To understand certain aspects of the functioning of a lodge, Jacques Fontaine and Marie-Hélène Gonnin have written a reference work; "Hiram and Freud" is intended to provide a psychoanalytical insight into the Masonic process. They were interviewed by Daniel Videlier for Baglis TV - We offer you extracts from this video . You can watch the entire interview on BaglisTV, the channel of initiation.
The rule of the game
It could be said that the functioning of a Masonic Lodge is governed by three conventions; of course these conventions are not formalized, they exist implicitly :
A symbolic convention which concerns the place where the meeting of the members of the lodge takes place (i.e. the dress): it is the representation of the temple of Solomon with an orientation according to the cardinal points ;
A ritual convention which concerns the rite practiced by the lodge;
And a methodological convention that affects the modalities of speaking, organization of services and travel.
The diagram shows the usual positioning (but there are also other positions) of the different offices.
The seats of the members are placed on the two columns of the North and South facing each other.
The proceedings follow an agenda.
The main objective of the operation of a Masonic lodge is to practice initiations which will be followed by increases in salary (passage from 1st to 2nd degree) and then an elevation (passage from 2nd to 3rd degree).
The second objective is to offer a staging of the chosen rite and thus to allow everyone to benefit from its teaching and in particular from the importance of fraternity.
The third objective is to participate in the dynamics of the obedience to which the lodge belongs.
According to the lodges, a fourth objective can be taken into account: the pooling of a reflection on symbolic, philosophical or societal subjects.
You will find various articles dealing with the problems of life in a Masonic lodge: apart from moments of joy and satisfaction, there are also "classic" situations of "suffering"; some are "benign", others more anxiety-provoking. The aim is to bring a light that can be helpful. But the prerequisite is to never forget that a lodge is also a human group and as such it is subject to the rules of functioning of a human group which are recalled in the diagram above.
With experience, it is clear that the most difficult moments to manage concern three areas :
information concerning the administrative functioning of the Lodge or the obedience; they should not be diffused in ordinary dress and are the domain either of the College of Officers or of the Master Committee: the complexity of the contents with regard to the regulatory obligations and the length of the reports lead to diversion and weariness which thwart the work of reflection which should be the essential!
the problem of the choices to be made: as soon as a vote is announced, agitation rises to a new level; it has always seemed to me that voting is an exercise that should be limited to very specific situations; voting often induces a perversity that is conducive to destabilizing a group; in masonry, it seems to me that the essential decisions should be preceded by the search for a consensus. This problem concerns elections in particular.
The respect of ritual in particular for ceremonies; this requires preparation and therefore rehearsals; one cannot do without it at the risk of seeing the occurrence of messes disturbing the atmosphere of the ceremony.
A prerequisite for living well in a Masonic lodge
In order to appreciate the content of a Masonic outfit and not to be disturbed by parasitic ideas, one must always bear in mind that the Masonic group is a group of human beings and that, like all groups, it is subject to rules of operation which are imposed on individuals.
One of the most important observations showing the specificity of group life is the emergence of a certain degree of depersonalisation of the individual in favour of collective behaviour.
This fact affects everyone to varying degrees depending on the circumstances. It is important to be aware of it because it induces a change in judgment.
In the majority of cases, these are minor changes, which have no consequences except in the area of affectivity.
This psychological reality makes it necessary to take a step back and be able to spare some time for reflection.
The second element of knowledge that must be taken into account concerns what could be called the rules of functioning of the human group, which are recalled below.
All this calls for great caution! This is the condition for optimum acquisition of the Masonic ideal.
Frequently asked questions that concern a freemason on the columns
When to speak?
Traditionally, the purpose of speaking is to shed light, to provide additional information or personal experience; the brother or sister should not enter into a dialogue with a brother or sister who has previously spoken; he or she should address the mosaic paving stone.
Speaking in the Lodge is a difficult art; it can only be done when the Venerable authorizes it, either after one of his or her interventions, or after a board, or on the occasion of various questions. Only the sisters or brothers who are companions or masters are entitled to it.
There are several pitfalls to avoid :
thank or praise,
polemic or criticize an intervention,
give an apology for a political or religious discourse
address a subject that does not correspond to the degree to which the work for the rite being used is being carried out
Overall, speaking out is an important act that should be reserved only for sharing knowledge or experience from a positive perspective. In practice, it is clear that many speeches are useless and are more of a personal "itch" than a real participatory work.
What do I say if I disagree with what I hear?
The specificity of communication in a Masonic lodge is the respect that one has for the opinions expressed by other sisters or brothers. There is no good or bad opinion and everyone has the right to express themselves with respect for others.
We don't say in the Lodge "I don't agree with..." but "I think this subject could be approached in such a way".
How to make a board?
It is the occasion for a sister or a brother to present a personal work of reflection either on a subject freely chosen or on a theme which is part of the questions submitted to the lodges by the obedience in the framework of a function of rapporteur of a work studied in committee.
For a personal work, the style is free: most of the time, it is a question of reading a text, but it is possible today in many lodges to use the tools of audio-visual communication (slide shows, video, audio tape) or even to associate other brothers or sisters in the speaking.
The lay rules of good communication are necessary to facilitate understanding (do not forget that some elderly brothers or sisters may be hard of hearing or visually impaired): good diction, a reasonable speaking time (20 to 30 minutes), the use of terms understood by all make things easier.
We generally distinguish three types of personal boards (in some lodges only symbolic boards are allowed) :
Symbolic boards: this is a personal work on a way of understanding one or more symbols of the degree and ritual in which the outfit is worn;
the social boards: it is also a personal work on a problem of society;
current issues: as its name indicates, it is a question of presenting a Masonic point of view on a social, economic or cultural problem which is the subject of information for the general public.
The great pitfall to be avoided in the realization is "wikipedia": not that the information contained in wikipedia is questionable (although this is sometimes the case) but the temptation to copy and paste to give the impression that one has "worked" does not correspond in any way with a Masonic practice that values work and the appropriation of knowledge.
How do I get dressed to go in an outfit?
An outfit is also a certain ceremonial; in the past the wearing of a suit and black tie for men was mandatory. Today, a certain tolerance is possible, but only to the extent that the venerable allows it. There is nothing to prevent a Venerable from refusing entry into a lodge to a brother or sister who is not properly dressed.
In fact there are two constraints :
respect the individual freedom of each member (in some dressing rooms, wearing a gown or a dress means that this constraint is no longer a constraint)
to ensure the ceremonial effect that gives the outfit that indispensable character of seriousness and gravity, which encourages reflection and meditation.
What attitude to take on the columns?
Traditionally, a Mason sitting in a chair should have a straight back, feet flat on the floor and hands resting on the thighs at knee level. He (she) must remain impassive, without showing the slightest reaction to the exchanges.
This is a difficult exercise because there is a great temptation to have reactive non-verbal communication about what is being said. But it is an effort that enhances the climate of reflection and meditation.