The degrees of Freemasonry are rites of passage.
The concept of a ‘rite of passage’ is something that lost popularity in the recent past but is once again becoming a topic for discussion for many men.
A rite of passage is one, or a series of, experiences that represent a transition in a person’s life. They can be found in cultures, religions, organizations, and even families all over the world and some of them have histories that can be traced back for centuries.
There’s a growing concern about men in the USA and many other parts of the world. There are men in their twenties, thirties, and even older, that feel lost and aimless. They struggle with depression, maturity, and responsibility. They are, to be blunt, man-children.
These problems are far more common where there are no properly implemented rites of passage. These rites represent a change from something old to something new: a bachelor to a husband at a wedding, becoming a Christian at a baptism, or a man being initiated at lodge and made a Mason.
A rite of passage can have a significant and long-lasting impact on the initiate
In this article, I intend to focus on the components that make up a rite of passage and how each can be found in Freemasonry. We’ll also take a look at possible ways we can make the work we do more impactful.
The Phases Of A Rite Of Passage
It’s understood today that a rite of passage consists of three phases. Each phase is as important as the last and they must occur in this order due to their nature:
Separation – In this phase, the initiate undergoes a process where they are separated from the old version of themselves. This tends to be very symbolic but it can be represented in various ways. In Freemasonry, this phase occurs for the initiate in the anteroom before he ever steps foot in the lodge room during his degrees.
Transition – This phase exists like a state of limbo where the initiate has been divested of his former self but has not yet moved on to the next stage. It’s during a transition that relevant lessons are taught and expectations are set out that are necessary for the next stage of life or to remain within an honor group.
There are two layers to this in Freemasonry:
- There is a transition in every degree between the time that you leave the anteroom and when you take the obligation for that degree. These can be looked at as micro-transitions.
- The other transition occurs during a period of time that begins at the separation phase in the initiate’s Entered Apprentice degree and ends when he is re-invested (see the next phase) as a Master Mason. Consider this a macro-transition.
It’s worth pointing out that micro-transitions are just as important as macro-transitions, however, a macro-transition represents a large change that is a cumulation of the micro-transitions that occurred during this time.
Re-investment – This phase occurs when the initiate has successfully undergone everything that was expected of him during the transition phase and he has officially moved on to the next stage in his progress. At this point, he is accepted into the group.
As Freemasons, at least in Texas, we all know when re-investment occurs. I need not say more.
Implementation Is Everything
Remember that the implementation of a rite of passage is ultimately what will determine the quality of impact it will have on the initiate and we also learned so far from this article that our degrees are, in fact, rites of passages.
With this in mind, it begs the question: “Do we want our degrees to make a positive impact on the initiate?”
If you believe that Freemasonry takes good men and makes them better then you absolutely should want our rites of passage to have a profound and lasting impact on the participants.
At this point, I want to take a step back before moving forward because we have to identify the things that we are doing wrong because we can’t fix what we don’t acknowledge is broken. Let us first take a few moments to look at practices that are widely implemented but aren’t producing desired results:
- Giving men petitions as soon as they show interest – quantity over quality
- Performing poor investigations
- Not giving the petitioner time to get to know the lodge and vice-versa
- Rushing him through the degrees
- Poor degree work
- Cluttered and dirty anterooms and lodges
- Failure to prepare the candidate for his degree beforehand
- Not telling him what we expect from him
- Not telling him what he can expect from us or, even worse, telling him what he can expect and never delivering
This isn’t a comprehensive list but the underlying theme should have presented itself by now: any practice that rushes a petitioner, cuts corners, or communicates a lack of pride in the lodge or ritual will leave the initiate with the impression (even if it is subconscious) that it just isn’t important.
This impression is in sharp contrast to what our goal should be. The degrees are a rite of passage. Rites of passage are transformative and life-changing. They are important.
Here are my recommendations that every lodge and brother mason can begin implementing in some way that will convey the importance of the degrees and empower our rites of passage to have their desired effects:
- Don’t give men a petition as soon as they show interest. Instead, require them to come and visit your lodge during meals and other events for a few months so everyone can get to know him and he can do the same.
- Thoroughly investigate all petitioners.
- Don’t rush him through his memory work. The catechisms contain a lot more information than just words so teach him as he goes. You don’t have to overwhelm him with information but show him how deep the well goes and help him learn how to do research.
Don’t ever let a brother wonder why he has to learn all of these things. Show him why.
- Know your degree work and practice. I understand that sometimes we get put in roles in the last minute that we aren’t prepared for but we should all do our best to give the best degrees that we can.
- Clean up and update your lodge. That moldy carpet and 70’s wood paneling on your walls show a lack of interest in keeping your building nice. That anteroom that doubles as a broom and coat closet indicate that our rites of passage aren’t even important enough to have their own dedicated space.
- Be upfront about our expectations from the moment he expresses interest. Yes, there is a lot of memorization involved. Yes, we will expect participation. Yes, there are degree fees and dues.
- Be upfront about we he can expect from us from the moment he expresses interest. We take good men and make them better by making them Masons. We do this through rites of passage and education. We take our work seriously. We are not a service club.
If this sounds like a lot of work then that’s because it is. As Freemasons, work is one of the central themes in all of our degrees and symbolism. Work is not something that we should embrace and use to improve our lodges.
If a lodge works to apply these seven practices then the rites of passage that it puts initiates through will have much more profound, long-lasting, and desired results.
The degrees in Freemasonry are rites of passage. Rites of passage are transformative in nature and this is exactly what we promise when we say “Freemasonry takes good men and makes them better.”
How do we do this? By making them Freemasons.
Going further we can ask how we do that? The answer is by initiating him through a series of rites of passage.
Therefore these rites that we associate with each degree are of paramount importance and it is up to us to do everything we can to make them as impactful as possible.