Vol. XXXII No. 2 — February 1954

“Please Tell Me”

Have you a Masonic question to which you cannot find the answer? Perhaps we can help you. We have notable sources of information and our service is free to all who desire to know. We do not pretend to “know it all” but we can and do answer thousands of questions about Masonry. Ask The Masonic Service Association!

This advertisement has appeared for many years in The Short Talk Bulletin.

Fifteen years ago nine common questions were selected from the monthly inquiries and answered in The Short Talk Bulletin of March 1938. This Bulletin was so popular that in May of the same year nine additional questions were published with condensed answers to each.

The eighteen questions covered in these two Bulletins were:

Why do brethren not pass between altar and East when lodge is at labor?

Why do brethren entering and leaving a lodge salute the master?

Why does not ordinary parliamentary law apply in a lodge?

Why is it un-Masonic to disclose how one has balloted?

How may I know that a stranger is a Mason?

How should I make myself known to a stranger as a Mason?

Is it expected that I now do business only with Masons?

What is the “lodge of the Holy Sts. John at Jerusalem”?

Where is the Masonic goat and why did I not ride it?

(These answered March 1938)

What is really secret in Freemasonry?

What is a “cowan”?

Why are we “free and accepted”?

What is “due form” and “ample form”?

Why is a lodge “just” and “legal”?

Why is an Apprentice called “entered”?

What is the meaning of “jurisdiction”?

What is “legal Masonic information”?

What is the V.S.L.?

(These answered May 1938)

Interested brethren ask questions in almost every mail. The Association does not pretend to be able to answer all inquiries: some are inherently unanswerable; to others the answers have not yet been found. But by diligent consulting of many books, reference works, card systems, records, pamphlets and help from the greater Masonic libraries of the nation, most questions are answered.

In a long list of the most common inquiries the following nine (besides those already replied to in print) are the most frequent.

1. What is a “recognized grand lodge”?

The Forty-nine Grand Lodges of the United States have different conceptions of “regularity.” Thus the grand lodge in State A will “recognize” — that is, accept as equal, regular, legitimate Freemasonry — the Grand Lodge of Foreign Country X, while the Grand Lodge of State B is not satisfied that the Grand Lodge of Foreign Country X conforms to all the requirements of the Grand Lodge of State B. Thus a Grand Lodge of a foreign country may be legitimate Masonry to the Grand Lodge of one state, and “clandestine” or “irregular” or “unrecognized” by another state.

Many if not most grand lodges have basic principles of recognition, all or the majority of which must be satisfied before the grand lodge will recognize another. These usually include:

  1. That a grand lodge has been formed lawfully by at least three just and duly constituted lodges, or that it has been legalized by a valid act issuing from this grand lodge, or from a grand lodge in fraternal relations with this grand lodge.
  2. That it is an independent, self-governing, responsible organization, with entire, undisputed and exclusive authority over the Symbolic Lodges within its jurisdiction, and not subject to, or dividing such authority with, a Supreme Council, or other Body claiming ritualistic or other supervision or control.
  3. That it makes Masons of men only.
  4. That it requires conformity to the following:
    1. Acknowledgment of a belief in God the Father of all men.
    2. Secrecy.
    3. The Symbolism of Operative Masonry.
    4. The division of Symbolic Masonry into the three degrees.
    5. The Legend of the Third Degree.
    6. That its dominant purposes are charitable, benevolent, educational, and for the service of God; and that it excludes controversial politics and sectarian religion from all activities under its auspices.
    7. The Volume of the Sacred Law, chief among the Three Great Lights of Masonry, is indispensably present in lodges while at work.
  5. That it occupies exclusively its territorial jurisdiction, or shares the same with another by mutual consent; and that it does not extend its authority or establish lodges in a territory occupied by a lawful grand lodge, without the expressed assent of such supreme governing Masonic Body.

2. How many grand lodges are there in the world?

The annual Chart of Foreign grand lodges Recognized by the Forty-nine Grand Lodges of the United States lists one hundred two grand lodges beyond the confines of this nation.

There are, then, 4,998 possible “recognitions” of foreign grand lodges by United States grand lodges. Actually, America’s forty-nine grand lodges have made 2452 recognitions or 49% (approximately). Traveling brethren who desire to visit lodges in foreign countries should consult their Proceedings to ascertain which of the hundred two grand lodges outside of the United States are recognized by their own grand lodge.

All of the one hundred two foreign grand lodges are recognized by at least one United States grand lodge — Parana and Pernambuco in Brazil; Bulgaria; Grand Lodge of Denmark; Haiti; Sur-Oeste, Colima Mexico; Trieste and Yugoslavia being those recognized each by only one American grand lodge.

All Canadian grand lodges, Cuba, England, York of Mexico, New South Wales, New Zealand, Puerto Rico, Queensland, Scotland, South Australia, and Western Australia are recognized by all United States grand lodges.

3. What day of the week, in what month, and in what year did Hiram Abif die?

This is among the unanswerable questions; like the date on which Santa Claus starts to manufacture Christmas toys. Myth and legend are alike silent as to early Masonic dates.

How should I wear my Masonic ring; with compass points towards my fingers or the reverse?

No grand lodge has legislated upon the subject. The consensus is that if a Masonic ring is worn to advise those who see it that the wearer is a Master Mason, the points of the compasses should be towards the fingers. If the ring is worn to remind the wearer that he is a Master Mason, the ring should be worn with the points of the compasses towards the wrist.

5. I visited a lodge in a neighboring state. The ritual was different from that in my own lodge. Why, and which is correct?

It requires a complete Bulletin (“Ritual Differences,” January 1934) completely to answer. Briefly, Freemasonry came to the United States from several different sources (England, Ireland, and Scotland) and its spread westward formed grand lodges from lodges that sprang from thirteen original colonies. These admixtures of rituals produced variations that were occasionally increased by actions of grand lodges acting on recommendations of grand lecturers and ritual committees. In the early days of Freemasonry in the United States many “traveling lecturers” brought their own conception of “the true Masonic work” to far areas and taught these, all of which factors have caused divergences in ritual.

All rituals are “correct.” What a grand lodge approves as its ritual is “correct” for its lodges. No rituals in the United States contradict each other; they vary in words and details, not in essentials.

6. What can I do to get my relative into the Masonic home in the state in which he lives? I am told be is not eligible because his membership is in another state.

You can do nothing. Each of the grand lodges that maintain a Masonic home and/or hospital for its aged and dependent Masons supports that institution for its own members only. A grand lodge that admitted a guest with membership in another grand lodge would deprive one of its own supporting members of entry to the Home, to give it to one who had contributed nothing to its support. Grand lodges admitting others than their own members and having especially large, beautiful and complete Homes in particularly desirable climates would be swamped by guests from other grand lodges. No Masonic homes admit “paying guests” for the same reason; to do so would deprive a brother who had contributed to the Home of the opportunity of entering it, and give that opportunity to one who had contributed nothing to build or maintain the Home.

7. How do I apply for the 33rd Degree?

You do not apply. To ask for that degree is to make sure that you will never receive it. The Thirty-third and Last Degree of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, in both the Northern and the Southern Jurisdiction, is an honor given by a supreme council for notable services to humanity, country or Masonry. To receive it a brother must have obtained the thirty-second degree, but it is given only by sufferance of a Supreme Council and cannot be requested. The same is true of the Military and Ecclesiastical Order of the Red Cross of Constantine, in which membership comes by invitation, never as the result of application.

8. How is a man made a Mason at sight?

By a grand master calling into existence an Emergent lodge under temporary dispensation, which lodge then confers the three degrees, usually in short form, and usually all three in one consecutive period, upon the man selected for the honor by the grand master. Most grand lodges admit the right of a grand master to do this; a few specifically forbid his doing so; one recognizes the right and frowns upon its use. The objections to the act are two: first, he who seeks Masonry of his own free will and accord honors himself and not the order by his application; Masonry need seek no candidates. Second, the general belief that every Mason should pass the ballot of his fellows and not be picked by authority as beyond and above that requirement.

The ceremonies of “making a Mason at sight” are less and less often performed as the years bring a better perspective upon the practice.

9. The charge given at the close of the Master’s Degree states “The Ancient Landmarks of the fraternity you are carefully to preserve.” What are the Ancient Landmarks?

A question that has no wholly satisfactory answer. Various grand lodges have “adopted” various “lists of Ancient Landmarks” and by that adoption have given the topics in the list the force of law in those grand lodges. But no grand lodge can make or unmake a landmark, any more than the Congress of the United States can make or unmake a law of nature by legislation. The Congress might pass a law saying that the law of gravitation was hereafter to be inoperative, but presumably an apple rolling from a table would still fall to the floor! It would be possible for a grand lodge to “adopt” as a landmark the statement "a Mason must be a good man and true and always pay his debts.” (Indeed, a very similar pronouncement was once adopted as “landmark”!) Doubtless the pronouncement is good morals but can only have the force of a landmark in the grand lodge so legislating.

One grand lodge adopted in its “list of landmarks” — “A grand lodge must meet at least once each year.” Came the war and restrictions of travel; the grand lodge could not obey its own landmark! Obviously this was not really a landmark, merely a law. Another grand lodge stated as a landmark: “When he receives the degree of Master Mason, a brother becomes a member of the lodge conferring it.” Inasmuch as lodges often confer “courtesy degrees” for sister lodges, it is obvious that not all who receive the degree of Master Mason in a lodge can be members of it — therefore this bit of legislation is just that and no landmark. Grand lodges that leave landmarks undefined and unrestricted by listing seem to have the better of the practice.

The late great Charles C. Hunt, grand secretary of the Grand Lodge of Iowa, put this point of view in few words:

The Masonic conception of a landmark is a fundamental law of Masonry that no body of men or Masons can repeal. Anything that can be adopted can be repealed. If a grand lodge has power to adopt, it has power to repeal. It is the very fact that they are unalterable that make the landmarks similar to scientific laws that cannot be changed or altered by any man or body of men.

It is probable that all English speaking grand lodges will agree that at least the seven Masonic fundamentals listed by the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts are landmarks. These are:

  1. Monotheism, the sole dogma of Freemasonry.
  2. Belief in immortality, the ultimate lesson of Masonic philosophy.
  3. The Volume of the Sacred Law, an indispensable part of the furniture of a lodge.
  4. The legend of the Third Degree.
  5. Secrecy.
  6. The symbolism of the operative art.
  7. A Mason must a freeborn male adult

The above list of Landmarks is not declared to be exclusive.

Brethren desiring further light on the Landmarks should read the books upon those subjects that form part of The Little Masonic Library and/or send to The Masonic Service Association for its Digest of the Ancient Landmarks as adopted, followed or undecided by the forty-nine Grand Lodges of the United States, and every Mason should ascertain what his own grand lodge has adopted (or not adopted) as “landmarks” and govern himself accordingly.

The Masonic Service Association of North America