Thursday, May 03, 2007

What is a 'traditional observance' lodge?

Since I posted the article yesterday about Halcyon Lodge, several brothers have asked me what is meant by "traditional observance."

You can read up on Traditional Observance Masonic Lodges at the Masonic Restoration Foundation's website. I've excerpted some of their information for you:
Traditional Observance (TO) Masonry is a unique North American approach to Freemasonry, practiced in Traditional Observance Lodges.

TO lodges are governed by the rules and regulations of their respective Grand Lodge, from which they receive their charter.

TO lodges follow the established ritual of their Grand Lodge, with some ceremonial additions and adjustments, only insofar as they may be allowed by their Grand Lodge. TO lodges begin with the North American Masonic lodge model and enrich it with traditional initiatic elements practiced in Continental European and Latin American Freemasonry.

Traditional Observance Masonry is not a Masonic Rite, but rather a philosophical approach to the way Freemasonry is practiced. In many ways, TO Masonry is a response to some of the negative trends experienced by North American Freemasonry in recent years, aimed at reversing those trends and restoring the strength and dignity of the American Craft.

Traditional Observance Masonry is characterized by a solemn approach to holding stated communications and conferring degrees, the use of the Chamber of Reflection as part of the initiation ceremony, and slow and demanding candidate advancement.

TO lodges maintain their high standards by working within guidelines recommended by the Masonic Restoration Foundation and within the context of their respective Grand Lodge regulations.

Traditional Observance lodges have a traditional approach to Freemasonry with an emphasis on the initiatic process. They seek to continuously maintain a Masonic Culture, Initiatic Focus and Traditional Structure.

Traditional Observance lodges differ from what have become know as European Concept lodges in three important ways.

1. The focus is different. All Traditional Observance lodges have a guiding initiatic focus to all their activities. All efforts are made to create a deep, contemplative atmosphere in all meetings, employing darkness, candle light, periods of silence and meditation and strict rules for degree conferral and candidate advancement. European Concept lodges tend not to have such guiding and definitive focus, even if they follow many similar practices.

2. The models are different. European Concept lodges tend to begin with the English lodge model and then infuse it with the Continental European system of candidate education. The “European Concept” came out of an English constitution jurisdiction when Lodge Epicurean no. 906 was founded by Kent Henderson in 1993 in Geelong, Australia.

The first American lodge to adopt a similar approach was St. Albans Lodge no. 1455, founded in 1992 by Pete Normand in College Station, Texas. This lodge adopted the English model of meeting quarterly and follows the “Seven Principles of Traditional Freemasonry,” enumerated by John Mauk Hilliard.

In contrast, TO lodges begin with the North American lodge model and enrich it with traditional initiatic elements practiced in Continental European and Latin American Freemasonry. TO lodges endeavor to have complete Masonic programs monthly.

3. The uniformity between lodges is different. TO lodges are relatively uniform, whereas European Concept lodges vary from one another significantly. TO lodges all follow the same standards prescribed by the MRF and participate in the Foundation’s national efforts toward Masonic renewal. European Concept lodges are not usually related to one another in any way and have approaches to Freemasonry that can be radically different.

For most readers it will be difficult to fully understand the difference between the two models. Those that have experienced both, however, are unequivocal about the contrast between the two.
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  1. Sorry - previous comment riddled with typos...

    What I meant to say was: there has been one recently started here in my jurisdiction and I can't wait to attend. Reading off the minutes in Lodge and voting on the broadband bill is only inspiring to a small degree...

  2. TO and EC lodges were the subject of the Saturday session of this year's Midwest Conference on Masonic Education in Evansville, Indiana. Details here.

  3. The problem with the TO concept is that they still have to play under the same dogmatic rules set by whatever GL they are under. For an example: according to the GL of California they still have to use the half assed California ritual, they cannot open in the EA etc. etc. TO may be a step in the right direction, but under the surface it is still half assed American MS "light" Masonry.

  4. well in freemasonry we are free to practice masorny any way we feel free to!

    ooops,that was wrong, we are not free to do what we want in masonry...

  5. Brad, you present an example that may not really be an issue. Back in the "old days", lodges often opened in the MM and then "stepped down" to a lower degree in order to invite the other members in. Yes, it makes the lodge opening longer, but presumably those people attracted to a TO lodge wouldn't mind that (much) in the first place.

    I'm not sure what the half-fast CA ritual is like; when I compare notes with my buds out there, it's very similar to Conn.

    Of course, that could simply mean that Conn ritual is half-fast, too ;-)

    In Conn, though, we have a way to handle this. Our ritual monitor is the minimum that has to be done; we are free to add parts and lectures (presumably as long as they don't change the nature of the degree itself).

    For example, in our lodge we have a lecture that we give to the EA candidates before they even are admitted to the lodge. We have a long version of the Apron lecture. Some lodges add to the dramatization of our MM degree - we give a "play" that adds to the explanation, another lodge in my district even adds to that by giving a second "act" to the play.

    I know that CA Masonic code is not the same as Conn, but there might be workarounds like this that are possible.

  6. Reading off the minutes in Lodge and voting on the broadband bill is only inspiring to a small degree...

    Your lodge has broadband?!!!

    Dang, at the moment it certainly seems inspiring to me!

    Seriously, we're thinking of that so we can set up a small network. We sponsor a DeMolay chapter, and it would be great for having gaming nights. That, plus we could update our online trestleboard when we're thinking about it, instead of waiting for someone to get "a round tuit" later in the week.

  7. Its seems that, for some, opening on the E.A. is somehow an important part of being a "traditional" lodge. It is not. Further, the arbitrary definitions imposed by the relatively new terms "European Concept" and "Traditional Observance" did not exist in 1992 when St. Alban's Lodge No. 1455 was formed in Texas. Instead, the single principle that guided us in those early years of the previous decade was a desire to simply return to the traditional standards and practices of our ancient forebears. At that time, those principles were best enumerated by Wor. Brother John Mauk Hilliard in his seven points of traditional Freemasonry. They still are.


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