E-Masonry and the Internet
Freemasonry in the 90s
Andrew W. McLuckie
COPYRIGHT 1996 by Andrew W. McLuckie. All rights reserved.
Permission to reprint, reproduce, or quote from this document as a whole or in part,in any oral, written, electronic, or audiovisual medium is granted to any Freemason or Masonic Organization under the jurisdiction of a Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons which is Masonically recognized by the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Pennsylvania. All others, please contact the author for permission at one of the following internet addresses: firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com
Good evening, Brethren. Tonight I have been asked to speak about a topic that is new to many brothers. It's a way of communicating that has really only become popular within the last 5 years or so, but its growth has been so explosive that almost everyone has heard about it. It's the Internet.
The internet is a computer network that knows no boundaries of states or nations, but is a community that is owned by no-one to benefit everyone. It was originally developed as a government computer network, but as it branched out into the private sector, its diversity began to prove its worth.
As computers become more and more a part of our daily lives, and as we become more technologically aware, our lives are changing. Twenty-five years ago, the idea of having a Video Cassette Recorder in your own home was a fantasy. Today, it is a common convenience. Twenty-five years ago cable TV and microwave ovens were very rare. Yet in 1996, it becomes rarer and rarer to find a house without these. These are only a few examples of the advances in technology that we take for granted daily. One very important innovation that began as a business tool, but is becoming more and more common in households today is the computer. In 1995, analysts estimated that 1 out of every 20 homes in the US have a computer, and that by the year 2000, that 1 out of every 10 will have one. They are also everywhere around us in society- in business and in schools, from grocery stores to gas pumps. They have become so integrated into our society that they are here to stay.
The Internet has become a fascinating playground for millions of users who want to be able to put their finger on the information age and feel its pulse. It's been talked about, videos have been produced on it, and more and more books and magazines are published on it daily. It is a most powerful tool available to the general public. It's growing at lightning speed.
You will hear me refer to EMasonry and Cyberspace throughout this presentation. EMasonry is a word that has been coined to mean communications via computer of a Masonic nature. Cyberspace refers to the Internet as an online community existing in no one place, but being global in nature.
As Masons, we have a valuable resource at our fingertips- for education, debate, and fellowship. Before I go into detail, let me first explain a bit about how the internet works, and the different ways of communicating through the net.
Every site has its own address, similar to the way a post office knows where you live. The only difference is that a name, called a domain, can only be used once.For example, if we were to start a service for the lodge, and called it "Prospect", there could never be another Prospect. The internet has no way of distinguishing whether Prospect is in Pennsylvania, in Switzerland, or Alaska. No-one would know whether Prospect was an organization or a business, so a standardized method was produced. An abbreviation for each major type of usage of the internet was developed, and so Prospect becomes Prospect.org, which stands for organization.
The easiest and most direct form of communication on the internet is known as e-mail. They call it e-mail because it is a message that is sent electronically, just like a letter. You have to know to whom you want to send the message, and their domain name, just like you have to know the address of someone you wish to send a postcard to. The major difference between e-mail and the postal service is that e-mail is not written, but sent electronically. It usually takes an e-mail message anywhere from 3 to 30 seconds to reach anywhere in the world, as compared to 2 to 21 days through the postal service.
Back to the service we created a moment ago. Let's say my user name is Drew on our service. To send an e-mail to me, you would send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. It would go into my mailbox on the service, and the next time I checked for messages, I would see your message to me. It's fast and easy, and you don't have to run out to the post office for stamps.
Another method is called a mailing list. If prospect.org had a mailing list, then if anyone on the list sent a message to a special address, we would all receive copies of that message. For example, I am a member of the Freemasonry List on the internet. If I post a message to the list, members of the list receive the message in their mailboxes. One concern, though, is that neither the Freemasonry List nor the UKMason list, of which I am also a member, are tyled. Discussions therefore are governed by both Masonic Etiquette and our Obligations.
Most of the postings on the lists are worthless to the cowan or eavesdropper anyway, as they usually have to do with opinions, stories, differences between jurisdictions, and fraternal greetings. Recent topics discussed include whether Master Masons should be able to join the Shrine without going through the York Rite or Scottish Rite appendant orders, the proper way to wear a Masonic ring, and opinions on books relating to Freemasonry. I sent a message out on both of these lists regarding tonight's program to gather ideas. I was overwhelmed by the response. Copies of these messages are downstairs.
Another method of communicating on the internet is called Newsgroups. They are similar to the lists, but they are open to the public, and discussion varies widely. They are like a large bulletin board, with notes tacked up for everyone to read. In the newsgroups, all sorts of topics are discussed, each on its own "bulletin board". In alt.freemasonry, the main Masonic newsgroup, there are many readers- both Masons and Non-Masons. Unfortunately, there are also a large number of readers that are against Masonry, and make their voices heard. It certainly makes for some lively discussion. There are also the curious, who are genuinely interested in the craft. These men are the reason why I personally read the newsgroups. It is also the main reason why many other Masons around the world participate in the newsgroup. Basic questions about Freemasonry are often answered, and it is not unusual to find these curious men petitioning local lodges, around the world.
Those E-Masons who wish to chat directly with other masons on the net can do so through an innovation called the Internet Relay Chat, or IRC for short. The IRC is a way to gather on the net with Masons around the world, at a particular time, and chat together. Unlike e-mail, everyone's responses pop up on the screen as they are typed in. It is an easy way to join in a conversation "as it happens", so to speak.
And last, but certainly not least, is a medium called the World Wide Web. It is the newest addition to the internet, but has gained popularity to the point where it is becoming the preferred internet tool of the world. You may have seen Web addresses in TV commercials recently. They usually start with the letters WWW. During the Olympic Games this summer in Atlanta, scores and medal results were posted every 15 minutes to the Web for users around the world to view, helping to unify the world in the Olympic spirit.
The Web uses pages of information, similar to a newspaper. One can browse through it, and read the articles which catch their interest. Often, a Web page will contain a link to another Page, so that one can page related to their topic of interest for hours at a time. Due to the number of different topics available, certain Web pages have been created as indexes to all this information.
I looked up the word FREEMASON on one of these indexes the other day, and found 72 references to the Craft available. The initials F&AM produced 48 references, and the word MASONIC produced 471. It is obvious that the Craft is alive and well on the Internet, and growing steadily.
Understanding the various forms that the Internet can take, we now ask ourselves: " What can the Internet do for Freemasonry? ". I am sure that the answer to this question will become self-evident as you hear of a few of the many ways that brethren around the globe have spread the cement of Brotherly Love.
I was reading my E-Mail the other day, and I came across a message from a man in Charleston, South Carolina, who was interested in the Craft, but was unsure of how to approach the subject. After sending him a bit of general advice, I checked the Web, and found The Grand Lodge of South Carolina's website. A few minutes later, I sent another message to him, listing 27 Lodges in and around the Charleston area and their meeting nights. He will be approaching a Lodge, with intent to petition, in the near future.
There are many of these Grand Lodge websites across the world, and more arrive daily. Pennsylvania does NOT have an "official" website. However, a brother in Northeastern Pennsylvania has taken the initiative by publishing a "Friend to Friend" web page. There are currently 22 Grand Lodge Websites in the US and Canada, and 14 Grand Lodge Websites in other countries. The Philalethes Society and other Research Lodges are jumping on board as well, providing interesting and informative topics worldwide. Many Craft Lodges have their own web pages, either official or unofficial. It's catching on, and quickly.
Still others prefer to maintain their own web pages. Brothers Dave Stites and Roger Ingersoll each have their own sites, which are some of the finest available, as far as I am concerned. At last count, there were approximately 90 of these personal sites around.
There are also commercial sites on the Web, such as Kessinger Publications in Montana. They sell Jewelry and books, catering to Masons and Masonic Organizations. On the flip side, there are virulent and anti-Masonic publishers who makes money by publishing allegations about the craft. Much of their so-called "proof" is derived from the Leo Taxil forgeries of the 1800's. Enough about them.
There are 4 projects in progress that are conducted entirely through the Internet, all of which are quite admirable. The first is the E-Mason pin. It is manufactured for the United Grand Lodge of England. sales proceeds from the pin go towards the production of it, and half go to the UGLE Charities fund. To date it has raised thousands of pounds sterling to benefit UGLE Charities.
The pin is comprised of two spheres - one is a representation of Earth, and the other a constellation of stars. Atop both, there is a lightning bolt, symbolizing the Internet. I would encourage you to look at it downstairs later. I am sure you will find a Masonic symbol contained within it. I obtained this pin through Brother Dick James of Halifax, Nova ". Another project underway is a Masonic Baseball Cap, which is Brother James's pet project. He has them embroidered locally, and sends them all over the world. Again, feel free to look at one downstairs.
The Third project is a magazine called Masonry Universal. Published in England by Brother Gordon Charlton, it is distributed only through the Internet. There is no cost for a subscription, and it is sent regularly around the world.
And the fourth project is in its early stages, but interest in it is growing rapidly. The foundations are beginning to form for an Internet Lodge. It will be a Lodge of Research, working under an English Constitution, and it will publish its papers via the Internet. It will meet approximately 4 times a year in England. One of the few decisions that have been made to this point is the Internet Lodge's Motto. The First Master Designate, Brother Gordon Charlton, the publisher of Masonry Universal, went to a World Wide Web site that provides anagrams of text entered by the user. He entered the words " Internet Lodge " into the anagram site. One of the first anagrams it provided in return was " Let God enter in. ". He proposed this to the founders of the new Lodge, and it was seconded and approved, all through the net. It is truly amazing how this innovation has revolutionized Freemasonry! The brethren involved are excited by its potential. They hope it will assist in helping the Fraternity grow and prosper into the 21st Century.
Hundreds of Non-Masons reach out through the Internet to the Craft every day. Whatever their motive; whether it be curiosity or research, interest in the Craft or condemnation of it, Freemasonry has a golden opportunity to let the world know that we are here, and growing, and anxious to make our presence known.
And there are hundreds of E-Masons out there; sharing fraternal greetings and stories, laughing together at Masonic jokes, comparing jurisdictions, and mourning together when a brother passes to the Celestial Lodge above. Hundreds of Masons around the world, just like us here tonight, who relish the fraternal love to be found on the Internet, and give it back in kind.
In closing, please allow me to share with you two instances where the Internet and E-Masonry has had a profound impact on two individuals' lives.
Brother Dick James, the Mason in Nova " who distributes the hats and the pins, writes:
"EMasonry brought me back to Lodge. I had been adrift for 15 years (dues paid). In the fall of 1994 I was hit with a stroke which knocked me off work. My cognitive as well as some motor skills was affected. Stuck flat on my back .. not able to work much ... I went through 27 books in just over two months.
One day the office delivered my new laptop which had been on order for months. A police Sgt. friend came round and told me about something called the 'Internet'. He loaded my computer with programs, taught me how to turn the machine on ... and presto ... I found a Mason in Cyberspace.
Last October I was back in Lodge ... my first occasion since 1979. Brethren were helpful as it was physically demanding on me. As my health improved I've been able to get around with a few Brethren ... as a result, in May I sat in Lodge in Pennsylvania, Virginia, and New Jersey, with Brethren I'd met on the 'net'. As well, a brother from the UK, John Belton, has been to Canada, as a result of our meeting in cyberspace. And a Canadian Brother from Swift Current, Saskatchewan, travelled to this side of Canada just before Christmas this year.
Last month an EMason and his Mrs. from Kansas spent a week here at our home in Nova ". Another Brother is due shortly from the state of New Jersey.
My GL jurisdiction is short on materials. I wanted to become a Mentor for new Brethren. I now have the materials and the guidance of those with experience. I wanted to learn about the makeup of a Lodge Library so that my Lodge might have one. Guidance has come from Brethren around the world. And there have been book contributions.
I could go on. But, the main point of my post is that Cyberspace helped me to gain a great part of my health back ... I needed to learn how to concentrate once again; had to build hand and eye co-ordination ... and I returned to Masonry.
AND ... I am most fortunate.
Dick James, email@example.com Halifax, Nova Scotia Doric 58, Ottawa Grand Lodge of Canada
And in the spring of 1995, a 24 year old man was very curious about Freemasonry. He knew that his Grandfather and Father were Masons, but they had never really spoken to him about it. He logged into the internet, and began looking for information. He started reading messages on a Masonic newsgroup. He introduced himself, and started asking questions. The E-Masons there were more than happy to encourage him and answer questions about petitioning.
One of the E-Masons suggested that the man contact the Grand Lodge of his State, since he really didn't know any Masons locally that could recommend him to a Lodge. The man did just that, and was put in touch with the District Deputy Grand Master of his District, who suggested a Lodge for the man to petition. The man petitioned successfully, and was raised this past January. Perhaps you know the District Deputy...His name is Lyn Dixon.
And that curious man who wound up petitioning, with the encouragement and assistance of brethren around the world, is myself. I would encourage you to try your hand at the Internet. It's not as difficult as it seems, and often has little cost. Masons around the world just like you and me chat and share stories with each other and walk away with a feeling of Fraternal Unity from around the globe that can be found nowhere else. EMasonry has had a profound affect on my life, and I am the better for it.
Thank you for allowing me to speak, Worshipful Master.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Andrew McLuckie is a Master Mason in Prospect Lodge # 578, in the Thirty-Sixth Masonic District of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, F&AM. His Father and Grandfather are both Masons (Lancaster # 43 in PA and Haddonfield # 5 in NJ, respectively). He was raised on January 17, 1996. He has petitioned the Valley of Philadelphia, Benjamin Franklin Consistory of the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite for membership, and plans to be a part of the Fall 1996 class. This is his first Masonic literary work.