The multiple uses and diversity in meanings of words have made it customary in academic papers to give a definition of key words or terms of the reference topic in order that the audience may better be enabled to distinguish, comprehend and appreciate the ‘whence-from’ and ‘whither-to’ of the speaker. Given the time at our disposal, I will restrict this to just a single definition of the terms ‘etiquette’ and ‘masonic’.
For purposes of this lecture, I proffer the synthesized definition that etiquette is the code, written or unwritten that prescribes, restricts and governs the way in which people interact with each other within a society or its sub-group. It consists of “rules of acceptable behavior:the rules and conventions governing correct or polite behavior in society in general or in a particular social or professional group or situation[i].”Each society or sub-group therefore has its own etiquette, a set of prescribed and expected conventional norms indicating the modes of interaction among its members.
I choose to define Masons as formal members of a fraternity dedicated to “a peculiar system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols[ii].” Masonic Etiquette therefore governs the expectations of social behavior among Masons with the peculiar extension to their Neighbor whom they are charged “to do unto him as, in similar cases, [they] would expect him to do unto [them].”This envelopment of non-Masons in Masonic Etiquette is very much emphasized in various forms in several charges and more particularly the injunction that the principles and virtues of Freemasonry be exemplified “pure and unsullied to the world at large.”[iii]
We are familiar with the generally accepted rules of etiquette in modern day society. These spell out among other issues, modalities for greeting friends, associates and acquaintances; respect for the individuality and privacy of others; punctuality to events; modalities for speaking and listening when others are speaking; modes of dressing for particular occasions; extension of hospitality to guests; formalities at table and at other group events. It has been strongly suggested that etiquette can reasonably be viewed as the “minimal politics required to avoid major conflict in polite society, and as such, an important aspect of applied ethics”.[iv]
A Mason bears what I may refer to as a greater burden of etiquette than a non-mason.The sub-group he belongs to, namely Freemasonry, consists of the greatest admixture of the human race in the entire world. Other subgroups delineate, differentiate and discriminate persons according to such issues as race, nationality, vocation, profession, occupation and most particularly religion.A Masonic Antient Charge reads:“Let a man’s religion or mode of worship be what it may, he is not excluded from the Order, provided he believe in the glorious Architect of heaven and earth, and practice the sacred duties of morality. Masons unite with the virtuous of every persuasion in the firm and pleasing bond of fraternal love; they are taught to view the errors of mankind with compassion, and to strive, by the purity of their own conduct to demonstrate the superior excellence of the faith they may profess.Thus Masonry is the center of union between good men and true and the happy means of conciliating friendship amongst those who must otherwise have remained at a perpetual distance”.[v]
Masonic etiquette peaks in its imperative demand on Masons in a Masonic gathering or what I may refer to as Masonic circle. Here thoughtfulness for the concern for others, which is the fundamental principle of etiquette, demands considerable display of full awareness of the effect of our actions and words on all the Brethren around us. The gathering ranges from formal meetings in the temple for Lodge transactions, to formal and informal occasions outside the temple in which Brethren are participants or to which they have been invited.Basically therefore, one must on each such occasion deal with and treat each his fellows with such respect as would typify the trium Grand Principles on which our Order is founded, namely Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth.
At Lodge Meetings and the responsibility of the Right Worshipful Master:
Our behavior at Lodge Meetings are regulated by the Antient Charges; the Constitution and Laws of the Grand Lodge of Scotland; the By-laws of our District Grand Lodge and that of the individual Lodge and by proven established custom and usage. The definition and dignity of a Lodge is stated briefly in the Antient Charges as “a place where Freemasons assemble to work, and to instruct and improve themselves in the mysteries of the antient science. The persons made Masons or admitted members of a Lodge must be good and true men, free born, and of mature and discreet age and sound judgment, no bondmen, no women, no immoral or scandalous men, but of good report.”[vi]The nature and degree of etiquette required is very much obvious in these statements.
The affairs of a Lodge are under the management of its Right Worshipful Master (RWM). The prescription to the Lodge for his selection are well spell out in the Installation Address of the Right Worshipful Installing Master which affirms:- “… it has been customary among Freemasons, from time immemorial, once in every year, for a Lodge to elect from among its number an expert brother to preside over it. … He must be true and trusty, of good report, and held in high estimation among his brethren. He ought to be of exemplary character, courteous in demeanor, easy of address, but steady and firm in principle. He should be well skilled in our science, and be a lover of the Craft”.[vii] In the same ceremony, the concluding prayer of his being placed on the Chair of King Solomon includes that “the blessing of the Most High rest upon [him], endowing [him] with a goodly portion of that wisdom and prudence which will enable [him] to guide and govern [his] Lodge aright to the glory of God and the welfare of [his] Brethren.”[viii]
The RWM is thus the supreme authority in his Lodge, subject to the dictates of the Antient Charges; the Constitution and Laws of the Grand Lodge of Scotland; the By-laws of our District Grand Lodge and that of his Lodge and by proven established custom and usage. Reliance is placed on his being able to “faithfully, zealously, and impartially to the best of his ability” fulfill the duties of his high office as he pledged himself on these and other stipulations including the undertaking “not to exercise [his] authority in an arbitrary or autocratic manner, but to rule by love; for, in gaining the hearts of [his] brethren [he] will secure their loyalty and obedience.”[ix] For the Brethren of his Lodge, an Antient Charge demands the RWMs “be obeyed in their respective stations by all the brethren, according to the old charges and regulations with all humility reverence, love and alacrity.”[x]
It is therefore within the duty of the RWM to see that Masonic Etiquette is well understood and complied with within his Lodge. In Lodges where there has been a consistent slip off the right track, an incoming RWM would be exemplary in using the earliest opportunity to redress the issue. In order to be better enabled to achieve this, it is conventional for him to co-opt the administrative inputs of a Brother or Committee he adjudges to be functionally relevant.
Timeliness at Meetings:
If you permit my adoption of transactional analysis in this regard, then the first issue of importance is timely attendance to meetings. Punctuality is said to be “soul of business” and this applies strictly without compromise to Masonic meetings. Very often the Brethren give the excuse that being on time does not often result in the meetings starting on time as the RWM fails to take the necessary preparatory steps to declare the Lodge or the meeting opened at the scheduled and advertised time. It is therefore the responsibility of the RWM to stick to the appointed times and sooner or later the Brethren would recognize the importance of being early and the resulting embarrassment of late arrival, delay in being processed for admission and the necessary apology they have to proffer to the RWM on admission.
Unfortunately, there are also such public occasions as Masonic funerals when the RWM fails to use the powers invested in him as the sole “humble representative of King Solomon” in his Lodge, to declare the commencement of proceedings on the lame excuse that an expected District Grand Master’s Deputation or Representative is yet to arrive. The time budget of the members of the public including those of Brethren who may have the “cable tow” delimitation of supervening “pressing emergencies of their public and private avocations”[xi] should be recognized and given precedence. The Deputation naturally appreciates these issues and veritably accepts that it would join the ceremony at the point of its late arrival. Such timely inception of ceremonies predicates timely conclusions of business, affording attendants prudent time to revert to their other scheduled programs and functions. It only follows that if Brethren are on time for a Masonic program, “relief” one of three grand principles on which our Order is founded, should induce us to
appreciate their other engagements and therefore to prudently restrict the workings and business to the standard time budget indicated in the summonses, invitation cards or program published for the occasion.We must never be their excuse for missing out on their other engagements by not starting and ending our workings and meetings on scheduled times on the basis of which they had scheduled other important family, private or public appointments. In short, Masonic etiquette does not and must not recognize or
condole the so called “African time”. Time bound opening and closing of ceremonies is a true hallmark of an excellent RWM.
Most of our summonses clearly spell out the mode of dressing for the particular meeting. Daughter Lodges generally specify “Dark Dress or Uniform with White Gloves.” Our District Grand Lodge requests additionally that District Grand Office-bearers should wear Morning Dress. Custom and usage have determined these to be Dark suit, white shirt, dark tie and a black pair of shoes with matching socks. None of these may be dispensed with or compromised. The growing habit of not wearing a glove is such as demands the reprobation of the RWM. Secretaries, Treasurers and Organists are of course dispensed when the wearing of gloves impedes the performance of their functions. Their Royal Highnesses and a few Princes and Officers of Royal Courts are permitted to dress in their respective traditional attire. One does not need to spell out the quality of these dress codes as it would be disdainful of the Order for a Brother to attend in a slovenly dressed manner. These notwithstanding, Masonic etiquette demands that they remove their crowns, caps or hats at prayers and during obligations. Embellishments in dressing have been accepted and include tail-coat, tuxedo and waist-coat. The guiding principle ought to be whatever mode of dress within the prescribed group shows respect and expresses dignity to a Fraternity as ancient and revered as Freemasonry.
Some few Brethren have the habit of always arriving at the Temple in their street clothes and then slipping into the ante-room to put on the appropriate dress. At the end of the meeting, they revert to their street dress while leaving the Temple. This is utterly not in rhyme with Masonic etiquette.In our local parlance, it is completely un-Masonic. They understandably undertake this practice in order to conceal their membership of the Order. In effect, they are not proud of their association with Freemasonry. In several such instances, their family members do not even know they belong to the Craft. It has been suggested in some circles that such Brethren have become Masons not of their “own free will and accord, nor from a favorable opinion preconceived of the institution, but rather from either improper solicitations or probably influenced by mercenary or other unworthy motives”.In time, when they fail to experience their preconceived objectives, they shed off their membership and desist associations with the Order.The RWM owes it a duty to the Craft to take some time out and in association with two or three senior or enlightened Brethren of his Lodge or other Daughter Lodge and have a private session with such a Brother with a view to an early solution to this anomaly. The guiding principle is the question: Is this Brother “on or off”?
Entry into the Lodge:
Prior to entering the Lodge, Masonic etiquette requires that each Brother ought to be “properly clothed” as would later be confirmed by the Worshipful Senior Warden (WSW).It is very improper for a Brother to be walking into the Lodge while at same time struggling with the effort of putting on his “proper” clothing. The fundamental “proper” item is the apron – that “distinguishing badge of a Freemason[xii].”In our Constitution, additions accrue to this initial white lambskin apron as the Brother progresses through the degrees and offices within his Lodge, the District Grand Lodge and the Grand Lodge of Scotland. Right up to the last decade, it was considered part of Masonic etiquette for a Brother to be “properly clothed” in his full attire of apron, sash, gauntlet, collar and jewel appropriate to his current rank or office. Subsequent and persisting economic depreciation impacted negatively on the ability of most of our Brethren to update their regalia as they progressed in the Craft. It is solely for this reason that WSWs now keep a closed eye on these details in their certifications that all present are “properly clothed”. The Director of Ceremonies (DC) also adapts to this by allowing those not so “properly clothed” to join the procession admitting or leading off the RWM or a District Delegation from the Lodge. Certainly, as the economy improves, it would be expected that the appropriate etiquette regarding this would be complied with.
Often, we admit visitors without either being vouched for or examining them. I have heard it said that it is very easy for a cowan to ‘participate’ as a Master Mason in our District Grand Lodge Communication without being identified. The same may apply to a Daughter Lodge given the way we ignore visitors. The Brethren of the Lodge in general, and the RWM and the DC in particular are expected to discretely seek to know the identity of any visitor seen before the Lodge opens. The visiting Brother would not be displeased by the process since as a true and worthy Mason, he is aware of the Antient Charge which stipulates that “you are cautiously to examine him in such a method as prudence shall direct you, that you may not be imposed upon by an ignorant, false pretender, whom you are to reject with contempt and derision, and beware of giving him any hints of knowledge.”[xiii]It is easier for a cowan to pass through with the rest before the Lodge is opened since beyond this stage, he would need to prove himself being admitted when the Lodge is already in session.For this reason also, the RWM must insist that any late comer who demonstrates inexpertly the necessary entry observables, must be led out and proven unless a
Brother rises from the floor and vouches for him.
As the Brethren clothe themselves prior to entry into the Lodge, each is expected to sign the Attendance Register in the appropriate column indicated as for: – office-bearers of the Lodge; other Brethren of the Lodge; Visitors. The RWM assisted by his DC should use this opportunity to verify that sufficient numbers of office-bearers are present for the opening of the Lodge. This is the appropriate time to identify and requisition qualified Brethren to take the place of those officers yet to arrive. It is not proper to delay the opening of
the Lodge as a result of their late arrival.
It is the duty of the DC to see that the Brethren are seated at the appropriate time in preparation for receiving the RWM and his Office-bearers as they process into the Lodge. All present in the Lodge must, irrespective of rank or office, be upstanding to receive the RWM. The RWM would thereafter request that Brethren be seated. It is his Lodge in which his gavel is the relevant symbol of sole incumbent authority.
Brethren arriving after the Lodge shall have been tyled, may only be admitted at the RWM’s command. It is improper for such late Brethren to disturb the harmony and workings of the Lodge with persistent demands on the Tyler to notify the RWM of their presence at the door of the Lodge.Their admission is purely at the discretion of the RWM. When admitted, they should comply with the directives of the DC with respect to saluting the RWM in a manner specific to the degree in which the Lodge is at work, the most senior among them apologizing on their behalf to the RWM for their lateness, squaring the Lodge and getting seated. The guiding principle is that due to their inability to attend at the advertised time, they have disturbed the flow of business in a Lodge of ancient Freemasonry that has been duly opened and is at labor.
Receiving Visiting Official:
The etiquette regarding the reception of a Grand Lodge Deputation is pretty very much established. The applause when due, should be spontaneous and not dependent on a call for it by the DC. A modified form applies with respect to a reigning Master of a Daughter Lodge on his “maiden” visit. Distinction may be made in the case of a reigning Master who is serving for the first time. The RWM may rise, meet and give him a hand of friendship and lead him on to a seat in the East, left of the RWM seat. These protocol and etiquette accorded to visiting officials are in recognition of their high office and are not directed to the officers personally. The honor accrues to Freemasonry and our personal evaluation of their individual qualities is not material.
One of our Charges relates to the degree of solemnity expected while the Lodge is at labor. It states that “as the solemnity of our ceremonies requires a serious deportment, you are to be particularly attentive to your behavior in our ceremonies. You are to preserve our ancient usages and established customs sacred and inviolable, and induce others by your examples to hold them in veneration.”[xiv] These embody the Masonic etiquette related to attendance to and participation in our meetings. I need not further dilate on this but not without saying that the terms “our ancient usages and established customs.” embodies Masonic etiquette.
The Ritual stipulates the processes to be followed while the Lodge is at labor and the RWM exercises control over the workings. He though has the power to delegate
his functions to any of the Brethren.Only the RWM or the DC has the right to correct or prompt any Brother undertaking a working. It is most discourteous and may be embarrassing to the Brother to have all manners of promptings, giggling and side comments when he slips or gets stuck in the process of delivering a working. The Brethren not delivering a working must all therefore maintain absolute silence. This will not only afford the Brother doing the workings the concentration he requires as well as appropriate silence to hear the DC’s prompts, but will be of immense benefit to Candidates undergoing the ceremony as they would most intensely hear and comprehend the concepts being laid out. For instance, a candidate undergoing initiation, is usually not at ease being deprived of material L., and this his first experience will impact heavily on his evaluation of the dignity of Freemasonry.
The sad and un-Masonic aspect of these disharmonious activities is that infrequently those proffering the unsolicited promptings as well as those giggling, are sitting down and peering into their rituals without which they may not have been able to know the trend in the workings. A Past Master who feels very concerned about the errors in rendition of workings should demonstrate his “zeal and assiduity” by enthusiastically suggesting and being involved with practice meetings. It is very common for assignments for workings to be known well in advance, and prodding for evening of practice on a Past Master’s part would be very productively educative to the generality of Brethren of the Lodge.
Outside of workings, all addresses are directed to the RWM. The speaker first must be upstanding, salute the RWM and only after he has been recognized that he commences his speech. He retains the sign until after his speech or if a reply is necessary after the RWM shall have done so or requested for opinions from the Brethren there assembled. Speeches has to be kept as brief as possible and to the matter on hand. Charity demands that a Brother does not monopolize the opportunities to speak. The RWM is though expected to effectively maintain order and sequences.
There are issues that are not open for discussion in Masonic assemblies. These are matters of race, partisan politics and sectarian religion. The Antient Charges stipulate that “no private piques or quarrels must be brought within the door of the Lodge, far less any quarrels about religion, or nations, or state policy, we being only as Masons, of the universal religion above mentioned; we are also of all nations, tongues, kindreds, and languages, and are resolved against all politics, as what never yet conduced to the welfare of the Lodge nor ever will.”[xv]
Brethren must never engage in private conversations or discussions on the sidelines in the Lodge. Unfortunately, the incidence of these side talks is very prevalent in the East. The other Brethren as it were then tend to “copy the example” of those whom they were instructed “as some [who] must of necessity rule and teach [while they are the] others [who] must submit, learn, and obey.”[xvi] It is not in accord with any societal etiquette to take phone calls when a business meeting is going on. In the Lodge room therefore, all cell phones and pagers must be switched off and the DC should consider it his duty to remind Brethren of this prior to the entry of the RWM at inception of the opening ceremonies. In pressing emergencies, the Brother or Brethren ought to rise, salute the RWM and be excused to leave the assembly.
The mode of movement in the Lodge is well established in the etiquette of “squaring the Lodge”. Sitting pattern should reflect our awareness of the solemnity of an Open Lodge and as I have in instances stated, be no less than we would adopt in a national television discussion show. Standing posture is well illustrated in the first regular step instruction, namely, “you are therefore expected to stand perfectly erect, with your …. in form of a …, your body being considered an emblem of the uprightness of your intentions, and your ….. of the rectitude of your actions.”[xvii] Whether standing or perambulating, the sign of Fidelity has to be consistently maintained.
Closing and Banquets etc.
The RWM should pay appropriate complements to his visitors particularly when they had taken leave to extend fraternal greetings from their own Daughter Lodges. With a District Grand Lodge Deputation present, the situation demands greater protocol as it takes precedent over other visitors. Sitting arrangement has to be planned and indicated by the DC who also has the sole responsibility of calling the toasts. He may save time by restricting most toasts to be “given” rather than “proposed.”
At the festive board or at the bar, the Brethren of the Lodge should as much as is possible involve the visitors in their conversational groups. Where toasts are involved, the visitor who would propose or give the toast of the Lodge and its Brethren and the one that would respond to the visitors’ toast should be informed well in advance to facilitate their presentation.
Prayers should be restricted to the Chaplain to avoid the circumstance of a Brother being oblivious of exclusion of sectarian or denominational phraseology. In our society with Masons from diverse tribes and religions, this etiquette extends even to the menu which should adequately segregate or outrightly avoid dishes that are taboo to some of our Brethren.
Excluding the disability of age or ill-health, brotherly love demands a Mason to be upstanding while being introduced to or greeting another. The Antient Charges spell out the ideal etiquette thus: “you are to salute one another in a courteous manner, as you will be instructed, calling each other brother, freely giving mutual instruction as shall be thought expedient, without being overseen or overheard, and without encroaching upon each other, or derogating from that respect which is due to any brother, were he not a Mason; for though all Masons are, as brethren, upon the same level, yet Masonry takes no honor, from a man that he had before; nay, rather it adds to his honor, especially if he has deserved well of the brotherhood, who must give honor to whom it is due, and avoid ill manners.”[xviii]
The President of Stewards and his team have to bear in mind that out-sourced stewards are not conversant with the Masonic etiquette regarding seniores priores of serving at table. It is therefore their responsibility to direct the contract stewards on how to proceed. When our sisters are present, the general etiquette of ‘ladies first’ applies.
The Festive Board as the name implies should be festive and spiced with some innocent mirth. Prudence though dictates some measure of etiquette in the sense that Brethren should keep within limits.At the February 2006 Annual Communication, the District Grand Master had to specifically stress the need for strict observance of what he labeled “due process” over which I cannot now elaborate. Suffice it to say that as Masons we ought to display evidence that our “dedicated hearts” have been “purified from every baneful and malignant passion, and fitted only for the reception of truth and wisdom…”[xix]The Antient Charges refer to some elements of this etiquette in the following quotations: “After the Lodge is over, and the brethren not gone, you may enjoy yourselves with innocent mirth, treating one another according to ability, but avoiding all excess, or forcing any brother to eat or drink beyond his inclination, or hindering him from going when his occasions call him, or doing or saying anything offensive or that may forbid an easy and free conversation; for that would blast our harmony, and defeat our laudable purpose.. .. You must also consult your health by not continuing together too late or too long from home after Lodge hours are past; and by avoiding of gluttony or drunkenness, that your families be not neglected or injured, nor you disabled from working.”[xx]
Etiquette demands that the visitor is not seen at close of the meeting walking down the Temple Avenue to catch a bus or taxi while Brethren drive past. A ride to a convenient point would be a good brotherly relief.
The subject, Masonic Etiquette embodies more than I have summarized in this Talk and the reason is obvious. Masonic Etiquette in itself, demands brevity at such occasions in order not to either loose the attention of the audience or spill into the time allotted to other businesses of the day.I will leave you with an extract from a publication of one of our Daughter Lodges whose Brethren in my opinion on the average, have greater awareness of Masonic Etiquette than those of other Lodges in the District, for your perusal and comparative analysis with what you do in this Lodge.
“All works and no play makes Jack a dull boy, says an English adage. “Sublime Socials” is a well known event in the life of Lodge Sublime. It was held on rotational basis at the homes of brethren. It brought together the wives and children of brethren. In addition to the food and drinks, lectures, talks etc directed at the children and adults were other features.
The wives of brethren of Lodge Sublime in 1991 formed the Sublime Wives’ Association. This was sequel to the tragic death of the wife of a member. The association having performed satisfactorily attracted the wives of brethren of other Lodges. With the admission of wives of brethren of other Lodges, the sublime wives’ association metamorphosed into the now popular ‘MASONIC WIVES’ ASSOCIATION”. The Masonic wives Association increasingly became popular not only in the Rivers/Bayelsa Masonic Area but also in the district at large. Their meetings were held on monthly rotation at the homes of members. Through these meetings, they fostered good relationships among their husbands and the social interactions improved considerably. These sisters organized “husbands” night until recently. They also feature in post-Installation banquets, where they usually present custom-made cakes to the newly-Installed masters. Their presence in the post-Installation banquets always added color to the ceremony. ….
The Lodge introduced the presentation of birthday cards to members during labor. These presentations are usually followed by a solemn appropriate prayer for the “birthday boys”. The celebrations continued at the festive board with rendition of the song “Happy Birthday to you.”
Various social visitations are engaged by the Lodge. These are:-
§Visitation to charity homes in which fairly used articles of clothing, food items and money are usually donated.
§Visitation to homes of brethren whose wives have just given birth to a baby. Gift items are usually donated.
§Visitation to sick brethren at the hospital or at home.
§Visitation to widows of brethren and donation of a ‘purse to them.
§Attendance of obsequies of deceased brethren and also of their spouses and usually accompanied by presentation of a ‘purse.”[xxi]
Right Worshipful Master, Brethren all, I greet you and wish you all well.
NOTES[i] Microsoft® Encarta® Dictionary Premium Suite 2004. [ii] The only antient definition of Freemasonry ref. Catechism of the 1st Degree. [iii] Address to Brethren in an Installation Ceremony. [iv]Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: Dec, 2006 [v]Antient Charge: Concerning God and Religion. [vi]Antient Charge: Of Lodges. [vii] Grand Lodge of Antient Free and Accepted Masons of Scotland; Ceremonial of Installation of Master and other Office-bearers of a Lodge. [viii] Ibid. [ix] Grand Lodge of Antient Free and Accepted Masons of Scotland; Ceremonial of Installation of Master and other Office-bearers of a Lodge. [x] The Antient Charge: Of Masters, Wardens, Fellows and Apprentices. [xi] Ref. Third Degree Obligation [xii] Ref. Lecture by WSW to new initiate on investiture with the Lambskin. [xiii]Antient Charge: Towards a strange brother.. [xiv] Second Degree: Charge after Passing. [xv] Antient Charge: On Behavior. [xvi] Grand Lodge of Antient Free and Accepted Masons of Scotland; Ceremonial of Installation of Master and other Office-bearers of a Lodge. [xvii] First Degree: Entrusting Lecture. [xviii] The Antient Charges: On Behavior [xix] Third Degree: Exhortations. [xx] Antient Charges: On Behavior. [xxi] Lodge Sublime No. 1731 S.C. 25th Anniversary Year Book 2006 page 55.