Monday, October 15, 2007

The Masonic Spectacle...

For the candidate, masonic ritual is new and exciting, filled with wonders and thought-provoking allegories. For the newly initiated brother, seeing a degree on the sidelines gives them a different view of the experiences they just undertook and allows them to reflect on these important principles. For the masonic officer, performing in masonic ritual is exhilarating and allows them to discover the lessons that teaching can only bestow. But what about our other brothers? Sitting on the sideline for degree after degree can grow stale and placid. This lack of excitement can quickly lead to lack of interest, which will yield a lack of attendance.

Any brother who has been active for more than five years and says that he has never been bored by masonic ritual is lying to himself. This point of boredom may occur long before the five year mark, I stated, depending on the activity of the lodge, but it will most likely occur.

Now, I don't want brothers to get angry with me. I can hear it now. "Masonic ritual is the greatest thing in the world. No one can ever get bored of it!!!" Come on! Let's be real here. If the portrayal masonic ritual was always extremely exciting, why do most lodges only have a 10% active retention rate? Why do so many brothers seek further light in the apendent bodies, so quickly? Why don’t brothers volunteer in droves to perform in degree work?

The answer is our brothers are bored. Many of our brothers have seen dozens or hundreds of portrayals of the exact same degree, performed in the exact same way and with the exact same level of enthusiasm. This is the killer of our fraternity, boredom! But how do we fight boredom? Simple, change how we do ritual!

Once again, I can hear the screams of our brothers, “Masonic ritual is sacrosanct, we can’t change anything. It has always been done this way and must always be the done this way!!!!” Hogwash! First of all, I’m not suggesting an all out change to the ritual, I’m suggesting we change how we do ritual and to expand the ritual. There is a huge difference. Hamlet has been performed in thousands of different ways, but it’s still Hamlet. Second, Masonic Ritual is not sacred. It was not handed to us by God, that is a claim for religions. Masonic ritual was made by man and therefore can be changed by man. As long as we stay within the rules and regulations of our Grand Lodges, changes can be made. Finally, Masonic Ritual has been a dynamic organism over its several century development. The rituals performed for Washington, Pike, Kipling and Garbaldi were all very different. Ritual from one country will be different than the ritual in another country. Diversity is one of our greatest strengths.

Now, prepare for some Masonic Heresy. Masonic Ritual is like sex! Sex is great and wonderful. When it’s new, it’s exciting. But it can grow stale, if you do it the same way every time. Talk to any long term married couple and you’ll discover that sex can grow boring, even for people who love each other very much. So what do they do? Marriage Councilors and Sex Therapists have many suggestions to spice up a sex-life. Some of these suggestions are role-playing, bringing food into the bedroom, special costumes, change of location, different positions and acting excited to foster excitement. I will now prescribe the same solutions to help masonic ritual.

Now, get your mind out of the gutter. There’s no sex in the masonic ritual room (a pun on Chris Rock’s song “There’s no sex in the champagne room.”) All the aforementioned solutions can easily be adapted for masonic usage. Let’s begin:

Role-playing - I have heard too many brothers perform ritual like a robot. There is no emotion, no inflection, no change of tone, no acting. Masonic ritual should be exciting. Don’t be afraid to “ham it up.” I enjoyed acting in High School and now I attempt to add some of that acting to my degree work. You should act the part. When you do degree work, you’re no longer John Smith. You’re the Senior Deacon. So, act like the Senior Deacon. A prime example of this is the second half of the Master Mason Degree. This part is not ceremonial, it is a drama, so we should act dramatically. Add emotion to this section and the newly made Master Mason will surely remember this experience for years to come.

Bringing food into the lodge - The fellowship that occurs before a degree can make a huge difference. This fellowship can be amplified by food. Breaking bread with your brothers creates a type of bond that is truly unique and this feeling will only help the bonding occurring during the ritual. My lodge has been introducing a large dinner before many of our degrees. The smiles and laughter during this time sets the mood for the work we do upstairs. Also, the food doesn't have to be boring. I have been to too many meatloaf dinners at lodges. Try something interesting, like an international night, where all the brothers bring a dish from their families ethnic background. An Octoberfest dinner can easily be made or Creole food for Mardi Gras.

Special Costumes - The traditional dress for degree in my lodge is tuxes. However, I have attended ritual done in police uniforms, Scottish kilts, ancient builders dress, colonial garb and york rite aprons. There are many other variations of dress that Masonic Ritual can be done in. As long as your Grand Lodge's rules and regulations are followed, be creative! Visually changing the appearance of the ritual can make a world of different to the level of excitement that occurs. Check out Levant Preceptory for an example of interesting costumes for degree work. These brothers dress as original Knights Templar for the Commandary Degrees in the York Rite and I'm sure they have a blas doing it.

Change of Location - Lodges don't have to meet in lodge rooms! With dispensation, lodges can change locations. This opens the doors for a wide range of options. A lodge in Moosup, CT has a Quarry Degree, where the brothers hold their degree in an operative masonic rock quarry. My lodge over the past weekend, held an Outdoor Master Mason Degree. This simple change of location energized my lodge brothers in a way that I had not previously seen. Everyone had a wonderful time and we hope to make it an annual event. Joint degrees can also be held with a neighboring lodge, so your lodge can visit another lodge in their building. A change of place can yield a change of mind.

Different Positions - Many lodges have "Step-up Nights", where all the line officers step up to the next chair in the line. This gives these brothers a chance to experience what their next years will look like. Many lodges also have Past Masters' Nights, where the Past Masters of the lodge perform all the degree work. There are also Purple Apron Degrees, where all the positions in the lodge are filled by Present and Past Grand Lodge Officers. A lodge in my area has an EA degree called the Kiddie Corner, where the newly raised brothers of the lodge perform the degree. Degrees don't have to be done by just the officers of the lodge, everyone can get active.

Another change of position is what degree work is done. In my jurisdiction, we have many extended lectures that can be performed. The first lecture I learned in my lodge is the extended apron lecture. I throughly enjoyed learning a piece of lecture that added to the degree work of the lodge and my brothers enjoyed hearing it. There are many other additional lectures that can be learned, such as "The Bridge Builder" poem, the extended Middle Chamber lecture, charges from other jurisdictions, the Beehive lecture and many, many more. Another change to a lecture is the Walking Stewards lecture, where the brothers who perform the Stewards lecture, act out the responses to the questions being asked. This is a great way to recap the entire degree in short form. Once again, make sure that the rules and regulations of your Grand Lodge are checked before making these changes.

Acting excited to foster excitement - This is the most important change that can be made to Masonic Ritual. Act Excited! If you want people to enjoy themselves, enjoy it yourself and show it. Excitement is contagious. Always stay positive if you want to get other brothers involved. Don't speech negatively about other people's degree work or lack of participation. Guilt and talking behind someone's back will only yield resentment. Negativity will only sour the pot. One of the most important roles for a Masonic Lodge Officer is to be a cheerleader.

One of the draws of Masonic Ritual is seeing something new and interesting. A spectacle can be defined as " Something that can be seen or viewed, especially something of a remarkable or impressive nature." So make your degree work into a spectacle. Make it remarkable and impressive. Once this is done, you brothers will naturally want to attend more meetings.

These are the things that I have seen to make masonic ritual more exciting, but there are many other ways. I would love to hear what other brothers have done to make their degree work more interesting :)


From the North Eastern Corner said...

Good charge Brother,
When ritual is done right and with enthusiasm it takes on a whole new level for the candidate and brothers on the sidelines. There is nothing more boring than ritual mumbled and sped through to get it over with. When I do ritual I try my best to convey through my actions and heart felt speach, the meaning and importance of every part of it. Also when it is done in an exiting way it brings up the level of every one performing.

Charles Tirrell said...

You bring up several great points. One thing I should have included that you mentioned was to not "speed through it." I have seen many good rituals ruined by just going too fast. Brothers should always attempt to slow it down, so that the candidates can have it sink it and the brothers on the sideline can further reflect on the words.

Michael said...

(disclaimer- am not a mason, but am a member of other groups that make use of rituals.)

What you say of rituals can be applied to any group that has them. I've seen good rituals and bad. Sometimes it can be little things that can turn a good ritual into a great one, or a good ritual into a bad one.

One group I in mainly does its rituals outside. One time someone used the soundtrack from "Dances with Wolves" as background music. (background music is not required nor forbidden) This touch the ritual 'up a notice' and was very inspiring.

In another group I wound up doing a lecture on ritual, and emphasised the need to speak clearly, enunciate, and pronounce things correctly. All things that to me ruin a ritual. I was less then please that the feedback forms I got back, many critizied me for saying this.

Tom Accuosti said...

WHAT?! For cryin' out loud, why would you do something differently? Don't you have any respect for the PMs who are going to "tsk" themselves into an early grave?

I ran into some, er, un-positive feedback a few times, notably when, as WM, I stepped down from the East in order to deliver a lecture or piece of ritual. When I first asked a few of the older guys if I could walk down the steps and give the G speech on the floor, directly to the candidates, a few of them said that they'd never seen it done, and couldn't imagine why I'd want to "break tradition."


When I wore the hat, I tried to make things interesting. Even now, when I'm asked to do a piece, I wave my arms around and emote a little.

You know - I pretend that the degree should have some drama.

Music could be good, too. I've never been to the quarry or any other outdoor degree, but I've been really wanting to do a degree by candlelight or lanterns. We have an old lodge building, and I think it would be a great effect.

Mark said...

In my lodge in central Florida, the degrees are typically put on by brethren who are not acting in their typical positions in the line--in fact, they often are not line officers at all.

A couple of weeks ago, at an EA degree, I acted in the Junior Warden's position, a brother just barely raised was the Tyler, and neither of us--nor the brother who sat in the East as Worshipful Master--are even line officers at all.

It was a complete blast. We had rehearsed every word of the degree (less the lecture) a couple of days before. Everyone knew his part. It was impressive ritual and had a good effect on the candidates. (I write more about it in my own blog, on my MySpace page: ; look for the entry titled, "Reflections on Last Night's Initiation.")

I highly recommend your suggestion about changing positions for degree work. It works very well, at least in my own lodge, and I can't see why it wouldn't work well anywhere.

Frankly, many of your other suggestions sound very good, too, and I'll be bringing them up at my lodge soon. Thanks for the ideas.

Mark said...

Off-topic comment:

How may I send an e-mail to Charles Tirrell, the author of the Masonic Renaissance site? Please let me know at ; I shall not publish your e-mail address. (Please be so kind as to delete this comment.)

Bona fides: