I’m going to take a short break from the esoteric posts and look at something more on the theme of ’21st Century Freemasonry’ for today’s entry. With modern technology we are starting to see things emerge that were quite literally impossible until very recently. One such avenue, and something which always raises a lot of controversy, is the idea of virtual lodge rooms. In particular, I am going to look at a few examples of this in the virtual world called Second Life – which is an online medium with millions of users in which content is created by the user and encompasses many different categories of expression.
Part of my graduate studies involved the use of this platform for museum exhibitions, and whilst experimenting with such ideas in an educational context I of course came across the fact that there were a number of Freemasons using the platform to explore Masonry and how it might exist in a virtual world. The results are certainly interesting and well worth exploring and I will look now at a number of different ways this platform is being used to promote Freemasonry.
The first such example within Second Life, and one of the best implementations in my opinion, is the Blazing Star Masonic Island which I would definitely recommend is worth a visit. This is the largest plot of land within Second Life dedicated to Freemasonry and contains a number of exhibitions and memorials spread out over quite a large space. Being displayed at the moment are some rather large exhibitions; one of which surrounds the diferent types of aprons and the symbolism that they contain. The other is dedicated to a large number of different tracing boards. Each exhibition contains quite a bit of interpretation that is well written, so there is definitely a lot of knowledge contained within. The building also contains a library of kinds that has a few old Masonic texts that are available in a virtual text format. So you can even take a copy of an old book by Wilmshurst with you in your inventory, back to read in the comfort of your own virtual living room!
Beyond these rather commendable exhibitions, there are a number of areas within Second Life that are connected to real life lodges. Internet Lodge #9659, UGLE, runs a virtual ’embassy’. Unfortunately I could not gain access to the building as it is dependent on having one of their members online and the few times that I have tried nobody has been available. The building though can be explored easily because of its glass walls and the flexibility of the Second Life camera system. It seems to contain a nice area akin to some office space, with chairs set up for informal meeting areas and some other information available for visitors. Overall, a nice place for fellow brethren to come together in a virtual environment. There are a couple of other sites that are similar to this one, intended to allow for a central space where information about Freemasonry can be read and shared. There are also a number of shops that sell Masonic clothing items for a nominal price – although the concept of paying for virtual items of clothing such as rings and ties might seem quite foreign, within Second Life it is the norm and it was to be expected that somebody would try to capitalise on the niche market of Freemasonry!
The last implementation that can be found is one which will undoubtedly raise some debate, and I hope that anybody reading this will join up to our forums to discuss it. There are a number of virtual temples that have been created within Second Life, most of which are readily open to anybody who wishes to have a look. Now, at first one might presume that this means that virtual lodge meetings are taking place – and would quite rightly be disappointed with such a thought – however, further research indicates that this does not seem to be the case. From what can be gathered, they are just another area for Freemasons within Second Life to meet and socialise. They are not considered to be tyled and no tyled meetings take place, at least not openly. Indeed, within Second Life it would be impossible really to meet the requirements for a tyled meeting – as the various security options are too readily circumventable by those who really wish to do so. Any such implementation would also be considered Clandestine, and therefore any regular Freemason that comes across such a thing would be recommended to consider the implications of such.
I hope that this very brief foray into the world of virtual Freemasonry has piqued your interest somewhat. To be perfectly honest, the implementations are little more than 3-dimensional websites with added chat rooms – there is no real sense of progress beyond the addition of an avatar that represents each visitor. But as the first initial steps into the medium, you can rest assured that there are brethren around the world exploring just how these new platforms can be used. Personally, beyond the interesting text and image based exhibitions (which really are no different than a website on the same material), there is little here that is pushing our fraternity forwards. However, for those brethren who frequently use Second Life I have no doubt that they appreciate being able to meet up and converse with fellow members from around the globe. Rather then just meeting in formless chat rooms, they are able to do so in surroundings that inspire their Masonic interests, and this certainly is why many of them choose to do so. It also helps raise the awareness of our fraternity amongst the users of Second Life – although the visitor numbers for these sites are, admittedly, very low.
In the end, Freemasons around the globe are coming together in new ways and as long as this is done in a regular manner it cannot be a bad thing that the barrier of distance is being removed in yet another way. For anybody interested, the Second Life client is freely available and you can have a look at these sites yourself. There is also a more detailed examination, albeit slightly out of date now, by a Bro. William Lott which can be found hereand is well worth a read. Unfortunately, many of the plots that he examined are no longer available and there are a few new ones that have popped up (such as the impressive Blazing Star Masonic Island) since he wrote his paper. This is certainly an area that deserves more attention from brethren around the globe. Although personally I do not see it as pivotal to the central working of our fraternity – and I would honestly be loathe to see any kind of virtual lodge meeting taking place – it is definitely an interesting avenue to explore.
In my mind, the best implementations so far have been those who mimic a kind of exhibition about Freemasonry. Just like a good website, these can dispel many myths that surround Freemasonry whilst also introducing people to the wonderful symbolism that we use. It has the added benefit that the exhibitions can be visited by multiple people, and can even have a tour guide taking people around and answering questions. As an extension of the Masonic information available on the internet I think this is great, but as an extension of our Work as Freemasons I really don’t think the platform has too much to offer. If anything, it has some dangerous pitfalls that could undermine the integrity of our honourable fraternity.
But with careful explorations and due diligence, there is no reason why virtual world platforms such as Second Life shouldn’t be used by Freemasons to meet up and discuss as brethren. We just need to keep a close eye on the direction that such experiments take, and keep close at heart the true purpose and function of Freemasonry – which is to uplift ourselves and the world around us to a higher state of being.