While the concept of death does play a role in its usage, the Masonic application of the skull is not related to piracy or poison. Today, the skull and crossbones appears at Masonic lodges in Chambers of Reflection and in tracing boards used to teach Masonic beliefs and traditions. Freemasons sometimes refer to their fraternity as a “Gentle Craft,” and though the skull symbol appears grim, it has underlying layers of hope. Throughout history, the skull and crossbones has symbolized the concept of “memento mori,” which translates from Latin as “remember death” or “remember you must die.” In his essay, “The Symbol of the Skull and Crossbones and Its Masonic Application,” Brother P.D. Newman of Tupelo Lodge Number 318 observes that this remains true for the Masonic symbol, stating the the skull “stands as the primary reminder of the grim truth that death is ever immanent.” This reminder seeks to incite contemplation and reflection in life.
Why does the Worshipful Master of a lodge wear a hat?
The question should rather be: “Why does no one one else wear a hat?”
Wearing a hat in lodge is a privilege that is afforded only to the Worshipful Master of a lodge. While the lodge is session, no one else is allowed to wear a hat. The hat worn by a Master is a reference to the crown that was worn on the head of King Solomon. In history, kings wore crowns as a sign of their rank. Those in his presence removed their hats as a sign of respect to the king.
The ancient Romans prayed with their heads covered. Those that were free born wore pileus or woolen caps. Romans slaves were not allowed to cover their heads while praying.
In the United States, Worshipful Masters wear Masonic hats whenever a lodge is in session. Some Grand Lodges require that the hats must have a brim. Others do not have this requirement. They only insist that the head of the Worshipful Master must be covered.
The choice of headwear is left to the Worshipful Master himself. In England, Scotland and Ireland the tradition is that the Worshipful Master wears a top hat. This tradition moved to the USA when the first Grand Lodges were established in this country. Several Grand Lodges such as Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Virginia still follow this tradition. Other places such as Texas use more regional options. In Texas a nice cowboy hat is a common hat you will encounter. But in most Grand Lodges it is the choice of the officer himself, and can be as far ranging as a fedora, homburg, tyrollean, panama, sombrero or even a wizard hat. This allows the officer to use his creativity to display his own personality.
Why do Freemasons call the highest ranking officer of the lodge: “Worshipful Master”?
In ancient times, the word “Worshipful” meant “Respected”. Because a single Master Mason is elected by the members to lead them, he is given the title Worshipful Master to indicate that he is a respected Master Mason. He wears a hat to signify his position. No other mason is allowed to wear a hat besides him. This is done out of respect for his position.
“In the 1500’s such a title meant honorable and reputable; applying to a person who was distinguished in regard to character or rank; entitled to honor and respect. By the 1700’s, to call a man worshipful was an honorific and often temporary designation; applying to persons or bodies of distinguished rank or importance. When the title worshipful became attached to the word master, the two together denoted a man of great honor, integrity and learning who also had control or authority over something or someone.”Robert G. Davis 33* GC, Masters & Past Masters: The Real Role of these Worshipful Men <http://www.thelaudablepursuit.com/articles/2015/12/10/masters-past-masters-the-real-role-of-these-worshipful-men>
Freemasons use the terminology of stone masonry, geometry and architecture as symbols to illustrate the more complex concepts they want to instill in their membership. See the beehive that was discussed in a previous blog post. Another symbol are upright columns. They illustrate that Freemasons should always be upright in their moral conduct, meaning that they should not bend to societal pressure and compromise their beliefs.
Masonic symbology was used in past centuries, not due as much to Masonic secrecy, (as many people believe), but due to the fact that most of the world’s population was illiterate.
During the Dark Ages, the Middle Ages, and through subsequent centuries, most of the population, being working class, were illiterate or had only a rudimentary (basic) ability to sign their names, make their “mark” to signify their acceptance, or read simple words.
Operative stone masons would also travel to foreign lands to find work, and had to work with people who spoke many different languages. Symbols helped to communicate more complicated meaning amongst them.
A popular definition of freemasonry is: “Freemasonry is a peculiar system of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols”
A related topic is the use of the terms symbolism and symbology. While they are related, they do differ in their meaning. Symbolism is the act of using symbols to represent the underlying meaning. Symbology on the other hand is the study of the use of symbols.
The first use of “∴” to abbreviate a Masonic title was August 12, 1774, by the Grand Orient of France, in an address to its subordinates. No authoritative explanation of the meaning of these dots has been given, but According to Mackey it is supposed to refer to the three lights around the altar, or perhaps more generally to the number 3, and to the triangle, all important symbols in the Masonic system.
The doubling of a letter is intended to express the plural of that word of which the single letter is the abbreviation. For example, in French, F∴ signifies “Frère,” or ” Brother,” and FF∴ ” Frères,” or “Brothers.” Similarly in English, L∴ is sometimes used to denote “Lodge”, and LL∴ to denote “Lodges”. Exceptions exist regularly; for example, Sovereign Grand Inspectors General is abbreviated as S∴G∴I∴G∴, and not S∴G∴II∴G∴.
The noted Masonic scholar Dr. Albert G. Mackey, 33°, used the phrase “three points” instead of the modern phrase of “three dots.” The following is how he deﬁnes the three points or dots in his Encyclopedia of Freemasonry:
Three points in a triangular form (\) are placed after letters in a Masonic document to indicate that such letters are the initials of a Masonic title or of a technical word in Freemasonry, as G\M\ for Grand Master, or G\L\ for Grand Lodge. It is not a symbol, but simply a mark of abbreviation. The attempt, therefore, to trace it to the Hebrew three yods [ייי], a sign of the Tetragrammaton, or any other ancient symbol, is futile. […] it is probable that the idea was suggested by the sacred character of the number three as a Masonic number, and these three dots might refer to the position of the three oﬃcers in a French Lodge. […] A common expression of anti-Masonic writers in France when referring to the Brethren of the Craft is Fréres Trois Points, Three Point Brothers, a term cultivated in their mischief survives in honor because reminding the brotherhood of cherished association and symbols.The Square Magazine, Masonic Miscellanies – What are the Three Dots? <https://www.thesquaremagazine.com/mag/article/202206masonic-miscellanies>
A Masonic funeral is a service provided to masons in good standing. It must be requested by the mason or his family.
Funerals are one of the three public rituals performed by freemasons. The other two are officer installations and cornerstone layings.
The rituals and wording set Masonic funerals apart in most people’s minds. To anyone who is not familiar with masonic symbolism and customs such a service might appear strange and archaic. Nonetheless, it is considered by anyone who has witnessed a masonic service to be a very inspiring and solemn ritual.
The brothers who attend wear sprigs of acacia and their white aprons. The deceased brother will be interred wearing his apron, usually the one that he was raised and made a Master Mason in. The ritual itself is aimed to comfort the family, praise a life well lived, and remind all present that it is incumbent upon all of us to live intentionally. At the conclusion of the service the brothers file past the coffin and lay their sprigs on acacia on it.
On July 20, 1969 the USA landed on the moon. The second person to set foot on it was Brother Buzz Aldrin. He was a member of Clear Lake Lodge No. 1417 of the Grand Lodge of Texas A.F. & A.M.. During this Apollo 11 mission, Bro. Aldrin carried a special deputation from the Grand Master of Texas, J. Guy Smith, to claim the moon as Masonic territorial jurisdiction on behalf of the Grand Lodge of Texas.
Aldrin also planted a custom flag on the moon that was embroidered with the words, “Supreme Council, 33°, Southern Jurisdiction, USA.” He donated this flag to the House of the Temple in Washington D.C. where it is still displayed in the archives and museum of the Scottish Rite SJ.
At this point the “Tranquility Lodge No. 2000” A.F. & A.M. of the Grand Lodge of Texas was founded. This lodge continues to operate to this day and allows any Master Mason in good standing from any Grand Lodge that is in amity with the GL of Texas, to join. It is named after the Sea of Tranquility, the location where the first moon landing occurred. On the special masonic apron is displayed the view of Earth from the Sea of Tranquility with the Square and Compasses and the shape of Texas on top of it. The lodge is “based in Texas under auspices of The Grand Lodge of Texas until such time as the Lodge may hold its meetings on the Moon. ”
Prince Hall Freemasonry is a branch of North American Freemasonry for African Americans founded by Prince Hall on September 29, 1784. There are two main branches of Prince Hall Freemasonry: the independent State Prince Hall Grand Lodges, most of which are recognized by Regular Masonic jurisdictions, and those under the jurisdiction of the National Grand Lodge. Prince Hall Freemasonry is the oldest and largest (300,000+ initiated members) predominantly African-American fraternity in the nation.
Prior to the American Revolutionary War, Prince Hall and fourteen other free black men petitioned for admittance to the white Boston St. John’s Lodge. They were declined. The Masonic fraternity was attractive to some free blacks like Prince Hall because freemasonry was founded upon ideals of liberty, equality and peace.
Unable to create a charter, they applied to the Grand Lodge of England. UGLE issued a charter for African Lodge No. 459 on September 29, 1784, which was later renamed to African Lodge No. 1. The lodge was the country’s first African Masonic lodge.
Due to the African Lodge’s popularity and Prince Hall’s leadership, the Grand Lodge of England made Hall a Provincial Grand Master on January 27, 1791.
There are two competing sets of organizations within Prince Hall Freemasonry. A minority of lodges, which are subject to the Prince Hall National Grand Lodge, are referred to as Prince Hall Origin, and the majority of lodges, which are subject to 41 independent state grand lodges, and are known as Prince Hall Affiliation (PHA).
When two Grand Lodges recognize and are in Masonic communication with each other, they are said to be in amity, and the brethren of each may visit each other’s lodges and interact Masonically. When two Grand Lodges are not in amity, inter-visitation is not allowed. Exclusive Jurisdiction can be waived when the two over-lapping Grand Lodges are themselves in Amity and agree to share jurisdiction (for example, since the Grand Lodge of Connecticut is in Amity with the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Connecticut, the principle of Exclusive Jurisdiction does not apply, and other Grand Lodges may recognize both).
After carefully studying the records, the Grand Lodge of England concluded that the original Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Massachusetts was indeed entitled to Masonic recognition, despite the general tradition of “exclusive jurisdiction”, which meant that only one recognized Masonic body could exist in each state.
According to data compiled in 2021 45 out of the 51 mainstream U.S. Grand Lodges recognize Prince Hall Grand Lodges. Texas has had mutual recognition since 2006. While African-Americans can join any lodge in North America, Prince Hall Masonry remains a vital part of American tradition.
Even though we might all agree that it is way past time to move beyond this separation and openly embrace amity (mutual recognition) between mainstream and Prince Hall freemasonry, there are many reasons why these two different Grand Lodges still exist to this day. Some of it might stem from old prejudices, while others are logistical, organizational or even concerns about one organization potentially expanding its influence and swallowing up the other one. Even if one Grand Lodge extends recognition to the other, the second one might not reciprocate the gesture. This issue is very complicated and has many multi-layered causes. Simply claiming racism is an oversimplification that does injustice to all involved.
Masonry 101 encourages any interested potential member to visit as many lodges as is reasonable. Even though all lodges belonging to the Grand Lodge of Texas AF&AM are based on the same basic principles, each individual lodge has its own character. Some focus more on a relaxed atmosphere and fraternal fellowship, some are all about charity and community involvement, while others focus on philosophy, education and spiritual development. All lodges will include all of these aspects to some degree, but each lodge has a different focus.
Other issues to consider are the frequency of meetings: some lodges meet twice a week, with monthly stated meetings. While others only meet once every three months. Dress code can also vary greatly. There are some lodges that are very casual and known as t-shirt and blue jeans lodges, while others suggest coat and tie, or suits. Some even suggest black tie, or tux.
It is recommended to meet different lodges to see which one might be the best fit for an individual candidate. Additionally, since being a freemason involves frequent visits to the lodge, it is highly advised to consider lodges that are conveniently located within a reasonable driving distance from either home, work or in between. If it is a hassle to fight traffic to attend, then it is highly likely that it will prevent the member to become more active.
To find a lodge within the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of Texas A.F.&A.M.:
To find lodges in other states:
Out of the 46 presidents of the USA, 14 were Master Masons. One more (LBJ) had been initiated as a 1° Entered Apprentice, but he never completed his masonic journey. That is over 30% of all the presidents in the history of the USA. Considering that the average masonic membership of the USA male population has been between 1.25 and 3%, that demonstrates a significant influence on the highest levels of political power.
The following presidents were freemasons:
George Washington (1789 – 1797)
James Monroe (1758 – 1831)
Andrew Jackson (1829 – 1837)
James K Polk (1795-1849)
James Buchanan (1791 – 1868)
Andrew Johnson (1808 – 1875)
James A Garfield (1831 – 1881)
William McKinley (1843 – 1901)
Theodore Roosevelt (1901 – 1909)
William H Taft (1857 – 1930)
Warren G Harding (1865 – 1923)
Franklin D Roosevelt (1933 – 1945)
Harry S Truman (1945 – 1953)
Gerald Ford (1974 – 1977)
Other presidents with masonic ties are:
Thomas Jefferson – there is no written records of his lodge membership, even if he is often considered to be a Mason by both historians and Freemasons.
Lyndon B. Johnson – he was initiated as a 1° Entered Apprentice Mason at Johnson City Lodge 561, but he never became a 3° Master Mason.
Ronald Reagan – on February 11, 1988, he was made an honorary member on sight of the Scottish Rite – SJ and the Shrine.
Bill Clinton – he was a member of the masonic youth organization – DeMolay.