The Brothers from another planet

I.G.[1]   Bro. J.W. there is a report
J.W.       R.W.M. there is a report
R.W.M. Enquire who seeks admission, Bro. J.W.
J.W.       See who seeks admission, Bro. I.G.
I.G.         (Goes out and receives T’s report).  How does he hope to obtain these privileges?  (Receives reply, and inspects the candidate to see that he is properly prepared).  Wait, please, till I report to the R.W.M.
R.W.M. at the door of the L. stands Mr. K.L., a poor candidate in a state of darkness who has been well and worthily recommended, regularly proposed, balloted for and approved in open L. who now comes forward of his own free will and accord, properly prepared, humbly soliciting to be admitted to the mysteries and privileges of ancient F.M.
R.W.M. By virtue of what qualifications does he hope to obtain these great and glorious privileges?
L.G.        Being a man, free born, sound in body and mind, able and willing to earn his daily bread should it be required of him so to do.  Come this way: do you, Bro. I.G. vouch that L. is properly prepared?  That by putting his trust in A.G. and being duly vouched for by the worthy B.B. of this L.
R.W.M. These indeed are all necessary qualifications for all who (incomplete sentence)
I.G.         I do.
R.W.M. Then let him be admitted in due form.
I.G.         Enter this L. in the name of T.G.A.O.T.U. (applies the S.I).  As this is a torture to your flesh at the present time, so may the recollection of it be to your mind and conscience in all time coming should you ever be about to improperly disclose the secrets of F.W.
R.W.M. Mr K.L. as no person other than a mason unless he is of mature age, I demand of you, are you the full age of twenty-one years?
Cand.    I am.
R.W.M. Thus assured I will thank you to kneel on both knees (or be covered) while the blessing of heaven is invoked on our proceedings.
Chap.    We supplicate Thine and Almighty God, Thou G.A.O.T.U. on this our present convention.  Do Thou grant that this candidate for F.M. may so dedicate and devote his life to Thy service as to become a true and faithful Bro. among us.  Endow him with a competency of Thy divine wisdom, so that assisted by the secrets of our masonic art he may the better be enabled to display the beauties of true godliness to the honour and glory of Thy most holy name.
Onmes  S.M.I.B.
R.W.M. In all cases of doubt, difficulty and danger in whom do you place your trust?
Cand.    In G.
R.W.M. Right glad am I to find your faith well founded.  Relying on such sure support you may safely arise (be uncovered) and follow your enlightened guide with a firm but humble confidence for where that great name is invoked we trust no danger can or will ensue. 

Whoever Mr K.L. was, he was judged to be of sufficiently high morals and good character to be admitted as a Freemason to the Zion Lodge, a lodge of the District Grand Lodge of the Transvaal.  As part of his initiation, he was brought before a meeting of the lodge, blindfolded at first, and guided through a ritual journey to ‘Masonic light’.  He knelt at an altar and placed his hands on a scripture of the religion he practised, taking a binding oath or ‘obligation’.  He was sworn to secrecy, and taught certain lessons about Freemasonry and its symbols, including the moral and social virtues that are the foundation stones of the Masonic fraternity.  Finally, he was appraised of things he would need to know as a lodge member.

Freemasonry is the world’s oldest and largest fraternity, whose members strive to live by the principles of truth, morality and brotherly love.  It provides members with an opportunity for public service and involvement in charitable and community affairs, in an environment devoid of religious, political or social barriers.  While the digital age has made the inner workings of the organisation more accessible to outsiders, one of the defining features of the American and British Commonwealth form is that access to women is still denied.  Which makes it especially sweet to have had a cache of early twentieth century Freemason ephemera fall into my hands.

On 5 August 1914, Harry paid a fee of two pounds, eighteen shillings and six pence – roughly £80 in today’s money – to join the Zion Lodge.  This included a joining fee, lodge dues and subscription for six months; a discount of one guinea (21 shillings) was applied for payment in the second half of the year.  Another receipt for renewal of subscription, dated 19 November 1917, also incurred a discount for late payment.

The receipts and minutes of meetings were tucked inside the by-laws of the Zion Lodge which, in turn, was slotted into the by-laws of the District Grand Lodge of the Transvaal.  Insightful as these documents and their interpretation are, they are overshadowed by another item: a Freemason’s apron.

 

As the Zion lodge’s colour was dark blue, I know that this apron belonged to Harry.  While the bib and tassels are in good condition, the flap is brittle and every time I handle the garment, bits of dark blue fall off it.  Each time I scoop these up – those that aren’t pulverised, that is – and replace the lot in a plastic bag, waiting for some future time when I can find someone who can restore the apron.

Like everything masonic, the apron’s design is based on complex symbolism.  The one in the photo was a Fellow Craft apron, signifying that its wearer had attained a certain level of wisdom.  The two rosettes stress the dual nature of man and are a reference to the two Pillars.  They also show that the wearer is not yet a full Freemason, having yet to acquire a third rosette to form a triangle.  Either there was another apron that failed to survive or Harry did not progress beyond a state of budding spirituality.

The District Grand Lodge of the Transvaal had been founded in 1896 as a means of linking the various lodges of the ZAR.  In 1946, the Orange Free State was incorporated into the Lodge and in 1979 the Northern Cape followed to form the District Grand Lodge of the Transvaal, Orange Free State and Northern Cape.  It was around this time that I asked my father, who was also a Freemason, about the business of the organisation.  All I got was a half-smile.

I guess that towards the end of his life Dad had more important things on his mind than the onward journey of Harry’s freemasonry regalia and paperwork.  Likewise if my mother knew anything of their provenance, she did not share it with me.  At some point, I’ll need to decide who I can pass them on to.  One thing is certain: gender won’t be a deciding factor.

[1]              Notes to acronyms: I.G. – Inspector general; Bro – Brother; J.W. – junior warden; R.W.M. – Right Worshipful Master; T – Treasurer; L – Lodge; A.G. – Almighty God; T.G.A.O.T.U – The Great (or Grand) Architect of the Universe; F.M. – freemason; S.M.I.B. – so mote it be; G. – God.

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