Here's your Masonic laugh for the day. An online outfit calling itself the "Virtual Grand Lodge" is offering the opportunity to be a Freemason - all online - for the bargain price of $99. Pay up, and in the blink of an eye, depending on the speed of your internet connection, PRESTO! You're a Mason!
Of course, the website is all dressed up with photos of actual Masonic temples and descriptions of the history of the fraternity to give it the sheen of respectability. (Tellingly, right on the welcome page at the bottom it has logos showing that all major credit cards are gladly accepted.)
Curious about initiation? There's none of that pointless driving to some scruffy building, rolling up your trouser leg and kneeling at the altar stuff. No silly aprons to wear, either. Nope, it's all done online. From their website:
Initiation to a physical Temple, is certainly the most effective and appropriate, nevertheless, Virtual Grand Lodge considers that the material temple and physical presence has never been the essential characteristic of Masonic initiation. The feasibility of the Masonic Temple is in the symbols, these are the core, not the walls or furniture. In ancient times of the Freemasonry the Lodges members setup its temples in the countryside and later in houses and private rooms. All in all, there were no fixed decoration in the form that we know it today at the Masonic Temples, but some portable symbolical items and the Virtues of Righteous Freemasons.
Does initiation occurs and limited at the physical body of the initiate? Or not? Obviously not, there is no one who claims seriously that the initiation takes place in the physical material body, because it is obvious that any change is happening in the moral side of the character, in the Soul and Spirit of each one Brother.
Considering the above, do you believe that the practice of distant on-line Initiations for people who are unable to attend in physical temples is impractical or unacceptable? We think that the answer is no. The Masonic work can be made in the Temple of Virtue who has known carved without the use of any material tool.
It lists the many benefits of the Virtual Grand Lodge, which include:
And of course, once you receive your Master Mason degree, you will have the opportunity to join the York Rite and Scottish Rite, as well. For an added price I'm sure.
Now, admittedly, I'm a little late to this discovery. This is the brainchild of a guy named Theodore Sabatakakis, who claims to be a Master Mason in Greece. Apparently he's been up to this for close to a year, and several Facebook pages have circulated a fraud warning about him. I'm just getting around to receiving it. But the appropriate folks in Greece have been contacted, and are looking into his membership claims.
The Virtual Grand Lodge website states the following:
As a member of the Virtual Grand Lodge you will have all the advantages as a regular Masonic Member, like the potential to develop into all the Masonic degrees, to have in your hand original Masonic Texts, to communicate with other members of the Community, to take part in the work of a Lodge, to receive certificates, and generally have all the privileges of a Regular Lodge Member.NO YOU WON'T! I promise you. I'm not misleading or obscuring anything. This is a completely false claim, and this guy is simply lying, taking your cash, and promising you the Moon. No regular Masonic lodges anywhere on Earth (and probably no irregular ones, at that) are going to admit you with credentials from an organization like this.
Facebook has become an extremely useful tool for tracking down the literally hundreds of bogus and clandestine Masonic organizations around the world much quicker than in the past. Back in the 1980s, the Prince Hall Masonic research organization, The Phylaxis Society, took on the laborious task of going through city and state tax records and directories to identify fraudulent Masonic groups. Their ongoing research was collected as the Joseph A. Walkes Jr. Commission on Bogus Masonic Practices and has been on their website for many years. And Maine Freemason Ed King has also posted many entries about fake groups on his MasonicInfo.com website over the years, although he's been posting less and less lately. Unfortunately, new groups pop up all the time, and it's difficult if not impossible to find them all.
Sadly, many men are taken in by seeing the trappings of Masonry without looking into the background and history of the group they are actually joining and wind up finding out the hard way that, no, the overwhelming amount of Masons in the world do not regard them as legitimate, and no, you can't go travel and visit other Masonic lodges all over the world, outside of your own "grand lodge." If that's not important to you, join your little group and knock yourself out. But you aren't really a Freemason.
The problem is that no one can actually own words like "Freemason" and "Grand Lodge", nor can they trademark specific artwork that's fallen into the public domain. (Case in point: a Los Angeles sexual fetish club called Snctm uses the double-headed eagle of the Scottish Rite on its webpage, and there's not much the AASR can do about it.)
If you are not a Freemason but are interested in becoming a real one, you can find a list of regular, recognized Grand Lodge websites listed by state and country on the Masonic Renewal Committee website. And if you live in the United States and want to know more about Prince Hall Freemasonry which started in the late 1700s as a Masonic fraternity for black men (which was not an uncommon situation in U.S. social organizations during the pre-Civil War and the segregated "Jim Crow" period), you can find a list of Prince Hall Affiliated Grand Lodges listed by state and Canadian provinces on the Prince Hall Conference of Grand Masters website.
In all fairness, I should probably mention notable exceptions to this post that ARE legitimate, regular, recognized lodges with large international groups of members and visitors, and a robust online presence.
First, the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) constituted Internet Lodge No. 9659 in 1998. It is a regular, recognized lodge that is open to any existing member of the UGLE, or any other Grand Lodge that is in amity with the UGLE (see the list here). They hold a physical meeting in an approved English Masonic lodge three times a year, moving around the country with each meeting. The password-protected members only part of the site deals with the minutes and day to day business of the lodge. They have members from all around the world who are real, authentic, regular, recognized Freemasons, and each meeting is followed by a traditional Festive Board for attendees. The catch is that its members must first be initiated, passed and raised in their own lodge before they can petition to join Internet Lodge. And each member must agree to pay all regular UGLE annual fees, along with their lodge membership. But there is no online meeting of any kind. (One interesting aspect is that, once you become a member of this lodge, you can demit from your home lodge and grand lodge if you so choose, and still be a Mason in good standing of this UGLE lodge.)
Similar to it is Ireland Lodge No. 2000, a regular, recognized lodge chartered in 2000 by the Grand Lodge of Ireland AF&AM. Like Internet lodge, members must be Master Masons in good standing of a jurisdiction in amity with the GL of Ireland, and it's rolls are comprised of an international group. They meet four times a year, at different locations throughout Ireland. The June meeting is always held in Dublin, and is traditionally the one with the most foreign visitors. They also have a secure, online chat room and hold monthly gatherings (except in December) via the web. Degrees are not conferred by the lodge, and Masons wishing to affiliate with them must be initiated, passed, and raised in another lodge.
Finally, the Grand Lodge of Manitoba (Canada) chartered Castle Island Virtual Lodge No. 190 in 2012, and to my knowledge, it is the only truly Internet-based lodge working under a charter from a regular, recognized grand lodge in the world. It's also the only lodge on Earth where you can be home 10 seconds after the last gavel falls. The lodge meets online on the 5th Wednesday of those months that HAVE 5 Wednesdays at 7:00PM. Visitors are welcome, and must contact the Lodge Education Officer at Leo.firstname.lastname@example.org or the Secretary at email@example.com to be given access. They must be from a jurisdiction that is in amity with the GL of Manitoba, and send a photograph of their current dues card along with a brief biography to the LEO to be "admitted" to meetings and the secure portion of the website. For the meeting itself, visitors must have a computer equipped with a microphone and camera, and they use Webex technology as a secure conference method (originally, the lodge was designed as part of the "Second Life" virtual 3-D community, but a more secure meeting system was desired). Ritual used is the Canadian Work (a variation of Britain's Emulation ritual), and visitors are expected to tyle their own computer's location during online meetings.