A version of this article originally appeared on VICE France.
Freemasons like to keep details of their secret society secret, but according to one Mason I spoke to a while ago, the group has been gaining popularity among younger people since the early 2000s.
My Mason gave several reasons for this. Today's 25- to 35-year-olds don't have the same sense of civic belonging their parents and grandparents had, with many of the old establishments—churches, social clubs, steady jobs you could count on for decades—gradually eroding. No wonder an established society like the Freemasons holds appeal with its multitude of symbols and lore.
A French fashion designer I'll call "Cécile" is one of those younger Masons at 34 years old. She says that Masonic rituals give her "the satisfaction of really sharing something deep with other people." I sat down with her to discuss her sister status in that French Masonic Lodge.
VICE: What attracted you to Freemasonry?
Cécile: This is a personal journey, a quest. Curiosity isn't always rational. I got the idea to join when I was about 25 years old, but I knew that I had nothing to contribute back then. I didn't have the confidence. Later, I met an integrated member of the lodge and I was very much attracted to his way of being and speaking. I was sucked in.
How does one go about joining the Masonic community?
To apply, I had to write a personal statement. After that, I was given a test meant to determine whether or not I was both open-minded and moral. This was a way for the lodge to spot potential—to see whether a person is in line with the values of the community.
The lodge's community spirit is very strong. That's something I like—it connects me with people who share similar desires. I've never been attracted to Freemasonry for networking reasons. Helping each other in life should exist beyond the boundaries between lodge members and secular citizens, and instead span all of society.
What are the people from your lodge like?
They come from all sorts of different social backgrounds and span all ages. Their behavior, their tastes, and their lifestyles make up the lodge's patchwork, if you will. I'd say the average age is about 47. Most of my brothers and sisters are much older than me. When I joined, I noticed that there were very few people around my age. I'm still the youngest and I'm 34.
Nowadays, lodges are more eclectic. They are open to people from different walks of life. Each person's political and religious affiliations may differ from those of others but everyone has to respect "the rules of the game." As the saying goes: "Never discuss politics or religion with friends."
What do you think young French people make of Freemasonry?
A lot of people think it's satanic or a sect or something. They have the wrong idea about it because of different things they saw on TV or the internet or whatever. I can't count how many weird rumors I've heard about us.
How is it to live with these beliefs in a modern-day secular society?
I guess you could say that I have a sort of spiritual intimacy with my brothers and sisters. I leave my personal worries outside of the lodge. In the same way, I don't discuss my Masonic interests with family or friends.
Has your relationship with those who are aware of your membership changed in any way?
No, absolutely not. But my lifestyle has changed, as well as my interests. Dancing and drunken nights just became less and less appealing to me. I calmed down and focused on other things. I still have the same friends but we hang out in a different way than we did before. I'm driven by other desires now, desires that give me serenity. But I've only been in the lodge for a year, the best is yet to come. Unfortunately, I can't say much more. It's all part of the Masonic secret.
Can you say what happens in there? How often do you make it to the house?
Everything is quite ritualistic. We spend our time discussing a variety of philosophical topics. We study symbols. My lodge is primarily focused on all things philosophical. Others are more focused on society.
I take part in the ritual twice a month. The official minimum frequency of visits is actually just that—twice a month. It's good to be diligent, both for oneself and for others. Regular attendance is a cornerstone of the Masonic values.
Alright. What about the cliché of you all being highly intelligent?
A lot of people seem to think that Freemasonry has some complex relationship with high intelligence or intellectualism. But I hold a very real job—I create clothes with my hands. I don't devote myself to writing. I didn't do long academic studies and I'm not part of any intellectual elite.
Have you ever been confronted by any lodge opinions that you don't share?
Not more than I would anywhere else, I guess. Politically, I'm probably more to the right of the political spectrum, whereas the majority of my brothers and sisters are lefties. But these small distinctions completely disappear within the lodge. We respect each other and our differences. We are not forced to love each other, but when we're together, we have to listen and tolerate each other. That's part of our values.