Are you ready to meet in the metaverse ? what can you expect to see and do ?
This piece aims to set out an overview of how and why Freemason’s evolution in to an Metaverse is inevitable.
The time frame for this to take place is elastic. Part is driven by the technology, which is still very primitive, part by existing Freemason’s acceptance to a metaverse lodge, which I predict will be binary, as some will be adamantly against the idea, “its not real Freemasonry”, and others who see the value, “its Freemasonry Jim, but not as we know it”, and of course, the effects of COVID lockdowns to real world meetings.
This is the follow up article to “Product Life Cycle of Freemasonry” (The Square January 2021) where I discussed the life cycle of Freemasonry as if it were a product, and that we are on version 3.xx..
I concluded that article discussing the possibility of a future version of Freemasonry, FM4.
This article continues the evolution of the product life cycle of Freemasonry into the Metaverse.
What is the Metaverse
Metaverse is the combination of two words:
One scenario; ‘Metaverse’ (a portmanteau of meta; Greek for ‘beyond’, and ‘universe’) when it was coined in Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash (1992).
Second scenario; ‘Metadata’ – used in computers as part of the program, Metadata is defined as the data providing information about one or more aspects of the data; and ‘Universe’, the largest expanse known to man – the ‘Metaverse’ therefore, is a computer program generated universe.
In fact, there will be many metaverses. Some will be closed groups and controlled by a set of rules and rulers, others will be decentralised, governed by a Decentralized Autonomous Organization (DAO).
These will be metaverses with no central leadership. Decisions made from the bottom-up, governed by a community organized around a specific set of rules enforced on a blockchain.
The Blockchain is a database of a record of transactions. The blockchain can also hold smart contracts, these are mathematical and logic based set of rules, once implemented, can not be changed.
Decisions are made via proposals the group votes on during a specified period.
The Tokens on the blockchain provide indisputable proof of ownership, authentication, and is a means of transferring value.
Oculus Quest 2, All-In-One Virtual Reality Headset and Controllers
A metaverse is a computer program, with data, accessed through a user interface.
The user interface is the interesting part. As this technology develops and evolves, in both hardware and software, the interaction within the metaverse gets closer to reality, with out ever being reality.
The computer hardware will be developed through the world of robotics. The man machine interface.
Currently (2021), the user interface is primitive. A virtual reality headset for visuals, and head movement and direction, earbuds for surround-sound audio, and hand sensors for other gestures and arm/hand interactions.
The software will always lag behind the hardware, and this will be Artificial Intelligence (AI) based.
This is really about taking large amounts of real data, created in the real world, and then using the data for modelling and predicting various outcomes to play out in the virtual world.
The metaverse will be driven primarily by the gaming industry as the potential earnings is in the billions of US dollars annually.
What is a metaverse?
Think of an e-commerce marketplace, such as eBay, Amazon, Alibaba etc.
These are marketplaces for many buyers to see products from numerous suppliers from around the world.
You can have one account with say Amazon, and have access to millions of products from thousands of suppliers through that one Amazon account.
The metaverse is going to be the same. Millions of users interacting with each other as well as thousands of vendors through one account.
There will be closed metaverses. Others will be open, to allow interaction with other metaverses.
The significant distinction here is that, if you bought a digital product on a closed metaverse you would not be able to use it or trade it in another metaverse.
But in an open metaverse this would be possible to trade between different metaverse.
This is going to be an important distinction in the development of metaverses.
Will Freemasonry enter the metaverse?
In my opinion, yes, in some part, but there will be lines drawn in the sand.
At an entry level, I can see Masonic Museums entering the metaverse as an extension to their real world operation.
I see this being an opportunity to extend their portfolio of exhibits.
All museums have basements full of items, not on show, due to space restrictions. Now these items can be scanned and digitised and put on view for visitors to see.
Museum operators will be able to charge micro-payments to visitors, who can access the metaverse Masonic Museum 24/7 from anywhere in the world.
Museum operators will also have the opportunity to sell NFTs ( non-fungible tokens ) of museum items.
They could raise funds through NFTs to acquire additional items, and charge micro-payments to visitors to view, and the NFT holders share in that revenue stream.
Where does the line get drawn?
Will it be possible, for example to initiate candidates into Freemasonry and conduct other Masonic degrees? The answer is both yes and no.
Lets understand why both yes and no…
Regular Freemasonry is governed by the Book of Constitutions. And for regular Grand Lodges to be recognised by United Grand Lodge of England, they need to comply with the Book of Constitutions.
The Book of Constitutions does not specifically prohibit the concept of an open lodge meeting in the metaverse. I would not expect it to do so (yet), as it is a question that has not ever been asked.
However due to the COVID19 pandemic lockdown restrictions, UGLE did issue a statement:
It is the opinion of the Grand Registrar that it is an “Antient Landmark of the Order” that Lodge meetings and the related ceremonies can only take place with all Brethren physically present in a properly tiled Lodge Room.
The security implications and pitfalls (for example the ability to record on a number of software platforms) unfortunately do not square with our Obligation to assure privacy and confidentiality of proceedings.
Other than this statement, I can not find any other Book of Constitutions rule which would forbid a lodge in the metaverse.
There is a substantial difference between a real world lodge holding an open meeting, and providing online access via a video streaming service and a metaverse lodge holding an open meeting in the metaverse.
The first difference is that a real world lodge would video stream real people in a real lodge.
There would be no interaction between the online viewers and the real Freemasons in the real lodge room.
There would either be a single camera or multiple cameras installed, and these would be mixed by an Editor to produce the feed to online viewers.
This online feed might have recording restrictions, but if desired, this could be hacked, and a video recording made of the whole event. Then this recording could be shared on the internet.
On that basis, I would agree with the opinion in the UGLE statement, and would not want to take part in that type of event.
A metaverse lodge uses computer generated avatars in a computer generated 3D space.
Everyone is immersed in the 3D space and all interact together. The metaverse member only sees in the direction they are looking.
It is not an overview camera angle of the whole event. There will be end to end encryption as part of the metaverse software which inhibits recordings.
This encryption will be essential for both the gaming industry and performing arts industry, to preserve their future revenue income.
In addition, every member in the metaverse lodge would have their unique Grand Lodge NFT encrypted in the feed they receive and would need this to access the feed.
How would it be possible to hold lodge meetings in the metaverse?
Regular Freemasonry has three basic rules for membership; Male only at least 18/21 years of age; Belief in a deity; Of good report (no serious criminal record).
Way back in the mid-eighteenth century, a group of European Freemasons thought it would be a great idea to have women in the lodge.
It was not possible under the rules in the Regular Book of Constitutions, so these Freemasons forked a new Grand Lodge, and allowed women to join.
Another group of Freemasons thought it would be a good idea to remove the belief in a deity, to allow atheists to join Freemasonry, so again they forked off and created their own Grand Lodge.
History has shown, that within the realms of Freemasonry, the impossible, is in fact possible. It would be possible to have Freemasonry in the metaverse.
A word of caution. The UGLE Book of Constitutions rule 176, does not permit its members to also be members of non-regular Masonic organisations. So, if a Regular Freemason was caught being a member of a non-regular Masonic organisation, real world or metaverse, they run the risk of being expelled from Regular Freemasonry.
Why would you want Freemasonry in the Metaverse?
Let’s start with ‘What is Freemasonry?, Brotherly love, relief and truth’.
In metaverse speak, this could be social networking, giving and learning.
In a metaverse lodge you would be able to make new social network connections with people from all over the world, and communicate with each other with real time via audio translation.
You could choose to meet with Freemasons in male-only lodges, co-masonry, or woman-only lodges.
There will also be Masonic Orders of other degrees.
Your access to the Freemasonry metaverse would be via your digital wallet, and Grand Lodge NFT token held in that wallet.
That NFT token acts like a Grand Lodge certificate would do in the real world lodge. The Grand Lodge NFT token would grant you access to Lodge meetings.
The digital wallet would enable micro-payments to visit a lodge meeting and to make charitable donations.
You would be able to vote on which charities get donations etc.
Freemasonry in the metaverse would not be a dining/lunching club experience, but more of a personal development and leadership skills learning experience.
Freemasons would be able to choose their own personal development plan and learn at their own pace.
Digitail Wallet on smart phone
Left: Metamask Wallet Etherium account
Centre: Metamask Wallet NFT account
Right: Crypto.com exchange digitail wallet account
What is a digital wallet?
If you have already dipped your toe into the world of crypto currencies, you would have come across digital wallets. For those who have not, here is a brief explanation:
Crypto currencies are digital tokens that allow for the transfer of value.
The tokens are just a string of text stored in a blockchain; a blockchain is a special type of database. In short, it is just text in a file.
However, the movement or transfer of these tokens – the string of text – is secured by a private key, which is another string of text.
The private key string is 32 characters long (or 256 bits). Trying to guess someone’s private key is near impossible, so the tokens (which are text string) are held in a wallet, (the wallet address is a text string) secured by a private key (a text string).
The transactions are saved in a blockchain, (a database, which is just a file).
In the case of a public blockchain, such as Bitcoin or Ethereum, anyone can see any transaction on the blockchain.
In fact, anyone can see how many tokens are held in a wallet address.
But only the holder of the wallet address, with the private key to that wallet address, can move the tokens out of the wallet.
Loose the private key, then access to the tokens are lost.
The tokens themselves, the string of text, are not lost, they are still visible on the blockchain. Just the access to them is lost.
Anyone can transfer tokens into a wallet address. No password is needed to receive tokens.
The wallet address can hold many different compatible tokens. For example a single wallet address can show not only transfer tokens such as Eth. ( Eth is the name given to transfer tokens on the Ethereum blockchain. ), but also Ethereum based NFTs.
Back to our masonic metaverse. Access to a lodge would require the Freemason to connect his wallet to the metaverse, which would be his only means of access to the metaverse.
At that point the Freemason could visit other activities on that metaverse; so when he tried to access a Masonic Lodge, the Lodge access point software would scan the blockchain, and if that wallet held the correct Grand Lodge token, the Freemason could pass. If no token –no entry.
The Grand Lodge token would include data to confirm the degrees within Freemasonry that the token holder could access.
Each metaverse will have their own currency token by which means value can be transferred between wallets.
The Freemason would use a crypto currency exchange to buy metaverse tokens, in his own local currency. This might just be a simple bank transfer payment or the use of a debit card.
The Freemason would need his Grand Lodge token to access a meeting. Then using the metaverse tokens to make micro payments while at the meeting – it is a pay-as-you-go system.
If a Freemason attends a lodge meeting in the metaverse, from another Grand Lodge jurisdiction, which is recognised and authentic, then he will gain access to the meeting.
Then using the metaverse token, will make micro payments to the lodge meeting. This way the Grand Lodge does not require a membership subscription, as everyone who attends a lodge meeting under their warrant, pays for the time at the meeting.
Grand Lodges Conferring Degrees
I will use a simple example: I am a 10th degree Freemason and want to take my 11th degree.
I search for a lodge meeting which is conducting the 11th degree at a day/time I can attend.
I make an application. I need to show my 10th degree token, make a payment to the Grand Lodge for the 11th Degree, attend the meeting.
Once passed to the 11th Degree, the Grand Lodge will issue me with the 11th Degree token and burn my 10th degree token so no one could ever use it.
I can then attend 11th degree meetings, and 11th degree personal development and learning seminars. My next step would be to progress on to the 12th degree.
What other advantages would there be for Freemasons
Zero travel cost and time. In a world where we are concerned about climate change and the impact this is having on our planet, reducing the car (or even air) miles by Freemasons attending meetings would be a right step in that direction.
Think how many millions of miles are travelled by all Freemasons around the globe each year attending and returning home from lodge meetings.
What are the risks
The main risk is that a cowan enters lodge and learns the secrets of Freemasonry.
This is the worst thing in a Freemason’s world that could ever happen – but his could be prevented.
The Grand Lodge NFT in the Freemason’s digital wallet provides access to the Freemasons’ metaverse and this acts a bit like the paper certificate issued by Grand Lodge.
A Freemason could, if he so desired, share his Grand Lodge paper certificate with non-Freemasons to allow them access to lodge meetings but I don’t think this happens in reality.
In order to get their first Grand Lodge NFT, the Freemason would need to have some level of personal approval from Freemasons who already hold Grand Lodge NFTs, so there is still some personal intervention.
Existing Freemasons would apply through their existing Grand Lodge.
New candidates would apply for membership in the normal manner. They could be interviewed in the metaverse by existing members over a period of time, and balloted for etc.
How can you be sure a metaverse lodge is tiled?
This is very good question – the short answer is to remove the value for cowans.
Using the above example, where I take my 11th degree in a metaverse lodge. But now, not only do I have my VR headset on for me, six of my mates are in the room watching the whole process on a large screen TV.
Lets assume this hack to the VR headset is possible.
First, what does it say about me?…. exactly
At the end of the ceremony, only I get the 11th degree Grand Lodge token – only one unique Grand Lodge token is transferred to my wallet.
I am the only person in the room who received the ‘value’. The other six mates who saw the 11th degree worked, cannot do anything with their version – they do not have a Grand Lodge 11th degree token.
They cannot attend 11th degree personal development and learning seminars. What value have they received? Nil.
They can tell others they have seen the 11th degree worked. But when challenged for the Grand Lodge 11th degree token, which they can’t provide, they will instantly be seen as a cowan, someone who is untrustworthy, and their reputation destroyed.
Freemasonry in the metaverse, is it inevitable?
My personal opinion? I do foresee a time when there will be Freemasonry in the metaverse, at some point in the future.
And it will outstrip real world Freemasonry in terms of membership numbers over time.
First; real world Freemasonry membership is in decline. It has been for many years, and there is nothing to suggest it will reverse.
This is partly due to ageing membership and partly due to a poor value proposition on offer compared with other time commitments.
I acknowledge there are some social media marketing effort to attract new members. However, finding potential candidates is not too difficult, retaining them is the greater challenge.
Secondly; the younger generation will be brought up with the metaverse, in both gaming and education, and will see it as a natural evolution to join other clubs and further education organisations in the metaverse.
Thirdly; I think the costs associated with real world Freemasonry will impact membership.
Costs of maintaining Masonic buildings, cost of maintaining Grand Lodges, costs of travel and dining, will start to price Freemasonry out of the market for lower income members.
Especially as membership declines and maintenance costs increase.
I do not suggest that real world Regular Freemasonry will cease altogether, but it will be a shadow of its former self, and be concentrated in the larger cities.
Finally, in my opinion, unless the United Grand Lodge of England can find a way to agree to modify the Book of Constitutions and therefore be the leader of Regular Freemasonry in the metaverse, then either another Liberal Grand Lodge organisation will find a way, if failing that, it will be left to independent Grand Lodges forming themselves in metaverses which will be very chaotic and diluted.
Product Life Cycle of Freemasonry
An inconvenient truth about the product life cycle of Freemasonry – This article provides some back ground to the concept of a lodge in the metaverse.
Youtube – Microsoft ( 5 mins )
This is a short introduction to the Microsoft metaverse platform, combining Microsoft Teams and Mesh
Article by: Nicholas J Broadway
Nicholas was initiated into Freemasonry in 1989 in Stonewell Lodge No. 9137, Essex England (UGLE) and was Master in 1995, 2011 and 2016. He also joined other UGLE Lodges and is a PZ in the Holy Royal Arch.
He acquired the title of The Square Magazine in January 2020 and oversees the technical running of the digital publication.
He lives in West Sussex and assists the Provincial Grand Lodge of Sussex Communications Team with Social Media activities.
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