[Square & Compasses]    

Letter of the month: December 2008

Message-ID: <380-2200812230202734321@M2W007.mail2web.com>
From: "eellis@mail.greenwood.lib.in.us" <eellis@mail.greenwood.lib.in.us>
To: masonry-ask@mit.edu
Date: Tue, 30 Dec 2008 15:27:34 -0500


I am a librarian at the Greenwood Public Library in Greenwood, IN. A patron came to the reference question with a question about the masons, and I was unable to answer. I was hoping someone might have suggestions for places to look or have the information I need.

Here was his question:

When a mason dies, what happens to his possessions and estates? What is the “covenant” between the mason's family (wife and children) and the mason's possessions after he has passed away? Do they go to the family? Are there any circumstances when the family does not receive the deceased's possessions/estates?

Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you,

Emily Ellis
Greenwood Public Library

dear Ms Ellis,

That's an interesting question, and it relies on some misconceptions about Masonry and the relationship of an individual Mason and his lodge. I'm glad to help clear those up.

With one very small exception, neither the Mason's lodge, nor any other body in Masonry, has any claim on a Mason's “possessions and estates”. There is nothing in Masonry whereby a Mason pledges anything of his own possessions or estates to the lodge or to “the Masons” as some kind of amorphous unspecified group. I am attaching what we call a “Pre-Application” — which every applicant must read and sign — which summarizes the financial and other obligations between the member and his lodge. As you can see, there's nothing about a lodge attachment of the member's belongings.

While a Mason is living, his only financial committment would be his annual lodge dues. And that, of course, is entirely voluntary, since he would be free to resign his membership at anytime, if he no longer wished to pay those dues.

The one exception I mentioned earlier is the Past-Master's Jewel. It is the custom, in lodges under many or most of the state Grand Lodges within the U.S., for a lodge to present a “pocket jewel” to the lodge master (presiding officer), at the conclusion of his term of service — usually a year or two. I have attached some pictures of my own past-master's jewels, from two different lodges where I served as master. They are fairly typical examples. You can see that they display the name of the lodge, and sometimes, the name of the recipient. The jewel is worn at meetings, in the jacket breast pocket.

These days, those “jewels” are often made with “gold-filled” or thin gold-plating, with a rhinestone or glass “gem” . Back in days when lodges were more prosperous, the jewels were made with heavier gold, sometimes solid, and these days would be quite expensive to replace. They are lodge keepsakes, and most past masters instruct their families that, when they die, they would like their p.m. jewels returned to their lodge.

If you look at the photos I've attached, you can see that one of mine has a hinged back, with another past master's name and dates underneath, on another leaf. It is frequently a lodge custom to refit an older jewel that way, to present to another past master in later years. In this way, the older jewel continues to be passed along, rather than lost, sold, buried, or otherwise scattered away, and so serves as a continuing reminder of that earlier Past Master.

I don't know if some lodges have a requirement that this jewel must be returned, and is only loaned to the past master, but I've never heard of such a thing. The only custom I know is that we request that the jewel be returned.

Other than that, I have never heard of any kind of “covenant” such as you describe. I would be quite curious to know why that patron was asking such a thing, and whether there was some misunderstanding or misrepresentation. By all means, you may give my email address to the patron if they have other questions. I'd love to know what's behind this.

-- Gary L. Dryfoos
   A Page About Freemasonry
   now at http://MasonryPage.org

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