Table Lodge - Ceremony of the Seven Toasts

From WBro Damien of Lodge Devotion

Last meeting Devotion held a table lodge. Reflecting the flair of the night, the SW declares the lodge is “To erect temples to virtue and dig dungeons for vices.” A good table lodge should involve a lot of enthusiasm and gusto with a good measure of theatre. Scotch helps too! All these elements were present at our last wonderful meeting.

I’ve heard of the table lodge often, read about it and I’ve read it’s ritual. People always say they are very enjoyable. It sounded like a good idea – we love variety at Devotion, but on the evening of rehearsal when practicing the movements and words, I realized what fun we would have, but the night exceeded my most optimistic expectations

Several people described our last meeting as the best Masonic function they have ever attended - a big call but I can see why they made it... Like the ritual of Freemasonry, to read it or hear about it is only a small glimpse of the reality of a thing which you only understand by doing.. Last meeting we had a great experience by holding a table lodge making old words on a page come to animated and enjoyable life.

Toasts can be found at almost every Masonic South – but the formalized process, the words, the movements and everyone’s participation and it’s theatre, set a table lodge apart from our standard toasts to visitors, Queen, absent brethren and the like.

Early Table Lodges

The internet tells me ”The earliest "ritual" of the French Table Lodges was long and elaborate. In a modified form a similar ceremony was then used in England, becoming greatly abbreviated in recent years, retaining however, all the significance of former times.” Certainly dinning and the camaraderie of the South are at the centre of the Victorian Masonic Experience. Of course there is little set ritual for the usual South (besides the Temperance Address sometimes heard on the night of initiation in many lodges, but not often at Devotion). Our usual toasts do follow a formula – but with the exception of the tyler’s toast, are not truly ritualized. The South is sometimes described as “the fourth degree” to emphasis its importance by those who see it as an essential component of Masonic development and membership. I see this too because it is one of several things we do which foster friendship which is the engine of many good lodges… A table lodge is a great way to get together and have some fun and made me feel like I was participating in something special together with my brothers. Perhaps it should be given the importance of a degree in the South and become seen as an essential part of the Masonic experience…

The dates of the French Origins are not known to me, but certainly when Grand Lodge England was founded in 1717 – the purpose of the Grand Lodge was to "To revive the Quarterly Communication and hold the Annual Feast". This puts dining at the core of Masonic History and intent.

To quote an article from the Grand Lodge of Maine [1]

Masonic authority H. L. Haywood, in "More About Masonry" says: "In the Eighteenth Century Lodges the Feast bulked so large in the lodge that in many of them the members were seated at the table when the lodges were opened and remained at it throughout the Communication, even when the degrees were conferred. The result was that Masonic fellowship was good fellowship in it, as in a warm and fruitful soil, acquaintanceship, friendship, and affection could flourish - there was no grim and silent sitting on a bench, staring across at a wall. Out of this festal spirit flowered the love which Masons had for their lodge. …… What business has any lodge to be nothing but a machine for grinding out the work: It was not called into existence in order to have the minutes read: Even a mystic tie will snap under the strain of cheerlessness, repetition, monotony, dullness. A lodge needs a fire lighted in it, and the only way to have that warmth is to restore the lodge Feast, because when it is restored, good fellowship and brotherly love will follow, and where good fellowship is, members will fill up an empty room not only with themselves but also with their gifts.“

The Table Lodge is a heritage of our past, which should be revived.

The South was setup with tables in a U shape WM, SW, JW, SD, JD and other officers in set positions. Dinner is severed during the meeting, reminiscent of when degrees were conferred

over dinner in private homes and the private rooms of hotels. The Carringbush Hotel which we frequent, was once called the Friendly Society Hotel and the name survives in the hotels facade – several founding Lodges of the Collingwood Masonic Temple used to meet there, possibly in meetings reminiscent of our table night.. A candidates knocking on the shoulder of the wardens during initiation is reference to their past approach to these officers from behind while the officer sat at the dining lodge. These traditions continue, even if we don’t recognize them.

Carringbush Hotel Abbotsford

While the Ceremony is of the Seven Toasts, there are actually eight toasts, because there is a “practice” to get people into the swing of things. There is a formal opening and close, the latter incorporating the Tyler’s Toast. While we responsibly had water and such to toast with, there was some car pooling, taxis and public transport use to allow travel with our fear of driving when one should not… As an example, here are the words to the practice toast. A “cannon” is a glass. There are several such substitutions in the language of the table lodge.

Ceremony of the Seven Toasts

Practice WM <knocks three times for attention>

Speaking notes - Feasting was an annual event to celebrate our lodges and Freemasonry. Grand Lodge England was formed at the hotel called the Goose and Gridiron in 1717 on St John the Baptist’s Feast on June 24. Lodges were linked to Christian faith, and later became secular.

Lodges were traditionally held at the table and ceremonies were worked as part of the evening meal. Where the publican who was a Freemason would Tyle the lodge and Symbols were traced out in the sand on the floor of the lodge.

Firing is an integral part of this Feast. “Masonic Fire” is said to have originated from City Feasts where a Barrel of beer would be opened.

The toast of the evening will be

1. To Our Country

2. To the Founders of Ancient Craft Masonry

3. To the Memory of our Dear Departed Brethren

4. To Our Grand Master

5. To Our Lodges

6. To Our Visiting Brethren

7. To All Freemasons Wheresoever Dispersed

WM

Brethren, we will now rehearse the work of the evening with a practice Toast. Charge and align your cannons. (Cannons filled and aligned.)

Brothers Senior and Junior Wardens, (All Wardens rise), you will see that all cannons on the columns of the North and the South are properly charged and aligned for fire. (Done by inspection)

SW

All cannons on the column of the North are properly charged and aligned for fire

JW

All cannons on the column of the South are properly charged and aligned for fire.

WM

And they are charged and aligned in the East

At this point, honored guests, one of the seven toasts of the evening will be offered, to which you will respond by repeating it. Let’s try it:

Attention, my Brethren. (You will please rise.)

Carry, arms! (Raise glasses from firing line to chest.)

With me my Brethren, “To This Practice!”

Brethren

“To This Practice!” (Repeat in unison,)

WM

Fire! And you’ll drink one third. (Drinks one third.) Good fire! And you’ll drink a second third. (Drinks again.) Sharpest of fire! Now, drink the last of it. ( Drains cannon). {Later toasts are simply “Fire!”, “Good Fire!!” “Sharpest of fire!!!”}

Brethren, taking your time from me; Point, left, right...

(All recite in a smart pace, and point forward, left and right with empty cannon in right hand; first above in the area of the neck, then in the area of the chest, and the third time in the area of the waist.)

Brethren

Point, left, right! -Point, left, right! -Point, left, right!

WM

Return, arms! (Cannons returned sharply to the firing line all together.)

“Grand Honors Three times” Brethren!

Brethren

(Grand Honors, with great enthusiasm.)

Vivat! Vivat! Vivat!

WM

At ease, Brethren. (Brethren take their seats.)

Devotion normally has a great time when it meets as a lodge, but the table lodge added something special to the Devotion experience and I strongly recommend it to other lodges to try.

Above, the Carringbush Hotel at 228 Langridge St Abbotsford – a short walk from the Collingwood Masonic Centre. The Hotel used to be called the Friendly Societies Hotel and the name remains in the facade of the building both on the corner and on each street side of the building. This year, we are aware of about 4 lodges dining there. Many fraternities met there – including Masonic Lodges