Seven Surprising Things I Wish I Knew Before Joining the Freemasons

I joined Freemasonry in 2007. I hadn’t ever considered it before joining the Johannite Church, but the Church has a historical connection to the Masons, so it seemed like a good thing to do. There’s no official relationship between the Church and Freemasonry today, but the original public incarnation of the Church was founded by Freemasons in the early 1800s. I’ve learned a lot in Masonry, and I don’t regret joining, but there are a few things I wish I knew before I joined. Of course, your mileage may vary, as each jurisdiction, and indeed, each lodge is different.

1) It’s Not Really So Esoteric

I expected to join the fraternity and immediately be told the secrets of the Perennial Philosophy that has been taught to all Master Masons since King Solomon (not to mention the location of the secret treasure under Mount Rushmore we were charged with protecting). Sooooo… Not so much. In fact, it’s actually pretty hard to get any secrets out of the brothers in Masonry. It’s not really that there are no secrets, see my earlier post about that, it’s just that not too many Masons really care about that part of the Craft. With Masonry’s membership problems and generally aging population, I’ve found that most of the members simply see Masonry as a night out of the house away from the missus, with a smattering of moral instruction if you’re feeling fancy. Want to talk alchemy, hermetics, kabbalah, or the magics? Take that crazytalk elsewhere sonny! We have baked chicken to cook.

Now, I’m heartened to see more lodges, specifically those with younger demographics, who talk more openly about the esoteric secrets buried with the Widow’s Son, and I hope this trend continues. In fact, I think it might be the thing that saves the fraternity.

2) It’s Not Really Taken That Seriously

This goes hand-in-hand with the previous point. Many Masons just don’t understand that Masonry is important on its own terms. These “social Masons,” for lack of a better term, think that the rituals and traditions of Masonry are simply something to be tolerated in exchange for the camaraderie that the fraternity provides. These are the guys you see snickering through the ritual drama of the third degree, or making sarcastic comments from the sidelines. If you believe, as I do, that initiation is Very Important™, then these social Masons will frustrate you.

3) No Girls Allowed

I’m not sure I’d say I’ve changed a lot since I joined the fraternity, but I’ve definitely changed my opinions about feminism. In that back then I didn’t really think about it at all, and now I’m firmly in that camp. On the one hand, I do think that people should be able to voluntarily associate with the people they want, but I have to wonder if (regular) Freemasonry provides a specific benefit that women don’t have access to. If you had asked me 150, or even 50 years ago I would have definitely said yes. The social networking and back-room dealing was absolutely a thing, but now I’m not sure it really plays as much of a role. The spiritual benefit can be replicated by a good 30 minutes of Googling, really, so that’s not a big deal. Would I join an organization today that excludes women? Probably not. This is a particularly tricky issue for me, and I honestly don’t know where I stand on it, but I think about it a lot.

4) Politics

Two things that are forbidden to discuss in a Masonic lodge are sectarian religion and politics. Of course that doesn’t mean there are no politics in Freemasonry. In fact, you’ll find factions and backstabbing and people being awful to each other for personal gain (such as there can be within the Craft) pretty much all the time. Institutions are made of people, after all, and some people are dicks.

5) People Think We’re a Bit Silly… or Evil

Non-Masons see us at parades, funerals, and public events in our aprons and gloves and silly hats and think we’re kinda ridiculous. Those are the good reactions. There are lots of strongly convicted religious people and conspiracy theorists who actively think we have malevolent motives. I can’t speak for all Masons, but Satan has never really come up in any of the meetings I’ve attended, and I wouldn’t know the first thing about how to run a shadow government. Maybe I’m just bad at Masonry?

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6) Riding the Goat

There’s no goat, but it’s a common trope to describe the hazing associated with Masonic initiations. I say associated because it’s very clear to me that hazing has absolutely no place in the solemn initiation rituals of our fraternity. In my jurisdiction, the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, we are very specifically told, before every third degree, that we shouldn’t be hazing the candidates. The fact that we are required by Masonic edict to read a statement like that every single time indicates that this has historically been a bit of a problem. Even to this day I hear Masons proudly telling stories about how hard they hit the candidates in their initiations. I’ve never seen it rise to the level of something that I might consider calling outright assault, but you have to ask yourself why these brothers think hitting people is so much fun.

7) You Get Out What You Put In

This is actually a plus, in my opinion. It would be great if Masonry, by its very nature, imparted the mysteries and moral teachings by beaming them directly into your brain, such is not the case. You have to do the work. Like anything that’s worth doing, it’s worth working hard to accomplish. You’ll find yourself better off if you get involved, learn the ritual, find out what it’s like to initiate somebody, read books on Masonry and the western mysteries. If you join and just attend meetings once a month, you won’t find what you were looking for.

What do you think? Are you a Mason? If so, what did you wish you knew? If you’re thinking about joining Masonry, what questions do you have? Post them in the comments!

Thanks to everyone who participated in my quick poll about this on Facebook. Turns out we all pretty much see things the same way.