rites espouse? Do we treat ALL people equally, no matter of Race, Gender, Religion, or Preference? Are we striving to make social progress?

In the next 30 years the landscape of what we call Regular Freemasonry will be radically different than what we see today. The sooner we come to see that NOW, to talk about it, and confront it head on – the sooner we can start planning on what we want to do about it. Burying our heads in the sand is not the answer and if we continue to insist on doing nothing about it WE will only further hasten OUR demise.

Our generation, RIGHT NOW, is the unwilling inheritor of the future of Freemasonry – what we do NOW dictates how our sons will come to know this ancient institution. If we ignore the problem, there won’t be any institution left.

And, of you who say “So What”, I ask that you look at the numbers for yourself and then draw your own conclusions,

Once you’ve seen them you’ll see that they speak for themselves.

Update – May 21, 2017

  • Period of 2010 – 2015 15.45%.
  • Period of 2005 – 2015 26.02% (calculated).
  • Doubling the loss from 2010-2015 (424,400) to calculate potential loss = 31% change.
  • New estimate at 2020, 949,093 members.

Rick Ross’s Free Mason = Fraternal Shark Jump?

The new song from Rick Ross featuring Jay-Z off the Teflon Don Album.

I’ll let the song and lyrics speak for themselves.

Free Mason.

I get that Free masonry is deep in the pocket of material culture, and that it has a variety of meanings all around, but rapper Rick Ross has adapted Freemasonry’s other spelling, Free Mason, to make it his own in the new song Free Mason on his Teflon Don album.

The onetime correctional officer from Florida turned rapper seems at home using the fraternity in his lyrics, but based on what I’ve seen so far, he’s not using it as a member of the fraternity, but rather using the idea of it to illustrate his point in the song.

From the lyrics:

like gifts of gold
I embark on life,
My path is all math
I understand the codes
these hackers can’t crack

Free Mason, Freelance,
Free Agents, We faster

Personally, I have mixed thoughts on the song.  No one likes their sacred cows trampled, but in context, the song isn’t a terrible message.  It has flow, and I think the heart was behind it in the right way.  What sticks more is the use of the term Free Mason without understanding the work, knowledge, or philosophy that goes into it.

On the reverse side of that coin, have the Masons made that wisdom known in recent years so using their name in a song like this would of commanded more respect?

You be the judge, how do you feel good/bad indifferent?  Is this a good representation of the ancient and honorable fraternity that you belong to?  Or is this a good reference point to mark as when Masonry jumped the shark in its institutional memory in society?

Bundled off with Freemasons-Athiests & Masons to Summit in Brussels

From the EU Observer:

Brussels is to hold an EU summit with atheists and Freemasons in the autumn, inviting them to a political dialogue parallel to the annual summit the bloc holds with Europe’s religious leaders.

It seems that in the push to make religious and non religious policy balance, following a meeting of Catholic, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh and Muftis, the European Union is holding a mirror image summit for Atheists and Humanists. Included in the second meeting is the “non-religious” but spiritual group of Freemasons.

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David Pollock of the European Humanist Federation says of ther inclusion:

“I find it rather odd,Some of the Grand Lodges are secularist organisations, and strongly for separation of church and state, but they also retain all sorts of gobbledygook and myths such as the Great Architect of the Universe.”

Now, having lost their battle to omit a religious clause in the EU Constitutional and Lisbon Treaty, Pollock concedes that their organization has “lost that battle” saying “with the atheist summit, at least we’re being treated equally, although I’d rather if we were there along with the churches. Instead we’re being bundled off with the Freemasons.”

According to the EU Commission‘s spokeswoman Katharina von Schnurbein, Brussels views the Freemasons as a “community of conscience interconnected throughout Europe,” and “a form of humanist organisation.”

Its this last part that raises an interesting consideration as to the interactivity of Freemasonry and the participation (and shaping) of Civil Society by just such participation.

My guess is that American Freemasonry would rather say it has no position than to profess that its system of moral philosophy is not religious specific and characteristically more Humanistic (by definition), and therefore truly dedicated to the balance of all faiths as equal in standing, putting human rights above dogma.

It leads to an interesting question, does American Freemasonry find itself in greater leaning with the practice of the church (ecumenically speaking), or with the idea of a Humanist deism, putting the plight of mankind over and above his point of view in deity.

Is that possible in this day in age, or has the fabric of Masonry in North America changed?

Belgium has 3 major Grand Lodges including: Grand Lodge of Belgium, Regular Grand Lodge of Belgium, and the Women’s Grand Lodge of Belgium with mutual recogniton between them.

The EUObserver article makes for a good read, and if I were in Brussels, I think this would be a dynamic event to attend.

If anyone wants to send an American Mason….

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Masons give $100,000 to UCO Foundation

More in the news on the re-emirgance of Masonry and academia:

“The University of Central Oklahoma Foundation received a $100,000 gift July 14 from The Masonic Fraternity of Oklahoma. The gift will establish the Masonic Endowment for Transformative Learning, which will support a project that fosters transformative learning experiences for Central students, helping them become productive, creative, ethical and engaged citizens and leaders.

“This generous gift from the Masonic Fraternity of Oklahoma will allow us to incorporate the transformative learning process that places students at the center of their own active and reflective learning experiences,” said UCO President Roger Webb.

Read more in The Edmond Sun

Well done brothers.

Masonic Education vs. Practicing Freemasonry

I’ve been in recent mental debate over the place of Freemasonry in academia (more here) and the practice of Freemasonry in the real world.

More specifically, how Masonry is perceived in the academic sphere in a past and present light, vs. the contemporary practice of Freemasonry itself, what the fraternity is doing as a whole in creating or generating ideas and philosophy.

One of the limiting aspects of studying the Fraternity is that it has to focus on specific elements: i.e. lodges, meetings, minutes, attendance, composition of lodges in a particular area and the correspondence to and from the lodge. What it doesn’t take into account is what ritual that particular lodge is practicing, which I would suggest, dictates the ideology that is coming out of a particular area.

This becomes less of a concern as you enter into the North American Freemasonry that puts its practice squarely under the United Grand Lodge of England. With a homogenized ritual (Webb-Preston) and a stuff Grand Lodge leadership, innovation is virtually wiped clean from unique practice developing lodge to lodge. Yes, the ritual does vary state to state to some degree, but there is little change to its core metrics. As standardization goes, this is a boon for inter-recognition, but a bust ti innovating new rituals, new philosophy, and new creativity.

How I see this as relating to academia is that as more and more scholarly institutions start to come on line to study Freemasonry, what they may see is the early contribution to civil society (see Bullocks’s Revolutionary Brotherhood Jacob’s Living the Enlightenment: Freemasonry and Politics in Eighteenth-Century Europe, and Harlan-Jacob’s Builders of Empire: Freemasons and British Imperialism) but little by way of the need to innovate in a tamed and civilized world. Rather, what will be evident is the process by which the different groups (lodges and grand lodges) work to form a network of laws (jurisprudence) to say who is and who isn’t in the main. I see this as a corporation making contractual deals to say who they “recognize” and who they “do not recognize” which is less about philosophical development, and more about partnerships and networks.

(This is a good explanation of what civil society is and how it relates to Freemasonry from the University of Antwerp)

Yet, perhaps these types of partnerships are in fact the foundation of how Freemasonry set about to (inadvertently) shape society. Imagine just such a an agreement today between a masculine Grand Lodge and feminine Grand Lodge, recognition not on principals, but on necessity, which in turn creates a new principal.

Of greater interest to me, however, is the variation of ritual which preceded the dominance of Grand Lodge Masonry (still at play in European Masonry in the milieu of Grand Lodges and Masonic Confederations like Clipsas and Lithos), where the diversity of ideas, practice, and culture become the foundation stones of the fraternity rather than a bane to it.

In many ways, I see this as the practice of Freemasonry in that it exceeds the idea of a lodge business meeting and puts it into an amplified mode of constructive operation.

I hope that academia will be able to pick up on that subtly and explore the internal mechanisms that generate its ability to make such a contribution to the creation of civil society.

In short, the question that comes to mind is as much rich history there is from the past, what is being created today that will be studied by academia tomorrow.  How is Freemasonry contributing to the creation of civil society now?

When Masonry and Satanism Crossed Paths

The Gate – There’s a Passageway – A Gate Behind Which the Demons Wait to Take Back What Was Once Theirs.

Stepping past the Crowley references and guys wearing funny robes and hats, at some point the idea of Freemasonry and Satanism came together so as to ignite the idea that the fraternity is sinisterly evil. And, after spending some time with the campy horror film The Gate, I was struck by the prominently place iconography of the fraternity at the heart of the evil malfeasance in the film.

In a brand sense, the film made no bones about equating Freemasonry ( in the image of the square and compass) with summoning demons bent on bringing back the “old Gods” especially in a film devoid of any other significant branding.

Its a pretty obscure film these days, out of our contemporary memory, but at the outer edges of this present generations adolescence. What I found most interesting was that prominence that it was given in a film that really only promoted the band Killer Dwarfs. the only other major “Brand” in the film I caught was the square and compass.

You can get the first hint of it in this clip at 01:15 (its much more discernible on the big screen).

In the scene is a voice over that says: “…there is a passage way in between all physical worlds the world of light and pleasure and the spiritual world of madness and pain, a gate behind which the demons await for the chance to take back what is theirs.”

It picks up again when “the Dark Book-the bible for demons” teaches listeners how to summon the old God demons. Its backward masking at its finest, but a reinforcement of the idea of brand association between Freemasonry and Satanism.

Its featured pretty prominently in a few of the scenes of this campy 80s horror film, but even as cheesy films go, this one had a pretty decent box office for the day, #2 rank, 1,139 theaters (the 18th highest PG-13 film of 1987) grossing $13,500,000 for its domestic release, all of which means that a good number of people saw the film and of those watching it many (some?) had to of noticed the imagery. Noticed in the same way that Coke o’ Cola would keep their can out of the hands of a cinematic serial killer as he did his dirty work.  Placement matters.

Sacrifyx – the album

Why this is so important is that in the 1980’s Satanic Ritual Abuse was considered an epidemic. From

Many in the social worker, therapist, conservative Christian and police communities experienced a “Satanic Panic,” starting about 1980. They, and much of the rest of the public, believed that a widespread, underground, secret network of Satanic cults were kidnapping, sexually and physically abusing infants and children, murdering them, and sometimes even eating them. In the United States and Canada, the scare reached a peak in the early 1990’s. It spread from the U.S. to other English speaking countries, particularly Canada, Britain, and Australia. The panic gradually declined because of the lack of hard evidence.

Religious Tolerance talks about the industry that spawned out of the SRA experience to promote the “Satanic Panic”.

What’s the point of all of this? Not that Masonry wasn’t already falling out of contemporary thought at the time The Gate came out (1987) but that films like this helped perpetuate an image problem plaguing the fraternity and likely helped plant it into the collective memory that many ardent anti-masons (and lay observers) have today. It may not be possible to trace the bad PR directly back to this film, but content that this film helped shape opinions in waves for generations to come of age.

Don’t just take my words for it, in the article “Do movies shape your opinions?” from Purdue University English professor William J. Palmer, in the March 1995 Society for the Advancement of Education/USA Today, he says:

“People in mass society get their sense of history from the way it’s portrayed in movies.”

“How do Americans interpret history? Do they get it from historians? Some do. Do they get if f rom the news? Some do. Do they get if from movies? Certainly they do. I think one of the main sources of history is movies. I’m not certain it’s the best source, but certainly it is a main source.”

And, from David Sterritt, film critic from the Christian Science Monitor from the September of 2001 article “Do violent films shape or reflect?”

“..troubling is the thought that public views of retaliation, revenge, and warfare may come more from decades of popular entertainment than from sustained reflections on history and morality.”

His comments were in reflection to the post 9/11 sentiment of revenge and violence, but builds on the idea of perpetuating ideas in films that seep into our collective unconscious.

So, could the film The Gate built upon the growing Satanic Panic of the 80’s and of been responsible for the misaligned idea that the fraternity is a satanic cult bent on summoning demons to take over the world? According to the 1987 Lionsgate film it is.

One last point I wanted make was the power of product placement (or misplacement) and the importance of keeping your brand in the right context.

Cracked Magazine has a great article about product placement in films The 10 Most Shameless Product Placements in Movie History which strikes at the heart of the matter. Its obvious that product placement works at some level, the hero drinking a soft drink, the robot car being an American iconic muscle car (which happened to just be redesigned) or the cut and adorable space alien’s love for chocolate peanut butter candies.

So what does that mean to Freemasonry when films like The Gate or much later From Hell and the Da Vinci Code build on this same idea, not with demons and satanism but with equally as disturbing messages of some nefarious activity. BrandChannel’s article Brandcameo’s 2004 Award [now archived] spells it out speaking to the power of branding in films:

“…One wine brand, Blackstone Pinot Noir, has seen sales increase by almost 150 percent since the film (Sideways) opened. Additionally, [the film]has increased tourism to California’s wine region and driven business up 30 percent at The Hitching Post, a restaurant featured in the film.”

This is a perfect example to measure the ROI of effective placement.

From a lay member perspective, there isn’t much to do other than to speak up when someone tries to draw the connection between Freemasonry and Satanism. Speaking up is probably the best thing for us to do. From an institutional perspective, some form of advocacy to the movie industry would be a good thing, but unlikely without any national organization (maybe the MSANA, but there is little funding to wage that kind of outreach). Until the fraternity manages to re-organize itself, it will continually be portrayed in ways that will inadvertently shape its future one movie-goer at a time, one film at a time.

Hope, short supply, high demand.

Hope is something in high demand but short supply these days.

With the ever flowing pipe of oil in the gulf getting ready to blanket the Gulf states shore lines (not to mention trail up the Atlantic coast on the currents), to the ever ailing U.S. job market that seems to have the illusion of getting better, only be recounted the next day to reveal that it really is lower than expected. Now it seems, even the Golden Arches of McDonalds has a titanium in the consumables problem, just one more thing to hope for the best but plan for the worst.

This is defintely a challenging time to be in, no matter where on the spectrum you fall. If you own a business sales are down, if your working the pink slip looms, and if your unemployed like the other 10% of your adult neighbors (numbers unadjusted for region) prospects look grim.

So where do you find Hope?

Pandora; Jules Joseph Lefebvre, 1882

In the book I put to press a month or so ago, Masonic Traveler, I delve that question from a philosophical angle. Hope springing from the metaphorical box of Pandora, a demon if you will, sent to antagonize man. The reverse of that idea is that hope was really a foil to the nefarious evil from Pandora’s Box, and was instead a light to mankind. Hope, it seemed had the ability to inspire mankind to see beyond his present state, to imagine a better tomorrow, next week, next month, next year.

As eloquent as that parable of antiquity was, its hard to translate to our real day to day life. We can say we have hope, but in our darkest of recesses, its easy to get lost in the maze of our doubts, fears, and hang-ups.

I hope that Obama and BP fix the problem in the Gulf, but what if….

I hope that the Toxic Shrek glass from McDonald’s is safe, but what about…

Not giving away the parallels I constructed in the book, I did stumble onto a great little article on WikiHow about how to find our hope and nurture it back so that it has a place again to inspire us again.  It was a good little refresher for me to help find my feet.

It helped me put things into perspective, and I Hope it will for you too.