Dialing Back the Esoteric Elitism


This meme has recently been making its rounds on various social media platforms and reddit threads. Taken from the movie The Matrix, it insinuates that those who join Freemasonry purely for the fellowship, social intercourse, and camaraderie are somehow living in a dream world oblivious to the esoteric mysticism inherent in the organization.

My argument is thus: Viewing Masonry through a contextual framework (or lens) of sociology and the benefits it provides society as a fraternal organization is no less honorable—or scholarly—than viewing it through one of ancient mysticism which may, or may not, have been incorporated consciously into the organization during its foundational years.

I joined Masonry for the friendship. Plain and simple. I was at a point in my life where I desperately craved male companionship of similar caliber to those close, very best friends I made my first week of college. I’m very happy to report that I’ve been able to cultivate friendships on a similar qualitative level through this organization. Given my reasons for joining, I primarily view Masonry as an organization through the contextual framework (or lens) of sociology—it is a brotherhood that applies moral lessons, as presented through various symbols and rites, as an enabling factor for the men therein to be a positive force for good in today’s world.

I have no problem with Masons who live for the esoterics. My personal opinion is that, although the learned men who formed the original tenets of the organization were no doubt versed in Renaissance enlightenment (or the precursor to it) that enacted a resurgence of interest in Hermetic mysticism (among other things), hindsight is 20/20. Yes, of course it’s neat that this particular symbol which has significance to the Masonic fraternity was found on the ruins in [your ancient civilization here]. But remember, Masons have a sordid love affair with symbolism (rivaled only by their love affair with lapel pins). One could practically pull a symbol out of a hat at random, and a Masonic connection could likely be drawn almost immediately.

My passion for Masonic scholarship lay much more along the lines of contemporary sociology. I’m fascinated by the social implications of the fraternity as a living, breathing, evolving organism. The needs and benefits of it have changed substantially since the post-WWI/WWII era membership boom. It now competes with a myriad of other social and fraternal societies that weren’t around even 50 years ago. How then does it stay relevant? What conclusions can be drawn from the difference between how it attracts men in 2014 vice how it did in 1930? What good does it bring society today, and how is that different from the good it brought society 50 years ago? These are the questions I deem more deserving of my personal time and attention, and it is my prerogative to do so.

This article is not an attempt to marginalize the merits of exploring the Masonic connection to ancient mysticism. Rather, the entire point of the fraternity is to increase in knowledge and virtue (keep seeking more light!), regardless of whether you view that “light” through the contextual framework of anthropology (moral lessons that make men better), religion and mysticism (symbols galore), or sociology (what benefit does Masonry bring society?). That said, the elitism recently intimated by a number of Masons obsessed with esoterics does little to foster constructive discourse necessary for Masonic scholarship to flourish.


4 thoughts on “Dialing Back the Esoteric Elitism

  1. Thomas Jefferson, not “KNOWN” to be a Mason, said a lot of things that Masons everywhere could agree with. One of those things was “the idea that human progress was an individual affair, each person improving him- or herself economically and culturally until Americans collectively would form the most advanced, finest civilization in which any human being could hope to live.”

    Your comment on staying relevant today is founded. But esoteric exist wholly and fully in masonry, and have from the very beginning, and yet, even in the 18th century they weren’t often seen as the backbone of the fraternity – case and point Bro. G. Washington’s attendance record in tiled lodge. This may be highly speculative, I understand – but… many Lodges display a picture of this most revered brother, and they may even believe him to be the quintessential American Freemason.

    The thing I see is simple; Masonry is fundamentally about what you bring into it. What makes us better, as men, is being on the level. I would agree with a certain VA PM in that there is an inherent elitism in Masonry, in that we are selective, and non-inclusive. But that elitism is not discriminatory by nature, nor should it ever be.
    We seek first and fundamentally in all things, as our fathers sought before us, and there’s before them. We seek to be better men, but we are not measured better than other men, by men.

  2. I think this goes back to the whole “you get out what you put in” adage popular in Lodges. If you want a social group who is happy to spend time after Lodge drinking coffee (or something else), then there is a Lodge for you, somewhere in you jurisdiction. A petitioner can also find more serious, academic Lodges, Lodges that put a high emphasis on ritual work, Lodges who devote more time to philanthropy, etc. The trick is finding the Lodge you want. Too many men think they are married to the Lodge they were raised in. They think they guy who signed his petition will be mad at him, or he’ll let down the Lodge by leaving. I say, a TRUE Brother will want you to be active and happy in your Lodge. If that means you will be active and happy in anoer Lodge he should be happy for you, because it is good for the Craft.

  3. My uncle, a freemason, told me when I had told him my interest in petitioning, said that I wouldn’t get out of freemasonry what I put into it… that I would get 10x as much out of it.

    Like you, I joined for the friendship, but far from that alone. I’ve been hearing a lot around the web statements from older freemasons that those of us in the younger generation are looking for “instant gratification”, because that’s how the younger generation has been conditioned by society, and that for freemasonry to survive we have to find better ways to reach them. While it might seem the stereotype is fitting, I don’t believe these are the men we should be “dumbing down” freemasonry for, because these men would be the torch-bearers for the next generation. The instant gratification folks would probably be better suited for other social clubs such as the Elks, Lions, or Rotary Club. I would like to believe freemasonry is so much more than just a place to find friends.

    So, I would argue two points:

    First, there are young men who are looking for more than just friendship. I think the younger generation has a better working knowledge on how to utilize the vast knowledge available, but it doesn’t translate to wanting instant gratification. Actually, I think it’s the opposite. I think, like myself, there are young men who are looking for something deeper and more meaningful, and long for connecting to something grounded in history that promotes timeless ideals. For those of us that are seeking and are willing to put in the effort, we tend to spot bullshit more readily. But as freemasonry isn’t about recruiting, the younger generation has had a harder time recognizing that freemasonry is what they are looking for. Unless we can counter anti-masonic claims to a wider audience, and promote ourselves as something more of a social club, we will slowly die out. Which leads into my second point.

    I think that the surge in popularity of “traditional observance lodges”, especially among young men proves my point. I don’t think young men are satisfied with how the typical blue lodge operates, where meetings are lowered in standards, and most folks just want to get through the business and go home. I’m not arguing that everything should be kept “high brow”, but when young guys go to lodge and feel like it’s a chore instead of an honor to be there, and when they feel like any attempts to improve the conditions get slapped down, they will walk away regretting having joined in the first place.

    My point to all of this is that the focus on quantity of men by Grand Lodges is actually the last step of a dying organization. If we would focus on quality, and the ideals of what makes our Craft such an honorable pursuit, that although our numbers may dwindle, we would be steadying the foundations for further generations. So maybe would should be more selective with our candidates, and maybe we will have to close a few lodge doors. But if we consolidate into lesser lodges that offer and expect more (traditional observance or not) then I think we will do just fine, that the practice of the Craft into the next generation will be safe, and we will continue to be that sacred band of friends and brothers striving for that one great and laudible pursuit, the Lost Word.

Let me know what you think!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s