Shadowy cabals, connections to European kings and US presidents, and possibly one late 19th century rebellion in a US state, dot Odd Fellow’s history. And although we are not like Freemasonry, we are an organization that has been around since the late 1730’s, and if you spend time digging you can find a ton of mystery. Trouble is, Odd Fellowship has not benefited from an interest in our Order by great fiction writers and master researchers. Something I hope will change with time (See Brother Louie Sarmiento’s book which is coming out).
I’ve never read anything by Dan Brown, who wrote the famous book The Lost Symbol, a thriller set in Washington, D.C., and relies on Freemasonry for both its recurring theme and its major characters. But, Odd Fellowship also has lost symbols shaped by our tradition, and referred to as emblems. This is a look at some Odd Fellow’s lost symbols and what they meant to members in the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries. These symbols have been a source of fascination and awe for years.
I consulted a few authors and books, among them: The Odd Fellows Monitor and Guide, Symbolism of Odd Fellowship, and The Beacon Light. I’ve used modern representations of the emblems where possible rather than historical ones, to give a more modern look to the lost emblems.
The Rainbow: It reminds us of the Supreme Being’s covenant with Noah for the safety of earth and humanity. And of our’s with our brethren. When it appears in the heavens “all woven with light.” It ultimately meant that members were woven together as the colors of the rainbow are.
Axe and three links as one symbol: (The Odd Fellow’s manual; illustrating the history, principles, 1858 … Grosh, A. B) Grosh states the axe in this symbol is about removing the evil that prevents us from falling under “the influence of benevolence.” In other words Odd Fellows must purge from our lives the evil that prevents us from helping others. The links taken together with the axe in the symbol means that we must remove the barriers to Friendship, Love, and Truth in our lives before we can aid others.
The Shining Sun: “As it shines alike for all, it teaches us impartiality in our general benevolence.”
The Ark of Noah: It was used to remind members of God’s preservation of Noah’s family during the great flood. And also to urge members to heed every “Divine Admonition,” as well as seek every refuge grace provides us. Don’t confuse the Ark of Noah with the Ark of the Covenant.
Horn of Plenty: In a way this emblem reflected the law of “compensation” or what some may describe as “Karma” (although that term is often misused). That is, if you do good works the universe will empty “its horn of plenty” in your time of need.
The Budded Rod: The best teaching I found on this was that “Divine Truth” can “draw freshness and verdure” from the “most barren facts and common things in life” and give them life and interest. So apparently it was used to illustrate Truth, as we teach it.
The Lamb: This emblem was used to teach innocence, purity, and
meekness. Also, one book (Odd Fellows Monitor and Guide, 1876) implied the lamb was also a symbol of rescue and protection when its blood was used during Jewish Passover as protection: “When the destroying angel passed through the land of Egypt…it passed over the houses…which were sprinkled with the blood of the slain lamb.”
I hope to have part II somewhere down the road. But, I’d really like to encourage discussion about returning many of our lost symbols to the ritual.
Scott Moye is an award-winning history educator and collector of Arkansas folklore. He grew up on a cotton farm and is currently a museum worker. Hobbies include: old house restoration, writing, amateur radio, Irish traditional music, archery, craft beer, old spooky movies, and street performance. He is a member of Marshall Lodge #1, in Marshall, Arkansas, and a founder of Heart In Hand Blog. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org