All in the Family

For those of you who don’t know me personally, I work at a children’s hospital in my city, caring for babes and teenagers alike. While I was at work this past weekend, my mind wandered to Freemasonry, and how it relates to and affects our families.  After a few quick Google searches, I was a bit flabbergasted to learn that there was actually little to no factual, informative material on how the two interact, and indeed, support one another.

Generation to generation

Perhaps the most common, and often the most asked about topic when it comes to Masonry and family is that of Masonic lineage. Since Masonry was very popular in the 1920’s and 30’s, many of your grandparents or great (or perhaps even great-great), grandparents were involved. You may be surprised to discover this about your family, but with a little bit of digging, asking family, and making some phone calls, it is fairly easy to ascertain a distant relative’s lodge.  This does take a bit more legwork than just doing a Google search, because most lodges do not keep records of past members on their websites, and even if they do, it is usually only the names of past Worshipful Masters. If you are having a hard time tracking down a relative’s credentials, I would recommend contacting the Grand Lodge that you believe they were a member of most recently.

Something that happens not as often as I think it should is one family member raising another into the lodge. This is most often seen as father to son, but I have heard numerous stories of uncle to nephew, cousin to cousin, (blood) brother to brother, and even occasionally, a son raising his father.  T was lucky enough to be raised by his wonderful stepfather, who also installed him as Worshipful Master this year; and¸will be raising T’s oldest brother near the end of this year.

Sometimes, however, I think that sometimes there is a break between generations, usually for one of two reasons, but of course not limited to these two. The first case is that the father is not sure how to approach the subject with his son. For whatever reason, the Mason may feel uncomfortable discussing it, or may not be sure how to approach the topic. Related to this, the father may feel that his son needs to ask, since Masonry heavily enforces the “to be one, ask one” concept. The other way that it usually skips a generation, is that the son may not be interested, or may reject his father’s invitation. This was the case with my own family, as my father was invited to join lodge by my grandfather, but my father was not interested in Masonry at the time. I was more than happy to pick up the torch and continue the tradition of being a Masonic family.

The Masonic Family

Usually when someone is discussing the idea of the Masonic family, they are talking about all of the groups related to Masonry, Blue Lodge, Job’s Daughters, Scottish Rite, etc.  And, it is true, Masonry is a type of family within its own right, both within a specific organization, as well as between. There is, however, another type of Masonic family, perhaps the one that the outsider may think of first- the family raised in and brought together through Masonry. Freemasonry actually lends itself to this idea quite easily.

When you think about it, the idea really makes sense, and the organization of Masonry is that every family member can be a part of it. As you know, there are numerous organizations for women and youth. In addition to this, however, all lodges and jurisdictions put on some sort of family event at least once a year, but usually much more often than that. These usually include picnics, trips to the zoo and circus, or even just a BBQ at the lodge building. The nice thing is that it does not usually take much to organize a family event, and it allows you to meet other families that you already have something in common with-Masonry. If, for some reason, events do not happen like this at your lodge, suggest them to the Worshipful Master or events committee, or even volunteer to put it together yourself.

One of the things that Masonry offers that I feel are not mentioned as much as it should be, is support. Yes, usually support for the Mason is mentioned, however the amount of support that is available to the family as a whole is usually not mentioned to anyone other than the Mason himself.  One of the focuses of Freemasonry is charity, and this extends to its members as well. The two main ways of support that Masonry offers are financial- the Masonic Relief Fund is set up by every lodge and grand lodge, to serve as assistance in dire financial straits. The other form of financial support is through scholarships- for college, mostly, although my chapter does give one out for a Masonic youth band camp. In addition to the financial support, Masonry offers a wide array of emotional support as well; not only through fellowship, but also through actual support groups, such as Masonic widows and widowers. These vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction of course, but many groups are moving online, making them more accessible.

Most often, when you look for something regarding Masonry and families, you will quickly come across two kinds of posts: you will find a lot of conspiracy theorists stating that Masonry is evil and set out to brainwash the men and kidnap the women, and, you will find a number of women that claim that Masonry is the reason for their divorce. Please remember, that above all else, Masonry teaches that family comes first. Masonry is not out to take your husband away from you, nor is it looking to ruin your marriage. Instead, enjoy the nights that your husband goes to lodge, do something nice for yourself, or something special with your children. If you feel that he is becoming too involved in lodge, or that it is becoming a priority over his family, communicate that with him. If he, for whatever reason, does not agree with you, or is not interested in talking with you about it, contact his Worshipful Master and express your concerns to him. In addition to this, if you have a question about lodge, Masonry, or anything related, or simply want to learn more, ask. The only things he cannot share with you are usually specific words or phrases used in the ritual, and secret symbols, such as handshakes.
The point of all of this is, quite simply, that Masonry is more than just something for the Mason, or the man of a household. Masonry can easily encompass the entire family’s needs and social calendar. More than that, Freemasonry allows for a family tradition to be started, or continued, and is something that is easily passed on from generation to generation. Nothing is cooler than receiving pins that belonged to a great-grandparent whom you never met, and know that you stand where they once did. It is a way of bringing the entire family together, not drive you apart, as some people would have you believe. Long story short, Freemasonry is a family affair.

The Lady Freemason

Did you know that there has been five women inducted into  masonry*? While not well known, and seemingly never talked about, all five of these women became Freemasons before the existence of co-masonic lodges. Interestingly, though, perhaps not surprisingly, there is no record of women becoming regular masons since co-masonic lodges were invented. I would like to speak about each of them in their own due time, so, it makes sense to start with the first recorded woman to join a regular masonic lodge, the Honorable Elizabeth Aldworth.

Elizabeth in her Masonic regalia

In or around 1711 (Some accounts say as early as 1710, some as late as 1712), Arthur St. Leger, 1st Viscount Doneraile, was holding lodge in his home, to confer degrees, as well as take care of other masonic business. His home was undergoing some renovations, I believe they were repairing some of the walls. Wanting his home to be presentable for his brethren, the bricks for the walls were stacked up hastily, particularly in the wall that adjoined the lodge room to the house’s library; we’ve all been there, you have company coming over, and you want your place to look nice, you do something to make it look nice, and hope that no one accidentally bumps into it and realizes its not as nice as they believed.

Don’t trust these brick walls.

Before the lodge meeting had begun, Arthur’s daughter, Elizabeth, was reading in the library. Eventually, she dozed off; while she slept, the lodge meeting begun in the room next door. Elizabeth was awoken by voices at one point, and, realizing it was not just her father having friends over for drinks, decided that she wanted to know more about what was going on in the next room. So, she did what any curious young woman would do- she put her ear up to the wall, hoping to hear more. When that failed (bricks are not easy to hear through), she realized that the bricks in the wall were loose, and decided to remove one of them in hopes of spying on the men next door.

She was silent, captivated by the degree work going on for some time, supposedly observing the majority of the ceremony. It was only after the candidate received his obligation that she realized the weight of what she had just witnessed, not only for the candidate, but also for himself.

Front of Elizabeth’s masonic jewel

Elizabeth realized at this point that she should probably leave the library. Unfortunately, there was only one exit from the library, which was into a hallway that shared the only exit to the lodge room. Knowing that she would not be able to hide in the library forever, and believing in her abilities as an 18th century ninja, she decided to go for it. As soon as she opened the door to the library, she bumped into her father’s butler, who was serving as Tyler, sword and all, causing her to scream and faint. The Tyler altered the men to her presence, and after she was revived, with a little questioning the masons discovered that Elizabeth had witnessed almost the entire degree. After much debate, the men decided that the best solution to this, was to induct Elizabeth into masonry, herself receiving the degree that she had just witnessed.

And the back.

She was initiated that evening, with the lodge being presided over by her father, as well as her brother, and future husband. She was probably around 17 at the time. Elizabeth did not take the role of mason lightly. She had a full masonic costume, as well as her own apron and jewels. She also wore a small trowel on her left shoulder, often. She was known for her charity. More than that, however, is difficult to be known. It is said that she sat as Master of her lodge, but this cannot be confirmed. Early in her masonic career, she admitted to only having received the F.C. degree, however,  she may have received the information of the master mason degree at the same time. There is more issue with exactly which lodge she was a member of. On her tombstone, and on many accounts, she is notated as being a member of lodge no. 44, however, this lodge was not charted until 1735, which does not match up with the rest of the accounts. There have been a number of attempts to ascertain which lodge she was a member of, but they have all been in vain. It very well may have been a private lodge, or perhaps the numbers were just mistaken throughout the years. What we do know for sure, is that she did exist, and she was in fact, the (first) lady Freemason.

Elizabeth passed in 1775, her story, however,  story is incredibly well documented. This is a pamphlet that was made of her biography after her death it was printed in 1860, and was actually  a reprint of the original, which was published in 1811. Both her apron, as well as her jewel currently reside in the Provincial Grand Lodge of Munster.

I think the coolest part- Elizabeth’s apron.

Four other women have been initiated into regular masonry- all more or less by the same method- hide somewhere you shouldn’t, view the degree work, get caught, and have the men decide they have “no other choice” but to make you a mason. I am curious then, when exactly the bit in the obligation came about, where it states that a mason will not knowingly make a woman a mason- I found that obligations started around 1735, well after our dear Elizabeth became a mason, but who knows what it included at that time. There were women that were made masons after the inclusions of the obligation, so the bit about not making a woman a mason may not of come around under later. I would not, however, recommend this to any woman that wishes to become a mason- I cannot imagine they will go this route these days!

*It is worth noting, that this incident occurred before the unification of the Ancient and the Modern masons, so the use of the word regular here is not truly appropriate, this is not the case however, for the later women iniated into masonry.

Grand Lodge Crash Course

I am writing this post in my hotel room for the 157th Annual Communication of the Grand Lodge of Nebraska, otherwise fondly known as, Grand Lodge. This is my first year attending, and although we are only about halfway through the weekend, I have learned a lot. Many of these are things I wish I had known, most of which I attempted to weasel out of T before
hand with limited success. Presented in easy to read chunks!

Dress according to agenda
This was probably the one I had the hardest time getting information about. The Grand Master’s Banquet is listed as formal, but how formal do they mean? The guys have it easy, formal means tux. For the ladies though- short dress? Long dress? Party dress? Cocktail dress? Evening gown? Business suit? I decided to follow the instructions given as closely as possible, and went with a simple, but elegant, floor length dress. When we got to social hour, the other women were wearing every style of formal I could think of: nice shorter dresses, gowns, long skirts and a jacket, and as tends to be loved with the older crowd- lots of sequins. Which brings me to my next point.

Always choose the more conservative outfit
Let’s be realistic here, Masonry is not exactly a young organization. Most of the people I know through it are old enough to at least be my parents (and a few even hit the great-grandparent level!) So, while that cocktail dress that hugs every curve might look awesome on you ( and it does!), something like Grand Lodge is not the place for it.

“With Jewels” doesn’t mean what you think

Dinner on Friday night was listed as “formal, with jewels”. I thought to myself, ‘Well, I don’t have any major jewelry, I will just wear something nice and it will have to be okay.’ It took me the weekend to realize that this is making reference to jewels of the office; the big golden and velvet collars the state officers wear are referred to as “jewels”.

Sleep when you can
It’s no secret that Masons love to do two things- talk and drink. This can lead to some late nights. Expect to be up late if you are into socializing, with most meetings being early (8am or so). If you can sneak in a nap, no one will fault you for it.

You will have down time
Right now, T, and our roommate Z are at meetings. They have been since about 1pm. This morning, we went to the public opening, afterwards they opened lodge while I had about an hour before the ladies luncheon. After lunch (about 1pm), I checked in with T, before heading back to the room. There is nothing scheduled for the ladies until cocktail hour at 6pm. So, be sure and bring a book, things you need to catch up on, that hobby you’ve been neglecting, check out what the town has to offer, or just relax.

Stay at the hotel
This is easy if your Grand Lodge is not in your hometown, but if it is, and this is your first year at Grand Lodge, I would recommend staying at the hotel if you can afford it. It’s kind of like college, you only get half the experience if you don’t stay in the dorms.

Do/don’t carry cash
This one is up to you. If your Grand Lodge is anything like Nebraska, there will be vendors at the convention center, a silent auction, and charities looking for donations.

Ask for help
Forget a pair of heels? An important pin? Tux studs? Dress tape? Don’t be afraid to ask your new friend. Chances are they are more than willing to help, and may have brought extra. Have questions about what’s going on? If your guy isn’t sure, chat with a Grand Officer (past or current). These are the guys with the fancy collars. They will be more than happy to answer any questions you may have.

Put yourself out there 
In the words of T, “I love Masonry, ’cause I love schmoozing.” A big part of masonry is friendship. Not just between masons, but also between masons’ ladies, as well as between the two. This is the mostimportant thing I can tell you. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there! I was intimidated when I walked into the cocktail hour last night. However, once I relaxed (and had a drink) I realized I knew more people than I thought that I did. If you are a member of OES, you will know people at Grand Lodge. If you go drinking with the guys, you will know people at Grand Lodge. If you have dinner at your MM’s lodge once in a while, you will know people at Grand Lodge. If you’ve ever done anything with masonry before, you will know people at Grand Lodge! If not, you will by the end of the weekend! Don’t rely on your guy to introduce you to people either. Go off on your own, say hi to people you recognize, they will introduce you to more people. See the lady about your age looking as lost and confused as you feel? Say hi!

Have fun!
Overall, Grand Lodge is all about seeing people you only see once a year, meeting new people, and having a great time!

Welcome Brethren, Ladies, and Honoured Guests!

After a few glasses of single malt scotch last night, I decided I needed to add a new project to my life, (because I obviously do not have enough going on right now!); somewhere I can really digest all of the goings on, vent when needed, and of course, let other ladies, especially those my age, know that they are not alone in this crazy world of Freemasonry. I know you have a few questions. 🙂

Who are you anyway?

I actually contemplated not giving it all away. However, I would like to be as open and honest with all of my brothers and sisters (an potential brothers and sisters) as much as possible. My name is Michala, I live in Omaha,NE with my boyfriend T (who doesn’t know about this project yet).

What do you know about Freemasonry?

To be honest, not a ton. T and I met about two and a half years ago, and when I found out he was a mason, I started learning about it. I would like to think I know more than someone off the street, but always have a lot to learn, and will never know as much as a brother does, such are the joys of being a mason’s lady.

What are your credentials?

T is the one who really got me started on all of this. A good deal of my knowledge comes from him, his family, and the friends I have made along the way. I joined the Order of the Eastern Star this last year. T is currently the Master of his lodge, and so far it has been a wonderful, though occasionally stressful experience. T is also a member of York and Scottish Rite, as well as an advisor for Demolay (which I hope to be doing myself soon). He will also be joining the Shrine this year.

Why should I read what you have to say?

Short answer- you don’t. However, to my knowledge, there are no blogs about Freemasonry from the woman’s perspective, and there’s not a ton by Master Masons themselves. I hope to share all aspects of how Freemasonry has touched and been integrated into both of our lives, and the joys, friendship, and yes, worries it can bring.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me here! Be on the lookout for part 1 of my Grand Lodge report.