Defining Esoteric Masonry

Defining Esoteric Masonry
Submitted by Illustrious Companion Kevin A. Wheeler, District Inspector 4th District, Grand Council of Illinois

IC Kevin A. Wheeler
IC Kevin A. Wheeler


There are many reasons why men choose to become Freemasons, some of these reasons include a thirst for knowledge, a want for belonging, connections whether political or not, etc.  However, once you become a Freemason, you will see that gravitate to different aspects of Masonry. I agree with Brother Burkle in his article “A Guide for The New Esoteric Freemason” when he stated that Masonry has several brands constructed on behavioral characteristics, these are, “Socialite, Historian, Ritualist, Philosopher, Masonic Law, Symbolism, Collector, Charitable, and Fiduciary” (p.1). Burkle went further stating that most Esoteric Masons fit into one, several or all of these categories or brands, and these include those who focus on history, ritual, symbolism, and philosophy. Therefore, people join Masonry for various reasons and choose to focus on various topics within Masonry; however, for those who are concerned with the one of the above four mentioned tend to gravitate towards the Esoteric. However, what is Esoteric Masonry?

Before we dive into what esoteric Masonry is, let us examine the definition of the word esoteric. As described by the Merriam-Webster online dictionary the word Esoteric means:

1a. Designed for or understood by the specially initiated alone. // a body of esoteric legal doctrine –B.N. Cardozo.
1b. Requiring or exhibit knowledge that is restricted to a small group; broadly: difficult to understand. // esoteric terminology.
2a. Limited to a small circle. // engaging in esoteric pursuits.
2b. Private, confidential. // an esoteric purpose.
3. Of special, rare, or unusual interest. // esoteric building materials.

I read one article from an unknown author that described Esoteric Masonry as “the personal exploration to some of the less mainstream areas of the fraternal society”, (p.1) he continued stating, that it may include personal development, spiritualism, mysticism, and uncommon history. “This way” he said plainly, exclaiming “Esoteric means, quite simply, hidden from sight and that not everything that’s not readily visible to all is horribly evil” (p.1).

When considering Esoteric Masonry or Esotericism it is the philosophy and study of symbology as it pertains to Freemasonry. Illustrious Bro. Hoyos, when describing the word esoteric in relation to Masonry said, “is usually taken to mean that our ceremonies and rituals allude to realities and/or truths not generally understood, or which may have a spiritual component to them” (p.1). Bro. Johnson stated, “Esoteric literally means, intended for or only understood by a few” (p.2).

Now that we know what Esoteric Masonry or Esotericism is, let us discuss why is it that for some Freemasons, the esoteric aspects of the craft, are foreign. Some Freemasons would agree that Masonry is esoteric whereas others would say, that there are no esoteric aspects of Masonry. So the question becomes is Freemasonry Esoteric? Yes! “Freemasonry is an esoteric society by definition. If not, than the general public would have the ability to gain our insights and teachings, apply them and go off on their merry way” (Johnson, p.2). Just think about all the symbols shown throughout the various degrees. Each time you are presented a new or an old symbol, you learn that it has one or more meanings that prior to that exposure was unbeknownst to you. That in and of itself is esoteric, you did not have that knowledge and would have remained in the dark until or unless you became a Freemason.

As mentioned previously, those Freemasons who tend to focus on esotericism are those who tend to also be interested in one or more of the following, history, ritual, symbolism, and philosophy. All four of these topics and five if you include esotericism are topics that focus on or can be categorized as Masonic Education. Although I would like to say that I have some traits of each topic that make up the whole of Masonry, personally my favorite part of Masonry is all things education. Fortunately, at least in some jurisdictions more and more Freemasons are beginning to re-focus on Masonic Education. Specifically, as Burkle described “The truth is that Esoteric Freemasonry is a growing trend. The reasons for this are numerous; however the two most common are that men coming into the Craft are in search of a type of spiritual experience which they find lacking in their current religious and secular paths; and that the Dan Brown series of novels and films have piqued their interest in esotericism; these men believe that Freemasonry is a path to greater esoteric knowledge” (p.2).

Burkle further describes Esoteric Masonry as aspects of Freemasonry that concerns those hidden elements that allude to deeper mystical meanings, and that while discovering those meanings we foster deeper thoughts by engaging in educated speculation. Burkle continues stating that although speculation is tough work it is necessary to foster enlightenment or illumination. The illumination experience as described by Burkle being “a bit like many other spiritual experiences in life; it can be sensed but cannot be fully described or explained, and defies all attempts to do so” (p.3).

The problem faced by those Freemasons who are desirous of becoming illuminated esoterically today, is that “as it exists Masonry is not esoteric. It is a wonderful club which brings together members who, because of common interests, sometimes from additional groups or even lodges which focus on a topic of interest” (Johnson, p. 3). Therefore, for Freemasons looking for that type of intellectual stimulation, they become bored, due to its absence. Johnson goes further, suggesting that what Masonry needs in order to ensure its continued success for the next couple of centuries is for Freemasons to embrace education and all its aspects.

By focusing on all aspects of Masonry one thus enables himself to become a better overall Mason, thus becoming a better man as a whole. Burkle in regards to the goal of the Esoteric Mason, said it perfectly, “The true mark of an Esoteric Freemason however, is not that he has received illumination, but rather by what he chooses to do once he has received it. Illumination itself is a cosmic spark which alerts the initiate of the fact that there is more to the universe than meets the eye if only he searches to find it” (p. 3).

In conclusion, Esoteric Masonry is one aspect of the many found in Masonry that allows the Freemason to foster deeper thought, gain a better perspective of life itself, and develop himself into a better man through guided self-study.