Freemasonry in the U.S. is lifting the veil of secrecy from some of its rituals in order to fill its ranks, reports the Long Island section of the New York Times (Jan. 12).
Freemasonry is an international fraternal and charitable organization with secret rituals and a non-sectarian belief in a divine creator that dates back to the Middle Ages. The Masons have been declining in numbers since the 1950s and most members today are senior citizens. In a campaign to attract younger members, “Freemasons across the country are attempting to demystify the organization,” writes Marc Ferris. The outreach includes such innovations as applications available over the Internet and such venerable institution as the Grand Lodge in New York opening its doors for tours.
More controversial is the establishment of a one-day class (at least in New York state), where initiates can earn the first three Masonic degrees in one sitting. Traditionally, ascending to the higher degrees involved memorizing key parts of the ritual and other texts, usually taking several months. Some Masons criticize such moves, with one saying that “Initiation is a magical process, and we’ve lost the understanding of what the initiative, psychologically, really is.”
Steven Bullock, a historian and specialist on the Masons, says that these changes represent “uncharted territory.” For more than 200 years, potential members had to seek out membership through personally contacting a Mason.. “Now they seem to be moving into the more modern hard sell.” Most Masonic lodges, however, are still open only to “brothers” (male-only) and retain a few secret rituals, such as handshakes.