Vol. XXXIV No. 12 — December 1956

Grand Lodges Are Different

The Short Talk Bulletin of September 1944, under the title “Membership Contrasts,” listed facts and figures of grand lodges. During the intervening years grand lodges have made new laws; expenses have increased. Hence this new verbal picture of some grand lodge practices and differences.

Ritualistic variations are not herein considered; indeed, these pages give only a sketch of some of the variations in grand lodges that are fundamentally alike. Hence no claim to a complete survey of all grand lodge divergencies can be made for these few pages, which are compiled only in the hope of interesting those who must run as they read!

The king can drink the best of wine;
  So can I.
And has enough when he would dine;
  So have I.
And cannot order rain or shine;
  Nor can I.
Then where’s the difference — let me see -
Between my lord the king, and me?

— Charles Mackay

The forty-nine grand lodges of the United States are at one in essentials and differ agreeably, if violently, upon a host of small matters; so many, in fact, that sojourning and visiting brethren from one grand lodge to another are somewhat put to it to keep up with all the variations!

Grand lodges meet every month of the year except July.

Massachusetts and Pennsylvania meet five times yearly; the majority meet only annually, but the District of Columbia meets three times yearly and Maryland, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island meet twice yearly.

Where they live makes some financial difference to applicants for the degrees. The minimum amount that can be charged for the degrees — meaning no lodge may charge less — varies from $21.00 in one grand lodge to $80.00 in another. The average fees vary between $30.00 and $150.00.

Most grand lodges put a tax on degrees; a majority for some charitable purpose. A minority of grand lodges tax for the expenses of grand lodge. The maximum tax on degrees is Virginia’s $23.00, all for charity, and the minimum, Ohio’s $2.00, all for expenses.

Do not misunderstand the statement to mean that those grand lodges that tax degrees for expenses spend less for charity than those that tax degrees for charity; grand lodges vary as to how they raise money, but all are charitable!

Ten grand lodges charge a fee varying from 75 cents to $20.00 for affiliation; some that charge do so only to affiliate brethren from other states.

It is customary in the United States to elect a petitioner to all three degrees on one ballot; but the practice is not universal. Five grand lodges ballot for each degree; either on ground of moral character or ritualistic proficiency. Thirty-two grand lodges aver that they require the newly-made Master Mason to attain proficiency in the Third Degree, but it is generally admitted, in some of these, at least, that the requirement is more honored in the breech than in the observance!

Mr. John Smith petitions for the degrees in state X and is rejected. He then moves to state Y. How long does state X consider Mr. John Smith its material and refuse to release him to the lodges in state Y? This “penal jurisdiction” varies from the three grand lodges that claim to hold such rights forever, to those that do not care what John Smith does after he leaves the state.

Jurisdiction over material has been the cause of lively discussion and at times some friction between grand lodges. This question is complicated by (1) those men who work in one state and live across the state line in another state; (2) those who work and live in one state but maintain voting residence in another; (3) differences in laws and practice between grand lodges as to the “doctrine of the perfect youth”; (4) the matter of perpetual jurisdiction claimed by one state while the grand lodge in a neighboring state does not admit the validity of such a claim.

When controversies arise between grand lodges, the matter is almost invariably amicably adjusted, usually by means of correspondence between respective grand masters. It is one of the glories of American Freemasonry that quarrels between any two of the forty-nine grand jurisdictions have been so few. Within the memory of many are some, resulting for a time in a temporary “withdrawal of recognition” between two grand lodges, but all have been finally and Masonically adjusted and not for a number of years has there been any interruption of fraternal relations between United States grand lodges.

Grand lodges have tackled the vexing question of the so-called “higher degrees” with various amounts of courage and determination. Thirty-three grand lodges have no laws stating how long a newly-made Master Mason must wait before petitioning another Masonic body. Four grand lodges say he must wait a year; four tell him to hold off for six months; two are satisfied with two months; four demand that the would-be petitioner be proficient in the Master Mason Degree and that he prove it before he can apply to either Scottish or American (York) Rite.

How long must John Smith wait, as an Entered Apprentice, before being passed, or, as a Fellowcraft, before being raised? Here is variation indeed. If he can “learn the work” in eighteen grand lodges he can receive all three degrees as fast as they can be conferred by the lodge. Two want at least a day between degrees; the rest vary from two weeks to thirty-five days, although several are willing to have the candidate wait only the time between one stated communication of a lodge and the next.

On the other side of the shield, one grand lodge is willing that a brother of one degree wait five years without penalty before receiving the next; others allow a wait of six months, a year, two years; the rest are silent in the matter.

Mr. John Smith is elected in state A and before he can receive the degrees moves to state B. If state B is any state except California, Delaware, or Pennsylvania, he may receive the degrees for which he has been elected by the courtesy of some lodge in state B. Pennsylvania does not do courtesy work for other grand lodges nor request it of them — not, be it understood, because this grand lodge is disobliging, but because under its laws, identification cannot be made by letter or document of any kind. California and Delaware will do courtesy work in the second and third degrees only.

The rest of the grand lodges usually ask for documentary evidence that Mr. John Smith is the Mr. John Smith who has been elected in state A. Such identification may consist of a letter, torn in half, one half to the lodge doing courtesy work, one half retained by Mr. Smith. Some grand lodges ask for a split photo or split lodge seal.

Half a dozen grand lodges permit their lodges to charge for courtesy work, but it is very rare that any lodge does so.

Half a dozen grand lodges instruct their lodges when doing courtesy work to regard their own grand lodge rules as to proficiency, time between degrees, etc. The rest of the grand lodges proceed under the rules of the grand lodge in which a petitioner has been elected but who now seeks a courtesy degree.

Dual and plural membership has provided some interesting contrasts; dual membership is membership in two lodges, which may or may not both be in one state; plural membership is membership in more than two lodges, which may or may not be in one state. Thus, a grand lodge may O.K. dual within and without the state; dual within the state; plural within and without; plural within.

Twenty-five grand lodges permit membership within the state; thirty authorize dual membership within and without the state.

Fourteen grand lodges permit plural membership within the state; seventeen permit plural membership within and without the state. Plural membership may be unlimited, where permitted, the only limitation being how many lodges Brother John Smith wishes to have sending him bills for dues!

Dues differ almost as one star differs from another star in glory!

Minimum dues permitted range all the way from $2.00 to $12.00 per year; average dues from $4.00 to $12.84. Of the dues, grand lodges take as a tax per member any amount from one to seven dollars and prorate to charity anything from 25 cents to $6.25. To support grand lodges, amounts are prorated in amounts of from 30 cents to $2.80, in the latter case one dollar is for a building fund.

Twenty-three Grand Secretaries of the United States are past grand masters, the others are not past grand masters. The three oldest in service are Ohio’s venerated and beloved Harry S. Johnson (PGM), born April 21, 1868, grand secretary since 1924; Illinois’ Richard C. Davenport (PGM), born October 8,1886, served as grand secretary since 1928, and Thomas E. Doss, born June 3, 1890, grand secretary since 1930.

The youngest grand secretary in service is David Palmer, Minnesota, elected to that office in 1954.

John Smith became a Mason as a young man; as an old one he needed help and care. His lodge — if it is one of thirty-three grand lodges that maintain such institutions — sponsored him for its Masonic home.

These institutions, in which those who live there are honored guests, are sometimes homes, sometimes hospitals, sometimes infirmaries. Grand lodges that support them pay lavishly for fine buildings, competent help, excellent food, an experienced staff. Some are small, in small grand lodges; others large, in states of greater population. Seven grand lodges have each two Masonic homes. Some receive and care for children and make the proud boast that their graduates are invariably good, successful, and high grade men and women.

These institutions are run by trustees, committees or other bodies appointed by grand masters or elected by grand lodges. Grand masters in the United States serve usually for but one year, but in ten grand lodges a second year is usually given. In Massachusetts it is customary for a grand master to be thrice elected and serve three years. In Massachusetts and Iowa, there is no “line” in grand lodge in which senior grand warden becomes deputy grand master, deputy grand master becomes grand master. In these two states, choice of a new grand master (in Iowa, yearly; in Massachusetts, usually every third year) is made “from the floor.”

In Maine and Delaware, the “line” is but two offices in length; each new election brings a new deputy grand master who is eventually elected grand master.

Three grand lodges appoint deputy grand masters (Massachusetts, Iowa, Mississippi).

Even titles vary! Grand masters in Texas are Most Worshipful but become Right Worshipful when they are past grand masters. Pennsylvania grand masters, reigning or past, are always Right Worshipful. Three Western grand lodges have Very Worshipful in place of Right Worshipful for some grand officers.

But it is in the powers of the grand master that some of the greatest differentials between grand lodges are found. From the few grand masters who can do practically anything they please, to those in grand lodges that must at some time have had leaders they have not trusted too much and so hedged them about with restriction after restriction, the difference is great. Perhaps even larger are the differences between the grand lodges that have “adopted” Mackey’s twenty-five landmarks; those that deny Mackey in favor of lists of their own, ranging in length from seven to fifty-some, and those that will have no pronouncement on the books as to what is and what is not a landmark. This latter idea is based on the theory that if you can adopt you can repeal. “As a landmark is unrepealable,” these grand lodges argue, “it is also unadoptable.” And, anyway, you can’t list landmarks any more than you can list laws of nature or the moral taws of society, without leaving something out!

’Tis a wonderful world, this Masonic sphere in which we live and attend lodge and pay dues and make more Masons and love the Ancient Craft!

Possibly it is the differences that help to make us a unit; the variations that make us similar; in fact, as some wise man once discovered, “the more it differs the more it is the same thing.”

John Byrom wrote:

Strange all this difference should be
’Twixt Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

Question Box

This column will attempt to answer questions about Freemasonry.

Why do Masons wear aprons?

The use of the apron is extremely old, not, as with the operative Masons, as a protector of clothing and body against tools and stone, but as a badge of honor. It was so used by the priests of Israel, by candidates for the mysteries of Mithras in Persia, by the ancient Japanese in religious worship. Ethiopia knew aprons as did Egypt. In all times and climes, it has been a badge of distinction. It is as such that a Mason wears it.

The material of the Masonic apron — lambskin — is a symbol of innocence, as the lamb has always been.

Color and material are important in its symbolism but Masonry admits the “symbol of the symbol” — as for instance, an electric light in place of a candle. Hence a Mason has more than once been “properly clothed’ when the lambskin aprons of the lodge were all in use and he came through the tiled door clad in a white handkerchief!

What is a cowan?

Cowan is an old Scotch word, meaning an ignorant Mason who put stones together without mortar, or piled rough stones from the field into a wall without working them square and true. He is a Mason without the Word — the Apprentice who tries to masquerade as a master.

What Is an Eavesdropper?

The eavesdropper in ancient times was that would-be thief of secrets who listened under the eaves of houses (there was often a space between wall and roof, for the purpose of ventilation). Because to hear he had to get close to the wall under the eaves, he received the droppings from the roof if it rained — hence, eavesdropper. In modern times the eavesdropper is that bold man who forges a good standing card, or finds one and masquerades as its owner; the man who has read a so-called “exposé” of Masonry and tries to get into a lodge, in order to ask for charity or help. He is very rare, and few tilers have ever met him! The cowan, however — the Fellowcraft or Entered Apprentice stopped for cause, the one-time member in good standing who is now dropped for one cause or another — these not infrequently try to pass the tiler.

The Masonic Service Association of North America