True Secrets of Freemasonry

Those who become Freemasons only for the sake of finding out the secret of the order, run a very great risk of growing old under the trowel without ever realizing their purpose. Yet there is a secret, but it is so inviolable that it has never been confided or whispered to anyone. Those who stop at the outward crust of things imagine that the secret consists in words, in signs, or that the main point of it is to be found only in reaching the highest degree. This is a mistaken view: the man who guesses the secret of Freemasonry, and to know it you must guess it, reaches that point only through long attendance in the lodges, through deep thinking, comparison, and deduction.

He would not trust that secret to his best friend in Freemasonry, because he is aware that if his friend has not found it out, he could not make any use of it after it had been whispered in his ear. No, he keeps his peace, and the secret remains a secret.

Giovanni Giacomo Casanova, Memoirs, Volume 2a, Paris, p. 33

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Masonic Business

As I noted in The Convention that Changed the Face of Freemasonry, it was traditional up until the mid 1800's for the business of lodges throughout the world to work in the first degree. Masonic Tradition Informs Us that this change was due to the William Morgan Affair, and was a change made to prevent cowans from sitting in on our business meetings. Shoot, I have been to and RUN several business meetings, and as far as I am concerned, they are welcome to sit in... the "secrets" of freemasonry are not discussed in business meetings anyway!

So, this was an innovation, one which, as is typical of these things, become de riguer, standard, and somehow, written in stone (in the United States, think of Income Taxes, which were supposed to be a temporary emergency measure...) The point of this blog, therefore, is to examine whether the time has come to return to Masonic tradition, and the reasons we should, or should not do so.

One of the innovations to masonry that, in my opinion, is causing the most trouble for the craft, is the "simplification" of freemasonry. We are taught in every degree that freemasonry is a progressive science, taught by degrees. The purpose of the three degrees is to confer upon the candidate certain teachings, opening his heart and spirit to make him a better man. Yet, for some reason, we RUSH through the degrees, as if there is nothing to be learned and internalized.

This is a typical American failing... we spend too much time in front of the television, where all the world's problems can be solved between the commercials and in under an hour. The members of my grand lodge even voted in 1996 and ammended in 1997 to allow the candidates to return the proficiency in the first and second degree in a "short" form... memorizing only the obligation and the means and modes of recognition rather than the traditional two minute (!!) memorized two part catechism between the candidate and his coach.

Part of the reason for the rush, however, is that the candidate cannot participate in the business of the lodge, he is excluded from one part of the lodge because we only do business in the third degree. If we did business in the first degree, there would be no need for a mad rush from EA to MM, a process that is usually completed in 90 (!!) days from the time a candidate is balloted upon.

How can we look people in the eye and claim we are going to teach them great and serious truths in less than one third the time it takes to bake a baby? And lets not EVEN get into the concept that is, fortunately falling from use, the aberration called “All the Way in A Day”. How on earth can you form a mason in 8 hours?

This must all seem like a foreign concept to our worldwide brethren, who, by and large, conduct business in the first degree, and only open in other degrees, or all UP to confer degrees.

It is my opinion that it is time, and actually well PAST time for the Grand Lodges to seriously consider, not a new tradition, but of returning to the true tradition of working in the first degree except for the conferral of higher degrees and Masonic education appropriate to a specific degrees.

Its time to lengthen the time between one degree to another from, in some cases, ONE DAY, to a minimum of 90 days. Give the candidate time to learn to BE a mason, to take in the wise and serious truths being presented to him, to take the time to actually become a Mason.

That’s this mason’s opinion. As always, I welcome yours.

Below is some information from Paul Bessel on the 21 Grand Lodges that already have chosen to return to the true tradition of working in the first degree.

Grand Lodges Where Business Can Now be Done on the First Degree

  1. Connecticut as of Apr. 1, 1987: Grand Lodge voted to allow Stateds on any degree, but only MM's vote.
  2. Missouri as of Sept. 27, 1994: Bylaws now says: A STATED COMMUNICATION requires that the lodges open on the first, second and third degrees.
  3. Washington as of June 13, 1996: Resolution said a significant number of EA's, FC's, and MM's fail to progress, if they can attend and participate in Lodge business their interest and knowledge may increase at an earlier time and they will be more likely to continue as active Masons, doing business on the 3rd degree was an innovation in the U.S. in 1843. The WM decides on which degree to open a meeting. Only MM's who have passed their proficiency can vote on certain items.
  4. Idaho as of Sept. 20, 1996: Idaho voted to allow lodges to open and conduct business on any degree at the discretion of the Master. There is an exception that balloting on petitions may only be done on the 3rd degree. Masons below the rank of Master Mason are not allowed a vote and may debate only at the discretion of the Worshipful Master. This action was probably taken in 1996 or 1997.
  5. Colorado as of January 1997.
  6. Kansas as of March 1997 by edict of the Grand Master
  7. Arizona as of June 7, 1997: Resolution said restricting attendance at stated meetings to MM's deprives EA's and FC's of fellowship and activity. Says business will be done in lodge of EA, FC, or MM, decided by the WM, but only MM's can vote and hold office.
  8. Nevada as of Nov. 11, 1997: Resolution states all business, except conferring of the FC and MM degrees, shall be done in a Lodge of EAs, but only MMs who are members of a lodge may vote in that Lodge. In 1998 (and again in 1999), rejected a resolution to allow the WM to conduct business meetings on any of the 3 degrees, so they must be on the EA degree, except for conferring of degrees.
  9. Alabama as of 1998: GL voted to allow business on any degree.
  10. Minnesota as of April 15-17, 1999: Resolution said present rules exclude EA's and FC's from attending stateds of lodge they have joined, while they are subject to discipline already, it is desirable to include new members as soon as possible, educational programs will be of interest to new members. Allows WM to open on any degree, but only MM's can vote.
  11. Oregon as of June 4, 1999: WM permitted to open Stated meetings on EA or FC degree to permit EAs and FCs to attend, without benefit of being voting members.
  12. Montana as of 2000, The GL of Montana began allowing all lodges to conduct business on the EA or FC degrees at the option of the WM.
  13. Maryland as of Nov. 15, 1999: At the discretion of the Worshipful Master, a Lodge may be opened in any of the three degrees and all business except that which relates specifically to a particular degree may be transacted in the Lodge sitting in any of the three degrees. Provided, however, that only Master Masons who are members of the Lodge may cast a ballot, vote, or participate in debate on any matter coming before the Lodge or exercise any other right or privilege of membership relating to the business of the Lodge.
  14. New Mexico as of March 2000
  15. Utah - No details available
  16. District of Columbia as of November 4, 2000: WM may open and conduct business on any degree, but only MMs can vote or exercise other privileges of Lodge membership.
  17. Massachusetts, date not known Grand Lodge voted to allow Stateds on any degree, but only MM's vote.
  18. Vermont (Thanks Errol and Wr. O'Sullivan!!)
  19. Ohio (Thanks Tom)
  20. South Dakota (Thanks Silence Dogood)
  21. Texas as of 2007

Grand Lodges Where Business on the First Degree is Known to be Under Consideration

  • Alaska
  • Illinois
  • New York
  • Oklahoma
  • Texas

May the blessing of heaven rest upon us and all regular masons. May brotherly love prevail, and every moral and social virtue, cement us.


Anonymous said...

As always insightful, informative and interesting, good job you are a true credit to the order. Thanks for sharing.

VLBarnes, PM, PHA

Anonymous said...

As always insightful, informative and interesting, good job you are a true credit to the order. Thanks for sharing.

VLBarnes, PM, PHA

Michael Shirley said...

W. Bro. Harry Truman, was Initiated on February 9, 1909, passed on March 9, and raised on March 18. Allen E. Roberts, in his excellent book Brother Truman, notes that "There was no waiting period between degrees as there is today." Truman went on to become a district lecturer and Grand Master of Missouri Masons. He was noted as an excellent ritualist.

There are some things about Freemasonry that require uniformity. Speed or slowness between degrees, it seems to me, should depend on the man and which is better for him. Now, that said, I agree that having stated meetings on the first degree would be good for maintaining a connection with Entered Apprentices and Fellowcrafts on their journey, and it might be a good way to slow things down to their benefit. OTOH, again, speed should depend on the man. YMMV.

Anonymous said...

First of all lets dispel one error. Massachusetts Grand Lodge does not vote on proposals. The Grand Master rules buy edict, although I have sen some rare votes taken which were just advisory. I was there when Massachusetts changed to business on any degree but I am not sure I can remember the exact date. I'm going to guess that it was 2001. I'm sure some one else can set the record straight for sure.

Second take a look at what my Lodge IN PHA Texas does. Candidates must after each degree in the meetings that follow place themselves before the Lodge for questioning and recitation of their Obligation and answers to the questions of their catechism. The main difference here is that they must answer a number of questions "not in the book", that is questions about Masonry that are not in the proficiency study booklet. These questions pertain to Masonry's interaction with biblical scripture, politics, religion and morals of every day life. Each questioning period is a minimum of an hour and could be longer. The candidates pass as a group. If their are five candidate and 4 do well and 1 does not then all fail the examination. This questioning or examination usually continues for many meetings after each degree, as we meet 2Xmo. Only after a vote of the Lodge that they have shown themselves to be ready and learned can the candidates progress to the next degree. The average time for candidates to complete their degrees in my Lodge is 6 to 8 months. If they survive all that I have found that most newer Master Masons in my Lodge to be very knowledgeable about the Craft.

Traveling Man said...

From the perspective of a Connecticut Mason, being able to attend Stated Communications between the Degrees helped sustain interest and helped build friendships I enjoy to this day.

I believe the deceision to allow E.A.s to attend has helped the Connecticut Craft.

Traveling Man

Unknown said...

If one thinks about it, regardless of speed, an EA and FC will learn more about the government of his lodge under this proposal. I really cannot fathom the opposition--as if we have the final answer that 90% of the rest of the Masonic community that opens on the EA for business does not. We seem to have filled in the blanks with our own justifications.

Many of our candidates, by the time they become a MM, know about as much as they did before being made. Many are confused and many are prematurely shoved onto the officer's line. To me, it is embarrassing to see a recently raised MM resemble more of an EA because he is only recently exposed to elements of the lodge he should have learned prior to being raised. This certainly affects our government in the lodge. If we are truly a progressive science, then one does not confer higher degrees and casually tell the poor guy that he now can work backwards. Life itself does not work that way.

Business is quarry work and its transaction within the MM degree denigrates the mysteries of that degree itself which should only be conferred when required. Voting, of course, is a MM business and EAs and FCs can easily be excused for such a privilege.

With this building up of the business meeting as a mason's penultimate experience, we have furthered the erroneous and illogical assumption that one isn't a Mason until he's a MM. If one looks at the degrees and structure of the Craft, one will see that this is not correct whatsoever.

What is it worth to be called a MM if one knows almost nothing (because candidate education was almost next to nothing, if that)about the basic functions of the lodge?

One correction, Bro. Theron: The shortening of the proficiencies came about in 1996 and was modified further in 1997.

Michael Shirley said...

These questions pertain to Masonry's interaction with biblical scripture, politics, religion and morals of every day life.

Brother, I'm curious: how do these square with the prohibition of discussing religion and politics in lodge meetings? Also, by requiring discussion of the Bible, how would you welcome a Mason (or prospective Mason) whose belief in God did not encompass the Bible? Again, I ask these questions because I'm curious, not because I'm inclined to argue.

Anonymous said...

I (and before me others) have brought this before the Grand Lodge of Kentucky for several years now, and sometimes it's a closer vote than others. I'm glad to see that the collective consciousness of Freemasonry sees that it's finally time to rid ourselves of this nonsense.

Barry Eastham
Committee for Masonic Education
Grand Lodge of KY

Tubal Cain said...

where did the info come from?
Ohio has been doing business in the EA degree for a few years now?


Theron Dunn said...

Br. Michael;

Regarding your question on the phrase: These questions pertain to Masonry's interaction with biblical scripture, politics, religion and morals of every day life.

Where did you see that phrase? Its not in anything I have ever written, or that I have quoted. In fact, I can find no reference to them at all... thank you.

Theron Dunn said...


Please note that the information I was able to find was from Paul Bessel. If your grand lodge is now allowing business under the first degree, please email me and let me know, and I will forward the details to Wr. Br. Bessel.

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

good post, Bro.!

Silence Dogood said...

South Dakota allows a lodge to conduct business in the degree of its choice.

Seeker of Light said...

The GL of Texas voted in 2007 to allow business to be conducted in the EA or FC (doesnt have to be, but can be) with exceptions for GL official visits and other occasions.

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