February 12, 2007 10:59 PM   Subscribe

Just what is the Freemason experience really like nowadays?

I've been reading and researching much about Freemasonry for a few months now. It's an on and off thing but very soon I'm considering joining this fraternity to learn more and meet with likeminded people (hopefully). Freemasonry from what I read pomps itself as a society of gentlemen dedicated to a life of virtue and the pursuit of wisdom. Now, I've read from other places that that is just what it looks on the outside. Even on AskMeFi, one user claimed that Freemasonry is no different from any other college fraternity -- just grown up. Well, I'm not sure what that meant exactly though the statement stirs up negative stereotypes. So, anyone out there that's a Mason, just what is the Freemason experience really like? How do you see Freemasonry and its membership today?
posted by Myles to Religion & Philosophy (24 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I can't personally speak towards the Freemason experience, but my dad's been in the process of beginning the initiation for a while now, and I have one word of advice for you: start making friends with a member ASAP. Your sponsor needs to know you personally for 6 months to a year before they can start the process, so, even if you don't decide to join anytime soon, try and find somebody in the Masons that's willing to keep up contact for some time. That way, when you do make the decision, you'll be ready.
posted by DarkElf109 at 11:12 PM on February 12, 2007

I'll tell you what I know. I am not a member, but several relatives are. These relatives are people who grew up in Booker, Texas (population 1,300 people) and who are all farmers and ranchers. Not glamorous "Dallas"-style ranchers, but people who's education ended at 15/16 and who learned everything they need to know, including the miracle of life, by working on a farm.

I would not categorize these people as dedicated to the pursuit of wisdom. They are, however, good, salt of the earth types, but my understanding is that it's just a social organization.
posted by Brittanie at 11:15 PM on February 12, 2007

Well, this is really far from my bed, but my dentist is a Freemason, and he goes to Nepal (!) every year to help out local dental clinics (which in Nepal is usually a shed with possibly a chair). Which seems to fit the 'life of virtue' aspect of Freemasonry.

I've never seen him do weird handshakes, but he does have a large poster of the Ministry for Silly Walks in his operation room. Coincidence?
posted by Harry at 1:00 AM on February 13, 2007

I was a Mason in the Blue Lodge in the line to become a Master Mason. My lodge was a mixed group of younger and older men who met monthly. After the opening ceremony, it was a social gathering. A couple of us had a friend we wanted to bring in to be part of our group. He was black. We were told "they" have their own lodge." "We will black ball him if you try it." (deny membership by secret vote). I found the other lodges in my area had the same policy. I quit the organization at that time.
posted by Shalerman at 5:54 AM on February 13, 2007

The real answer is it varies by state and locale. I intensely doubt Shalerman.
posted by keswick at 7:01 AM on February 13, 2007

IANAM. But, my brother's a mason, and my wife's family has several members of the Masons and the affiliated women's group, the Order of the Eastern Stars. Still, I am an 'outsider'. As far as I can tell, they tend to be a typical men's organization, in the same mold as Rotary, Lion's Club, Knights of Columbus, just with more arcane history.

Monthly mostly-social meetings, in-lodge bar for cheap drinks, special ceremonies for kicks, cliquish membership, personal politics based on seniority/rank, and frequent good deeds of the charitable kind, raising money for local firefighters, scholarships, etc. The 'high' levels may or may not have cultish aspirations, but that's not the experience for most junior members. As far as I can tell.
posted by BlackPebble at 7:13 AM on February 13, 2007

I don't doubt Shalerman. I worked with a black mason a few years ago, and he told me that there were different groups for people of different races.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 7:30 AM on February 13, 2007

Anyone know if Shalerman's experience is localized, or is that a pretty widespread issue? Thats pretty disturbing if racism is prevalent throughout the organization
posted by ZackTM at 7:33 AM on February 13, 2007

I am a Mason. To answer the main question, let me say that I find Freemasonry to be an intensely personal experience. For a long time, fraternal organizations could rely on attracting and retaining members simply by being fun and social, but now there is a trend among some to focus on the more philosophical and mystical side of the organization (I've heard it phrased that the initiation process needs to be "priced up and slowed down" to weed out those who join on a whim). Not every lodge is this way--and in fact, most fraternal organizations have aging populations and dwindling numbers (cf. Robert Putnam's Bowling Alone). So, you have some guys who are there to socialize and hang out and drink coffee and some others who are really serious about memorizing the rituals and doing community service projects and whatnot (your mileage may vary). I am one of those who likes the pomp and circumstance and the long-winded explanations of symbolism ("Masonry is a a beautiful system of morality, veiled in allegory, and illustrated by symbols."). And yet I really enjoy the social aspect as well. I met some of the best friends of my life through the lodge and DeMolay. Another thing: Masonry is not about secrets. It's not a secret who is a member, where the meetings are, or even what takes place behind closed doors (you can read all the secrets of Freemasonry by Googling the words Duncan's Ritual--and yet you still won't be fully prepared for the experience of going through the initiation process).

Second, the black-masonry issue that Shalerman mentions is still a problem that is misunderstood by Masons and Non-Masons alike. The majority black lodges are called Prince Hall. I have experience with lodges in Texas and Colorado and both states have Prince Hall lodges and both states have "AF&AM" lodges with regular black members (including Wellington Webb, former mayor of Denver). It's easy to think that this is still a segregation problem, but it's more complex than that. Just because the US still has "historically black" colleges like Spelman and Morehouse (or female-only colleges) does not mean that those colleges need to be reintegrated with "regular" colleges? No: African-Americans can join any Masonic lodge in America. However, are there racist people out there who try to "blackball" them? Sadly, yes.
Feel free to ask me any other questions (email's in profile).
posted by mattbucher at 7:57 AM on February 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

Also, when DarkElf109 says "Your sponsor needs to know you personally for 6 months to a year before they can start the process, so, even if you don't decide to join anytime soon, try and find somebody in the Masons that's willing to keep up contact for some time." I'm not sure what he is referring to as Masonry doesn't have "sponsors" the way AA does. Here's how you become a Mason: tell a Mason that you want to join (2B1-ASK1). You can do that several different ways: if you already know a person is a Mason, tell that person you want to join, if you don't know anyone who is a Mason, find the nearest lodge to you and call them. There is no limit of six months to a year before you can start the process.
posted by mattbucher at 8:06 AM on February 13, 2007

Shalerman might be referring to the Prince Hall Masons, which is a historically black lodge. I just did a big interview with the National Free Masonic Lodge here in Washington DC. It's really a social club not a metaphysical pseudo-religion. I have been to two meetings, it's actually a good way to network.
posted by parmanparman at 8:07 AM on February 13, 2007

Wow, that's two non-Masons so far telling us that it's really just a social club. Well, in my opinion all churches are just social clubs because I don't believe in their quasi-metaphysical teachings, but there are some great potlucks! Masonry does have teachings, it's not a religion that teaches a path to salvation, but they do use a series of symbols and metaphors to teach moral lessons. Here is an example: one masonic symbol is the 24 inch ruler. The working mason uses this ruler to measure around corners in three increments of eight. The freemason uses this symbol as rule for dividing the hours in the day: eight hours for his regular occupation, eight hours for rest and refreshment, and eight hours for service to humanity.
posted by mattbucher at 8:14 AM on February 13, 2007

in my opinion all churches are just social clubs because I don't believe in their quasi-metaphysical teachings, but there are some great potlucks!

Heh -- I was just thinking how much BlackPebble's description sounded like my church. Except for the booze, unfortunately -- but we get coffee, and have excellent bake sales.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:12 AM on February 13, 2007

My mother's family were all Freemasons in Altoona, PA. She left the group when she was a teenager because she found them to be intensely racist, and also prejudiced against other religions.

That was her experience in the 60's in Western PA, though. I think times have changed. Hope they've changed.
posted by np312 at 9:58 AM on February 13, 2007

I mentioned historically black colleges, but also consider historically black churches like the C.O.G.I.C. Do you consider "christians" in general to be racist because they make black folks go to these other "black only" churches? Of course not. The fact is, large US institutions like colleges, churches, and fraternal organizations were founded before the civil rights era and to this day carry with them the institutionally racist legacy of those times. Americans have a hard time accepting this, but don't believe it's limited to Masonic lodges.
posted by mattbucher at 10:08 AM on February 13, 2007

No one makes "them go" in a church. In the example above he was made to go because he would be denied membership. A black guy could join my church easy with no mention of blackballing. Youre in a largely racist organization that tries to rationalize its racist members under the context of "black colleges." Pathetic and laughable.
posted by damn dirty ape at 10:24 AM on February 13, 2007

damn dirty ape, you're still missing the point.

Some Masons are racist. So are some people who aren't Masons. From my understanding, most lodges--especially in the south--are working hard to end any lingering racism. The existence of the Prince Hall lodges does stem from racist behaviour--nobody denies that. And more and more lodges are trying to build deep and meaningful ties with the Prince Hall lodges.

Also, is, if memory serves, right up there with your standard conspiracy sites. Not exactly a reasonable resource.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 10:35 AM on February 13, 2007

I apologize if I have made this a derail from the original question. There is a lot of misinformation out there and it's easy to get defensive when someone calls you racist, pathetic, and laughable. Thank you, dirtynumbangelboy for the clear answer. Just to be clear, a black guy could join my lodge easy with no mention of blackballing. That doesn't explain away the existence of organizations like historically black lodges, schools, and churches and while I'd like to continue to discuss their unique place in our culture, this thread is not the place.
posted by mattbucher at 11:30 AM on February 13, 2007

My mother's family were all Freemasons in Altoona, PA. She left the group when she was a teenager because she found them to be intensely racist, and also prejudiced against other religions.


1.) Your mom was not a Freemason. Women are not allowed to be Freemasons (omg sexist!!1!1). She may have been involved with Job's Daughters or Rainbow Girls. Adult women may be involved with Eastern Star.

2.) Freemasonry is not a religion, so you cannot say they "were prejudiced against other religions."

3.) Many religions are or have been prejudiced against Freemasonry, claiming it was part of the occult. (They're wrong.)

4.) One anecdote cannot be used to paint the entire fraternity.

5.) Freemasonry is not exactly a rigid top-down organization. There is not a national lodge in the United States. (I believe there is one in France and the U.K.) The highest level in the U.S. is that of a grand lodge, which sets the standards for a particular state. Their standards and practices vary from state to state. Racism is not tolerated in my lodge or our in any lodge in my state.

6.) Please don't assert things as fact that are quite the opposite.
posted by keswick at 1:12 PM on February 13, 2007

My experience with the masons is honest and true for me. I am pleased to see others across the country did not have the same introduction to masonry as I did. Go ahead and join the organization and see how it fits you. I am sure you will meet some fine people.
posted by Shalerman at 1:39 PM on February 13, 2007

The freemasonry is diverse,

The freemasons are often seen only as good citizen collecting money for charities.

the story of freemasons is more politically engaged in the rest of the world, they usually fight against dogmas or dictature in europe or central and south america, most of them are atheist or freethinker, they debate social justice in lodge ( masonic meeting).

From Garibaldi to Salvador Allende, some socialists, a lot of anarchists as Kropotkin, Bakunin or Proudhon were freemasons.

About the women, of course there is women freemasons and women masonic lodges for a long time now, but actually the fastest growing freemasonry is the lodges for both men in women ( there are two organisation of this type in the US) .

As an european, I find surprising thing about american freemasonry :
it's very deist ( a belief in a creating god is mandatory ) they are still racialy separate in some states (!)
and most of the men freemasons don't even know that women can be there equals in lodge.

But it maybe means that each culture, or maybe generation creates is own "model" of freemasonry.

some american masonic group out of the mainstream freemasonry :

hope it helps
posted by luis huiton at 1:52 PM on February 13, 2007

luis huiton writes "and most of the men freemasons don't even know that women can be there equals in lodge."

That is because they can't, not if they wish to belong to a lodge recognized by UGLE. Le Droit Humain, Co-Masonry, etc, are all very wonderful traditions. But it is worth noting, for accuracy, that they are offshoots from splinter groups from 'regular' Masonry. And 'regular' Masonry, that is to say Masonry derived from the UGLE, is pretty much what everyone means when they say 'Freemason'.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 3:57 PM on February 13, 2007

I'm a Mason also. I'd second everything mattbucher has said so far, especially about the Prince Hall lodges. No black man would have any problem with joining my lodge either. So far, we have not had any ask. Is that because someone is discouraging them before they officially "ask"? I don't think so, but that's all I know. I know of no racist members of my Lodge.

I liken the Lodge to being more of a big brothers of america - like thing. Only I'm a grown man, and I'm getting advice from some much older, wiser people. It's one thing to ask a question on AskMe, quite another to ask one of the guys in the lodge. It's not religious - you can be any religion - but it is very "what is the moral thing, what is the right thing?" There is a standard ritual of lessons at the beginning (Which are also good), but that really just serves as a shared basis and value system for the more personal coaching that goes on later on.
posted by ctmf at 7:34 PM on February 13, 2007

iirc there is a black mason lodge in St. Albans, Queens, NYC.
posted by missed at 9:41 PM on February 13, 2007

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