By José Filardo P.´. M.´.
Any analysis of the crisis of Freemasonry must take into account that it is not the only institution that is losing members or that lost the appeal to new generations. However, in what concerns us, we need to discuss this crisis to try, if not to solve it, at least to reduce its intensity or stop its consequences.
A general problem affects Freemasonry, and particularly the Grand Orient of Brazil (GOB), because of the plurality of rites and rituals. Its lodges work under seven different rites: Adhoniramite, Scotish Rite, Emulation (York or Craft), Schoeder, Brazilian Rite, Modern Rite e recently the Scotish Rectified Rite. It should be pointed out that the plurality of rites and rituals, despite their distracting nature in relation to the action expected from Freemasons, has an important cultural character, as their existence differentiates us from other associations, i.e., without ritual and Rite, there is no Freemasonry. The problem lies in the method of recruiting new members, which should be reviewed, especially for the GOB. Each rite has its own characteristics that appeal to different personalities. Thus, the ideal would be that the applicant had the option to choose one that best fits his interests. He should attend a seminar on the rites, set his preference and only then be routed to a lodge of that rite, nearest to his residence address.
From a general point of view, as an institution, I understand that the origins of this crisis go back to the situation created by the Grand Master Mario Behring in 1927, when the division of the supreme councils of the SC of the AASR (which, by the way, in my opinion, has nothing to do with Freemasonry) fractured the Freemasonry building and caused its collapse. For lack of tact and excess of passion, this crisis could have been solved simply with the separation between Symbolism and the High Degrees, handing over the Supreme Council to Mario Behring, and retaining the control of the GOB over the Symbolism. This would have avoided the schism that followed and that resulted in the dire consequences we witness today.
We read in the excellent “Little History of Freemasonry in Brazil” by Brother William de Carvalho (https://bibliot3ca.wordpress.com/pequena-historia-da-maconaria-no-brasil-william-almeida-de-carvalho/):
“Until the first split of 1927, the history of the Brazilian Freemasonry merged with the history of Brazil. Thereafter, that is, at the moment masonry when Freemasonry ceases to be a strategic group, history forks, following parallel paths, with some incidental contact. Since the tenure of Jair Ribeiro Assis (1983-1993) with GOB, there was an inflection point in the progress of Freemasonry in Brazil. Currently growing at Chinese rates, but not yet returned to the condition of a strategic partner of the country, as it used to be in the past.”
Which is, therefore, the difference between that old Freemasonry and the current Freemasonry?
Let us abstract, in this exercise the cultural changes that occurred over the years in relation to the exercise of politics. We cannot forget that in the last century, we were subjected to two dictatorships, with their brutal police and regrettable actions to kill the political militancy and prevent the emergence of leadership. That is, Brazilians had much taste for politics before the 30s, than they have now.
In my view, in Freemasonry, the difference is the change in focus – from social reality and political action in society, to rite, lodge, and internal policy. The shift in focus was mainly caused by the displacement of rites that once were marginal to center stage, rites which because of their symbolic richness and elaborate manners distract Masons from the political and social action that characterized the pre-1927 Freemasonry. The absence of this action today, leads new members of the order to the disillusionment and disappointment, as they are attracted by the public image created through the action of the pre-1927 Freemasonry, sung in prose and verse, and they discover – after their initiations and a short term in the first degree – that it is only an image without the corresponding content.
Until 1927, the GOB’s rite, for its lean and simple structure, almost ascetic, served the purposes of the Masons, i.e., with it the lodge was opened, minutes read for information of brethren who incidentally missed the previous meeting, and a significant agenda was opened, where subjects were discussed (usually informally with suspension of the works), sometimes even the fate of the country, and the lodge was closed. There were no distractions, the rite was not viewed as an exercise in itself, and privileged action outside the lodge. Freemasonry was a means to attract and bring together political, business, social leaders, and not the practice of rituals.
Since 1927, however, we try to rebuild the building of Freemasonry, but we lost sight of that original goal. In this new building, the Masons lose themselves embroidering column capitals (rituals) and volutes, triglyph, and spandrels; decorating their “wings” or “chapels” like they were Sistine, and the building, in the absence of a unique architectonic concept takes the form of a Frankenstein monster. One group wants to build a pyramid, the other a medieval castle, another “Nyemarian” style; another wants to build a neo-Gothic or Gothic cathedral, another an expressionistic building, and another in the Byzantine style. In the end, we have a building where all these styles are used, and the result is not aesthetic at all.
The other day, talking to a brother who is now my relative, I said, you work under the Scottish rite, 33 degree; I work under the Modern Rite, and I am at the third degree. Now, stripping out everything: ritual, kinship, political affiliation, worldview, race, creed, nationality, what is left between us is called Freemasonry. Freemasonry, therefore, is that relationship, that invisible bond created upon the initiation, and the desire to do something for society together, using our combined strength, our knowledge, our relationships to leverage this action. It is not just visiting one another’s lodges. It is not about banging hammer, discussing the sex of angels, and eating pizza. Freemasons are lost in the labyrinthic corridors of this architectural monstrosity, distracted with colorful aprons, flashy necklaces, medals and honors, power plays, finally, with the details of the decoration, while outside there is a huge job of plowing, sowing values to feed the world with them; defend the wronged, uphold the community. So, I attribute the crisis of Freemasonry to the lack of goals outside the lodge. The new Rococo and deformed building has no appeal among young people.
That said, I would now like to address the specific issue of the crisis of Freemasonry in major centers.
Let us take, for example, a lodge in a small town where almost all authorities and leaders can be found in the lodge. The ability of intervention, political and social action of the lodge is exponentially increased. The risk – and this happens more often than would be ideal – is the “rigging” of the lodge by political groups. I am a yokel, and upstate we do not have political opponents; we always have political enemies. Terminology is important. In one case I know, a faction of a party in the town took control of the only lodge (belonging to the Grand Lodges) and started initiating only “our people” and alienating others, and the other faction in the local politics. Much like the Montagues and Capulets. The curious thing is that there is a GOB lodge registered in town that does not have any members residing therein. It was created by a “stroke of the pen” by some Grand Master, for publicly demonstrating a “growth” in the number of lodges, and this lodge – made up of brothers from neighboring towns, and meeting in another town – failed to attract leaders in the city itself, who could be members of the faction alienated by the lodge of the Grand Lodges. If this had occurred, maybe the local politics could become more “masonic”, because at certain times, the brotherhood would prevail over political differences. At least, we would have a more ethical dispute.
In larger centers where there are many lodges, I attribute the problem to the heterogeneity of the lodge’s membership; I mean, heterogeneity in the spatial sense. Ideally, the “sponsor” of the candidate should forward him to the Grand Lodge or Grand Orient, and there the admission process should be conducted. Once approved, the candidate would be referred to the rite that better suited his personality, and to the lodge nearest to his residence. Ironically, this is a rule which, let us remember, existed at the beginnings of the speculative Freemasonry, in London.
Unlike smaller communities, where the problems affect all Lodge brethren, in large cities, the different regions of the city have different problems affecting citizens in different ways and at different degrees. If candidates were admitted in lodges near their residences, all brethren of the Lodge would have common motivations to act in the community, thereby increasing the likelihood of restoring the pre-1927 spirit. In smaller communities, there are still remnants of that spirit. Unfortunately, the distractions of rituals and rites blunt the brothers and divert them from an effective Masonic action.
If we choose randomly a lodge in São Paulo, for example, and we plot the location of the residences of that lodge’s brethren on that city map, chances are that we will have colored pins distributed throughout the metropolitan area and in some cases even outside it.
Why, the only problems that those brethren will have in common will be issues outside the scope of the lodge, i.e., to the solution of which the lodge, isolated, can do little. They are things like violence, public transportation, state and metropolitan policies, etc….
However, if the lodges had as a rule the admission of brethren within a delimited geographic area, for example, in the case of São Paulo, at the sub-mayor or neighborhood level, the Lodge members would have problems and issues around which to mobilize, as all would be affected more or less equally by those problems and issues.
The lodges thus constituted would create an Association like ASSOVIO through which they would act in their geographic area. This association would be totally disconnected from the lodge, in every way, except for the support and legal guidance, financial coordination, exchange of experiences with other Associationsetc… It would serve as well to congregate the expanded community of the lodge, and based on thbrethren networking; the e Association would be very efficiency.
We do not advocate here the dissolution of the current lodges. Special lodges would be created for which would be invited brethren residing in the “district” of that lodge. The Rite “problem” would be bypassed with a return to the GOB’s traditional rite, the one of which speaks Brother Joel Guimarães de Oliveira in his paper: https://bibliot3ca.wordpress.com/ritual-da-r%E2%88%B4l%E2%88%B4-de-s-joao-commercio-e-artes-na-idade-de-ouro-1822/. Brethren from different Obediences could act together through the Association.
Thus, we would rescue the Brazilian Freemasonry, and we would offer the prospect of returning to the role it played in society and, of course, changes in the recruitment process, in which the emphasis would be placed on the candidate’s degree of leadership, his ability to influence society, much more than whether he believes or not in a supreme being.