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Should Masonic Lodges Only Allow Elite Members?

September 20, 2007

australia.jpgMy Lodge was fortunate enough to have Bro Kent Henderson from Australia give a presentation in our hall yesterday.  Bro Henderson is a Past Grand Master of Australia, and prolific Masonic author, editor and teacher.  He is currently on a speaking tour through several countries and my Lodge held a large banquet for this occasion.

His presentation was on “The First Degree Around the World”.  He spoke on the differences from the Emulation Workings in England, the Webb-Form rituals in the U.S., to various European Workings such as The French Rite and the German Schroeder Ritual. 

It was a fascinating presentation and I was quite amazed at all of the differences from location to location in English speaking Freemasonry.  I thought that it was confusing here in Alberta because Lodges follow either the Canadian Rite Ritual or the York Rite Ritual.  I was surprised to hear that there are over 50 recognized English speaking Rituals being followed today! 

Some of the Rituals can be quite different from ones here in North America.  The actual degree work can be varied with different symbolism, procedures and even different teachings at the degree levels.

The bottom line for English speaking Freemasonry, is that by the time a man becomes a Master Mason anywhere, he will have the same moral instruction and understandings.  It may be taught differently in a different order and with different symbolism, but it still gets the job done.  Also, even though a Master Mason might travel and visit another Lodge anywhere in the world, he will still be able to understand what is going on, even if the Ritual is different.

The most controversial aspect of his presentation were his views on how to “raise the bar” on the level of Freemasonry.  He spoke in detail about the European Ritual and payed the most attention to German Freemasonry.  Here are some points about Lodges that follow the European Ritual:

1.  Lodges take up to a year to decide if a candidate will be initiated. 
2.  50% of applicants are rejected after thorough investigation.
3.  At the start of the initiation ceremony, the Initiate fills out a questionnaire with some basic philosophic questions.  This is then taken in a read to the lodge, who then vote on whether he can continue.  If his answers are not “deep enough” he is rejected at this point.
4.  Initiation fees are around $1000 and yearly dues are around $1000.  The Candidate needs $2000 in hand to be initiated. (Canada, Australia and the United States have dues that are basically the same since World War 2)
5.  Some Lodges will not accept a man if he does not have a University Degree.  They feel that a man is not intelligent enough to understand Freemasonry’s teachings without a previous demonstration of intelligence.
6.  It is common for a Mason to take 5 years to become a Master Mason.
7.  All Masons are required to present several Masonic research papers at each level.
8.  Before a Mason can be considered for the next degree, the Lodge votes on it.  If he has not proved his knowledge of the current degree through his presented papers and lodge discussions, he will not be allowed to move on and will wait 6 months before he is voted on again.
9.  Festive Boards after meetings are very impressive, fine-dining experiences.  There would never be a hot dog in sight.
10.  If you miss 3 meetings in a row, you are suspended.  If you miss 5, you are expelled.
11.  Lodges meet every week for nine months of the year.

Despite all of this, Freemasonry is growing in Europe! He even spoke about one Lodge that did not have a member resign since 1939. 

He believes that if we make Freemasonry an Elite club that is very difficult to get into, it will increase the demand.  If Masons spend more money in Lodge dues and have spectacular events every week, then they will have more pride in their lodges as well. 

It does give one something to think about…

This is my 28th post on Freemasonry and my experiences as a Freemason.  Here is the Table of Contents of my Masonic Journey.

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10 comments

  1. Wow,

    What would happen to the bank president and the bank janitor being on the level? Some of the best men I know have little or no money. This would shut them out. I think it would be a sad day in the Fraternity to start acting like this, plus it would give nay sayers more to attack us about.

    W


  2. It is a shame that Masons are afraid to act as if the Craft were something valuable and that some “good men” are just not Masonic material. Of course if one’s lodge is only a social club then it does not matter.

    Brandt


  3. I think it unfortunate that we don’t emulate our Continental Brethren. A review of the dues and fees structure of my Jurisdiction over the last 150 years reveals something interesting: In 1929, the Initiation Fees were the equivalent of 1 months wages of the average blue collar laborer. Interestingly, the were more blue collar laborers in my Lodge at that time then are there are now.

    So I think the question for us is this: do we feel that Freemasonry isn’t worth more than $50.00 / year – why? What do our Continental Brethren know that we don’t.

    J.


  4. I echo J’s comment above – yes, it’s important that we all meet on the level regardless of social strata; but I don’t think elite has to mean rich. To me, it means men who are committed to the ideals of the Order. Too many guys are dragged into blue lodge just to get their ticket to the Shrine, and that, IMHO is killing us. Even if we raised our lodge dues 100% we’d still be paying less than $200 a year, and I don’t know how that would preclude too many good men from joining.


  5. While it is possible that I could have paid a higher initiation fee, and maybe even get by with higher dues (though I don’t know about them being that much higher) I would not have qualified if a Lodge had insisted on a university degree. I am a self employed web developer. I immediately see problems with creating a caste system out of, or within the “Universal Brotherhood.” I wonder if, in an ideal situation, the initiation fee should perhaps be more flexible? Maybe it should be “1 months wages” but scale accordingly based on the income of the brother joining. This seems odd to our current system of consideration but would probably be better all around than the meager fees we are now using in American lodges.


  6. I daresay you’d most likely see a bigger increase in clandestine lodges popping up for those less “educated” folks.


  7. My take on the European customs:

    1. Lodges take up to a year to decide if a candidate will be initiated.

    – This is well and good for a Lodge that has hundreds of active members who are present at every meeting.

    2. 50% of applicants are rejected after thorough investigation.

    – Why 50%? Are half of all applicants lacking in moral character? Wow.

    3. At the start of the initiation ceremony, the Initiate fills out a questionnaire with some basic philosophic questions. This is then taken in a read to the lodge, who then vote on whether he can continue. If his answers are not “deep enough” he is rejected at this point.

    – I think the assignment is fine; however, I fail to see how the Lodge could come to a consensus as to whether the answers are deep enough. Masonry should be as complex for an individual Brother as he wishes to make it for himself. If a man wants to derive meaning from Masonry based on the lectures and charges in each degree, that’s okay. If he wishes to dig deeper, that’s okay too. I think it’d be much easier — and evident — to determine whether the candidate has actually taken them time to complete the assignment in a complete and serious manner.

    4. Initiation fees are around $1000 and yearly dues are around $1000. The Candidate needs $2000 in hand to be initiated. (Canada, Australia and the United States have dues that are basically the same since World War 2)

    – Good luck with that. I was raised just last week. I paid $150 for the degrees, and annual dues are $35. I simply could not afford $2000 in hand. I would, however, be willing to pay more than what was required (and will be required) of me, but bringing together men of different backgrounds and meeting on the level is essential. I fail to see how $2000 up front will ensure that the same will happen.

    5. Some Lodges will not accept a man if he does not have a University Degree. They feel that a man is not intelligent enough to understand Freemasonry’s teachings without a previous demonstration of intelligence.

    – That is exclusionary and pretentious.

    6. It is common for a Mason to take 5 years to become a Master Mason.

    – As long as the Worshipful Master is willing to open Lodge in any of the three degrees, I don’t see this as a problem. However, I prefer that the candidate be able to advance at his own pace, rather than a set amount of time.

    7. All Masons are required to present several Masonic research papers at each level.

    – I would encourage such a practice, assuming it doesn’t follow the model set forth in item 3.

    8. Before a Mason can be considered for the next degree, the Lodge votes on it. If he has not proved his knowledge of the current degree through his presented papers and lodge discussions, he will not be allowed to move on and will wait 6 months before he is voted on again.

    – We already do this, in a way: learning proficiencies and demonstrating the mastery of same by examination in open Lodge at a stated meeting, followed by a voice vote.

    9. Festive Boards after meetings are very impressive, fine-dining experiences. There would never be a hot dog in sight.

    – You do what you can. My Lodge certainly doesn’t skimp on dinner, but there’s no after-party. We are known to raid the freezer for desserts after Lodge is closed.

    10. If you miss 3 meetings in a row, you are suspended. If you miss 5, you are expelled.

    – Best of luck with that policy. It goes against what I was told toward the end of my EA degree.

    11. Lodges meet every week for nine months of the year.

    – I could certainly stand to meet more than once a month for stated meetings, and we often do — for degrees, special programs, etc. — but every week for most of the year is too much. We are supposed to have lives outside the Lodge room.


  8. Freemasonry is the way of the elite blue collar worker,it always has been, if someone is looking for an elite society then they can attend yale for 250,000 dollars a year and hope to become a member of skull and bones,thats a club for the rich elite,not the skilled blue collar man


  9. I have to admit that if the requirements listed above were in force in South Carolina, USA, I would likely not have petitioned Freemasonry. And honestly, quite a few Brothers would not either. For me, the educational and financial aspect really aren’t an issue, but still, it does come across as elitist.

    But I also think that it’s a regional thing too. In a more metropolitan area, these requirements could be considered “more appropriate” but in many “lesser” areas, this effectively shuts out worthy and well-qualified men.

    I live in the “Upstate” of South Carolina, and though it is currently an area that is enjoying economic, it still suffers from the huge impact that off-shoring of the textile industry had on this region–it basically killed this area several years back. The population of blue collar workers, service workers, farmers, and other “perceived lower-class” workers is huge. But you know what? These same workers are also some of the most eager and passionate men I have ever met!

    I feel very blessed by my higher education and professional career in IT, but I have to admit that when it comes to commitment, passion, and willingness to help others, I find myself falling WAY short of many of the people I know.

    Being new to Freemasonry, I perceive it as truly an organization that is “on the level”, but I can also see how it could easily move to one of elitism.


  10. Freemasonry takes a ‘Good Man and makes him better.’ This is what I have always been taught and how many of my Brothers live their lives. Being a ‘Good Man’ doesn’t require a person to have a large amount of money or a college degree. For many men, a college degree isn’t and wasn’t possible due to the tides of life.

    I certainly hope your just striking up conversation and not saying you feel this should be the rule and guide of our future. Any man who submits a petition for acceptance should be strongly considered for acceptance regardless of education and finance.



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