Is the Age of Masonry Over?


Often I wonder if the era of Freemasonry is over.

Not so much the physical age in years, but the age of its being.  What I mean by that is the age of a Masonic existence in light of the age in which we live in today.  The reason this seemed relevant to me was that as we examine the landscape of society, with its myriad of organization (both non profit and philanthropic) it seems that the age of the local community champion lodge has passed. I’ll admit that this is a generalization, that “what is in one place is not in all places” but in those areas that are diverse and developed, it would seem that the effectualness of the lodge, as it is presently configured, pales in comparison to the broader reach of the community in general.  So the question that arises in my mind is if the drop in membership is something more than merely a drop of knowledge in the fraternity?

Stephen Dafoe, in an article written for the Journal of the Masonic Society (issue 2 autumn 2008) indicated that the problem was not a matter of poor showing, that many men were coming to the doors of the lodges, but that the problem was retention.  Of those that did come, that the attrition rate was significant of those who returned, that the drop in membership was higher in Non Paid Dues and Suspensions for Not Paying Dues than in the completion of the degrees region wide.   The study was on a very narrow slice of North American Masonry, but I think you can extrapolate the data to suggest a wider, more endemic issue, that once new members come, only a very small portion return year after year.

Read: The Death of Freemasonry: When Change Changes You

In the past, I’ve talked about the various reasons that some attribute to this: the lack of openness, the disparity in age,  the degree of interest of those already in attendance, or the degree of which the aspirant to the west gate is prepared or ready to be made a mason, that those who petition are not of the right caliber or quality for the degrees and naturally leave of their doing.

But as much as those have been the problems, my question turned back to society in general: has something changed in the modern society that has shaped the aspirants’ idea (or perception) of what the Masonic lodge “should be”, and when they get there.  Is it not what they expected?  If the latter then it is a good lesson on expectations that seldom are they met, but underneath the surface of that expectation, is there something missing that society is pre-engineering into their consciousness that they are just not seeing when they enter into our chambers?

I plan to explore these ideas in upcoming posts to see if we can break down some of the ideas and formulate some new ideas to bring to the public forum.  But before we can do that, I’m curious to know what you think.  Is the drop of membership representative of something more?  Is there a societal or sociological change in modern day that is different than it was 6o years ago?

Next up – Society vs. Sociological perceptions

Posted in Masonic Traveler and tagged , , , .

A devoted student of the Western Mystery Traditions, Greg is a firm believer in the Masonic connections to the Hermetic traditions of antiquity, its evolution through the ages and into its present configuration as the antecedent to all contemporary esoteric and occult traditions. He is a self-called searcher for that which was lost, a Hermetic Hermit and a believer in “that which is above is so too below.” Read more about Greg Stewart.


  1. I wonder if part of the problem is the membership of the lodge. We hear jokes all the time that usually end with some jibe as “that’s not how it was done my hear,” or “that’s not how we use to do it.” Unfortunately, their is generally some sliver of truth in most jokes. Perhaps it is the “status quo” of the lodge that is turning away these new members after they have passed through the three degrees. All of the members in these lodges might have a certain role that they perform every night of a meeting, and some don’t want to turn these over, or want help from these usurping “younger guys.” These newer members are finding brotherhood and fellowship in the lodge, but when they want to stretch out and do something more, they are met with a stubborn resistence. Are we killing ourselves?
    I personally don’t think that society is the catalyst for disinterest in the fraternity. The societal changes of the “hippie” era might have influenced the decline of membership in the 60’s and 70’s, but now the “flower childrens” children want to belong to something, be part of something bigger. I believe that society is opening up to the ideas of brotherhood and fraternity, along with a good dose of morality!
    Just one young brother’s thoughts!

  2. Yes, something has changed in modern society. What has changed is the ways we interact and communicate with one another. Those joining our fraternity today are not satisfied with maintaining the status quo. Although, they want the same things from Masonry as their grandfathers did, they approach acquiring it in a different manner. Their approach often times is at odds with those who have maintained Masonry for the past 60 years. As such, the new generation of Masons is looked upon as renegades who want to change the foundations of Freemasonry or are simply ignored. It’s no wonder they are leaving the fraternity as fast as they are joining it.

    I believe that Freemasonry is timeless. The principles of self improvement, fellowship, and community service taught in our lodges apply as much today as they did 300 years ago. Change is occurring all around us; it is not good nor bad but just change. I, also, believe that Masons like you are leading this revolution of change, and I envision a bright and positive future for Freemasonry. My advice to you is to keep doing what you are doing. As for myself, I would like to just sit back and just enjoy the ride. However, I somehow see myself as a bridge between two worlds working to help those with their hands on the tiller of Freemasonry steer toward that positive future.

    Finally, don’t fret. In the words of Charlie Papazian, that great philosopher and author of The New Complete Joy of Home Brewing, “Relax. Don’t worry. Have a homebrew.”

  3. The age of Freemasonry passed when Octogenarians took over the lodges for Spaghetti Dinners and “Ice Cream Socials.” Being a Mason was important to me because the Lodge in which I was initiated was famous for its crisp, clean and letter perfect degree work. Unfortunately, I came in at the very end of the Masonic heyday. “Man to Mason” became the rule (no more memorization of the cipher to “give back” in front of the Lodge) and people that wouldn’t normally make it past the former “Master’s Board” proudly displayed their unearned Squares and Compasses.

    Now that the Grand Lodges are consolidating Lodges and appendant bodies and selling old Lodge buildings to pay for recruiting advertisements (?), the allure and mystique of Masonry is gone. God bless the “Olde Guarde,” they saw and did much for Masonry and our country, but it is the new Aeon. Keep your spaghetti and ice cream, I will never accept someone as a Brother that didn’t earn their Masonic degrees. I will keep my ring at home, on top of my dresser, until honor is once again restored to the Fraternity…

  4. I’m pretty sure that King Solomon and King Hiram sat down and bemoaned the lack of attendance and dedication, and wondered if the age of Freemasonry had, indeed, passed.

    What is it about our fraternity that leads us to have several discussions each year about the relevance of our Craft? Nothing personal, but I think if I go through the blogs for the last several years, I can find at least one similar article from each blogger. And certainly I can find dozens of posts in forums and web boards.

    Know what? Times change. Culture changes. Our society changes. Really, it’s okay if some lodges go under for lack of members. Eventually, there will be more members and some lodges will be stronger, younger, more active. And eventually, the numbers will again decrease. And then, I guess we’ll be reading about whether or not Freemasonry is relevant again.

  5. Tom, to your point, I whole heartedly agree. Enough with the bemoaning and what not, I’m with you. I the milleu of topics, the goal of this conversation is to break the arguement down and try to find some new solutions, something Solomon and K. Hiram thought too.

    but this time, bring on the power point, and lets establish some benchmarks. I think we are all tired about quibbling on how much we pay for coffee cups and toilet paper.Taking from another model, how often at work is the price of post-it notes circulated around the boardroom table?

    thats the hope here. And, if just another complaint fest, I’ll break out the crackers and cheese to go along with the whine…

  6. I agree Tom. Times change, culture changes and society changes. It is those who so resist change for the sake of exoteric traditions that have taken Freemasonry from a fluid art and science to a state of stasis and decay.

  7. Pingback: The Age of Masonry | Freemason Information

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