Sunday, June 12, 2011

Making Masons "At Sight"

With all of the online chatter about events this weekend in D.C. and Massachusetts, it might be useful to read over Albert Mackey's description of making Masons "at sight", in Mackey's Encyclopedia of Freemasonry [Albert G. Mackey, Encyclopedia of Freemasonry. Vol. ii, Richmond, Virginia: The Masonic History Company, 1946. p. 941-43]:

Landmark 8
The prerogative of the Grand Master to make masons masons at sight, is a Landmark which is closely connected with the preceding one. There has been much misapprehension in relation to this Landmark, which misapprehension has sometimes led to a denial of its existence in jurisdictions where the Grand Master was perhaps at the very time substantially exercising the prerogative, without the slightest remark or opposition...


Under the heading of "Sight, making Masons at," it states:

It is not to be supposed that the Grand Master can retire with a profane into a private room, and there, without assistance, confer the degrees of Freemasonry upon him. No such prerogative exists, and yet many believe that this is the so much talked of right of "making Masons at sight". The real mode and the only mode of exercising the prerogative is this: The Grand Master summons to his assistance not less than six other masons, convenes a Lodge, and without any previous probation, but in sight of the candidate, confers the degrees upon him, after which he dissolves the Lodge and dismisses the brethren. Lodges thus convened for special purposes are called occasional lodges. This is the only way in which any Grand Master within the records of the institution has ever been known to "make a Mason at sight". The prerogative is dependent upon that of granting dispensations to open and hold Lodges. If the Grand Master has the power of granting to any other Mason the privilege of presiding over Lodges working by his dispensation, he may assume this privilege of presiding to himself; and as no one can deny his right to revoke his dispensation granted to a number of brethren at a distance, and to dissolve the Lodge at his pleasure, it will scarcely be contended that he may not revoke his dispensation for a Lodge over which he himself has been presiding, within a day, and dissolve the Lodge as soon as the business for which he had assembled it is accomplished. The making of Masons at sight is only the conferring of the degrees by the Grand Master, at once, in an occasional Lodge, constituted by his dispensing power for the purpose, and over which he presides in person.


These excerpts, along with Mackey's complete list of "Landmarks" can be seen on the Grand Lodge of British Columbia & Yukon website here, Landmarks of Freemasonry.

Mackey's Landmarks were of his own compilation, and have never been adopted en masse by any one grand lodge. They are not universally accepted, and as I said in a previous post, the practice of making Masons "at sight" is perfectly accepted in some jurisdictions, and forbidden in others. It is controversial, but the practice dates back to at least 1730.

Coil's Masonic Encyclopedia, under the heading of Making Masons at Sight, says, in part

"...making Masons at sight exists wherever and consists of whatever the Grand Lodge of each jurisdiction allows."

[snip]

"No statement is available as to exactly what procedure was used in the few instances that have occurred in the United States, but the general impression is that the net result is merely a shortening of time by doing in one day what usually required three days and in many places three weeks at least."

Henry Wilson Coil, Coil's Masonic Encyclopedia. [Macoy Publishing & Masonic Supply Co., Inc., Richmond, Virginia. Revised edition, 1995]


In the wake of lots of commentary this weekend, I will simply add the personal note that we don't make two categories of Freemasons in this fraternity, and I am deeply offended by terms like "McMasons" or "Microwave Masons," phrases that frequently pop up in discussions about making Masons "at sight," or "One Day Classes." My own FC and MM degrees were performed on a single day in a class situation. I contend it is not the manner in which a man is initiated, passed and raised, but the dedication of that Brother in his desire to learn and to serve. And the best way to ensure that a Brother will never return to his lodge is to disparage the way in which he received his degrees.

If you disapprove of the practice, take it up with your grand master, or propose legislation that forbids accelerated degree conferrals. But a Brother is a Brother, and you do him grave injustice by belittling his entry into the fraternity.

2 comments:

Michael said...

My understanding of the "Mason at Sight" was identical to what you wrote - the MWGM convenes an "occasional lodge" and confers the degrees. The difference with a Mason made thusly was not that he didn't take the degrees, but that no ballot was spread upon him, and that once the occasional lodge was dissolved, he was effectively an unaffiliated or unassociated Mason, meaning not a member of any particular lodge. He would then need to petition a lodge to affiliate in order to become a member (and gain the privileges of membership, such as voting or being able to hold office).

-- Mike Dodge, Connecticut

The Author said...

"I contend it is not the manner in which a man is initiated, passed and raised, but the dedication of that Brother in his desire to learn and to serve. And the best way to ensure that a Brother will never return to his lodge is to disparage the way in which he received his degrees. "

Here Here! Well said.
Jonathan Krull