The origins of Oddfellowship
The Development of English Guilds
Reformation and Revolution
Persecution and Partition
The Craft & Mysteries of Oddfellowship
The Golden Rule
Signs & Symbols
Since at least the 18th century there has been a recorded legend of the origin of the Order of Oddfellows, tracing it back to the exile of the Israelites in Babylon in 587BC forming themselves into a brotherhood for mutual support and defence. This Fraternity is said to have continued after the return to the Promised Land and survived the fall of Jerusalem in AD70 when captive Israelites were taken to Rome by the Emperor Nero. Some of the Jewish captives subsequently became Roman citizens, serving in the army of Titus Caesar who gave official recognition to their Fraternity with a royal dispensation engraved on a plate of gold. o:p>
Following the Roman occupation of Britain in the 1st century AD, the Roman Legionaries are said to have established the first Lodges of Oddfellows in Britain in 100AD but these ceased when the Romans withdrew in the 4th century.
A further extension of this legend records that the Order of Oddfellows was taken by the Romans to their Spanish dominions, surviving the downfall of the Roman Empire and spreading into Portugal in the reign of King Alphonso Henry and into France by the 11th century. In the 12th century it was brought to England by one Jean de Neuville who, with five French Knights, established a Grand Lodge of Honour in the City of London, which formed the foundation of the Order in England. o:p>
While there is little contemporary proof of these legends, similar fraternities with their own teaching degree structures did exist from classical times, with some inheriting ideas from the eastern parts of the Roman Empire including Palestine and Babylon. Following the adoption of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire in the 4th century AD, rival mystery cults and fraternities were suppressed. There is evidence that in mainland Europe the popular traditions and customs of the old fraternities were taken over and "Christianised" to form the basis of the early European Trade Guilds, and this type of organisation was introduced into England by the Normans. It is therefore possible to trace a generic link which gives some credence to the old legends. However, the purpose of these "foundation myths" was not to give the Order a bogus pedigree but rather to demonstrate that the values on which the Order is built - brotherhood and universal harmony - can be traced back to the dawn of civilisation.
The Roman God Mithras was the central figure of a mystery cult which formed a popular fraternity amongst Roman soldiers from the 1st to the 4th centuries AD. There were seven degrees of membership, following the initiationceremony. o:p>
The formation of the earliest Guilds in England can be traced to the 8th century and followed in the wake of the establishment of the Christian Church, which strongly encouraged the setting up of local fraternities as a means for ordinary men and women to put into everyday practice the teachings of the Gospel. These earliest Guilds were purely benevolent organisations enabling members of their fraternities to assist one another materially and socially, alongside their religious and ceremonial role. o:p>
From the earliest days the guilds, and subsequently the Order of Oddfellows, have taken their inspiration from the teaching on mutual responsibility contained in the Gospel of Matthew Ch.25, and subsequently codified by Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) as The Corporal Works of Mercy: o:p>
To feed the hungry o:p>
To give drink to the thirsty o:p>
To clothe the naked o:p>
To relieve the prisoner o:p>
To shelter the homeless o:p>
To visit the sick o:p>
To bury the dead
To care for the widow and orphan. o:p>
The arrival of the Norman French conquerors after 1066 brought a marked change in the role of English Guilds which from the 12th century came to have an important function regulating trade and markets. The earliest of these societies were known as Merchant Guilds representing all the tradesmen in a particular town. With the further development of trade, individual Trade Guilds came into existence, representing each of the various trades in a town or city. The Trade Guilds had a particular responsibility for ensuring the proper training of craftsmen and they introduced three separate degrees of membership: Apprentices - the trainees, Fellows - the wage-earners (or "Journeymen", so called from the French word for "day" because they were paid by the day), and Masters - the bosses and owners of the businesses. Each Guild was headed by a Grand Master whose role included judging the completion of training by the apprentices, who had to submit a sample of their work - called their Master-piece - to the Grand Master to prove their skill. By the 13th century Trade Guilds were established in every large village, town and city throughout the country. Guilds normally held their meetings in the church, this being the only building large enough for such gatherings. o:p>
o:p> A medieval Guild Hall o:p>
During the 14th century a serious split developed in Guild organisation throughout England. Originally every apprentice could expect to become a Fellow on completion of his training and Fellows or Journeymen could, in turn, expect to become Masters in due course, running their own businesses. With the growth of trade, there developed a distinct merchant class of Master Craftsmen who not only owned their businesses but wished to pass these businesses on to their children. Furthermore, to protect their market share of the business they wanted to prevent too many of their paid employees (Fellows or Journeymen) setting up rival businesses as Master Craftsmen. The scene was set for the first industrial disputes. o:p>
The "crafty" method that the Masters used to exclude the lower orders was to introduce expensive uniforms and regalia (or "livery") which members had to buy and wear in order to attend Guild meetings. Because the wage-earning Fellows were unable to afford to purchase the elaborate regalia they were excluded from Guild meetings which became the exclusive preserve of the Masters who went on to pass Guild Rules (or "Ordinances") giving themselves greater powers and further excluding the wage-earning employees. o:p>
To combat this tyranny, the Fellows started to set up their own rival Guilds, which were commonly called "Yeoman Guilds" as distinct from the "Livery Guilds" of the Masters. This division led inevitably to the first organised industrial action and attempts to suppress the workers' guilds. In time the Yeoman Guilds came to be accepted law-abiding organisations. In smaller towns and villages there were often insufficient numbers of Fellows in individual crafts to form dedicated guilds for their own trade. In these circumstances fellow workers from all trades in a town joined together in one guild: these guildsmen could be called "Odd Fellows" because they were fellow craftsmen from an odd assortment of trades. In the Prologue to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (1400) he describes a group of such Guildsmen in their uniform or livery who belonged to a single guild including different trades. In those days the term Oddfellows would be a description of a type of Guild rather than the actual title of any Guild, nearly all of which adopted the name of a chosen Patron Saint or a religious title. o:p>
Henry VIII's break with Rome had serious consequences for the Guilds because of their integral connection with the church. In 1545 all of the religious property of Guilds (including Guild Chapels and their furnishings and endowments) was confiscated by the crown. o:p>
Subsequently, during the short reign of the sickly child King Edward VI, the Lord Protector Somerset confiscated all remaining assets of Guilds to fill the royal coffers (and probably his own pockets). Because of the expanding international nature of trade, the locally-based Guild system was already beginning to fail. In the reign of Elizabeth I, a Statute of Apprentices was passed, taking away the guilds' responsibilities for regulating apprenticeships. By the end of Elizabeth's reign most guilds had beensuppressed except Trade Guilds, particularly in London itself, where the guilds were so integral to the economy that the monarch could not risk their demise. However, in true Tudor fashion, Elizabeth I confiscated the London guilds' charters and forced them to buy them back from her.
For ordinary working men and women the suppression of guild organisation meant that an important form of social and financial support was denied to them. It is recorded that for every one person who was destitute in the reign of Henry VIII, by the reign of his daughter Elizabeth there were 100. This was a direct result of the confiscation of guild assets by the crown.
The Trade Guilds continued for another 250 years, both representing the various trades and also caring for their members by providing benevolent support. However the arrival of the industrial revolution and the expanding nature of trade from a local to a national and international level meant that the role of the locally-based Trade Guilds was defunct. Thus this last pattern of mutual support through the guild structure came to an end. In major cities such as London, some guilds survived by adapting their role - Freemasons and Oddfellows being but two examples. Both of these organisations that evolved from the trade guilds had their base in London but established other branches called Lodges around the country. o:p>
The penal laws affecting societies such as the Oddfellows in the 18th century (the freemasons obtained exemption from the legislation because of royal patronage) meant that many documents were deliberately destroyed to protect members from identification and arrest. The earliest surviving rules recorded of an Oddfellows Lodge date from around 1730 and refer to the Aristarcus Lodge in London:
1. That the Loyal Aristarcus Lodge No 9 of the Order of Odd Fellows, shall meet at one of the following places:- The Oakley Arms, Borough of Southwark; Globe Tavern, Hatton Garden; or the Boar’s Head in Smithfield, according as the Noble Master may direct in his summons. o:p>
2. That at the four festivals observed by this lodge, every brother shall be present, or a fine of 6s8d shall be paid, unless the Noble Master shall remit the same on being petitioned to do so. o:p>
3. The festivals shall be held on St Janus or St Concord’s Day in January, St David’s Day in March, St John the Baptist’s Day in June and St Michael’s Day in September. o:p>
4. The Noble Master and his Wardens, assisted by the Recorder and Almoner, shall in all cases arrange for the comfort of the brothers, and see that the loving cup is replenished three times at each meeting. At the toast of Loyalty – the three Georges – “The past, the present, and the future.” At the toast of Fidelity – the Great Odd Master – “Invisible, incomprehensible, and eternal.” At the toast of Sympathy – “Our poor and distressed brothers.” o:p>
5. Candidates shall pay on initiation and taking the Test Degree, one guinea and a half. On taking the Obligatory Degree, one guinea; the Royal Arch or Promise Degree, half a guinea; and finally, the Five, Seven and Nine Degree, seven shillings; the curriculum thus costing the aggregate sum of £3.10s. sterling. o:p>
6. That no tipstaff, bailiff, marshalman, or runner, shall be eligible for admission; nor any body-servant or labourer, except it be by special dispensation granted; and any who shall propose or petition on behalf of a person who may be rejected by a majority, shall pay a fine of three shillings and fourpence for his inadvertance. o:p>
7. The contributions in support of the festivals, funds of charity, and grand circuit quarterages, shall be two guineas annually – one to be paid at the Festival of St Janus, the other at the Feast of St John. o:p>
8. The Noble Master shall, at least seven clear days before the intended meeting, instruct the Recorder to forward by the Guardian, in cypher, the date and place of the next meeting, and the business to be transacted, to every brother whose demands were paid at the last festival. o:p>
9. The Noble Master shall hold in charge the seal, dispensation, and emblem; the Almoner shall pay all bills under the order of the Master and his Wardens; the Secretary shall hold the vellum roll, the minutes and the charges; the Guardian shall have charge of the loving cup, the chalice, the cloaks and swords. o:p>
The remaining rules were stated (in 1867) to have been illegible through age, but a separate surviving document showed the minutes of a meeting held in 1748: o:p>
o:p>“Aristarcus Lodge, No 9, Meeting at the Globe Tavern, March 12, 1748. o:p>
Gordon Styles, N.M. o:p>
“Lodge opened in usual form. The Chaplain and Almoner, Brother the Rev. Dr. Howard, uttered the prayer for peace and harmony. The toast of Loyalty, given by the Master, was received with honours. Brother Murchinson proposed, and Warden Dow seconded, that Gilbert Worth, mercer, be intrusted, at the next regular meeting, with the secrets of the Odd Masters. On a call from the Master, Brother Hodges pronounced the oration in praise of the Order. (second toast, Fidelity, given from the chair.) The thanks of the Brothers given according to usage, and responded to. Brother Clemmow sang a Scotch melody. (Hailed three times.) The Almoner read the report of the stewards of the St David’s Festival, and reported his balance in hand to be four pounds fourteen shillings and eightpence. The Visors reported that they visited Brother Hughes in his confinement in King’s Bench Prison, who was in great want. Proposed by Brother Hodges, and seconded by Brother Pine, that one guinea be given from the common fund to Brother Hughes to relieve his pressing wants, and that the same brothers visit and report on his case at the next meeting. The Master ordered the loving cup to pass round, and the Almoner would receive their alms, which amounted to eleven and sixpence. The Master announced his intention of attending, with his Wardens, at St. Saviour’s Church, Southwark, on Easter Sunday next, on which occasion the Rev. Brother Dr. Howard would preach. The last toast was given with profound silence at nine o’clock p.m., and proceedings closed with the solemn benediction of the Chaplain.” o:p>
The Original Lodge of the Ancient Order of Oddfellows in Sheffield was established under a dispensation (or authority) received from the City of London around 1730. It was sufficiently well established by 1755 for a service to be held for the Society in the Parish Church of Sheffield (now the Cathedral) on 7 December that year, with the sermon being printed and published.
The "Glorious Revolution" of 1688, when the catholic King James II was deposed in favour of the Dutch protestant William of Orange caused a big rift across British and Irish Society which was reflected not just in political and religious divisions but also within the Order of Oddfellows itself, which split into two rival organisations. The Order of Patriotic Oddfellows included supporters of William of Orange (and subsequently the Hapsburgh dynasty) and the political Whig party and had most support in London and the Home Counties. The rival Ancient Order of Oddfellows included supporters of the exiled Stuart royal family (called "Jacobites") and the political Tory party, and had most support in the north of England and in Scotland.
Bonnie Prince Charlie – the Young Pretender – was the son of James II and led the 1745 uprising in an unsuccessful attempt to regain the throne. A popular 18th century toast was: o:p>
o:p>“God bless the King, our Faith’s Defender; o:p>
God bless (no harm in blessing) the Pretender. o:p>
But which is the Pretender and who the rightful King? o:p>
God bless us all, that’s quite another thing!” o:p>
With the failure of the 1745 uprising, hopes of a return of the Stuart dynasty faded and old animosities were gradually forgotten (in England, though not in Ireland). In 1789 the two rival groups of Oddfellows formed a partial amalgamation as the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows, abandoning all political and religious disputes and committing itself to promoting the harmony and welfare of its members. From this date all Lodges began to use the prefix “Loyal” as part of their title to show that they were loyal to the Crown. Despite their protestations of loyalty to the Crown the Oddfellows were still deeply suspect and a number of members were arrested and charged with High Treason, a charge from which they were acquitted. In 1798 the Grand Lodge (headquarters) of the Oddfellows moved from London to Sheffield because of the fierce persecution of members in the capital. Sheffield was at that time reputed to be "the most radical town in England" and was therefore considered to be a safe haven for the governing body of the Society. In September of that year (1798) the Gentleman's Magazine, a national publication, reported an Oddfellows Church Service held at Sheffield:
"We are now presented with a discourse preached before the Odd Fellows; a singular name, and in the opinion of the preacher himself [not an Odd Fellow], "a very equivocal and foolish name." These Odd Fellows appear to be very numerous; there are thirty-nine lodges of them in London and its vicinity; two at Sheffield, and one at each of the following places: Wolverhampton, Birmingham, Shrewsbury, Windsor, Wandsworth, Canterbury, Liverpool, Richmond in Surrey and Lewes. Their whole number is said to be amazingly great and to be rapidly increasing. We were of the opinion there were many Odd Fellows in England, but we did not believe they were so numerous as we now find them to be. These lodges forming so considerable a body, it becomes a subject of just enquiry, what are their political tenets? Are they friendly or inimical to the State? That a conspiracy has been formed, by certain secret societies, against all the Governments of Europe has been fully proved by Professor Robison and the Abbe Baruel. Whether the Society of Odd Fellows are implicated in this atrocious combination, we cannot say: appearances however are against them, and charges of a very serious nature have been brought forward, which Mr Smith, the curate of Sheffield, in this discourse, endeavours to refute."
In 1810 members of the Oddfellows in the Manchester District became dissatisfied with the way the United Order was being run from Sheffield and broke away to form an independent Order with the title “Manchester Unity”. With their improved organisation they encouraged other Lodges to leave the United Order and become part of the Manchester Unity. By 1850 the Manchester Unity of Oddfellows had become the largest and richest Friendly Society in Britain. o:p>
Back to Index o:p>
At various periods of history, from the 14th century onwards, our members have been subject to persecution, usually from a fear (often well founded) that working people combining together to better their lives might well organise themselves against injustice and oppression. The attitude of the government and civil authorities towards the Oddfellows and similar societies tended to drift between an approval of working people “clubbing together” to provide for their own needs and thus reducing demands on the Poor Rate (a tax payable by all landowners in each parish to meet the costs of providing for local paupers), and a fear of working people planning to revolt against their conditions. The Oddfellows remained an illegal organisation right up until 1850 at which time some Members of Parliament still expressed concerns about the capabilities of the Manchester Unity of Oddfellows to ferment trouble because it had organised groups all over the country.
Report of the House of Lords Committee on the legalisation of Branch Friendly Societies 1848: o:p>
"The committee had no reason to doubt either the loyalty of its (the Manchester Unity's) members to the constitution, or their firm attachment to public order and good government; but certain of its customs, viz the employment of secret signs, the circulation of lectures, and the introduction of funeral orations after the burial service, were open to very serious objections, and should be discountenanced by Parliament." o:p>
During the closing years of the 18th century, with the French Revolution in progress across the English Channel, such suspicions had reached fever pitch and an Act of Parliament was passed suppressing “all societies which administer oaths and correspond by signs and passwords”. To make this effective the government paid a reward to spies and common informers who were encouraged to infiltrate Lodge meetings to gain evidence for Magistrates of illegal activities. o:p>
One of the Acts of Parliament which made the Oddfellows an illegal organisation o:p>
Fear of revolution was not the sole reason for the persecution. Friendly Societies were also the “parents” of modern-day trade unions and could organise effective local strike action by levying all their members for additional contributions to their benevolent funds out of which payments could be made to the families of brothers who were on strike. o:p>
The radical nature of the Oddfellows Society in Sheffield is clearly shown by the title of its own local newspaper: “Tracts for Oddfellows and Social Reformers” which was published in the city during the mid-19th century. Even down to the present time, some early verses are used at the closure of formal Lodge Meetings including the following lines, which might well be construed as incitement to revolution
“God the sinking heart shall free, o:p>
He shall break the oppressor’s rod; o:p>
Still the hand of man must be o:p>
Used as minister of God.” o:p>
In 1795 and 1796 Brother James Montgomery, a leading member of the Oddfellows in Sheffield, was twice imprisoned in York Castle for alleged sedition. In 1813 six local members were convicted at the Assizes for membership of an illegal society and were sentenced to 3 months hard labour.
Persecution tailed off during the following years as the Oddfellows continued to grow in numbers, prosperity and respectability. The unexpected conviction and transportation to an overseas penal colony of the 6 men at Dorchester in 1834 for membership of an illegal friendly society that had adapted the Oddfellows ritual for its own use (now revered in Trade Union history as the “Tolpuddle Martyrs”) caused renewed fear and panic amongst the Oddfellows. o:p>
The Tolpuddle Martyrs – a contemporary print
At their Annual Moveable Conference being held in Hull, the Grand Master and Board of Directors of the Society hastily altered the ancient ritual, abolishing the traditional oath of mutual support and replacing it with an “obligation” to evade the penalty of the law. Even today, Oddfellows in the United Kingdom no longer take any oath but rather assent to an obligation for mutual support. o:p>
Members of the Oddfellows in the United States of America were not best pleased when they learned that changes had been made to the ancient ritual of the Society without their consultation or agreement. Having fought for their independence from Britain, and with the last battle being just 20 years previous, they were in no mood to see the ancient ritual changed to satisfy a British parliament. As a result, the Oddfellows in America declared their independence from the Manchester Unity and became a self-governing Order, the IOOF, which itself established Lodges around the world and continues to this day. Happily, the two branches of worldwide Oddfellowship now work in cooperation to promote the principles of Friendship, Love and Truth.. o:p>
The Oddfellows simple system of making collections and issuing payments to members as need arose proved more inadequate as membership grew in the early 19th century. In 1810 a new group, the Manchester Unity of Oddfellows, was formed with rules for contributions and benefits. In 1817the first group in South Yorkshireleft the United Order to become part of the Manchester Unity and, over the following years, more followed, bringing into being the Manchester Unity of Oddfellows which survives and prospers to this day. o:p>
Verses written for the passing of the Loving Cup o:p>
for the Threefold Toast at Lodge meetings o:p>
o:p>composed by James Montgomery, Sheffield, 1788
When Friendship, Love and Truth abound, o:p> among a band of brothers, o:p>
The cup of joy goes gaily round, e o:p>ach shares the bliss of others. o:p>
Sweet roses grace the thorny way a o:p>long this vale of sorrow; o:p>
The flowers that shed their leaves today s o:p>hall bloom again tomorrow. o:p>
How grand in age, how fair in youth, a o:p>re holy Friendship, Love and Truth! o:p>
On halcyon wings our moments pass, l o:p>ife's cruel cares beguiling; o:p>
Old Time lays down his scythe and glass, i o:p>n gay good-humour smiling; o:p>
With ermine beard and forelock grey h o:p>is reverend front adorning, o:p>
He looks like Winter turned to May, n o:p>ight softened into morning. o:p>
How grand in age, how fair in youth, a o:p>re holy Friendship, Love and Truth!
From these delightful fountains flow a o:p>mbrosial rills of pleasure; o:p>
Can man desire, can Heaven bestow, a o:p>more resplendent treasure? o:p>
Adorned with gems so richly bright, w o:p>e'll form a constellation, o:p>
Where every star with modest light s o:p>hall gild his proper station. o:p>
How grand in age, how fair in youth, a o:p>re holy Friendship, Love and Truth! o:p>
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All ceremonial was rich in symbolism widely used in the medieval period, not just for the benefit of the illiterate but also as an aid to understanding and remembering the teaching being presented. o:p>
The words “craft and mysteries” were commonly used in the Indenture Documents which sealed the contract binding an apprentice to his Master for the agreed period of training. Mysteries in this context did not imply esoteric secrets but was understood to have two distinct meanings: o:p>
(1) the “trade secrets” or skills which only a practised craftsmen could acquire; and o:p>
(2) the codes of personal conduct which needed to be inwardly understood through contemplation, in a similar sense to religious mysteries such as the Eucharist.
With the plundering and abolition of Guilds following the Reformation in England in the 16th century, fraternities such as the Oddfellows which evolved from the Guild structure continued to maintain the traditions of handing on received ethical and moral teaching which bound them together as a Fellowship and guided and inspired their benevolent and charitable works of mutual support.f No longer allied to any specific trades, the “craft” which Oddfellowship sought to teach by Degrees comprised the skills necessary for living the Good Life, a fulfilled existence in harmony with God and your fellow man. As such it was, and remains, the essential Craft for Life. o:p>
The teaching contained within the Degrees is centred upon consideration of Virtues, which can be defined as acquired dispositions of character or – in simpler terms – good habits. Traditionally, the seven cardinal (or chief) virtues are: o:p>
Prudence (common sense) o:p>
Temperance (restraint and balance) o:p>
Justice (truth and fairness) o:p>
Fortitude (courage and strength of character) o:p>
Faith (belief and trust) o:p>
Hope (looking forward in confidence) o:p>
Charity (selfless love which seeks the good of others) o:p>
Additional virtues or concepts are presented for our consideration in the Oddfellows degrees, such as: benevolence (the will and intention to do good); purity (freedom from pride, envy and malice); patience and integrity in adversity. These virtues represent age-old wisdom which has been tried and tested over the course of time and is passed on for our benefit. It becomes our responsibility to receive this Ancient Wisdom, to put it into practice in our daily lives and, by example and encouragement, to seek to pass it on to the next generation. o:p>
The purpose and objective of the Degree teachings is to enable consideration and contemplation of these virtues as a “Highway Code” for life, the traffic signs which guide us and warn us of hazards. Without such signposts we face the dangers of getting lost, of collisions or of breaking down. By regularly applying these lessons in our everyday lives, we become conditioned by habit to act in such a way as to promote greater fulfilment and happiness, both for ourselves and others. o:p>
Through a gradual process of evolution, the precise structure and format of Degrees has come to vary in the separate branches of the Order around the world. In January 1814 the Manchester Unity of Oddfellows published Lectures for the White and Blue Degrees which, together with the original Making Lecture (initiation) formed the three degrees of the Order. These replaced the earlier Degree Lectures of the Original Grand Lodge which were considered unsuitable because they included quotations from the French revolutionary philosophers Volney and Voltaire (reflecting the radical nature of the Order at that time).
In 1816 the Scarlet Degree was introduced, at first intended for the office of Noble Grand (the Master of the Lodge), and in 1820 Past Officers' Degrees were introduced. The Covenant and Remembrance Degrees were added in 1826, along with the Gold Degree and the Purple (or Patriarchal) Degree, at the instigation of Thomas Wildey, who is regarded as the founder of Oddfellowship in America. In 1834 the Manchester Unity made fundamental changes to the ritual, abandoning the Covenant and Remembrance Degrees, and simplifying the Making (initiation) and other degree lectures. Oddfellows in America retained the ancient forms and this resulted in a separation between the two parts of the Order.
In 1846 a competition was held for the submission of new Lectures for the White, Blue, Scarlet and Gold Degrees. This was won by George Holyoake, a leading Chartist, Humanist and member of the Co-operative Movement. He was also the last person in England to have been imprisoned for blasphemy as a result of trumped-up charges. Holyoake's texts form the basis of these Lectures to the present day.
The simplified ritual and lectures were not universally popular and some Lodges, particularly overseas, continued to use the old forms. In 1919 it was proposed that the ritual of the Manchester Unity of Oddfellows be revised to reintroduce some of the old ceremonial. This revision took some years, resulting in an International Conference in 1934 which approved the new Universal Ritual, published 1935, thus reintroducing much of the format of the ancient ritual after a break of 101 years.
The following, which is taken from an old Magazine, gives the experience of a member who was admitted into an Oddfellows’ Lodge in 1832 using the ancient form of ceremonial:
At the door of the Lodge I was blindfolded by the outdoor guardian, who had a drawn sword, and, with mysterious knocks and whispering, after giving the password I was admitted into the Lodge-room. All was intense silence;
I felt a peculiar awe pass over me ; I was told to step over imaginary steps and stoop under projecting beams, etc. All at once I was startled by the howling of members and rattling of ponderous chains ; the noise subsided, and I was asked what I most wanted. My conductor whispered me " Say light"; I did so, and my interrogator asked me if I should know the person who proposed me. I said " Yes." The bandage was rudely torn from my forehead, and my conductor said, " Is that him ? "thrusting me close to a painted transparency representing a skeleton, or, as they called it, " Old Mortality." Two members dressed as priests stood beside the picture with drawn swords, who cautioned me to be very careful and discreet during my initiation, when a stentorian voice from behind the picture thus addressed me :
" Hold ! approach me not, for know that in my presence monarchs tremble and princes kiss the dust; at my bidding the most potent armies disappear. My shadow is the pestilence, and my path the whirlwind. For thee, poor mortal, pass some few years of flowering spring, with pleasant, joyous summer and sober autumn fading into age. Then pale concluding winter comes at last and shuts the scene ; then shalt thou be with me. But know, to the virtuous man my approach hath no terrors; to the guilty alone am I terrible.
"So when the last, the closing, hour draws nigh,
And earth recedes before thy swimming eye;
Whilst trembling on the doubtful verge of fate,
Thou strain’st thy view to either state,
Then may’st thou quit this transitory scene
With decent triumph, and a look serene;
Then may’st thou fix thine ardent hopes on high,
And, having nobly lived, so nobly die."
The last two lines were shouted out in chorus by all the members. I was now led to the father of the Lodge, the Warden. I was told he was very old and feeble, and he would further assist me in the ordeal of making. In my simplicity I tried to help him from his chair, being told to do so, when, to my surprise, he grasped me with Herculean strength and shook me violently, dragging me up and down the room. He ceased, and asked if the poker was ready, and asked me (as he said) in confidence if I had flannel drawers on. I had been told to say " Yes," and he announced to the Lodge that I had flannel drawers on, at which a tremendous yell of satisfaction was heard throughout the Lodge. Oh, it was fearful fun ! They had a painted poker, similar to what clowns use in pantomimes. But the funniest appearance was their grotesque and ludicrous dresses, and all wore burlesque masks. I was led to the Vice-Grand, who administered the obligation ; then taken to the Noble Grand, who was, I afterwards found, seated on a throne, with supporters similar to the Vice-Grand, splendidly attired in " Regalia," as it was called. My conductor told me the Noble Grand was not able to see me unless I particularly wished to see him ; however, one of the supporters said he would prevail on him to see me. They accordingly drew aside the curtains which concealed him, when he appeared to be in a state of somnolency ; and being asked should I like to have him waked, of course the simple candidate said " Yes." They aroused him, with which he. appeared to be very indignant, but when told that a candidate stood before him for information he relaxed his anger, and addressing me said he would impart the secrets of Oddfellowship to me.
He (the Noble Grand) told me we admitted no one to become an Oddfellow under the age of 21, unless the son of a worthy brother ; no bailiff or bailiff’s follower, telling me to be cautious whom I introduced to become a member, and desired me to remove from my mind any impressions I might form from the evening’s procedure, for in all ages past the best and wisest of men had been taken for Oddfellows. After admonishing me further he gave me the grip and password. There was a short lecture given me by the Grand Master, and the important ceremony was brought to a close.
Amid the mummery of that initiation there were gems of philanthropy and kind expressions towards our fellow-man interspersed, independent of the motto of the fraternity that— Truth ought therefore to reign on the lips, Love in the affections, and Friendship in the heart of every Oddfellow.
For members who wish to learn more about the historic shared values of the Society but prefer not to take part in ceremonial, the first eight lectures can be delivered in a non-ceremonial setting. o:p>
The objective of the ceremonial work and teaching of the Oddfellows remains, as it has always been, to cultivate nobility of character.
The various stages in the standard degree working in the U.K. are as follows: o:p>
1. Initiation (originally called the “Making Ceremony” and now described as a "Welcoming Ceremony") o:p>
Minor Degrees: o:p>
2. The White Degree
3. The Blue Degree (originally called the "Royal Blue Degree") o:p>
4. The Scarlet Degree (originally called the "Priestly Degree") o:p>
5. The Gold Degree
Past Lodge Officers’ Degrees: o:p>
6. Past Elective Secretary’s Degree o:p>
7. Past Vice-Grand’s Degree o:p>
8. Past Noble Grand’s Degree o:p>
The final “Regular” Degree: o:p>
9. The Purple Degree (originally called “The Patriarchal Degree”) o:p>
Provincial Lodges of Past Grands’ Degrees: o:p>
10. Initiation o:p>
11. First Superior Degree (Advanced) o:p>
12. Second Superior Degree (Elevated) o:p>
13. Third Superior Degree (Exalted) o:p>
For members who have held office as Provincial Grand Master: o:p>
14. Past Provincial Grand Master’s Degree (usually conferred in the Grand Lodge of the Order)
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Wherever they live around the world, and whichever branch of the Society they belong to, Oddfellows everywhere are bound together in the Order by a common rule:
o:p>This rule, known as The Golden Rule, is taken from the words of Christ in the Gospels.
In ancient classical times the Golden Rule, said to have been discovered by Pythagoras, was a mathematical measure (roughly equivalent to the ratio 8:13) which was regarded as the secret of perfect harmony in art and architecture. Temples, pyramids and palaces were all built according to the principle of this Golden Rule. Leonardo da Vinci used this “canon of proportion” in his drawing of Vitruvian Man, recalling its use by the Roman architect, Vitruvius Pollo and it was widely used throughout the Renaissance in art and architecture, being regarded as the guiding principle.
Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci: o:p> perfect harmony in proportion. o:p>
"You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people, that you may proclaim the excellence of of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light" 1 Peter 2:9 o:p>
Follow this link to "The Jericho Road" by Bion Adkins, detailing the objects and purposes of Oddfellowship:
Back to Index o:p>
o:p>Signs & Symbols o:p> o:p>
The use of signs and symbols is part of the traditions received from our history. In distant times past, signs and passwords were an important means for members to recognise one another, and to prove membership and entitlement to assistance from the funds of other Lodges when travelling in search of work. Before the days of universal education, many working men were illiterate and the use of signs was essential to communication. During those periods of our history when membership of the Oddfellows was illegal, and common informers were paid to infiltrate Lodges, use of the correct signs and passwords was essential to the safety and security of our members and the detection of impostors. o:p>
Aside from tradition, there remains good reason for the use of signs and symbols to be retained. They provide a valuable aid to learning and remembering the lessons which the teaching of our Order seeks to impart to those members who wish to take part in the ceremonial degree lectures. “A picture is worth a thousand words” and the use of time-honoured signs and symbols acts as an aide-memoire to remind us of our duties and obligations and our codes of conduct. o:p>
Members progressing through the various degrees gain an understanding of the range of symbols used and their inherent meanings. The best known and most universally recognised of all our symbols is the three links, recalling the motto of our Order and summarising its teaching which binds us together in o:p>
o:p>Friendship, Love and Truth
We pledge ourselves in Fellowship, united in one band
To serve each others interests, extending heart and hand:
With Friendship's warm acceptance, with the Love that conquers strife,
With the Truth that favours justice, and brings respect for life.
So in Faith and Hope and Charity we journey through life's length,
Ever linked in solidarity - our Unity is strength!
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No man is an island, entire of itself; o:p>
every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. o:p>
If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, o:p>
as well as if a promontory were, o:p>
as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: o:p>
any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, o:p>
and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; o:p>
it tolls for thee. o:p>
Until you have become really, in actual fact, a brother to everyone,
brotherhood will not come to pass.
No sort of scientific teaching, no kind of common interest,
will ever teach people to share and have equal consideration for all.
Everyone will think his share too small,
and they will always be envying, complaining and attacking one another.
For everyone strives to keep his individuality as apart as possible. o:p>
Everyone wishes to secure the greatest possible fullness of life for himself o:p>
and forgets that true security is to be found in social solidarity o:p>
rather than in individual efforts. o:p>
But this terrible individualism must inevitably have an end, o:p>
and suddenly all will understand o:p>
how unnaturally they are separated from one another. o:p>
It will be the spirit of the time, o:p>
and people will marvel that they have sat so long in darkness o:p>
without seeing the light. o:p>
Until then, we must keep the banner flying. o:p>
Sometimes, even if he has to do it alone, o:p>
and his conduct seems to be Odd, o:p>
a man must set an example, o:p>
and so draw people’s souls out of their solitude, o:p>
and spur them to some act of brotherly love, o:p>
that the great idea may not die. o:p>
Faith, Hope and Charity o:p>
are the 3 pillars of Oddfellowship o:p>
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.
And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profits me nothing. o:p>
Charity suffers long, and is kind; charity envies not; charity vaunts not itself, is not puffed up, o:p>
Does not behave itself unseemly, seeks not her own, is not easily provoked, thinks no evil; o:p>
Rejoices not in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; o:p>
Bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. o:p>
Charity never fails: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. o:p>
For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. o:p>
But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. o:p>
When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. o:p>
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. o:p>
And now abides faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity. o:p>
St Paul’s 1st Epistle to the Corinthians o:p>
Additional historical resources
Go to the following link for a history of the first hundred years of the Manchester Unity of Oddfellows 1810-1910, written by Robert Moffrey: www.isle-of-man.com/manxnotebook/history/socs/odf_mdly.htm
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