Vol. XLII No. 9 — September 1964

A Seat among the Brethren

Conrad Hahn

At the conclusion of the ceremonies of the Master Mason Degree the new member is usually told, "You are now entitled to a seat among the brethren."

One’s first feeling is that of relief. It’s good to sit back and relax. It’s reassuring not to be the center of attention any longer, especially with the knowledge that one is “in,” a full-fledged member. No more questions; no more serious lectures that seem to be aimed right at oneself!

If you are such a newly made Mason, don’t relax too completely. Stay alert. The closing ceremonies are about to begin. Watch; observe; make careful mental notes of what occurs. Those rites will help you to understand much that may have puzzled you.

You now sit among the brethren — but with a difference. They seem to know what it’s all about; your head is bursting with unanswered questions and bewildering impressions. That’s perfectly natural. They are “at home”; you cannot feel that way yet.

Being completely at ease takes time. It depends on familiarity with the surroundings, with a repetition of activities in a place that one gradually gets to know in every detail. It's like wearing your favorite household slippers, well broken in, cozy, and easy to slip on and off.

But you can help yourself. Knowledge helps to create familiarity. That is one of the chief aims of a really liberal education, to make a man feel “at home” in the universe. Your brain is seething with unanswered questions and new impressions. Pay attention to them. Get answers to the questions. Find explanations for the ideas and sensations that are puzzling you. You want to feel “at home” in your seat among the brethren.

First things first. They are usually the simple background information that every normally curious individual wants to know. How big is the lodge to which you belong, i.e., how many members does it have? (Some Masonic thinkers believe that the question should be worded, “How small is your lodge?”) How many members are nonresident, i.e., live far away from the community in which the lodge is situated?

Who are some of the outstanding citizens in the community who are members of your lodge? Who are the officers of the lodge? What do they do in the community? What are their functions in the lodge? You were instructed earlier to “converse with well-informed brethren.” They will be glad to help you to understand what and who your lodge really is.

When you became a Mason, you were told that you were “bound to obey the by-laws.” That bound doesn’t mean that there is only an urgent necessity to do so; it means that you promised in your obligation. You committed your sacred honor to that observance. That’s why you were given a copy of the by-laws, so that you might know exactly what the by-laws are. At the earnest opportunity, read and digest them thoroughly. If you didn’t get a copy of the by-laws, move “heaven and earth” until you do. You cannot begin to know what “the rights, lights, and benefits of this Worshipful lodge” are, until you know from the by-laws how your lodge is organized and how it conducts its business.

It is probable that you were also presented with a copy of the grand lodge constitution, rules and obligations — the “code book” or Ahiman Rezon as it is sometimes called — and this too is a “must” book if you want to know how Freemasonry is organized and operates in your state. The “ancient charges” are usually printed in such a volume. Consider them required reading so that you can increase your understanding of what Freemasonry is all about. The same book will also tell you much about the duties and privileges of a Mason.

In some lodges the newly made Mason is also presented with a short history of the lodge. Lucky you, if you have one! It can tell you when your lodge was started, what have been its outstanding achievements and celebrations, and who its most devoted and hard-working leaders were. You need such knowledge to acquire that kind of familiarity that makes a man proud to belong. However, even if you didn't receive such a history, remember the "well-informed brethren." Ask, and ye shall receive!

When you became a member of the lodge, you received (or will receive, after you have passed a "proficiency test” on the third degree) a “dues card.” Read it carefully. It certifies that “Brother is a member in good standing.” Doesn’t that help you feel that you really belong? (By the way, did you sign it promptly in the margin? Can you explain why that’s an important requirement?)

Now turn it over and read the certification on the reverse side. Doesn’t that expand your feeling of belonging? (Why is that certification important?)

You probably consider yourself “a good business man.” You manage your family’s financial affairs with care. What initiation fees did you pay to become a member of the lodge? You were probably given receipts for the payment of those fees when you joined the lodge.

What were those fees to be used for? How much of the total went to the lodge for operating expenses? Did that include your dues for the current year? You surely want to know what your “standing” in the lodge is.

How much of the total was turned over to the trustees of the lodge “for a rainy day” or for “a charity fund”? You have the right to know what your money is going to do, if part of it is for future use by the lodge, either for building purposes or for the relief of a distressed worthy brother, his widow, or orphans. The by-laws may prove helpful here; the annual financial reports of the officers will tell you even more.

Was any part of the fees paid over to the grand lodge in your state, to be added to the endowment or operating funds of the Masonic home and hospital, or to the grand lodge charity fund? If it goes to support that marvelous benevolence known as the Masonic home, go and visit that institution at your first opportunity. You will not only get answers to a lot of questions; you will be awfully proud to be a Mason! (By the way, do you know just where the Home is located?)

If part of your fee goes to the grand lodge charity fund, borrow copies of the annual Proceedings of grand lodge and study reports of the trustees of that fund. You will be more “at home” about that money if you know what it accomplished last year — how many worthypeople it helped, how it has affected your lodge, and how much it means to the Masons of your state. You will be proud that you contributed!

In most lodges today, every newly-made Mason has paid one dollar (in his initiation fees) to the endowment or general fund of the George Washington Masonic National Memorial Association. What is the George Washington Masonic National Memorial? Do you know that George Washington was a sincere and loyal Mason, and that among the fourteen Presidents of the United States who were initiated into Freemasonry, he is the only one who served his lodge as worshipful master at the same time he was President?

If the well-informed brethren of your lodge cannot tell you very much about this impressive Masonic Memorial to George Washington, which was built by Masons from all over the United States at the cost of millions of dollars, you can easily find out. Write to the secretary of that association for a short history of the Memorial. Address him at or the George Washington Masonic National Memorial, Alexandria, Virginia 22301. But promise yourself that some day you will go and see it. You'll be inspired!

Once you have gotten some answers to the questions about your lodge and “where the money went,” you’ll undoubtedly begin to feel more “at home.” The chief reason is that you will be feeling proud to belong to an organization that is so devoted to a practical application of the ideals of brotherly love and relief. In addition, your interest will be aroused. “There’s a lot more to this Masonry than I realized.”

That’s the reason most lodges are using a series of candidate instruction booklets today. If yours is, you received one before you came to lodge to be initiated, and one after each of the three degrees. Now is the time to read or re-read each of them carefully and all at once. You’ll find “the story gets more connected” by such a review at this time, and you’ll be surprised how many of your confused impressions will straighten themselves out.

Nevertheless, you’ll still have some unanswered questions. They may be about words or allusions in the ritual, such as “the lodge of the Holy Saints John at Jerusalem.” Perhaps that word cabletow still perplexes you. Other members seem to use them confidently, as if they had no doubt about their meaning.

This is where enthusiasm for Masonic information and knowledge is born, or dies. It depends on whether the brethren to whom you turn for answers are really “well-informed” or not, and whether they “gladly teach.” But if you really want to know, you can always find out. There are “lodges of instruction” or “information nights” in your own lodge from time to time. There are district meetings for those who seek to learn. That’s where you meet the brethren who are enthusiastic about instructing their less-informed brethren.

You can find the answers to many of your questions in Masonic books. If your lodge has no library of such volumes, ask around to discover what brethren have useful Masonic information on their bookshelves. One may have a good history of Freemasonry; another may have a treatise on Masonic symbols. It’s worth a try.

The Masonic Service Association stocks all of the monthly Short Talk Bulletins that have been published since January 1923. There are now about 500 of these short essays (8-10 pages) on Masonic subjects, as well as longer Digests on Masonic history, philosophy, symbolism, jurisprudence, grand lodge practices, etc. The catalogs of all these publications are available, free, to any regular Mason requesting them.

But if you really want to get the meaning of the language of Masonic ritual “into the marrow of your bones,” you should actually participate in some of the degree work in your lodge. It takes a good delivery of some of the ritual or the lectures to make a man feel that he really “has” it.

This is not to say that you must get “into the line” of lodge officers. Participation in degree work can be undertaken without that commitment — and a very serious commitment it is, since it involves so much more in time and effort than memorizing and performing the ritual.

If you’re not interested in ritualistic labors, however, there are other areas in which you can put your shoulder to the wheel and intensify your sense of belonging. Social events in lodge always need enthusiastic workers, from cooks for the oyster stew to chairmen of committees that plan and execute a successful “Ladies Night,” or serving on the sick committee. One rarely hears a master complain that he had more workers than he knew what to do with!

And this brings us to the most important question you must ask if you really want to feel “at ease” in your seat among the brethren, if you want to feel that you actually belong: “Worshipful master, what can I do for the lodge? I'm tired of just sitting in my seat among the brethren.”

The Masonic Service Association of North America