Thursday, September 20, 2007

What is Freemasonry?

How often when talking about the Craft do we hear these words? What is the proper response to them? I have often thought about what Freemasonry means to me, and this has lead me to reflect on this topic. Is there any one correct answer?
In many Lodges, it seems the Brethren are divided into two camps. I like to call the first the "old guard". Generally, these Brethren are, as the name implies, older. Often they have been members of our Fraternity for 25 years or more. To them, Freemasonry is like a more dignified extension of a college fraternity. They are perfectly content to come to the Lodge, drink some coffee, and enjoy the fellowship of their Brothers. Throw in a meal now and again, and maybe some charity work on the side, and they feel fulfilled in their Masonic experience. To them, Freemasonry is like a more illustrious Lion's club, or maybe even a family tradition. Good men and true, they embody many of the virtues taught by the ritual, and are often very active in the community.
On the other hand, we have what I like to call the "youngsters". To them, Masonry can be all of the above, but even more. It is a repository of ancient, arcane wisdom hidden somewhere behind the symbols and degrees. Perhaps they view it as a continuance of the western mystery schools, and are not afraid of the terms "occult" or "esoteric". As a general rule, they are very enthusiastic, and often cause trouble in Lodges because they want to try something new or push the Lodge in a new direction. They are very internet savvy, and don't always fit the stereotypical picture of what a Mason should be. Many of these men came into our Fraternity after much individual study and not necessarily due to a family tradition. These men value the Craft every bit as much as the "old guard" but definitely see it in a much different light.
So, the question then becomes, who is right here, and can the two sides coexist peacefully in the same Lodge? I believe that the answer to the question is that they are both right and can coexist. The beauty of our Craft is that it can have different meaning for different people. Our ritual is written so that it can be interpreted in many ways. Some Brethren may be satisfied with what they find on the surface, while others may wish to delve deeper. Both are equally valid attitudes. Freemasonry teaches nothing, if not tolerance, and its practice should start in the Lodgeroom.
So, if you find yourself shaking your head at those "youngsters" and all their crazy ideas, just take a step back and remember that these men are the future of the Fraternity and love it as much as you do. Perhaps you might even learn from them. Alternately, if you find yourself the object of some not so subtle tut-tutting by the "old guard", remember that they have been around awhile and may be a surprising source of Masonic knowledge. With a little bit of work and understanding the two sides can come together to form "one sacred band, or society of friends and Brothers, among whom no contention should ever exist, but that noble contention, or rather emulation, of who best can work and best agree." So mote it be!


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