By Todd E. Creason
I’m not an Odd Fellow. I’m a Freemason. (editor note: Todd joined the Odd Fellows not long after writing this piece so he is now BOTH and Odd Fellow AND a Freemason). You’re probably wondering what in the world I’m doing here. Well, let me tell you how I came to be here. It’s an interesting story.
I’m the Worshipful Master of Homer Lodge No. 199 in Homer, Illinois—that’s the same as a Noble Grand in the Odd Fellows. During my term as Master, I want to try and make our meetings a little more interesting by adding an education component to each and every one of our regular meetings. Sometimes as Freemasons, we get so involved with our business meetings (reading minutes and hearing committee reports) we sometimes forget why we’re supposed to be there to begin with. The purpose of Freemasonry is to make good men better. We strive to improve our character, to learn to live a more virtuous and moral life, and as a result of these improvements to ourselves, we become better husbands, fathers, citizens, and community leaders.
There are Masonic libraries full of writings about Freemasonry, but sadly, other than the lessons and allegories from our ritual initiation ceremonies, many of our Masonic Lodges these days have gotten away from teaching the application of these principles into our daily lives. There’s been a real push to bring those teachings back. That’s what I wanted to introduce into our meetings at Homer Lodge—some deeper discussion into the self-improvement aspects of Freemasonry, the history, the esoteric teachings, and the symbolism found in our ritual traditions.
It occurred to me while I was scheduling speakers and topics for discussion, that there might be lessons the Odd Fellows and the Freemasons could learn from each other. When I’d mentioned the possibility of inviting the Odd Fellows to join us during one of our meetings, it was obvious there was a great deal of curiosity amongst Freemasons about the Odd Fellows. Our members were interested to see where our two organizations are the same, and where they are different.
So we invited Ainslie Heilich, the Noble Grand of Tuscola Odd Fellows Lodge No. 316 to join us one evening in July to talk about the Odd Fellows. As it turns out, our organizations are very similar in some areas, and very different in others. Both modern Freemasonry and the Odd Fellows came into existence around the same time, the 18th century, and both came from the workers guilds—the Freemasons worked in stone, and the Odd Fellows were the “general contractors” of their time. Both groups made a transition from being “operative” craftsmen to “speculative” craftsmen—as Freemasons will often say, we stopped building structures, and started building communities. However, what we learned from Ainslie was that Freemasons and Odd Fellows have very different means of achieving a very similar goal.
The Odd Fellows put the emphasis on service—doing good works in their community. Through the performance of good works the Odd Fellows improve the world they live in, and improve their character through the process of giving of themselves.
The Freemasons on the other hand put the emphasis on self-improvement first—as the ancient stonemasons did in shaping stones, we work to create in ourselves a perfect stone for building by knocking off the rough and superfluous parts of our character. In the Freemason tradition, charity and public service are the nature result of character and leadership development.
Now that’s a bit of an oversimplification, but what the Freemasons and the Odd Fellows do have in common is a desire to make the world a better place through our contributions to it. The Freemasons and the Odd Fellows have a long history of attracting industrious individuals, and in building strong communities.
A couple weeks after the Odd Fellows visited us at our Masonic Lodge, I found myself climbing the steps of Tuscola Odd Fellows Lodge No. 316 with my two principle officers. We were given the grand tour, and we learned as much from Ainslie about the Odd Fellows as I hope we taught him about the Freemasons during his visit. And all three of us petitioned to be members of the Tuscola Odd Fellows Lodge. I’m looking forward to learning as much about the Odd Fellows as I have about the Freemasons.
There’s a lot of talk these days that organizations such as ours are slowly dying out, and one day in the not-so-distant future, we’ll be relegated to the ash heap of history. I don’t believe that for one minute. All you have to do is visit lodges like Homer Masonic Lodge No. 199 or Tuscola Odd Fellows Lodge No. 316 to see that our ancient societies are very much alive and well.
There will always be in our society, that small group of individuals who are willing to serve the greater good. Those individuals who don’t just talk about making the world a better place, but actually roll up their sleeves and get to work to make it so.
And in that, the Freemasons and the Odd Fellows aren’t so different after all.
Todd E. Creason is an award winning Masonic researcher and writer. He is the founder of The Midnight Freemasons blog. He has written several books on the subject of Freemasonry and published articles in numerous Masonic magazines and journals.