Not the Jetsons

The article explores using Virtual Reality (VR) for Masonic rituals, offering immersive experiences beyond traditional methods.

While VR ensures consistent quality and flexibility, it might reduce group interactions.

The author suggests Masonic bodies consider VR for specific rituals, highlighting its future potential.

Not the Jetsons: Use of a Fully Immersive Experience For Transmitting and Conferring Degree into the Future.

— V. Ven. Bro Scott Wisdahl


Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one


– Albert Einstein

Anyone who has had the opportunity to go through a well executed initiatic experience will understand that it was more than simply the attendance at a meeting.

Very Venerable Brother Chris Lirette explored some of the physiological aspects of ritual in a paper called “Betwixt and Between, the Role of Ritual in Esoteric Societies” [2].

He explored the stages of ritual and highlighted the impact on the individual.

Those that have been through these initiatic experiences who are Masons have likely also experienced rituals or ceremonies that were lacking in the this physiological impact. This may have been due to the setting, or how the ritual was presented, or the abilities of the presenters.

Some rituals are more profound than others. Some are simply a form of education. One could segregate them into “transmissions” and “conferrals” of degrees [3]. The goal would always be to make the experience as personally impactful and valuable as possible.

Traditionally rituals, or degrees, are presented in a dedicated space by members of the group the candidate is aspiring to join. Using Masonry as an example, most degrees or rituals are conducted in dedicated rooms (Lodge Rooms) by Masons who have previously gone through the degree [4].

There are a number of elements used in the ritual the largest being a series of lectures or phrases and words given by one or more Masons. Other elements would include some form or movement around the room (known as ‘floor work’), and some simple props. The candidate may be clothed differently.

In some Orders the speaking parts are memorized (known as ‘memory work’) while in others it is either acceptable or required to be read from a ritual book. Memory work is expected to be delivered word for word as it had been presented before. Often the reason the work is expected to be read is so that the words are not mixed up or changed.

When the person delivering the work has not fully memorized it, they are then prompted so that they can deliver the work. Other times, the person who is expected to read the work, hasn’t taken the time to have read it ahead of time, so they miss the timing and presentation of the work.

One reason a degree might not be as meaningful to the candidate may be because of the poor memorization or presentation by the speaker. In some cases, the presenter has the work ‘word perfect’ but delivers it in either a monotone or so rapidly, the candidate gets almost nothing from it.

In Masonry it is often said that one doesn’t understand the degree they have gone through until they have watched someone else going through it. They won’t really understand it, until they have had to deliver the work themselves.
The props used in the degree, often referred to as symbolic elements are aids to the degree. They may visually present the lecture (tracing boards) or reflect some part of the story. In most cases the candidate is expected to use their imagination to visualize what is being presented, hopefully with the assistance of someone orally describing the situation.
If one moves past the ‘its always been done that way’ argument, is it not possible that there could be a different way of delivering a degree?

A few short years ago the concept of an artificial environment that could be realistic to the participant would seem crazy; something that should be confined to the concepts of the holo-deck of the Star Trek series. Technology especially processing power has changed this completely. Recent advances in Virtual Reality (‘VR’) point to what will be available in a few years.

“VR broadly refers to immersing yourself in a three-dimensional (3D) digital world using sophisticated hardware and software.” [5]

Today it is possible to play sophisticated games at home or at entertainment centres using headsets, headphones and perhaps props (things the person handles).

How could VR be used to deliver Masonic degrees?

The candidate would wear some form of goggle and headphones. These would severely restrict their ability to see anything around (i.e. reality) or hear anything. What the candidate sees and hears is completely controlled.

If the degree expected the candidate to be blindfolded, then there goggles would show nothing (or perhaps just small flashes of light as would be ‘seen’ when wearing a blindfold).

What the candidate hears would be the ‘memory work’ that has been previously recorded by someone with feeling and presence. The candidate could be moved around a room to simulate floor work.

If the candidate is expected to see something, they could see a high quality image of that item, but better yet, images of the surrounding. That could be a Lodge Room or it could be something else.

For one example: perhaps the candidate can ‘look’ around and see that they are in the quarries with workman preparing materials for King Solomon’s Temple. In another example, they could look down and see that they were wearing armour, or maybe are dressed in tattered and dirty clothes.

The lectures could be delivered with images of the presenter, or simply played out like a movie. The candidate would visually see what was expected to be seen and hear well rehearsed and presented commentary. They could answer questions put to them. They could ‘look’ around them and see other aspects of the degree.

Imagining this future, these VR degrees would be produced by larger organizations for use by their members. No secrets would need to be shared outside of the group if they worked with Mason artists and technicians. He best possible presenters could be used so that spoken word was the best possible. No more prompters, no more flubbed lines.

The immersive experience would be improved by use of some props that could be placed onto the candidate to produce a tactile response.

The candidate might be bare footed. It would be possible to use some very simple fans to produce a virtual wind if that was necessary and the use of things like incense or simply aromatics (think of something like a more pleasant-smelling salt) would add to the olfactory sense.

The candidate would need to be guided. This is where a more human side would come into play. The conductor would physically guide the candidate and would be monitoring the ‘story’ (presentation of the degree). They would have a microphone that could be used to speak to the candidate if necessary.

They could have a simple control device to stop the speaking part of visual story if necessary. The conductor would be the person who would take the responses of the candidate and if necessary end the session (i.e. the candidate doesn’t take an obligation).

There is no reason to assume that this would be done outside the control of Masonic organizations. The actual degrees (the presentations) should be controlled by the appropriate Masonic body and only presented to approved candidates, an then only under the control of someone authorized by that Masonic body.

Using AMD as an example. Only a Brother of St Lawrence could be candidate for the virtual presentation of the Knight of the Red Branch of Eri.

The candidate would only go through this virtual presentation when in the presence and control of an Installed Sovereign Master when authorized by however the Grand Council would control it.

There could be a separate Conductor or other assistants. The candidate would have been approved and would go through the degree in somewhere private.

There are a number of advantages of this approach. One obvious one is that the quality would be consistent across the Masonic organization and could be done to a high level of quality by using the best visual and oral recordings.

Another advantage of this concept is that the quality and presentation should be such that the candidate can understand it the first time they go through it. By using VR all that is required is that a private rom be available that has some size to allow for moving around.

This means that a Masonic organization would not be tied to a particular building. This would allow the use of something like a rented meeting room.

The decoupling of a specific location and the requirement for potentially a number of members to present the degree would allow the degree to be presented essentially anywhere and at a time that would be easier to arrange: the candidate, the person controlling the degree and perhaps some assistants are all that would have to coordinate their schedules.
Important elements of initiatic experiences could remain. The sense of anticipation and of being out of their comfort zone could be brought to bare. It would not be difficult to prepare something like a room of reflection or require a period of quite meditation. In fact, this might heighten the experience.

There are elements that are lost by this approach. Only a select number of members would end up performing rituals, so the opportunity to be a ritualist would be minimized. This might also reduce learning, as one way to learn a subject is to ‘teach’ or present it.

Additionally, there would be a loss of being part of a group and of the group seeing the candidate.

These could be overcome by ideas like having the members assembled to watch the degree, perhaps with monitors displaying what the candidate sees (this is done at VR ‘arcades’ now).

When the degree is done, the members be there to welcome the candidate and education could then be scheduled to go over the elements of the degree just presented.

The concept of VR would require the cooperation of multiple Masonic organizations to afford the productions. New governance would be needed to control how the degrees were made available.

Cooperation among local groups would be needed to share in the costs of the equipment. These sound exactly like the reason for having larger Masonic control organizations.

Masonic organizations should start exploring these concepts now for use with less critical rituals (i.e. those referred to as ‘conferred’ degrees) and begin the thought process on how to make this work.

There are great opportunities available to deliver impressive initiatic experiences and great Masonic education to a whole new generation of people.


[1] This is planned to be the first in a number of papers exploring possible future Masonic situations. It is not a recommendation of changes to be made today but rather as an exercise in the ‘possible’.

[2] Chris Lirette “Betwixt and Between, the Role of Ritual in Esoteric Societies” Transactions of the SRIA Province of British Columbia & Yukon 2018 (SRIA Province of BC and Yukon, 2018) p 219.

[3] Taken from a paper by Scott Wisdahl “A rose by any other name may not be the same: A critical examination of degree conferral and transmission”, The Architect, 2021 (Grand Council of Allied Masonic Degrees Canada, 2021) p64.

[4] There are, of course, degrees and rituals that can be conducted by those who have not been through the degree first. In the Allied masonic Degrees and example of this would be the Masters of Tyre degree.

[5] Logan Kugler “The State of Virtual Reality Hardware” (Communications of the ACM, February 2021, Vol. 64 No. 2) p 15-16.

Article by: Scott Wisdahl

RWBro. Scott Wisdahl
Junior Warden, Fort St. John Masonic Lodge No. 131. Grand Lodge of BC & Yukon

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