Why do freemasons have rituals?

In a recent thread, I read the following

Masons claim that freemasonry is not a religion. Which other secular club has its own funeral rituals?

It seems freemasons claim to be something of a social club and/or charity, but they have all sorts of rituals. Why would grown men want to go through these rituals, if it was simply a social club or charity?

I don’t think becoming a volunteer for Goodwill requires you to go through rituals, why do the freemasons?

I know, there are gazilions of prior threads on freemasons on the SDMB, but I went through several of them and didn’t see the answer to this question.

All human societies have rituals. Rituals are a non-verbal way to re-assert the bonds within the society (and, occasionally, a way to tap into the mythology* on which the society is built).

The Masons are simply more explicit in their overt bonding (which is probably tied in to their association with the mythology that supports their organization) and use more elaborate rituals to support that bonding.

  • [size=1] Mythology used in the anthropological sense of those stories that provide meaning for the truths held by a group. A group or society that has no explicit mythology, will still use ritual as a source of bonding.)

Of course it all depends on your definition of ‘ritual’.

Having people recite the national anthem at baseball games can be considered a ‘ritual’, but that is a very different ritual than one in which 30 men gather in a dark room with one of them naked in the center chanting to some obscure deity*

I would classify the former a ‘sociological ritual’, and the latter as ‘cult ritual’. Most people do not take part in ‘cult rituals’ unless there is a religious reason.

I don’t know much about masons, but from what I know, their rituals are closer to the ‘cult ritual’ than to ‘sociological rituals’. Correct me if I am wrong here.

The question is why?

*BTW, I am not claiming that masons do this, I’m just trying to give an example of what I would call a ‘cult ritual’

Sororities and Fraternities still have initiation rituals that are used to bond their members closer together. (I’ve got a friend that went through a pretty bad initiation ritual at his college. Floggings, starvation, yadda yadda. When the next class came in, he did the same thing to them. “Why?” I asked. He said that it was because he had to go through all of that himself. If he didn’t put them through it, what right did they have to belong to their society.)

I remember bow-hunting with my friends and our fathers and when one killed their first deer, the tradition (or ritual) was to drink the warm blood. It was explained to me by my friend’s father that this was the way to become one with the deer and nature.

Even non-religious people having a marriage ceremony in their backyard by a JP could be construed as superfluous but it does make the bond for some tighter. (I’m citing my parents on that one)

Well, the military has funeral rituals. Not a club, sure, but certainly secular.

We have more than initiation ritual, chico/a.

Ritual has very valid purposes. It focuses your mind and has a lot to do with heirarchy. I can’t speak too much about my fraternity’s ritual, or the BSA’s Order of the Arrow ritual, but they have a lot to do with being part of a “brotherhood” (or sisterhood, as the case may be) - being bound by the secrets and ritual you share. If I see any other Theta Xi, I have an immediate bond with him.

And besides that, it is just plain… well, not “fun”… sobering. Worthwhile.

That isn’t “ritual”. That is “hazing”. There is a distinct difference. Don’t confuse the two.

Well, part of the problem may be that we don’t claim this (or at least none I know claim this). Masonry is a fraternal organization symbolically based on the tradition of the men who built of King Solomon’s Temple. Most fraternal organizations have rituals. Part of the reason is to provide a consistent experience and explanation to all members. Another part is to establish the bond of common experience. A final part (at least for me) is that done properly, it’s fun. It’s also beautiful - there’s some amazing prose contained in the Masonic ritual.

So what is the difference that you’re claiming as distinct? The corporal punishment that’s included with it? I’d say that the “hazing” you’re claiming is indeed hazing, but it was also part of the ritual especially since it was done by his class, the class before him, the class before them, and on, and on. It doesn’t justify these actions, but I’d say it would be dishonest to say that it isn’t ritualistic either.

Hazing is a kind of ritual.

I don’t mean to sound insulting or flippant, because this is an honest question: do you actually take that fraternity stuff as seriously as you make it sound here? I mean… an “immediate bond”? Bonded by what? Michelob?

sigh Fine.

First, lets define “ritual”

rit·u·al ( P ) (rch-l)

    1. The prescribed order of a religious ceremony.
    2. The body of ceremonies or rites used in a place of worship.
    1. The prescribed form of conducting a formal secular ceremony: the ritual of an inauguration.
    2. The body of ceremonies used by a fraternal organization.
  1. A book of rites or ceremonial forms.
  1. Ritual is a written down, pre-determined, scripted ceremony

  2. Hazing is a bunch of drunk asshats paddling each other. It is not scripted. It is not a ceremony.

  3. Every national fraternity has condemned hazing and specifically excluded it from their ritual.

I’d tell you, but I’d have to kill you.

Not that you’d understand in the short, painful period of time between the explanation and sweet death settling upon you.

And yes, our house takes our ritual very seriously.

Cute, for “not trying to sound insulting.”

Wow, one might think you came up with that definition yourself since you didn’t cite dictionary.com where you extracted your favorite parts of the definition. Exclusive of one part of the definition which fits mine nicely from dictionary.com:

Established procedure? Yup, they flogged the initiates every year. Whether it was hazing on top of what they were doing is irrelevant.

Oh, please. You know damn well that isn’t the definition of “ritual” we are working with.

Have fun with your ritual brushing of the teeth and ritual eating. :rolleyes:

Once we’ve fully exposed the Masons, can someone explain why Shriners wear funny hats?

You’re the one trying to cleave a difference between hazing and rituals by implying this gulf between the two.

Your definition of rituals aren’t applicable for a lot of things.

Really? So an illiterate tribe 10,000 years ago performed no rituals?

No argument there.

It’s not a ceremony in and of itself. It is/was *part * of a ceremony.

They specifially excluded it from their ritual? A statement like that would assume that it was PART of their ritual before then, right?

Of course, there are still sororities that have rituals that include hazing.

and there’s the iconic paddle

Certain initiation rites? Hmm, that word rites is strangely close to the word rituals.

As always, Tom~ says succinctly and clearly what needs to be said. Any group will produce its “in” customs and phrases that mark one as a member of the group. Even this Internet-based community has such rituals, as evidenced by the obvious completions to the following:

“What I had a hard time dealing with is the Doper ritual over the corpse, when they shot at it with the 1920’s style…”

"The three principal commandments are these:

  1. Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.
  2. Love your neighbor as yourself
  3. Hi…"

“At the Last Supper, Jesus sent Judas forth with a cryptic command 'What you are going to do, do quickly. When come back…”

“And when Huxley had finished expounding Darwin’s theory, a shout came from the crowd, ‘Cite!?!’”

I mean no sacrilege in phrasing these, but am saying them to point out that even this community has customs and phrases which serve to distinguish it as a group and which have functions within its worldview – and even we are no exceptions to that.

Well, my personal definition of ritual, (that I believe I can defend, so that it is not simply idiolectal), is any set of actions performed in common with others of a group that can be anticipated as “expected” by initiated members of the group.

Certainly, this will include quite formal and elaborate rites. However, it will also include simple patterns of behavior. (A number of Protestant groups, reacting against the perceived overelaborate ceremonies of the Catholic Church set out to pray or worship without ritual. While they succeeded in eliminating the gestures and pre-written prayers (along with incense, candles, vestments, etc.) to which they objected, they never really escaped ritual.

And, sorry to say, Zagadka, but I would say that hazing is, indeed, a ritual. It is hardly the sort of ritual to which most people aspire, but it remains a ritual, serving the purpose of reinforcing the association of the group.

What does “fraternal organization” actually mean?
It’s a group of people that got together for what purpose?

From what is being said about freemasonry and from some quick searching and browsing of college fraternities, I have come to the following conclusion:

To make your own “fraternal organization”, you need to

  1. Make up a ritual. Any ritual. The important thing is to *have * a ritual and to keep it secret from the outsiders.
  2. Pick a select few as members (who are honest, moral, intelligent, ambitious, etc)

Presto! You have a fraternal organization whose members feel a brotherhood and share a common experience by having gone through the ritual, something that no one else outside of your brotherhood knows about.

Is this it? Is the simple act of sharing a secret ritual just a mechanism of making people feel brotherhood?

Or do the rituals of some fraternal organizations contain some useful info and deep philosophical insights, and it is those “truths” that make the members feel part of a unique brotherhood? If this is the case, why keep these “truths” from the public?

I may be wrong, but it seems that secret rituals have value just by being secret rituals, without the need for any deep philosophical insights, which makes me doubt that any rituals do have them.

Polerius, I believe you have reversed the order of events, thus somewhat obscuring both the intent and the effect.

People come together for any number of reasons. Once they have come together, rituals naturally arise among them. In the case of the Masons and some other groups, along with the spontaneous rituals they will invest the energy to create specific ceremonies to be acted out ritually. Since the Masons were founded to create a mutually supportive group (hence fraternal) to promote ethical behavior, they probably consciously created rituals that were intended to reinforce their “brotherhood” along with their goals of doing good.

As Poly has so nicely pointed out, even such a random and fractious bunch of people as the members of the SDMB will spontaneously adopt ritual behavior that reinforces the feeling of membership and belonging.