A summary of freemasonry, OES, and Daughter of Isles and what it means to belong to these groups
October 1, 2010 4:30 AM   Subscribe

What are these groups called Freemasonry, Order of Eastern Star (OES), and Daughters of Isles? What are they about and what do they do for the community? Is it a religious or spiritual thing? What the heck is it??

In my neighborhood I am surrounded by families in the Army who are the rate E7 and above. I have grown extremely close to most of my neighbors to the point where I am calling them brotha and sista, and even momma and daddy (I am only 23). ALL of these families are involved in the freemasonry and O.E.S.
I don't know if this is just new to me because I am not from a military family, or is it because I am an Asian American? My husband is caucasian and everyone involved is African-American... Or is it because my husband is in the Navy and everyone else is in the Army? I am always invited to all the "benefits" which are cruise rides, themed dances, fundraisers, and charity balls. Every time I've gone there is ALWAYS a dance where the "brothers" come out and do a choreographed dance to a song and same with the "daughters". The daughters are ALWAYS wearing white and the brothers are always wearing Black or khaki and EVERYONE has a TON of embroidery on their get up.
It's always fun and pretty much everyone gets tore up and starts cuttin up on the dance floor... so I have nothing against that.

I am asking what this is because I remember Jay-Z being accused of being a freemason a while back.

I tried googling and all I really got was a bunch of biased websites.
I also asked what it was about and i was told, "Lil Sis, you don't know nothin' bout that!" But that was also when she was "accepted" and she was putting a white star emblem on the back of her car window.

Also I live in Hawaii on the island of Oahu.

I thought that maybe this is a race thing but there were a few white guys in the freemasonry (when they would all get up and dance to their song) and the daughters had an Asian chick in their group.

I'm just curious to know what the big deal is, I guess?
posted by byebyejekki to Religion & Philosophy (28 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
The Freemasons are a fraternal organization interested in fellowship, community service, charity work, that kind of thing (when people go to dances and put stickers on their cars, that's what they mean). The principally-African-American groups mostly date to a time when African-American people weren't allowed to join the white groups.

Or, alternately, they're an arm of the Illuminati, the biggest conspiracy in human history (when people talk about Jay-Z, that's what they mean). Masonic conspiracy theories have a long history.
posted by box at 4:56 AM on October 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


Wiki is your friend here. Freemasonry and Order of the Eastern Star are both fraternal organizations. They are essentially clubs (think Shriners) that adults can join to get together to eat, drink, have dances, etc. They are sometimes involved in charity work. It's no different than a fraternity or sorority in college; fraternities and sororities also have "uniforms" for special events and rituals, handshakes, signals, and codewords that add a mystique of inclusiveness for the members but don't really mean anything. They're mainly a product of late 19th/early-to-mid 20th century America.
posted by proj at 5:02 AM on October 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


My grandfather was a Freemason. It's just a fraternal organization. The Wikipedia article gives a good overview.
posted by Houstonian at 5:03 AM on October 1, 2010


There also appears to be some country-to-country difference in the role of Freemasonry. In the UK, concerns about the corrupting influence of Freemasonry on the police are longstanding, and a bit more than "conspiracy theories".
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 5:04 AM on October 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


My stepdad's a Mason and my mom is in Eastern Star. It's like being in the Astronomy Club in high school, if the Astronomy Club was really old and had a lot of random symbols and there were members everywhere who would stop and help you if you were stranded on the side of the road with the Astronomy Club sticker on your car.
posted by SMPA at 5:09 AM on October 1, 2010 [7 favorites]


They're fraternal organizations, but they've also got a reputation as secret societies. A lot of fundamentalist churches, especially in the American South, are really, really nervous about them, but the word on the street is that to the extent that there ever was any kind of spiritual activity going on that it's largely been abandoned over the last century.

Anymore, they're basically networking and civil service clubs. But conspiracy theories have surrounded the Masons since their origins in the sixteenth century.
posted by valkyryn at 5:15 AM on October 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Again, there's more to it in many countries. In the UK the Freemasons have historically been seen as a way to climb certain social and career ladders, particularly on a local level. So you join the masons and get to know the people who run the local businesses, the police, the schools, the town or county councils and so on. Later on, when you need planning permission for some offices, or you want to get involved in local politics, or you get into some kind of legal trouble, there are people who you can call on for favours.

So in some places the Freemasons are often seen from outside as a kind of 'old boy network' where (mostly) middle-aged, white, professional men do each other favours and circumvent many of the rules and processes by which society is supposed to be run.

In my experience though, having known the secretary of a small-town branch of the Freemasons, it was more of a social club where a lot of old men got together for drinks, gossip and the occasional outing or charity event.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 5:27 AM on October 1, 2010


Many of the founding fathers were Freemasons and that organization operates the National Heritage Museum in Lexington, Mass. The exhibitions are noteworthy on their own, but they usually include one on Freemasonry itself; here is the current one that explores in the influence of Freemasonry on the architecture of Washington DC. If you look at the past exhibitions you will find many more, including one on Anti-Masonic propaganda.

A lot of fundamentalist churches, especially in the American South, are really, really nervous about them

I live in the South and have occasionally noticed this; I also noticed that a number of the Masons I know are Catholics. That may be a partial explanation (anti-Catholic prejudice by Protestants) or just two unconnected observations.
posted by TedW at 5:27 AM on October 1, 2010


My husband is caucasian and everyone involved is African-American

I missed this on the first reading of your question; where I live (Georgia) there are many black Masonic lodges, probably more than there are white ones. I do not know the explanation behind this, but there are definitely areas where Freemasonry is big in the black community. In fact, it is common to see middle-aged and older black men driving around with bumper stickers encouraging people to join; 2 b 1 ask 1 is pretty common and if you google that phrase you will get the membership page of a number of lodges.
posted by TedW at 5:35 AM on October 1, 2010


Everyone above is doing a good job of explaining freemasonry.
Jobs Daughters is for girls under 18 related to masons. I believe it goes back to great grandparents because I was eligible in the 80s based on my maternal great grandfather's membership in the Freemasons. Similarly, Order of the Eastern star is for women over 18 who are related to masons (including wives). Women cannot belong to these groups without the masonic connection. OTOH, a mason need not be related to a mason-- they are just sponsored into the organization. There are some spiritual overtones, but it is of the more universal type rather than a specific religion. I had a friend that was a Job's daughter. I was in girl scouts at the time and what I could see, my troop had more interesting activities than that jobs chapter so I stuck with GS. It is possible that they vary from chapter to chapter, much like scouts.
posted by Librarygeek at 5:44 AM on October 1, 2010


It's funny but just yesterday I heard on the radio an ad for the freemasons advertising their website Ask a Freemason. Thought it was strange, but here you go.
posted by jeremias at 5:50 AM on October 1, 2010


The Masons don't want to go the way of all the other defunct fraternal organizations - hence the advertising. They are missing most of a generation at this point (lots of people over 45, few between 20 and 40.)
posted by SMPA at 6:07 AM on October 1, 2010


I live in the South and have occasionally noticed this; I also noticed that a number of the Masons I know are Catholics. That may be a partial explanation (anti-Catholic prejudice by Protestants) or just two unconnected observations.

It's not just anti-Catholic prejudice, because the Catholic Church has for many years been opposed to Freemasonry. This was largely because of the anti-clericalism of Freemasonry in Latin countries (Italy, France, Mexico, especially). Nowadays, the focus is more on the same objections that fundamentalist and evangelical Protestants have to Freemasonry, because it involves a system of religion that is either naturalistic (and therefore false) or, as some Masons describe it, minimal and complementary to their other faith and therefore indifferent to truth (which is also seen as being wrong). The Catholic Church also objects to the blood oaths of Freemasonry. The oaths are seen as either being vain and therefore wrong or immoral in themselves if the meaning is really intended.

Under the 1917 Code of Canon Law (in effect until 1983), there was an explicit automatic excommunication of Catholics who joined Masonic organizations. Under the 1983 Code of Canon Law the situation is more complex. This Canon was still included:
Can. 1374 A person who joins an association which plots against the Church is to be punished with a just penalty; however, a person who promotes or directs an association of this kind is to be punished with an interdict.
Some (including many Freemasons in the UK and US) argued that membership in Freemasonry was no longer prohibited under the 1983 Code because their Freemasonry was not "an association which plots against the Church".

However, in 1983, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, under Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) considered the question in a declaration approved and ordered published by Pope John Paul II and stated:
Therefore the Church’s negative judgment in regard to Masonic association remains unchanged since their principles have always been considered irreconcilable with the doctrine of the Church and therefore membership in them remains forbidden. The faithful who enrol in Masonic associations are in a state of grave sin and may not receive Holy Communion.
The full text is available on the Vatican web site.
posted by Jahaza at 6:34 AM on October 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


I thought that maybe this is a race thing but there were a few white guys in the freemasonry (when they would all get up and dance to their song) and the daughters had an Asian chick in their group.

In my experience, the race thing varies a LOT from lodge to lodge, and maybe region to region as well. When I was growing up, I thought that Freemasonry was racist, because there were a lot of old guys who I knew to be kind of bigoted who also had Masonic stickers and emblems all over their cars (plus they had one annual fundraiser, which they called the "Confederate Fair," which raised some negative associations in my mind). They also seemed to be mostly an old boys' network; they didn't really do that much in terms of community service (that seemed to be mostly the Kiwanis Club or the Rotary Club).

Then I moved away from my hometown and learned more about the perils of overgeneralization: when I was in college I lived next door to a Masonic temple where all the members were African-American, and they always had the most kick-ass parties ever. They did a lot of community service stuff in the town, too, and so they were usually doing one kind of fundraiser or another.
posted by kataclysm at 6:55 AM on October 1, 2010


African American chapters are usually referred to as the Prince Hall order of Freemasonry.
posted by electroboy at 7:48 AM on October 1, 2010


3º Freemason here - I'll throw in my usual caveat when answering questions about Freemasonry: take everything you read (even the positive, non loony conspiracy stuff) with a grain of salt, just because there is so much variation in the fraternity from country to country (and in the US, from state to state) in terms of specific rules, rituals, traditions, and focus. Contrary to what the tinfoil hat crowd would have you believe, there is no one single global Masonic organization; instead there are multiple sovereign Grand Lodges which recognize one another, so members can travel and visit other lodges outside of their state and country.
but the word on the street is that to the extent that there ever was any kind of spiritual activity going on that it's largely been abandoned over the last century.

Anymore, they're basically networking and civil service clubs.
Well, yes and no. The core membership requirement in every traditional Masonic lodge is "belief in a supreme being." This is generally not qualified in any way; you are not required to state a particular faith, you just need to confirm a belief that there's something larger than ourselves going on in the universe. (Exceptions to this include the Grand Orient de France, which has no such requirement, and the Swedish rite, which requires that members be specifically Christian.) My take on this requirement is that it establishes a moral baseline for everyone who joins; you take an obligation when you join, and one of the degree lectures that explains without this belief, no obligation can be considered binding upon you. I've met Masons who are Christians, Jews, Wiccans and Pagans, and Masons who don't subscribe to any organized faith... the thing that fundamentalist religion and authoritarian regimes find so threatening about Freemasonry is that attitude of tolerance, which was really revolutionary 400+ years ago.

The thing that separates Freemasonry from most of the other fraternal organizations that are still around is initiation through the system of degrees. You can look at Masonic ritual two ways: A bunch of old ceremonies and lectures with some archaic language, to be memorized and carried on just for tradition's sake, or an elegant philosophy that uses the tools of operative stone masons and the building of King Solomon's Temple as symbols to teach useful moral lessons. (As one popular description goes, "A beautiful system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated with symbols.")

In any given lodge in my neck of the woods, you will find guys at both ends of the spectrum and everywhere in between; the ones who don't place any particular importance on the ritual other than making sure it's done right because-that's-how-it's-always-been-done, and those who try to read way too much into it ("Freemasonry is descended from the guys who built the pyramids!"). Younger guys joining are definitely looking for something more than just a social/service club, though. The social/service aspect is important, but if that's all you want then you can join The Lion, Kiwanis, et cetera. The moral/ritual aspect was the deciding factor for me; ideally, lodge is a place where you can associate with men of good character, with a like-minded outlook on the world. Ritual, when done well, reinforces those lessons as much for long-time members as for new candidates. Are there unfortunate exceptions? Absolutely, it's no different than any other club or organization.
They are missing most of a generation at this point (lots of people over 45, few between 20 and 40.)
Actually the generation that's really absent in the U.S. are the baby boomers, who really didn't join any fraternal organizations in large numbers. The last major wave of membership in the Masons, Moose, Odd Fellows, Elks, etc. happened in the 50s and early 60s, and those guys are now the old-timers who have started to die off. 20-40 year olds are definitely the biggest demographic joining the Masons in Massachusetts, and I expect it's the same in other jurisdictions who have gotten a little more transparent.

On the topic of race: In the 1700's a free black man named Prince Hall formed a new Grand Lodge after being turned away by the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts (presumably because of race), and so Prince Hall lodges historically became African-American in membership... for a long time, the so-called "mainstream" Grand Lodges would not recognize them, meaning members of a Prince Hall lodge could not visit or interact Masonically with members of a non-Prince Hall lodge. Over the last 20 years this has changed in most places (except, embarrassingly, for a number of Grand Lodges in the southern US) but because the Prince Hall lodges have such a proud tradition and history of their own, they remain separate entities whose membership is still predominantly (but not exclusively) African-American.

Well, that was certainly long-winded! If you can't tell, I'm fascinated by the fraternity and its many aspects, which do go a lot deeper than being "just a social club." Just two more things: A link to my favorite essay and Venn diagram attempting to answer the question "What is Freemasonry?" and a recommendation to the curious for Bro. Chris Hodapp's book Freemasons for Dummies, which is an excellent, no-nonsense introduction to the fraternity and its many offshoots.
posted by usonian at 8:41 AM on October 1, 2010 [22 favorites]


I should rephrase: my stepdad is almost 60, and so are almost all of the guys in his lodge (everyone has teenage or adult kids.) Lots of WWII and Korea and Vietnam vets, no one from the Iran-Contra era or first Iraq war, but the few young guys in town are interested. Note that this is very rural. Nonetheless, Generation X appears absent in numbers disproportionate to their presence in the community. I was told they were hoping to attract those guys as they got older and had free time again.

Masonry is definitely different depending on where you are. Here in the big city everyone I can identify (because I know what car they drive) appears to be a Shriner over 70. This might be an Irish thing, here.
posted by SMPA at 9:14 AM on October 1, 2010


My mom is an Order of the Eastern Star. From observing her group they are mainly there to do charity acts. They raise funds for cancer, make cancer dressings so cancer patients don't have to pay for them, and help out the Masons and Shriners in her town with their charitable acts. Otherwise it is a social group for relatives of Masons and they have teas and dinners together. A harmless and helpful group for ladies.

Actually I credit the Eastern Star with really helping my mom come alive socially as before hand she was quite introverted and slightly depressed. Now she goes out all the time and has people to really support her.
posted by kanata at 9:22 AM on October 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


My grandfather was a Freemason. It's just a fraternal organization.

My grandfather was Grandmaster of his local small town Freemason lodge. He was also the local postman and drove a clunky Chevy Nova and loved to buy us kids ice cream cones. If he was up to anything diabolical, he was doing a darned good job of hiding it.
posted by philip-random at 9:28 AM on October 1, 2010



It's not just anti-Catholic prejudice, because the Catholic Church has for many years been opposed to Freemasonry.


Catholics have the Knights of Columbus and their plumed hats.
posted by jgirl at 9:35 AM on October 1, 2010


Oh, and regarding work in the community: Many lodges do charity/community work, but they tend to be low-key about it. And at a more institutional level of course there are the Shrine Hospitals, the Scottish Rite's Learning Centers for Children, the Knights Templar's Eye Foundation, and the "Mystic Order of Veiled Prophets of the Enchanted Realm" (AKA Grotto) has a program that provides free dental care to special needs kids.
posted by usonian at 10:14 AM on October 1, 2010


And, I keep meaning to say this: it's the Daughters of the Nile. Not Isles.
posted by SMPA at 11:03 AM on October 1, 2010


A really fascinating book on the Masons, along with dozens of other secret societies is "Secret Ritual and Manhood in Victorian America."

It lists membership by organization for several of the larger fraternal orders, and even gives some initiation rites. I found it utterly absorbing and full of "I never would have guessed that" moments.
posted by Invoke at 1:27 PM on October 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


My grandfather is a Freemason. A pretty high-up one, at that. (He's white, FWIW.)

Freemasonry is more or less exactly the Boy Scouts for grownups, minus all the camping: They hold banquets, do community work, pay dues, and perform silly quasi-spiritual rites of passage; the traditional criteria for admission are simply that the prospective member be male and believe in a higher power. That's really all there is to it.
posted by Sys Rq at 3:15 PM on October 1, 2010


le morte de bea arthur: there's more to it in many countries. In the UK the Freemasons have historically been seen as a way to climb certain social and career ladders, particularly on a local level. So you join the masons and get to know the people who run the local businesses, the police, the schools, the town or county councils and so on. Later on, when you need planning permission for some offices, or you want to get involved in local politics, or you get into some kind of legal trouble, there are people who you can call on for favours.

This is exactly what's meant by 'old boy network'--the fact that this particular network is organized around a little-understood social club is just a red herring. Substitute the name of any college fraternity anywhere you hear 'the masons'---they suddenly get a lot less scary, don't they?
posted by FlyingMonkey at 7:31 AM on October 2, 2010


My husband is currently Worshipful Master of one of the two lodges to which he belongs. ('Worshipful Master' is a title, like 'chairman' or 'president' - he doesn't get worshiped, except maybe by me. When he's been a very good boy.) He is a 32nd degree Mason and belongs to the Scottish Rite, York Rite, the Shrine, and just about everything else (except Jesters - that's for wealthy men who can afford the fees, as I've been told). He's active in most of these groups, too.

My son belongs to DeMolay, where he was Master Councilor (again, like 'president') and just entered the craft as a Master Mason. My daughter belongs to both Job's Daughters (as the daughter of a Master Mason) and Order of the Rainbow. I do not belong to Eastern Star or the other women's groups simply because I'm usually not feeling well enough to participate in their activities. Also, I'm 30 years younger than their youngest member - I'd like that gap to shrink a little first. ;-)

There's no witchcraft or conspiracy or evil in these groups, at least none that I've seen. As you can tell, I'm pretty well surrounded by Masonry and have been for more than 25 years, so if they were and are all the terrible things said about them, I'd know by now.

All a man has to do to be a Mason is to ask a Mason - 'to be one, ask one' - and to believe in a 'Supreme Being', be it God or Allah or whatever.

I think what you're seeing in your neighborhood is Prince Hall. I've never heard of Daughters of Isles, and it's not the same as Job's. But don't worry about the synchronized dancing and the embroidery - nothing scary there. You wouldn't be there if they were trying to hide something, would you?
posted by lambchop1 at 3:10 PM on October 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


The only time I've actually noticed Freemasons doing anything ... masonish ... masonic ... is when I'm at a funeral and it turns out the deceased was a Freemason. Someone steps forward and puts a sheepskin (?) in the grave. It's quite touching, but if you blink you'll miss it.
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:11 AM on October 3, 2010


Someone steps forward and puts a sheepskin (?) in the grave.

"Lambskin or white leather apron". Master Masons are supposed to, if they so wish Masonic rites at their funeral, be buried wearing the apron they were presented at their ceremony of "Raising" to the 3rd degree, that of Master Mason.
posted by mrbill at 7:40 AM on March 29, 2011


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