SHORT TALK BULLETIN - Vol.VII May, 1929 No.5
MASONRY AND PUBLICITY
By "Publicity" is meant that advertising which reaches both the Mason
and the non-Mason. Masonic news or information in Masonic Journals,
books and pamphlets is not "publicity" within the meaning of the word
Masonic Lodges do not usually parade, or join with other bodies in
civic celebrations. Individual Masons do, but seldom as a lodge,
except when laying Corner Stones of Public Buildings, or at Funerals.
In both of these ceremonies, the Masonic Lodge, or the Grand Lodge is
No criticism of a Grand Master or a Grand Lodge is here intended,
when it is stated that as a general rule most of them hold that
Freemasonry, being greater than any man or body of men, should not
lend itself to play tail to any kite. Circumstances alter cases.
When Grand Masters have approved the taking of minor parts in some
civic demonstration by a Lodge or Grand Lodge, their reasons were
doubtless excellent. As a rule, however, Grand Masters and Grand
Lodges believe it belittling for the oldest fraternal organization in
the world to occupy a subordinate place in any public exercises.
In laying Corner Stones, the Grand Lodge is either in charge, or it
does not take any part. The Grand Master (or the officer who
represents him) lays the Corner Stone, or the Corner Stone is not
laid Masonically. Other organizations may join in a corner stone
laying, be present as spectators, and add the weight of their
importance to the occasion, but the Grand Lodge conducts the
In a Masonic Funeral, the lodge takes charge of the remains after all
other ceremonies are completed and keeps charge until the body is
committed to the dust. The lodge is last, most important,
preeminent. If Freemasonry is to conduct a funeral, she demands that
no claim on the departed body be considered greater than her own; not
the Grand Army, Loyal Legion, other Masonic Bodies such as the
Chapter, Commandry, Council or Consistory is to come before the Blue
Lodge. All may hold their services before the lodge takes charge,
and as many after the body is in the grave as they wish. But, after
the body is placed in the loving hands of the sorrowing Brethren,
none may dispute with them the right to lay away in the clay the
remains of him who was a brother of the ancient Craft. Membership in
other organizations, the claims of the church, the friendships of
associates cannot come before the Blue Lodge. If others insist on
preeminence, then, with regret but finality, the Blue Lodge withdraws
form any participation.
These matters are cited here at some length, are as foundation stones
on which the opponents of too much publicity base their arguments.
There has grown up in this country, through the years, and with the
increase of publicity methods, an idea that the Masonic Lodge, like
other organizations, would find that "it pays to advertise." In many
Saturday evening and Sunday newspapers can be found a "Fraternal
Column" in which may be found "news" of the ancient Craft. It is not
unheard-of to find a brother appointed in a lodge as a "newspaper
correspondent" or "publicity director," whose business it is to get
"news" of the doings of his lodge in the newspaper! Those who
believe that nothing makes more potency for the prestige and
influence of Freemasonry among men than her deserved reputation for
quiet, retiring, unselfseeking and secret devotion to her ideals,
think that "advertising" can be carried to extremes, when it does the
ancient Craft far more harm than good.
The genesis of the movement is east to understand. In these busy,
hurrying days, with a thousand things to take time and attention,
"getting out the crowd" is a problem for any Master. The larger the
city, the harder the task. The smaller lodge in the smaller center
suffers to some extent from the competition of the radio, moving
pictures, automobile, golf club, theater, lecture room, library.
amusement park; but not as much as the lodge in the big city which
adds to all these a dozen clubs, other organizations, pressure of
business, social engagements and entertainment of all kinds.
To publish in the Sunday newspaper that "Hiram Lodge will work the
Third, or Master Mason Degree on a full class on next Tuesday
evening, with Worshipful Master James Jones in the East and Senior
Deacon William Smith delivering the Historical Lecture, followed by
entertainment and refreshments," is considered in many Jurisdictions
only a matter of commonplace form and not subject to criticism.
And yet, what a great change from a hundred or a hundred and fifty
years ago. then, only such matters Masonic got in the news; a
funeral procession, a corner stone laying. It was considered then -
and is considered now by many - that the power of Freemasonry is over
men's "Hearts," not their minds, pocket books, attendance or interest
in being amused. In other words, many think the "crowd" obtained for
an evening by advertising is of no real benefit to the lodge, and the
"work" of no real benefit to those who come merely for the
"refreshment and enter-tainment."
This is A.L. 5929; in many ways Masonry has kept up, and in some
others she must also keep up with the times. We no longer meet "on
hills or in vales" but in handsome Temples. We use electricity for
the Lesser Lights and have a ventilation system to take out the
vitiated air. What a modern city lodge pays in just rent for a year
would have run George Washington's Mother Lodge for the same period;
rent, charity and other expenses of all other kinds included. In the
older days, notice of the lodge meeting was sent around by word of
mouth; quietly and secretly. Our Masonic forefathers were a hand-
picked body of men and they guarded themselves as such from profane
curiosity. Perhaps, too, many a good man was intrigued to petition
them who would have scoffed at the idea, had everyone known of
Masonic activities and when they were held. Certainly the personnel
of the lodges of a hundred; two hundred years ago were a cross-
section of the best there was in the land.
Today we live at a faster pace. It is now generally agreed that a
mere notice of a lodge meeting in the daily paper, if beyond the
imagination of our ancient brethren, is not necessarily un-Masonic or
improper unless so held by the Grand Master. But a notice is one
thing; an account of what has happened, with names, dates, places,
even a verbatim report of a speech is something else again. Well
meaning brethren, with the best intentions in the world, like to see
the name of their lodge and an account of her meetings in print;
forgetting that Masonry is neither the Rotary, Kiwanis, Chamber of
Commerce or the Board of Trade.
The Freemasonry of an older day was sufficient unto itself; extremely
careful as our ancient brethren were as to the men they made
brethren, its lodges may even have been more imbued with serious
purpose than today. Entertainment was sufficiently provided in the
traditional banquet and the "innocent mirth" of the Old Charges.
Today some men come into the Fraternity with the idea, mistaken but
strong, that a lodge is but "another organization" and as such should
provide picnics, ladies nights, excursions, theatricals and what have
you. We have "Masonic" Glee Clubs and "Masonic" Bowling Teams,
"Masonic" Dramatic Associations and "Masonic" Debating Societies.
Admitting that these are but an expression of the times, and in
themselves elements for good, it is also true that they do lead to
the same practice of publicity which attends similar organizations
which have no "Masonic" as a qualifying label before their names.
Many lodges - perhaps most lodges - publish a monthly Trestleboard,
or lodge notice. It is Masonic law in some Jurisdictions that the
name and address of applicants for the degrees shall be sent to the
entire membership, and that the candidates for any degree shall be
made known to all the brethren prior to the degree.
This too, may be a necessity of A.L. 5929, but the practice of
sending such notices out under one-cent postage, or by postal card is
wholly indefensible. In some Jurisdictions it is forbidden by Grand
Lodge regulation; it is considered that those who are candidates
either for election or for degrees have the right of privacy and that
it is no part of Masonic duty to advertise the facts to the profane.
There is much discussion, pro and con, as to what may and what may
not be put in print regarding our ceremonies, our ritual or our
organization. In ancient days nothing was printed which could
possibly be considered of esoteric nature. Then came Webb and the
Monitor; followed by many a student of Freemasonry to write many a
book. Now it is generally conceded that the "secrets" of Freemasonry
are not divulged in the printed Monitor, or in any Masonic Book which
deals with the history, symbolism, jurisprudence; or ethics and
ideals of the Craft. We say "generally considered" - some "bitter
enders" resent anything printed about Freemasonry, thinking that if
it be set down in ink that a Master may wear a silk hat, or that the
Lesser Lights are grouped around the Altar, some one has violated an
obligation, in spite of the fact that any charwoman may, and does see
the interior of a lodge room and any Masonic supply house pictures
and gives prices of "Master's Silk Hats."
Such a view point is the other extreme. Just where the lodge shall
steer as between the Scylla of too much and the Charybdis of too
little publicity is for the individual lodge to decide. But Grand
Lodges themselves are often in a fog of uncertainty; they have no
time to take up every piece of Masonic publicity and make of it a
bone of contention in a Grand Lodge meeting. Much, if not all, of
the responsibility for a due regard for Masonic retiringness, not to
say secrecy, must rest in the hands of the individual Master and
In fairness it must be admitted that a certain amount of Masonic
publicity, both in newspapers and otherwise, has many reasons in its
favor. Masters desire a large attendance at meetings. To advertise
some special feature of a meeting is to insure that more brethren
will be interested and come. The postal card reminding of a lodge
meeting, is far easier and cheaper than a letter. The "reading
notice" in the local papers attracts the attention of wives,
daughters, sisters, and mothers who are quick to tell the bother,
husband or son; "Don't forget to go to Acacia Lodge tonight!"
Many good brethren argue "Freemasonry needs good men.
In this day and age, the quiet, retiring, little-known organization
attracts no attention. Freemasonry must be made known to the general
public, that non-Masons may be attracted to the organization and
apply for membership."
But beneath all arguments, pro and con, lies a fact too often lost
sight of: Freemasonry is a power in the world because of her
reputation. What is the reputation? Silence, secrecy, lack of self-
seeking, good works, mystery. These are the factors which lead
serious and thoughtful men to ask themselves: "Should I not apply to
an organization which does good in secret, which asks nothing for
itself, which does not seek?"