Vol. XXV No. 1 — January 1947

Visitor and Visitor’s Committee

Every newly made Master Mason at some time desires to visit another beside his Mother lodge. Perhaps, he is in a strange city and desires a friendly contact or he goes on purpose to another town just to see if he can “work himself in.” He visits a friend in another state and would go to lodge with him, and must take an examination.

What has he a right to expect? How should he act? What must he know?

He has a right to expect (and usually receives) a courteous, kindly examination at the hands of a committee of brethren who are glad he has honored their lodge with a visit. He should act as any brother will always act with brethren; his attitude should be that of a guest calling upon a host, not a criminal being examined to see if he shall be hanged or not! He must know enough of Masonry to satisfy his hosts that he is a Mason (and should need to know no more.) He must be prepared for differences in ritual; the ritual is in no two states the same. Fundamentals are the same; words, customs, practices, differ. All committees in all grand jurisdictions will want to know of the brother’s knowledge of what makes him a Mason; some will ascertain it by a quick, some by devious means, but the end product is the same. The visitor should be able to produce credentials, showing that he is in good standing in his home lodge; a receipt for dues, a good standing card; in some cases (if he possess it) a certificate or other document showing life or perpetual membership.

The visitor to a strange lodge approaches the tiler and requests a committee. The tiler advises the master. The master appoints the committee. It may be of one, two or three or more brethren; usually it is of two, with one acting as chairman.

The matter of “good standing” is usually — not always — attended to by the tiler when the visitor asks for a committee. Usually the tiler will request his credentials, which are either inspected and then returned, or sent to the Master for examination. Most lodges will either request the tiler, or the committee, to check on the visitor’s lodge in a book of lodges published for the purpose to make sure that the visiting brother comes from a regular and recognized lodge in a grand lodge with which the grand lodge of the lodge visited is in fraternal relations. As all grand lodges in the United States are in fraternal relations with all other United States grand lodges, this is simple enough; if the would-be visitor hails from South or Central America, Mexico or Europe, the check is the more necessary, as not all American grand lodges are in fraternal relations with all grand lodges in all other countries.

Both committee and visitor should understand that the visitor must abide by the rules of the grand lodge in whose jurisdiction he visits. His own grand lodge has no authority within the territory of another grand lodge.

This is not always realized, and has in the past produced confusion. An historic case in American Freemasonry created quite a furor some years ago. A visitor from Grand Lodge A was refused admittance to a lodge in Grand Lodge B, because Grand Lodge B has a rule that a visitor must show a good standing card. But Grand Lodge A does not issue good standing cards.

Here was an impasse. The visitor decidedly unhappy, reported the matter to his grand lodge; Grand Lodge A protested to Grand Lodge B, Grand Lodge B replied that it was sorry, but it made its own rules and intended to stick by them. Whereupon Grand Lodge B withdrew recognition from Grand Lodge A.

Later, better counsels prevailed, and an understanding was reached, fraternal relations resumed and the storm died down. The matter is worth noting, if only to impress the visitor that he must conform in all matters with the rules of the grand lodge in which he desires to visit, each grand lodge being supreme in authority within its own confines.

When the regularity of the lodge and Grand Lodge of the visitor have been ascertained to the satisfaction of master, tiler or committee, the committee will conduct the visitor to a private room, where mutually they take the tiler’s oath. The words may differ, but the intent is the same; by it committee and visitor assure each other in the most solemn manner that all have been initiated, passed and raised in a just and regular lodge; that none stand suspended or expelled; that none know of any reason why they should not visit with their brethren.

This over, the committee asks questions. Here the practice is as varied as are men. One committee will say “begin at the beginning and go through all three degrees in your own words.” Others will ask particular questions, “skipping around” from degree to degree, and from one part of one degree to another. One committee wants to know more of what the visitor has seen and heard than what he learned afterwards; others reverse this and want to ascertain only the visitor’s knowledge of the ritual.

Both committee and visitor should know — alas, not all do! — that the variations in ritual are not only nation wide but worldwide.

The visitor in Pennsylvania will hear no questions as to what Scripture is used in the three degrees, nor anything about the stair lecture, nor will he be asked to repeat any of the senior deacons work about the passage of the Jordan. A Pennsylvania brother’s description of what occurred during the ceremony in which he was made a Mason will astonish a committee which does not understand that the work in Pennsylvania is decidedly different from his own. The brother from Iowa or South Dakota who is “up” on his ritual, can give a great surprise to a committee in the east if he attempts to deliver one of the orations in the Master’s Degree, which is unknown, let us say, to the brother in Massachusetts or the District of Columbia.

A thorough understanding of the existence of such variations will help the visitor to avoid bewilderment and the committee to practice the good Masonic virtue of toleration. This matter of toleration and understanding on the part of the committee is sometimes proportional to the number of visitors a lodge is accustomed to have. A busy city lodge with many visitors at every communication has usually a competent corps of brethren accustomed to acting on visitors committee, who conduct examinations with speed and understanding. A small lodge in an isolated community which has very few visitors may, and occasionally does, regard a visitor to be examined as an event.

Unfortunately, occasionally a committee is more anxious to show its own knowledge than to ascertain if the visitor is a Mason; more anxious to be thorough, complete and do a finished job than to be courteous.

A newly-made Mason, conscious of his proficiency, attempted to visit a lodge which was to confer the Master Mason Degree. The committee consisted of three elderly past masters. They began at the beginning and insisted that the visitor go through to the end. He worked his way through the three degrees, including all the ritual. At the end of two hours the committee was satisfied and the visitor was introduced — just after the final candidate had been raised!

Such a proceeding, of course, is inexcusable. The young Mason, finding that the committee was merely making a holiday out of him, trying to ascertain, not if he were a Mason, but how much ritual he knew and how well he knew it, could have told his hosts that he had changed his mind, and did not desire to visit that evening and politely taken his leave. This might have shocked the committee into a realization of its discourtesy.

No one can set a time limit on an examination or tell any lodge or any committee how long it should take or in what manner conducted. That is strictly for the lodge, the Master, the committee to determine. But to be realistic, any committee which cannot ascertain in ten or fifteen minutes if the visitor is a Mason or not is either incompetent or has an usually stupid individual for a would-be-visitor!

Of course, by no means all or even a majority of visitors are letter perfect in ritual. Frequently a committee has to dig a little to find out what it wants to know. The visitor may be “rusty” or “long out of harness” or “never did learn my third degree as I should.” Sometimes a committee has a visitor who offers a strange conglomeration of Blue lodge, Chapter, Commandery, Scottish Rite and even Shrine ritual!

This should not necessarily be condemnatory of the visitor in the committee’s eyes. The committee’s duty is single — to find out if the visitor is a Mason. It is not their duty to ascertain how much he knows, how well he knows it. Their duty is simple and solely to protect their lodge from one not a Mason.

The non-Mason who “reads a book” and then "just for the fun of it” tries to get into a Masonic lodge in which he has no right is as rare as the dodo! The imposter, who either has been a Mason at one time, or has set himself to a career of dishonesty by working his way into lodges only to borrow money or secure favors, does exist, but he is rare. Certainly of every thousand visitors to any lodge not more than one could be in such a class.

But let us suppose that the visitor is a crook; that he is not in reality a Mason; that he has picked up one way or another (from some lost cipher key, or some exposé) enough ritual to pass. What he knows he will know well. What he tries, he will accomplish with skill. The very fact that a visitor know little ritual, or mixes it with rituals from other Masonic bodies, is almost prima facie evidence that whatever the visitor may be, he is not crooked, but merely ignorant.

On the other hand, let it not be thought that because a visitor is proficient, therefore he must be looked upon with suspicion! It has been done; there is a well- authenticated story of a very excellent ritualist, a “certificate holder” in his own grand lodge who asked for a committee in a small country lodge. He knew all the answers and gave them readily; the obligations rolled from his tongue with the expertness of long practice. He was able to give any part of any lecture of the three degrees on demand.

Yet the committee turned him down! He knows too much to be other than a book Mason! was the committee’s report to the Master. The story got out when the would-be visitor reported the incident, more in amusement than anger, to the grand master.

Occasionally a committee will have a past master, or a Grand Lodge officer, even a grand master or a past grand master, to examine. The good committee will make no difference in its examination in deference to a title.

In law, all men are innocent until found guilty, and it is better that ninety-nine guilty men escape than that one innocent man be punished. In the examination room, while presumably the visitor is a brother, he cannot be so greeted until he proves himself, and it is better that ninety-nine worthy brethren be turned away than that one cowan be admitted to the lodge. Turning away the good brother may injure his feelings, but admitting the cowan injures Freemasonry.

Therefore the past master or grand lodge officer should not either expect or receive any different treatment, any “easier” examination than is given plain John Doe. The chances are a thousand to one that past officers will not expect anything “easier” or “different” since such, presumably have much knowledge of the Fraternity and its practices.

A good committee does not descend to the use of “trick questions.” They reveal nothing worth knowing, take up time, and, if the visitor is a well informed Mason, give him a poor opinion of the committee’s knowledge of its duties.

That the visitor may know how to answer “Where does the worshipful master hang his hat?” for instance, does not reveal any knowledge of Masonry. It is common knowledge to Mason and profane alike that a Master wears a hat; he is seen in funerals and cornerstone processions so clad.

“At what point did you back down?” is a question so lacking in dignity that one wonders why it is ever asked, when another question, much more direct, will bring any needed information.

“How are the lights placed in the three degrees?” is often the beginning of an examination — for no real reason, since pictures of the Holy Bible, Square and Compasses in all three positions can be found in monitors and manuals in any library.

“How were you taught to wear your apron in the several degrees?” seems a sensible question, until it is understood that the Master Mason in a few jurisdictions is taught to wear his apron as are Fellowcrafts in the rest, and vice versa!

With no attempt to lay down any rules, it may be said that a visitor who can explain the several modes of recognition, knows the necessary words and can give the substance if not the words of the obligations can usually satisfy most committees.

Any visitor has the right to ask to see the Charter of the lodge he would visit. Few do, but the right is there; the visitor has as much right to know the lodge he would visit is regular and not clandestine as has the committee to ascertain that the visitor is a Mason and not a profane.

The committee which is satisfied will delay as little as possible in taking the visitor into the lodge. In introducing him a good chairman gives his name, lodge name, and state, slowly and clearly that all may hear it and, at the first opportunity, sees that he meets many if not all the members.

Distressing tales are occasionally told by warmhearted visitors to cold-hearted lodges; lodges “too busy” to pay any attention to the stranger within their gates. But such tales are, let it be said thankfully, only occasional. The vast majority of lodges are honored to receive visitors, glad to make them feel at home, happy to fraternize with the stranger from over the border.

It is one of the glories of the Fraternity that the stranger in a strange land is no stranger in the Masonic lodge he visits. That committee which most quickly is able to make him feel welcome and at home, best serves not only his own lodge, but all Masonry.

The Masonic Service Association of North America