Master’s Address August 2022

Brethren and friends, Autumn is nearly upon us. Personally, this marks my favorite time of year – the heat (eventually) lets up, the holidays begin in earnest, and the world as a whole seems to take on a slightly more relaxed demeanor. It is also the point when the year hits its proverbial maturity, and in that vein, I’d like to touch on a topic critical to any mature and healthy Lodge: new membership. I have been so pleased to see the number of men who have approached the Lodge of late, interested in participating in its mysteries, and, inspired by them, I’d like to devote this article to a topic I have seen asked time and time again, both in person and online – namely:

What qualifies a man to become a Mason? 

First off – and let me get this out of the way up front, since it has been a matter of some discussion in recent years – to become a Mason within mainstream American Masonry, one must be a man. We are a fraternity, in ye olde worlde sense. I could delve deeper into the why of this, but that would require a discussion of pre-and-post Enlightenment gender dynamics vis-à-vis 18th century British socioeconomic structures, and while that is certainly a thing I could do (I am, and remain, a hit at parties,) I feel that would best be served as an article in and of itself. Likely in an academic journal, rather than a largely informal newsletter such as this one. Regardless of any further discussion of modern day gender dynamics, I will say that I have truly seen men benefit wonderfully from having such a space to form true, lasting friendships with other men who, in the modern, work-a-day world, they likely would never even have gotten the opportunity to meet – or, if they did so, would have likely remained purely professional colleagues at best, and might have been in perpetual competition at worst. There certainly are other Masonic bodies, not recognized by our own Grand Lodge (and, by extension, system of Grand Lodges,) which are either purely women’s institutions, or practice gender-mixed/”co-Masonry,” such as the Grand Orient of France, but those have little to no bearing on North Hollywood Lodge, and so I encourage you instead to look into them of your own accord, if such a topic is of interest to you.  

Another important point in joining Masonry – a critical one, I would say – is that we ourselves do not solicit. You will never be “invited” to join Masonry, and if you are waiting around for a fancy envelope or knock at the door, then I am afraid you are waiting quite in vain. A prospective applicant must come to us, of his own free will. The phrase that most often gets thrown around in this regard is, “to be one, ask one,” meaning “if you want to become a Freemason, ask a Freemason about it.” If you happen to be indigenous to a region where bumper stickers are still in vogue, you may have seen it represented rather pithily as “2B1Ask1”. Mind you, there is, of course, some wiggle room here – a friend might certainly mention that Freemasonry could be a thing you would enjoy, and certain jurisdictions even put time and money into billboards and the like (a practice that will engender as many opinions as there are Masons,) but at the end of the day, the prospective applicant is the one who must show up and knock at the Lodge’s door. Or, of course, send an email, which is far more convenient, but that’s less of a poetic image.

This would be a cool letter to get! Don’t wait around for it, though.

Another requirement, and I will quote the California Masonic Code (or CMC) here, it being by-and-large the governing document of Masonry here in California, an applicant must be “a believer in a Supreme Being and a future existence.” Essentially, one must adhere to a religious or spiritual belief system that includes some form of life after death. While this certainly precludes atheists, it does not do so out of any sort of spite or moral snobbery. Simply put, Masonry is a spiritual institution, and those who choose to go without a personal spiritual foundation would simply not benefit from our rites and rituals. And, heck, those sort of militant atheists I ran with in my early university days (we all have our regrets in life,) would find our rituals downright grating. Past this, the requirement is intentionally rather open-ended. A largely deistic belief structure that does not strictly conform to any established religion certainly qualifies one for membership. Dharmic faiths, and others that subscribe to a belief in reincarnation certainly fit the mould as well. And, yes, while exceedingly rare in anno 2022, I have seen very good arguments for how Odin/Zeus/Osiris count as a “Supreme Being.” I suppose the rule-of-thumb could be shortened to “have faith, will travel.”

An applicant to a Masonic Lodge must also be “free-born,” which is exactly what it sounds like – having been born free, rather than into slavery. Again, we’re a fraternity founded in 18th century England. There’s always going to be some requirements and verbiage that today seem archaic. Also plays into the whole “applicant coming to us of their own free will” thing, which a slave could not be expected to do. Look, I’m going to level with you here: I can’t speak for everyone, but if you somehow escaped a life of slavery and have since made a happy and comfortable life for yourself here in sunny California, I’d be fully willing to overlook this requirement on your behalf. Just saying. Moving right along.

We require our candidates to be of good moral character (and who wouldn’t? Those of low moral character rarely associate with each other but out of grim necessity,) and to have never been convicted of or plead guilty or nolo contendere (a fancy legal term for “I don’t want to argue against this, but I’m not gonna say I did it either,”) to any crimes of moral turpitude. And, yes, we do background checks. But what is a “crime of moral turpitude”? Well, it’s intentionally a rather vague concept, but what it essentially refers to is a crime which “goes against the moral law” and which was committed with “harmful or reckless intent”. Intent is rather key there. Murder, animal fighting, fraud, bigamy, arson, and the clandestine sale of nuclear weaponry all certainly count. Blowing just above a .08 when you certainly felt fine to drive? Reckless, perhaps, and certainly a potentially harmful thing to do, but whether such qualifies or not is going to depend entirely on whether the Lodge you’re applying to wants to consider it an innocent mistake or not (a one-time screw-up will likely be met with understanding, though a record of repeatedly doing so would certainly be a disqualifying factor). Unpaid parking tickets? Should get those taken care of, but not a crime of moral turpitude. Taking a bath and letting your cat drink the water while you’re in the tub? Pretty weird, not a crime. The important factor, however, is to be as upfront and forthcoming with your potential Brothers as possible.

In addition to being of good moral character, a potential Mason must also be recommended by his potential Brothers. This means that, before turning in one’s petition for membership, one must get at least two Master Masons of the Lodge to sign off on it. Hence why all prospects are encouraged to take their time getting to know the Brethren of the Lodge, (and vice-versa) and, if so inclined, visit other Lodges in the area as well. Every Lodge has its own style and culture, and potential members may find they fit in particularly well with one group of Brethren, but not with another.

Going beyond the requirements “on paper,” I’m going to personally add that any prospective candidates should join because they really want to be a part of something. Don’t get me wrong, this is a broad subject, and can mean different things for different people – becoming a Mason because you want to make new friends, participate in an ancient institution, and/or give back to your community are all good reasons for joining. But if you are going to join, I say do it because it’s something you’re in for the long term. For most of us, Masonry is a lifelong commitment, and we want to see people come in with that same attitude – not treating it as a passing fancy or hobby of the week. Don’t just join for the clout of being a Freemason. Sadly, most people don’t even have us on their radar these days, and if you just want to wear a shiny ring and say you’re a part of a Big Spooky Secret Society, heck, you can get one of those for next to nothing on Etsy. No one’s going to stop you. Look, if you’re dead-set on getting your degrees, disappearing into the wilderness, and paying your dues every year to an institution you don’t actually want to participate in… then honestly, there’s not much I can do to stop you. But if you got in the door in the first place, it means we like you, so we’d prefer you stick around.

Seriously, guys. Like, eight bucks.

On the other hand, while there are many, many good reasons to become a Mason, there are also a number of bad ones. In our poetic way of describing things, we call these “mercenary motives.” No, that doesn’t mean you can’t join if you have a pile of “Soldier of Fortune” magazines in your garage (that said, where did you get those? That thing’s been out of print forever.) What it does mean, however, is that you should not seek to join Masonry because you’re looking to get some material gain out of it. For one thing, we want men who are seeking to improve themselves morally, intellectually, and philosophically – not monetarily. Secondly… if those are your motives, you are just not going to find what you’re looking for. For as much as people like to postulate that Freemasons control the government/banks/music industry (see last month’s Master’s Address,) that just simply isn’t the case. We can’t grant you the keys to the halls of power, or teach you the secret high sign that gets you out of parking tickets. If we could, I wouldn’t be typing all these articles on a refurbished 2015 Macbook. This is not to say being a Mason doesn’t have a whole range of benefits. But those are the benefits that come from making real friends and being part of a community. As the clever answer to the age old question goes, “Would you rather have a million friends or a million dollars?” “I would have a million friends, and ask them each for a dollar.” Ironically, if you show up just hoping to make use of everyone for your own benefit, you will never actually experience what Masonry does have to offer. And to speak to it locally, this is Los Angeles – if you’re looking to join a networking organization or just looking to get ahead in business or finance, there are a million groups here for that that aren’t Freemasonry. Just be cautious going into those as well, of course – if becoming a millionaire was as easy as signing up for an online seminar, then investments would be worthless and inflation would be out of contr- Huh. Maybe I should go sign up for some online seminars…

Joking and philosophizing aside, there is indeed a monetary commitment involved in Masonry. We are, after all, a volunteer organization, and the funds we use for social gatherings, philanthropic endeavors, or just to keep the ship running have to come from somewhere. There are fees to join, and there are certainly annual dues (Brothers: have you paid yours for 2022? They’re a bit past due.) Here at North Hollywood, those dues come out to 300 dollars a year. That’s about 25 dollars a month, less than I imagine some people spend on fast food, and certainly less than a handful of streaming services (which, of course, we all pay for ourselves.) Less than a dollar a day. For that price you can be a member of the world’s oldest social and philanthropic society, or you could enjoy 1 (one) meal per month at the Cheesecake Factory. Ooh, maybe a bad example, I do love cheesecake… But enough with the sales pitch. My point is, while we will never judge anyone for a lack of personal finances, we do ask that any potential members be able to make this commitment. Honestly, more than anything else, it is to ensure that anyone coming into the Fraternity has the ability to commit to it – and get the most out of it – without Masonry becoming a burden or a hindrance to the other aspects of their life. Life, family, community, work – all of these come before Masonry, and if 25 dollars a month is too much of a burden for you right now, then that is perfectly fine. The Fraternity will still be here when you’re ready.

I hope this has been a solid run-down for any prospective new Masons who are curious about joining the Fraternity, as well as perhaps containing a few good reminders for long-time members. Regardless, if there are any questions I’ve failed to answer, perhaps you’ll have the chance to swing by and ask them in person.

Looking forward to seeing you,

Dillon T. Ingram,
Worshipful Master
North Hollywood Lodge 542, Free and Accepted Masons of California.