I was reading another provocative post by The Masonic Traveler entitled "So What?
" For those who want to skip the extra reading, I would, hopefully fairly, summarize the post as "Freemasonry having lost its sense of the esoteric, appears to be utterly doomed." The next to last paragraph gives a distant, befogged hope, but having received page after page of well understood bad news, so little light can hardly dispel the darkness. As a subscriber to what I have been calling the "Esoteric Renewal Movement" we can hardly fault Bro. Stewart for his position. Yet, in his words I see revealed the core secret of Freemasonry which none but the rarest Mason can disclose.
At its very heart and soul Freemasonry is an initiatic order. We take one man at a time and move him through a ritual process, a processed written and created by a very small number of otherwise ordinary men, which is intended to transform him. Will it transform him; if it does how will it transform him? We have no way to know the answer to either question. We do know, as we express in the Entered Apprentice proficiency, there must be a pre-existing kernel of Freemasonry in a man's heart for our lessons to take root. Without this the degrees are a system of unmeaning rituals, and so they are to many men who pass through the West Gate. We can also be sure that there are just as many Masons who return to lodge night after night never having interiorized our lessons as there are Masons who never again darken the tyled door, yet still live Freemasonry to the fullest.
Since, thanks to the training of my high school forensics teacher, I am able to speak extemporaneously, I have been frequently called on by the Craft to speak about Freemasonry. During Fellowship Nights I will often talk to the men brought in by my Brothers to find out what they want to know about Freemasonry and then tailor the talk to those particular topics. It was not long before I realize the real secret of Freemasonry: we do not know what we have nor were we necessarily intended to.
Freemasonry is far greater than any of us who participate in it from the youngest Entered Apprentice in the northeast corner of the Lodge to the Most Worshipful Grand Master to whom we pay homage "for the time being." It has been said that Freemasonry is regional or even parochial, when in reality Freemasonry is solely individualist. All true initiatic orders must necessary be so. Every man is personally transformed in some way, if Freemasonry reached him at all, but they nature of the transformation, what he took from our lessons and what he may some day impart to us is different for every man. This difference is in our very nature and was designed into our order from its first speculative days. It is encoded into our ritual over and over again.
As the world around us changed the nature of men changed as well and they brought Freemasonry with them. During the 17th and 18th centuries men wanted a richer, more meaningful set of degrees and so the Hiramic Legend was created, William Preston gathered the working from all over the British Isles and wrote his famous lectures, collectors Webb and Cross Americanized this work and added their own innovations. During the late 18th and early 19th centuries the numbered degree systems blossomed like a summer field with thousands of degrees, many now lost, in practice around the world. During the esoteric period of the 19th and 20th centuries famous esotericists created, between the lines of Freemasonry, a deeper, richer world which I doubt Anderson, Preston, Webb, Cross and Gleason could have imagined. When we are unjust so too is Freemasonry unjust. We we are loving and kind so too is Freemasonry.
Freemasonry is never lost of itself because Freemasonry is never anything but who we are. It has no life of its own.
The Secret of Freemasonry is that it expresses who we are, for good and ill. Our ancient operative Brethren dropped their tools to the earth and Freemasonry was surely bound for death, how could it be otherwise? Lodges closed all around Britain, the lessons of Masonry all left derelict until a the Speculative Freemasons stepped up. What they did with Freemasonry must have left the few remaining Operative Masons seized with horror. Freemasonry became an expression of their times and of those men, rescued from the dustbin of history. This is why I refuse to discuss membership and why I threw away my Scottish Rite Membership Fundraiser (sorry, M.W. Bro. Ridlon).
Freemasonry is rich with its own past and malleable as children's clay. It will be, some day hence, a new institution reborn in a new image by the hands of new men. For my order I fear not death for I know it will long outlast me, never as it was, but always as it will be. So I charge all who care to listen, give neither thought nor time to the supposed membership problem. Turn all of your attention to your Brothers, make a family of them and be kind to one another at all times. The day may come when each lodge does not own its own hall, but Freemasonry is not a building, is it not a ritual, it is you and your Brothers. Make it what you will.
"So what." I agree. Better that my esoteric Brethren spend their time teaching the esoteric arts than worrying about what Freemasonry never was: membership counts. If there are any Maine-area esotericists, give me a shout I know of two lodges where your thoughts might find friends.