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Quality in Masonry and Druidry

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September 2012
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While modern druids tend to be pretty laid back and do not have expectations of superbly performed rituals, it is nevertheless true that they appreciate quality when they see it.  Masons have known this for a long time but not always succeeded in giving the highest quality or standards of excellence.  The members of any organization want to have their spirits fed by the work of the group.  They do not want to have a lot of bickering and wrangling, which wounds the spirit.  That’s one of the reasons that in groups only a small percentage of the members serve as officers and make decisions about the future of the group.  Only the ones who can stand the heated disagreements and reach calm results without lingering rancor will be successful leaders — and those for whom such decision-making does not spoil the experience of the ritual and the feasting.

Both Druids and Masons like rituals and like feasting afterwards.  It is an ancient pattern that crosses world cultures and all of human existence.  If you have a ritual, follow it with a celebratory feast of gratitude and fellowship.  Do serious spiritual work and then complement that serious dignity and devotion with light-hearted fun that cements the bonds among the members of the tribe.

There is a lot of discussion today about what Masonic lodges should do.  The demographics of membership have changed.  This is partly, no doubt, due to the demographics of American culture (and others) which are increasingly diverse.  Freemasonry used to thrive as an institution of the Anglo elite. The problem with this heyday of Masonry is that the institution turned into more of a club than a spiritual workplace.  After the WWII generation flooded the ranks of lodges, there has been no similar boom time.  The result is that today many lodges have a disproportionate number of old brothers and there are deaths to report almost every month.

Not so in Austria!  According to Peter Hoffer in a recent article in The Square (March 2012), Austrian Freemasonry was virtually wiped out by Hitler and the Nazis.  So, following WWII rather than a flood of new members, Austria saw a trickle of survivors try to rebuild Masonry from scratch.  Today it is thriving and growing more rapidly than anywhere in the world.  Hoffer speculates on this success and lists a few characteristics of Masonry in Austria that have made it appealing and attractive to young men.

First, he notes that Masonry in Austria is kept very secret without displaying its symbols on its meeting places or parading in public.  The staunch Catholic culture of the country keeps anti-Masonic sentiment strong there.  Acts of Masonic charity are never announced publicly.  Second, the Masonic ritual was altered to formally include educational talks lasting up to thirty minutes.  These talks are part of the lodge experience except at initiation and raising ceremonies, says Hoffer.

Third, (and this may come as a shock to some American Masons), lodges in Austria meet every week except in July and August.  My own lodge used to meet that often back in its heyday, but that seems partly to have been necessitated by the steady flood of new members needing to be put through the degrees.  The Austrians open their lodges in the first degree in about 15 minutes, then a 30-minute talk follows, and the lodge is closed and they have dinner and lively discussion afterwards, all lasting from 7-10 pm.  Hoffer does not say specifically, but it sounds like they do not waste their meetings on reading treasurer’s reports and a lot of introductions and committee reports.  They get together to do Freemasonry!

Such a model would, I think, be excellent for a Druid Grove too.  Though seasonal celebrations can last half an hour or more, most ceremonies are short enough to allow for a speaker.  Since druids don’t care who hears what they say, the talk could even be an after dinner speaker on a druidical subject, such as trees, oghams, or  meditation.

Hoffer notes that by “such frequent personal contacts and discussions the Brethren get well acquainted and form lasting friendships.”  Moreover, each lodge holds only one initiation ceremony per year.  This makes it a big deal and also gives each brother a year’s time to work within each degree before passing on to the next.  These initiations are further emphasized and celebrated by encouraging members of other lodges to attend.  In this way there is a good crowd and brothers from different lodges see each other regularly.  The schedule of talks for each lodge is published months in advance so that brothers can plan to visit for the purpose of hearing the talk.

Finally, Freemasonry does not come cheaply in Austria.  Fees average $50 per month (I suspect partly due to the fine dining experience).  American Freemasons who complain and argue about dues of $100 per year, take note.  Austrian Brethren “have to devote time and means to the Craft and attendance is high despite the frequent lodge meetings,” says Hoffer.

This model is the one all lodges should adopt.  Only by making talks and discussions the center of Masonry once more can we throw of the worn-out notion that Masonry is only a “men’s social club.”  Men today have lots of other things to do and will not be attracted merely by long, repetitious rituals that are never explained, nor even solely by the opportunity to make new friends.  Masonry traditionally has offered more, and attention to the quality of the experience is crucial if we are to serve today’s young men.  An analogy that constantly occurs to me is that my father’s generation was content with weak Folgers coffee for 25¢ a cup (maybe less) but a generation or two later men expect a finely crafted cappuccino made from Arabica beans and may select their coffee based upon what country the beans came from!  When they eat out, they expect excellent food and wine.  My dad’s generation — the WWII generation who grew up in the depression and served in the hard-living cafeteria conditions of the army or navy — liked the idea of going to lodge for a cheap meal.  But does that idea appeal to today’s young men?  No.  I think I can safely say it does not appeal to anyone of the present generation under 55.  Really fine dining would definitely be an attractive feature that would draw in members.

Now, druids seem to like potlucks and informal feasts. Partly this is because for at least half the year we hold our meetings outdoors.  Because druids are both men and women and often bring their children to meetings too, the whole experience is more of a family affair.  Masonry was that way too, through the middle of the 20th century, but that “family” social circle aspect of Masonry has about died out.  When the last of the fine old ladies and their hot dishes are gone, pot luck dinners in Masonry may go with them.

All of this means more expense, but everyone knows you get what you pay for.  If you want a lodge building where the dining room is aesthetically pleasing like a modern restaurant (and not like a school cafeteria), then the lodge has to raise money for such improvements.  It is a bit of a chicken and egg problem because the improvement in quality has to be done in order to bring in the active younger members who are willing to pay for it.  My advice to lodges is to do the improvements, bring your physical space up to today’s standard of excellence to attract men, and then raise your dues and dinner fees to pay for it.

With higher dues there is always the risk of excluding some men of modest means.  However, there are few men who would want to be Masons who cannot afford, say $300 a year.  That is less that one pays for membership in a health club. But the members of Masonry have to get a quality experience out of it, just as they expect from a health club.  They have to experience quality exercise for their minds and souls, and make quality friendships with men who feel the same way about the importance of the spiritual life.

Druids definitely have the advantage of coming to meetings expecting spiritual work to happen and their souls to be fed.  Socializing has not eclipsed spiritualizing.  However, providing a quality experience in a grove is equally important in the sense that rituals should be well-rehearsed and done well.  Everyone should, if possible, have their part memorized because reading from a script does detract from the concentration of the group on the energy of the ritual circle.  Druids do not have to worry about the quality of their surroundings quite as much — or not in the same way.  If they have a good place to meet outdoors and indoors during inclement weather that is all that is needed.  Yet, at the same time, privacy, trees or a stone circle are elements that improve the quality of the experience.  A Masonic Hall is actually a good place for a druid grove to meet.  If it is impressive visually an a pleasure to be inside, all the better. But the lodge room itself is easily adapted for a druid circle.

Usually in druid ceremonies everyone stands and if there is sitting down for a meditation everyone sits on the ground, or even lies down flat.  The Mason’s lodge is all about chairs, many of which are symbolic thrones, and the rituals of sitting and rising to the raps of the gavel are part of Masonic ritual.  A druid grove using an indoor space such as a lodge room might strike a happy medium by using a lower altar, a circle of chairs and maybe even slightly special chairs for the three principal officers.  The typical Master’s and Wardens’ chairs of a lodge room are a bit too ostentatious for egalitarian and democratic druidry, and too heavy to move from their Masonic stations into a circle around the altar.  But, as with other aspects of the ritual, if chairs are used in a druid circle, they should best be good-looking and comfortable chairs.  Having a floor stand for the Chief’s staff and the Herald’s staff would be helpful too — another good Masonic practice to borrow.

Is it possible to get either Freemasons or Druids to attend weekly meetings?  I doubt it.  Just booking weekly speakers would be quite a task.  It seems to me that two meetings a month with perhaps an additional meeting to rehearse a  ritual would be reasonable.  If each degree of Masonry is to be given only once a year, that would provide time for new members to decide if Masonry really is for them.  In stead of revealing all three degrees to every new member, the lodge would instill in the new apprentices a clear sense of what they are expected to do as Masons and time for them to work at it.  This is already true in Druidry — at least in my order, OBOD, because the work expected of the bard (the first degree or grade) is clearly written out in the form of a course.

Masonry needs a similar course.  A clear Handbook for the Entered Apprentice, and subsequent handbooks for Fellowcraft and Master Mason.  If Masonry was thus taken seriously and the Work was made clear, then a lodge might actually be able to attract more members because Masonry would then be restored to the experience of a real mystery school.  It is hard to say.  My experience with Druids in my area has been that they are a little hard to corral and keep working, but I attribute this in part to the fact that we only met every six weeks for the seasonal festivals and devoted no time at our meetings to talks and discussions.

When considered in comparison to Masonry, OBOD’s Druid courses are pretty reasonable in terms of cost.  There are no annual dues for the Order and the cost of each course can be spread out over more than one year if the member wishes to do so or needs to do so for financial reasons.  Druids do, more or less, take their druid practices seriously, but they are not set up with the expectation of regular meetings and rituals in a grove circle.  Masons have the expectation of regular meetings but lack the content. Masons take grim and serious oaths to perform the duties of a Mason but then are not led to believe that the oaths are really serious.  Moreover, the oaths at initiation are all about secrecy, not about promising to practice Masonry seriously.

Druids are even worse off in this case because they do not take any oaths at all.  In OBOD it is understood that the upper grades do not reveal the contents of the upper course work to members in the lower grades, but it is not in the form of a solemn obligation with gruesome punishments for breech of their word.  The gruesome punishments of Masonry sound tough, but in fact the oath is pretty simple:  Don’t talk about the details of Masonic ceremony to non-Masons.  It is not that hard.  Especially when brothers do not take the effort to study the rituals.  If oaths of secrecy served any purpose it was to make the lodge room a safe place in which brothers could discuss spiritual matters in a non-sectarian way and not be tattled on to the religious authorities.

Druidry today has grown up in modern times when religious persecution was not as strong a danger as it was in the 17th or 18th centuries.  Pagans who live in parts of the country where there is religious intolerance and prejudice against anything unorthodox, often do keep their paganism private.  So, in that sense, secrecy is a virtue.  Since neither Masonry nor Druidry can really be explained to someone who has not experienced the work, it is better to keep silent than to mislead and confuse people who might become hostile.

It is very hard to explain what Freemasonry is to an outsider.  Druidry has an advantage in that one can just say, “You know the Lorax?  It’s like that.”  But inevitably if you start to explain that it is not a religion so much as a way of life, a philosphical order that teaches spiritual attainment, and uses the ancient Druids as symbols and exemplars along with medieval Celtic myths and legends — well, it is bound to be a bit baffling to someone who has never heard of the ancient Celtic druids.  It is easier for people to relate to the Cathedral and Temple builders, the stonemasons (who are still around in England preserving that medieval cathedrals).  But what exactly a “speculative” Mason is, or what people do in a philosophical order still remains outside the ken of the average man on the street.  One key is to present these things in such a way as to pique the curiosity of our men on the street.

Both Masonry and Druidry need to come together and arrive at the same goal of quality.  In sum, here are the main ingredients I would suggest:

  • Regular meetings at least twice a month (new and full moons would be best)
  • Good meals with every meeting
  • A talk presented at every meeting as the centerpiece
  • Time during the meeting for interludes of music and silent meditation
  • Time for a guided meditation that guides each member in his/her inner work
  • An expectation that Masonry/Druidry is a practical art, a craft, and that we meet to work actively, not just socialize or passively observe rituals.
  • Attendance is mandatory to remain a member of the lodge/grove
  • Dues cover expenses and so may be higher than $100 a year if that includes renting space indoors or maintaining a building.
  • Aesthetics of the meeting place must support the spiritual inner work
  • Members move on to the next degree only after having demonstrated real proficiency in the work of the preceding degree (not just memorizing a bit of the ceremony)
  • Initiations into the first degree might be held only once or twice a year
  • prospective candidates may attend meetings as guests (this works for Druidry — Masonry’s tradition of secrecy prevents allowing guests to attend actual lodge meetings; yet, if talks can be untyled and open to guests that would give the visitor some sense of what was expected and a chance to meet the brothers and discuss topics while waiting for the time for the initiation ceremony.  This waiting period would ensure that they are indeed “duly and truly prepared” to take on the obligations of initiation.)
  • prospective candidates for initiation must attend a certain number of meetings before they can submit a petition.  (This enhances the value of the petition for both the lodge and the petitioner.)
  • Always think “Quality Improvement.”  Never cut corners because it is easier or cheaper.
  • Always think:  Increase our social value and attractiveness, but don’t let everyone in.
  • Gradual, sustained growth with members who will remain and participate for many years is better than periodic booms in membership and members whose enthusiasm fizzles after only a few years.

So Mote it Be!

 

OWL

 

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2 Comments

  1. James Foster says:

    Along the lines of “fine dining” – replace the “cafeteria below the lodge room” with a fine, if modest, restaurant below the lodge room. The restaurant can be open to the public (and bringing in extra money for the lodge) – and “closed” on Lodge nights, where the brethren dine together in privacy.

  2. alferian says:

    Yes, that would be a very good idea. We could conceivably do that with our existing dining room if we upgraded our kitchen a bit and had someone willing to manage it.

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