SHORT TALK BULLETIN - Vol.VII November 1929, No.11
THE BLACK CUBE
This, or some similar statement, is usually made at a lodge prior to
voting on the application of one who would be an initiate of
In all Jurisdictions in the United States, the ballot on an applicant
is taken secretly—that is, with no brother knowing how another may
vote. In most Jurisdictions it is an infraction of Masonic law—in all
it is a serious infraction of Masonic ethics—to endeavor to ascertain
how another brother will vote, or has voted on an applicant or to
disclose how he voted or will vote.
The "secrecy of the ballot" and the universal (in this country)
requirements that a ballot be unanimous to elect are two of the
greatest bulwarks of the Fraternity. Occasionally both the secrecy
and the unanimity may seem to work a hardship on a man apparently
worthy of being taken by the hand as a brother; but no human
institution is perfect, and no human being acts always according to
the best that is in him. The occasional failure of the system to work
complete justice may be laid to the individuals using it and not to
"Harmony being the strength and support of all well regulated
institutions, especially this of ours." This phrase, or one similar,
is familiar to all Masons. Harmony—oneness of mind, effort, ideas and
ideals—is one of the foundations of Freemasonry. Anything which
interferes with Harmony by so much hurts the Institution. Therefore
it is essential that lodges have a harmonious membership; that no man
be admitted to the Masonic home of any brother against his will. For
this reason it is required that the names of applicants to a lodge be
set before the entire membership, prior to a vote, that all may know
that John Smith is to be balloted upon; that any who think him unfit
timber for the lodge, or who have personal objections to entering
into the sacred relation of brotherhood with him, may have the
opportunity to say "No."
The power thus put in the hands of the individual Master Mason is
very great. No officer, not even the Grand Master, may inquire how we
vote, or why we voted as we did. No Grand Master has the power to
set aside the black cube we cast. If in the ballot box is a black
cube, the applicant is rejected. (In many Jurisdictions a single
black cube in the ballot box requires the ballot to be taken again,
immediately, to avoid the possibility of a mistake. If the black cube
reappears the second time, the applicant is rejected.)
This rejection of an application does more than merely prevent the
applicant from being given the degrees. It creates over the
petitioner a lodge jurisdiction. He may not apply to another lodge
for the degrees refused him by this one, without first securing from
that lodge a waiver of jurisdiction. He may not again apply even to
the lodge which rejected him until after a certain statutory period—
usually six months. When his application is again received and
brought up for ballot, the fact that he previously applied and was
rejected is stated to the lodge.
In other words, the casting of a black cube not only rejects for the
degrees, but puts a certain disability upon the applicant which he is
powerless to remove.
The brother who casts a ballot, then, upon an applicant, wields a
tremendous power. Like most powers, it can be used well or ill. It
may work harm, or good, not only upon him upon whom it is used, but
to him who uses it. Unlike many great powers put into the hands of
men, however, this one is not subject to review or control by any
human agency. No king, prince, potentate; no law, custom or
regulation; no Masonic brother or officer, can interfere with the
individual's use of his power.
For no one knows who uses the black cube. No one knows why one is
cast. The individual brother and his God alone know. The very
absence of any responsibility to man or authority is one of the
reasons why the power should be used with intelligence, and only
when, after solemn self-inquiry, the reason behind its use is found
to be Masonic.
Any one can think of a hundred reasons why black cubes are cast. Our
neighbor applies for the degrees. Outwardly he is an honest man of
good character, bearing a good reputation. However, we have heard him
quarreling violently with his wife. We are morally sure that he
struck her. We can't prove it; the poor woman never said anything
about it; she suffered the blow in silence rather than endure the
greater agony of publicity. It is not for us to have him arrested as
a wife beater if his wife can stand him! But we don't want a coward,
a bully in our lodge! Naturally—and most brethren will say properly—
we cast the black cube.
Our office associate wants to be a Mason. He applies to our lodge.
As far as the investigating committee can ascertain he is a good man,
honest, pays his debts, is a church member, a hard worker. But we
have heard him repeat, to us and to others, matters which we know
were given to him in confidence. We have learned to distrust his
discretion. We don't believe that a promise means much to him. It
may be, of course, that a Masonic obligation would be kept. But we
are not sure. Naturally, we vote against him.
Some men otherwise "good and true" are ill-natured, violent tempered,
disagreeable. To admit them to our lodge might destroy its harmony of
spirit. Others are vain and boastful, self-seeking, apt to bend every
agency in which they come in contact to their own ends. We do not
believe such a man will be an asset to our lodge. We keep him out.
A certain man IS our personal enemy. The quarrel between us may have
nothing to do with right and wrong; it may be the result merely of a
life time of antagonism. He applies to our lodge. Our lodge is our
Masonic home. We would not want this man in our family home; we do
not think we will be happy with him in our Masonic home. It is our
privilege to keep him out.
These, and a thousand other good reasons, are all proper ones for the
casting of a black cube. If the lodge might suffer, if we might
suffer, if we know that our absent brother would suffer from the
applicant being elected, we have the best of reasons for seeing that
he is rejected. Such use of our power is proper, Masonic, ethical,
But there is another side of the shield. Unfortunately, no hard and
fast rule can be laid down. There is no way to explain "this is a
good reason, but that is not a good reason" for casting a black cube.
Each of us has to judge the reason for himself. Yet some suggestions
may be given.
We know a man we dislike. He has different ideas from ours. He
belongs to a different "set." He is not the type we admire. Our
dislike does not amount to hatred, nor is it predicated upon any evil
in the man's character. He and we are antipathetic; we rub each other
the wrong way. When he applies to our lodge we must decide this
question: will the unpleasantness to us, in having him as a member,
be greater than the good to him which may come from his reception of
the Masonic teachings? Are we sure that we cannot accept him as a
brother merely because we "have never liked him?"
We all know cases like this; the president of the bank turns down
Johnson's application for a second mortgage. Johnson makes the matter
personal. He "has it in" for the president. The president applies for
the degrees. Some one casts a black cube. It may, and may not, be
Johnson. We don't know. But perhaps, later, we hear Johnson's boast
"I got even with the son-of-a-gun who turned down my loan !" He
doesn't say how he "got even," of course. But we are pretty sure we
Such a use of the black cube is, of course, utterly un-masonic. It is
a misuse of a great power. As well turn down the minister of the
Baptist church because he doesn't agree with our minister, who is a
Methodist! As well turn down the automobile dealer because he refused
to give us a larger allowance on our old car! Turning the Masonic
black cube into a secret dagger for personal revenge is indefensible.
Freemasonry works some curious miracles. A self-made man applied five
times for the degrees in a certain lodge. The man was rather
ignorant, yet a commercial success. He had, literally, raised himself
by his bootstraps from the poverty of the streets to a business
position of some prominence. Yet he was rather raw, rough add ready,
even uncouth. No shadow of personal unworthiness rested upon him; he
was honest, upright, a good citizen. In this lodge a certain Past
Master—as was discovered in after years—voted four times against this
applicant. The Past Master left the city. On the fifth application
the petitioner was elected. Something in Masonry took hold of his
heart; through Masonry he was led to acquire some of the education he
lacked; through Masonry he was led into the church. In time he made
such a reputation for himself as a Mason that he was put in line, and
finally achieved the solemn distinction of being made Master of his
lodge. He is still regarded as one of the best, most constructive and
ablest Masters that lodge has ever had.
In the course of ten or twelve years the absent Past Master returned.
In the light of history, he confessed (which strictly speaking he
should not have done!) that it was he who had kept this man out for
what he really believed were good reasons; he thought the "rough
neck" would detract from the dignity and honor of the Fraternity. Yet
this same "rough neck," through Masonry, became educated, a good
churchman, a fine Mason and an excellent officer.
Had the Past Master whose black cube were cast with honest intention
to benefit the Fraternity not left town, the blessings of Masonry
might forever have been denied a heart ready to receive them, and
society, lodge and church been prevented from having the services of
a man who gave largely of himself to all three.
The black cube is the great protection of the Fraternity; it permits
the brother who does not desire to make public his secret knowledge
to use that knowledge for the benefit of the Craft. It gives to all
members the right to say who shall not become members of their lodge
family. But at the same time it puts to the test the Masonic heart,
and the personal honesty of every brother who deliberates on its use.
The black cube is a thorough test of our understanding of the Masonic
teaching of the cardinal virtue Justice, which "enables us to render
to every man his just due without distinction." We are taught of
justice that "it should be the invariable practice of every Mason,
never to deviate from the minutest principles thereof."
Justice to the lodge requires us to cast the black cube on an
applicant we believe to be unfit.
Justice to ourselves requires that we cast the black cube on the
application of the man we believe would destroy the harmony of our
Justice to the applicant—we are taught to render justice to every
man, not merely to Masons—requires that no black cube be cast for
little reasons, small reasons, mean reasons.
And justice to justice requires that we think carefully, deliberate
slowly, and act cautiously. No man will know what we do; no eye will
see, save that All Seeing Eye which pervades the innermost recesses
of our hearts, and will, so we are taught, reward us according to our
Shakespeare said, "O, it is excellent to have a giant's strength, but
it is tyrannous to use it like a giant!"
The black cube is a giant's strength to protect Freemasonry. Used
thoughtlessly, carelessly, without Masonic reason, it crushes not
only him at whom it is aimed but him who casts it.
A well used black cube goes into the ballot.
Ill used, it drops into the heart and blackens it.