By John Bizzack, Ph.D.

The ultimate success of Masonry depends on the intelligence of her disciples.
— Albert G. Mackey, 1875


The vulnerability Freemasonry faces is no different from the susceptibility faced by any institution, profession, or service, whenever those involved lose their heritage and misunderstand their intended purpose.

When heritage fades, so begins the downward spiral of understanding and the number of well-versed disciples necessary to assure the unwavering existence of any institution. Freemasonry is not immune. 

This essay presents contextual background offering a better understanding what led to the on-going vulnerability of Freemasonry in North America.

John Bizzack, Ph.D.
Lexington Lodge No. 1
Masonic History & Study Group
Rubicon Masonic Dinner Club
Lexington, Kentucky

First Presented on October 27, 2015 to the Rubicon Masonic Society, Lexington, Kentucky
© 2015 John Bizzack and Autumn House Publishing  


As a 25 year veteran of law enforcement, receiving over 200 commendations and serving at every level of police work, there are very few that possess the research and analytical ability of Dr. John Bizzack.  An accomplished business owner, entrepreneur and author, Dr. Bizzack has maintained his impeccable integrity throughout The Vulnerable State of Freemasonry.

As Chairman of the Education Committee at Lexington Lodge No.1 in Lexington, Kentucky, Dr. Bizzack has provided an extensive program combining history and tradition with modern leadership skills and life applications. His guidance has greatly enhanced the Masonic experience for its new members and many seasoned Masons throughout Kentucky.  Many of the traditions that we as Kentucky Masons believe today are baseless in form and only continued through a sense of duty.  Young Masons are at the mercy of those Brothers that have gone before them, whether they were correct or not.  

With unique insight, in The Vulnerable State of Freemasonry Dr. Bizzack has addressed the state of the Fraternity with frankness and candor.  In a non-apologetic challenge to the craft, he has demonstrated the need for reform, in our methods, attitudes, and most of all our steadfast adherence to pseudo traditions that have long since proven in-effective in not only maintaining our level of expectations from our Brothers, but our very existence as a fraternity and a force in our communities.  

As with all of his writings, this should be required reading for all Freemasons that have ever asked the question “Why?” and not received an answer other than “that’s the way we’ve always done it…” 

Cameron Clark Poe

Past Master, Lexington Lodge No.1
Committee on Collegiate Fraternal Relations, Grand Lodge of Kentucky
Grand Lodge Representative to California
Past District Deputy Grand Master (20), Grand Lodge of Kentucky
Past Chairman, Committee on Masonic Education, Grand Lodge of Kentucky
Past Masonic Homes Ambassador, Masonic Homes of Kentucky 


Freemasonry is vulnerable. That assessment, however harsh, is not new.  Masons who travel regularly, read, and consistently follow the charges given to them through their initiation, passing, and raising easily identify this vulnerability. Not all, however, understand why or how this vulnerability came to be.

Contributing factors may be debated, but the roots of this lingering vulnerability can be traced to the limited and in some cases found in the invented knowledge of Craftsmen about their Masonic heritage. In addition, the absence of indispensable classic traditions, the awareness of the intended purpose of the society, prescribed observances, practices and protocols that make the educational and philosophical fraternity a complete system are all signs of this vulnerability.   

When such features are lacking or absent, ignorance multiplies and is passed on to the next generation. Ultimately, too many men have been and continue to be initiated, passed, and raised who then embrace the fallacious assumption that merely going through these processes make them Freemasons.  By designation they have indeed been authorized to consider and call themselves members of the fraternity, but whether or not they are actually practicing Freemasonry is another question – particularly if they join the ranks of those who received little instruction or made no personal effort to search for more Light. There is more to becoming a Freemason and the process is Freemasonry’s vulnerability. The neglect of lodges to properly instruct and the failure of its members to make  daily advancements in their Masonic knowledge and the lack of regular study of the arts of the Craft all drain the life-blood from the august body. 

The vulnerability stemming from this absence of both wholesome instruction and self-initiated advancement of knowledge, should not be surprising since such a deficiency directly influences the work of Freemasonry, beginning years ago as North American Freemasonry spread rapidly over vast geographic territories. The institution proved unable to consistently or successfully assure all that members were adequately educated about the Craft or that essential practices were in place as it spread in North America. In many ways, this inconsistency continues. The combined lack of Masonic education and awareness of Masonic heritage has nourished the vulnerability of Freemasonry, leading to a peculiar paradox since one of the institution’s intentions is to curb ignorance.


Freemasonry is an educational institution. If that assertion seems out-of-place for a men's organization, review the Staircase Lecture.  As an educational institution, it must develop its leaders and votaries with the ability, skills and perseverance to carry out the education function. [1] The influence of the lowest common denominator must be minimized.  Every member must move up to a level of competence and understanding of his role Freemasonry and the role of Freemasonry in society. [2]  Education and development is a continuous process; it does not end at the completion of a specific classes or ritual. The process is supposed to go on throughout life. That is what Freemasonry is supposed to be about: education and self-development. In the absence of these things, Freemasonry is burdened by a pre-disposition that forces it to develop differently. 

Vulnerability transforms organizations. Quick fixes emerge, valuable leadership diminishes, and quality of product stands at risk, all leading to the substitution of the mediocre practices just to get by. Inevitably, the product becomes uninteresting, offering less than what it once did as the cycle that led to the vulnerability continues. 

Knowing the products is a fundamental rule of business. Any organization that offers services should know their stock and trade, and know it well.  Freemasons are not immune from this standard if they wish to remain relative to others and the members who labor inside the institution.

Early Freemasonry was once performed as an institution designed to provide men a place for philosophical study and contemplation. Study is the essence of Freemasonry. It is not possible to grasp the full power of Masonry by ritual alone. Members who are not engaged in their lodge miss the ultimate benefits of Masonry’s power. As the world desperately cries out for an organization committed to elevating the level of human understanding, Freemasonry’s status is, or ought to be, that organization. But, how can Freemasonry achieve that goal when its adherents demonstrate such a varied and disparate awareness and knowledge of its heritage, purpose, breadth and depth?

Masons today talk about this disparateness as if it were something that occurred in recent times. It did not. It has been around since Masonry, as an institution, was in its infancy. Understanding how it advanced and why offers insight into how it might be, in due course, corrected.

1 - George Peter, The Power and Passion of Freemasonry, Cornerstone, New Orleans, 2012. 
2 - Ibid. 



Some believe the most vulnerable period for Freemasonry may have been the immediate years following the formation of the Grand Lodge of England. Others point to the great schism between the Moderns and Ancients as the most vulnerable period for the institution. Many say the Morgan Affair defines the most vulnerable period in North America, while others contend the decline in membership following the massive influx of members after World War II signaled the most vulnerable point of the American fraternity’s history since 1717. 

All those eras clearly produced strains on, and turbulence within, the fraternity. Each presented a threat to the constructive evolution of the Craft in different ways. The real vulnerability, however, cannot be simply classified a brief era or single event. The vulnerability began slowly and progressed gradually over the years, simply defying the categorization of this threat as something that occurred in just one period of the fraternity’s rich history. 

This particular vulnerability was inaugurated from within and consistently beleaguered the fraternity, leading to the loss of grand traditions, exceptional protocols, outstanding floor work, and festive events underscored by convivial fellowship. In North America the unique educational and philosophical society designed as a system to assist men in the laudable work of self-improvement, was devalued as it moved beyond its roots, further than any group practicing Freemasonry in the world. [3]

The basic cause of this devaluation, which became entrenched in the institutionalized thinking and cultures of numerous jurisdictions and their lodges, is traceable to the late 1700s. Tracing that pathway offers light on the state of Freemasonry today. 

Our history shows that Freemasonry spread quickly over vast and remote geographical territories beginning in the late 1700s. During this time the Grand Lodges, designed to govern to assure order and continuity of the institution’s precepts, practices, and mechanics were not consistently successful. This inconsistency resulted in factual systematic education and the wholesome instruction vital to Freemasonry’s members to wane. As these standards relaxed (or where never properly implemented in the first place), peculiar ritualistic practices and misunderstanding began to take hold. Freemasonry began to be reshaped. 

Regardless, many well-versed and educated Freemasons have passed through the Craft and are members today. Evidence in support of the claim, however, that all members of the Craft have or continue to share a collective level of knowledge and appreciation of the work, a deep awareness of its intended practices and profound lessons, and heritage, is flawed. Those who believe otherwise are holding on to an incredibly fragile supposition. Despite those negative effects on the institution, Freemasonry has continued to exist, but has been conspicuously and needlessly weakened from within.

3 - Thomas W. Jackson,  The Identity of Freemasonry, The Voice of Freemasonry, Vol. 30 No. 3, Grand Lodge of Washington, 2013.

Tracing the Vulnerability

 Dr. Albert G. Mackey

Dr. Albert G. Mackey

In 1875, after 30 years of research, writing and lecturing about Freemasonry, Dr. Albert G. Mackey wrote what would become an ageless essay, Reading Masons and Masons Who Do Not Read. The essay begins with: 

“...there are more Masons who are ignorant of all the principles of Freemasonry than there are men of any other class who are chargeable with the like ignorance of their own profession.” [4]

Mackey goes on to note:

“He [the Freemason] is too apt to think that the obligation not only makes him a Mason, but a learned Mason at the same time. He too often imagines that the mystical ceremonies which induct him into the Order are all that are necessary to make him cognizant of its principles. There are some Christian sects who believe that the water of baptism at once washes away all sin, past and prospective. So there are some Masons who think that the mere act of initiation is at once followed by an influx of all Masonic knowledge. They need no further study or research. All that they require to know has already been received by a sort of intuitive process.”

Mackey’s straight-forward and hard-hitting assessment zeros in on what can only be described as a systemic lack of Masonic education. His caustic remarks may simply have been a culmination of his annoyance with Masonic poseurs, but it stands as a powerful indictment of the vulnerability of the Order. Reprinted in many publications over the span of one hundred and fifty years, no one has ever taken issue with Mackey’s conclusions. 

He closes with a warning and prediction:  

“If this indifference [Masonic education], instead of being checked, becomes more widely spread, the result is too apparent. Freemasonry must step down from the elevated position which she has been struggling, through the efforts of her scholars, to maintain, and our lodges, instead of becoming resorts for speculative and philosophical thought, will deteriorate into social clubs or mere benefit societies. With so many rivals in that field, her struggle for a prosperous life will be a hard one. 

The ultimate success of Masonry depends on the intelligence of her disciples.”

Today, many Masons agree that Mackey’s astute prediction has come true. 

The essay appeared in multiple publications from 1875 through the 1890s. It was published again in The Master Mason magazine in 1924, suggesting Mackey’s assessment was still relative. The Master Mason magazine ceased publication in 1931 - perhaps as a result of the problem Mackey railed against. 

Today, the essay continues to be cited in many Masonic writings, and is found reprinted in part or in its entirety on hundreds of Masonic websites.

4 - Albert G. Mackey, Reading Masons and Masons Who Do Not Read, 1875,

The Roots of Vulnerability

Mackey had been a Mason for 34 years when he wrote his classic essay. During his Masonic career, he became Master of the lodge in which he was raised and founder of another.  He served as Grand Secretary in South Carolina, and held several prestigious offices in appendant bodies, and for many years served as Secretary-General of the Supreme Council, Southern Jurisdiction of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite. Mackey’s scholarship and contributions to the literature and science of Freemasonry was then, and is considered today, to have been more extensive than those of any other in America or in Europe during his time. He was not, however, the first to see that ignorance about the intended purpose and practices of Freemasonry presented perilous vulnerability within the Craft; a vulnerability that could cause it to evolve into something it was not originally designed to become.

 Rob Morris

Rob Morris

Rob Morris, Grand Master of Kentucky, founder of the Eastern Star and later Freemasonry’s second Poet Laureate, was one of Mackey’s contemporaries. In 1858, he wrote and published The History of Freemasonry in Kentucky, In Its Relations to the Symbolic Degrees.  

He points out in the preface to the 542 page book that his work was the first written history of American Masonry “ever published in this country whose statements are facts alone...” This distinction makes his writing a valuable resource, offering deeper insight into the state of Freemasonry during his long Masonic career. 

It should be remembered that since 1800, the Grand Lodge of Kentucky was, as noted by Morris, “the venerable mother of the Craft in the Mississippi Valley” chartering lodges not only in the state of Kentucky, but territories later to become states such as Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Mississippi.  

Morris’ book, written 17 years before Mackey’s essay, expressed concerns about the state of Freemasonry, its practices, protocols, ritual, etiquette and other traditions. Morris made it clear that ritual was “slovenly” and lodges operated largely in a make-shift manner.

 Lodges in other Territories Chartered by the Grand Lodge of Kentucky

Lodges in other Territories Chartered by the Grand Lodge of Kentucky

The teachings of the Ahimen Rezon and doctrine of the Ancients was the basis of all “legislation and polity” of the Grand Lodge of Kentucky during its first 25 years of existence. This doctrine also governed the Grand Lodge of Virginia from which Kentucky had separated to form its own Grand Lodge in 1800.

Another indication of the state of Masonry prior the formation of Kentucky’s Grand Lodge may be found in the actions of the Grand Lodge of Virginia. In 1798, Virginia appointed Grand Lodge Inspectors to examine lodges in their jurisdiction, including what later became Kentucky. The charge of those inspectors was “to instruct officers in the proper mode of work in order that a uniform method may be established throughout the jurisdiction.” 

There is no specific record of what prompted this particular action other than the common sense of the Grand Lodge of Virginia who wanted to assure their lodges were properly administrated and instructed while practicing the Craft with consistency. 

Virginia’s Grand Lodge, formed in 1778, absorbed nine existing lodges chartered by Pennsylvania. By 1798, over 40 lodges were in Virginia’s jurisdiction, some were in more remote areas of the state, but none as far away as Lexington Lodge No. 25 (renamed by the Grand Lodge of Kentucky as No. 1 in 1800). Lexington was 700 miles from the Grand Lodge of Virginia. The Grand Lodge of Virginia chartered lodges rapidly during its first 20 years.    Similarly, the Grand Lodge of Kentucky had a similar experience with 60 lodges coming on the rolls in 20 years.  In both cases, the grand lodges implemented lodge inspections at about the same period.  

Thomas Smith Webb lectures began to prevail in Kentucky as it had previously shaped Masonic work in America. The introduction of Webb’s lectures in a time when older Masons had been exposed to the lectures and ritual of William Preston, brought contrasting views to Kentucky about what practices, ritual and lectures should be used. Clearly this means that the Grand Lodge of Kentucky, like Virginia before it, noted the tendency of the lodges to operate outside of accepted practice absent clear and constant supervision.

As powerful of an influence as the Webb Lectures were at the time, there was no Masonic body in the world that enforced and held strictly to one ritual. At this time, North American Freemasonry had no central authority to enforce adherence to one ritual or set of practices for each of the Grand Lodges in America. Each Grand Lodge, supreme in their own sphere, made the claim of having ample light in Masonry to regulate its own concerns to the best ends. As a result, ritual, practices, and thus processes, and mechanics of Freemasonry splintered. Although the model, ideologies, principles and precepts of Freemasonry are similar today, the variations and loss of practices associated in their delivery is staggering.

The lack of uniformity plagued the early Masons of Kentucky. [5]  Apparently realizing the need to extend the 1798 order from the Grand Lodge of Virginia to send Inspectors to lodges and “to instruct officers in the proper mode of working, in order that a uniform method may be established throughout the jurisdiction,” the Grand Lodge of Kentucky, upon their formation, continued the effort. By 1800, there were 150 Masons in Kentucky. [6]

Although the concept and core ideologies, principles and precepts of Freemasonry are found in all ritual today, the variations and loss of practices associated their delivery is staggering.

A resolution was introduced and adopted that year asking the Grand Master to appoint “well-skilled brothers to inspect what the lodges were doing ritualistically.” This action, however, failed to effectively address the issue; in 1804 a “formal committee of eleven” was formed for the same purpose. Eight lodges were charted by 1804, all within reasonable traveling distances from the Grand Lodge in Lexington. Eleven men certainly would seem adequate for inspections for only eight lodges.   

That effort, however, may not have been as successful as hoped. By 1807, another five charters were approved, but the formal committee of eleven disappeared. One specific brother was appointed by the Grand Lodge to continue the work, expanding the responsibility to “visit and inspect all aspect of the work and practices of lodges.” There is no record of the effectiveness or results of that brother’s efforts. 

By 1810, there were fifteen lodges and 300 Masons in Kentucky. [7]

By 1814, nine additional lodges had been chartered.  That year, the Grand Lodge divided the 24 lodges into five districts and created the position of inspector to “superintend and instruct” concerning the proper methods of working, suggesting again either common sense management was in play or the practices and work performed in these lodges continued to be of concern.  By the time, unfortunately, the districts were so vast in geography, the appointed inspectors, according to the records, “could not function.” By 1822, another 38 lodges had been chartered, making a total of 62 lodges in Kentucky. While this proliferation illustrates the growing interest in the Craft with the burgeoning commonwealth, it also marks the period in which Masonry spread at such an accelerated rate that effective and suitable oversight of the administration of practices was even more difficult to achieve.  

Since the 1814 approach did not work, a motion was passed in 1822 to “appoint a committee of well-qualified” brothers to examine representatives [of all lodges] concerning the mode of working used in their lodges.” [8]   Records do not tell us what became of that initiative, but the anti-Masonic hysteria that arose a few years later as a result of the Morgan Affair in New York might have had something to do with it. 

According to some historians, “Kentucky did not seem to have much enthusiasm for the anti-Masonic politics that followed the disappearance of William Morgan in Batavia, New York, in 1826 and took little official notice of the Morgan Affair.  The state took its losses of lodges and members in stride as they weathered the storm.” [9]   However, only 11 lodges attended the annual communication in 1836, undoubtedly, the Morgan Affair took more of a toll on Kentucky Masonry than some reported at the time. There is no mention in any specific document about the state of Freemasonry during the years of the Anti-Masonic hysteria regarding former concerns surrounding the need to inspect lodge ritual, practices and administration. With the loss of members and lodges during this period, inspections designed to assure compliance and oversight were not critical. 

We know today that Kentucky’s 66 lodges dropped precipitously to 37 and the membership had been cut in half by 1830. The issues surrounding the dwindling numbers did seem to outdistance the concerns of the Grand Lodge; practices, ritual, and the work itself took a back seat to other matters.  Similar situations existed in other Grand Lodges. Pennsylvania noted that the Anti-Masons offered rituals, passwords, etc. for all degrees, making it very difficult to tell who was actually a Mason. Many lodges turned away visitors because they could not prove themselves according to the work used by that particular lodge. Lodges lost so many members to resignation and death following the Morgan Affair, that when they resumed labor in the late 1830's there were not enough members who remembered the work, much less the practices integral to Freemasonry.  The younger generation was often given very poor instruction, making visitations between lodges and Grand Lodges difficult. [10]

This confusion can be traced back to the closing years of the 1700s and into several decades of 1800s when many lodges adopted the practice of inviting traveling lecturers, or as they were sometimes called, "degree peddlers.” Many of these men made their living visiting lodges, and for a fee, would teach lodge members whatever system of ritual they themselves believed was correct, or a version of the Webb work. With no written ritual, the variations were multiple. As men moved westward they took their favorite ritual - sometimes with their own modifications, confusing the situation in other states. [11]

This confusion can be traced back to the closing years of the 1700s and on into several decades of 1800s when many lodges adopted the practice of inviting traveling lecturers, or as they were sometimes called, degree peddlers.

It was not until 1853 that records tell us the concern about practices, ritual and the work of lodges was again given direct attention by the Grand Lodge of Kentucky. That year, the scholarly Rob Morris was appointed by the Grand Master to visit Kentucky lodges and instruct them “in the landmarks and the work of Masonry.” 

Morris was well-traveled Mason and fully aware of what he referred to as “slovenly” practices of the day and the contrasting difference in practices and ritual used throughout the state. He was also well aware of the devastation the Morgan Affair had on Freemasonry - not only in Kentucky, but across the nation - and the consequences of members lacking wholesome instruction during that period. A part of the contrasting practices and rituals are certainly linked to the influences of traveling degree peddlers who offered their services to lodges for a fee. 

There was no indication that the well-respected Morris was perceived as a degree peddler by any subordinate lodge. In 1854, because of the on-going problems of the itinerants instructing conflicting rituals and spreading their parochial views about how to work and administer a lodge, the Grand Lodge of Kentucky prohibited subordinate lodges from bringing in itinerant lecturers.

 Traveling Degree Peddler circa 1855

Traveling Degree Peddler
circa 1855

Not all of the traveling peddlers were Kentucky Masons, which further exacerbated the problems associated with varied practices, in protocol and ritual. Although these peddlers offered much needed instruction at the time, their interpretations was based on personal views rather than those of the Grand Lodge, clearly contributing to the long-enduring differences on which strongly held beliefs were formed and passed on about Masonry practiced in many lodges. 

In 1858, Rob Morris became Grand Master in Kentucky. He attributed his travels, visits, zeal, and presentations authorized by the Grand Lodge as one of the reasons he was elected. He was indeed popular throughout Kentucky and brought with him to the many lodges he instructed, credentials the degree peddlers did not have. 

There was another issue taking place at the time, however – one similar to Kentucky’s experience in 1800: the rapid proliferation of lodges but too few men to travel and inspect them.  

By 1850, the Grand Lodge had chartered 176 lodges with 5,166 members, with an average of 29 members per lodge.  In 1859, membership stood at 11,771. [12] By 1875, membership swelled to 22,563, an average of 46 members in each of the 490 lodges. [13] Membership and the number of lodges grew at an astounding rate between 1859 and 1875 – a rate further stressing the ability of the Grand Lodge to oversee the practices, work and instruction of its subordinate lodges. 

An examination of the records, confirms this proliferation contributed to the further loss of uniform practices and ritual. This was accompanied by additional open-ended interpretation of the work, which had been passed on by those who had never received proper instruction about Masonic heritage as well. 

Ultimately, the system of Freemasonry, as it was originally designed and practiced, began to fade throughout the 40,400 square miles of jurisdiction. Much of the progress made by Morris during his traveling instruction disappeared. The jurisdiction was simple too spread-out for travel for effective oversight and inspections. 

Assumption, conjecture, inference, and interpretation - all influenced by geographical-based cultures beyond the realm of its original design of Freemasonry, was by now even more embedded, particularly in the more remote lodges. The institution, as it was known in the early colonies and immediately following the Revolutionary War, was reshaped in the new West. Regrettably, this reshaping took root based largely on a deficit of wholesome Masonic instruction at multiple levels.

In the early years of the Grand Lodge in Kentucky, only the most learned Masons served in elected and appointed roles in the Grand Lodge. It is easily documented that the early members of the Grand Line were indeed the movers and shakers in not only their respective communities, but also in Freemasonry at the time. Many of the Grand Masters and members of the early Grand Line were made Masons in Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, and brought with them to the first lodges in Kentucky (all chartered by Virginia - Lexington Lodge No. 25, in 1788, and later Paris No. 35, Georgetown No. 46, Hiram No. 57) the framework of Freemasonry from those jurisdictions in which they were raised.  Holding onto the basics of that framework ultimately proved to be an unmanageable challenge. 

As more lodges were chartered, the pool of men striving for the Grand East became larger. Ultimately, some men ascending in that direction did not have the Masonic foundation and experiences of those earliest members, since they were raised in lodges that had not received the breadth of Masonic instruction and involvement the earlier officers of the Grand Lodge enjoyed.   

As membership grew and some lodges, particular those located in the isolated areas, became more comfortable with the practices they long-held (many of which based on lesser instruction) another typical organizational behavior was observed; the belief that their approach to Freemasonry and practices was more correct that those held the Grand Lodge or of other lodges. This view continues. 

The emergence of men with less formal Masonic backgrounds and instruction was more pronounced in the mid-twentieth century. Many, whose entire Masonic careers spanned the period of the membership bubble that occurred following World War II, practiced their Craft in an abnormal atmosphere and did not have lodge experiences beyond the Masonic membership merry go round and annual charity events. [14] The consequences of doing little to educate men who frequented the hallowed halls of Freemasonry continued haunting the fraternity into the next century.

5 - Charles Snow Guthrie, Kentucky Freemasonry, 1788-1978, The Grand Lodge and the Men who Made It, Grand Lodge of Kentucky 1981. 
6 - Rob Morris, History of Masonry in Kentucky, Louisville, Kentucky, 1859.
7 - Ibid.

8 - Guthrie. 
9 - Ibid. 
10 - Bob J. Jensen, The Baltimore Convention of 1843, The Philalethese, October 1994.

11 - Bob J. Jensen, The Baltimore Convention of 1843, The Philalethes, October 1994.
12 - Morris.
13 - Charles Snow Guthrie, Kentucky Freemasonry, 1788-1978, The Grand Lodge and the Men who Made It, Grand Lodge of Kentucky 1981, Collins, R. Collins, History of Kentucky, Vol, 3, with Chapter by Charles Eginton, Past Grand Master [1869,1870], Condense General Historical Sketch of Freemasonry with Brief Details as to Kentucky) Collins Publishing, Covington, Kentucky, 1878.
14 - 
Roger Tigner, Open War!, The Masonic Daedalus, accessed September 2015,, 2013.

The Ensuing Identity Crisis

By the 1960s, and into the 1970s, Kentucky reported more than 100,000 members at over 600 lodges. Documents, articles, and publications from the mid-1800s through mid-twentieth century, are interspersed with expressions of concern and debate over both the differences of ritual used, the continued wide assortment of Masonic protocols, etiquettes, practices or the lack thereof.

As all of this was occurring, the appeal of the fraternity was quietly being superseded in the late 1960s through the 1980s due, in part, to changing attitudes within society itself, but also because the fraternity struggled with member retention. The question was whether or not Freemasonry was still relevant - a question that deflected the wide-spread logical consideration as to whether or not current practices, lack of initiatic experiences, wholesome instruction, and other critical features might have something to do with the waning interest in the Craft. 

Interestingly, the idea that Masonry must pay more attention to the number of members than the quality of its members and practices infected the Craft soon after the decline of members across the nation began to take its toll in the last half of the twentieth.  Instead of taking into account why men continued their membership and what made lodges constructive and interesting, the fraternity rushed, on a national scale, to adopt this common philosophy, turning its focus almost exclusively on what could be done to attract more members This wide-spread rationale continues to infect a large segment of the fraternity across North America today. Consequently, more troubling problems evolved when the emphasis on guarding the West Gate was correspondingly lessened. Some jurisdictions even lessened restrictions on solicitation. 

In an attempt to curry favor and put a new public face on the fraternity, and perhaps enhance interest as well, Masonry exploded in the pursuit of engaging in public charity work on a scale previously unseen. The movement slowly, but significantly shifted internal philosophy to the notion that Freemasonry was primarily supposed to be a public philanthropic institution. The philosophical and education society in which charity was indeed a component, drifted deeper towards the idea that public charity was its primary purpose.  

Although there were notable exceptions during this era, the record suggests the next generation of Masonic practices, including observances of protocols, etiquette, and the conveyance of ritual, was more disjointed since that which had been passed on came largely from the previous generation. The fraternity continued to move another step closer to meeting the definition of a service club. Some later writings referred to Freemasonry as “Rotary with aprons.” [15]

The zeal to spread Freemasonry in the 1700s was as laudable then as it is today. The rapid formation of lodges in North America, however, ultimately outdistanced the administrative and operational ability of the institution to assure that its central work, practices, precepts, lessons of human duty, identity, and system of self-improvement was uniform, unswerving, and fully accredited in all lodges. While not every lodge endured or suffered the consequences, ultimately the fraternity, in general, began to appear more insecure, confused, and uncertain in its expected aims and role in society -lives -the classic characteristics of an identity crisis.

The loss of many practices and protocols that resulted from provincial-based modifications may be at the root of an identity crisis that shifted the once formal philosophical and educational society, to a more casual, charity-driven, parochially influenced, and less unique fraternity. The atmosphere and environment of casualness blurred the once clear intent of Freemasonry as the system.

From the late 1960s, through the early 1990s, many Masons believed Freemasonry succumbed to institutional stagnation. Eventually, small groups of members across the nation began to voice their growing concerns that the fraternity had devolved into something ordinary. The ship, however, had already steadily drifted off course to the extent that many who were sailing on it were oblivious or would not accept the reality that a course correction was crucial – a course correction that offered men a rewarding Masonic experience in more traditional sense.

This point of view led to a fresh vision of Freemasonry from within ultimately introducing the Craft to a new cadre of writers, leaders, and books – some of which emerged quickly because of the Internet.  Words like renaissance, restoration, reform, renewal, and re-awakening began to appear in Masonic articles, and discussions.  As that began to occur, popular films and novels featured Masonic story lines that led to a new excitement and curiosity about the Craft from not only outside the fraternity, but within. 

Sadly, Mackey’s 1875 essay that pointed out how many Masons did not shoulder the responsibility to further their Masonic education by reading and being engaged in their labors as a Mason, proved true once again. The new excitement and fresh vision that came from seeking a return to the classic, traditional observance of Freemasonry and its practices caught much of the old guard off guard. [16] Many viewed the talk of a return to traditional practices as if it were an irrational innovation, illustrating once again a void in the awareness and working knowledge of their Masonic heritage.


15 - Stephen Dafoe, Reading, Writing & Apathy: The Rise and Fall of Masonic Education, Taking Stock of American Freemasonry: Commentaries for the Non-Casual Mason, 2005, anthology compiled by the Rubicon Masonic Dinner Club, Lexington, Kentucky,, 2013.
16 - Tigner.


The Aftermath of the Doldrums: The 1990s

The discussion about the reasons for the decline in membership from the 1960s through the 1980s is viewed in many different ways today. Regardless of what view is taken, the memory and awareness of the institution in the minds of the general public during this period was relegated to the back seat. 

Many members were products of the generation that experienced the rapid influx of members following World War II, making it appear that there would be no end to the pool of eager candidates knocking on the door of the West Gate. That influx also resulted in such excitement and rush to initiate members that some practices became even more watered down and others set aside. 

The lingering deficit in area of education and awareness of our fraternity’s history was illustrated in 2014, when the Grand Master of Kentucky authorized lodges to open lodge and do business on the Entered Apprentice Degree, which had not been authorized in Kentucky since the 1843 Baltimore Convention. 

The rationale for opening and doing business only in the Master Mason degree grew out of that convention, and on the heels of the Morgan Affair. Although not adopted by all states, the practice was embraced by Kentucky even though representatives from Kentucky did not attend that convention. There were lodges in full support and agreement with the Grand Master’s Edict in 2014, welcoming the opportunity to integrate their Entered Apprentices and Fellow Crafts into lodge meetings.  

Opposition to the grand master’s edict, however, was instant and largely based on the predictable uninformed thinking that it was an innovation – something that had never been done before , yet until the Convention it was the practice of nearly every Grand Lodge in the United States to open their meetings on the Entered Apprentice degree it still is in most other jurisdictions in the world today. Even after hearing the facts, many continued to oppose the practice, because in their words, “We’ve never done it that way here,” a mantra all too familiar within Freemasonry.  

 Stephen Dafoe

Stephen Dafoe

Masonic researcher, writer, and publisher Stephen DaFoe, another ageless essay Reading, Writing & Apathy: The Rise and Fall of Masonic Education. He delivered the paper at Lodge Vitruvian in Indianapolis in 2005. His writing about the rise and fall of Masonic education stands as one of the most comprehensive and contextual examinations of what has happened to Masonic education over the last century. He writes:

… unfortunately, I am a product of the Freemasonry of the 1990s; a decade in which Freemasonry reached its all-time low as far as Masonic Education. I say the 1990s were our lowest point only because the first decade of the 21st century is only half over but the prognosis for improvement does not look any better for the second half than it does for the first; so I am comforted only by the fact that it looks like I will no longer have been 'raised' in the most embarrassing decade in Freemasonry's history. 

As a product of 1990s' Freemasonry I am able to participate fluently in a rational discourse about such topics as how many light bulbs your lodge needs to purchase, how best to affix the brass plaque on whatever it is we are donating with much fanfare this week or enter into a debate about which batter recipes are best for your next fund raising fish fry. [17]

Dafoe’s essay explores the golden era of Masonic publications in great detail and chronicles their slow demise and ultimate transformation into publications short on education and long on what he calls, “grip and grin” photographs, with “1% paper and ink and 99% fluff and filler.” 

His satire about being a product of 1990s Freemasonry, and becoming fluent in light bulb economics and batter recipes for fish fries is one to which many Masons easily relate, and to which many have voiced their distress as well.  Dafoe’s descriptions are disturbing because of their accuracy, standing as confirmation of Mackey’s 1875 prediction that Freemasonry, in the absence of properly educating its disciples, will deteriorate into “social clubs or mere benefit societies.” 

While, as Defoe aptly notes, the 1990s was a decade in which Freemasonry reached its all-time low as far as Masonic Education, it was also the decade that many Masons had their fill of the discussions about light bulbs and fish fries, giving birth to a promising new period, that perhaps one day will be considered the beginning of an era: a return to more traditional observances and the practice of Freemasonry as a complete system.

This emergence took place quietly and very slowly as newer members re-discovered the profound impact and influences of re-instituting that which was lost. The opposition highlighted once again the concerns and forecasts by Morris, Mackey, Dafoe and many other Masonic researchers, writers, and scholars who correctly noted the vulnerability of Freemasonry when its members are inadequately educated about the purpose of the Craft and its work.

The first North American lodge to adopt the practice of what is known today as  “Traditional Observance” was St. Albans Lodge No. 1455 in College Station, Texas, in 1992. The “European Concept” model of similar observant practices sprang from the efforts of Epicurean No. 906 in 1993, in Greenlong, Australia. Today there are at least 50 regularly chartered lodges in North America that perceive themselves as one or the other and belong to the Masonic Restoration Foundation. [18] There are many more lodges today, however, that consider their labors to be “best practices” - a hybrid made up of both styles, with a more classical approach to Freemasonry.

Interestingly, these lodges often cap their membership, adopt a higher dues structure, have fewer stated communications, required lengthy structured degree classes, regularly conduct festive boards, and enjoy something most lodges in America have not experienced: waiting lists.

Lodges that have adopted these practices are regularly chartered by their respective Grand Lodges. They do not promote themselves as the solution to all the issues facing the Craft in North America.

They have, however, invigorated a segment of Freemasonry by offering practices that satisfy the genuine needs of their members, providing the answer for many Masons about what seemed to be missing from their Masonic journey. While these observances are not possible for every lodge, they have, since the mid-1990s, become increasingly attractive to men who seek to leave undisturbed the fundamental core ideologies of the Craft and focus consistently on the importance of the initiatic experience, creating contemplative atmospheres, wholesome Masonic education, and fellowship all within a return to the formalities of protocol and etiquette once used. [19] These styles and practices have often been referred to as a homecoming for Masons offering a wholesome atmosphere of the philosophical society for which Freemasonry was once best known. Interestingly, these lodges often cap their membership, adopt a higher dues structure, have fewer stated communications, require lengthy structured degree classes, regularly conduct festive boards and emphasize Masonic education. Many also enjoy something most lodges in America have not experienced: waiting lists.

These lodges aptly demonstrated that a tradition may become forgotten, but tradition interrupted is not the same as tradition destroyed. Traditions may be legitimately reclaimed and restored by carefully researching them and then returning them to operation. [20]

 W.L. Wilmshurst

W.L. Wilmshurst

W.L. Wilmshurst, best known for his 1920 seminal work, The Meaning of Masonry, is often listed among the most respected of Masonic scholars like Robert Freke Gould, Joseph Fort Newton, Roscoe Pound, Albert Pike, and Albert Mackey. In 1924, Wilmshurst wrote, The Masonic Initiation, considered the most advanced expression and exploration of the profound depths of Masonic ritual as a contemplative art. In that work he offers his vision of the future of the Order. 

These, I know are lofty ideals, largely impracticable at the moment, and I have no wish to alienate any brother’s interest in the Craft by imposing a standard beyond his present capacity and desire. Yet, brethren to whom the ideal appeals, and to whom it is both desirable and practicable, might unite in meeting with the intention of conforming to it, and here and there even a small new lodge might be formed for that special purpose, leaving other lodges to work on their accustomed lines. [21]

Wilmshurst makes it clear this one paragraph refers to exactly what Traditional Observance, European Concept lodges, and those that are considered hybrids of best practices are doing: pursuing the Masonic journey that offers men more than what is currently offered in conventional lodges.

17 - DaFoe.
18 - NOTE: From the Masonic Restoration Foundation Website (
19 - The Masonic Restoration Foundation (MRF) The Masonic Restoration Foundation is an educational organization that provides news, research, and analysis relating to the rich heritage in Freemasonry and current trends in the North American Masonic experience. The MRF was organized to identify and distribute, through its research, the time-tested cultural and fraternal Masonic practices that have proven successful in the historical repertoire of Masonic experience. The focus of the MRF is to promote the characteristics which form the best lodge meetings, fraternal and social practices across the Masonic landscape, while preserving Freemasonry’s landmarks and upholding its identity as a transformative art.Inside the Secret World of Freemasons, Sunday Morning, CBS News,, August 3, 2014.

20 - Shawn Eyer, A Classical Vision of Masonic Restoration, Philalethes, Volume 66, No. 4, Fall, 2013. 
21 - W.L. Wilmshurst, The Meaning of Masonry, NuVision Publications, 2007.

The New Word of Mouth: 2000 and Beyond

Since the latter half of the twentieth century, the question of where new brothers will come from is routinely asked. Whether we like the answer or not – they have, recently and will continue to come from the Internet. [22]

We know that men more frequently petition those lodges with a web presence – a site that holds their attention, is well-designed, and speaks to the history and traditions of the Craft.  Today, the first impression of Freemasonry by potential candidates as well as their families is often formed by a website. [23]

The advent of graphically interesting and easily navigated websites, email, texting, and rapid access to information is the wave on which our society is riding. These digital communities are now the new “word of mouth” for Freemasonry.  

In general, the institution moved slowly in positioning itself in this ocean of instant information and the opportunities it presents to expand educational offering to members via the Internet. Fortunately, that is changing and as more Internet-savvy members join the fraternity, a reliance on this technology will become even more important.

The advent of graphically interesting and easily navigated websites, email, texting, and rapid access to information is the wave on which our entire society is riding, and will continue to ride in the future as it has become the new word of mouth.

While the Internet has opened Freemasonry to the world (over 1.3 million links about Freemasonry today are found on a simple search) bestowing on the Craft prompt recognition and in some cases celebrity, the resource is not 100% positive. Anti-Masonic sites are abundant. Lies and nonsense about the fraternity is posted regularly on blogs, Facebook, and sites dedicated to disparage and condemn the fraternity.  Scams and clandestine Masonry frequently appear when the words “Freemasonry” or “Freemason” are typed into a search engine. 

Unfortunately, many Masonic websites are dead links. Some offer nothing but the name of the lodge on a poorly designed page that offers nothing to the prospective petitioner, much less the general public. The catch-up work of presenting the Craft honestly through a web presence is done well by some states, but not consistently done well by all lodges. By all accounts, those lodges with the most appealing and engaging web presence and those relying on their website for communication and announcements, are the lodges that reap the true value of this technology – a technology that Freemasonry in the twenty-first century cannot afford to ignore. As confirmation, we know from recent surveys that men more frequently petition those lodges with an appealing web presence and their impression of a website and the information it contains is often the deciding factor on which lodge to visit. [24]

Another gift, courtesy of the Internet, is the growing number of petitioners who have taken time to read, research, and even study Masonry before they petition. In increasing numbers we find men who are better prepared to enter the West Gate - men who have expectations of what they will find and hope to receive through Freemasonry. Too often these men meet with disappointment as they discover conventional Freemasonry has little to do with living up to its billing as a philosophical and educational society.

As a result many of these men drift away from lodge while others eventually stake out ground and devote their labors to educating others or pushing for restoration of practices conspicuously missing. Of course, there are some who merely acquiesce to the culture found in their lodge and are slowly absorbed by the conventionalism.

22 - Ronald J. Watkins. Freemasonry: The Digital Challenge, Wayfarers Lodge No. 50, Grand Lodge of Arizona, Pietre-Stones Review of Freemasonry,, accessed July, 2015. 
23 - The Craftsman Survey, 2015, The Craftsman On-Line Magazine, Lexington, Kentucky.

24 - Ibid.


Trying Freemasonry

When the question, “What’s wrong with Freemasonry?” is heard or read, one of two possibilities is about to happen.

  1. We are about to listen to or read someone’s complaints, assertions, grumbles, objections or protests. 
  2. We are about to listen to or read a sensible solution to the complaints, assertions, grumbles, objections, or protests. 

The prospect that all Masons receive and enjoy the same level of knowledge and understanding about the Craft, its purpose, and ancient heritage, is  misplaced. 

In the first instance, what typically follows is a litany about boring meetings, unfriendly lodges, poor meals that are too often less than appetizing, dwindling membership, distressing retention rates, too many lodges, dues that are too low, or floor work that is inconsistent. In addition, we hear about how the physical condition of lodges continues to deteriorate, investigative committees that fail to guard the West Gate, and how there is a lack of fellowship opportunities along with structured degree classes and on-going Masonic education. These are not the only proclamations, but they are characteristic. 

In the second instance, we have to listen more closely because the correct answer to these complains, assertions, grumbles, objections, or protests is found in the question itself. As Dwight L. Smith offered in his 1962 essay, Whither are we Traveling?  “…the solution to Freemasonry’s problems is Freemasonry. Why do we not try it?”

So, what is wrong with trying Freemasonry as a solution? Nothing. In fact, it is a brilliant recommendation. However, when we drill down on this topic, it is easier said than done because of disparate views about what Freemasonry is in the first place.  

In a perfect world, we consistently practice and apply all the tenets, philosophies and core ideologies of the fraternity that surely, at least theoretically, addresses or resolves complaints, assertions, grumbles, objections or protests. We would like to think all Masons strive to do that, but we know that is not the case, thus making this common sense solution problematical.  

First of all, regardless of how reasonable the application Freemasonry may seem as a solution, the view that all Masons have the same understanding and education of the Craft as a system is fatally flawed. Secondly, the overall Masonic culture is influenced by the subculture of every regularly chartered lodge and subcultures – the membership of these lodges - drives many of the practices found in their lodges. These practices have been embedded over generations. Can deeply embedded practices be realistically unraveled by “trying Freemasonry” as a solution if there is little or no agreement about the purpose of the work and practice of Freemasonry?  Mostly likely not. 

Examining Freemasonry as an institution, its organization behavior and how local cultures interpret it, is fascinating. The fascination stems the genius of its progressive structure as a science of human duties, and that it is designed for all men, and has cascaded through centuries of societal change with unfailing relevancy – even when it is misunderstood by its own members. The fact that it has survived offers a healthy dose of optimism and promise for the continuation of Freemasonry as an institution. But we have to ask, what kind of institution? 

In essence, the true answer to “what’s wrong with Freemasonry?” is that nothing is wrong with Freemasonry. Its intended purposes has never changed. The better question is what is wrong with its members? The short answer is: many are Masons in name only, and far too many little more. [25] Membership rolls have fluctuated over the centuries, yet it seems the number of men who are, as Mackey wrote, “ignorant of all the principles of Freemasonry” has remained steady.  If there are more Masons who are ignorant of the principles and practices of the Craft than not, why should we be the least bit surprised that Freemasonry suffers an identity crisis?  Can there really be multiple forms of Freemasonry, each promoting its isolated formula as the one correct approach to Freemasonry?   

The question of what is wrong with its members digs much deeper into what Dwight Smith and others have repeatedly declared as the real problems facing Freemasonry. This question inspires a more penetrating examination, taking stock of how and what has genuinely affected the fraternity and its mechanics since the latter half of the 1700s.  The findings are not always pretty; but accepting the fact that Masons have been poorly educated about the Craft for generations, provides one of the multiple answers to the question, “What’s wrong with and what’s happened to Freemasonry?”

25 - Norman C. Dutt, “What's Wrong With Freemasonry?” The Philalethes, July-August, 1968,‎.

Turning the Question Around

A balanced examination of why there are so many under educated members, an objective analysis of the history of Masonry is required. If we acknowledge that many have joined for all the right reasons, we must also understand they cannot always evolve in their Masonic journey at the same pace. On the other hand, members cannot be expected to evolve at all if they are not provided with oversight and leadership to guide them. This is an extraordinarily difficult challenge for any institution, especially one that grew and spread as rapidly as Freemasonry in its early years.

While looking at the past in order to determine how we got to where we are today is important, we should today be looking at the wide range of Masonic education efforts and leadership programs around the country that are clearly working and having positive effects. Sensible, effective programs that are proven to be constructive are at their best when they come from lodge level. [26]

We should also be looking more closely at how observing the Craft in a more classical manner has carved out a new audience. Many traditions long-lost to generations of Masons, but slowly returning are compelling and integral to the system if men are to remain engaged and expected to delve deeper in learning to improve themselves through Freemasonry as it was designed.  

We should be talking about the successes around the nation resulting from young Masons entering the Craft who may have more fundamental knowledge of Freemasonry as a system than many of its veteran members – and organizational and administrative experience beyond that found in some lodges.  Similarly, we are witnessing, albeit slowly, active members restoring Freemasonry as the system it was originally designed to be and in the process making their lodges more relevant and engaging.

We should also be talking about the explosion surrounding the availability to the authentic and classic Masonic literature now available to anyone who can access the Internet, not to mention the introduction of a wealth of well-researched subjects and topics by contemporary Masonic scholars and authors. And, we should be examining how Freemasonry may best harness this explosive technology in a sensible, uniform manner to constructively portray and re-embed interest in the system of self-improvement that Freemasonry provides.

And finally, we should be talking about the kind of fellowship inside and outside the lodge, a critical component of Freemasonry that molds all aspects into a system that make it a system.

The expectation that the majority of Freemasons in North America will be stirred by any of these things suggestions is slim. As Mackey and Defoe point out, many Masons do not read to further their Masonic knowledge, but, for better or worse, they rely on what they observe and experience in their lodges. If the lodge is not interesting or the practices poor, few will observe or experience whatever the lodge is offering for very long.

26 - Hodapp, Christopher,  What’s Wrong with Freemasonry? Rocky Mountain Masonic Conference 2010, Albuquerque, New Mexico, July 15-17th, 2010. Freemasons for Dummies, accessed, September 2015,

Back to the Point

 Adam Kendall

Adam Kendall

Author Adam Kendall, the Collections Manager of the Henry Wilson Coil Library and Museum of Freemasonry at the Grand Lodge of F. & A.M. of California in San Francisco, wrote a burning article in 2004. He took aim at the consequences of the misinterpretations and ignorance within the Craft.

Ignorance of intent and misguided purposes are the operative reasons behind the misinterpretations of our Craft. 

Many of our modern brethren have either forgotten or never have sought to know the inner work that the framework Freemasonry provides. In short, they effectively settle for the easiest and most common denominator and the institution of Freemasonry, and its philosophies, once considered respectable and sublime, becomes farcical—something about which one can joke and take lightly.

Our Craft is changing and, I believe, seeking to migrate back to its primary philosophy and tradition.  Populations of men now joining our ranks want to know more about our traditions beyond casual information and how they can contribute in order to maintain it for the next society. 

I would be without hope if I did not realize that I am beginning to see recognition of our problems within Grand Jurisdictions and I also see individual lodges striving to transform themselves as viable centers of learning.  Nevertheless, I would caution that our own demons might still overtake our noble spirits unless we reawaken the progressive soul of the Enlightenment Period that engendered our great Craft. [27]

Kendall’s direct and correct assessment aptly sums up the vulnerability Freemasonry suffers. 

27 - Adam Kendall, The Misunderstanding of Purpose and Efficacy of Tradition Marks the Decline of Our Craft, Unpublished, 2012.

Some Say

Some say the system of Freemasonry should be whatever members who subscribe to it central precepts should be. After all, members are encouraged to speculate on the meaning of those precepts and how Freemasonry may influence and drive their lives in a constructive manner. In a mechanical sense, however, the system of Freemasonry was never intended to be something practiced only by using those parts members choose to practice or which are most convenient. Doing so inevitably changes Freemasonry. Over the years it is evident that our numerous parochial Masonic cultures curbed or forgot the importance of educating members, finding it easier to simply make members instead of making Masons. [28]

How can the average member who does not receive fundamental and wholesome instruction about the work at which he is expected to labor and perform begin to do so? 

How can a member with little or no contextual knowledge and awareness of their Masonic heritage embrace the traditions upon which it is based? 

Why would we want our laboratory of moral science, which is based on time-honored, revered philosophies and principles, to be watered down or practiced only in parts? 

Why would we want Freemasonry, an institution that is, by historical standards, extraordinary, to become influenced, swayed, and absorbed by the ordinary? 

Is there any justifiable reason to condone or sanction levity and horseplay in our ceremonies, for allowing our lodges to fall into disrepair, for permitting the practices of investigation committees to be anything less than unfailingly consistent, for neglecting or ignoring the necessity of providing members with wholesome Masonic education beyond the ritual, or accepting slovenly proficiencies and delivery of ritual? 

Where is the Mason who can offer evidence that any of this is acceptable in the system of Freemasonry?  The belief that it is acceptable proves contagiously presumptuous. 
Some say there are two kinds of Masonry in North America and one is practiced more than the other is. One might be called the “casual approach.” The scarcer one is the opposite: the “non-casual approach.” 

Michael Poll, in Seeking Masonic Light, writes “Individuals coming into Freemasonry expecting and event of enlightenment of something to enrich their lives would be very disappointed.”  He points out how the stereotypical lodge is often a “minimalistic form of Freemasonry” - some men want more and to explore Masonic symbols, the history and ritual – all the deeper aspects of Masonry incorporated into the lodge experience. [29] Poll, always a thoughtful and balanced voice in Freemasonry, aptly summarizes the characteristics of these two kinds of Masonry.  

He also notes that Freemasonry is of such a nature that we all seek our own level in it. In the earliest decades of Freemasonry, however, when fresh ideas stemming from the Enlightenment offered men a unique system where they could learn and practice the science of human duties, it is doubtful if the majority of its members were seeking a minimalistic form of Freemasonry. 

This minimalistic form evolved because governing the institution to assure minimalism was not a challenge uniformly met. The extraordinary ultimately devolved into the ordinary in many places – and the ordinary was passed on to generations disguised as the extraordinary.   

Freemasonry’s vulnerability is about quality: the quality of what it was intended to be versus what it has widely been accepted to be. Some will always say that as long as it helps men come together, Freemasonry is working. Others will continue to say that helping men come together is only one aspect of its offerings, but not the essence of Freemasonry.  

Today, the casual form of Freemasonry is plentiful. The Mason who strives to understand how it came about will be much better off than the Mason who recognizes casual Masonry and wonders with frustration how it came about and why it continues to exist at all.

28 - John Bizzack, Cameron Poe, The Dumbing Down of Freemasonry, Taking Issue, Autumn House Publishing, Lexington, Kentucky, 2015. 
29 - Michael Poll, Seeking Light, The Esoteric Heart of Freemasonry, Cornerstone, 2015.


The vulnerability of organized Freemasonry has been tested time and again since the first Grand Lodge was established in 1717. The fraternity has survived despite the ebb and flow from tides of ignorance, misinterpretation, political efforts to destroy it, religious campaigns to discredit it, and waves of ill-conceived quick fixes based on well-intentioned, but flawed initiatives to enhance the membership rolls. The core ideologies of the fraternity, no matter how miscalculated or misunderstood by its members, is what actually continues to breathe. This is the true testament of the strength of the precepts and moral lessons found in Freemasonry. 

The future of the institution rests with the demeanor of its members and the education of its Craftsmen. Although, what has been misplaced is not entirely lost, it is doubtful that a return to the traditional work and practices of Freemasonry that have gradually vanished will be re-assembled and re-inaugurated in mass.  It is difficult, sometimes impossible, for men and organizations to change the way they approach a task and change what has not been accepted for a very long time. 

But this creates a paradox since changing men is precisely what Freemasonry is designed to do. Another paradox surfaces when we consider that Freemasonry watched as its traditions and practices slowly disappeared as a result of men falling prey to the very thing Freemasonry is designed to lessen: lack of knowledge. In this case, the lack of knowledge about the true design, intention, workings and practices of their own fraternity.  

Masons recognized as traditionalist are knowledgeable optimists. For them, the venerable traditions of the distant Masonic past are inherently worthy of respect and consideration. They wholeheartedly embrace the landmarks and pursue the teachings of the Craft. Emphasis is consistently placed on the initiatic experience. All aspects of the depth and breadth of Masonic education is underscored by visionary leadership and sound organization principles. Lodges composed of such brethren, in turn, affirm the best qualities of our Masonic heritage as they espouse a classical approach to the practice of Freemasonry standing firm in their belief that the system of Freemasonry was never meant to be or allowed to become ordinary. [30]

Lodges that capture the classical atmosphere of Freemasonry are those in which we find solemn ritualistic work, not casual practices or slovenly ritual. Pride in personal appearance is accentuated as well as the physical appearance of their lodge. There is consistency in the respect shown in observing the profound lessons of the Craft. There is no “horsing around” or levity during the work. The behavior of brothers toward one another is generous and fraternal. The vast majority of Masonic regulations, writings, and orations spanning the centuries affirms the classical perspective on these matters of lodge atmosphere. [31]

Freemasonry is indeed vulnerable just as Mackey and others have pointed out over the last two centuries. The vulnerability looms over the institution because of inconsistency in wholesome instruction required to keep Freemasons well educated about the Craft, its rich history and heritage, profound lessons, and beautiful ritual.  The slow return to classical Freemasonry will not be embraced by all members, but it is likely to be the segment of Freemasonry that endures and survives.

The strength and the endurance of the institution comes from keeping it as it was intended: a fraternity that changes men – not a fraternity that men change. At its best, this is accomplished when all parts of the system, as it was originally designed and practiced, are consistently instructed, administered and performed, thus assuring a lasting and appropriate level of education for its disciples.  

Many have expressed concern that the unique and original system of Freemasonry is disappearing. Although the level of knowledge about the Craft, its practices and the vibrancy of its custodians has fluctuated, further erosion is not inevitable if the fraternity and its leadership takes a fresh look at its original purposes. [32]

Renewing Freemasonry in a way that effectively reduces its vulnerability is underway, but not widespread. The efforts we see in place around the nation are much like those that began in 1717, when the science of human duties called Freemasonry emerged from a small body of men who pursued a system that was far from minimalistic.

Knowing is not enough; we must apply.
Willing is not enough: we must do.
— Johnathan Wolfgang Goethe

30 - Shawn Eyer, “A Classical Vision of Masonic Restoration,” Philalethes, Volume 66, No. 4, Fall, 2013.
31 - Ibid.

32 - Thomas D. Worrel, A Spiritual Vision of the Send Liberal Arts and Sciences, Ahiman, 2008-2009, Philalethes, Spring 2010.