Bogus Masonry and the Five Stages of Loss and Grief
David Pugh, MPS
Director of the Commission on Bogus Masonic Practices, Phylaxis Society
There are five stages of loss and grief that have been identified by renowned psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross that human beings experience, when faced with the prospect of their own demise or the loss of a loved one. These are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance. This paper will examine each of the five stages and discuss my experience with each stage, as I grieved the loss of believing I was a legitimate freemason. On the surface, this may appear to be a trivial comparison.
However, when you factor in the loss of friendships, family relationships, monetary investments and the loss of identity, the reality that you are not truly a freemason can be devastating.
I began my “Masonic” journey in 1998 at the age of 24 with the prompting of my uncle (who was then the J.W. of Cook Lodge #7 of the M.W. St. John Grand Lodge Chicago, IL John G. Jones affiliated). I knew nothing about masonry except that masons were supposed to look out for each other and that my uncle, whom I respected and looked up to was a member. I petitioned his lodge, was initiated and quickly became engrossed in what I believed to be freemasonry. I studied Lester’s Look To The East religiously, attended instruction classes, joined the “York and Scottish Rites,” and was elected and served as Junior Warden. I was riding high on the wave of “freemasonry” until I crashed into the break wall of the truth that I was not a real mason! Around 2002, I was participating in an online Masonic forum called “The Lodge Room” in their non-tyled section. All was well until I tried to gain access to the “tyled” portion of the site. I was promptly denied entry and graciously informed that I was not a legitimate mason. Thus, began my journey through the five stages of grief and loss as outlined above.
In the first stage of denial, a person wants to believe that the diagnosis is mistaken, or the information is incorrect and may cling to a false reality that simply makes them feel better. This is a natural coping mechanism to help a person deal with shocking news. When I was denied entry into the online forum and told I was not a real Mason I did not believe it. I was offended that I had been excluded and mislabeled. I immediately asked one of the well informed brothers of my lodge about this. To my shock and dismay he admitted that he had done his own research and discovered that indeed we were not recognized by mainstream Masonic bodies as legitimate masons. Nevertheless, we had been around for almost 100 years, were incorporated with the State of Illinois, took the same obligation etc. At this time I took a big swallow of the Bogus Masonry “Kool Aid” and went into active denial.
I continued in my state of denial until the desire for “more light” would not allow me to use this coping mechanism to avoid the truth. In my search for further light, I discovered two Masonic organizations that were dedicated to masonic education, the Phylaxis and Philalethes Societies. I was overjoyed and promptly sought admittance to these august bodies (remember I was in the stage of denial), once again the tyler rightfully denied the entrance I sought. Now unable to hide from the truth through denial I entered the stage of anger.
With the loss of a loved one, or a personal life threatening illness, the pain of loss turns into anger which can be directed at a higher power, the doctors or the affected loved one. I was angry with my lodge, grand lodge, and honestly my uncle that I had been lied to. When I interviewed to join I was told that I would be accepted by masons all over the world and that I could visit any lodge. I was also told that Prince Hall lodges were not accepted by mainstream masons, which was the opposite of the truth. Coincidentally, I became a bogus mason in 1998, the same year that the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Illinois F.A &M and the Grand Lodge of Illinois A.F.A.M entered into mutual recognition. I felt betrayed because I was told these lies by someone I trusted and loved. In addition I was angry that I wasted over a decade of my life, spending time and money to support an organization that was not real.
As I wrestled with my anger, like Jacob wrestled with the angel of the Lord at Peniel, I moved into the bargaining stage. In the Kubler-Ross model, bargaining is defined as a person offering to do or not do something if their loved one is spared or if the pain of loss can be taken away etc. Of course, my bargaining stage was not manifested in this way, it was mostly me rationalizing my situation. For example, yes I knew I was bogus, but we still practiced Masonic charity, I was living the tenets of freemasonry, studying and searching for more light etc. In addition, I had family there and my brothers who really had my back and had proven this by their actions over the years. So it really did not make a difference that I was a bogus mason right?
As author and renowned grief expert David Kessler explains “We do not enter and leave each individual stage in a linear fashion. We may feel one, then another and back again to the first one.” I found this to be true as I drifted between the bargaining, denial, and anger stages depending on the situation. I remained in this cycle of emotional purgatory until a situation came about that woke me out of my stupor and caused me to take to become a regular mason. Ironically this action also caused me to enter into the next stage of grief being depression.
My ex-wife whom I do not get along with decided to come back to our sister chapter. This was the catalyst and excuse to finally leave my former bogus lodge. I reached out to a friend I knew who was a Prince Hall mason and he agreed to vouch for me. I petitioned Plumbline Lodge #116 subordinate to the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Illinois and its Jurisdiction. I was accepted and healed into Prince Hall Masonry and I finally felt whole, for the moment! The brethren of Plumbline welcomed me with open arms. However the problem was that there are a lot of differences between bogus masonry and regular masonry that I was not aware of nor did I expect. For example there are officers like District Deputy Grand Masters that did not exist at my former “Grand Lodge.” This is because we were just a building and there was no true geographic jurisdiction for a grand master to need help with governing. Honestly I was too embarrassed to ask what is a DDGM? At my former lodge no one memorized ritual. Everything was done by reading the book and a lot of parts were omitted especially regarding degree work. In contrast, Prince Hall Masonry does everything from memory. As one of our late beloved past masters told me while visiting him in the hospital “reading out of the book ain’t kosher!” To put it plainly I quickly went from feeling like I was a knowledgeable master mason to feeling like the newest E.A in the northeast corner! I also felt isolated not knowing any of the brothers in Plumbline and I was persona non grata with the members of my former bogus lodge for defecting to PHA. All of this resulted in me feeling overwhelmed, and lonely, which are feelings experienced in depression. People experiencing depression from the loss of a loved one may not want to do basic activities of life like eat or shower, which of course I did not experience. However from a Masonic perspective I was depressed as I did not want to go to the meetings or do anything related to masonry, I just sat at home feeling bad on my meeting nights. I felt like the children of Israel wandering in the desert not being able to return to Egypt the land of bondage, but, also unable to cross into the promised land without a profound change taking place.
Acceptance, the book of Numbers in the VSL states that the old and rebellious generation of Israel had to die off before they could go into the Promised Land. In like manner I had to kill my ego and old self with the setting maul so that I could truly be raised from a dead level to a living perpendicular and live as an upright regular mason. I received a call from the newly elected Worshipful Master asking if everything was alright, as I had not been to the lodge in quite some time? I was overjoyed and relieved by his call! I swallowed my pride and came to the next meeting and I have been active ever since. Once I buried my pride and accepted that I was in fact a new mason with a large amount to learn, I was able to rise and start the journey of hard work and diligent Masonic study needed. In the Kubler-Ross model acceptance does not mean that everything is alright. It simply reflects that the person has accepted the reality that for example their loved one is really gone and they are moving on with their life in a positive way. Yes I still get upset when I reflect on my time in Bogus Masonry. Like how much further along I would be in my Masonic career if I had become a regular mason twenty years ago? Despite these feelings, I could not be happier with my decision to become a Prince Hall mason. I have joined the Phylaxis Society and visited other regular jurisdictions both mainstream and Prince Hall Affiliated. I am now enjoying the full rights and benefits of a master mason.
To call this paper from “labor to refreshment” my purpose for writing this was twofold. I first wanted to aid and assist other former bogus masons that may be struggling in their pilgrimage to the promised land of legitimate masonry. Secondly, my goal is to help regular masons understand how serious the problem of bogus masonry is and the effect it has on the men ensnared in its evil tentacles. Yes it is serious enough to invoke the same emotions a person would experience with the loss of a loved one. With this in mind it is my hope that as men like myself seek to become whole they will be welcomed with compassion and understanding for all that they may be going through. Without the proper support they may stay wandering in the desert of Masonic despair or worse return back to Egypt the land of bondage otherwise known as Bogus Masonry.
Five Stages of Grief by Elisabeth Kubler Ross & David Kessler https://grief.com/the-five-stages-of-grief/ Printed on 09/11/2018