Vol. XLV No. 11 — November 1967

Some More Short “Short Talks”

Conrad Hahn

A Few Questions

We hear a lot about the problems of Freemasonry today. Poor attendance always produces comment or complaint, but to keep this problem in perspective, one should reflect on the fact that grand masters and grand lodge committees complained about poor attendance long before we had television, bowling alleys, or radio. Attendance at meetings is usually a reflection of the kind of leadership a lodge is having and the quality of commitment it arouses in the men it makes Masons. I suppose that even the “mystery cults” of ancient Greece contended with poor attendance occasionally. When Macroadelphos was absent from a meeting, the explanation was probably as follows: “Oh, he’s gone to the Olympic Games!”

Declining membership is a problem that worries us all, especially those who have to administer the affairs of grand lodges and other Masonic bodies. Fewer members means reduced income. That’s a financial problem. In the last seven years the Craft in the United States has slipped from a high of 4,100,000 members to approximately 3,950,000. That’s a loss of about 3½%. Grand lodges abroad have also been reporting declines in membership. Again, to keep things in perspective, recall that from 1929 to 1939, the Depression years, Masonic membership in the United States declined from 3,300,000 to approximately 2,500,000, a loss of almost 25 percent.

True, we have not been experiencing a similar depression since 1960, when our grand lodges began showing an over-all net loss. Material prosperity has been the sign of our times. Things have been booming. Why, then, has Masonic membership been declining?

No one man can give a complete answer, but let me suggest a couple of areas to speculate about. Freemasonry has never been primarily a business enterprise; it’s a fraternity, a brotherhood, of individuals who associate with each other for educational and spiritual purposes. Men are attracted to Freemasonry because of the ideals it espouses. But we live in a crassly materialistic, spiritually bewildered, and morally hopeless era that ridicules noble purposes and sneers at moral values. The Soaring Sixties in which we’re living are soaring only to new heights of inflated egotism, which manifests itself in all sorts of irresponsible violence and destruction. We’re living through a great spiritual depression. May that not be one of the principal causes of our problem?

Listen to what one modern writer (not a Mason) has to say about our great objective, the Brotherhood of Man:

The ideal of the Brotherhood of Man, the building of the City of Justice, is one that cannot be discarded without lifelong feelings of disappointment and loss. But, if we are to live in the real world, discard it we must. Its very nobility makes the results of its breakdown doubly-horrifying, and it breaks down, as it always will, not by some external agency but because it cannot work.
— Kingsley Amis (1922-1995)

That’s modern intellectualism. But just what is the real world? Do you believe that brotherhood has broken down? Are you sure? What are you doing to counteract the philosophy that "brotherhood — cannot work”? May not this be our most important problem?

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The Tides

“Where the tide ebbs and flows twice in twenty-four hours” arouses some solemn thoughts in a Freemason’s mind. For centuries before modern science explained the stupendous phenomena that are visible every day along the ocean’s shore, men had looked at those happenings with fear and wonder. The ebbing and rising of the tides were regarded as signs and portents. One of the oldest of man’s superstitions, for example, especially among sailors and dwellers on the coast, was the belief that deaths occur mostly when the tide is going out.

Aristotle thought that no creature can die, except at low tide. Frazier’s The Golden Bough contains examples of primitive beliefs in the occurrence of death when the tide is falling. A Chilean Indian in the last stages of tuberculosis was heard to ask his sister how the tide was running. When told it was coming in, he smiled and said, “I still have a little more time to live.”

Shakespeare was acquainted with the superstition, for he has Falstaff die “just between twelve and one, even at the turning of the tide.” In Dickens’ David Copperfield Peggoty says, “People can’t die along the coast except when the tide’s pretty near out. They can’t be born unless it’s pretty nigh in.” Tennyson’s famous elegy, Crossing the Bar, uses the image of the turning of the tide as a symbol of death.

Many superstitions have their origin in repeated occurrences that seem to depend on the natural phenomena with which they are associated. There may be some physical cause connecting them. Not infrequently a change of temperature accompanies the turn of the tide. A dying person may react to that.

The solemn images suggested by a contemplation of the tides have had a long development in the fables and the literature of the human race. “A survey of nature first determined man to imitate the divine plan.”

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A Baker’s Dozen

With the transformation of the neighborhood grocery into the self-service supermarket, the giving of a baker’s dozen has all but disappeared from our shopping experiences. Pre-wrapped packages of cookies, doughnuts, cup cakes, etc., and long lines of shoppers at mechanized check-out counters have made the customer-shopkeeper relationship almost completely impersonal. There is no opportunity for the grocer to show his appreciation to regular customers by slipping into the weekly order an extra cookie or a piece of candy for the children.

The giving of a baker’s dozen may symbolize an act of benevolence or a gesture of friendship, but the custom really had a less generous, a more “practical” origin. Bread used to be sold by weight, the common loaf being a pound. In England especially there were heavy penalties imposed for short weight. To avoid such fines the baker who delivered bread to a number of shopkeepers would add a thirteenth loaf to every twelve, to be cut up as needed when any loaf weighed less than a pound, since bread has a habit of drying out and shrinking. The thirteenth loaf in a baker’s dozen was insurance against short weight penalties.

As time passed, prosperity, mass production, standardization, etc., made “the thirteenth loaf” less necessary, and helped transform it into a gesture of good will or generosity. A “business practice” was upgraded to a social amenity.

While Masonic benevolence, in the form of homes, hospitals, and orphanages, never developed as a necessary business practice, (it has been the fulfillment of solemn commitments) it is also changing as charity and relief become more nationalized and governmentally administered. At the same time, the hectic times in which we live suggest that we Masons can give a baker’s dozen in our benevolent endeavors by adding that word of kindness, that expression of understanding, that gesture of friendship, and that constructive suggestion in every daily contact we make with our family, friends, and neighbors.

“And who is my neighbor?” asked the young lawyer of Jesus. In reply He told the story of the Good Samaritan. “The one who showed mercy on him” was the conclusion — but by mercy Jesus meant an almost extravagant and lavish concern, a generous thirteenth loaf of kindness and helpfulness.


This is the month when the days grow markedly shorter. This is the month of gathering in and counting the harvest. This is the month in which Americans remember their hardy ancestors and renew their expressions of thankfulness to a benevolent Creator.

Masonically it may be a winding-up of the years program before the annual meetings in December, when new masters and officers will take over the leadership in their lodges. Whether it’s the next to last or first month on a new master’s calendar, it presents a number of opportunities for special events and programs.

In most states Election Day comes early in November. In national elections, it’s the first Tuesday in November in every state. What better event is there for a program about the Mason as a citizen, or Masonry and the community?

American Education Week is observed nationally in November. Since Masonry in the United States has always been closely associated with public education, this is a logical time to have programs for our lodges to stimulate support for our public schools and to review Masonry’s interest in them. Starting with DeWitt Clinton in New York 150 years ago, Masons have always promoted the free public schools of this nation.

Veterans Day, which used to be Armistice Day marking the end of World War I, is an opportunity to promote Americanism through various programs based on the history of the conflicts our country has engaged in, or to honor those “who have borne the battle.” Lodges near Veterans Hospitals where Masonic Field Agents serve could arrange very worthwhile activities illustrating that service to America’s hospitalized veterans.

November also brings the birthday anniversaries of a number of distinguished Americans who were also Masons. These could also become the occasion for special events in lodge. For example, three Masonic Presidents were born in November: James Garfield (November 19,1831); James Polk (November 2,1795); and Warren G. Harding (November 2,1865).

Most important, of course, among November celebrations is Thanksgiving Day for which the President always proclaims a day of prayer and spiritual remembrance. Masons, with their beliefs and objectives, should be among the foremost to demonstrate a nation’s thanks to God for the blessings He has showered on them.

The Masonic Service Association of North America