Saturday, April 17, 2010

Exoteric Lodge Order Membership and the Esoteric Lodges

Frater AIT over on his blog just mentioned that every Senior Adept that he personally knows is a Freemason. And he asks if he is missing anything by not being one himself. Well, it depends on what you are hoping to get out of Freemasonry. It also depends a lot on the culture of the particular esoteric Order that you belong to.

(For the purposes of this post, I am defining Exoteric Order as a group that is organized for purposes that are mundane: insurance, networking, social pleasure, etc.---daily "real world" concerns. I am defining Esoteric Orders as those organized for magical and mystical purposes---or "mumbo-jumbo and a lot of crap" as one Freemason called it [which just goes to show that not all Freemasons are going to welcome members of Golden Dawn or Wicca or OTO into their lodges].)

I know one Esoteric Order (a Golden Dawn Order in fact) where every single Adept Minor is a Master Mason. Why? Because it is in their bylaws. In that particular Order, you are required to be a Master Mason in order to become an Adept Minor. The reason is that the leaders of this Order believe that it shows a certain level of commitment to become a Master Mason. (Hmmm, I guess the lodges in their neighborhood are harder to get into than some of the local ones.)

This bylaw has an odd effect...there are no female Adept Minors in that Order. And there will never will be unless they change the rule. For some of us, this is viewed as a violation of the very landmarks of Golden Dawn which historically is open to both men and women, as well as RR et AC (the very Adept Minor oath states that one will consider both sexes equally for admission). For bloody sakes, Moina Mathers was an Adept Major (6=5), and Florence Farr was an Adept Minor (5=6) THAM---you can't tell me that they were Master Masons. This bylaw is one of the reasons that I will never join that Order.

I know another Esoteric Order where they consider Master Mason to be the equivalent of the Adept Minor Grade. I know of a member who conned his way into Master Mason (he had no intention of actually working Freemasonry after he got advanced), just so that he could jump over several Outer Order Grades and become a Hierophant. Not only did he abuse Freemasonry, he promptly left the esoteric Order he was in and started his own (promptly closing the loophole so no one else could do the same).

I myself have been a member of several Orders---outside of learning lodgekit and making some social contacts, I learned nothing of use to me for my Golden Dawn work.

So how did the idea that a Freemason degree is somehow as good (or perhaps better) as a Golden Dawn Grade arise? Simple, we can blame it on the fact that all three of the Founders of the Hermetic Golden Dawn (Isis-Urania #3) were members of the SRIA. In addition to that, the Sprengel letters state that there is an Order in Europe (though the letters also state that initiations are not done in lodge, so this part of the theory is on shaky ground). Those who hunt for Third Order typically look for another Order (the safest place for a Third Order member to hide from members of Golden Dawn is actually inside Golden Dawn itself).

The logic goes: If the Founders of the Order were Freemasons and SRIA, then there must have been a reason for it; therefore, we must give those members with Freemason backgrounds more authority.

Here is the counterargument: Membership in Freemasonry was just normal for the times. There is no esoteric significance in it---it is like having  health insurance today.

In the United States, over six million men out of 21 million were members of one Order or another in 1899. There were over three hundred fraternal Orders in the United States, and about 1000 different degrees. Each year 200,000 thousand more men joined. If one includes minorities and women, forty percent of the adult population belonged to at least one fraternal Order.

The sheer numbers alone undermine the argument that membership in another Order was what set the Founders of Golden Dawn apart from the general population.

My grandmother was a member of the Woodmen of America. The neighbors on both sides of the house I lived in while attending high school were members of exoteric Orders. At least one of my teachers was a member of an Order. You cannot tell me that exoteric membership prepares one for magical work. It is only in my generation that exoteric Order membership is rare.

The whole idea that membership in an exoteric Order, especially Freemasonry, really needs to be laid to rest. If you are going to join Freemasonry, do both Golden Dawn and Freemasonry a favor and do it because you actually want to work the Freemason degrees and not because you want to boost your status in Golden Dawn.


Peregrin said...

Hello Morgan,

Thanks for this post. You make some very good points, especially about the once common nature of Lodge membership. Heck, even Fred Flintstone was a Buffaloe :)

Just my two cents: I am appalled and shocked that there is a GD Order that REQUIRES Masonic membership for the Inner Order. How the frick can they do this? It boggles my mind.

It is as obvious as dogs’ balls that the founders of the GD saw women’s equality in the Order as a CRUCIAL component. Also the exoteric and esoteric world has moved to that opinion.

Any valorisation of any male only tradition for its esoteric or ritual aspects by members of a tradition that has sexual equality as its basis is discordant indeed. Let alone insistence! Grrr...

Any 'advantages' of being a Mason need to be weighed by each male GD member against what I consider one of the revolutionary core aspects of the GD tradition. Westcott and Mathers wanted to (or were directed to?) bring the magical and fraternal wisdom once accessible only to Masonic brothers to non-Masons and to women. And some men are reversing this and still think they are GD?! Weird.

Personally, I could not consider myself fully a part of the Golden Dawn tradition and impetus and be a male-only Freemason. But that's just me :)


Frater A.I.T. said...

Interesting post Fra Morgan, especially the bit about folk working the masonic degrees because they are actually interested in Masonry. That would be nice.

I wonder though-how many Masons join in order to work the degrees and and live that tradition, as opposed to wanting to increase social contacts and status? My personal research into modern Masonry has made it clear to me that the vast majority of Masons here in the states have the slimmest of interests in the actual mysteries that Masonry communicates; Magicians joining the Masons for status would be acting within the status quo. Sad, but true, I think.
The Freemasons do have a rich tradition, and much to offer as far as Fraternity goes. I'm sure the motivations and focus on tradition vary quite a bit by lodge,with the education officers in some taking their duties more seriously than others.


Sincerus Renatus... said...

Care Frater Morgan,

The idea of requiring membership in Freemasonry to recive dispensation for advancement is a serious breach of the hallmarks of the Golden Dawn and, as you have pointed out, also in violation to the obligation of the Adeptus Minor which prevents exclusion of Women.

The Golden Dawn has its Neophyte Ceremony to serve as a substitute for the Craft Degrees. And a very good substitute it is.

However I do recommend my male students to become Freemasons. But reading your experiences of Freemasonry I must conclude that the situation is very much different in Swedish Fremasonry, which has a more professed esoteric origin in German Rosicrucianism. Many Swedish Golden Dawn practitioners are also active and dedicated freemasons in the Swedish Freemasonic Order.

Obviously then, as well as I, feels that there is much to gain from this kind of cross-membership. While freemasonry lacks the inner or subtle content that we are experienced with, they do have lot to learn Officers of the G.D. in outer ritual performance; i.e. the sense of ritual drama ans sonority which is not to be underestimated. In my order I was recommended to join the Swedish Freemasons from this reason alone.

Another good reason is the scholarly one, as it is a well known fact that the Swedish Freemasonic Library is rich on old continental Rosicrucian documents. In this respect Swedish Freemasonry is regarded as a parantal organization as it is able to provide with certain esoteric transmissions.

So unfortunately I see that we are not living under the same conditions when we go to Lodge on our respective sides of the "pond".

In Licht, Leben und Liebe

Alex Sumner said...

Two points: firstly the obvious one - the Hod clause of the 5=6 obligation specifically says "I further promise to support the admission of both sexes to our Order, on a perfect equality..." Note that this is an inner order oath, so it must be referring to the inner order itself!

Secondly: I am fortunate that I do actually belong to a Masonic lodge where the brethren really are interested in Freemasonry as a subject. It is one of the few lodges here where they are all interested in the esoteric side of Masonry (I think there is only about two or three such lodges in the whole country). Ironically it would be a good lodge to network myself into a load of esoteric orders if I wanted to, but it would be perfectly useless for doing something like getting a job or improved social status.

Masonic ritual and GD ritual are two different entities - there is no comparison really. GD ritual is all about bringing energy into the temple through the assumption of god-forms. Masonic ritual is simply a case of learning the words off by heart. Whilst Masonic rituals do contain symbolism which can lead to great insights or intuitions if meditated upon, no Mason I know would pretend that Freemasonry is magical per se.

Alex Sumner.

Nick Farrell said...

While I dont normally care what group people belong to, I tend to look very carefully at people who seek to join the Magical Order of the Aurora Aurea who put on their application form that they are "high level masons". The mere fact that they tell me this makes me wonder what they are doing wanting to join a magical group in that they think that being "high level" somehow gives their application weight.
What concerns me more is the 'masonic illness' which I define as being a group that is devoid of magical power which upholds the tradition and structure rather than the spirit behind the group.
I saw a GD temple go from being exciting and innovative magically to being a grade factory after the majority of the male members became freemasons and getting actively involved in masonic politics. Pretty soon tests became the standard for adepthood and basic magical things such being able to perform the lesser ritual of the pentagram became too difficult and unnecessary for the adept grades.
British masons have an idea of joining lots of groups and collecting grades and titles without doing much else other than the rituals. This is against what I believe is the magical tradition.
The argument that the GD founders were all high level masons and there is much that is derived from masonry which is in the GD is not really a valid argument either. A modern brain surgeon can trace his tradition to the barber surgeons of the middle ages but no one suggests that such a person need to know trepanning or tooth pulling. The Golden Dawn is a practical magical group it might have elements that can be traced back to masonry but you do not learn much about those elements at a masonic dinner.
I belonged to an more esoteric lodge of masonry and it was not bad but really was not for me and I can't say either I or they benefited from membership.
The other problem I find is that some of the older masons in particular treat women in an extremely patronising way. It is almost like the system re-enforces their view that really all this stuff is for men and women are just those beings who stop them having a good time.
SR is probably right in that this is an English speaking phenomenon and that masonic groups in Europe are probably more esoteric. However if you do a comparison between Rotary, or the scouts and freemasons there is not a lot of difference.

Wayne Sandyford said...

This is all just as much about perception as it is about labelling esoteric/exoteric/magical etc. To just simply say all Masonry is this or that is really undermining what Masonry is actually about. The symbols of Masonry can be interpreted a multitude of ways related to the sensibility of the Freemason interpreting them. The Golden Dawn tradition on the other hand is supposed to impart the foundations of a magical system explicitly. Some would just interpret the Golden Dawn as clap trap because they don't have the sensibility to interpret it any other way. Freemasonry can be much more widely interpreted and is not explicity magical/esoteric. Personally I think Freemasonry and the Golden Dawn compliment each other, Freemasonry provides regular lodge work as a method to develop talents in that area, Golden Dawn, underpinning estoteric/magical training. It's of no coincidence that the founding members of the Golden Dawn were Freemasons. This provided them with extensive training enabling them to implement the Golden Dawn system. If they were Catholic Priest, would the result still be the Golden Dawn? I think if they had been Priests I think the result would be more akin to a Medieval Grimoire.

Wayne Sandyford said...

Just because much Freemasonry now excludes Female participation should not be interpreted as all Freemasons agree with this stance. Masonry was imparted in a very different culture than what we have today. This does not imply the Masonic mysteries are not still profound, it just means that certain minds don't have the sensibilities to receive them and interpret them in a productive way.