Is Freemasonry dying or changing?

The Death of Freemasonry: When Change Changes You

freemasonry, dying, declining membership, future of Freemasonry
Is Freemasonry dying or changing?

I haven’t said much on the subject of membership in Freemasonry (in general) and in the United States in particular, for some time. But with the buzz and interest in the last few posts (Freemasonry Is Dying, Bait & Switch, I Quit and Masonic Anti-Intellectualism A Crying Shame), I thought it necessary to pen a few thoughts on the matter.

So often articles like these end gathering comments saying “…lodges just need to do the work and things will get better…we need to guard the west gate” or “…we need to focus on the people with a real interest in Masonry.” I like “Freemasonry isn’t dying…we’re refining.”

In all of these instances, the insinuation of doing nothing except what was done before, only better, is tantamount to putting your head in the sand and pretending that the problem isn’t really a problem. This isn’t a new realization. I gave the numbers my own rudimentary examination in 2007, concluding with saying So What? You can’t stem the change without acknowledging it.

Read: Freemasonry after COVID

That change, no longer on the horizon, will only result in a better fraternity with true believers of likeminded men. Some Masons get it, or at least see why its so hard to have the conversation in the first place. And sure, Freemasonry as an entity, isn’t dying. What’s dying is the Freemasonry as we know it today.

masonic lodge, for sale, change in membership
What happens when lodges lose their membership?

The situation as I’m reading and seeing today in the numbers, is membership declining precipitously which will mean sooner, rather than later, revenue from lodges will dry up and lodges will close. This story ran just yesterday in the Daily Times, a news outlet out of Delaware County, PA: End of Era in Chester: Masons hold final meeting.

The long and the short of it: lodge membership dropped, it lost its charter, the Grand Lodge took the charter and keys of the lodge and sold it.

As things progress in this period of refinement, Grand Lodges will take possession of old charters and buildings, selling the latter in high-value markets to keep their own coffers full sustaining what remains of Grand Lodge programs and retirement homes.

As member dues continue to shrink, the relationship between the lodge and grand lodge will be reevaluated and charters will start being deconstructed, flowing back along their lines of dispensation. In that process, Freemasonry will cease to exist in a meaningful way in the manner it does today.

No more lodge buildings. No more organized charity. No more institutional presence, turning to vapor 300 years charity, initiation and enlightenment.

They’ll be a few folks around doing something like Freemasonry, but it won’t be in the manner it was today.

It’s actually a fascinating thought experiment to consider how the business end of things will transpire as revenue dries up.

Cause and Effect

This is the cause and effect of change. Change in membership numbers, change in interest, change in cultural norms.

Gone are the days of men in suits lunching on three martinis or fellas in blue collar work shirts building things in factories. The bygone days are gone.

Chris Hodapp posted a great piece on how the era of the “woke generation” has mostly forgotten about Freemasonry—seeing what’s left as an anachronistic throwback club wearing racially biased costumes in gender excluding male hang-outs (Read: Freemasonry in the Age of Woke). In some respects, the age of woke probably isn’t too far off the track on their assessment. You can see, in one instance, what happens to the temples when their caretakers have to turn over the keys because they can’t keep up the rent.

This is the change that’s happening, right now, as the number of dues-paying members declines.

Masonry is going to change, not because it wanted to, but mostly because it will run out of the fuel that sustains it—namely people and money.

History Repeats Itself

This isn’t the first time Freemasonry has faced change.

During the Morgan Affair, membership in Freemasonry recoiled and nearly went extinct in the fires of the Anti-Masonic Political Party. Over the centuries masons gathered in conclaves, held meetings, met in lodges, and traveled to regional congresses—all to debate the changes they faced and the direction they should move.

In one early period, a rough conglomeration of stand-alone lodges in England organized themselves in a tavern to become the United Grand Lodge of England and the progenitor of American Freemasonry.

This was change. And it meant bucking the convention of the age.

From its inception (and baring a few making-of Masons at sight) lodges have been the defacto entry point to membership. To be a mason, you join a lodge, which meant you joined Freemasonry.

But membership is exclusive. You join “a” lodge to facilitate your dues and catalog your membership, which in turn rolls up to the state level grand lodge which takes a portion of your dues to pay some leadership and finance its operation. 

By operation I mean how it controls and distributes charters, funds homes, controls communications between states and works organizationally (albeit loosely) with the other states and appendant bodies to say who’s “regular”, and who’s not. Think of dues as an affiliation fee, or a tax. The more members a lodge has, the more it pays to the grand lodge. The fuller the coffers the more it can do.

Catalyst for Change

The issue with modern Freemasonry, as practiced today, isn’t wholly the teachings. It isn’t wholly the philosophy. It isn’t in the message or ideals.

Certainly, the history and cultural norms bring a measure of baggage in the broad exclusion of women and the history of racial separation. But these “issues” have evolved their own solutions within the system. The problem facing modern Freemasonry, and its decline in membership, is its membership model.

To require interested seekers to pay to join a lodge that offers no “intrinsic” value or no “tangible” service isn’t working.

Sure, by joining a lodge dues payers get access to an esoteric library (maybe), something we all use these days. Members get access to a Masonic funeral (if you stay current in dues for a set number of years). And, if you fit into the culture, you can develop good relationships with people (maybe) who are interested (mostly) in the same things you are. In-between you might get to eat or serve (maybe) decent meals, argue over paying the bills (out of the dues you’ve paid) and support closely associated charities that exist to give family of some members something to do other than attending lodge dinners.

This is a gross oversimplification of the Life Masonic, but in a nutshell this is the bread and butter of the Masonic lodge system. 

Why lodges lose most newly made masons is that they join, see this process, lose the value proposition (or never find a place in the old boys club) and within a fairly set amount period of time, stop attending and stop paying dues.

The issue isn’t lodges. The Issue is who’s using them. Not the leadership. The issue is in the members. Without them, there isn’t a reason to exist.

Follow the Money

It’s this layer of non-paid dues that really amplifies the loss. (read: There’s a Hole in Our Bucket) It’s the cessation of dues-paying members that ramps up the attrition.

This is what is wrong with the current model of Freemasonry.

No better meals, no better educational programs or improved ritual performance is going to bring people back once they’ve walked away. How would they know unless someone reaches out to sell them on the improved value proposition? 

Doing Freemasonry Differently

The situation is that being a mason is dependent on paying dues to a local lodge that just doesn’t offer a value proposition.

Is there a different model? A disruption of the death spiral?

I think a temporary solution could be a separate layer of membership tied to the state or perhaps a national body that removes the barrier of belonging to a local lodge and allow, if even for a few years, membership in Freemasonry to start to grow again. This would allow for a needed infusion of membership (and their dues) to cycle back into the craft something of value for the membership. What does that look like? Quarterly programs, some kind of media that’s interesting to new AND old Masons keeping them interested, rather than a cut and paste photocopied newsletters full of borrowed articles from around the web. 

Freemasonry isn’t dying a natural death. Freemasonry is slowly strangling itself in the grip of suicidal inaction over the fear of its own history under the glare of modernity.

The system of dues making the mason at the local lodge level is the noose strangling what’s left of the fraternity.

The antiquated modalities of doing things the way they were done before, right down to how and where dues are paid, is a noose around Freemasonry’s neck as we watch the options escape us like the last gasps of life on the gallows.

Disrupting Freemasonry

Some quick thoughts worthy of exploration to do Freemasonry differently:

  • Change the membership system from the old lodge dues and Grand Lodge tax system
  • Eliminate the necessity of belonging to “a” lodge
  • Invite SNPDs (suspension of nonpayment of dues) back into the fold under the “new” system of membership
  • Craft quality content, relevant to the program, to keep the membership engaged (Think how the AARP, Scouts or even the NRA are engaging their audiences)
  • Look hard at the issues of race and gender
  • Reevaluate the state by state system of management.

If not, doing nothing will still track the decline in membership. Doing something differently? Maybe it can slow things down.

Initiations could be handled by extant lodges with exceptional ritual which would begin to help them thrive again with returning members not tied to one lodge by dues and nurtured in meaningful ways. It’s a change from what’s been done before, in control of the change rather than letting the change control the future. Appendant bodies could leverage their above and beyond the blue lodge activities, and masonry can remember what it was to be flush again.

It means taking control of the future and leaning into it—steering the chaos as best possible—rather than letting the chaos of change control where the fraternity is headed. 

Winston Churchill said, “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.” Freemasonry hasn’t changed in nearly a century. Now is the time to seek perfection, before it’s too late and Freemasonry really is dead.

Freemasonry, memento more, skull and bones death

Death in Freemasonry | Symbols and Symbolism

In this installment of Symbols and Symbolism we look at Albert Mackey’s entry in his Encyclopedia of Freemasonry on the subject of Death. More broad than a mere memento mori, or skull and bones. Rather, Mackey equates the sentiment ones passing as the entrance to eternal existence.

Mackey writes,

The Scandinavians, in their Edda, describing the residence of Death in Hell, where she was east by her father, Loke, say that she there possesses large apartments, strongly built, and fenced with gates of iron. Her hall is Grief; her table, Famine and Hunger, her knife; Delay, her servant; Faintness, her porch; Sickness and Pain, her bed; and her tent, Cursing and Howling. But, the Masonic idea of death, like the Christian’s, is accompanied with no gloom, because it is represented only as a sleep, from whence we awaken into another life.

Among the ancients, sleep and death were fabled as twins. The Greek sophist, Old Gorgias, when dying, said, “Sleep is about to deliver me up to his brother;’’ but the death sleep of the heathen was a sleep from which there was no awaking.

The popular belief was annihilation, and the poets and philosophers fostered the people’s ignorance, by describing death as the total and irremediable extinction of live. Thus Seneca says—and he was too philosophic not to have known better—that “after death there comes nothing,” while Vergil, who doubtless had been initiated into the Mysteries of Eleusis, nevertheless calls death “an iron sleep, an eternal night,” yet the Ancient Mysteries were based upon the dogma of eternal life, and their initiations were intended to represent a resurrection. Freemasonry, deriving its system of symbolic teachings from these ancient religious associations, presents death to its neophytes as the gate or entrance to eternal existence. To teach the doctrine of immortality is the great object of the Third Degree. In its ceremonies we learn that live here is the time of labor, and that, working at the construction of a spiritual temple, we are worshiping the Grand Architect for whom we build that temple. But we learn also that, when that live is ended, it closes only to open upon a newer and higher one, where in a second temple and a purer Lodge, the Freemason will find eternal truth.

Death, therefore, in Masonic philosophy, is the symbol of initiation completed, perfected, and consummated.

Additionally, Mackey’s entry on Death in the Ancient Mysteries reads,

Each of the ancient religious Mysteries, those quasi-Masonic associations of the heathen world, was accompanied by a legend, which was always of a funereal character representing the death, by violence, of the deity to whom it was dedicated, and his subsequent resurrection or restoration to life. Hence, the first part of the ceremonies of initiation was solemn and lugubrious in character, while the latter part was cheerful and joyous. These ceremonies and this legend were altogether symbolical, and the great truths of the unity of God and the immortality, of the soul were by them intended to be dramatically explained.

This representation of death, which finds its analogue in the Third Degree of Freemasonry, has been technically called the Death of the Mysteries. It is sometimes more precisely defined, in reference to any special one of the Mysteries, as the Cabiric death or the Bacchic death, as indicating the death represented in the Mysteries of the Cabiri or of Dionysus.

statue, time, square and compass, death, scythe

Time in Freemasonry

Continuing the series of the broken column and the weeping virgin, in this episode of Symbols and Symbolism we look at Albert Mackey’s entry into the Encyclopedia of Freemasonry as he examines the figure of time in the Jeremy Cross statue of early American Freemasonry. the statue, a newer invention in the collection of symbols, it remarkably follows in the vein of the 24 inch gage and the hourglass.

Mackey writes,

The image of Time, under the conventional figure of a winged old man with the customary scythe and hour-glass, has been adopted as one of the modern symbols in the Third Degree. He is represented as attempting to disentangle the ringlets of a weeping virgin who stands before him. This, which is apparently a never-ending task, but one which Time undertakes to perform, is intended to teach the Freemasons that time, patience and perseverance will enable him to accomplish the great object of a Freemason’s labor, and at last to obtain the true Word which is the symbol of Divine Truth. Time, therefore, is in this connection the symbol of well-directed perseverance in the performance of duty.

This symbol with the broken column, so familiar to all Freemasons in the United States is probably an American innovation.

I Had a Dream

at the pearly gates

I had a dream not long ago.  And in that dream I passed to the Celestial Lodge above where I found myself just outside the Pearly Gates.  There was no St. Peter there to greet me but rather a Wayfaring man with shillelagh and lantern dressed in a cowled robe or tunic with the hood pulled up over his head.  So hunched over was he that I could barely see his eyes nor his lips move.

“You are a traveling man,” he said with a raspy voice.

“Yes I am and I guess I have traveled a long way,” I retorted.

“Can you prove it?” rasped the Wayfaring man.

I am sure that I can demonstrate to anyone’s satisfaction that I am a Master Mason,” I replied.

“Good follow me.”

“Where are we going?”

“To The Celestial Lodge.”

“The Celestial Lodge above, how nice.”

“No just the Celestial Lodge, you’re already above.”

As we left I tried to step off but I remained stuck to my place.  The Wayfaring man said, “You think your way along here.  Just visualize yourself following me.”

Sure enough I moved along effortlessly as if on one of those conveyor belts at the airport.

We arrived at our destination in a flash.  Before us was what looked like colored clouds of red, blue and purple hue, imprinted on which in navy blue iridescent almost glowing specks was the Square & Compasses. Is this what neon signs look like in heaven, I thought to myself?

That’s beautiful,” I said, “but where is the letter G?”

“We don’t use the letter G up here,” replied the Wayfaring man. “What the letter G symbolizes is present in the East.  God does not need a symbol when God is.  The I Am Who I Am Is Who He Is.”

Wow, wouldn’t Bill Clinton have a field day with that line, I thought to myself.

As we got closer a booming voice queried, “Who comes here?”

A traveling man who has passed through the Pearly Gates,” replied the Wayfaring man.

Does he have the pass?” asked the booming voice.

“He has it not.  I have it for him.”

“He shall wait until the Almighty is informed of your presence and His answer returned.”

Within a short period a woman in a lavender robe with white sparkling star sequins broke through the cloud mass and said, “You shall enter through the outer door to the anteroom.”

I shot a quizzical look at the Wayfaring man.

Reading my thoughts, he quickly answered, “We have fully implemented the lesson of the Level here.”

The clouds parted and I wondered if Moses was on the other side.  We entered the anteroom and the parted clouds shut again. A man was there to greet me and before I could speak he said, “No I am not Moses, I am Hiram Abiff and I am the Master of Ceremonies here to guide you through your next degree.”

“I have another degree to take,” I timidly asked.

“Yes my Brother, but first we must dispense with a few preliminaries, convey some information and then get you prepared.”

Brother Abiff asked for and received all the steps, signs, grips and words of the earthly degrees by thought.  Then he said, “I must ask you if you will proceed of your own free will and accord?”

“I have a choice? “ I asked.

“Oh yes, we can send you back.”


“From whence you came, but there will be one stipulation.”

“And what might that be?”

“You will not go back who you were there.  You will start over anew as someone else.”

“Then who will I be?”

“It is not predetermined but as you say back on earth, it is a roll of the dice.  You could go back a new person to China or Germany or India or Cuba or Uganda or anywhere.”

“And what would I do there?”

“Whatever you choose to do.  You see with free will you always have a choice.  Bad choices, however, usually yield bad results.”

“I think I would like to proceed right here.”

“Very well, so it shall be.”

“I have made a good choice?”

“It is not for me to say.  One man’s garbage is another man’s treasure, as the saying goes. As you have probably noticed your body as well as ours is but an illusion.  The best description of what you are right now is pure energy.  As such instead of being unclothed or hoodwinked you will be powered down so that you can hear but not see.”

“Is this then the 34th degree?”

“No,” Brother Abiff replied.  “This is The LAST DEGREE.  Now follow your conductor and fear no danger.”

Next installment:  The Last Degree.

Freemasonry and El Día de los Muertos



Most holidays can be associated into the Masonic calendar and celebrated without much connectivity to the fraternity, patriotism and religious veneration aside.  One holiday, not widely celebrated in the U.S., comes to us from the south in the form of a celebration (and perhaps veneration) of the Dead in the Mexican tradition of Día de los Muertos.

Suggested to have origins in the ancient past, the celebrations roots grow out of the distant Aztecs dedicated to the goddess Mictecacihuatl, who is the queen of the Aztec underworld and watcher of the deceased’s bones.  Today the celebration is a hybrid of this ancient practice and the more modern Catholic celebration of the All Saints Day, which venerates all known (and unknown) Catholic saints.  In this Latinized tradition, the feast extends to the remembrance of all those who have passed in the previous year to remember their spirits.

The resonance to Freemasonry comes in the veneration of the idea of Hiram Abiff, the Grand Master himself, as the fraternity venerates his role in every Masons making.  It strikes me that the idea of veneration is truly at the heart of our being.  Not to say that it is a ritualized worship, but rather a means of remembrance of his spirit upon the fraternity.

Día de los Muertos altar

Traditionally, Día de los Muertos is celebrated with the construction of private altars to honor the deceased, the making and decorating of sugar skulls which is a gift to both those still living and those departed, marigolds, and the favorite foods and beverages of the departed.  The meaning behind the offerings of food is representative a welcoming gesture (called ofrendas) to bring the departed with the foods spiritual essence.  Further, the celebrants go upon visitation to their graves with these as gifts and stand watch for their spirits through the night.

Again, this resonates with the tradition of Freemasonry, in that it is in the spirit of Grand Master Hiram that all Freemasons strive to emulate and represent, and it’s through the ceremonies of the degrees and that his essence is to be imparted through his wisdom and actions.

Día de los Muertos Catrina figures

Día de los Muertos Catrina figures

Also, there is a tremendous symbolic connectivity in the use of the skull and skeleton imagery, in that their application in the Día de los Muertos tradition closely follows its use in the Masonic tradition as a remembrance of the place where each of us is destined for.  Further, that no matter our status in life, we all are equalized and made to look the same in death.  The Calavera mask (skull mask) and the full calacas (skeleton) led to the more recent Día de los Muertos attribution of the Catrina figures, which are today a prominent inclusion to the day’s celebration.

It is in these symbolic gestures that I suggest Día de los Muertos most resonates on this most spooky of holidays, and that in the giving of sugar treats to young ghouls and goblins to pause for a moment and reflect on the passing and upon the spirit of those brothers who have passed before us and to leave one sweet treat should their spirit be passing by.

In memory of the spirit, for a moment forget the reality of ones life lived and instead remember their presence of spirit.

Happy Halloween.

Día de los Muertos sugar skulls

Día de los Muertos sugar skulls – Photo by Glen Van Etten, licensed under Creative Commons

Emile Norman, artist/craftsman, passes at 91

Artist and Craftsman Emile Norman, the creator of the California Grand Lodge Mosaic window and exterior frieze passes at 91, the Los Angeles Times reported today.

Though not readily discernible if Norman was a Mason, his mosaic window is both a testament to the diversity of California and the diversity of California Masonry.



His light may now be eclipsed, but his work will live on in his art.

Brother Jack Kemp Passed To The Celestial Lodge Above

Jack French Kemp (July 13, 1935 – May 2, 2009)

Jack French Kemp (July 13, 1935 – May 2, 2009)

Authentic Connecticut Republican posted reports:

  • Member of the US House of Representatives 1971 – 89
  • Secretary of Housing and Urban Development 1989 – 93
  • Republican vice-presidential candidate 1996
  • Jack Kemp was educated at Occidental College, at the University of California at Long Beach, and at Western University.

A former star quarterback for the San Diego Chargers and the Buffalo Bills, Kemp held, at the time of his retirement from professional football, three all-time AFL career records: for 3,055 pass attempts, 1,428 completions, and 21,130 yards gained passing. The Bills permanently retired his number 15. Kemp cofounded the American Football League Players Association and was its president from 1965 to 1970.

Kemp  was an ardent supply sider, one of President Reagan’s top economic advisors and co author of the Kemp-Roth tax cuts so identified with the Reagan Presidency.  He ran unsuccessfully ran for President in 1988.

Jack Kemp was a 33rd degree Freemason.


For an in depth more politically slanted account of Jack Kemp’s life see:

Individualism and Collectivism Revisited

A Historical Perspective

Recent articles on “The Euphrates” by Terence Satchell on how Freemasonry operates, either in a Collectivist or an Individualistic mode are too important and received far too little attention not to revisit these concepts again. For the style chosen has a lot to do with the success or failure of today’s Freemasonry. Now the two styles overlap and Freemasonry is not 100% purely one or the other. But it is where the primary emphasis is placed that dictates the nomenclature.

To understand the differences and the changes that have occurred in Freemasonry one has to look at its history and function in days gone by. Freemasonry was a product of the Enlightenment and grew up in the age of rapid club growth. In literature, the arts, politics, religion, science and fraternalism, clubs and societies sprang up all over Europe to meet the demand and the need to assimilate and understand all the new ideas and discoveries that were thrust upon society for the first time since ancient days at such a rapid rate. Some met in private homes, some met in coffee houses, some met in taverns and pubs and some met in the park but they all met in congenial fellowship to discuss, teach and inform, for times they were a-changing.

Bullock tells us:

The club had first become popular in the later seventeenth century, simultaneous with the evolution of the term itself from a clump to a select group of men knotted together. By the 1710s, participation in clubs was becoming a regular part of social life among the upper levels of English society. By the early eighteenth century, London hosted an estimated two thousand such organizations. The enormous popularity of the club formed part of a larger transformation.  Beginning in London, English society experienced major changes that reshaped modes of sociability.  The communal and kinship bonds that had held together village life no longer proved adequate to the world of increased social diversity and widened cultural horizons experienced by Britons who moved beyond the narrow world of the parish but not yet within the circles of court society.  The club, and its stepchild Masonry, provided a means of recreating the close ties of local friendship in a larger, more cosmopolitan world.”(1)

Early Freemasonry then revolved around instructing men (and sometimes women) in a philosophy and a new way of life in a closely bonded atmosphere.  And a great deal of time was taken up in discussion of what the speculative art meant and what it could do for a man. Freemasonry was a club, a teaching club that evolved into a society; a more organized and structured entity.  But even as it evolved it never lost its roots as an organization that mirrored somewhat a school. And the Freemasonry school had homework.  Every Mason was expected to do some private study and was encouraged to do so.

Of course Freemasonry was more than just this and attracted members for various reasons.  The fact that it attempted to be a classless organization in a society with classes and the nature of the bonded Brotherhood, that mystic tie, increased its popularity.  But the foundation of its strength was its Gnostic knowledge, that special understanding of the meaning and mission of life that set it apart and above the myriad other organizations.

Freemasonry started than as individualistic.  It was a philosophy, a way of life, a thought process, a study for the individual to transform himself into a more knowledgeable, better educated, well grounded, person who possessed an understanding of what it all meant, a better insight into the nature of it all and a circle of support and continuing enlightenment that yielded a tightly bonded family or Brotherhood. Freemasonry was all about what the individual Brother did and the pride of the Brotherhood was the accomplishment of the man. Freemasonry was a journey upon which a man embarked to make a better man and a better world.

Read: So What? The Dynamic of Masonic Membership

All Masonry was local. Each Brother was able to create his own path. Each Brother was Masonry’s creator; each Brother decided what he was going to do with the Fraternity and what he wasn’t going to do.  The decision-making was in the hands of the individual Mason. It’s not that the body of Freemasonry as a whole could not take a stand for anything.  As I have previously pointed out the virtues, values and ethics of the Craft upon which all Freemasons agree and all obligate themselves can be promulgated by the leaders of the fraternity on behalf of everybody.  But that is a far cry from actually choosing how each Freemason has to experience his Freemasonry and ordering upon the threat of expulsion that it must be done a certain way.

In the Individualistic concept of Freemasonry Grand Lodges concerned themselves with chartering new Lodges, promoting the Craft and acting as a facilitator for both Lodge and Craft development.  Grand Lodges made the circle larger.  They added cohesiveness and structure to the fraternity.

But then the structure became Freemasonry.  Collectivism took over the Craft.  It didn’t happen overnight.  It was like a cancer that slowly spread. A number of factors in American Freemasonry, and we are only talking about Freemasonry in the U.S.A., facilitated the growth of a centralized collective.  Individualistic Freemasonry’s basis was decentralization, but not so with collective Freemasonry. American Freemasonry became concerned with territory. Perhaps it didn’t have enough confidence in the marketplace of the free association of ideas to compete.  Perhaps it wanted to legally make any competition illegal.  Whatever the reason, American Freemasonry adopted the American Doctrine, The Right of Exclusive Territorial Jurisdiction.  Now each jurisdiction had a monopoly, what in the civil world we would call a restraint of trade. Monopolies tend to become fat and lazy and feel no need to answer to anybody, especially the people whom they serve. Then all the Mainstream Grand Lodges got together and unofficially signed onto a gentlemen’s agreement never to criticize each other and to always support all others in everything that they did. Now no matter what a Grand Lodge did there were no repercussions because it was not answerable to a higher power or even a higher constitutional document. Having eliminated all competition and insured peer approval of any action it took Grand Lodges were in a position to exercise absolute power.  And power corrupts, but absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Some say that after the Morgan affair American Freemasonry never fully recovered, that it was never the same again. Perhaps Grand Masters saw a need for greater control in order to be able to thwart such local actions in the future. Still Grand Lodges and their chartered local Lodges and individual Freemasons existed fairly harmoniously from the Post Civil War period until the 1960s. But there was no question who was the boss.  The Vietnam War authored a whole generation of dropouts who refused to join anything.  Freemasonry skipped a whole generation and its leadership stayed in power for a double shift.  Many a new Mason in the 60s saw in his Lodge predominately men old enough to be his Grandfather.  Grand Lodges were governed by men in their 70s and 80s.

The post Vietnam decline in membership and the rapid increase in technology was a double whammy that hit Grand Lodges like a sledgehammer. The old guard leadership was not able to change with the times. First of all Grand Lodges felt that local Lodges had dropped the ball and weren’t trying hard enough.  Grand Lodges in the post WWII rapid growth spurt had committed Freemasonry to buildings, programs and charities it could not sustain with the decline in membership and consequently the drop in revenue. Grand Lodges needed more money and they did not have the confidence in their local Lodges to provide it.  So as what usually happens in a power vacuum, Grand Lodge filled it by taking over and mandating programs and policies upon its local Lodges. Secondly the rise of the Information Age and the widespread use of the computer and the Internet was not only something Freemasonry was not prepared for but also something it fought, tooth and nail. The Old guard who stayed in power for an extended period because Masonic membership skipped a whole generation were so far removed from the new Masons joining the Craft that they not only looked down with scorn upon the newer methods and ways of the young but they actually forbade their use inside Freemasonry.

Consequently many Grand Lodges, as well as local Lodges, refused to install computer systems. When individual Masons set up Masonic websites and forums for Masonic discussion, some Grand Masters confiscated them or ordered them to be closed down, Grand Masters proclaiming that only they could speak for Freemasonry in its jurisdiction. Most Grand Lodges were very slow to adopt computer technology and get on board with Grand Lodge websites.  In many cases to this day the systems used are way behind the latest technology and run by volunteers instead of paid professionals in the field. Even today many Grand Lodges refuse to allow transmission of reports it demands from its chartered Lodges to be filed over the Internet.  Even today some Grand Lodges are muzzling its members.

The lag behind the times continues. How many Grand Masters and other Grand Lodge officers today Twitter?  How many are on Facebook?  My Place? How many text message? How many have a personal website?  How many operate a blog?  How many carry laptops with them wherever they may go? Why is it that Grand Lodge websites do not operate Masonic discussion forums?  Why is it that Grand Lodges are not doing Masonic radio podcasts? Grand Lodges are like some people I know, stuck in the 50s.

The erosion of local power and the transfer of that power to Grand Lodges was a slow gradual process that some Masons objected to but few made a federal case out of.  The pinnacle of American Freemasonry occurred from 1870 to 1950 when American Freemasonry grew strongly, built lavish beautiful buildings, stocked the Side Bodies, and authored some of the best writings on Freemasonry ever.  I can remember as Master of my Lodge in 1999 reading the minutes of my Lodge in the corresponding Communication of 1899 when the Lodge had 800 members and the average attendance was 100 Brothers.  When Freemasonry is flourishing, when there are fewer problems, gripes and concerns get put on the back burner. But when there is a crisis all of a sudden what seemed trivial now becomes a major concern.

And the crisis for Grand Lodges from 1960 to the present day has been the continuous decline in membership and the loss in revenue because of that decline.  For fifty years now Grand Lodges have become obsessed with trying to increase membership and get more money. In the process they have tightened the screws of authority and created programs and issued rulings that are very unpopular with the rank and file of the Craft. The highly centralized absolute authority of collective Freemasonry no longer seems to care about the education and development of the individual Mason. Instead of fostering Masonic discussion, Masonic instruction, Masonic education, Masonic authorship, and the dissemination of Masonic knowledge, Grand Lodges are pushing One Day classes, fundraisers, fish frys and community action and charitable endeavors turning American Freemasonry into a Service Club.  The focus has switched from making good men better to improving society. Charity in Individualistic Freemasonry was a principle taught to individual Masons who then decided how they would individually apply that virtue inside and outside the Craft.  Today every Masonic endeavor is a function of the Lodge performed by the collective by decisions made from the top.

Fifty years of collective Freemasonry has developed a cadre of Freemasons who now believe that Freemasonry is the Institution rather than a philosophy.  I call these Masons “Institutionalists.”  They talk a lot about preserving the Institution of Freemasonry, Recognition, The Right of Exclusive Territorial Jurisdiction and clandestine and irregular Freemasonry. They put the well being of the Institution before the well being of the individual. Their Grand Lodge can never do wrong. They concentrate power into the hands of a collectivist, top down, inner circle oligarchy that seeks to create a closed society governed much like the US Army. They garner awards and display proudly on their chest jewels and pins that have nothing to do with their Masonic knowledge or scholarship. They defend their Grand Lodge from any thought or idea in Freemasonry that the inner circle disapproves of. They refuse Masonic discourse with Freemasons in other Obediences and support their Grand Lodge’s right to tell its members who they can and cannot talk to.  They create private research societies open only to members of Mainstream Masonry. They refuse to take any action against the rogue Masonic regime in West Virginia while at the same time shutting out Co-Masonry and the GOUSA. They will not exert any pressure on racist Grand Lodges to admit black men and recognize Prince Hall yet they will get on private Masonic Sites and wag their finger about guests from other Obediences being permitted access.

Today there has developed a growing chasm in Freemasonry.  The millennial generation is upon us and many are more traditional than their fathers and are seekers who are trying to place more meaning into their lives. Once again we see the rise of mystical thought and inner search that was a part of Freemasonry 150 years ago. The Millennials don’t care about petty distinctions. A Grand Lodge is a Grand Lodge.  They want gender and racial equality to be a part of anything to which they associate themselves. Freemasonry the thought appeals to them, Freemasonry the practice does not.

Consequently many Masons today are bypassing or boycotting formal Masonic Communications while at the same time becoming very active in Masonic websites and the intellectual pursuits of Freemasonry so reminiscent of Individualistic Freemasonry. Masonic Internet sites like Freemason Information, Phoenixmasonry and Master Mason as well as individual Masonic blogs are flourishing while Lodge attendance is at an all time low. Collectivist Freemasonry stifles creativity and reform.  It enables entrenched, outmoded ideas to perpetuate a society that lacks a connection with today’s generation. It is headed down a path of self-defeat. The answer for Mainstream Grand Lodges is to return to Individualistc Freemasonry.

(1)        “Revolutionary Brotherhood” by Steven C. Bullock, pg. 29