The Death Throes of the Appendant Body System
I know, it's a scathing title, and one that will certainly get people's feathers ruffled to be sure, but hear me out on this one.
Continental and UK Freemasonry have the largest groups of "side-orders", or as it is termed in the Craft, appendant bodies. In most mainstream jurisdictions, these include organizations such as the Royal Arch, the Cryptic Council, the Knights Templar (collectively, the York Rite), the Allied Masonic Degrees, the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, Knight Masons, Mark Masters, the Royal Order of Scotland, and any other group that sets up a table at Masonic Week in Washington, D.C. These sub-groups of Masonic organizations with their own Grand Bodies, their own sets of dues, and their own regalia and titles, are suffering from the same decline in membership as your typical "Blue" or "Craft" Lodge institutions.
The simple answer is mathematics. As the decline delineated by the Masonic Service Association of North America suggests (the latest numbers they have can be found HERE) and as Brother Lance Kennedy so morosely points out in his article from 2018 (see HERE), the Blue Lodge system of Masonry is DYING. A net loss on average of 50,000 members per year (from a combination of deaths and members who stop paying dues and leave) has impacted the United States in such a way that there are fewer than one million Masons at the time of this writing.
An organization that had almost hyperbolic growth through the Second World War is now bleeding away 50,000+ members a year. This has a direct result on the membership statuses of these appendant bodies which rely on the Craft Lodges for their members. The pool of potential candidates for Royal Arch, Knights Templar, and Scottish Rite come from one place, and one place only....these Craft Lodges within their jurisdictions.
So by virtue of simple subtraction, we will have the death of these appendant bodies before the Craft Lodge system as we know it kicks the bucket.
So we have two questions: First, is this true? And second, is this important?
Let's tackle the first one first (See? I am good at math). Will the appendant body system reach unsustainable numbers before the traditional Craft Lodge system does? Yes, it surely will. The simple fact that the pool of people that join these side-orders is dwindling at a steady rate, the appendant body systems will do the same and die away before their parent organization does. When will this happen? I'm not sure, but projections by Jon Ruark of The Masonic Roundtable give a conservative estimate (using this amazing tool called statistics; see his video/site HERE) of the year 2040 for the collapse of the current Blue Lodge system.
It's reasonable to assume that the side-order system will collapse before 2040, if the whole thing is collapsing around our collective heads in 20 years.
Onto the second question...Is it important? Well, that depends on what you, as members of all these orders, who never eat at home and have more dues cards in your wallet than paper money, seek to gain from all these memberships. To some, it is another reason to get out of the house. To others, it is a search for further knowledge that drives one to join all these "offshoots" of Craft Freemasonry. To others still, it is a place to gain more personal fame, honor, and a plethora of beautiful titles to attach to your Masonic resume.
You may think that I have nothing but disdain for the Appendant Body system in current mainstream Freemasonry. On the contrary, I do not. I own different color blazers as many of you do, and I like most of these bodies for what they "represent." They, at their core, represent a good concept: to expand the breadth and depth of the mythos and meaning in Freemasonry. The practical application, however, has fallen far short of that concept in the last 100 years.
Many of these bodies do not serve their intended purposes any longer. All of them began with a purpose to highlight or espouse a certain aspect of the Masonic process. Most have now simply become dinner clubs, bereft of anything resembling the transmission of knowledge, and only give their members another night of the week out of the home.
The Holy Royal Arch expanded on the legend of the Third Degree, and provides a fitting end to a story that is oftentimes left without an end in the Craft Degree system. It contains a beautiful system of degrees which expand on the Legend and move the tale forward by hundreds of years, with riches unheard of in terms of symbolism and allegory. Nowadays, initiates are rushed thru the degrees as quickly as possible, so that they can become members and take a place in a very deep progressive line.
The Cryptic Council fills in the gaps between some of the degrees within the Royal Arch, and historically imparted lessons of introspection and mortality; nowadays they are a close second to the Royal Arch system in terms of rushing people in the door to fill their emptying seats.
The Commandery of Knights Templar is the third "York Rite" body (for more details on what "York Rite" means, go search Wikipedia or click HERE) and one that seeks members from only the Craft and Royal Arch systems, so they are probably going to dwindle away sooner than the rest, due to their more constrained pool of potential members. This was once one of the most beautiful degree systems in the Rite, containing allegory and symbolism found in few other places. Nowadays, it has become a little more than a hollow shell, not to mention the fact that it excludes Masons that do not profess belief in the Christian deity. I find it difficult to label this organization as truly "Freemasonic" with such a exclusionary membership requirement.
I could go on and on with all the other appendant organizations; they all took a piece of the traditional Masonic system and tried to make something special, or they even left the "social clubs" and "dinner clubs" of the last century to invest in something more erudite in practice, but they too succumbed to the same.
As Freemasonry declines, so too will these groups. Members will die off and demit in equal numbers (at least the way it is today), and the pool of potential members (the Craft Lodge system) will also steadily decline. This brings us back to the second question, which I neglected to answer in full previously.
Is it important that these bodies are disappearing? The answer is "YES" and "NO". Yes, because some absolutely beautiful systems of allegory and instruction would be lost, and Freemasons of the future, who choose to experience more "Masonry" after their first Three Degrees, will no longer be able to quench that thirst in the plethora of Masonic bodies that exist today. Relegated to days gone by, tomorrow's Freemasons may lose out on very beautiful symbols with which to smooth the inner ashlars of their being.
The answer is also "NO," simply because these offshoots of our original Legend, with all their pomp and ritual and colorful aprons, presently do little to truly improve that "inner temple" of man. They currently answer no questions that we all seek to have answered; they no longer offer anything in the way of real actionable change "within."
Moral of the story: care less about the "window dressings" and "curtains," or what color they are, and simply pull them open and get a look at what's on the other side of that window. Or take it a step further and act like that "better person" in that world, like you said you would when you took your first Obligation. You would be surprised to see how actionable and relevant the lessons you learned in the "Craft" Lodge are in the real world, and they, without any fluff and window dressings, are enough lessons to last you a lifetime.
~~ FDTL ~~