There is a hot new book out here on the Prince Hall scene, THE LOST EMPIRE, Black Freemasonry In The Old West (1867-1906) by Brother James R. Morgan III. This book tells the history of African American Freemasonry in the Old West as seen through the lens of Captain William D. Matthews and the King Solomon Grand Lodge of Kansas.
Morgan is The Grand Historian for the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia and an active and experienced genealogist among many other glowing accolades.
He cut his teeth doing research for two other distinguished D.C. Masons and authors, Alton Roundtree and Tehuti Evans.
The book came about when fellow genealogist Denessia Swanegan asked Morgan to help her in her ancestral research and Morgan began a research project which became an article which became a Research Paper which morphed into a full-blown book. Morgan said that once he started down this path the research information just kept coming and coming until a book more or less had to be written.
Very little had been written about Black Freemasonry West of the Mississippi River in the Wild West years. This is the first work that ties many separate facts together into a cohesive whole so that a complete story could be told. The Lost Empire has much to say about Black Freemasonry’s National Grand Lodge or National Compact. Although I won’t reveal the details so as to not spoil the story, one interesting tidbit from James Morgan really surprised me. Morgan said that one of the big reasons that the National Grand Lodge was formed was because many bogus and clandestine Black Lodges and Grand Lodges were spreading like wildfire eventually far outnumbering those Regular Grand Lodges charted by the Grand Lodge of England and tracing their heritage back to African Lodge No 459.
Into the fray charged this swashbuckling, charismatic character named Captain William D. Mathews and his King Solomon Compact Grand Lodge of Kansas. But that is all we are going to tell you. Buy the book.
The Lost Empire is a well written well researched book (It has 106 pages of Appendixes) that fills a void in hitherto unknown and unpublicized Black Masonic activity in this part of the country in the Wild, Wild West era woven into a complete story. It is as much a history book as it is a Masonic book. That makes it a must for your Historical and Masonic Library.
I was pleased to receive a reply from Brother Robert Jackson of Montgomery Lodge in Milford, MA. I had seen mention of Montgomery Lodge performing this Degree on Facebook. Brother Jackson kindly provided permission to reprint the Degree and also show the video of their performance.
“The Empty or Vacant Chair ceremony is thought to date back to 1875, a decade after the close of the American Civil War when it was used in Masonic lodges throughout the nation to pay tribute to those who did not return from the war. Since then, it has been used by many lodges on Memorial Day to pay homage to those Brother Freemasons who sacrificed their lives for our country.”
“Typically, we run this as an ‘Open House.’ After the Memorial Day parade in town, we open the doors and invite the public, with special invitations to local politicians, police, fire, VFW, etc. Over the last few years, we’ve had the ‘Young Marines’ do the flag procession, but this year we chartered a Boy Scout Troop so they led the procession. We usually offer real food/snacks and drinks as well. This has really worked for us as a way to get public presence and open a little bit of our philosophy regarding the evergreen to the general public.”
This program was adapted for U.S. Freemasonry in 2001 by Milo D. Dailey, PM, PDM, MPS for the Frontier Army Lodge of Masonic Research #1875/
Note: Permission to use this program is granted in advance to Lodges of Freemasons recognized by Grand Lodges of North Dakota and South Dakota and Grand Lodges represented in the Prince Hall Conference of Grand Masters of North America.
Other use of the program for public performance must be approved in advance by the Worshipful Master of the Frontier Army Lodge of Masonic Research #1875 or the Grand Master of Masons either of North Dakota or South Dakota.
The first Mason honored by this U.S. program was a British Freemason who was killed in action in the U.S. Army on the northern plains. John Holt Beever is the first foreign Mason to give his life in uniform in service in the region then known as Dakota Territory which in the earlier 1860s extended westward to the Rocky Mountains from the Minnesota and Iowa borders north of the Nebraska border. It included significant portions of the states of Wyoming and Montana as well as North and South Dakota.
Bro. Beever’s name remains in this ceremonial as a reminder of the mission of the Frontier Army Lodge of Masonic Research. That mission is to research and memorialize regular members of the Craft in the frontier period from 1860 through 1890, especially in the northern plains and in the original Dakota Territory.
Performance in recognition of other Brother Masons, or of unknown Masons whose role in the Craft and service is not currently known, may have their names or stations appropriately substituted for Bro. Be ever’ s name.
This unofficial ritual may be exercised at a regularly tyled Lodge, or may be utilized as part of an open Lodge or similar setting among Masons, friends and family.
The Vacant Chair Degree
A vacant chair may be brought into the Lodge or meeting room by processional, or may be placed in advance between the Altar and the chair in the west; or in any appropriate place in a non-Masonic meeting or banquet room.
In an outdoor setting, it may be brought to the assembly preferably accompanied by appropriate music or again, in an appropriate position among those gathered.
Furniture, accessories and other items required for the ceremonies:
An altar, Bible, square and compasses, gavel for the Worshipful Master, a black-draped chair, and white Mason’s apron, preferably a lambskin are required. Masons involved in the ceremony may wear aprons if allowed in their Grand Lodge jurisdiction. All or none of the officers should wear aprons. All Masons should wear white gloves. The Master and Wardens must wear white gloves. A sprig of evergreen (acacia) for each Brother is mandatory.
Opening the Degree
At the appropriate time, the SW or appropriate officer would announce:
W.M., there is an alarm at the outer door.
W.M.: _____ (Appropriate officer by title), you will attend to that alarm and see who seeks admission at this (Lodge … Assembly of Brethren).
(Appropriate officer): Worshipful Master, Comrades and Brothers who have fallen in service of their country seek admission here, not in person, but through their spiritual presence that they seek our continued remembrance.
It also through the special memory of our fallen Brother, John Holt Beever, Lieutenant, United States Army, that Brethren fallen honorably in all wars be remembered.
If a civilian, the lines should read:
(Worshipful Master, Brothers who have served their fellows and fellow man seek admission here, not in person, but through their spiritual presence that they seek our continued remembrance.)
(It is through the special memory of our fallen Brother, __________, that these Brethren, and Brethren fallen honorably in all wars be remembered.)
W.M.: My Brother, bid the entry of our fallen Brothers and the opening of our hearts to their memory.
(If a processional, a color party carrying the empty chair enters the room. The perambulation of the Lodge, room or meeting space is from the west to the north, across even between the WM and an altar, if there be one; before the Junior Warden, then to place it before the Worshipful Master in the east, and facing west.)
(If there be no processional with color guard, the chair, draped in black, is placed by appropriate Brothers at the verbal request of the Worshipful Master)
W.M.:(Raps gavel) Brother Senior Warden
S.W.:(Stands) Worshipful Master
W.M.: Brother Senior Warden, it is my order that in recognition of our fallen Brother’s presence, and his status as a Master Mason, that the apron of a Brother Master Mason be positioned as it would be were oul’ Brothers present in body as well as spirit.
You, or a Brother who has honorably served his country in uniform, will approach the seat of our Brothers’ memory, and perform the honor.
(The SW or appointed Brother shall approach the East to receive the Member’s Apron from the W.M. The Brother so designated, as well as the WM and SW, should all be wearing such white gloves as would be used by the Lodge in Masonic funeral rites.)
(If a designated Brother, he marches at funeral pace to the chair, standing to the north side, facing the Senior Warden.)
Either the SW or the designated Brother may perform the speaking part.
It is an emblem of innocence and the badge of a Mason. It is more ancient than the Golden Fleece, or Roman Eagle, more honorable than the Star and Garter.
This emblem I now offer and secure for the seat of our deceased Brother, in recognition of his, and his Masonic companions’ dedication to the highest ideals of the Craft in the greatest of vicissitudes in service to their fellows.
(Apron is placed on the seat of the chair, SW or designated Brother turns again to the West.)
S.W.: (or designated Brother): By this act we are reminded of the Masonic ideals of our fallen Brother and his fellows.
We see in clear vision the noble thoughts, generous impulses, words of truth, acts of love and deeds of mercy.
The Masonic Apron represents these highest aspirations of a Brother in all ways, as each Brother knows they give to man his only genuine happiness, his lasting satisfaction.
To these precepts our Brother willingly and gladly subscribed.
(The appointed Brother or SW now marches at funeral pace to his own seat.)
WM: Rap to seat officers all but himself
W.M.: Our Brother (________ ), having given himself freely not only to the obligations of the Degrees of Masonry, but also to the obligations of service to his ideals as his lights showed them, thereby garnered the honors of his peers in service, his superiors and those who looked to him for leadership.
(If there are awards or symbols of service, the WM then says and acts: I now place these honors as decorations to his Masonic Apron.)
It is said a Man is made a Mason first in his heart.
The Mason may have earned honors before, or after he is raised to the Sublime Degree. But as the world sees, those honors do not decorate his Masonry, but rather highlight the spirit which made both a Mason and a man of service.
(W.M. may posit the medals or other objects on the apron, or call up an appointed brother as above to place the medals.)
(After medals are placed, the WM or appointed Veteran faces West.)
W.M.: These honors of mankind for our Brother, whether in material or purely from the heart, represent mankind’s decoration upon a life of honor and service.
(W.M. or appointed Brother returns to his place.)
Chaplain repeats the following prayer:
Most Gracious God, Great Architect of the Universe, Author of all good, and Giver of all mercy, pour down, we implore Thee, thy blessings upon us, and grant that the solemnity of this occasion may bind us yet closer together in the bonds of Brotherly Love.
May the present instance of mortality forcibly remind us of our approaching and inevitable destiny, and weaning our affections from the things of this world …
Fix them more devotedly on Thee, our only safe refuge in the hour of need, and grant, O God, that when the summons shall come for us to leave our transitory Lodge on earth, the light which is from above shall dispel the encircling gloom …
And that departing hence with faith in Thee, in full hope of a resurrection and in charity with all men, …
We may, through Thy favor, be admitted to Thy Celestial Lodge on high, to partake in everlasting reunion with the souls of our departed friends and Brethren, the just rewards of a pious and virtuous life.
Brothers: So Mote it Be
Here comes a short recognition of the Brother’s life: by the appropriate officer
W.M.: As we have recognized our Brother(s), and especially _____ (Our Brother) let us take this also as both an affirmation of his virtue and recognition of our own frailty.
W.M.: Brothers, will you reenact with me the Masonic Service to a Brother raised to a higher Lodge by first fanning a circle around the vacant chair of our Brother and Brothers?
(The WM walks to the chair to head a circle of Brothers around the chair, as circumstances permit, each with an evergreen sprig in his hand.)
(The Worshipful Master will then take the Evergreen in his hand and say:)
WM: This Evergreen is an emblem of immortality. Beyond this world of shadows, man has a glorious destiny, since, within this earthly tabernacle of clay, there abides an imperishable immortal spirit, over which the grave hath no power nor death dominion.
(After the WM has deposited his evergreen on the Apron, the other Brethren in order of rank if appropriate, or simply in moving the circle as a line at the order of the W.M., each places his evergreen upon the apron with his right hand as he passes on the south, and returns to his place in the circle, facing inward.)
W.M.: Brethren, prepare for the Funeral Honors.
(FUNERAL HONORS will then be given in the following manner: The Brethren will extend their hands toward the grave, palms up)
W.M.: We consign his body to the earth.
(The Brethren then cross their arms on their breast, the left uppermost, the open palms resting on their shoulders)
W.M.: We cherish his memory here.
(The Brethren will then raise their hands above their heads, looking upward,
W.M.: We commend his spirit to God who gave it. Gracious God, rest this our Brother, who has walked here with us. Everlasting life give unto him, and if it be Thy will, lead him through the gates into the Eternal City. Amen.
(Response:) “So mote it be.”
W.M. informally dismisses the Brothers, and returns to the Oriental Chair or podium.
In this final installment of the Faith Hope and Charity series, we consider the symbolism of charity, or perhaps better called love. It is this attribute that allows the fraternity to “find in every clime a brother, and in every land a home,” the subtext of which Mackey defines in his text from his Encyclopedia of Freemasonry.
Charity in Freemasonry
“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.” (1 Corinth. xiii. 1, 2.)
Such was the language of an eminent apostle of the Christian church, and such is the sentiment that constitutes the cementing bond of Freemasonry.
The apostle in comparing it with faith and hope calls it the greatest of the three, and hence in Masonry, it is made the top most round of its mystic ladder. We must not fall into the too common error that charity is only that sentiment of commiseration which leads us to assist the poor with pecuniary donations. Its Masonic, as well as its Christian application, is more noble and more extensive. The word used by the apostle is, in the original, αγάπη (agápi – agapi) or love — a word denoting that kindly state of mind which renders a person full of goodwill and affectionate regard toward others. John Wesley expressed his regret that the Greek had not been correctly translated as love instead of charity, so that the apostolic triad of virtues would have been, not “faith, hope, and charity,” but “Faith, Hope and Love.” Then would we have understood the comparison made by St. Paul, when he said,
“Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profiteth me nothing.”
Guided by this sentiment, the true Mason will “suffer long and be kind.” He will be slow to anger and easy to forgive. He will stay his falling brother by gentle admonition, and warn him with kindness of approaching danger. He will not open his ear to his slanderers, and will close his lips against all reproach. His faults and his follies will be locked in his breast, and the prayer for mercy will ascend to Jehovah for his brother’s sins. Nor will these sentiments of benevolence be confined to those who are bound to him by ties of kindred or worldly friendship alone, but, extending them throughout the globe, he will love and cherish all who sit beneath the broad canopy of our universal Lodge. For it is the boast of our Institution, that a Mason, destitute and worthy, may find in every clime a brother, and in every land a home.
In this installment of the Symbols and Symbolism of Freemasonry, we examine the text of Albert Mackey’s Encyclopedia of Freemasonry on the symbolism of Hope.
Much derided, today, hope is one of those indispensable utilities that carries many of us over the final miles of a trying journey through life. In a masonic context, the symbol is simplified (almost overly) to represent a moment by which the individual may enter into the bliss of eternity.
In the video component, we explore the more broadly understanding of Hope and its origins from a small box out of the mists of antiquity.
Hope in Freemasonry
The second round in the theological and Masonic ladder, and symbolic of a hope in immortality. It is appropriately placed there, for, having attained the first, or faith in God, we are led by a belief in His wisdom and goodness to the hope of immortality. This is but a reasonable expectation; without it, virtue would lose its necessary stimulus and vice its salutary fear; life would be devoid of joy, and the grave but a scene of desolation. The ancients represented Hope by a nymph or maiden holding in her hand a bouquet of opening flowers, indicative of the coming fruit; but in modern and Masonic iconology, the science of Craft illustrations and likenesses, it is represented by a virgin leaning on an anchor, the anchor itself being a symbol of hope.
In this installment of the Symbols and Symbolism of Freemasonry, we consider a reading of Albert Mackey’s text on the subject of Faith as it pertains to Freemasonry. Distilled to a single word, Mackey gets to the essence of what that faith means in the fraternity and why it is so critical to the becoming of an Apprentice mason. Rather than give away Mackey’s conclusion, I’ll let his words speak for themselves as we explore them.
Faith in Freemasonry
In the theological ladder, the explanation of which forms a part of the instruction of the First Degree of Masonry, faith is said to typify the lowest round. Faith, here, is synonymous with confidence or trust, and hence we find merely a repetition of the lesson which had been previously taught that the first, the essential qualification of a candidate for initiation, is that he should trust in God.
In the lecture of the same Degree, it is said that “Faith may be lost in sight; Hope ends in fruition; but Charity extends beyond the grave, through the boundless realms of eternity And this is said, because as faith is “the evidence of things not seen,” when we see we no longer believe by faith but through demonstration; and as hope lives only in the expectation of possession, it ceases to exist when the object once hoped for is at length enjoyed, but charity, exercised on earth in acts of mutual kindness and forbearance, is still found in the world to come, in the sublime form of mercy from God to his erring creatures.
In 1994 Wor. Fran Foster attended a very special event in his community. The Mt. Rushmore flag came to town, and many scouts, Masons, community leaders and just plain people gathered to celebrate the occasion and help raise and lower the flag. Also, there to record the occasion was local cable TV, Continental Cable.
Foster took a moment to ask Continental Cable Program Director Paul Joia if he could get air time for one Masonic show. Joia said I will do you one step better; I will give you a permanent time slot if you can put together a regular show.
So was born “What It Means To Be A Mason,” recorded at the East Bridgewater – Whitman Cable TV studio in Southeastern Massachusetts. Many Masons from the Brocton Masonic District came to help produce this show under the supervision of Program Director Joia who taught us all how to operate all the equipment, especially the cameras.
Each show different Brothers would step up to the plate to produce this show. For the first two shows, Foster asked Wor. Richard Cusick, Master of Paul Revere Lodge, and Wor. Frederic Milliken, Master of Plymouth Lodge, to be the guests and talk about what it means to be a Mason. After that Foster got guests from every Masonic Body, Masonic Library, The Massachusetts Grand Lodge, and even three Grand Masters.
Foster produced 28 What It Means To Be A Mason Cable TV shows. Although now over 20 years old they are timeless and the quality excellent.
The show selected above is an in-depth look at the Massachusetts Masonic Child Identification Program (CHIP). When the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts added tooth imprints to its Child Identification program, it produced the premiere child identification inside and outside of law enforcement in the state. Now it had a video, fingerprints, tooth imprint and DNA for total ID coverage. This is still the number one community outreach program of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts.
These Masonic TV shows were produced from 1994-1998 and include a number of different topics chosen to educate the general public.
Wor. Fran Foster was a pioneer in the field of Masonic TV and he is the model for those of us who are in the Masonic video business today. It is only fitting and proper that he should now receive the national recognition which he so richly deserves.
What makes something a “ritual?” Is it an evil connotation? Is it something sinister? Why then is Freemasonry considered a ritual practice? How could something so full of moral virtues practice something ritualistic?
The use of the word ritual is described as the regular practice of the same series of ceremonies at each meeting.
Often there is a connotation of something sinister or counter to popular practice by the use of the term ritual.
To the contrary, it is instead meant to imply that the degree rituals are an established or prescribed practice to convey the knowledge and symbolism of the Fraternity in a repetition to impart their teachings.
What this means is that the same ritual ceremony is practiced with each candidate to induct him into the fraternity so that each man undergoes the same experience creating a unifying shared experience. That practice imparts the three principal tenets of the fraternity which are Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth.
Freemasonry is grounded in three specific virtues which are at the core of Masonic teachings. Are these virtues really at the core of the Masonic connection to faith, religion and the divine?
These three virtues are the foundations upon which Freemasonry is built.
Brotherly Love as directed towards all mankind and especially to other Masons. Relief, in that every Mason is obligated to relieve the suffering of any Master Mason they encounter who is in dire need, and if in their power to do so, to the best of their ability, Also to act charitably towards society, giving of themselves to better the common good. And Truth, which is represented by the Divine in its multiplicity and diversity, as understood by all men.
These three ideas represent the core upon which Freemasonry focuses in its ultimate distillation, in that Freemasonry does not hold one faith above another, rather seeing faith itself as the common denominator between all of faiths.
A common connection with Freemasonry is that it is a patriotic organization. While it suggests certain attributes of patriotism, the multi-national spread of the fraternity would suggest something other than a direct form of nationalistic adherence.
So then, is Freemasonry a patriotic body?
The answer is a challenging one. Simply put, it is and it isn’t.
The aims of Freemasonry are not specifically to embolden specific patriotism. It does, however, promote a strong affinity towards, and a passionate adherence to the nation in which the Freemason resides. It encourages more than a passive interest in the development of civil society and our roles as citizens in it.
The patriotism that is displayed is the result of that interest in the well-being of society itself. The fraternity does strongly encourage the adherence to and following of the principles and laws of the country in which the member resides.
In this episode we look at the definition of what the masonic apron represents. Of the many emblems of Freemasonry, none is more iconic that the lambskin apron.
Alien outside of the lodge, under the tiled lodge it represents the totality of what it means to be a Mason. It’s said to be more noble than the Roman Eagle or the Golden Fleece, the Masonic apron is literally, the badge of a mason carried with him into the next existence.
Albert Mackey, in his Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, says of the apron:
There is no one of the symbols of Speculative Masonry more important in its teachings, or more interesting in its history, than the lambskin, or white leather apron. Commencing its lessons at an early period in the Mason’s progress, it is impressed upon his memory as the first gift which he receives, the first symbol which is explained to him, and the first tangible evidence which he possesses of his admission. Whatever may be his future advancement in the “royal art,” into whatsoever deeper arcana his devotion to the mystic institution or his thirst for knowledge may subsequently lead him, with the lambskin apron — his first investiture — he never parts. Changing, perhaps, its form and its decorations, and conveying at each step some new but still beautiful allusion, its substance is still there, and it continues to claim the honored title by which it was first made known to him, on the night of his initiation, as “the badge of a Mason.”