Planning a Masonic Journey

From Don of Lodge Devotion

One hundred years ago or so ago it was not safe for a young man to have a quiet couple of warm ales by himself after dark at a dockside pub in England. The press gangs were active and anxious to “earn” their sovereign in helping to man the Royal Navy and the merchant fleet. The victim would wake up in the morning below decks with his head feeling as though it had been hit by a heavy setting maul. His bunk seems to rock and almost tip him out but not due to the ebb of the tide. Shanghai was the term: used from 1871 to describe the practice of drugging or otherwise rendering insensible and delivered on board a ship to waiting hands. It is not quite like that when you become a Master Mason but there can be undue pressures and similarities.

We attend, often participating in our beautiful ceremonies then relax in the harmony of “the South”. When our adrenalin is at a low ebb after a pleasant meal with a beer or two in great company and enthusiasm high after a successful ceremony - the approach will be made:

“You know that there is more to Freemasonry than the Craft. Rule 86 in the Constitution tells us that Freemasonry really comprises the Mark and the Chapter too. If you want the genuine secrets then you have to join the Chapter too. And here are some proposal forms that I happen to have on my lodge case (surprise, surprise!), and I am happy to propose you. I happen to be “so and so” in this one (implying that if you are a good mate you will support him in a different lodge)”.

Young masons are very vulnerable to these approaches which may not be in their best interests. So what should they do?

Rule 86 of the UGLV Constitutions is simply a statement of recognition of Mark and Chapter and there is no claim for jurisdiction under the Craft as occurs in some constitutions. It does not say that the Craft is incomplete without them. The Chapter ritual was probably written by masonic playwrights in the 1700s when the “genuine” secrets seem to have been discovered. It does not accord the same status to the other Orders in the back of the Guide as it does to Mark and Chapter. Some very prominent and important Freemasons have played a major role without being a member of either Mark or Chapter.

If you are going to join more Orders the most conventional thing to do is to join Mark or Chapter, or both. I did. It is done either in misunderstanding the meaning of Rule 86, wanting to be a big fish in a smaller pond (compared with the Craft), curiosity, wanting to further fraternal bonds, as a prerequisite to join other Orders or something similar. In my opinion none of these reasons are very plausible.

My advice is join nothing else, if at all, until you are a Past Master. Even then it will take a long time to master the longer Craft ritual charges. If you want to have a bigger Masonic involvement; increase you visiting, take a major office, join another Craft Lodge, participate in a Lodge of Instruction, join a lodge of research, audition for a Grand Lodge Team or strive to join a Grand Lodge Committee.

Before joining anything else you should first decide how many nights of the week you want to be out and in these calculations take into account rehearsals. I then suggest that you decide where you want to end up. If you find yourself in a “Grand Team” in one of the Orders the time commitment will increase significantly and there is a large amount of traveling involved with the appendant Orders at this level. To join most of the Christian Orders you will first need to be a member of the Chapter but the SRIA, ROS and the AA Scottish Rites are exceptions. It seems strange to have to have the prerequisite of an order based on a Jewish legend to join a Christian order. It may result from the Chapter administering other appendant Orders as it does in other jurisdictions. The other non-Christian Orders with the exception of the OSM require concurrent membership of both the Mark and Chapter perhaps again in the mistaken belief a complete Freemason needs to be a member of both of these Orders.

There are exclusive “by invitation” Orders and to qualify as an invitee you need to start on the path early in your masonic journey. I have never been asked to join one of these “by invitation” Orders. It may be because I am a bit of a non-conformist or perhaps because of my view that freemasonry should be for the ordinary man, not for those with wealth, influence or patronage. This is the Scottish tradition and what our ritual implies. I have long taken the same view with “closed” lodges and “dining” lodges for which I have eligibility. One should be very confident that the masonic journey and the company will make joining an exclusive lodge worthwhile.

My unfortunate experience was joining too much too soon. When I belonged to less I enjoyed it more. I was barely a Deacon when my mentor had me in his Mark and Chapter. The meeting places were remote for me and in one meeting in Gardenvale I did not feel that I fitted in. One I did not attend for many years and in the other I went through “the Chair” becoming terribly confused with the ritual on a few occasions when I was concurrently a Warden in two Orders. I am now not affiliated in one of them and have no active interest in the other.

I then found myself in three Christian Orders to which I no longer belong. I guess it was a bit of curiosity, I was in a bit of a flat spot at work and I was vulnerable to “recruiters”. They did not do much for me and when I had to rationalize my commitments after a severe illness and increasing work commitments they had to go. It was all a waste of energy – and money. I did not want to be one of those that were in everything and did nothing well.

In addition to the Craft, which I still find a fascination and a challenge, I feel very comfortable in the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite (Scottish Constitution which is important – I have been through “the Chair” in both the Australian and Scottish Constitution Chapters), The Royal Order of Scotland, Knights Templar and of course I have to be a subscribing member of Chapter to be a member of the latter. A large number of keen and senior members of the other Orders seem to be a member of the Royal Order of Scotland and there is a waiting list to join this almost 400 strong lodge in Victoria. Freemasonry is a great place to meet regularly with my sons, relatives and close friends in a non-domestic environment. However, happy marriage is most important and I have other non-masonic interests. I am out on average two nights a week and sometimes four – too much. I could be out every night with my present masonic commitment.

Curiosity about other Orders may be addictive. I have known of Freemasons of modest means who have travelled overseas to be inducted into a soon-to-be-introduced Order ahead of their Australian brethren. Masonic playwrights were very busy 200 years ago when people were released from the bondage of just surviving by the Industrial Revolution, before mass media and when literacy levels were low. As a consequence there were strong demands for morality plays. Snippets of the final Craft story and lines out of the Bible were expanded into different rituals. Most of these can now be explored on the internet and fraternal feelings can be usually be satisfied by the Craft. If you are not satisfied by the dozen or so appendant Orders in the back of the Masonic Guide, there is a Grand College of Rites in the United States that holds rituals which are no longer worked. A ritual is only a part of what constitutes an Order, the other components being the members themselves, management, and administration and so on. However, the ritual is always the central theme.

Other Orders offer the potential for pomp, ceremony and pageantry particularly if one is in a “Grand Team” but you need to ask “do I really need it?” In summary, hasten slowly, do not be tempted to join too much too soon and enjoy the Craft. Be wary of the “recruiters”.