[Square & Compasses]

Letter of the month: August 2003

Date: Sun, 10 Aug 2003 11:52:46 -0500
To: masonry-ask@mit.edu
From: "The Edgar's" <gvlc@mach3ww.com>
Subject: Masonry Question

Dear Bro. Dryfoos:

I came across you site for the 1st time today although I had heard references to it earlier. It is indeed a very encompassing & thought provoking site and I will take time to thoroughly study it. At this time however my main reason for emailing is to comment on this sentence from your 2nd essay on "one day classes"; to wit: "The authority to make a Mason in a single day is called "making a Mason 'at sight'" and it is the ancient traditional extraordinary power of every Grand Master." (emphasis mine)

Iowa began the "instant Mason" process last year with 3 classes with 3 more this year. However after the "novelty" of the 1st year and the mass advancement of many from the backlog of "old" EA's, attendance this year has fallen dramatically. However individual lodges are doing more work this year so perhaps the experiment may have some long term benefits.

I, like you, was & am opposed to one day classes but I am also willing to consider "innovations in the body of Freemasonry" IF they are well thought out AND well-founded. I base this belief on the fact that Masonry has made significant evolutionary changes; from operative to speculative, from taverns to Lodge halls (at least in USA) and from aristocratic to more inclusive membership including the recent recognition of Prince Hall Masonry by a majority of our GL's. That said, your comment on making Masons at sight is a problem I have with the program in Iowa.

The "ancient landmarks" are spelled out in many Grand Lodge's constitutions (I assume in yours); however in Iowa's as in some others, the "Landmarks" are mentioned per se but NOT delineated. So is making a Mason at sight a landmark in Iowa and certain other GL's??? If you read the writings of the great American Masonic writers, there is NO consensus as to what the Landmarks are. A few are in common on each "list" (males only, belief in a Supreme Being) but others are not including making a Mason at sight. Pike was especially outspoken on the topic in recognition of the disparity among GL's. So the question is, especially since we do not have a national grand lodge, can any American Mason state that without exception "these" are THE landmarks (outside of his own GL)? I submit that making a Mason at Sight, except in those States that enumerate it as one of their Landmarks, is NOT a Landmark given its absence from the lists of some of the great writers in the past. Nor should it be a landmark in my opinion because, as you say, it contradicts our own ritual as to how one "becomes a Mason". ("by degree" - no pun intended!)

I certainly agree with your comments re: that 1 day classes are for 'busy' men - what does that indeed say about the rest of us? When I heard that silly argument at an Iowa GL session I spoke up and reminded the Brother that Bro. FDR was able to take time during WWII to raise a son and Bro. Truman attended many Masonic functions during the Korean Conflict - is any current member or petitioner "busier" than a President of the USA in peacetime much less in war time? (there was no reply!)

One final thought - you (as do I once in awhile) forget that GL is "us". Yes, I recognize there is the "formal" GL in the sense of those elected and employed by the GL office but essentially GL is "us" - the constituent lodges and delegates to GL sessions who elect the GM, approve all legislation, etc.

Certainly GL officers can be very persuasive in all their finery and usually better than average speaking skills but anytime a delegate member gets up to speak, is a good speaker and has done his homework, he is just as much or more likely to sway the assembled Brothers to vote 'his' way. I have experienced GL sessions (In Illinois where I resided 12 yrs and in Iowa the balance of my life) where debatable issues were not debated due to lack of organized or informed opposition but where also debatable issues STRONGLY pushed by GM's were defeated by a few informed delegates who could stand up and speak well. But then, that is a landmark of Masonry in my mind - we all meet on the level!

Best wishes,

Gerald A. Edgar
Raised 1973 Mosaic #125, Dubuque, IA
PM - Amity #472, W. Chicago, IL 1988 & Il Lodge of Reseach 1989
PM  (1994) & current Scty - Bethel #319, Garner, IA
Sr DeMolay & currently a Chapter Dad
Mbr - Mason City York Rite Bodies
Past mbr & Chrmn, Iowa GL Committee on Masonic Youth
& by accident of birth and at having at least one son born in our family
for each of 7 generations, the proud father of a 7th generation Mason,
raising same in 2001!

PS - if not on the list for "Cinosam", an occasional missive emailed by the current GM of Minnesota, let me know - he is a most thoughtful person with real gems, original & borrowed (and always credited).


To: "The Edgar's" <gvlc@mach3ww.com>
Subject: Re: Masonry Question
In-Reply-To: Your message of "Sun, 10 Aug 2003 11:52:46 CDT."
             <5.0.0.25.0.20030810110727.00a88be0@mail.mach3ww.com> 
--------

Dear Bro. Edgar,

I'll try to give a brief answer to your very interesting letter.

Whether or not the landmarks of a particular grand lodge are written down, they do exist, and some of them are inherently part of every grand lodge since time immemorial. Sometimes they are called the "established usages and customs of Masonry" -- usually they include monotheism, a volume of sacred law, the symbolism of operative masonry, and the like. Certainly Iowa observes all these fundamental points, whether they are written down or not.

(As an aside, even the Grand lodges that do choose to list their landmarks often also add something like "this list is not exclusive". So even the absence of an item from an explicit list of landmarks may not be conclusive.)

The power of a grand master to make a mason "at sight" is an old and traditional one, and it would be hard to argue with any grand master who claimed the right, unless his own jurisdiction specifically outlawed it in their own landmarks or constitution. Otherwise, his claim that it is simply "an established usage" would hold sway.

Mackey lists the right in his list of 25 landmarks, and says that it is derived from other inherent powers of a grand master: his prerogatives to preside over every assembly of the craft in any subordinate lodge, to grant dispensations to confer degrees at irregular times, to give dispensations for opening and holding "lodges under dispensation".

If your GM has the authority to give lodges permission to move their meeting dates and locations, to shorten the time between degrees, and so forth (and he almost certainly does have those powers) then Mackey would claim that from those he also derives the power to call together an ad hoc "occasional lodge" of at least 6 other Masons, and 'on sight' of the candidate (that is, without a previous investigating committee) to preside over conferring of the degrees.

I don't think one needs to disprove or rule out the "At Sight" privilege in order to argue against the one-day class. Notice that in the above description, which also comes from Mackey, the candidate is not simply taken by the GM into some closed room, informed of the symbols and "secrets" of Masonry, handed an apron and lapel pin, and then declared to be a Mason. Rather he is given the degrees in the traditional way, if in a peculiar context. It seems to me that this grand right, which is being used to justify the one-day classes, is being mis-applied and abused.

I agree with you that Masonry has changed in many way over the centuries, and will have to continue to change and evolve in the future. But I think that taking away from candidates the fundamental and unique experience of being the object of their own initiation ceremony is not an evolutionary change, but a jettisoning of the most basic and important experience at the heart of Masonry. Statistics of the return rate or "success" or "failure" of the one-day Masons seems irrelevant to me. These are men who have had their pocket picked, and as upright Masons we should not judge the "success" of such a swindle based on whether or not the mark ever catches wise.

I have received mail claiming that I am "denigrating" the one-day Masons, but I completely disagree. It is the grand lodges that have defamed and defrauded these poor fellows. I am not the one short-changing them -- I am arguing that they deserve full weight and value for their time, their effort, and (frankly) their cash.

Your point about Bros. FDR and Truman are excellent one, and I will be delighted to repeat them the next time someone starts in about the "too busy" men of today. (It seems to me that merely owning a cell-phone and a pager and leaving them on 24 hours a day doesn't make one as important as a war-time president, despite one's fantasies or ambitions. What ever happened to the concept of "...a part for our usual vocation, a part for the service of God and a distressed worth Brother, and a part for refreshment and sleep..." ?)

Finally, I wish I could share your optimistic belief about the Grand Lodge being "us" -- but unfortunately in some states that is not, in any realistic way, how things work. I have heard that in some grand jurisdictions, any Master Mason or Past Master can be nominated from the floor and be voted for as Grand Master. Here in my state, we have a more restrictive and convoluted process: every two or three years the Grand Lodge approves two men who are allowed to "run" for the position of Senior Grand Warden, and approve two others to "run" for Junior G.W. In its quarterly session, the lodge representatives vote, electing one from each of those designated pairs to a Grand Warden's chair, and more importantly, to the permanent voting membership of Grand Lodge. It is this "inner" restricted body that, every three years, meets in secret to choose our next Grand Master. There is no election or discussion among the ordinary lodges or members, simply a week or so of hubbub and rumor followed by The Announcement. Perhaps in some convoluted way this can be justified as all "meeting on the level" but in my twenty years in the craft I have never been able to understand it as such. But this is (perhaps) entirely a separate point from the matter of the one-day classes, and probably best left for another day :-)

Best wishes and thank you for writing. My best fraternal wishes to your lodge and its Master.

-- Bro. Gary

P.S. I have never heard of this "Cinosam" and would be interested to receive it. Thank you.


+---------------------------------------------------------------------------
| Gary L. Dryfoos <dryfoo@mit.edu>| Ocean Lodge AF&AM, Saugus, MA (PM)
| P.O.Box 425400, Camb, MA 02142  | Mt. Scopus Lodge AF&AM, Malden, MA (PM)
|                                 | Richard C. Maclaurin Lodge, MIT, MA
|  "A Page About Freemasonry"     | Internet Lodge #9659, E. Lancs UGLE   
|  http://mit.edu/dryfoo/Masonry/ | 32~; MPS; B'hood o/t Blue Forget-Me-Not 
|                                 | RWG Rep.GL Russia near GL Massachusetts 
| "...one sacred band, or society of Friends and Brothers, among
|  whom no contention should ever exist, save that noble contention,
|  or rather emulation, of who best can work and best agree."
+===========================================================================

Up to the Letters: Main page
All the way UP to A Page About Freemasonry main page.