Rituals and the Lodge form

Strong the chain that here unites us!

We are a fraternal Order working in Lodges. At one time, all such Orders, organized for whatever purpose, were called by the quaint name secret societies. All shared some common features: handshakes, knocks, catchwords and the like, known only to those "inside".

Let's say right now: if you are reading this to find out the "inner secrets" of Odd Fellowship, you should be at a library instead, where the "Secret Masonic Word" and all such have been laid out for years. "Secret society" is a joke in the information age; besides, can it really take anyone very long to figure out what, for example, the Degree of Friendship, might have as its content? In one way, this has defanged the traditional criticism of fraternal organizations: that those with nothing to hide would not choose to meet privately and "secretly". Very little of what goes on in Lodges cannot be discovered by any researcher with a little effort. Nowadays, the image of Lodges is not that they are somehow sinister, but rather boring and outdated.

If you're primarily interested in Lodge form {ceremonial process}, read on.
If you're more interested in the Degree rituals {special teaching times}, click to skip on to this.

The "square" lodge is the oldest Western magical form in continuous use with the exception of the Mass. {For any who have bad connotations with the word "magic", please substitute "pagent", "ritual", "procedure" or "customs" as most pleases.} The circular forms in use by "new age" folk originated in late-medieval times and were never in widespread use. The square lodge form is essentially unchanged since the beginning of fraternal organizations (placed at various dates). In any case, it has been used by more people than any other form, again with the exception of the Mass. It is used in mostly the same way by every fraternal organization, although the titles of officers and particulars vary.

Click for diagram Square Lodge form of the square Lodge form.

The square form symbolizes the equality of all members. The "floor" is literally the "level playing field" on which the work of the Lodge is done ; and to which the form grants each member fair access. The members not "working" on the floor traditionally sit at its margin, all on the same level , and silently observe. There is generally a formal method for indicating a desire for the floor (standing is common).

At the center of the floor, and of the whole Lodge, is the Sacred Focus. Sometimes there is a symbol of the Sacred there; others leave this symbolically empty. With few exceptions, the view of the center by all members is never obscured. The "working place" is next to the center. In some Lodges all work is done here "before the altar"; for example, a member would go there to speak. In other Lodges only the most important things are done there.

The "president" of a Lodge (in I.O.O.F. called the Noble Grand), traditionally is the "judge and arbiter." As such, this officer speaks only to regulate the flow of the proceedings, and votes only to resolve a tie. {It is said that the provision that the President of the U.S. Senate so votes was a direct lift from Lodge practice.} This officer assures that the quality of the proceeding is of a high order, and that all members are treated fairly. By tradition the view by this officer of the center is never blocked, even for an instant. To do so in any way is considered a personal affront to that officer, and an insult to the Lodge as a whole.

Opposite and across from the "president" is the assistant or understudy of the president (in I.O.O.F. called the Vice Grand.) Together they symbolize the "direction" of the Lodge. By tradition these two "stations" (places) are kept continuously occupied when a Lodge is Open, to keep the Lodge "on track."

The other two stations are usually for the Chaplain and a position of honor. In I.O.O.F. the honor is to the Past Grand, or past president.

Click for diagram Square Lodge form of the square Lodge form.

The "floor officers" (in I.O.O.F. called the Warden and Conductor) lead the work on the floor. They shuttle stuff among the members and between the stations. In some structures, no-one "has the floor" until escorted by them to the working place. The form of "floor work" most common to fraternal organizations is the "double march" led by these officers. It is simple and quick: the floor officers go to the Noble Grand and break to the side. The members fall in behind them, circulate to the center, and regain their seats in order. (Since the two "presiding" officers always stay put, the floor officers also shuttle stuff to them.) When well-practiced this can get every member up, to the center, and back in well under a minute.

Click for diagram Square Lodge form of the square Lodge form.

Tell me more about the symbols and duties of Lodge officers
Who are your current Lodge officers?


is a word that often conjures up scary associations, but its actual content (as we mean it) is much less so. By ritual we mean something that is done in the same way, for the same purpose, by everyone and every Lodge of the Order. Ritual thus specified is used for our most important purposes: opening and closing the Lodge, to declare it the time and place for Odd Fellowship, and for the four Degrees which teach its principles.

Our rituals were well characterized back in 1858, when G.S. Race noted:

"Whilst we have our Forms and Ceremonies, our Signs and Passwords, whereby we recognize one another, ours is no fancy association with geegaws to attract and catch the silly and the thoughtless. But it addresses itself at once to the higher and nobler attributes of our nature. It is the high, if not the distinquishing characteristic of an Odd Fellow, to believe that the most acceptable services which a man can render his God, is relief to his fellow men. And the exercise of this unselfish philantrophy is emphatically his mission."

Click to see Vice Grand Ritual Robe an Odd Fellow in ritual grab {this is what ours looks like}.

The four Rituals we now teach are the Initiatory, the Degree of Friendship, the Degree of Brotherly Love, and the Degree of Truth. These Degree Rituals formally teach and explain, each in its field, the principles, precepts, and doctrines of the Order. Odd Fellowship Lodge Degrees differ among the various Orders. Within our Order, the Degrees have been developed over time.

Click for a chart IOOF Degrees over Time showing historical development of I.O.O.F. Degrees.

The original degrees of Odd Fellows Lodges were developed in England. These degrees were of the nature of lectures given by the officers of the Lodge. The I.O.O.F. in North America quickly developed two new degrees, which were taught along with the received originals. The "American" Degrees, authored by Past Grand John P. Entwisle, were of a different nature. The lessons were exemplified by a short drama, in which the person receiving the degree was a symbolic participant. Both the old and the new Degrees were taught until they were reformed in 1880. The "new" Degrees have both lecture and dramatic elements.

The Rituals of the I.O.O.F. are designed to teach the most important and lofty concepts people may ever come to learn. They share nothing with the tomfoolery of college fraternity initiations, nor they do make outrageous claims of wisdom received from an imaginary antiquity. The candidate in I.O.O.F. Degrees is never abused, humiliated, or otherwise subjected to indignities, either to body, mind, or spirit. The purpose of our Degrees is to inculcate within those receiving them both the understanding and the motivation to go forward in our missions of fraternity and benevolence.

Click for Jump to Lectures Guide Page the Lectures and Charges of the Odd Fellows Degrees.

Why indeed do Ritual in the modern age at all? Why not just sit people down with some study material and test them afterwards? We believe that Ritual teaching, in which every member recieves EXACTLY the same teaching in the same way, is a powerful agent emphasizing the basic equality of the members. It is also a social confirmation, whereby those receiving Degrees are after recognized as instructed. The marraige ceremony does not change the material facts of a relationship, but those who undergo it ARE different afterwards.

The final test of the Rituals is the lives lived by the members. Indeed, most members will agree that the full content and import of the teachings of the Rituals was not fully recognized and understood by them until they had seen the Ritual several times.

On a more practical level, each Ritual takes roughly an hour. Degrees may be taught singly or done serially over the course of a day (commonly refered to as "all-Degree days"). In our Jurisdiction (Oregon), opportunities to receive the Degrees are generally available about three times a year. Those who have received the Initiation may attend their Lodge and vote on its business, and may visit Lodges across the world. Only those instructed in all degrees may hold office or attend sessions of the Grand Lodge.

There are other Units of the I.O.O.F. which also teach Degrees by ritual. An Odd Fellow may pursue these degrees only after having received all the Odd Fellows Lodge Degrees. However, neither taking these other Degrees nor not taking them have any effect on the member's standing or prerogatives in the Odd Fellows Lodge, save maybe to earn some respect and credit for having done so.

The rituals of opening and closing are straightforward. All are examined to prove their right to attend, the officers declare the duties they have assumed, and Divine blessings are invoked. The main point here is that every Lodge does it exactly the same way. The Lodge is Opened and Closed formally by the express consent of the members, to be a special place and time to concentrate upon Odd Fellowship. Within our Open Lodge we review and set forth our tasks and canvass the needs arising with the members. A wise old monk once said that if people understood the peace and tranquility to be found in his monastery, people would flock to enter. Just so, if the plain satisfaction of duty fulfilled, allied with the warm brotherhood that can be found with an Open Lodge of Odd Fellows were widely known, the Order would be beseiged with applications.

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