Letter of the month: December 2008
From: "firstname.lastname@example.org" <email@example.com>
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.
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
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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