Vol. XXXVI No. 4 — April 1958

Masonic Sentry

The tiler is the admitting officer charged with allowing only Masons known to him as being brethren in good standing to enter the lodge Room while the lodge is at labor or refreshment.

The sentry of the lodge is the member of the investigating committee appointed by the master to interview a petitioner and learn the facts necessary to decide whether or not he is fitted by character, occupation and reputation to be a member of the ancient order in general and the lodge to which he has applied in particular.

Every lodge member has had — or should have — the opportunity to act as a sentry to his lodge. As the sentry of a military post must make sure that no enemies, spies or unauthorized persons enter it, so the Masonic sentry must make sure that no man not fitted for the teachings and blessings of Freemasonry pass through the West Gate to initiation.

This is no easy task, nor one to be approached without some prior thought. To assist those to whom the experience is new, here are some suggestions that may be helpful.

Religion. No atheist can be made a Mason. It is, therefore, essential that the petitioner declare his belief in a Supreme Being. If the petition he has signed asking for the degrees includes the question: “Do you believe in God?” and the answer is in the affirmative, the committee members of course need not ask it again. But it is wise to ascertain what the petitioner’s religious belief may be. Freemasonry is not concerned with the church to which a man may belong or even if he belongs to any, or the faith he may profess, except that there are some churches that frown upon their members becoming Freemasons. A petitioner may not know this. If, for instance, a petitioner is a member of the Roman Catholic Church, he should be instructed that his church does not permit him to apply for the Masonic degrees.

The discussion of religious matters, like political beliefs, is strictly forbidden in Masonic lodges, and no religious tests are applied to any petitioner. He may, or may not, have a church membership. He may, or may not, have a religious attitude of mind. He maybe an agnostic; not able to decide to his own satisfaction as to just what he believes. These matters are not the concern of the committee. Its only interest in the petitioners religious convictions, or lack of them, is that he does have faith in a Supreme Being, and that, if he is a member of a church, or a believer in the faith that forbids or frowns upon Masonic membership, he is fully instructed as to those facts.

Education. Freemasonry makes no educational test to determine fitness for membership. Some grand lodges demand that their petitioners must be able to read and write English; others are silent on the subject. Few committees would consider making a favorable report on a man who could not read or write. But it is not required that a petitioner be a public or private school graduate or have gone to college!

Conscientious committee members will hesitate to make a favorable report on a man obviously of low intelligence and small education, as much for his sake as for that of the lodge. All candidates must learn a certain amount of ritual; all candidates who are to become interested lodge members must have enough background to appreciate and understand something of the history, principles and spirit of Freemasonry.

This requirement — intelligence and sufficient education to understand Freemasonry’s aims and ideals — is difficult to phrase; perhaps the easiest way to reach a decision in this matter is for the committeeman to ask himself: “Is this the kind of man I will enjoy sitting next to in lodge? Will he enjoy talking with me about our common interests?”

Physique. Originally only the practically perfect man — perfect as to his body — could apply for the degrees; in these more enlightened days more and more grand lodges have relaxed the insistence on “the doctrine of the perfect youth.” The committee member should satisfy himself as to a petitioner’s physical state and note any lack of members and so report to his lodge. (Consult your Code for instructions.)

Motives. What is the motive that led to application? This is of real importance. It is not easily possible to make a good Mason and lodge member of the man who wishes to join because of his belief that “it will help me in my business,” or “because of the sick and death benefits I or my family may receive.” Many men have erroneous ideas as to the function of the Fraternity in their lives; if a selfish, financial or other improper motive is the cause of a petition, the committee member will want to know it. Did the petitioner conceive for himself the thought that he should be a Mason, or was it suggested to him by another? What was the final impulse that led him to ask a friend for a petition? Why did he pick this lodge rather than another? (This only applies to areas having concurrent jurisdiction.) Has he any Masonic relatives? These and similar questions should be asked, as the replies are often illuminating as to the ideas a petitioner has of Freemasonry.

Especially should committee members dig deeply into the motives that prompt an application from an elderly man? Many men of advancing age have had to postpone application to the Fraternity for financial reasons; others may become advised only in their advanced years of what membership may mean. But occasionally an older man, not too well off, will think that Freemasonry, in those grand lodges that maintain Masonic homes, may be a “good investment.” Men who want to become members that, at a later date, they may become guests in a Masonic home may be poor material for a lodge.

Character. What sort of a man is he? No standards of manhood are phrased by the Fraternity and character cannot be defined by rules. But a man’s reputation is not difficult to ascertain and the reputation he has should be of vital importance to the investigating committee.

Some committees, especially in the larger centers, employ the services of a credit bureau to learn whether a petitioner has a good record as to credit. Obviously a man badly in debt, who is known as “poor pay,” is not to be considered in the same class of petitioners as those whose reputation is for financial responsibility.

Nothing in the above paragraph should be construed that the amount of a man’s savings or wealth is a factor in deciding upon a petitioner’s fitness for lodge membership. The rich banker or business executive may be no better lodge material than the least well-paid of his employees. It is not the size of a man’s estate that should be considered but how he manages what he has and/or earns.

A petitioner’s associates in business and his employer can often give interesting sidelights upon his character; the reputation a man has among his neighbors and fellow workers may be as important as that which he sustains in the community at large.

Personality. This matter of character goes deeper than the fundamentals of honesty, integrity, church affiliation, education. A man may be wholly honest, go to church, pay his bills, support his family and still be a disagreeable, unhappy and cross-grained individual who would be a disturbing factor rather than an asset in lodge life. Committeemen should make a special effort to evaluate a man’s personality as well as his character. It is easily understood that this is not a task to be done by a mere interview. Naturally a petitioner “puts his best foot forward” when he meets with a lodge committee. Ascertaining character and personality are aided by such contacts but must be completed by learning from others “what manner of man is this.”

Politics. The political beliefs of an applicant are of no importance to the lodge to which he applies except he be a communist. Communism is a "political party” only in name. Freemasonry wants no one in its ranks who is desirous of seeing this nation in the hands of a dictator. Therefore the committee should make sure that any petitioner is patriotic and American in his politics.

His Wife. The attitude of an applicant’s wife is important. It is wise to interview an applicant in the presence of his wife, if only to make sure that she understands, as he must be sure to understand, that Freemasonry is not a death benefit or sickness-relief association, as are many fraternal organizations.

Finance. The financial position of the applicant should be ascertained. Can he afford the fees? Can he afford the dues? Here again the presence of the wife at an interview is suggested as wise. Masonry is injured, not aided, by members whose income and outgo are so nearly balanced that lodge dues become a hardship.

Business. The business or profession of an applicant may be important to his lodge. His business history is distinctly the business of an investigating committee. A drifter, who goes from job to job, never holding any for very long, is much more apt to become a charge upon the lodge than a man with a definite role to play in the commercial life of his habitat. Similarly a man’s ambitions are good indications as to his desirability as a lodge member. The man who drives a taxi today, seeks a job as a day laborer tomorrow, and the next day wants to be employed as a clerk may be good lodge material, but it is among the ranks of the unanchored that many of the "dropped, N.P.D.” are to be found.

Liquor. In many grand lodges applications may not be received from those engaged, either immediately or remotely, in selling liquor. Petitions from those who have no known or ascertainable sources of income should be looked at with severe scrutiny.

Affiliates. Brethren who change their residence from one state or one town to another and desire to demit and rejoin, require some correspondence; a committeeman on such a petition will correspond with the secretary of the lodge issuing the demit (or certificate of transfer) to make sure that, since the issue of such documents, no objections to his re-affiliation have arisen.

Petition. Some grand lodges require that a petition be in the handwriting of the petitioner. In jurisdictions that do not have this rule, it may well be wise to go over a petition with the petitioner, to make sure that he has thorough understanding of what has been stated therein. It has happened that in filling out a petition, a friend has made a misstatement. Errors in a petition maybe causes of great embarrassment; he is a wise committeeman who makes certain the petitioner knows exactly what the answers are in the petition he has signed.

Other Organizations. The membership of a petitioner in other organizations may, or may not, be of importance. If he has been a “joiner” and has held, or now holds, membership in several fraternal orders, communication with the secretaries of such bodies may be advisable; the man who pays his dues promptly in half-a-dozen clubs, societies or orders will probably also pay his Masonic lodge dues; the man hard to collect from by the secretary of orders A, B and C will be equally lax in paying lodge dues.

Fairness. The member of an investigating committee should, of course, be as impersonal and objective as fairness demands. He must be fair to the petitioner and fair to his lodge. But he also must be fair to himself; a lodge is any brother’s fraternal home, to which he has no obligation to permit or invite one whose personality is disagreeable or antagonistic to his own. Such considerations are particularly to be thought of in the small, one-to-a-town lodge.

Friends and Enemies. These are potent factors in any investigation. The petitioner with many friends, with neighbors who are willing to say a word about him, is easy to investigate. But a man who has few friends to whom he can refer is not necessarily to be considered poor material. John Smith has lived in the town for only a year; he is of a reserved and shy nature; he may have made but few intimates able to speak for him.

If a committeeman can discover any who do not like the petitioner this may prove a valuable lead. A friend will be cautious in speaking of his friend’s faults; one who dislikes him will not. But because Mr. A dislikes Mr. B and says so and is willing to say why, it does not follow that Mr. B is necessarily poor material. If Mr. A says, for instance, that Mr. B is a dead beat and never pays his bills, a further investigation may prove Mr. A’s information entirely in error.

In general, in considering either the evaluation of friends or of enemies, dig further. The lodge wants a positive, not a negative, report. It is not sufficient that nothing detrimental to a petitioner can be discovered; it is the presence of positive virtues of character, personality, and manhood that make good lodge material.

Honor. An investigating committee membership is an honor offered by the master of a lodge. He says, in effect: “I believe you to be a conscientious Mason, who can be trusted with the character and reputation of your lodge.”

Those members of committees who accept their labors and perform them with this in mind, and who follow in part, if not in whole, the suggestions here laid down, may think of themselves as workmen in the quarries who have done “good work, true work, square work” of the utmost importance to Masonry and to their lodge.

Question Box

This column will attempt to answer questions about Freemasonry.

Why are Masons of the Second Degree called Fellowcrafts?

Probably prior to 1726 all Freemasons except the “King’s Master Mason” were either Apprentices or Fellows of the Craft, in imitation of the workers of the operative days, when Apprentices became Fellows after a period of seven years’ training and the making of a “master’s piece” to show proficiency in some part of a mason’s work. We continue the old names, as preferable to such modernizations as “beginners” and “members.”

Why do the stairs in the Second Degree wind?

In 1 Kings 6:8 appears “The door for the middle chamber was in the right side of the house: and they went up with winding stairs into the middle chamber, and out of the middle into the third.” The Fellowcraft climbs the winding stairs to reach the middle chamber where are paid the wages he has earned, in corn, wine and oil. Symbolists find an especial significance in the “winding” of the stairs, denoting the necessity for a courageous ascent. Stairs that wind do not disclose what is ahead as does a straight stair. He who climbs a winding stair in confidence does so because he is a man grown, no weakling, but one able to face even an unknown future with courage.

The Fellowcraft Degree as a whole is a symbol of manhood, so it is appropriate to its teachings that winding stairs denote courage. The Entered Apprentice Degree as a whole is a symbol of youth and the Master Mason Degree as a whole a symbol of age.

Sheaf of Wheat, Ear of Corn, Waterford, Waterfall — which is correct?

Either wheat or corn suspended near a waterford or waterfall denotes plenty and is a symbol of security, since it was at the crossing of the Jordan, where this sign was displayed, that the Ephraimites were defeated by the men of Gilead, being detected by their inability to pronounce the word shibboleth. Either an ear of corn or a sheaf of wheat at a waterfall or waterford is correct in the jurisdictions in which either combination is used. The meaning is the same.

The Masonic Service Association of North America