A bad practice that we should change
You are quite the shaker, ain't you, Broth.'. Cameron? Discussing a number of changes, trying to imagine different ways for the Craft to be. One could even call you a Free Thinker at that!
As you know, here in Brazil we have that level of freedom - we have 8 different Rites to choose from, not taking into account regional variations and very particular ones practiced in certain States. We also used to have some Lodges in different languages, particularly Lodges gathering immigrants [we had English, German, French, Spanish, Hungarian (who practiced their own Rite, the St. John's), Italian and probably others I don't know], though that practice has faded away.
The main difficult is understanding what constitutes valid/invalid [or regular/irregular] Masonic practice, since different Rites have different principles, working on different Landmarks. For a quick example, the RER [Scottish Rectified Rite] demands that the Freemason be a Christian for its higher degrees. Meanwhile, the Modern Rite [also called French] has a very literal Vol.'. of Sacr.'. Law: the Constitution.
The tension between these different approaches is no easy thing to handle! Standardization has a strong advantage in that you have very clear guidelines, very clear expectations. You don't have to worry about conflicting ideas Ritual-wise. It's also easier to attract a very specific kind of person if you have a very specific product. If all a market offers is vegan, what kind of person is going to shop there?
Particularly in mouth to ear jurisdictions more than one ritual could be a bit prohibitive. Overseers of the work probably wouldn't know what was right, and I think authority would very much dislike that.
But honestly I think he primary function of limiting the ritual is to defend/protect the notion that innovation isn't happening. Innovation is a tricky thing: obviously not permitted, ritual changes are clearly in bounds of "things that shouldn't be changed" everywhere I've traveled, and yet ... bear witness to all these different rituals out here and how the 50 states differ from one another. Clearly modifications to the ritual have been happening ever since Freemasonry was born.
The craft has an interesting philosophical problem: there's no central authority (Grand Lodge of the World) and there's a need to keep lodges aligned enough. Seems to me we actively resist changes to the ritual or things which could make them more likely for these pragmatic reasons.
Think about the absurdity of this in another way though. It used to be that the Catholic Church purely did services in Latin, which eventually died as a language and left them with a huge problem of parishioners not understanding their ritual. It's not so bad in Freemasonry, but there's enough archaic English in there that clearly some problems are starting to creep in.
I enjoy the fact that the ritual I am doing has changed little since our founding fathers were initiated. I also enjoy the fact that anywhere I go within the state, if needed I could step into a chair for an evening and pro temp for a lodge short handed.
It is fun to see other rituals in other jurisdictions and compare how they do things versus my home lodge.
But I take comfort in our ritual, like a warm blanket.
You’ve brought up the alternative language argument before. There is nothing stopping a community from creating their own masonic traditions. If the women in our jurisdiction are doing it, so can others. Would they be regular and recognized? No. Would that be a problem? I can’t think of any and perhaps some day they could petition the grand lodge of Washington to be recognized as such. But I could see similar arguments with allowing women into the fraternity and that nose needs to stay out of under the tent flap.
While I agree that using different rituals would expand a Mason's education, I believe that a standard ritual serves as a foundation for additional study. Think of a grand lodge as a university and the individual lodges as colleges, but all teaching the same subject, Masonry. The university wants to ensure that there is enough consistency in instruction so each student is exposed to the same basic material that has been designed to ensure the university's educational goals are met, and the student can understand and apply the knowledge.
Using a standard set of instructional materials provides a foundation for further learning. Once every student has a solid foundation, he then has the basis for further inquiry, advanced study and learning. Unfortunately, many lodges struggle with presenting ritual and have no program for further study, leaving each Mason to derive his own meaning and understand whether he has met Masonry's goal to make him a better man. Using a standardized ritual is one way to ensure the basic tenets and lessons are presented in every lodge in a grand jurisdiction.
I would enjoy hearing various rituals presented, but until we start operating grand lodges and local lodges as educational institutions, we shouldn't use multiple rituals.
Goodness! Many things to think about here.
1. Tradition. Freemason's in general do not like changing anything that is a tradition. Keeping the R the same for Time Immemorial is keeping a Tradition unchanged. (If in early 18th Century through early 20th Century our founding fathers in our own GL's would have left R's alone many states would be using different R's.)
2. I have always believed that in the late 19th to early 20th Centuries were very close to creating one US GL with Provincial GM's in each state. Modeled after UGLE. There was a huge push for this at least in GL Oregon early Proceedings. The push for standardized R throughout US most likely was at least partially caused by this movement.
Tradition in my opinion is Freemasonry and it should not ever be messed with.
Grand Lodges and the standardization of ritual were 18th century innovations.
I would love to see and learn different rituals. Not to replace the one I know but to see if there is a better way to get a lesson or point across.
Being the US has a diverse population from many countries it would seem to me there should be some diversity in Masonic rituals as well.
That being said, change is hard to implement and almost impossible within Masonry in the US.
I would like to read other rituals and I’m sure the internet has some but there’s so much anti Masonic propaganda that I’m unwilling to search.
I forgot to add the past Masters words “That isn’t the way we did it when I was Master”.
But a great topic for discussion.
Being a Indiana Freemason now living in Washington State; I have noticed a difference between the jurisdictions. I think enough laws and procedures have been changed by Grand Lodges over 200+ years to make every grand lodge have different ritual.
It's simple. It's all about control. Those who have titles aren't about to give up status and control. DDGMs for instance wouldn't be experts most likely in multiple rituals. Titles would be only for one ritual more often than not, watering down the status of the title holders and making others able to fast track to a title, which unfortunately seems the driving force in American Masonry. Using the 7 liberal arts and sciences is viewed as quaint and not reality.
I look at Masonic ritual as two different components, esoteric and monitorial. The esoteric is the stuff in the book that is in cypher, or only taught mouth to ear in jurisdictions without cyphers. The monitorial is the stuff in plain text, the lectures, the explanations, the teaching lessons, etc.
Different jurisdictions treat those two different components differently when it comes to use of different forms or versions of the ritual.
As M:W: Bro. Cameron notes, not everyone learns the same way and a presentation of a lesson in a different way may resonate with different men. Perhaps allowing some of the monitorial work from other sources is a compromise step that could enhance educational opportunities and bring new interest to some lectures by allowing different options for Brothers to learn and present.
Historically speaking part of the drive to standardization of ritual (like many other things) can be laid at the feet of the anti-Masonic movement. When trying to ensure that people claiming to be real Masons are in fact Masons having a more standard ritual reduces the chances of confusion (it also allows for a single expose to expose everyone’s ritual at once….hahaha).
Semi-related post 2.
There is also at least one Lodge that I know of in California that inherited Scottish Rite Ritual from Louisiana (La Parfaite Union Lodge #17 I believe) via a PGM from Louisiana named Lucien Hermann (1849 and 1850) who moved to California following a difficult period in Louisiana Masonic history (Mississippi Invasion). M:W: Bro. Chip Borne gave a presentation on the topic a few years ago at the Louisiana Lodge of Research annual meeting, I’ll see if I can find it.
At one point in Louisiana’s history there were Lodges working in English, Spanish, German, Italian, and two dialects of French. All with their own quirks and takes on the ritual. Recently one of the historic Scottish Rite ritual Lodges in New Orleans has revived something close to the Lodge’s original Spanish language ritual. (https://www.cervantes5.com/en)
I am a collector of Masonic monitors and rituals from as many places as I can run into them, and I find that I learn something a little different from each place.
You know......until I read this piece I had not really considered how much I enjoyed watching degree work in our sister lodge in BC and some stunning work at MLK0.
The draw would be something to see..!
I know Lodge Leven St John GLoS has an ancient ritual only they use. Their FC degrees especially are huge draws with Brothers attending from all over the UK even from Cornwall and Wales.
I’m in MW, how do we start?
Brilliant essay, a sentiment that should be shouted from the rooftops.
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