I recently attended the Installation of Officers for Connetquot Lodge No. 838 F & AM, The incoming Worshipful Master, Bro. R. Kopeck, gave a very thoughtful speech on what we as Masons should aspire to do in our stations throughout life, which can surely be applied in our daily living, both in lodge and abroad in the world. Hope you enjoy it and take some light from it.
I would like to take a moment to read something from
Devotions upon Emergent Occasions,
a 1624 work by the English poet John Donne.
No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend's
Or of thine own were:
Any man's death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.
A few weeks back, a friend, and a newly raised Mason, asked me, “What do Masons do?”
I could sense his confusion in the discussion we were having, which revolved around his not being happy with the way things were going at the Lodge.
I asked him what he meant, “What do we do?” I said to him, you’ve been to enough meetings to know what we do.
He replied, “Yes, I know what we do at meetings, but I thought that when I became a Master Mason, I would be doing more than sitting in a room with a bunch of guys who memorized lines of ritual. I was thinking that I would be doing things that would help the community, or other individuals who needed help that weren’t Masons.”
It didn’t take me long to understand his frustration. And after a bit more of my listening to him go on about what wasn’t being done, I thought hard about how to address his concerns.
I thought that I’d throw it back at him and ask him where he had been for the last few months, but I knew he was a busy man and that his cabletow was stretched quite far with work and family. Using guilt was not the answer.
I tried to assure him that I understood his frustration, but also tried to make him feel that just because he wasn’t actually doing something at the Lodge, it didn’t mean he wasn’t still being Masonic. I told him that Masonry takes many forms, and that the basic principles of Masonry lie within each of us as moral men. I tried to make him see that even in his everyday life, if he was living by his own good moral judgement, he was touching lives in every community he was in, and with every person he met.
But I challenged him further and asked him what he could offer to the community through the Lodge? I brought to light his assets as a man, his intellect, his talents, and his desires. And I reminded him that the Lodge was nothing more than a structure, an inanimate object that could do nothing on its own. It took the men called Masons that met within the walls of the Lodge to come to action.
We are all blessed with abilities. And the Great Architect of the Universe has provided us, as Masons, the working tools of Life. The Temple of King Solomon did not just rise from the dust. It took many operative Masons to build it. And with guidance from the Master Masons, it took form.
Today, as Free and Accepted Masons, we no longer chisel away corners of rough stones with actual gavels and chisels, but symbolically fit our minds as living stones for that house not made with hands, eternal in the Heavens. As part of our symbolism, the Beehive of Industry is a symbol that often is forgotten. The beehive is our home, and we are the worker bees. And that is the symbol I ask you to place in your mind tonight as we get ready to celebrate another year here at Connetquot 838. The hive would be empty without its workers, and it would not exist if there was only one bee to build it, and care for it.
I am challenging each of you to be a part of the hive. Come together as one team, and celebrate the joy of being a Master Mason, because without each of you, our Lodge is nothing more than an empty building; a building without direction, without purpose. Let us not forget that we are men, and Masons. And as John Donne said so eloquently, No man is an Island.
WM R. Kopeck
Connetquat Lodge No. 838 F & A M
Suffolk Masonic District
Grand Lodge of New York F & A M
Newly raised brethren are naturally filled with curiosity regarding Lodge behavior, ritualistic inquiries, Masonic lore in general. They ask questions. Some of the more common are these - can you answer them?
1. Why do brethren not pass between Altar and East when Lodge is at labor?
2. Why do brethren entering and leaving a Lodge salute the Master?
3. Why does not ordinary parliamentary law apply in a Lodge?
4. Why is it un-Masonic to disclose how one has balloted ?
5. How may I know that a stranger is a Mason
6. How should I make myself known to a stranger as a Mason?
7. Is it expected that I now do business only with Masons?
8. What is the "Lodge of the Holy Sts. John at Jerusalem?"
9. Where is the Masonic goat and why did I not ride it?
Simple questions. elementary indeed for the old and the experienced brother, but puzzling to the new. Here are explanations which be of use to those who, though they probably know the facts, may not have phrased them in the form of answers to questions.
Brethren do not pass between the Altar and the East in a Masonic Lodge it labor because the Master is supposed to have the Great Lights constantly in view. In theory, at least, he draws inspiration for presiding over the Lodge from the Altar and must not, therefore, be prevented from seeing it at any time.
The custom is but a pretty courtesy but it is rooted in a fundamental conception of the Craft - that the Altar is the center of Masonry and that from it and the Great Light it bears flow all that there is of Masonic inspiration and truth and light.
In English Lodges there is not this problem, since the Altar there is a pedestal near the Master on which lies the holy book.
Masons entering or leaving a Lodge salute the Master at the Altar if the Lodge is at labor - they salute the junior Warden if the Lodge is at refreshment. There are several reasons for this practice. It assures the Master that the brother knows on what degree the Lodge is open. A brother making a wrong sign can be instructed immediately. It informs the Master that the brother is a Mason of the degree on which the Lodge is open; if he make all inferior sign, and cannot, on request, give the right one, the Master call then use other means to ascertain that no Entered Apprentice or Fellowcraft is present in a Master Mason's Lodge. The salute is a silent assurance to the Master and through him to the brethren: "I remember my obligation".
Brethren salute on retiring to get permission to leave. No one can enter or leave a Lodge room while a lodge is at labor without permission. If the Master does not wish the brother who salutes to retire he tells him so, instead of responding to the salute.
At refreshment the Lodge is in charge of the Junior Warden and the same salutes are given him as are usually given the Master, and for the same reasons. In some Grand Jurisdictions, on very busy evenings, as during a visitation or other Masonic function. the Master will instruct the Tiler to ask the brethren to salute the West, instead of the East, in order not have his own labors in the East interrupted.
Newly raised brethren speedily learn that the parliamentary law which governs the usual body of men assembled in any organization does not govern a Masonic Lodge. A Master may put a motion which has not been proposed, or seconded. He call close debate at his pleasure. He does not have to put a question even after debate if it his desire not to do so. He entertains no motion too "Lay on the table" or to postpone" or "to adjourn." No one call "move the previous question" in a Masonic Lodge, and so on.
The reason is found in the responsibility which is the Master's. The Grand Lodge and the Grand Master hold him responsible for everything that happens in his Lodge. He is not accountable to his Lodge, cannot be removed by his Lodge. There are certain things he cannot do without Lodge action, such as spending Lodge money, or open before the time stated in the by-laws at a regular communication. But the Lodge cannot dictate to him what can be discussed, and if, in his judgment, something should not be discussed or acted upon, it is for him and only for him to say that it should or should not. Were it otherwise, a Lodge might "run away" with him, and in enthusiasm do that for which the Grand Lodge or Grand Master would censure or punish him. Therefore, the Master has full control of debate, and work, and acts, and ordinary parliamentary law, which might interfere with that control, does not apply.
In all Grand Jurisdictions, the ballot on candidates is secret and inviolable. It is considered un-Masonic, and in most Grand Jurisdictions is against Masonic law, for any brother to divulge how he has or will ballot on any candidate. Masters are instructed strictly to adhere to this requirement. The newly, raised brother will speedily learn that peace and harmony are the very foundations of any Masonic meeting. For Brother Jones to learn that Brother Smith has or will ballot against his friend who applies would disrupt that peace and harmony. Moreover, the rejection of a candidate is naturally a sore blow to him who has applied. If every one knew who had cast the black cube, the rejected mail might speedily learn, and a cause of friction in the profane world would then have come out of a Masonic Lodge, which again prevents peace and harmony.
A ballot is sometimes immediately retaken. This is because the appearance of a single black cube may be all error, cast by mistake. If the single black cube appears the second time, presumably it was intentionally cast.
Ballot taking differs in different jurisdictions. In some, a "collective ballot" may be taken on several candidates at once; if a black cube appears, each name is then balloted on separately. In others, a "multiple ballot box" is used, with a compartment for each name, which is printed above it. In still others, each name is balloted on separately from the beginning, using a single box. In most Grand jurisdictions, one ballot elects to all three degrees. In some, a separate ballot is taken for each degree, and in one, at least, still another ballot on "moral qualifications." But in all Grand Jurisdictions, ballots are secret, inviolable and regarded as the corner stone on which the fraternity is erected.
"I met a man on a train recently who said he was a Mason. How should I go about ascertaining if such a claimant really is a Mason? And how shall I make myself known to a stranger as a Mason?"
Questions like these are frequently asked by newly raised brethren. Sometimes the question is phrased "How shall I examine a stranger to make sure he is a Mason?"
The answer is Punch's famous advice to those about to marry - "Don't!"
Ninety-nine times out of a hundred the man who wears a Masonic pin, or who says that he is a Mason, actually is one. While occasionally imposters seek Masonic aid without a shadow of a right to it, their number is small compared to tile nearly three million men in this country who are Masons in good standing. But it is unwise, and often risky, to engage in loose Masonic talk with the stranger who introduces himself as a member of the Craft. Nor is there any excuse whatever for him to ask you to prove yourself a Mason. There is no need for you to know that he is a Mason, nor for him to know that you are one. Such necessity exists when you or he would visit a Lodge, but there the responsibility is the Master's, and it is for him to order a committee. Many newly raised brethren think that by giving some Masonic sign they, should secretly make themselves known to a supposed brother, but this is a mistake.
Not even when a call for Masonic help comes is there need for a ritualistic "proof" of mutual membership. If a mail is in danger or difficulty, and time is short, there is no more need to find out whether he asks for aid because he is a Mason, than there is to ascertain of the drowning man that he is a respectable citizen before you throw a rope! If the Masonic lesson of charity and help indicates that aid should be given, give it, whether the man be telling the truth or not. But beware of the man who offers to "prove" himself, and does so by a ready knowledge of ritual. He may be, and probably was once, a Mason in good standing. But such are usually beggars, using a knowledge of Masonry - and sometimes a stolen or forged good standing card - to mulct the innocent.
In large cities, refer Masonic requests for aid to the Board of Relief which can be reached through the Masonic Temple or Lodge. In general, do not discuss Masonry with strangers; do not try to "make yourself known" as a Mason to strangers; and pay no attention to those who wish to talk Masonry with you. In that course lies safety to yourself and to the Fraternity.
A problem which confronts many a newly-made Mason is his supposed obligation to give his business to fellow Masons rather than the profane.
Masonry is most emphatically not a back scratching organization, a Board of Trade, a Chamber or Commerce or a mutual admiration society. There is no obligation, actual or implied, which demands that, because you have become a Mason, you must forsake all those with whom you have been doing business who are not, and give your orders to brethren who may, and may not, be equally as satisfactory as tradesmen.
Other things being equal it is brotherly to give your business where it will help a fellow Mason. But other things must be equal. If the twin born with you sold poor shoes at fancy prices, while your neighbor's son sold good shoes for reasonable prices, you would not buy of your own blood brother. To do so would be to injure yourself and your family, since you would be wasting your money. Exactly the same idea applies to your fraternal brother.
The man who says: "Buy of me because I am a Mason" is not anxious to serve you, but to serve himself. If he is a good business man he does not need to depend on mutual membership in any organization, whether Lodge. Church or Club, for his business. If he is not a good business man - that is, if he sells poor goods - he has no moral right to attempt to offset poor quality by whining that you both belong to the same Lodge. Similarly he who comes to you and says: "I have come to you because I know you are a Mason, now I expect a discount because we both belong" is also using his Masonry to promote selfish interests and should be discouraged.
But to the tribe of men who give you their business because of mutual Masonry without asking favors, you may wish to belong - for here other things are equal!
"What is the Lodge of the Holy Sts. John at Jerusalem?" Many a Master puzzled to answer this simplest and most natural of questions. As there is not now and never was such a Lodge, perhaps there is reason for being puzzled.
Originally, Lodges were dedicated to King Solomon. Later - at least as early as 1598 - Masonry connected her name with that of St. John the Evangelist. Dedications to the Sts. John were made by other organizations as early as the third century, when the Church adopted the two pagan celebrations of summer and winter solstices and made of them our St. John's Day in Summer and St. John's Day in Winter. It was wholly natural for operative Masons, having dedicated their Craft to the Holy Sts. John, to begin to believe the Johns were themselves Craftsmen. Craftsmen must have a Lodge - where should that Lodge be, but in Jerusalem" Hence "The Lodge of the Holy Sts. John at Jerusalem" came into imaginary existence. Today, as we use the phrase as the starting point for a Masonic career, Masons mean only that their Craft is dedicated to these holy men, whose precepts and practices, ideas and virtues, teachings and examples, all Freemasons should try to follow.
Those who were terrified by talk of a Masonic goat which they were supposed to ride in the ceremonies of initiation, were among the unfortunates who have been victims of loose talk by coarse-minded men. They perpetuate as a jest, a ridicule of Freemasonry of the early seventeen hundreds, when those who had been refused admittance to the growing Speculative Craft, whispered venomous tales that Freemasons were in league with the devil and raised his Satanic majesty in Lodge ceremonies! The devil rode a goat, because the conception of a living devil arose from the ancient mythological god Pan, who had horns, a tail and a goat's legs. Hearing these tales, Londoners of the early days of organized Freemasonry came to believe that Freemasonry not only raised tile devil, but rode upon his goat! A childish tale, it has survived the ages as have so many myths and legends. But it has harmed the gentle Fraternity, in that it profanes and makes a mock of that which you now know to be a solemn and lofty ceremony.
Short Talk Bulletin
As we are all well aware, and as is pointed out in the North East Angle Lecture in the Canadian Rite Ritual, it cannot be denied that we always had many members of rank and affluence. Over the centuries many well known men have been members of our Noble Craft. For a few moments, please allow your imaginations to run wild and consider what may take place at the Installation of The Celestial Lodge, otherwise known as the Grand Lodge Above.
Even though it was late fall, there was a warm breeze blowing and the sun was setting behind the Lodge Hall. Gathered in the parking lot filled with their works were Bros Henry Ford, Ransom Olds, Walter Chrysler, John Willys and Andre Citroen. The only vehicle missing was Bro Hart Massey's tractor.
Greeting members in the entrance hall was Bro Cliff Arquette of Charley Weaver fame and Bro Ed Wynn. In the boardroom, a group of senior DeMolays were gathered including Bros Walter Disney, Chet Huntley, Wendell Corey, Van Johnson, Robert Cummings, John Steinbeck, Fred McMurray and John Cameron Swayze.
King Gillette, razor in hand, passed the lodge caretaker who was having a minor problem with his vacuum cleaner, which was quickly cleared up with the help of its inventor, Bro Frank Hoover, while at the other end of the hallway Bros Emmett Kelly, Clyde Beatty and all seven of the Ringling Bros were discussing the Shrine Circus.
Taking a quick look into the Banquet Hall, Bros John Molson, Frederick Pabst and Joseph Schlitz were busy rolling in some kegs of beer for Bros Sam Bronfman, late President of Seagrams Distillers, who was setting up the bar for the Festive Board to follow the Ceremony. Bro Colonel Harland Sanders was cooking up a storm in the kitchen and it was an easy guess as to what the evening meal would consist of .
The orchestra members for the dance to follow the Banquet were tuning. Members of this All-Star group included leader Paul Whiteman, WC Hardy, Nat King Cole, Irving Berlin, George M Cohan, Cyril Stapleton, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie and At Jolson. Tonight's performance would be M.C.â€™d by Bros Arthur Godfrey and Danny Thomas.
Magical Bros Harry Houdini and Harry Blackstone were setting up their props while Bros WC Fields, Oliver Hardy, Bud Abbott, Harpo Marx, and Foster Brooks were fine tuning their comedy routines for tonight's show which was being produced by Bros Cecil B DeMille, Flo Ziegfeld, Louis B Mayer, Hall Wallis and DW Griffiths.
A number of sports celebrities were gathering together, including Bros Abe Saperstein, creator of the Harlem Globetrotters, who was explaining his version of the game to Bro James Naismith, the inventor of the game. They were joined by baseballers Bros Charles Ebbetts, Ty Cobb, Branch Rickey and Cy Young, the first pitcher to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
A little further along the hall was an array of masons dressed in knee breeches, lace cuffs and powdered wigs, others in tuxedos, including Bros Kit Carson, Davey Crockett and Buffalo Bill Cody, clad in their familiar buckskins, Chiefs Crazy Bull, Tecumseh and Joseph Brant in their native attire. Most colourful are the military uniforms of Lord Nelson, Lord Cornwallis, Captain James Cook, the Duke of Wellington and John Paul Jones.
I was gazing in awe at these members of Celestial Lodge, when the Grand Master, MW Bro Harry Truman, appeared from the preparation room accompanied by Bros John Jacob Astor, Luther Burbank, JC Penney, Adlai Stevenson and Jennings Bryan.
Bro John Diefenbaker had just signed the Tyler's Register with one of Bro John Shaeffer's pens. He was accompanied by Bros Robert Borden and RB Bennett. fellow Canadian Prime Ministers, and by Bro Joe Smallwood of Newfoundland.
At this time, the Tyler, Bro J Edgar Hoover, informed the brethren that the meeting was about to come to order.
On entering the lodge room the brethren were greeted by the Inner Guard, Bro Paul Revere. Seated already were polar explorers, Robert F Scott of England and Bro Richard E Bird of the United States, together with Matthew G Perky and Canada's Henry Larsen. Bro Charles Lindbergh could be seen in deep conversation with Bros Hap Arnold, Gus Grissom, Eddie Rickenbaker and Charles Kingsford-Smith.
From the Junior Warden's station came a burst of laughter. Bro Will Rogers had brought broad smiles to the faces of the Royal personages gathered around him, including George 1, Frederick the .Great, Gustav V of Sweden and George VI. To the right of the Junior Warden's chair, architect Sir Christopher Wren was joined by Statue of Liberty sculptor, Frederic Bartholdi.
Bros Norman Vincent Peale and Peter Marshall, who would assume the Chaplain's duties this evening, were in conversation with the DuPonts, Peter and Victor, and the Rothschilds, James and Nathan.
Gathered around the Secretary's desk, Bro Rudyard Kipling was discussing the evening's proceedings with Bro Robert Burns, who was to give one of the Charges assisted by Bro Mark Twain. Also taking part were Bros Conan Doyle, Walter Scott, Samuel Johnson, Alexander Pope and Robert Service.
The Grand Organist, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, was discussing last minute changes with Bros Gilbert and Sullivan.
Bros Clark Gable, Peter Sellers, Wallace Beery, Douglas Fairbanks and Brian Donleavy were discussing boxing with champions Jack Dempsey, Jack Johnson and Sugar Ray Robinson. Another small group, in the persons of Bros John Wayne, Hoot Gibson and Tom Mix, were listening to Bro William Thaddeus Phillips, also known as Butch Cassidy.
The founding members, Bros George Washington, Sir John A MacDonald, Guiseppe Garibaldi, Benito Jaurez, John Hancock and Ben Franklin were seated in the East. They have been joined by Sir Stamford Raffles, founder of Singapore. The Generals, Omar Bradley, Jimmy Doolittle, George C Marshall, John Pershing and Douglas McArthur, take their seats next to Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. The Lodge Treasurer, Bro Henry Knox was busy collecting dues from Bros Thomas E Dewey and William McKinley. The Master, MW Bro HRH The Duke of Connaught, has rapped the gavel to call the Lodge to order and it is now time for us to depart. With one last look at this brilliant assembly, one wonders what the public's perception of Freemasonry might be if they were able to visit such a lodge.
The common gavel is an instrument used by operative Masons to break off the corners of rough stones, the better to fit them for the builders use; but we as Free and Accepted Masons are taught to use for the more noble and glorious purpose of divesting our hearts and consciences of all the vices and superfluities of life, thereby fitting our minds as living stones for that spiritual building, that House Not Made With Hands, eternal in the Heavens. Mackey, distinguished authority, states that the name comes from Gabel because the form of the common gavel resembles that of the gable of a house.
But the student will look in the ritual in vain for any allusion to the gavel as an instrument of authority, although in some form it is primarily the badge of power and authority of the Master, and, often in another form and always in a lesser degree, of the Wardens. In various Jurisdictions throughout the United States the interested visitor will find in use in the East common gavels, stone Masons hammers made of both wood and metal, the ordinary mallet gavel of the legislative halls, the auctioneers hammer, and a setting maul in all shapes and sizes. All these various implements, in diverse forms and materials, are used as the symbol of the authority of the Master. Apparently it is not so important that he have a particular symbol; that is, that he carry a common gavel or a setting maul, but that he have always in open Lodge, in his possession, some instrument with which blows may be struck, as a symbol of his power, his authority, his right to preside and to rule.
Many studious Freemasons contend with some show of reason that inasmuch as the common gavel - the masons hammer with one sharp edge - is one of the working tools of a speculative Entered Apprentice while the setting maul is not classified as a working tool, the gavel, and not the maul, is more logically the Masters symbol of authority. Certainly unless Grand Lodge has ruled otherwise there is no argument to be used against a Master presiding with common gavel, whether real, of metal, or imitation, of rose or other valuable wood. But those who find their only argument for the use of the common gavel as the symbol of a Masters authority in the undoubted fact that it is one of the striking tools of the stone mason, as well as a working tool of the Speculative Craft, hardly go far enough into antiquity.
As a symbol of authority the hammer is as old as mythology. Thor, the Scandinavian son of Odin and Freya, possessed a miraculous and all-powerful hammer which he threw to do his will. When this was accomplished - usually it was a slaying of enemies or a destruction of something which the God did not like - his accommodating hammer straightway returned to his hands!
Thor, like Jove, also controlled thunderbolts, and from this early myth we associate lightning and thunder with the hammer. We also invert the thought to develop the idea of the authority in a hammer or gavel from its age long association with the power of lightening. The connection is world wide, and by no means confined either to Freemasonry or to Norse mythology. Thor and his hammer are at the bottom of the old hammer rite of possession. Thor, God of lightening, by virtue of his control of fire was also the God of the domestic hearth. In ancient days a bride, on taking possession of her new home, received a hammer thrown in her lap as a symbol of possession. When her husband purchased land, he took possession by throwing a hammer over it.
The Indian God Parasu Rama, or Rama of the Battleax, obtained land from the God of the sea by throwing his battleax over the earth, and became possessed of all that it spanned. The South Sea Islanders use a celt or hammer, often of huge size, before the chiefs dwelling as a symbol of authority. Mrs. H.G.M. Murray Aynsley (English Authority on mythology), says The Hammer has its uses in Freemasonry as a symbol of authority - the auctioneer, too, used a hammer - here we see possession implied by the falling or throwing down of a hammer.
Thus, when the Master of a lodge first brings down the gavel to convene the Lodge, he by that blow says in effect, by this act I take possession of this Lodge.
G.W. Speth, famous writer on Freemasonry, draws attention to the curious articles drawn up by the stone masons of Torgau, in Saxony, in 1462.
And every Mason shall keep his lodge free of all strife; yea, his lodge shall be kept pure as the seat of justice. And no Mason shall bear false witness in his lodge, neither shall he defile it in any manner.
Therefore shall no Mason allow a harlot to enter his lodge, but if any one have ought to commune with her he shall depart from the place of labor so far as one may cast a gavel.
Grand Lodges are sovereign within their Jurisdictions. Whatever their ukase, it immediately becomes right within that Jurisdiction. We find anomalies in American Freemasonry as a result. Thus, most Jurisdictions demand that a Master elect pass the chairs or receive the Degree of Past Master in a Chapter of the Royal Arch before he may be installed. But that is not true in all Jurisdictions. Where it obtains the practice is both right and ancient. Its absence is right when Grand Lodge has so ruled. Since the formation of the Mother Grand Lodge in 1717, Masonic jurists have conceded the right of a Grand Lodge to make Masons at sight as inherent; that is the right to convene an occasional or emergent lodge, under dispensation, set it to work and disband it when its work is done. Some American Grand Lodges have ruled to the contrary. It is right in those Jurisdictions that a Grand Master cannot make a Mason at sight. In forty-three of our forty-nine Grand Jurisdictions, two of the three Great Lights are the Square and Compasses. In the remaining six, Compasses is incorrect, and compass is right - aye, with every lexicographer, dictionary, encyclopedia and Masonic author-ity to the contrary,. compass is right in these Jurisdic-tions.
Under the doctrine that whatever a Grand Lodge declares to be right, whether by actual words or by tact agreement, is the law and the practice for that particular Jurisdiction, any for of striking instrument which is customary is the correct form in that Jurisdiction. The Grand Jurisdiction which sanctions setting mauls in all three stations, uses the tool which is correct in that Jurisdiction. If the Grand Lodge sets forth that the Master shall use a common gavel and the Wardens setting mauls, that practice is there correct. If nothing is said to imply that the Master must use the common gavel as a symbol of authority, then the familiar form of mallet or hammer - by far the commonest form of a presiding officers instrument - may be considered as correct as any other. We are not very liberal minded in our Masonic symbolism. The Square and the Compasses on our Altars are hardly large or strong enough to play Operative parts in stone cutting and setting. The working tools we present to initiates are but miniatures of the real tools they symbolize. The trowel which we tell a candidate is more especially the essential tool of the Master Mason, is usually far too small to spread real cement between real stones. Certainly no gavel of wood, be its form what it may, can break off the corners of rough stones. So, while the beauty of the symbolism of the common gavel as the presiding officers instrument of authority is obvious, usage and custom and expedience in many lodges have metamorphosed it into a little mallet of wood, just as the tiny square upon the Altar is an expedient metamorphosis of the great metal tool of the Operative Mason. Perhaps it is not so important that the wood of the gavel be carved to imitate some particular striking tool of the Operative Masons, as that the brethren understand the power and authority inherent in it.
Whatever form of gavel is used, the Master should always retain possession of the instrument and never have it beyond his reach. He should carry it with him when he moves about the Lodge, whether in process of conferring a degree, or when the Lodge in charge of the Junior Warden at refreshment. This, be it noted, is not only because it is his symbol of authority, but to remind him that, although his position is the highest within the gift of the brethren, he is yet but a brother among brethren. Holding the highest power in the Lodge, he exercises it by virtue of the commonest of the working tools.
All powerful, within certain limits, in the Lodge, the Master has authority to temporarily transfer his power. He may honor a visitor by presenting him with the gavel (and should always remove his hat when the gavel passes). He may place another in the Oriental Chair to confer a degree (in most Jurisdictions) at which time he hands over the gavel of authority. Because he has the right to transfer the authority, he should always be in position to exercise it; another reason for always retaining possession of his gavel! The authority by which the Master rules is not, of course, the mere physical possession of a piece of wood or iron. The Master may be a physical weakling. Some powerful two hundred-pounder may easily wrest from him the emblem of authority, but such forcible possession would not transfer the authority. The authority to use the gavel comes first from election and installation, the powers of both of which ceremonies rest on the authority of the Grand Lodge. Once installed, a Master cannot be deprived of his gavel of authority except by the Grand Lodge, or the Grand Master ad interim (or his deputy acting in his stead). The brethren elect to the East, but cannot unelect or take away the power they have once given. The gavel of authority is not transferable save by the will of its lawful possessor, except at the order of the Grand Lodge, or the Grand Master (or his deputy acting for him). In most Jurisdictions such an action by a Grand Master or Deputy, ad interim Grand Lodge. is reviewable by the Grand Lodge at its next succeeding regular communication.
The Master enforces the authority of which the gavel is the symbol - first and usually last and all the time - by the good will and the Masonic practices of his brethren. Few Lodges would tolerate disobedience to the gavel by any brother. Occasionally a hot-headed brother has attempted to defy its power. In such cases the Master may ask the offender to leave the room. His failure to respond lays him open to charges of un-Masonic conduct and a Masonic trial. The Master may request the Marshall or Master of ceremonies to remove the offender. Or the Master may - as sometimes has been done - us the gavel to call from labor to refreshment, during which period there will be plenty to admonish the offender of the enormity of his offense against Masonic law. good manners and good taste! The charges given a Mason at the close of all three Degrees are generally held to have the binding force of all other Masonic teachings and obligations. The brother who signs the by-laws as a Master Mason agrees by so doing to abide not only by them but by all the unwritten usages and customs of the Fraternity and all the admonishments of the charges. Those who know their ritual will recall that in the charge of the third degree it is said: The ancient Landmarks of the Order you are carefully to preserve and never suffer them to be infringed, countenance a departure from the ancient usages and customs of the Fraternity. Obedience to the gavel is indeed an ancient usage and custom of the Fraternity. Rarely is it defied - never with impunity. But to reach its fullest respect, the gavel must be wisely used. It is fine to have a giants strength It is despicable to use it like a giant! applies here. The Master may do what he will in his Lodge. He may cut off discussion, rap a brother down, cause a brother to leave the room, refuse to put a motion, declare the Lodge at recess, close at his pleasure, control debate, arrange the work, refuse a bother permission to speak - all with the gavel. But the wise Master uses his great power sparingly and never arbitrarily. While the peace and harmony of the Craft are maintained, he need not use it except as the ritual or custom of presiding in the Lodge requires. If he so uses it, it will be respected, its possessor will be venerated, and its transfer to another hand will be considered by the brethren what it actually is, a great and signal honor.
No Master may pay a higher tribute to any brother than to intrust him with the gavel. He offers it to the Grand Master (or his Deputy representing him), because it is the right of those dignitaries to preside in all private Lodges. He offers it to another to preside during the conferring of a degree, or to a distinguished visitor, as a mark of the greatest respect and confidence. A gavel is not a necessity. A Master and two brethren can open and close a Lodge if they have the Great Lights and a Charter. Lesser Lights, a gavel, Wardens columns, Aprons, and Altar are not essential. Without the Great Lights and a Charter (or dispensation) a Lodge cannot be opened, though it has every other accessory. The gavel, then, is the symbol of the authority, not the authority itself. Like all great symbols, it takes upon itself in the minds of the brethren something of the quality of the thing symbolized. As we revere the cotton in stripes and stars which became the Flag of our Country; as we revere the paper and ink which became the Great Light in Masonry, so, also, do Freemasons revere the little hammer, mallet, setting maul or common gavel which typifies and symbolizes the height of Masonic power and authority - the majesty of power, the wisdom of Light which rest in and shine forth from the Oriental Chair.
SHORT TALK BULLETIN - Vol.IX July, 1931 No.7
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