SYMBOLICAL MASONRY – THE PETITION FOR MEMBERSHIP
H. L. Haywood
The first step toward seeking admission into the membership of a Masonic lodge is to file with the Worshipful Master of the lodge nearest one’s residence a petition, which is a printed form fundamentally the same in all jurisdictions; this form sets forth the petitioner’s answers to the usual constitutional questions and solemnly asserts that he has not been “improperly solicited,” but that he has sought the portals of the Fraternity of his own free will and accord. Before this petition can be presented to the lodge, which is usually done at the next regular monthly communication, or business meeting, it must bear the signatures of at least two Masons by way of recommendation; and then, after an interval, usually of one month, is put to the ballot. If the prayer for membership is then granted the petitioner is instructed to present himself for initiation: if the prayer is denied the fee, which has accompanied the petition, is returned, and the petitioner is notified of his rejection. In a majority of American jurisdictions (by “jurisdiction” is meant the territory over which a Grand Lodge holds sway: in the United States it is almost always coincident with the political boundaries of a state) the man is permitted to enter another petition after a certain fixed interval, after which second application the procedure is substantially the same as outlined above.
The manner and details of making application for membership in a Masonic lodge have changed somewhat from country to country and from century to century but for the most part the custom has remained the same in fundamentals. The points to be noted in the petition are (1) that the candidate makes application of his own initiative, and not after having been solicited; (2) that he holds himself to be in accord with the Order’s own teachings concerning the “constitutional questions”; (3) that he voluntarily and at the beginning places himself entirely under the authority and laws of the Fraternity, pledging himself the while to a full obedience to the officers as well as to the laws; (4) and that he seeks admittance, not for any gain to himself, but out of having heard the good repute of the Order these many years.
In older times it was often permitted a man to shape the wording of his own petition within certain limits: one of the most beautiful petitions of this type of which there is any record is that presented by the first great American naval hero, John Paul Jones, to the Lodge of St. Bernard, Kirkcudbright, Scotland, under date of November 27, 1770 (see The Builder, August, 1920, page 221):
“To the Worshipful, the Master, the Wardens and Permanent Brethren of Free and Accepted Masons of the Lodge of St. Bernard held at Kirkcudbright. The petition of John Paul, Commander of the ‘John’ of Kirkendal, humbly sheweth—that your petitioner, for a considerable time past, hath entertained a strong and sincere regard for your most noble, honourable, and ancient Society of Free and Accepted Masons, but hitherto not meeting with reasonable opportunity, do now most humbly crave the benefit of receiving and admitting me into your Fraternity as an Entered Apprentice, promising, assuring and engaging to you that I shall in all rules and orders of your Lodge be most obsequient and observant. The complyance of you, Right Worshipful Wardens and rest of the Brethren, will singularly oblige and very much honour, Right Worshipful, your most humble petitioner and most humble servant.
John Paul.” It is worthy of note in passing, and merely as an item of information, that Brother John Paul, afterwards known as John Paul Jones, was entered and passed in the St. Bernard Lodge No. 122, Kilwinning, Scotland, November 27th, 1770, and that his petition was endorsed by one Brother James Smith as follows: “I do attest the petitioner to be a good man and a person whom I have no doubt will in due time become a worthy brother.”
In the days of John Paul Jones towns and cities were very small as compared with the great urban centres of our day, and men did little moving about from community to community, so that it was usually the case that nearly all the members of a lodge would be personally acquainted with a petitioner; under such conditions it was quite easy to determine his fitness or unfitness. With us it is different. Our country villages have grown to be towns of five to ten thousand population. Our cities are deemed small if they contain not at least one hundred thousand persons. Families live next door to each other without ever becoming acquainted, and men work in the same shop, factory, or offices without coming to know each other. Accordingly it is the rule rather than the exception that a petitioner is not personally known to the members of the lodge to which he submits his petition, and to meet this situation it has become the custom for the Worshipful Master to appoint a committee to investigate into the character and record of the man.
If it be true—as it undoubtedly is—that Freemasonry’s future usefulness and present welfare depends upon the quality of membership admitted, then it is instantly apparent that in the whole structure of the Order there is not another office of more urgent importance than that of the investigating committee. The Worshipful Master should make it one of the first of his duties to use great caution in naming such a committee, and he should follow up his appointment by seeing that the committee carefully perform their functions as are necessary. In the old days of Operative Masonry the Master of the Works stood by with a watchful eye to see that no rotten stone was incorporated into the walls of the edifice over which he was superintendent: so should it be to-day with the Worshipful Master, the Master of the Works in a Speculative Lodge. In the long run his Mastership is judged, not by the number of initiations he has given, or by the elaborateness of his ceremonials, or the amount of money received during his administration, but by the quality of the members he has permitted to enter Freemasonry during the days of his authority. For if ever the walls of Freemasonry go down—which God prevent—it will be due to no failure in the Order itself, but to the defective and illy qualified men who are received within its portals.
Many of the larger lodges, and in some instances Grand Lodges themselves, are requiring a petitioner to fill out a questionnaire in which he makes records of all the salient facts about himself, his life, and his connections. This document duly signed and attested is, after it has served its immediate purpose with the investigating committee, filed in the archives of the lodge for future reference.
In some quarters opposition has developed to the questionnaire system, why it is difficult to discover, because the same conditions that have made an investigating committee necessary operate also to make it good sense to use a questionnaire; the information therein entered is merely a substitute for the personal knowledge men had of each other in earlier times when communities were small and men were known to each other. Moreover, modern society has grown very complicated, like the vision Ezekiel had of wheels within wheels, and the Masonic institution has had to readapt itself to changing conditions, so that now a lodge performs functions it did not dream of in older days. Consider how relief work has been organised and systematised; how employment bureaus have been instituted; social clubs formed; and all of that: it is immediately apparent that it is necessary to have “a line” on the men who must be adjusted to and controlled by all this complicated machinery. The information contained in a questionnaire has become necessary, and how that information is to be obtained and preserved is a mere matter of detail, but it is difficult to think of any other method more effectual than the printed questionnaire.
In the petition which a man presents to a lodge no statement is more important than that he has not been solicited. This question of solicitation, why it is an evil, and why it must be strictly forbidden is a subject which, if there were space to go into it with the thoroughness it deserves, would let us into some of the inmost truths about Freemasonry, because it would help us to see, as by a kind of internal illumination, something of the very soul of Freemasonry. As things are in this book it is only possible to touch upon one of the most superficial of the many matters that hinge upon it.
Solicitation is an evil, whenever practised, and utterly condemned by the public opinion as well as by the laws of the Fraternity. Why is this so? Because solicitation is an injustice to the petitioner and a danger to the Craft, and that for many reasons, one or two of which may be suggested.
Solicitation is wrong to a petitioner because at the door of the lodge, when he for the first time presents himself there, he must solemnly swear that he has not been solicited; but if he has been solicited, how is he truthfully to make such a solemn declaration? See in what an embarrassment the man’s own friends have placed him!
Furthermore, those that solicit—supposing there are such for the sake of the discussion—would usually be the men least qualified to present the nature and claims of Freemasonry to a man with accuracy, and without misleading misinterpretations: and the chances are that they would hold out some kind of an appeal in order to win the man over, and tell him that he will gain such and such a thing for himself if he will submit his petition. But Freemasonry offers no rewards for membership except itself; it does not offer emoluments, prestige, fame, position, commercial advantages or any other such thing, and they who so interpret it do it a wrong, and mislead the man that is persuaded by such means to seek its doors.
Solicitation is quite as great a wrong to the Order itself, for it needs not great numbers but sincere and devoted members, and your solicited member—as every one knows who belongs to a society that encourages solicitation—usually assumes the attitude that something is owing to him, that the promises that were made of the advantages that would accrue must be now fulfilled and consequently he is not useful at all, and becomes not a Mason but a mere member, which is only so much dead timber weighing down the Craft. Unless a man is willing to work, to endure hardships, and to make sacrifices, he should stay outside the Order; his name and his dues are valueless if they are not accompanied by his willingness ever to serve as a loyal son of Freemasonry. It is of his own “free will” that he comes, and that means “willingness” if it means anything, and not otherwise will a man progress far in the attainment of the Royal Art.
“But suppose,” a Mason may here interject, “that I have a friend who would, I am certain, make a genuine Mason; but he knows so little about Freemasonry that he may never become enough interested in it voluntarily to apply: this would be a loss to the lodge as well as to himself, would it not? Therefore would it not be proper for me to seek to persuade him to become a Mason?” This is a fair and honest question and it has been answered often and often by the wise heads of the Order, which answer may be put into my own words as follows: “Explain to him as best you are able the principles of Freemasonry; acquaint him (as much as your obligations will permit) with its spirit and its aims; give him Masonic literature to read; but do not once, directly or indirectly, ask him to submit a petition for membership, else you will violate your own obligation and make it necessary for him to lie, if ever he stands at a lodge door.” Just as one may explain astronomy to a man without urging him to become an astronomer so is it lawful to explain Masonry to men, as is done times without number in publicly circulated books; but solicitation is another matter, for its aim is not to instruct a man but to persuade him to take a step which he must take, if he takes it at all, on his own initiative.
A few of our authorities—Albert Pike for example—have discouraged Masons from going even this far, and they have argued that Masonry’s teachings are Masonry’s secret and belong only to the initiated: but this, surely, is carrying the matter too far, for Masonry has obligations to the world as well as to its own membership. One might refute Pike’s contention out of his own mouth, for no other Mason has ever written more eloquently, or to more effect, of the social mission of the Craft, as when he says: “Masonry cannot in our age forsake the broad ways of life. She must walk in the open street, appear in the crowded square, and teach by her deeds, her LIFE, more eloquent than any lips.”
H.L Haywood is one of the fraternity’s most prolific writers of the 20th century. His several works have provided Freemasons with better knowledge of the fraternity, its history, philosophy and aims.
You won’t find this book on the shelves of Borders or Barnes and Noble because unlike Knight, Lomas, Robinson and others, Haywood sticks to the facts and the majority of books on Freemasonry at walk-in retail stores are coincidental history at best. In this book there is no fluff, no spectacular historical fantasies about knights, Egyptians or a long lost secret knowledge. Haywood addresses the many facets of the fraternity that go unchecked a lot of the time. From officer duties, politics, revenue/resources, structure, jurisdiction, jurisprudence and a slew of other topics essential to a Freemasons repertoire of knowledge, Haywood gives the reader a factual account of how the fraternity works, what its purpose is and the documented history of the fraternity we have today. John A. Nichols – Acacia Lodge No. 42, GL Arizona