Most of the old web boards where I used to hang out with Freemasons from around the globe have quietly gone dark, deserted, or have disappeared entirely, as threaded conversations have moved over to social media sites. That’s not an entirely bad thing, because the social sites like Facebook and Google Plus tend to attract many younger Masons, who in addition to text can now use pictures and video to share their experiences. Facebook groups, for example, are filled with pictures of newly raised Master Masons, shots of their lodge, their rings (worn properly, of course), and various other examples of Masonic displays.
Where we once were known as “the quiet fraternity,” we now have a host of designs to adorn our cars, hats, jackets, shirts, belt buckles, computer or phone desktops, and pretty much anyplace else we can think of. Some of the examples of artwork that I’ve seen have been excellently rendered in various image creation & manipulation programs, and I’m often amazed at the detail that some of my graphically inclined brothers can put into those images.
One of the trends that I’ve been noticing has been the masculinization (or rather, the hyper-masculinization) of Freemasonry; that is, of the images and symbols that we use. In the last few years I’ve been seeing more drawings and graphics depicting overly-stylized Square & Compasses adorned with skulls, crossed thighbones, and various edged instruments; some of these artistic variations would seem more at home on the back of a motorcycle jacket, or perhaps adorning a 1980s metal band album cover.
From a technical standpoint, some of those designs are pretty cool in the way that they bring together disparate elements, or in how those elements are repurposed or re-examined. Symbols are not immutable; indeed, they change as the culture in which they are found changes. A good example is how the color pink is now more associated with young girls than with young boys, in a reversal from just a century ago. And new symbols pop up into our culture all the time: think about the red octagon that we now associate with “Stop” or the circle with a diagonal line across it, which now denotes “Prohibited.” Those symbols didn’t exist as such a century ago.
But some symbols are inherently associated with certain groups, and here is where I think that some of us (well, okay, maybe just me) are feeling disconnected. Recently I ran across this cool representation of the well-known symbol of Freemasonry: the overlaid Square & Compasses:
Let’s ignore for the moment that the skull is used in Templar Masonry and in the Scottish Rite, but generally not in the Blue Lodge. The skull itself has a furrowed, intent looking brow, Terminator-red eye sockets, and a somewhat threatening visage. It’s not the symbol that inspires one to think about their mortality and place in the world, but rather, to convey a sense of danger, or perhaps challenge. And the sepia tones are a nice contrast to the metalized look of our working tools.
The part that really made me think about this trend was the S&C, itself. What is a Square? Essentially, it is an instrument with a calibrated 90º corner and straight edges that allow us to design, sketch, or true up corners to keep them from going out of alignment. This square, while presenting a nice looking bit of metalwork, almost looks like a machine part. What’s with those inside edges, anyway? How can you trace a design on a trestle board with that? Speaking symbolically, is this teaching us to be true and honest?
I’m not sure where to even begin with the compasses. If the square looks industrialized, the compasses have been weaponized. In real life, a set of compasses is to aid in measuring and drawing arcs and circles; the points of which will scribe a faint line in the material on which they are used. But what is this instrument supposed to do? Those scalpel edges aren’t even in the same axis as the legs – they would scrape the hell out of anything you tried to use it on. The tips are further enhanced with stylized barbs and hooks, which would be pretty inconvenient to use as a hand-held tool. And from a symbolic perspective, our own compasses are supposed to keep us “within due bounds” and to remind us of certain Masonic principles, such as Friendship, Morality, and Brotherly Love. To me, these compasses show the complete opposite of those tenets.
This is just one example, but there are many such depictions readily available on Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, and other social media sites. I’m at a loss for an explanation, but I’ve been wondering if for a generation of men who may have spent more time playing indoors than outside, Freemasonry is how they are rediscovering their own sense of masculinity and what it means to be a Man (capitalized) in a society that has actively sought to eliminate any dangers, real or imagined. Playground recess has been cancelled or restricted in many schools, as has ball-playing and running or racing games. Playground equipment is now designed with the avoidance of possible lawsuits, which means anything more than the swings or slides is now off limits. Even pick-up games in the suburbs are a rarity, having been replaced by child-league sports, overly-supervised by adults. Television and movies often present an ambivalent take on adult men or masculinity, and studios are becoming more fearful of alienating potential viewers by presenting old-school male role models — unless it’s to point out that they are dinosaurs in our modern age.
Have these kinds of influences led the newer generations of young men into turning Freemasonry into not just a men’s society, but a masculinity rediscovery society?