Wednesday, July 13, 2011
Tuesday, July 5, 2011
“So I visited a lodge in Manitoba.”
“Wow, Manitoba, isn’t that like 8 hours from your house? When did you find the time?”
“Actually, I visited the lodge in the spare bedroom of my house.”
I’ve had one of the most interesting Masonic experiences of my short time as a Freemason; I visited a virtual lodge. In fact, I believe I visited the virtual lodge, Castle Island Lodge U.D. The reason I say “the” is because I don't think there is another virtual lodge in the world.
So what is a virtual lodge? I would describe it as the next logical step after an Internet Lodge. An Internet Lodge is a lodge that is open to brothers of many jurisdictions. It is oftentimes seeking only brothers to affiliate or subscribe as degree work is not their focus. The lodge is instead a marketplace of ideas and a way for the fraternal spirit to spread across the world. An Internet lodge meets in the physical world but corresponds in a variety of Web based ways, email, message boards, etc. on daily basis. Some examples of Internet lodges are Internet Lodge No. 9659 and Lodge Ireland 2000.
A virtual lodge meets online. That's right, online. The brothers assemble online at wherever they are located. The meetings have a ritualistic opening and closing and the business of the lodge is dispensed in the same manner that a physical lodge would. It is a lodge in every sense of the word… well, maybe not every sense. This type of lodge begs the question: what is a lodge? Is a lodge the people or is the lodge the building? Or is it both?
Now for a little backstory: Castle Island Lodge U.D. is a lodge under the Grand Lodge of Manitoba. The name Castle Island originates from their first meeting location which was in Second Life. The lodge owned a virtual island that had a castle as its virtual meeting room and all of this existed within that virtual world. Second Life is a MMO World. Dwight Schrute describes it this way:
Sidebar: I've used Second Life in the past and in some places, it has redeeming qualities but in many respects, the content and activities that go on in the Second Life world are, to put it delicately, weird.
I visited Castle Island Lodge during its June 29th stated communication. The manner in which Castle Island meets is through an online video conferencing service. I sent the lodge secretary a letter of introduction from my Grand Lodge and was invited to attend the web conference. We ritually opened and began the business of the lodge in the same recognizable format that thousands of lodges do each and every month. After all business was dispensed with, the lodge was ritualistically closed. The brothers performed the duties of the lodge as a lodge. There was a Worshipful Master, Wardens, Deacons, Inner Guard, and an Immediate Past Master. There was a VSL open with the square and compass. Every necessary component of a lodge was there.
This is an important first foray into combining Freemasonry and the Web. The Web is redefining our sense of place and our sense of time. We listen to podcasts and use DVRs. We use telepresence devices to conduct meetings from any place with Internet access or Skype or FaceTime to chat with family and friends. I would describe a virtual lodge as being a place on the Web, each brother tyling his own surroundings and within himself, guarding against the vices and superfluities of his life. Castle Island Lodge is breaking down the conception of what makes us Masons. Can Speculative Masonry work without a physical meeting place? Can we experience Freemasonry wherever we are so dispersed? I think the answer to both these questions is a resounding yes.
I really enjoyed my time with the brothers. I met Grands, Past Grands, and as well as officers of various lodges throughout Manitoba. I've met brothers dedicated to moving our Fraternity forward. I’ve seen a new route that Freemasonry is taking as she enters the burgeoning world of technology.
My opinion is that Grand Lodges need to encourage these types of experiments. Evolving doesn't mean discarding or ignoring what once was, is, or will be nor is Castle Island Lodge an innovation. I'm glad to see a Grand Lodge, like Manitoba, embracing something like this. I don’t think we need to completely dismantle the physical Masonic world and reassemble it online like the laser on TRON because we need those places as well. (I’m not going to lie though; I wish I could have a light disc and light cycle. Dare to dream.)I don’t see a virtual lodge as interfering with our practice or the only way that Masonry should be worked. What I do see it as is a new effort at making connections. That is what Masonry is all about.
When we enter into the lodge door, we enter in the same or similar manner as every other brother of that lodge. Our personal impressions and perceptions belong only to us but the process is completely set before we enter. I’m a man that sees Masonry as a process, not an outcome. Oftentimes, we are driven to outcome-only thinking, how many brothers were raised in a given year?, how much to charity have the members donated?, or how many lectures have we memorized?, but really that’s not the purpose of Freemasonry. We seek new places and new ways to further our light. It’s not the third degree as an end but as a beginning. We are a process-driven organization.
Castle Island Lodge is a new place and a new way for gaining light. The venue may be different but the process is the same. Who knows where this concept will lead except perhaps the Great Architect. But this is something that has to be done. We must investigate new ways of bringing light to brothers. Another lasting benefit is that our infirm brothers may continue to take part in our labors. A brother in a land that is not necessarily hospitable to Freemasonry can still find fraternity. And of course, I know my wife appreciated that it took me 5 seconds to get home.
Of course, some things can never be recreated in the virtual world. You cannot have a festive board with all the brothers assembled around a table. (Although you could each eat dinner and have toasts at each individual location) You cannot use all the modes of recognition and outer lodge chats don’t happen at the pub. I think all these are relative. A virtual lodge, and indeed any lodge with a different take on Freemasonry, will invariably lose one aspect to gain another. The Masonic world like the profane world is a series of trade-offs.
This isn't the one single answer to rule them all but this is an important thread to follow. The lodge will still have to perform the three degrees in the physical world. The lodge will still have to be installed in the physical world. That's okay with me. The idea that brothers from every corner of the globe can and will be available to labor and feel the fraternal bonds of our Craft is revolutionary.
As with all things on the Web, I was reminded by the brothers of Castle Island that this lodge is still improving, or in Google terms, currently in Beta. And just like a Google product in Beta, this lodge and its novel concept will continue to improve. All the parts are working and only minor tweaks will need to be made to be ready for primetime.
I will cherish the new found friends that I have met during my visit to Castle Island Lodge. I want to thank Castle Island’s Worshipful Master, M.W.Bro. Dave Love - (Grand Master in 2009-10)
M.W.Bro. Chibu Uson (current Grand Master) - Senior Warden
M.W.Bro. Steve Kane - Junior Warden & Treasurer (Grand Master 1995-96) current Executive Secretary of Grand Lodge
M.W.Bro. C. Rae Haldane-Wilsone - Secretary (Grand Master 1997-98, Gr Sec 2001-2010)
R.W.Bro Bernie Gross - Past Grand Director of Ceremonies and current Grand Historian
R.W.Bro. Norm Pohl - Chaplain (current Grand Chaplain)
R.W.Bro. Jake Mohns - Past District Deputy Grand Master and WM, Mystery Lodge #174 Thompson, Mb.
R.W. Bro. Fred Heinrihs
I will be visiting again in August and I'm very excited with the prospect of presenting an educational piece to the lodge. This is a brave new world but unlike Huxley's dystopian vision of the Fordian World State, technology is here and it's wonderful, ubiquitous, and game-changing. Thanks go out to all the brothers of Castle Island Lodge. I had a wonderful time.
If you’re interested in more information, please use the contact form here. Welcome Freemasonry to the Web, you’re really going to get along well.