Friday, May 8, 2009

‘Masonic Light at 9’

The official logo of Masonic Light, as designed
by Bro. Andrew Horn of The Master’s Jewel.

On this date in 2000, a small group of Freemasons from all over the world united by an interest in Rosslyn Chapel and other mystic subjects, and led by Josh Heller in Pennsylvania, gathered under the banner of Masonic Light. I think it is safe to say the presence of Freemasonry on the internet has not been the same since. It’s not that ML was the first on-line forum or has the most subscribers – it wasn’t, and it hasn’t – but the group definitely did strike a stunning balance of talent, international scope and, perhaps most importantly, open-mindedness. That generosity took two forms: an enthusiasm for delving into wildly diverse subjects orbiting Freemasonry, and a willingness to welcome into the conversations Masons from jurisdictions not recognized by the mainstream of the fraternity.

More than 102,000 posts later, we mark our ninth anniversary today.

Along the way we have inspired the book “The Temple That Never Sleeps” co-authored by Heller and Gerald Reilly of Ireland that was published in 2006, and it may be fanciful imagining on my part, but I believe it is possible that this group’s creativity played some role in inspiring several new societies and foundations formed in recent years for the purpose of elevating the Masonic experience for the new generation of Speculative Masons. In addition to groups with organized memberships there are any number of ad hoc lectures, conferences and other events of international, multi-jurisdictional character. Could there have been a conference in California last year on women in Freemasonry had there not been ML? I really doubt it.

I’ll say it is a fact that the past nine years have seen a new generation of Masons arise, aiming to expand the common stock of knowledge by way of fresh scholarship shared via modern media technologies. Freemasonry on-line, also known as e-Masonry, has revolutionized the Craft by providing the parallel universe where talented entrepreneurs can create websites to communicate with like-minded Masons around the globe – outside the confines of our local lodges. It is a broad indictment, but one that is accurate more often than not, that the typical lodge in the United States and Britain has failed to keep pace with the world outside, and, frankly, does not provide the level of culture someone with understandable expectations would anticipate finding in the fraternal order that in earlier generations united the giants of Western civilization. It is the goal of most of the responsible participants in e-Masonry to reinvigorate the Craft by trading the recipes that make that happen, and by sharing their success stories along the way.

Even the art of researching and writing scholarly papers on Masonic subjects, an act dating to Victorian times, now has the stamp of modernity as international academic conferences proliferate and become nearly as common on a calendar as one’s grand lodge’s meetings. Under the jurisdiction of the United Grand Lodge of England is Internet Lodge No. 9659, which exists for the purpose of uniting Masons from around the world who wish to share information via modern media. Last year it hosted a writing contest among whose winners was “I Am Regular” by Karen Kidd of Oregon, a member of a Le Droit Humain lodge in Washington state, and an especially valued penpal in ML.

The freedom of conscience, the freedom of speech, of association, inherent in e-Masonry have sprung a genie from its bottle. To keep it in context, it cannot replace the lodge experience, but it can complement it, and it can deliver ideas that might lead to improving one’s lodge, and it can – in the words of James Anderson – provide the place “whereby Masonry becomes the Center of Union, and the Means of conciliating true Friendship among Persons that must have remain’d at a perpetual Distance.”

I cannot imagine the ways the Web will affect Freemasonry in the coming nine years; actually I suspect the Web we know today will have been replaced. (I gather even Web 2.0 is only a mile-marker.) But the moderator of ML just received a request for membership from a newly made Mason at Harbor Lodge No. 15 in Michigan.

The fraternity’s cyberworld can grow only larger.

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