Vol. XXVI No. 6 — June 1948

A Lodge Is Born

When a man desires to become a Master Mason he asks a friend for a petition, secures two or more signers to the document, and, in the course of time, is investigated, and may be elected, after which he receives the degree of Freemasonry. He thus becomes a member of a lodge; how that lodge came to be he probably does not know, and, curiously enough, he may ask a dozen of his new brethren before he finds one sufficiently well informed to tell him!

Lodges in America came into being now (and for many years past), as a result of a petition, signed by seven or more brethren (some grand lodges require more, some less, but all believe at least seven are necessary) who pray the grand master to give them a dispensation to form a new lodge: in most jurisdictions this prayer will be accompanied by a certificate from a neighboring lodge (anciently three sponsoring lodges were required) setting forth the belief of the sponsoring lodge that the Master Masons thus petitioning are true Masons in good standing and worthy of the honor they seek.

A sponsoring lodge is not always demanded; in early days in this country a number of brethren, foregathering in some new outpost during the spread of civilization across the country, if first in their field, would have had no neighboring lodge to whom to go for sponsorship. They had then to satisfy the grand master of whom they asked a dispensation (usually the grand master of the nearest state to their location, or the grand master of the grand lodge to whom the larger number of petitioning brethren owed allegiance) in other ways that they were worthy brethren.

The grand master who issues a dispensation for a new lodge naturally satisfies himself of several conditions: Is there a need for a new lodge in this particular locality? With what other lodges will the new organization, if formed, come into competition for petitions? Is the locality in which the new lodge is to be one which will grow and thrive, so that the lodge will fulfill its function? Will any material damage be done existing lodges from which the petitioners come? Are the brethren of such knowledge, standing, character, as to offer substantial hope for the success of the new lodge?

When the grand master issues the dispensation, the lodge comes into existence only as a lodge U.D. — under dispensation. It is wholly a creature of the grand master, has no right of representation in the grand lodge, and its work is limited to conferring the degrees. The grand master may recall his dispensation at any time.

But if he does not, the lodge U.D. asks the grand lodge for a charter. If the grand lodge is satisfied that the lodge U.D. has conformed to all Masonic requirements, and that the brethren have good and sufficient reasons for forming the new lodge, it grants a charter, which is then issued under seal of the grand lodge and signed by the grand master and grand secretary and perhaps other officers of grand lodge.

The new lodge, however, has not yet been born. It has now the right of coming into being, but its actual birth depends upon its being legally consecrated, dedicated and constituted either by the grand master and those whom he calls to his assistance, or some brethren deputized by the grand master to perform this ceremony. In general, this formal occasion is one of such solemnity, importance, dignity, sacredness, and infrequency that grand masters prefer to officiate if possible.

The word lodge has three meanings in common Masonic usage; it is, first, the place where Masons assemble, hold meetings, confer degrees; the very use of the word goes back to the English lodge, meaning small house, such as workmen on a Cathedral erected for their meeting, eating, and sometimes, sleeping. In modern parlance this word is usually lodge-room.

In the second and commonest meaning of the word, a lodge is the master, wardens, other officers and brethren who form an organization chartered by a grand lodge. It may be a deathless organization — the members die, but the lodge continues to exist, with its own name, traditions, functions, character.

The third meaning of the word is that of a piece of furniture, which is used in the consecration, dedication and constitution of a new lodge; it is usually a box, covered with a white cloth, set upon a table in the hall in which the new lodge is to be born, usually between the altar and the East. It may be almost any object, suitable to the occasion, and approved by the grand master or grand lodge. In Pennsylvania a floor cloth may be used. What is important in the ceremonies of consecration, dedication and constitution is that there be some object upon which attention can be concentrated, an actual material thing by means of which the brethren assembled may visualize the wholly imponderable, invisible and spiritual entity which is actually the lodge.

The dictionary defines dedicate as: “To set aside solemnly for some sacred purpose”; consecrate is defined: “To set aside as sacred — dedicate to sacred uses with appropriate ceremonies.” Dedication and consecration, then, seem to be synonyms. But Masonically they are quite different. Lodges are “erected” to God, but “dedicated to the Holy Sts. John. Here “erected” can be considered almost as in its literal sense; a church and its spire are erected towards heaven, but the church is consecrated to worship of God.

Masonically, dedication is to our patron saints; consecration is to the Great Architect and to the high and holy purposes of Masonry.

Both consecration and dedication are old ceremonies; long before any Masonry existed as we know it, ancient peoples both dedicated and consecrated. In the Great Light, among many references are: “So the King and the children of Israel dedicated the house of the Lord.” (1 Kings 8:63) “They shall offer their offering, each prince on his day for the dedicating of the altar” and “This was the dedication of the altar, after that it was anointed.” (Numbers 7:11, 88) Nehemiah 12:27 speaks of “the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem . . . to keep the dedication with gladness, both with thanksgiving and with singing, with cymbals, psalteries and with harps.” Joshua 6:19 has “all the silver, and gold, and vessels of brass and iron are consecrated unto the Lord” and 2 Chronicles 29:33 records “And the consecrated things were six hundred oxen and three thousand sheep.” etc.

The formation of a new lodge with formal ceremony is also old. The “Postscript” to Andersons Constitutions of 1723 (page 71, the original edition) is entitled:

Here follows the Manner of constituting a New Lodge, as practis’d by his Grace the Duke of Wharton, the present Right Worshipful Grand Master, according to the ancient Usages of Masons.

The ceremony then set forth is but a framework on which more modern services are hung. The grand master asks the deputy if he has found the brethren to be formed into the new lodge to be “well-skilled in the noble science and the royal art.” Answering in the affirmative the deputy presents the brother who is to be the first master of the new lodge. The grand master, first asking the unanimous consent of all the brethren, then says: “I constitute and form these good brethren into a new lodge and appoint you the first master of it, not doubting your capacity and care to preserve the cement of this lodge.” Anderson then adds that this is followed “by some other expressions that are proper and usual on that occasion but not proper to be written.”

The deputy master then “rehearses” the charges of a master; the new master signifies his assent to them; the grand master installs the master; the master presents his wardens; they are charged and installed; the brethren congratulate the new officers and then:

And this Lodge, being thus compleatly constituted, shall be register’d in the Grand Master’s book, and by his Order notify’d to the other Lodges.

William Preston gives a more elaborate ceremony in his Illustrations of Masonry (published 1778). In his ceremony Anderson included no prayer, no consecration, no dedication. Preston includes both constitution and consecration. His ceremony uses a piece of furniture as “the lodge” and his brethren “scatter incense upon it,” but there is no mention made of dedication (as apart from consecration) nor do corn, wine and oil appear.

Modern ceremonies have all that Anderson and Preston set forth and much besides; through the years, with an increasing knowledge of what it means to create a new lodge, and a growing feeling of reverence for the spiritual, ethical and moral teachings of Freemasonry as a potent influence for good in the body politic, the ceremony has been elaborated to its present forms. While these are not uniform in all grand jurisdictions, the practice is generally the same in essentials.

These include the physical presence of the Volume of the Sacred Law, the Square and Compasses, the Book of Constitutions. The lodge (piece of furniture) is illuminated by its own three lesser lights, and near it are vessels of corn, wine and oil.

The grand master approves the records of the lodge (body of men) U.D.; the new charter is read; the grand master presents the new master and the new officers to the brethren and asks their renewed expression of approbation of their choice; receiving it, he and his officers assemble about the lodge (piece of furniture). The grand chaplain offers a prayer. The corn, wine and oil are separately poured upon the lodge (piece of furniture) by the deputy grand master, the senior and junior grand wardens, with appropriate words accompanying the acts. The chaplain offers a prayer of consecration. The grand master dedicates the new lodge to the holy Sts. John, and finally, in some such words as follows, the grand master constitutes the lodge:

In the name of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of (state) I now constitute and form you, my beloved brethren, into a regular lodge of Free and Accepted Masons. From henceforth I empower you to meet as a regular lodge, constituted in conformity to the rites of our order and the charges of our ancient and honorable fraternity; and may the Supreme Architect of the Universe prosper, direct and counsel you in all things.

This is followed by the installation of the new officers, usually much like the Prestonian ceremony.

Corn, wine, and oil as sacrifices are also old. Masonic scholar H. L. Haywood wrote:

Among all primitive peoples the gods were supposed to have need of food; from that idea arose the custom of placing gifts on the altar, a custom as universal as it was ancient. The nature of the gifts was determined, usually, by the occupation of a people; the shepherds, for example, offered a sheep or a lamb, while agricultural peoples appropriately gave fruits or grain. This explains why it was that the Greeks and Romans, in their early periods, so often brought to their altars gifts of corn, oil and wine.

The same people also were accustomed to offer similar gifts to the gods when they undertook the erection of a building. Thinking to appease the gods for taking possession of the soil they would place fruits and grains in the bottom of the foundation pits. In his mythical history of the building of Rome, Ovid writes: “a pit is dug down to the firm clay, fruits of the earth are thrown to the bottom, and a sample of earth of the adjacent soil. The pit is filled with the earth, and when filled an altar is placed over it, etc.”

According to Mackey there was a distinction among the Jews between consecration and dedication. Sacred things were both consecrated and dedicated; profane things, such as private dwelling-houses, were only dedicated. Dedication was a less secret ceremony than consecration. In the early ages all Christians consecrated their churches to the worship of God, but dedicated them to, or placed them under, the especial patronage of some particular saint. Masonry consecrates lodges (in one old phrase) “to the honor of Gods glory,” but dedicates them to the patrons of our order.

That consecration and dedication of a lodge came into use after constitution, as applied to a lodge, is not surprising. Pre-grand lodge Freemasonry — operative Freemasonry — was not an organization primarily concerned with ethics, philosophy or religion. Early manuscripts show early Masons as God-fearing men, but their operative craft was no more concerned with matters of the spirit than any trade union — which may be wholly composed of God-fearing men — is today.

The meaning of the word speculative is sufficient reason for the late coming of dedication and consecration — speculative means theoretical; purely scientific; that which is pursued for the sake of knowledge as knowledge, and not with knowledge as concerned with practice. Speculative Masonry came after operative Masonry — the speculative doctrines and teaching which brought dedication and consecration to the birth of a new lodge — but it took time.

Different climates, people, latitudes, ages and a thousand-and-one other causes have resulted in differences in the ceremonies of bringing a new lodge into existence, just as they have changed and modified rituals, until now no two grand jurisdictions are alike. But if the forms and the words are different, the substance is the same, and every lodge in the nation (except the few old “time immemorial” lodges which began without charters.) has been born with some such form and ceremony, some such solemnity and due honor paid to the ancient beliefs and customs of the ancient Craft.

The Masonic Service Association of North America