In the ritual of the modern day Masonic Degrees, the building of King Solomon's Temple plays an important role. It has also fascinated the Biblical scholar and the archaeologist in their attempts to prove the existence of the Temple and the Bible story of King Solomon. All through history this subject has produced an air of mystery which seems to defy a positive solution.
The Masonic scholar, willing to spend the time and effort, can spend hours of research on almost any one of the many features of King Solomon's Temple and still end on a note of mystery admitting that the subject is incomplete and more research is needed. An example to illustrate this point is the reference in the Second Degree which refers to the winding staircase, which we are led to believe existed in King Solomon's Temple. Although there is but one reference to the winding staircase in Masonic ritual, it has been made the central feature of the Second Degree which every Fellowcraft Mason must symbolically ascend in order to make his advancement in the degree. As all Masons will recall, the reference is made "to advance through a porch, by a flight of winding stairs to the middle chamber, there to receive his wages." The details very clearly give a winding staircase leading from the porch way entrance up through the Temple Sanctuary to the upper floors. This reference contains a number of specific and positive statements which we are apparently asked to accept as facts. They are (1) that there was a winding staircase in King Solomon's Temple; 92) that it was approached through an entrance from the porch way; and (3) that the workmen on the building ascended these stairs to receive their wages in the middle chamber. The serious researcher will find that writers of the Charges and ritual of the craft were apparently more interested in the dramatic effect on the candidate than they were on historical accuracy. Biblical scholars and archaeologists differ widely as to the interpretation placed both on historical and the archaeological evidence dealing with King Solomon's Temple and in particular, with the passages dealing with the staircase, but it's fairly safe to say that neither the Biblical scholar nor the archaeologists would support the specific statements made in the Masonic ritual of the Second Degree.
As of today, the only historical evidence relative to the building of Solomon's Temple is found in three different books of the Old Testament and in the writings of Josephus. Of these writings, it is generally accepted that the version in the First Book of Kings is both the oldest and most reliable description we have of the Temple. Our interest here is the mention of the winding staircase. The passages relevant to the winding staircase are found in Chapter 6 of the Authorized Version, which is probably the one used by the ritualists who composed the Lecture on the Second Degree.
First Kings, Chapter 6, Verse 1: "And it came to pass in the four hundred and eightieth year after the children of Israel were come out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon's reign over Israel, in the month Zip, which is the second month, that he began to build the house of the Lord."
Verse 5: "And against the wall of the house he built chambers round about, against the walls of the house round about, both of the temple and of the oracle; and he made chambers round about."
Verse 7: "And the house, when it was in building, was built of stone made ready before it was brought thither; so that there was neither hammer nor ax nor any tool of iron heard in the house, while it was in building."
Verse 8: "The door for the middle chamber was in the right side of the house; and they went up with winding stairs into the middle chamber and out of the middle into the third."
The description above clearly states that there were winding stairs, but an examination of the text finds inconsistencies in the passages themselves and serious discrepancies are noticed between our Masonic ritual and the scriptures above. An example is in Verse 8 which places the entrance door for the middle chamber in the right side of the building. It continues by stating that the stairway went from the door to the middle chamber and on up to the third chamber. No mention is made to an entrance on the ground floor.
The second Bible reference is in Chronicles, Book II, Chapter 3, Verses 1-9. The description, which parallels the Kings version, omits all references to the chambers except for Verse 9 which states: "And he overlaid the upper chambers with gold..." It is widely accepted that the "upper chambers" in Chronicles are the "Side chambers" mentioned in Kings. Notice that there is no mention of a winding staircase.
The third description is found in the Book of Ezekiel. Ezekiel came from a priestly family and some researchers think could have lived at a time which would have enabled him to have seen Solomon's Temple first hand. However, at the time of his writing, the Temple had been destroyed by the Babylonians.
The parallel passages of the above quoted from Kings and Chronicles are to be found in the 41st Chapter of Ezekiel, but differs from the other two.
Ezekiel, Chapter 41, Verse 6: "And the side chambers were three, one over another, and thirty in order; and they entered into the wall which was of the house for the side chambers around about, that they might have hold, but they had not hold in the wall of the house."
Verse 7: 1 "And there was an enlarging, and a winding about still upward to the said chambers; for the winding about of the house went still upward round about the house; therefore, the breadth of the house was still upward, and so increased from the lowest chamber to the highest by the midst." It would appear that what Ezekiel was trying to say is that the chambers themselves wound about the house in long galleries. By "wound about" does he mean encircle? He makes no reference to a staircase. There are other differences noted in the three versions of the Old Testament.
Our Masonic view was probably taken from the translation of the Authorized Version of the Old Testament, which contained many mistranslations in the relevant passages. The translators themselves were aware of the difficulties, for attached to their manuscripts are numerous marginal notes and questions. Biblical Hebrew text often presents difficulties in translation and some cases impossible to a point of where one can only surmise at the true meaning.
Prof. Robert H. Pfeiffer of Harvard University and Boston University in "An Introduction to the Old Testament" writes: "The third element in Solomon's magnificence consisted of his buildings, primarily on Zion in Jerusalem, but elsewhere. The account in Chapter 6, Verses 1-9 is one of the most difficult sections in the Old Testament. First, owing to scribes who failed to understand architectural terms and the obscure descriptions of the original author, neither an architect nor a clear writer, the text has been greatly corrupted. Secondly, the account has endured successive additions and revisions."
The first difficulty comes from the Hebrew text of Verse 8 in which one word is defective. The word appears as "Lullim" and then translated to English as "Winding Stairs. ' Scholars point out that if the word is really "Lullim" it appears nowhere else in the Old Testament, but an associated word "Lulin" appears in several passages of the Jewish code known as the "Mishna" and later called the "Talmud."
One reference reads: "there were Lulin in the upper chamber opening into the Holy of Holies, by which the workmen were let down in baskets, so that they should not feed their eyes on the Holy of Holies." Most translators translate this word to mean "opening" while others translate the word as "Trap-doors." The Jewish Encyclopedia, Volume 12, pp. 85,92 says that the word "Lullin" refers to "trapdoors" but gives no supporting evidenced to the meaning.
The second difficulty from the Hebrew text comes from the original word "Tichonah" translated as "middle" in our phrase from Kings, Verse 8, "the door for the middle chamber was in the right side of the house." The meaning of the word "Tichonah" is uncertain, but most modern translators refer to it as the "lowest~' instead of "middle." This seems to make more sense.
Dr. James Moffat in his translation of the Bible in 1924 entitled "A New Translation of the Bible" translated Verse 8 in Kings this way: "The entrance into the lower side rooms was on the south side of the Temple; you climbed to the middle row, and from the middle to the top row, through trap doors."
In 1965, another translation came out in an English Edition of the "Jewish Bible" with Verse 8: "The entrance to the lower story was at the right hand corner of the Temple and access to the middle story above was by trap doors and so from the middle story to the third." There is no reference to winding stairs.
If the Temple had a winding staircase, as a few scholars still think, it was probably in the side walls and served the side chambers built into the thickness of the walls from the first and second levels. These side chambers were used while the Temple was being built for the purpose of paying the workmen their wages. Later, they were used as store-houses or treasury rooms of the Temple into which the treasures and gifts to the Temple were placed.
As mentioned at the beginning of this paper, the other source of information about King Solomon's Temple is in the writings of Josephus, a Jewish historian. He mentions Solomon's Temple in several of his works, but the main references are in his history of the Jewish people called "The Antiquities of the Jews." One relevant passage quoted from Wriston's translation, Book VIII, Chapter 3: "The King also had a fine contrivance for an ascent to the upper room over the Temple, and that was by steps in the thickness of its wall; for it had no large door on the east end, as the lower house had, but the entrances were by the sides, through very small doors."
Apart from Josephus and the Bible, we have no other literary source to turn to for information. Unfortunately, there is no evidence in Jerusalem to which we might gain a knowledge of this subject, for successive conquerors made a thorough job of the destruction of the Temple and not one part remains standing and nothing has been uncovered by archaeologists. Regardless of whether there was a winding staircase, a trap-door or just an opening to the different compartments of the Temple, the mystery still remains, and will continue to fascinate both the biblical scholar and the archaeologist and be of particular interest to the Freemason.
References: Books of The Old Testament, Standard Work-Grand Lodge of Illinois; The Mystery of the Winding Staircase by A. L. Shane; and A New Translation of the Bible by Dr. James Moffat.
"I don't believe in a Christmas celebration by the lodge. I don't think we ought to have one, or be asked to contribute to one or in any way engage in Christmas festivities."
"The Junior Mason spoke emphatically and with marked disapproval of the little ante-room group nearby, making happy plans for Yule-tide.
"That's very interesting," commented the Old Past Master. I like to hear points of view unfamiliar to me. Would you mind telling me why?"
"Of course not. It's very simple. Masonry is not Christian. King Solomon, of course, wasn't a Christian, nor were either of the Hiram's. Masonry admits to her ranks any good man of faith; Christian, Jewish, Mohammedan, Buddhist... it makes no difference, so he has a Faith. Then, as a lodge, we celebrate a holiday belonging to one faith. Now I personally am a Christian, and of course I celebrate Christmas. But my brother across the way is a Jew, who does not recognize Christianity. To ask him to spend his proportion of lodge funds in celebrating the birth of a Leader in Whom he does not believe would be exactly like asking me to celebrate, with my proportion of lodge money, the birth of Confucius. Of course, I have only one vote and the majority rules, but when it comes to personal contributions to a Masonic Christmas celebration, my hands will never come out of my pockets."
He shoved them deeper in as he spoke to emphasize his intention not to spend.
"Hum!" answered the Old Past Master. "So you think your Jewish brother across the way doesn't recognize Christianity? Don't you mean he doesn't recognize Christ as the Son of God? Wait a minute... Oh, Brother Samuels." The Old Past Master called across the ante-room. "Here a minute, will you?"
The Jewish brother rose and came forward.
"I just wanted to ask you if you are in favor or against the lodge Christmas celebration?" asked the Old Past Master.
"Me? I am in favor of it, of course, both for the lodge appropriation and the individual contribution."
"Thank you," nodded the Old Past Master. Then as the Jewish brother went back to his seat, he turned to the Junior Mason.
"You see, my son, our Jewish friend is not narrow. He does not believe in Christ as the Redeemer, but he recognizes that he lives in a country largely Christian, and belongs to a lodge largely Christian. To him the Christmas celebration is not one of His birthday, but of the spirit of joyousness and love which we mean when we sing, at Christmas time 'Peace on earth, good will towards men!' If you argue that 'peace' is only a Christian word, he might even quote to you the words of One who said 'I bring you not Peace, but a Sword.'
"Now let me explain something to you. The Jew has just as much right to refuse to recognize Christ as the Son of God, as you have to refuse to consider Mohammed the Prophet the followers of Allah say he is. But as an educated man, you must know that Mohammed was a good man, a devout leader, a wise teacher. As an educated man, you admit that the religion founded by Buddha has much in it that is good, and you admit that Confucius was a wise and just leader. Were you in the land where the birthdays of any of these were celebrated, would you refuse your part in the people's joy in their Leader, simply because you followed another? I trust not. Well, neither do our Jewish brethren or our Mohammedan brethren, desire to be left out of our celebration. They may not believe in the Divinity of Him we, as Christians, follow, but if they are good men and good Masons... they are perfectly willing to admit that the religion we follow is as good for us as theirs is for them, and to join with us in celebrating the day which is to us the glad day of all the year.
"Believe me, boy, Christmas doesn't mean Christ's birthday to many a man who calls himself Christian. It is not because of joy the He was born that many a good man celebrates Christmas. It is because his neighbor celebrates it, because it is a time of joy for little ones, because it is a day when he can express his thanks to his God that he is allowed to have a wife and family and children and friends and a lodge, because of that very 'peace on earth' spirit which is no more the property of the Gentile than the Jew, the Chinese or the Mohammedan.
"It is such a spirit that Masons join, all, in celebrating Christmas. It is on the Masonic side of the tree we dance, not the Christian side. When this lodge erects its Christmas tree in the basement and throws it open to the little ones of the poor of this town, you will find children of all kinds there; black, white, yellow, and brown, Jew and Gentile, Christian and Mohammedan. And you will find a Jew at the door, and among the biggest subscriptions will be those from some Jewish brethren, and there is a Jew who rents cars for a living who will supply us a dozen free to take baskets to those who cannot come. And when the Jewish Orphan Asylum has its fair, in the Spring, you will find many a Christian Mason attending to spend his money and help along the cause dear to his Jewish brethren, never remembering that they are of a different faith. That, my son, is Masonry."
"For Charity is neither Christian nor Jewish, nor Chinese nor Buddhistic. And celebrations which create joy in little hearts and feed the hungry and make the poor think that Masons do not forget the lessons in lodge, are not Christian alone, though they be held at Christmas, and are not for Christians alone, though the celebration be in His honor. Recall the ritual: 'By the exercise of brotherly love we are taught to regard the whole human species as one family, the high and low, the rich and poor, who, as created by one Almighty Parent, and inhabitants of the same planet, are to aid, support and protect each other'.
"It is with this thought that we, as Masons, celebrate Christmas, to bring joy to our brethren and their little ones, and truly observe the brotherhood of man and the Fatherhood of God, whether we be Jew or Gentile, Mohammedan or Buddhist." The Old Past Master ceased and stood musing, his old eyes looking back along a long line of lodge Christmas trees about which eager little faces danced. Then he turned to the Junior Mason.
"Well," he said smiling, "Do you understand?"
"I thank you for my Christmas present," came the answer. "Please tell me to which brother I should make my Christmas contribution?"
These strange words were first used Masonically by Laurence Dermott (1720-1721) as a title of the Book of Constitutions, printed in 1756, used by the Ancient Grand Lodge in London.
The Title Page of this Ancient Tome is as follows:
AHIMAN REZON or, A Help To A Brother
Showing the excellency of secrecy, the principles of the craft And the Benefits arising from a strict Observance thereof.
What sort of Men ought to be initiated into the Mystery, and what sort of Masons are fit to govern lo with their Brethren in and out of the Lodge. Likewise the prayers unfed in the Jewish and Christian Lodges, the Ancient Manner of Constituting new Lodges, with all the Charges, Etc.
Also the old and new Regulations. The Manner of Chufing and Installing Grand-Master and Officers, and other useful Particulars too numerous here to mention. To which is added, The Greatest Collection of Masons Songs ever presented to public view, with many entertaining Prologues and Epilogues.
Together with, Solomon’s Temple and Oratorio as it was performed for the benefit of Freemasons by Brother Laurence Dermott, Sec.
According to “The Builders,” at one time or another, eight American Grand Jurisdictions have used the words as a title to their Books of Law; Georgia, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.
Two still retain the old title; Pennsylvania and South Carolina. Georgia now has “Masonic Manual and Code;” Maryland, “Constitutions, By-Laws and Standing Orders;” New York, “Book of Constitutions;” North Carolina, “Code,” also named “Constitution and Regulations;” Tennessee, “Masonic Code;” and Virginia, the “Text Book,” commonly referred to as the “Methodical Digest.” Pennsylvania’s Ahiman Rezon contains the following:
SECTION XII - HISTORICAL NOTES - AHIMAN REZON.
The first Masonic book published in America was printed in Philadelphia by Brother Benjamin Franklin in 1734. It was a reprint of what is known as “Anderson’s Constitutions,” which was published in 1723 under the authority of the Grand Lodge of England, and entitled: “The Constitutions of the Freemasons. Containing the History, Charges, Regulations, &c., of the Most ancient and Right Worshipful Fraternity. For the use of the Lodges,” and was compiled by Brother James Anderson, D.D. This reprint is now very scarce. A copy of it is in the Library of the Grand Lodge.
The “Ahiman Rezon; A Help to a Brother,” was prepared in 1756 by Brother James Dermott, Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of England According To The Old Institutions,” once called the “Ancients.”
This corresponded to the Book of Constitutions of the Grand Lodge of England, once called the “Moderns.”
The first Book of Masonic law published by the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania was entitled: “Ahiman Rezon abridged and digested” as a help to all that are or would be Free and Accepted Masons.” It was prepared by the Grand Secretary, Rev. Brother William Smith, D.D., Provost of the University of Pennsylvania, and was almost entirely a reprint of Dermott’s work; it was approved by the Grand Lodge November 22, 1781, published in 1783, and dedicated to Brother George Washington.
It is reprinted in the introduction to the first or edited reprint of the Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, 1730-1808. (See the Library, p 201.)
On April 18, 1825, a revision of the Ahiman Rezon was adopted, being taken largely from “Anderson’s Constitutions.” Another revision was adopted June 15, 1857, which was followed by the revisions adopted June 15, 1867, December 5, 1877, December 6, 1893, December 4, 1895 and December 1, 1915. The revision of 1825 contains the following as the definition of the words Ahiman Rezon:
“The Book of Constitutions is usually denominated Ahiman Rezon. The literal translation of “Ahmian” is a “Prepared Brother’,” from “Manah” to “Prepare,” and “Rezon”, “Secret;” so that “Ahiman Rezon” literally means, the secrets of a Prepared Brother. It is likewise supposed to be a corruption of “Achi man Ratzon,” the thoughts and opinions of a true and faithful Brother.”
As the Ahiman Rezon is not a secret. but a published book, and the above definition has been omitted from subsequent revisions of the book, the words were submitted to Hebrew scholars for translation upon the assumption that they are of Hebrew origin. The words, however, are not Hebrew.
Subsequent inquiry leads to the belief that they come from the Spanish, and are thus interpreted: “Ahi” (which is pronounced “Ahee”), is demonstrative and means “there,” as if pointing to a thing or place; “Man” may be considered a form of “Monta,” which means the “Account, amount, sum total,” or “Fullness;” while “Razon” (or Rezon) means “Reason, Principle,” or “Justice,” the word justice being used in the sense of law. If, therefore, we ascribe the words “Ahiman Rezon” to Spanish origin, their meaning is - “There is the full account of the law.”
South Carolina’s Ahiman Rezon, under “Masonic Definitions,” states: “The Book of Constitution of the Grand Lodge of South Carolina is also called the Ahiman Rezon. The title is derived from three Hebrew words, “ahim,” brothers; “manah,” to appoint or select; and “ratzon,” the will or law; and it consequently literally signifies “the law of appointed or selected brothers.” It contains the rules and regulations of the Order, the details of all public ceremonies to be used on various occasions, such as consecrations, installations, funerals, etc., and is, in fact, a summary of all the fundamental principles of Freemasonry. To this book reference is made in all cases where the by-laws of the Grand Lodge are silent or not sufficiently explicit. In all public processions, the Ahiman Rezon, or Book of Constitutions, should be carried before the Grand Master by the Master of the oldest Lodge present.
Considerable controversy has taken place over the meaning of the words, and many and ingenious have been the explanations offered by various students.
Mackey, who erred so seldom that his monumental Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, albeit enlarged and revised, is still a foundation stone for most structures of Masonic lore; interpreted them to mean “the will of selected brethren.” Dr. Fredrick Dalcho, learned Masonic authority of early years, believed that a better translation of the Hebrew was “the secrets of a prepared brother.”
For the benefit of those who are not familiar with the structure of Hebrew, it may be stated that many words in that ancient tongue are susceptible of many interpretations; indeed, many words in English have different meanings, according to context. “Case,” for instance, may be an action-at-law, a container, and illness or an injury.
Other words pronounced alike but spelled differently have divergent meanings, as t-w-o, and t-o-o, or i-n and i-n-n. Written Hebrew is often without vowels (instance JHVH, usually written Jehovah in English) so the difference in translation of these two able Masonic scholars is not particularly strange.
Later authorities, however, believe that both were mistaken and that the real meaning of Ahiman Rezon is “faithful brother Secretary,” for technical reasons which have been well set forth by noted Hebrew scholars, including Brother the Reverend Morris Rosenbaum, a quarter of a century ago, in the Transactions of Quatuor Coronati (the great research Lodge in London).
According to the theory of the more modern translation, Dermott chose the word “Ahiman” because, as a Hebrew proper name, it was translated in the Geneva or “Breeches” Bible as “a brother of the right hand.” It is interesting to note that Young’s Concordance of the Bible (1924 revision) translates Ahiman, which occurs four times in the King James version, as meaning “brother of man.” Numbers, Joshua and Judges refer to Ahiman, a son of Anak, who dwelt in Hebron, and First Chronicles to Ahiman, a Hebrew porter in the Temple.
Dermott, however, must have used the Geneva Bible; all the texts in his book, quoted in his address “To the reader,” are verbatim excerpts from this work. In that “Breeches” Bible is the familiar “Table of Names and their Interpretations familiar in many editions of the Scriptures. Here Dermott must have found this “brother of the right hand” which he evidently took to indicate brother of fidelity, a faithful brother. However incorrect this translation may be - apparently it comes from the Hebrew “ah,” brother, and “yamin,” right hand - it was the translation to which Dermott had access. In the same Bible “Rezon” in translated “a secretarie or leane.”
In the dedication of his second edition of the Ahiman Rezon, Dermott wrote: I hope you will do me the honor of calling me a faithful brother.”
Dermott had a smattering of Hebrew, but he fell into the common error of those whose knowledge runs not very deep; he lacked perspective and any feeling for the relativity of facts about the difficult tongue. Moderns find the same attitude of mind among the unschooled; an ignorant man denies that the earth is a ball, because it “looks” flat, but has no difficulty in believing in ghosts and banshees; he can “understand” how “speech travels through a telephone wire” but cannot comprehend the verity of the geological doctrine that the earth is many, many times six thousand years old. Similarly, Dermott could go to a Bible for his Hebrew words and their meanings, and not comprehend that a Hebrew scholar might make a mistake.
It is curious to find the pseudo-science of numerology called upon to explain Dermott’s choice of a name for his Book of Constitutions, which was, so oddly, to persist long after its contents was superseded by more modern text. Yet the evidence is plain; one need not credit that belief which ascribes magical powers of prophecy to the numerical value of the letters in a name to see the point.
An ancient Jewish writer chose as a title of his work, words the numerical value of the letters of which would equal or nearly approximate the numerical value of the letters of his name, thus cryptographically offering evidence that he did, indeed, have the right to claim its authorship . . .a custom at least as old as 1200 A.D.
In all probability Dermott knew this; without such knowledge, it is difficult on any theories of probability to account for the fact that the numerical value of the letters in Ahiman Rezon is 372, while those in Laurence total 371. The difference of one is not actually a discrepancy, because Gematria, or numerical cryptography, regards a difference of but one as an equality, and even gives such a factor a name.
It may well be that this old Jewish custom was set forth for Dermott by a Jew, who would naturally demonstrate it only with a given name, not a surname; this may be why Dermott chose words which cryptographically equal “Laurence” and not “Laurence Dermott.”
Whatever the real meaning of Ahiman Rezon - whether it be Hebrew, properly translated “faithful brother secretary,” or “the will of selected brethren,” or “the secrets of a prepared brother,” or Spanish in origin, properly understood “There is a full account of the law” as Pennsylvania sets forth - the name for many years caught the imagination of Masons. Only lately has it fallen from its former high estate. Two old and greatly respected American Jurisdictions still find it all sufficient as the title of their official books of the law. It is to be noted, however, that but little of Laurence Dermott remains in either Pennsylvania’s or South Carolina’s volume; only the name there persists as a reminder of the Antient: influence in both these Grand Lodges.
The canvas would be pure white, unspotted by the world, because it represents the lambskin or white leather apron, an emblem of innocence and the badge of a Mason, its pure and spotless surface being symbolic of purity of life and conduct. As white is the reflection of every color in the rainbow, so the white canvas should reflect the individuality of each Mason within the brotherhood of men.
Although many colors will be added, its white surface must be a reminder that Masonry regards no man for his worldly wealth or honors and that the internal – not the external – qualifications of a man should render him worthy to be made a Mason.
If I were to paint a portrait of a Mason, I would start with the color gold, representing deity, because every Mason is taught that no man should enter upon any great or important undertaking without first invoking the blessings of deity. I would use many shades of reds and blacks and whites and yellows and browns, representing all the races of the world, because Masons are taught that the whole human species is one family – the high and low, the rich and poor, created by one Almighty Parent – and inhabitants of the same planet.
But I would especially use lots of blue, because blue is symbolic of beliefs, and beliefs are what distinguish a Mason. My Masonic figure would be painted with a belief in the Ancient Landmarks: monotheism; immortality; the Book of the Sacred Law; plus additional beliefs and obligations which contain nothing which conflicts with his duties to God, his country, his neighbors, or himself.
Being mindful of our country’s motto – e pluribus unum, one from many – I would strive to blend my colors so as not to lose the essential character of each one, because Masonry is a unitas multiplex – a unity out of diversity.
Because Masonry values the integrity of each individual, my Masonic portrait would look like no other Mason. Yet it would resemble all men who chart their travels by the Sacred Volume in pursuit of further light.
I would paint him as a temple builder, because Master Masons endeavor to fit themselves as a dwelling place for the Supreme Architect according to the grand design of the Celestial Trestleboard Trestleboard above. He would be facing East for, as the sun rises in the East to light the day, so rise the Inspiration and Light in the East to guide all his endeavors.
If I were to paint a portrait of a Mason, I would enclose it in a frame fashioned with all the working tools of Masonry indiscriminately, because Masons are admonished to apply their working tools of life for the noble and glorious purpose of framing their actions with the frame of rectitude. The construction would be guided by the square and compass, for should all Masons square their actions and circumscribe their passions.
The four sides of the frame would be composed of the Cardinal Virtues of a Mason, for should all Masons be bounded by Temperance, Fortitude, Prudence, and Justice.
And because the individual Mason gains strength from his lodge, the frame will be painted as an Indented Tessel, representing the beautiful tesselated border or skirting which surrounded the ground floor of King Solomon’s Temple, emblematical of those blessings and comforts which surround us and which we hope to obtain by a firm reliance on Divine Providence.
If I were to paint a portrait of a Mason, I would support it on an easel of acacia, that tree which serves to remind us of that imperishable part of man which survives the grave, and bears the nearest affinity to the supreme intelligence which pervades all nature, and which can never, never, never die.
The three legs of the easel would represent the pillars of Masonry, because there must be Wisdom to contrive, Strength to support, and Beauty to adorn all great and important undertakings. The legs would be painted with the tenets of a Mason’s profession. Thus should all Masons support brother Master Masons, their widows and orphans with Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth.
If I were to paint a portrait of a Mason, I would work with freedom, fervency, and zeal, because that is how all men should serve their Master. I would ask only for the emblematical wages of plenty, health, and peace, because the making of a Mason is a spiritual, not a worldly undertaking.
When my portrait of a Mason was completed, I would display it openly in public, rather than only in a lodge room, so the whole community could appreciate its worth. And I would dedicate it to the glory of the Grand Artist of the Universe, with confidence that He would say that, thus painted, there stands a just and upright Mason, worthy to adorn that spiritual building, that house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
Oger L. Terry
PM Union Lodge No. 2 Madison, IN
Past Grand Steward & Tyler
Grand Lodge of Indiana
Since World War 11 Americans have become world travellers in increasing numbers. American Freemasons have joined the swelling tide of visitors to other lands for military, business, and vacation plans, as well as out of fraternal curiosity.
Many Brothers have learned by first hand experience that Masonic ritual is recited in foreign languages, a fact that all of us have been aware of but never truly realized in our fraternal travels in the United States.
From this realization has come a quickened interest in ritual as well as language differences, which has stimulated frequent questions about "how they do it over there". Many inquiries received by your Masonic Service Association are exemplified by this one: "Since they use the metric system, what do they have, in Germany for example, for the twenty-four inch gauge in the E. A. degree?"
This answer is not intended to be humorous. They use the twenty-four inch gauge. Freemasonry on the continent of Europe acquired much of its ritual, especially for the first three degrees, from England in the first half of the eighteenth century. The metric system was not widely used in Europe until after 1790 when France required its adoption by law during the period of the revolution. The metric system is a product of modern science and mathematics. The inch, a word derived from a Latin word meaning twelfth part, was known and used throughout the countries of Europe long before metric units became the standards for weights and measures.
Most of us subconsciously assume that others do what we do. When we find that what we took for granted "just isn't so", we are likely to be astonished or confused unless we inquire into the historic, linguistic, or racial differences which have created the variations that surprise us.
Many a newly-made Brother in the United States is at first bewildered when he learns of the differences from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. What are private grand honors in one Grand Jurisdiction may be public grand honors in another. Sometimes this happens within the territory of the same Grand Lodge. For example, in Connecticut, a Mason raised in East Hartford may be really surprised if his first visit to another Lodge is made across the river in Hartford, in a Lodge which has proudly maintained a somewhat different ritual entirely "from mouth to ear" since it first acquired its charter from Massachusetts before the Revolution.
Connecticut has a "standard" ritual, approved by the Grand Lodge Custodians of the Work; but since some of its founding Lodges antedate the formation of the Grand Lodge in 1789 and "have transmitted unimpaired" the rituals which they acquired (from three different sources) before that date, the Grand Lodge has never insisted on the adoption of the "standard" ritual by those older Lodges, so long as they make no alterations in their form and language, because those agree in spirit with the fundamental tenets of the Craft.
But many American Masons are also surprised to learn that there are Masonic Lodges in this country still working in other languages than English. A little reflection will remind such brethren that this nation absorbed a great many immigrants into its population, whose descendants still preserve their "mother tongue" and some of the ideas and customs of the countries of their origin.
The writer's father, a Presbyterian minister, preached two sermons every Sunday, one in German and one in English, in New Orleans, Louisiana, New York City, and Scranton, Pennsylvania, until the third generation had so largely forgotten the mother tongue of their immigrant ancestors that the German worship services were discontinued un the 1930's.
The same thing has happened in Masonic Lodges. There used to be many more which worked in other languages, French, Spanish, German and Italian. Lessing Lodge No. 557 of Chicago and United Brothers Lodge No. 356 of New York are examples of Lodges which have discontinued working in another language.
But as late as five years ago there was a considerable number of Masonic Lodges whose members still carried on the ritualistic labors of Freemasonry in their mother tongue.
The majority of American German-speaking Lodges are concentrated in New York City, especially in the Ninth Masonic District; but there are others in Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Reading); California (San Francisco) ; Baltimore, Maryland; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Boston, Massachusetts; Detroit, Michigan; and Washington, D. C.
The polyglot origin of the people who built such cosmopolitan cities as New Orleans, New York City, San Francisco, and Miami, Florida, accounts for the survival of foreign language- speaking Lodges in those places, particularly those employing the Romance languages, French, Spanish, and Italian. Freemasonry in New Orleans, for example, had its origins among the French refugees who fled there from Hispaniola in the 1790's and the early 1800's, when that island experienced bloody revolutions led by Toussaint L'Ouverture and Henry Christophe.
French speaking Lodges may be found in New Orleans, New York, San Francisco, and Montreal, Canada. Italian is still used in some Lodges in the 10th District of Manhattan (New York City), New Orleans, and San Francisco. Spanish is the language used in a few Lodges in New Orleans, New York City, Miami and Tampa, Florida. A list of these foreign language Lodges in the United States is given at the end of this Short Talk Bulletin.
But for every Brother who is surprised to learn that there are still so many Lodges in the United States using a foreign language, there are many more who are amazed to discover that a number of Lodges (most of them still using a foreign language) employ a "Scottish Rite" version of the three degrees of Symbolic Masonry. The average American Freemason is bewildered to hear that there is a "Scottish Rite Blue Lodge ritual".
To clear up the first and most natural misunderstanding which such a statement may create, it should be emphasized that the Supreme Councils of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite in the United States most emphatically disclaim any control over "the symbolic degrees of ancient Craft Masonry", i.e., over the "Blue Lodges" and their governing bodies, the sovereign Grand Lodges of the various states of the nation. In fact, the Supreme Councils have done all in their power to proclaim and to demonstrate their acknowledgment of the Grand Lodges as the supreme Masonic authority in their respective jurisdictions.
To understand the term, "Scottish Rite Blue Lodge ritual", one must become aware of the historical developments which produced that phrase. Since it is a phenomenon associated primarily with those Lodges using a foreign language in their labors, it is closely tied to the theme of this Bulletin, "Some Lodges are different."
When Speculative Freemasonry underwent its phenomenal spread and growth in the eighteenth century, its ritualistic ceremonies had not been fixed or finally determined. When the Mother Grand Lodge of England was established in 1717, there was no ritual of the third degree, as we recognize that term today. The ritual grew and expanded as "ritual tinkerers" experimented with it and added to its language and its ceremonies.
As it spread into other countries on the continent of Europe, it took on different forms and ceremonies which reflected the tastes and predilections of various national groups. The French especially liked colorful rites and pageantry, which became the characteristic features not only of the "higher degrees", but even of the primary degrees of symbolic Craft Masonry.
Because of the association of the term "Scottish Rite" with some of those degrees in France, as a result of the activities of the Chevalier Ramsey and other Scottish Freemasons in exile in that country, the basic degrees also were described as "Scottish Rite" to distinguish them from the symbolic degrees as they had developed in England. In fact, in some European systems of Masonic rites, Supreme Councils actually claimed control over the symbolic degrees.
"Scottish Rite Blue Lodge ritual", therefore, is a term which describes the ritual of the symbolic degrees as it developed in France and other nations on the continent, especially those which had a closer cultural affinity with the French because of their kinship in the use of Romance languages.
The "Scottish Rite" version of the ritual has been the most popular one among Latin peoples; so it is not surprising that where we find that ritual in use in the United States today, it is usually in foreign language speaking Lodges using French, Spanish, or Italian. The only German speaking Lodge known to employ a "Scottish Rite" ritual in the first three degrees is Aurora No. 30 of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
For those brethren whose first reaction is to say about Lodges which are different, "Why can't they do the way we do?", there is a humbling consideration in the thought that the "Scottish Rite" version actually represents only one of many versions different from those usually found in American jurisdictions. Even the ritual used in English Lodges - and there are various "workings" permitted by the Mother Grand Lodge! - differs appreciably from that which the American Mason regards as "standard". The Short Talk Bulletin for March, 1961, pointed out one of the minor differences which create misunderstanding: what we call movable and immovable are just reversed in English practice!
There are approximately twenty-five legitimate Lodges in the United States which use a "Scottish Rite" version of the ritual of the three symbolic degrees. (A list may be found at the end of this Bulletin.) Unfortunately for the Brother who desires to visit some of them, they are concentrated in New York, New Orleans, and California. But with our "population on the move" so much, American Freemasons visit other jurisdictions much more frequently than they did a couple of generations ago. An awareness of the location of "Scottish Rite Blue Lodges" may help an interested Brother arrange his travel plans to include a Masonic visit to one of the cities mentioned above.
While this Short Talk cannot be extended to include even a brief description of the "Scottish Rite" version of the "Blue Lodge" ritual, it should be mentioned that the first degree is the most impressive of the three. More ritualistic officers are usually employed; the ceremonies of the first degree are more elaborate and extended. However, the basic lessons of the three degrees are developed as any Mason would expect to find them. A description of these ceremonies, especially as they differ from the familiar features of "the American rite", may form the subject matter of a future Short Talk Bulletin.
These variations illustrate the richness of Masonic heritage. Displeasing though they may be to those who crave a global uniformity for Masonic rites and ceremonies, they show how differences in the interpretation and exemplification of Freemasonry's universal ideas can satisfy different individuals in different cultures. And in that way, they illustrate the Masonic slogan: "In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty."
Author: Bro. Norman Peterson
The Masonic Services Association
FOREIGN LANGUAGE LODGES IN THE UNITED STATES
Allemania No. 740, New York City
Copernicus No. 545, New York City
German Pilgrim No. 179, New York City
German Union No. 54, New York City
Goethe No. 629, New York City
Harmony No. 199, New York City
Hermann No. 268, New York City
Lessing No. 608, New York City
Lincoln No. 748, New York City
Navigator No. 232, New York City
Schiller No. 304, New York City
Socrates No. 595, New York City
Solon No. 771, New York City
Teutonia No. 617, New York City
Uhland No. 735, New York City
Von Mensch No. 765, New York City
Zschokke No. 202, New York City
Hermann No. 125, Philadelphia
Humboldt No. 359, Philadelphia
Germania No. 509, Pittsburgh (Knoxville)
Jefferson No. 288, Pittsburgh
Solomon No. 231, Pittsburgh
Teutonia No. 367, Reading, Penn.
Hermann No. 127, San Francisco
Arminius No. 25, Dist. of Columbia
Germania No. 160, Baltimore
Germania Lodge, Boston
Schiller No. 263, Detroit
Aurora No. 30, Milwaukee
Etoile Polaire No. 1, New Orleans
La Parfaite Union No. 172, San Francisco
Vallee de France No. 329, Los Angeles
L'Union Francaise No. 17, New York City
La Sincerite No. 373, New York City
La Clemente Amitie No. 410, New York City
Dante No. 174, New Orleans
Garibaldi No. 542, New York City
Italia No. 786, New York City *
Roma No. 854, New York City (Brooklyn) *
Alba No. 891, New York City *
Archimede No. 935, New York City *
Speranza Italiana No. 219, San Francisco
Mazzini No. 824, New York City
Cavour No. 872, New York City *
Dante No. 919, New York City (Bronx) *
Leonardo No. 937, New York City (Brooklyn) *
Cervantes No. 5, New Orleans
Universal No. 178, Tampa
Dr. Felix Varela No. 63, Key West
La Fraternidad No. 387, New York City
La Universal No. 751, New York City
Luz de America No. 255, Miami
* Since the first printing of this Bulletin in 1963, it has been learned that this Lodge now works only in English.
U. S. LODGES USING "SCOTTISH RITE BLUE LODGE" RITUAL
Le Progres de l'Oceanie No. 371, Honolulu (3d only)
Cervantes No. 5, New Orleans
Dante No. 174, New Orleans
Etoile Polaire No. 1, New Orleans
Germania No. 46, New Orleans
Galileo-Mazzini No. 368, New Orleans
Kosmos No. 171, New Orleans
Perseverance No. 4, New Orleans
Albert Pike No. 376, New Orleans
Schneidau No. 391, New Orleans
Union No. 172, New Orleans
Alba No. 891, New York City
Archimede No. 935, New York City
Cavour No. 872, New York City
Dante No. 919, New York City
Garibaldi No. 542, New York City
Italia No. 786, New York City
La Clemente Amitie No. 410, New York City
La Fraternidad No. 387, New York City
La Sincerite No. 373, New York City
La Universal No. 751, New York City
L'Union Francaise No. 17, New York City
Leonardo No. 937, New York City
Mazzini No. 824, New York City
Roma No. 854, New York City
La Parfaite Union No. 17, San Francisco
Speranza Italiana No. 219, San Francisco
Vallee de France No. 329, Los Angeles
Aurora No. 30, Milwaukee
"I bought me a high school geometry the other day" confessed the Very New Mason to the Old Past Master, sitting on the benches waiting for the Worshipful Master to call the lodge to labor. "I was so much impressed with what I learned of its importance to Masons, during the Fellowcraft Degree, that I determined to go back to my school days and try again. But I am much discouraged."
"Why so?" asked the old Past Master, interested. "I recall geometry as rather an interesting subject. I don't suppose I could do a single original now, it's been so many years.... I don't know when I have looked in one!"
"Why, you surprise me! I thought all good Masons must know geometry. We are taught.... how does it go?.... something about a noble science...." his voice trailed off in silence.
"'Geometry, the first and noblest of the sciences'" quoted the Old Past Master, "' is the basis on which the superstructure of Masonry is erected. By geometry, we may curiously trace Nature through her various windings, to her most concealed recesses. By it we may discover the wisdom and the goodness of the Grand Artificer of the universe and view with delight the proportions which connect this vast machine.'"
"Yes, that's it!" agreed the Very New Mason. "And there is a lot more, isn't there?"
"A whole lot!" smiled the Old Past Master, in agreement.
"Well, then, why doesn't a well informed Mason have to be a geometrician?"
"There is certainly no reason why a good geometrician shouldn't be a good Mason," answered the Old Past Master, "but no reason why a man who doesn't know geometry shouldn't be a good Mason.
"You see, my son, we hark back a great many years in much of our lectures, to a time when knowledge was neither so great nor so diversified as now. William Preston, the eminent Masonic student, scholar, writer, who lived and wrote in the latter part of the eighteenth century, conceived the idea of making the degrees in general, and the Fellowcraft degree in particular, a liberal education! A 'liberal education' in those days was comprised within what we still call, after Preston, the 'seven liberal arts and sciences.' In those days any mathematics beyond geometry was only for the very, very few; indeed, mathematics were looked upon rather askance by the common men, as being of small use in the world, save for engineers and designers and measurers of land.
"But Preston, if his lectures are no longer the real 'liberal education' which he planned, and which, in the form of his lectures modified by Webb (and somewhat tinkered with by various authorities and near authorities who at times have kept the husk and let the kernel escape!) builded better than he knew. For we may now justly and honorable take 'geometry' to mean not only the science of measurement of surface and area and the calculation of angles and distances, but to mean all measurement. And to study measurement, my son, means to study science, for all science is but measurement, and by that measurement, the deduction of laws and the unravelling of the secrets of nature.
"I do not understand geometry anymore; it is long since I studied it. But I do study, and do try to keep my mind awake and always filling, if never full. It is true that to many a Mason the study of geometry itself would be a grand mental discipline and thus greatly improve his mind. But I do not think we are to take this admonition literally, any more than we are to accept literal interpretations for other wordings in our ritual. We meet upon the level, in Masonry, and we act upon the square. But that does not mean that we put our feet upon a carpenter's level, or sit upon stone masons' squares while we 'act.' The words are symbols of thoughts. I take the admonition to study geometry as a symbol of a thought, meaning that a Mason is to educate himself, to keep his mind open, to keep it active, to learn, to think, to develop his reason and his logic, the he may the better aid himself to know himself and his work to aid his fellowmen.
"Even Preston, literal-minded as he was, and focusing all his attention as he did, upon ritual and teaching by it and a formalism which is not yet outworn in our ranks, had a vision of what geometry might mean beside the mathematical science of angles. For.... how does it go? In our charge to a Fellowcraft, we say "Geometry, or Masonry, originally synonymous terms, being of a divine and moral nature, is enriched with the most useful knowledge, while it proves the wonderful properties of nature, it demonstrates the more important truths of morality.'
"It should be obvious that a study of mathematics of any kind cannot demonstrate morality unless it is considered a symbol as well as a science. As we are thus told in so many words to use geometry as a symbol, we may well agree with Pike, who wrote learnedly to prove a Mason's inherent right to interpret the symbols of Freemasonry for himself. To me, geometry is a symbol of science, and one which I should use to impress upon myself the need of something else. To a Mason who had had few educational advantages, the word might mean its literal sense, and he be greatly benefited by a close study of the book which discourages you.
"I do not attempt, my brother, to force upon you my understanding, or to quarrel at all with those Masons who find a different interpretation of the geometry which is Masonry as we understand it. I do but give you my ideas for whatever use they may be to you, and so you will not be discouraged in what is a praiseworthy attempt to profit by the Masonic lectures. Do you recall the end of the charge you received as a Fellowcraft?"
"I.... I.... I am afraid I don't, just exactly...."
"It runs this way," smiled the Old Past Master. "....'in your new character it is expected that you will conform to the principles of the Order by steadily persevering in the practice of every commendable virtue.' If you study the 'principles of the Order' you will, indeed, be learning Masonic geometry."
Old Past Mster
America -fifty States and forty-nine separate Sovereign Grand Lodges!
On my first visit, in 1960, I travelled to New York, Boston, and Washington; then right across country to San Francisco, Fresno and Los Angeles. It was a seven-week Masonic tour and holiday combined, and I gave my Prestonian Lecture to enormous gatherings of Masons in all those cities, covering more than 7,000 miles within the American continent. When I returned to London, the D.C. of my Mother Lodge said, "Harry, you must tell us all about it after dinner; and we can give you ten minutes." Brethren, it cannot be done in ten minutes, but if you will stay with me a little longer, I shall try to keep you interested.
My principal equipment for the tour consisted of an insatiable curiosity, and a sufficient knowledge of English Masonic practices to enable me to ask the right sort of questions, so that I could make a reasonable assessment of our differences. I met and spoke to literally hundreds of Masons from Entered Apprentices to Grand Librarians, Grand Secretaries and Grand Masters. I saw many things that pleased me enormously, many that horrified me; and I never stopped asking questions!
(Grand Masters are amazingly plentiful in U.S.A., because most of them are elected for only one year. Sad, because a good man will only rarely see the fruits of his efforts!)
As a lecturer, it is probable that I was meeting the best types of American Masons, men with a real love for the Craft and a serious interest in its background. I can never forget that in Los Angeles I addressed a large gathering of Masons in a huge Masonic centre that they had built with their own hands, working voluntarily in their spare time under a hired architect and with a practical team of builders who ensured that the work was well and truly done; and I was proud to be associated with brethren of this calibre.
But of course the following impressions do not pretend to be a complete survey, nor can they possibly be true of the whole Craft in the U.S.A. I have simply tried to describe something of what I saw, emphasizing our differences in practice, with a critical eye for what seems strange to us, and with wholehearted praise where praise is due. American Masons are warm, friendly folk, good hosts, good company, and eager to be helpful; and if my words appear to accentuate certain peculiarities, I must plead that they were written without malicious intent, knowing full well that our brethren overseas can find much in our own system and practices that calls for criticism.
The first thing that is obvious to every English Mason who visits the U.S.A., is that their Freemasonry is unlike ours. In the first place, Masonry is not for father alone, but for the whole family. For father, there are the usual three "Blue" degrees, and then all the rest running right up to the 32. (the 33 is by selection and invitation; in fact, and hournor, rather than a degree.) For mother, there is the Order of the Eastern Star, the Order of Amaranth, and several others, less well known.
For boys, aged from 14 to 21, there is the Order of DeMolay, named after Jacques DeMolay, the last Grand Master of the medieval Knights Templar. For girls, aged 13 to 20, there is an Order called Rainbow and another called Job's Daughters; and all these are, in a very special and peculiar sense, Masonic. This must be explained and I shall do so in a moment.
I have called these Orders Masonic, and it is difficult for us in England to appreciate the point. Perhaps the following illustration may help. In A.Q.C., Vol. 75, p. 119, we recently reviewed the sesqui-centennial History of the Grand Lodge of Louisiana, a regular and recognized Grand Lodge which is in amicable fraternal relationship with our own Grand Lodge of England. Chapter 20 in this History is entitled "Bodies Identified with Masonry in Louisiana," (my italics) and among those listed are:
The Order of the Eastern Star, The Order of the Rainbow for Girls, for Boys The Order of DeMolay
In Eastern Star, and the majority of the others, a genuine Masonic relationship is an essential pre-requisite for joining, so that for Eastern Star, the lady candidate must be mother or wife, sister or daughter of a Freemason in good standing. (For Rainbow and DeMolay, relationship is preferable, but not essential.) There is no suggestion that these Orders are quasi-Masonic or that they attempt to copy Freemasonry. It is best to regard them as adjuncts to Freemasonry; and in the U.S.A., they are so regarded: the youth organizations as training-grounds for the future, while the women's Orders count it a duty and a privilege to serve Freemasonry in every possible way. All this appears very strange to us in England, and although it may seem wrong for a Grand Officer to say so, I like it and I believe that it works and it has obvious advantages. In the first place, father knows where mother is on her night out, and vice versa; and both are able to take an interest in the children's organizations. Whether all these efforts have any marked effect on juvenile delinquency rates in the U.S.A., would be very hard to say, but I am firmly convinced that this "family approach" to the Craft can do nothing but good.
A nice example of this family spirit occurred in Massachusetts where I lectured to an assembly of some five-hundred brethren, and over four-hundred-and-sixty of us sat down to dinner afterwards. It was in an enormous hall, with a stage at one end, on which the Lodge Organist was playing light music throughout the dinner. The tables were arranged in sprigs (as in England), and everyone except the Officers were dressed in the utmost informality. But all the Officers were in meticulous dinner dress and throughout the evening we were served by waitresses immaculately dressed in white from head to foot. It was a pleasant, unpretentious meal, and all was going splendidly when suddenly the S.W., far away in the right-hand corner of the room, stood up and began to dance with one of the waitresses along the gangway between the sprigs! I was sitting at the right of the Master, and I leaned over to him and whispered, "Worshipful Master, I thought I had seen almost everything in the Craft, but this I have never seen. Does it happen very often?" He turned to me with a smile and said, "I hope it does: the lady he is dancing with is his wife. Tonight we are being waited on by our wives, Eastern Star." And there were 460 at dinner! (I was unable to find out if the husbands help with the "washing-up," but probably they do not, because kitchens are highly mechanized in the U.S.A.).
With this kind of background, the objectives in the Craft tend to take on a rather different aspect from ours. Generally, they do not go in strongly for the maintenance of large Masonic Institutions, as we do. There are, indeed, many splendid institutions, but the emphasis is mainly on the social side: parties, outings and celebrations of one kind or another. A great deal is done by way of homes and equipment for crippled children. Masonic 'blood banks' are a big feature, the blood being for ultimate use by Masons and non-Masons alike. There are some Masonic hospitals, and a number of homes for 'senior citizens'; but nobody grows old in the U.S.A. If they are lucky enough to live that long, they become 'senior citizens,' and in those jurisdictions that aspire to the maintenance of institutions, it is usually the 'senior citizens' who get first care.
Finally, I must not omit from this description of the background of the Craft the very obvious fact that almost everyone wears a badge, usually a 'lapel-badge', with all sorts of Masonic symbols ranging up to the 33 and the so-called "High Degrees' predominating. All this might seem to be a piece of pardonable male vanity and in the vast majority of cases it is nothing more. But the badges tend to become a temptation, and the Masonic visitor to the U.S.A. will not need to look far before he realizes that they are all too often used for business.
Of all the things likely to shock an Englishman, this, I think, must be the most distasteful; and though I am sure that many Brethren in the U.S.A. find these practices as objectionable as we do, one has the impression that they have grown accustomed to them, and that is a great pity. I have heard the situation stated in a somewhat different form. One of my American friends told me, "I wear the badge, to show that I'm proud of my Masonry. As long as I wear it, I'd never do anything to disgrace it; in fact, when I do business with a man whom I recognize to be a Brother, I always try to give him a bigger order than I would otherwise." All this is true, I am sure, but where is there a commercial traveller among my friend's suppliers who could resist wearing a badge under such conditions?
During a more recent visit to the U.S.A., at an informal Masonic party in Providence, Rhode Island, I teased my hosts about this custom of wearing Masonic badges for the wrong reasons, and when I had finished talking, one of the Brethren said, "It is all very well for you to talk about our using Masonry for business, but it is not always like that. Quite often, we have to try to take an order from a Roman Catholic, and then the badge is a liability--not an asset, " I had to agree with him, but privately, Brethren, I'm convinced that it is much easier to remove the badge than to change your customer's religion!
Judging by our standards in England, where average membership is around 80 per Lodge, American lodge memberships are extraordinarily high. Consider, as an example, Washington, D.C., the capital and the centre of government; it is virtually a city without industry. It has about 50 lodges in all, four of them with memberships of 1,100, 1,200, 1,400, and 1,500 respectively! And these enormous memberships are to be found in all the large cities in the U.S.A. It is, of course, impossible to strike "average figures" as between lodges in the small villages and those in the large towns, because they would be misleading. But in any of the cities, one might expect the general run of lodges to range from 400 to 800 members, with several others running into four figures.
At the time of my visit to the U.S.A., I was already Secretary of two lodges and I was naturally puzzled as to the reasons for these (to us) fantastic numbers. There appear to be several reasons, and I dare not commit myself as to their order of importance. The first two reasons are almost national characteristics: (a) The Americans are great "joiners," they like to be in on everything. (b) They admire big numbers and mass production. (c) Most U.S.A. jurisdictions have curious regulations relating to what they call single, dual or plural membership. Some Grand Lodges allow only single membership, i.e., a Brother may belong to only one Craft Lodge and no more. Others allow dual membership, usually permitting their members to belong to one Lodge inside the State and one outside. Only very few Grand Lodges permit their members the same privileges as we enjoy here, of plural membership, i.e., of joining as many Lodges as we please. It seems possible that, in some indirect way, these regulations have the effect of channelling vast numbers of Masons into a comparatively small number of Lodges, and that leads to large memberships.
I realize that this may be faulty reasoning, but there is no doubt as to the facts, i.e., that in many jurisdictions, if Lodge memberships are to be kept reasonably low, there are simply not enough Lodges to take the vast numbers of men who want to join. The reasons are purely economic .
(d) Maintenance costs arc very high for Lodges and lodge buildings in the U.S.A., and this leads to some curious results. In some cities, when a new Lodge is to be founded, it is not uncommon to find that the existing Lodges raise objections, because they regard all future Masons in their territory as their own "reserve pool," which will help swell their own membership in due course, and thus help them with their maintenance charges and their balance-sheets. In effect, the Masons themselves are opposing the formation of new lodges. (Sec the note 011 this subject in "Whither Are We Traveling?", by M.W. Bro. Dwight L. Smith, P.G.M. and Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of Indiana.)
But is it possible that there is still another reason for the large numbers? I found that in many jurisdictions it is customary for the Secretary to receive 1 1/2 dollars annually per head for every member! (As a former Secretary of the Q. C. Lodge, with over 12,000 members, I must say that this idea appeals to me enormously!) In certain jurisdictions the Lodge Secretaries receive a fixed honorarium, instead. I do not for one moment suggest that Secretaries are tempted to tout for members; I merely record the differences in our respective practices.
Of course I was anxious to know how the American Lodges achieve these memberships, and the opportunity came when I visited the Grand Secretary's office in Boston, Mass. Among many interesting papers that were given to me was their Year Book, containing all the statistics for the preceding year, and thumbing through the pages casually, I came to the section which summarized their Annual Returns. There were many pages of figures but, at the very end of the list, there were the details for the very last Lodge that was consecrated just before the book was printed, and at the time of this Return the Lodge was only eleven months old. At that age, (eleven months), this infant Lodge had a membership of 174; during the eleven months it had initiated 54 Brethren, it had passed 49, and raised 45 brethren. Mass production in a really big way!
The Lodges usually meet once a month (for ten or eleven months in the year) for their "stated" or regular meetings, and every week, or fortnight, for "emergent," "special" or "work" meetings. Attendances, I am told, are proportionately low. In a Lodge of 1,000 members, an attendance of 100 at a 'Stated' meeting would be counted good. There might be only 20 or 30 at the "work" meetings, and these "work" meetings are, in effect, the factories where Masons are turned out by mass production. This may sound cynical, but I believe it is a fair statement of the situation that exists in the larger Masonic centres in the U.S.A.
Arising from all this, perhaps the most frequent question I have been asked in England is "With memberships of 800 to 1,500, how can a Mason ever become Master of a Lodge? Surely he could never live long enough." The answer is that it is easy. All he needs to do, is to express a desire to "go on," or to "get in line" as the Americans say, and the path is wide open for him. It is the great tragedy of Craft Masonry in the U.S.A. that vast numbers of those who join simply use the Craft as a springboard to the 32ø. To be Master of a "Blue" Lodge may be very pleasant, but it is not nearly so important as to become a 32ø Mason and a "Shriner," with all its attendant advantages (mainly social). As a result men become Freemasons for the wrong reasons, and the Craft is neglected in favour of side degrees.
Among the Grand Officers who see and deplore what is happening, this is a source of constant anxiety, frequently expressed in forthright statements. It is a disease the presence of which is known and understood, but the remedy, unfortunately, is still to be found. Talk to any American Mason for five minutes, and the chances are that he will show you his wallet containing a whole "concertinafull" of Dues Cards, witnessing the number of "Masonic" organizations to which he belongs. There will seldom be more than one (or two) Craft Lodges among them; the rest are all side degrees, that are helping, unintentionally to sap the Craft of its vitality!
There are several different Craft rituals in use in the U.S.A., generally exhibiting only minor variations and, broadly speaking, they are very similar to ours in England. Yet, in a very curious way, the visitor who knows his ritual will find that the American versions sound strangely old-fashioned, repetitive, and somehow older than ours. Surprisingly, this is true; although the Americans got their ritual from Britain, their ritual is, in fact, older than ours, and that makes an interesting story.
As you probably know, our present ritual was virtually standardized at the time of the union of the rival Grand Lodges, in 1813,, when the 'Antients' and the 'Moderns' ultimately came together to form the United Grand Lodge. For several years before that date, committees of learned Brethren had been sitting, trying to evolve a revised form of the ritual that would be acceptable to both sides.
The results of their labours, very satisfying to us nowadays, did not meet with wholehearted approval at that time. Many changes had been made and a great deal of symbolical material had been discarded. Indeed, it might almost be fair to say that in cleaning up the ritual, the baby had been thrown away with the bath-water .
American Masonic workings owe their origins, unquestionably, to England, Scotland, Ireland, but the stabilization of their ritual was done by an American, Thomas Smith Webb, who, although he wrote very little of it himself, may well be described as the father of American ritual.
In 1792, Webb, a printer by trade, settled in Albany, N.Y., and soon afterwards he made the acquaintance of John Hanmer, an English Freemason who was a keen ritualist and apparently very knowledgeable about the Preston system. Webb, was then barely twenty-two years old and their mutual interests drew them together. This was the period when the English Masonic ritual was at its highest stage of development. Hutchinson and Calcott had published their works; Preston was in his prime, and the 1792 edition of his Illustrations of Masonry had just appeared. This was the 8th edition, as popular and successful as its predecessors, and it was almost a bible to the English Craft. Webb took the book, retained sixty-four pages of Preston's work intact, word for word, cut out a few minor items, and rearranged others, and published it in 1797, under the title Freemasons' Monitor or Illustrations of Freemasonry.Within twenty years, the ritual in England had been altered, curtailed and polished up, (some said, almost beyond recognition), but not so in the U.S.A.; they preserved it.
Look at some of our oldest Tracing Boards and you will find pictures of the Scythe, Hour-glass, Beehive, Anchor, etc., which once had their proper places as symbolic portions of our ritual. They have disappeared from our tracing Boards and from the ritual; but in America, they are still in use to this day, depicted on the Boards and explained in their 'Monitors.' And so it is fair to say that their ritual, though it came from us, is actually older than ours, and it is not merely 'old-fashioned,' but also more discursive, and by reason of their Lectures much more explanatory than ours, especially of the symbolical meaning of their procedures.
But apart from the things we have lost, their ritual material is essentially the same as ours, and easily recognizable. Their signs and secrets are virtually the same as ours, except that they use the Scottish sign for the Entered Apprentices. Their second degree is more elaborate than ours. Their third is basically the same as ours, but because they perform the drama as if it were a play, treating the Candidate as though he were really H.A., the result is occasionally rather rough and frightening, especially in those lodges that pride themselves on the realism of their performance.
The manner in which the Americans safeguard their ritual is also interesting. In England, our Grand Lodge views the ritual as a 'domestic matter,' i.e., a majority of the Brethren in any lodge may decide what form of ritual shall be worked, and unless the Lodge was guilty of some serious breach, the Grand Lodge would not interfere. In the U.S.A., the very reverse is the case. Each Grand Lodge prescribes the ritual that its Lodges shall work, and usually the Grand Lodge prints and publishes the "monitorial" or explanatory portions of the rituals too. Ten out of the forty-nine Grand Lodges also publish the esoteric ritual, in code or cipher, but this is forbidden in the others. Moreover, to prevent innovations, the Grand Lodges protect their forms of working by the appointment of officers, called Grand Lecturers, whose duty is not to lecture, but to ensure that the groups of lodges under their care adhere to the official workings. They do this by means of official demonstrations, called 'Exemplifications,' and during my first visit, I was lucky enough to see both first and second degrees rehearsed in this way.
The exemplifications I saw in Boston required a necessary period of adjustment to Bostonian English, but after that I would gladly give them full marks; the work is splendid. It is proper, perhaps, to add a little tailpiece to this chapter, which gives an insight to the American approach to their Masonry. I am told that in several, if not most, of the U.S.A. jurisdictions, the Grand Lecturers are paid for their services!
RITUALS and MONITORS
Grand Lodge practices, in regard to books of the ritual, differ from State to State. In Pennsylvania, and California, for example, no written or printed ritual is permitted. All tuition is, as they say, "from mouth to ear," i.e., the Officers and Candidates must attend at rehearsals or "work-meetings" until they have memorized their work simply by listening to it over and over again. In some jurisdictions each officer is responsible for training his successor, privately, not at rehearsals. The Ritual material is usually divided up into two categories,
(I) "Monitors" which print non-secret portions of ritual and procedure, symbolic Lectures, etc., all in plain language .
(2) The "Rituals" proper, which arc printed (in ten States) in some sort of cipher with . . . dots . . . in the usual places.
Books, in both categories, are supposed to be rather difficult to obtain, but one has the impression that this is merely a case of knowing where to look. The Monitors need not concern us here, but the Rituals are interesting. There appear to bc four different ciphers that are mainly used. One of the most popular is a kind of "geometrical" code, made Up of straight lines, curves, angles and symbols, which look vary difficult but are, in fact, fairly easy to break down.
In many jurisdictions, a two-letter code is used; usually the first and last letters of each word, but occasionally the first two Attars of each word. These two codes are fairly difficult to read until one begins to have a fair knowledge of the "expected word"; but as SOON as the phrases become familiar, the two-letter codes arc quite easy to read.
Most difficult of all is the one-letter code, in which only the first letter of each word is used, and this is absolutely terrifying, almost impossible to read until one has acquired a real knowledge of the ritual.
From the Officers' point of view, all this is simply a matter of patience and regular attendance, but for the candidates it is another story. Here, in England, the Candidate for passing has to learn the answers to perhaps eight or nine questions, usually printed on cards in plain language, with perhaps one or two words omitted. For raising he learns another seven or eight answers, and he is through.
In the U.S.A. jurisdictions, these examinations are called "Proficiency Tests," and they must be a really worrying experience. For example, the E. A. passing to the F. C. has to answer about seventy-seven questions, and recite the Obligation by heart, before he can pass his test; the F. C. must answer some forty questions and the Obligation from memory, and the M. M., after he has taken his third degree, another forty or so, again with the Obligation by heart. Then, and not until then does he become a real member of the Lodge. Then he is allowed to sign the Register, and enjoy the privileges of membership, including a Masonic Funeral if he wants it.
All this would be difficult enough if the Q. & A. were printed in plain language, but they are not. In those jurisdictions where no printed rituals are permitted, the candidates must attend "Classes of Instruction," usually under the care of the J. D., or S. D., until they have learned their work "from mouth to ear." Elsewhere, they learn their work from the cipher books. I have a set of the "Proficiency Tests" as used in Rhode Island, in their one letter code and they are simply terrifying. I have been a Preceptor for many years, and I find them difficult to read. Heaven knows how the candidates manage--but they do.
Here, I believe it is fair to say that American Masons, in the course of passing their "Proficiency Tests" in all three degrees, acquire a much wider knowledge of the ceremonies and especially of their symbolical meaning, than our candidates get in England. Their patience and industry are more than justified.
W Bro. Harry Carr
Past Junior Grand Deacon of the United Grand Lodge of England
Past Secretary of Quator Coronati Lodge No 2076
Freemasonry has many curiosities, and indeed, many mysteries as yet unsolved. Among the former are several often misunderstood words with odd or involved meanings.
ABIMAN REZON is the title still used by South Carolina and Pennsylvania for their Books of Law. It was used in years gone by also by Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Maryland and Nova Scotia. It was the title given by Dermott to the Book of Constitutions of the Grand Lodge (Ancients) of England. Presumably the words had an Hebraic origin, but no one has as yet settled on a translation so authoritative that all are satisfied. "Will of Selected Brethren", "Secrets of a Prepared Brother", "Royal Builder", "Brother Secretary", "Intimate Brother Secretary", "A Prepared Brother", are all suggested meanings by various scholars who adduce various Hebrew words and their compounds as possibilities for the meaning Dermott had in mind when he first used the syllables as a title. Scholars also dispute the pronunciation. Ah-HIGH-man REE-zon is common, but the better scholarship seems to indicate that properly the second word should be pronounced with the accent of the second syllable--Re-ZON
LEWIS is an iron tool inserted in a cavity in a large stone, which expanded as it is pulled upwards, holds the weight of the stone firmly as it is swung through the air by a derrick so its position in the wall of a building. Both the term and the invention are very old. Pennsylvania used it as a symbol of strength, but as such it is absent from the symbolism of other Grand Jurisdictions. Masonically, the word is universally used to denote the under-age son of a Freemason. Obviously the term has so applied because the strength of a man's later years is in his sons, and the lewis, in England as in Pennsylvania, is a symbol of strength. In England a dispensation may be obtained, permitting the initiation of a lewis under twenty-one years of age. In Scotland any lewis may be initiated at eighteen. In North Dakota, a lewis may apply to a lodge before his is twenty-one, but cannot be initiated until he has reached man's estate. The Classic instance of a lewis being initiated in this country is George Washington, who was only twenty years and some months of age when he became an Entered Apprentice in "The Lodge at Fredericksburgh" (Virginia), November 4,1752 In France the term is not lewis but louveteau, but has the same meaning.
The ABIF of Hiram Abif does not appear in the Bible. The word Abi or Abiw or Abiv is translated in the King James version both as "his father" and "my father" - using the word "father" as a term of respect and not as denoting a parent. Hiram, the widow's son of the tribe of Naphtali, was "my father" in the same sense that Abraham was "my father" to members of the tribes of Israel. The thought that the two syllables are a surname is obviously in error. The legend gains, not loses, in appeal when Abif becomes a title of honor. Just when and how it came into the Masonic terminology is still a moot point; it does not appear in the Regis document (oldest of our Constitutions, dated approximately 1390) but does appear - only as one name among many - in the Dowland manuscript of 1550. Apparently the term was not in common use until after the King James Bible (1611) had become familiar in Masonic circles. The story of Hiram Abif as told in the Masonic tale is not found in the Bible, nor is there any meaning in the word which can be construed as port of the story as Masons tell it, except that of veneration.
DUE GUARD is two words, forming one, which scholars fight over and Masons accept as a matter of course. Every Mason knows what it is. None apparently, really knows where it came from. Mackey says that it is a contraction of "duly guard". According to the great authority it is an Americanism and not used abroad now to mean what we mean, even though two hundred years ago it was the name given to a sign. Some who dare to raise their small voices against the thunder of the great Mackey are convinced that the words are a ontraction or alteration of "Dieu-garde" -- "God guard" -- of the french. Haywood gives both Mackey and the immediately foregoing as a choice; Dr. Pease is wholly on the side of Mackey. Authorities with less fame still cling to a derivation from the French words, probably because of their poetic content more than any etymological foundations. Universally in this country a ritualistic difference is perceived between the due guards and the signs, but as a matter of actual practice a due guard is a sign and cannot be taken from the category of signs by a mere definition; even the ritualistic definition of a sign does not preclude the due guard from the classification.
COMPASSES-COMPASS. From the standpoint of the dictionary, these are two words with totally different meanings. A COMPASS is a suspended magnet so balanced that it may turn upon its pivot and orient itself with the North magnetic pole and thur (with the aid of tables and mathematics), point out the true North. COMPASSES is the word used to describe that instrument which draws circles and/or measures small distances; sometimes COMPASSES are called dividers. Like trousers and scissors, COMPASSES is always plural when meaning the instrument-except in six Grand Lodges of the United States which use the word COMPASS in the same way as their neighbors use COMPASSES. COMPASS is form the Latin Com (with) and passus (a step) --an instrument which is used "with a step"-- in other words, dividers. Masonically, it appears to be more a measuring than a circle drawing instrument, although reference to its Masonic use includes "circumscribe desires." But its position, open sixty degrees upon a quadrant, as in the symbol of a Past Master, would seem to indicate that it is more as dividers than as an instrument to draw arcs of circles, that it is important Masonically. With the square it forms two of the three Great Lights of Masonry, and has become so universally recognized as a symbol of Freemasonry that courts have forbidden its unauthorized use or its being copyrighted or trademarked for commercial purposes.
Few wholly Masonic words have been so much talked about and so little understood by the average Mason as "COWAN". Every one understands that it is a term of contempt; that it denotes some one wholly without the Masonic circle; but just what its real meaning may be, where the word came from, how it came into our system, is disputed to this day by Masonic scholars. It is generally - not wholly - agreed that it has a Scotch ancestry. certain old Scottish books lend color to the theory. according to these tomes a COWAN is a man who builds walls without mortar-as any farm hand in America may do, piling into a wall the stones from nearby streams or turned up in ploughing. From this the term cane to be used as meaning an uninstructed Mason, a self-taught builder, one not of the trade. Apparently its earliest appearance is in the Schaw Manuscript, dated 1598. It appears in the second, or 1738 edition of Anderson's constitutions. Scott puts the words into the mouth of one of his characters. Whence came the word? A Greek work KUON means dog, and in early church days infidels were called dogs, probably because of such passages as Matthew 7:6-"Give not that which is holy unto the dogs." old Swedish KUJON means a silly fellow. The French word COYOU means a coward, a base person. Mackey had a different theory; that COWAN was either a derivation of, or the ancestry of the English word "common". Old English spelled the word both coen and comon. If this is correct, COWAN, meaning common, is still a term meaning the lesser, vide "common people," also the English "House of Commons" as distinguished from the House of Lords. However derived the word is now wholly the property of the Fraternity, not otherwise used, and means to moderns an uninstructed and ignorant person, one not of the Fraternity, just as eavesdropper means to us one who attempts to gain the secrets of Masonry unlawfully.
Moderns do not go as far as bloodshed over the word "HELE" (pronounced HAIL), but in spite of the determinations of philologists and Masonic authorities who may well be considered final, now and then some more or less learned Freemason wishes to change either the meaning of the word or its pronunciation, or its spelling, or any two, or all three! HELE is almost invariable associated with the word "conceal" (as it should be) and "HELE and conceal" may be translated by transposition-"conceal and HELE". "HELE" is old Angle-Saxon belan, meaning to conceal. "Conceal" is Norman, and means to hide. Dr. Pease has well brought out that in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries language in England was part Norman-French and part Angle-Saxon and that early ritual writers, desiring to make sure that no misunderstanding was possible, often expressed ideas in word pairs, one word from each language. Hence such phrases as "HELE and conceal", "parts and points", "Free will and accord", etc. To the objections of those who contend that "HELE" should be pronounced "heel" because it rhymes with "conceal and reveal" the answer is that in the early days of the language, our "conceal" was pronounced "consayle" and our "reveal" was pronounced "revayle". The word "HELE" (meaning to hide) has no connection with the word "heal", meaning to make whole again, or Masonically, make legitimate, nor with the word "heel", meaning part of the foot, or with the word "hale", meaning in good health, or the word "hail", meaning to call to, or greet.
Few words are more wrongly used, at least in Masonic circles, that "oath". A candidate takes upon himself a solemn obligation to do certain things and to refrain from certain actions. the word "OBLIGATION" is from the Latin-of (to) and ligare (to bind). It is a tie, a bond, an agreement, a profession of intention, a responsibility, a duty agreed upon, a constraint of action, a pledge, an acknowledgement of promises made. In no such definitions can be found any similarity to the meaning of the word "oath", which is the concluding phrase by which the assumer of the OBLIGATION calls upon that which he holds sacred to witness his vow. In a court of law the witness swears to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. That is an assumed OBLIGATION. He ends "So help me, God" which is the oath, attesting to the sincerity of his OBLIGATION. In taking both OBLIGATION and attesting it by the oath, the witness is required to raise his right hand, a curious throwback to ancient days in which a man offered his right hand to be cut off if his oath was broke,. Still more an oddity is the small boy's attestation "by golly" made without knowing that he is offering the ancient "gol"(hand) if he tells not the truth! The Masonic OBLIGATIONS are high-minded duties voluntarily assumed by candidates as their part in becoming brethren of the Ancient Craft. the oath which they take is their attestation of the validity of the covenants the thus make. To speak of the whole as a Masonic "oath" is to name the whole for a minor part.
Words change in meaning as the centuries pass. The classic examples are the word "hell" and "hellfire" which in the King James Version (Mark) mean a place where refuse and garbage are burned and in more modern eschatology becomes a place of punishment, somewhat worse than the sheol of the old testament. Among words much used in Masonry two-PROFANE and LIBERTINE - have changed in meaning with the passage of the years. Anciently "PROFANE" came from "pro" (without) and "fanum" (temple) and signified one uninitiated, not within the circle of the Craft. "LIBERTINE" was once a free thinker, one who did not subscribe to the doctrine of the church ". "PROFANE" in common parlance is now one given to taking the name of God in vain and the "LIBERTINE" is a licentious person. Masonically a profane is merely one not initiated, and an "irreligious libertine" is an agnostic or an atheist, and not a man of promiscuous habits.
Anciently the word "TOKEN" (from the Anglo-Saxon tacn, a gesture, a sign and art) was properly used as we use it Masonically. But through the years it has changed, in common parlance; now may be an offering of flowers to a lady or a box of cigars to a man. In Biblical days the word was used to signify a memorial or other reminder of a covenant or promise as the rainbow was "a TOKEN of a covenant". In Freemasonry the TOKEN is never a thing, always an act.
As the famed magician was shackled and then lowered upside down into the water-filled Chinese Torture Cell, gazing through the glass front illusion at the immersed man, the audience sat transfixed knowing that unless escape was possible within precious minutes certain death by drowning would result.
His very name conjures up visions of magical miracles, thrilling escapes, death defying stunts and a mysterious persona capable of the impossible. While he died three quarters of a century ago, the average person still thinks of Houdini when asked to name a famous magician. What aura of greatness, mystique, and depth of charisma encompassed this man, rising from humble beginnings to the rarified pinnacle of glory, to have left such an indelible imprint on the pages of history.
In truth, there were two Houdinis; the performer as the world saw him, and Eric Weiss the man and Freemason, a personality obscured from view by the public persona. Born Erich Weiss in Budapest on March 24, 1874 [the usually cited date is April 6 of that year in Appleton, Wisconsin, the date his mother had claimed]. If the date and location have been the subject of confusion, recent research clearly indicates the Budapest origin.
Circumstances surrounding the family's departure for America remain cloudy, although anti- Semitism undoubtedly played a major role. Harry Houdini was a complex personality, a romantic ever willing to embellish his rather mundane and plain beginnings. Throughout his life, there are clear instances where he invented and/or "embroidered" events to enhance both his personal and professional image, having an incessant need to "color" events that there might be an aura of mystery and glamour involved.
With Hungarian friends in Appleton, Houdini's father had accepted a Rabbi's position there. Unfortunately, being old world conservative, he was unable to adapt to more liberal American ideas and the family relocated, first to Milwaukee, and then to New York. The family always in need of money, young Eric took a variety of odd jobs to help out. With virtually no formal education, he left home at age 12 to "make his fortune" but after a year or two eventually relocated to New York where his family now lived.
At age 17, he was captivated by the memoirs of the great French magician Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin and it's perhaps not surprising he was drawn to what he believed to be the glamorous world of entertainment and magic where he might find fame and fortune. He was so impressed by Houdin's life that when a stage name became necessary he simply added an "i" to Houdin becoming Houdini.
Houdini and his brother Theo began a magic act playing grubby beer halls, lodge banquets, dime museums and any other bookings they could obtain, but the early years were a struggle. In the famous Coney Island, N.Y. amusement park, for example, they worked for coins thrown into a hat and in the 1892 Chicago World Columbia Exposition, Harry gave 20 shows daily at a sideshow for $12 a week. During his early years, working carnivals and similar venues, he gained a world of information and experience in show business.
As an adult, Houdini was somewhat shorter than average, about 5'4", with blue eyes, dark curly hair and with a rather careless appearance, yet his face seemed to project a burning handsome intensity. Immensely strong both in mind and body, through exercise and balanced living, he developed his physical state to an amazing degree of fitness with literally muscles of steel and a determination of mind to match. An outstanding swimmer, he also developed an extended underwater breath control technique which, together with his superb physical condition, would prove so essential in later years as an escape artist.
Different versions surround Houdini's meeting of and marriage to Wilhelminia Beatrice Rahner, or "Bess," and separating fact from fiction, like much of Houdini's life, is a difficult task. What is certain is that the Houdinis always celebrated June 22, 1894, as their anniversary. A match between rigidly Catholic and Jewish families might seem improbable, but it proved both successful and enduring for the Houdinis.
After the marriage, Bess replaced Theo in the act becoming the principal assistant. Success was still a fleeting entity, however, and they continued working traditional areas such as sideshows, circuses, beer halls, etc., often working ten to twenty shows daily. At one point, in Nova Scotia in 1896, with no funds left for a room, they were forced to sleep in a hallway and Houdini even considered giving up show business.
It was in 1895, looking for something different from other entertainers, that he thought of a challenge to local police stations on his ability to escape from their handcuffs and jail cells. By 1898-99, primarily as a result of these successful escapes, his reputation began to spread, better bookings followed, and after years of struggle things began looking up.
Then, booked into a large vaudeville circuit by an important impresario, the turning point arrived. Big-time vaudeville was then the most popular form of entertainment, the fledgling motion picture industry not yet the phenomenon it would eventually become. For the Houdinis, it was their "breakthrough" and an end to one-night stands and burlesque days.
Houdini spent years learning the mechanics of locks and handcuffs until he was one of the world's experts in the field. A master of opening secure devices of all types, he possessed a skill the likes of which has not been seen since and likely never will again. Additionally, Houdini had an amazing ability and brought charisma and sheer magnetism to his presentations, mesmerizing audiences until they "believed" in his miracles, a rare talent indeed.
There was also the publicity he created to enhance his image. He developed not only into a performer of unsurpassed ability, he could almost be said to be the creator of the modern "hard sell" so extravagant were his methods and claims. The great showman Barnum touted his circus acts-Houdini touted himself. It's possible no greater exponent of self exploitation and advertising has ever lived. If "Chutzpah" were a marketable commodity, Houdini would have been worth billions!
The French conjurer Robert-Houdin wrote: "A magician is not a juggler. He is an actor playing a role---the role of a sorcerer." Houdini played the role to magnificent perfection. So baffling were his methods considered, some even attributed his legendary escapes to occult or supernatural powers. No less a respected individual than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle believed Houdini had the power to dematerialize himself in one place and reappear in another.
If a modest success was being achieved, it was not yet total success for Houdini. Thus, in 1900 he and Bess sailed for England where other American magicians had done well, a gesture of immense confidence since he had no English bookings. London was not initially a "pearl" in his oyster. However, through perseverance, a bit of luck, an escape from Scotland Yard's cuffs and a trial appearance at London's famed Alhambra Theater he was on his way.
In time and with helpful publicity, successful engagements followed in France, Holland, Germany and Russia and he and Bess would spend the next five years enjoying their European success. As his fame grew, he broke all existing attendance records in city after city becoming the most outstanding, sought after, and highest paid vaudeville entertainer on the Continent and British Isles. His ego was of monstrous proportions, however, suffering few imitators. He had "arrived" and believed he was the best!
As a consequence, he was fiercely jealous, not only of any contemporaries who also performed escapes, but indeed competitors of any kind. Through the years, he devoted much time and effort "fighting" against those who either "attacked" his act or who he felt debased the escape art through the use of trick or "gaffed" items quietly failing to mention his own use of similar hidden methods. Needless to say, he garnered tremendous publicity in the process.
Amazingly generous and thoughtful of retired or destitute magicians or their families, he carried his largess to such measures he often paid their rent or otherwise extended aid. He also gave benefit performances at charity hospitals and orphanages. His generosity, while often kept in the shadows, was legion. Possibly he felt he, too, would someday be in need, possibly he was simply implementing the Masonic tenets of Brotherly Love, Relief and Charity, or perhaps it was a bit of both.
The Houdinis never had a home life or settled down in the conventional sense of the word, spending much of their life "on the road" performing at one venue or another, their residence a series of rooming houses and hotels. Their life was the theater, the circus, or wherever they happened to be performing. While he bought a twenty-six room New York townhouse and moved his mother there, it was little more than a storehouse of magic and a place he occasionally visited.
The years were rolling by and Houdini realized he could not always dangle upside down high above the ground freeing himself from a strait jacket. He needed new worlds to conquer and so in 1919 he moved into movies, first in a "cliff-hanger" serial and then "cliff-hanger" feature films. He would invariably be chained, roped, or otherwise immobilized by villains in sequences which required his imminent release to escape death and rescue the heroine from an equally perilous situation. Needless to say, he always prevailed.
WW-I naturally put a stop to his European appearances and fiercely patriotic he tried to enlist in 1917 but at age 43 was rejected as being too old. Not to be derailed, for the next two years he performed at military benefits, canteens and training camps usually at his own expense, often working with stars such as Will Rogers, Tom Mix, and Jim Corbett. Also active in selling "Liberty Bonds," he chalked up sales of $1,000,000 virtually single handedly.
Interestingly, while he later began to expose spiritual charlatans, he had himself followed the same path and had given psychic presentations early in his career, spiritual ism then in vogue. In time, he became embarrassed at the gullibility of his audiences and revised the act to emphasize magic and escapes rather than spiritualism. Could mediums communicate with the Netherworld? While keeping an open mind on the subject, he developed a total aversion to psychic fraud, spending years both studying and lecturing on the issue and became a fervent crusader in exposing fraudulent mediums.
A member of the Craft, Houdini was not alone among Masonic magicians, a group which included such notables as Harry Keller, Howard Thurston, and Harry Blackstone. Initiated in St. Cecile Lodge, N.Y., July 17, 1923, he was Passed and Raised July 31 and August 21 and in 1924 he entered the Consistory. Immensely proud of his Masonic affiliation, he gave a benefit performance for the Valley of New York, filling the 4,000 seat Scottish Rite Cathedral and raising thousands of dollars for needy Masons. In October 1926, just weeks prior to his untimely death, he became a Shriner in N.Y.'s Mecca Temple.
On October 22, 1926, during an engagement at the Princess Theater in Montreal, a first-year college student asked permission to test the entertainer's abdominal muscle control and strike the magician, a part of Houdini's act. Houdini, accepting the challenge, mumbled his assent, whereupon the student struck before the necessary muscles could be tensed, obviously a critical requirement. Houdini ignored later stomach pains in the tradition of "the show must go on."
Arriving in Detroit the next day, he was diagnosed with acute appendicitis but again insisted on performing. Finally, with a temperature of 104, he was taken to Grace Hospital where a ruptured gangrenous appendix was removed but peritonitis had unfortunately set in. Despite medical predictions of imminent death, his strong will to live was such he held on almost a week, finally succumbing the afternoon of October 31, 1926, at the age of 52, Halloween Day. Perhaps a symbolically magical date for his final curtain.
His body was taken to New York with funeral services held at the W. 43rd St. Elks Lodge Ballroom with some 2,000 in attendance. The impressive service included eulogies by Rabbis, a Broken Wand Ceremony by the Society of American Magicians, tributes from the National Vaudeville Artists and Jewish Theatrical Guild, rites by the Mt. Zion Congregation, the Elks, and Masonic Rites by St. Cecile Lodge. Burial was then in Machpelah Cemetery, Brooklyn, a site Houdini had personally selected.
The Literary Digest called Houdini "the greatest necromancer of the age-perhaps of all time." Be that as it may, before Houdini died he said he would send a message to his wife from beyond the grave if it were possible. Many seance attempts have been made to bring Houdini's spirit back but none have succeeded.
In the Middle Ages, Houdini would likely have been burned at the stake by the Church as being a "sorcerer" in the same manner Protestants were burned, charged by the Church as being "heretics." By the beginning of the 20th Century, however, history had moved on and in today's world the magical arts enjoy unprecedented prestige.
There is little doubt Houdini presented his "death defying" escapes in a dazzling manner, one peculiar to his own personality and to the era in which he lived. He was, after all, a showman first and foremost, a product of a particular era, an era ready to "believe," and perhaps in some respects an era unworldly and naive by comparison with today's technological wonders.
As Sherlock Holmes said: "We reach. We grasp. And what is left in our hands at the end? A shadow." Sometimes, however, in lieu of fading, the shadow endures and becomes an all pervasive reminder of a unique figure whose larger than life persona lingers on. Houdini's shadow not only endures, but his name has entered into the hallowed realm of legend.
Bro. William E. Parker
Past Grand Senior Warden
French National Grand Lodge
Of "the few Lodges at London," as the record puts it, who constituted themselves a Grand Lodge in 1717, only four are named. If other lodges were invited, it maybe surmised that they either had not been notified of the purpose of the meeting, or if so, that they declined to associate themselves with the undertaking. Or perhaps no one knew what was afoot when the meeting was held, and the idea of a Grand Lodge was born of the spirit of the hour.
The phrase "time immemorial," used to denote the age of the four lodges taking part, is all a blur, telling us no authentic story of their history. On the Engraved List of Lodges of 1729, the Goose and Gridiron Lodge No.1, known after as the Lodge of Antiquity, is said to have dated from 1691. Of the others we have no early knowledge at all, except the part they took in founding the first Grand Lodge. Even the Lodge of Antiquity pursued an uneventful career until Preston became its Master in 1774, when it was involved in a dispute with Grand Lodge.
The lodge, which met at the Crown Ale-House, Parker's Lane - No.2, of the original four - played no part in Masonic history, and died of inanition twenty years later; stricken off the roll in 1740. No Mason of any note seems to have belonged to it. The Apple-Tree Tavern Lodge - No.3 - gave the Grand Lodge its first Grand Master, Anthony Sayer, who apparently appointed two members of his own Lodge as Grand Wardens - so at least we may conjecture. The lodge moved to the Queen's Head, Knaves Acre, about 1723, and, if we may believe Anderson, it was loath to come under the new Constitution adopted in that year.
These two lodges seem to have been Operative Lodges, or largely so, composed of working Masons and Brethren of the artisan class. Clearly, then, the new Grand Lodge was made up, predominately, of Operative Masons, and not, as has so often been implied, the design of men who simply made use of the remnants of Operative Masonry the better to exploit some hidden cult. Still, it may be argued that, even if Operative Masons were in the majority, the real leadership of the movement came from Accepted Masons, and that is quite true. But anyone who knows the ingrained conservatism of Masons of every sort, will be slow to admit that any designing group could have imposed anything not inherently Masonic upon such an assembly.
The premier lodge of the period, which seems to have initiated and led the formation and policy of the new Grand Lodge, was No.4, meeting at the Rummer and Grape Tavern in Channel Row, Westminster. It was almost entirely a Specu-lative Lodge, made up of Accepted Masons, and almost all the leading men of the Craft in that formative time were members of it. The other lodges had perhaps twenty members each, while No.4 had a roll of seventy, among them men of high social rank, including members of nobility. Had it not been for such a lodge, the only one of is kind and quality in London, the chances are many that no Grand Lodge would have been formed, and the story of our Craft, if it had any story at all, would have been very different.
Besides Dr. Anderson, to whom, Gould says, we may safely attribute the authorship of the Constitutions - as well as much else, some of it rather fantastic - and Dr. Desaguliers, to whom tradition ascribes the refashioning of much of the ritual, the second and third Grand Masters were men of that lodge. It also furnished a Grand Secretary, William Cowper. The lodge continued to hold first place in numbers, social rank, and influence until 1735, when a decline set in, both in attendance and contributions, and in 1747 it was decreed that the lodge "be erased from the Book of Lodges." Four years later the lodge was restored, but it never regained its former power, and twenty years later appeared to be once more on the edge of extinction, from which it was rescued by being merged with the Somerset House Lodge founded in Dunckerley.
The Goose and Gridiron Lodge, No.1, is the only one of the original four lodges now in existence. After various changes in name it is now the Lodge of Antiquity, No.2, having lost its proud position of first on the list when the lodges were renumbered by the casting of lots, at the time of the union of the two rival Grand Lodges, in 1813. It seems to have been a mixed lodge, part Operative and part Speculative, and this fact, no doubt, made for continuity and stability in its long history and service.
Not much is known of the first Grand Master, Anthony Sayer, whose life seems to have been uneventful, if not unimportant, save for the "accident," if we may call it such, of his election to his high office. About the only record of him - save the story of his ill fortune in later life - is to be found in the Anderson version of the organization of the Grand Lodge in the 1738 edition of the Constitutions. Nothing is known of his previous history, except that he is described as a "gentleman," in the old English meaning of the word, and that he was a member of the lodge meeting at the Apple-Tree Tavern. He was a Warden of his Lodge in 1723; apparently he had never been its Master, or if so, there is no record of it.
Sayer served as Grand Master for one year, and in June, 1718, was followed by George Payne; he was made Grand Senior Warden in 1719. Later he fell upon evil days - Never, it would seem, having been a man of much influence or position in the world - and more than once was aided by the Craft over which he was the first to preside. He became Tyler of Old King's Arms Lodge, No.28, and it is reported in the records that he was assisted "out of the box of this society." He was also aided by Grand Lodge, in spite of some kind of irregular conduct of which he was accused in 1730, the nature of which is not known, for which he was called to account by Grand Lodge. The finding amounted to a verdict of "not guilty," but don't repeat the offence;" and Sayer did not again approach Grand Lodge for aid until 1741, when he received help.
After that one finds no allusion to him in the records of Grand Lodge, or anywhere else, until his death the following year, 1742, which was announced in the London papers - both in the "Champion" and in the "Evening Post. From these accounts we learn that his funeral was attended "by a great number of gentlemen of that honorable society of the best quality," and that he was buried in St. Paul's Church, Covent Garden - where his widow was buried a few months later in the same year. The vague impression of Sayer that is left us, almost too vague to be perceptible, is that of an amiable but rather ineffective man rescued from utter oblivion by the one brief honor of his life. Hardly more than a name, no biography of his has been written, and no materials for one exists - if indeed so obscure and colorless man deserved to be celebrated at all.
Shortly after his death, probably in 1744, a portrait of Sayer was painted by Joseph Highmore, which was engraved by John Faber, a Dutch artist, both men of the Craft, as an appendix to a Masonic History, in which Highmore was interested. Bromley, in his Catalogue, issued in 1793, assigns the year 1750 as the date when the picture was published, with the legend, "Anthony Sayer, Gent, Grand Master of Masons." Of this engraving many copies have come down to us, which are highly prized as giving us the only image and likeness of the first ruler of our gentle Craft.
So much for the first Grand Master, of whom we know so little, not even the place or date of his birth. It is plain that the real work of the Grand Lodge, in those critical and creative years, was done by other and stronger men. They wrought well, but, excepting Anderson, and less certainly Desaguliers, we know very little of what part each took in the work. Nor does it greatly matter, as it is the building and not the builders that is the goal of our labors, and it is an eloquent fact that Masonry, even in its modern form, which took shape in the First grand Lodge, is a cooperative enterprise, in which no names out-top their fellows.
Let us be grateful that it is so, remembering the wisdom of Goethe, one of the greatest men in the annals of our Craft, who, as he grew older, took comfort in the beautiful feeling that entered his mind that only mankind together is the true man, and that the individual can only be happy when he has the courage to feel himself in the whole, and lose himself in it.
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