(Adapted from the IOOF book “The Beacon Light,” by J. A. Colaw, pages 92-96)
Joshua Colaw, author of The Beacon Light, identified what he believed to be six truths in the Initiatory Degree. He categorized them into two groups.
A. Five preliminary truths
B. One primary truth
As an Odd Fellow I often feel like too many of us take the teachings on Truth in the third degree to only mean “always tell the truth.” However, the third degree instructs that Truth is the result in all our investigations. This means we should not only seek and pursue “the Truth” but also to investigate the question “what IS truth?”
Here are Truths which Colaw identified in his investigations of the Initiatory Degree. I’ve condensed, reworded, quoted, and provided some context as we go along.
The First Initiatory Preliminary Truth is the limit of human power. At every step humans are bound. The chains of human weakness are prepared and their links are bound around them. A human’s weakness is a mighty foe, and tightly bound by weakness, humanity is led about against its own will. The initiate is hemmed in by a narrow horizon: what are we capable of? How far can we really see? How much do we, in our often arrogant knowledge, really know? Finally, the initiate is forced to recognize how narrow they are and how very insignificant they are relative to the world and the universe. Blind, bound, weak, ignorant, small, insignificant– Colaw says these are words that describe humanity.
The Second Initiatory Primary Truth is the vanity of all worldly things. That which is material and tangible; what you can see, hear, feel, touch, and taste will fade away. The initiate will come to see the instability of wealth, honor, political power and distinction. The certainty of decay of human power and human greatness and the disfigurement of all physical beauty. The initiate is reminded of their own death and that the death of all that exists stalks the world.
The Third Initiatory Primary Truth is the possibility of immortality. Colaw argues that one of the tenets of the Order is a belief in the immortality of the soul. That
as the seasons move from winter to spring illustrating the power that brings life out of death, surely the Supreme Architect can make the human soul to live after the tomb.
The Fourth Initiatory Primary Truth is the care of God for the righteous. Colaw bases this assertion on the following statement: “…I have not seen the righteous forsaken or their seed begging bread,” which is taken from the Psalms. Colaw states “Wisdom declares to the world that a life governed by righteousness will enjoy the protection and care of the Eternal and…will have all his needs supplied out of God’s…fullness.”
Allow me to interpret this in a more modern, mystical way. “Righteousness” means “Morally upright; In accordance with virtue or morality; Morally justifiable.” If we use these definitions and look at the Psalms statement again, we might interpret it to say “If you live a moral life, do good works, take care of people, love one another, etc., the universe (God) will reward you.” The Psalms statement and the interpretation of it describes the “Law of Compensation,” also known to some as “Karma” or “What goes around comes around.” This law was often (not always) illustrated by the “Horn of Plenty” from our old symbolism.
The Fifth Initiatory Preliminary Truth is the necessity of warring against all forms of vice. I’m not sure about you, but I like a little vice in my life from time to time. You know, wild parties, a bit of drinking, spitting, and swearing, that sort of stuff.
But here, Colaw seems to go off the deep end and writes about Judas selling out Christ, the murder of Sisera by Jael, or when Joab plunged a sword into Amasa, or the story of Brutus and Caesar. In this way he equates vice with murder, deception, and backstabbing (literally).
But Colaw finally drills down and hits it. He says that one “must war against vice for his neighbor’s sake, who is not as strong as he is…” What I was left with is a bigger picture, which is that deception, violence, anger, lies, crime, and hatred, are all vices and very serious ones that Odd Fellows should certainly work against.
This brings us to Colaw’s final PRIMARY TRUTH of the Initiatory Degree: The Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Men. (“The Parenthood of God and the Kinship of Humanity” might be a more updated version) This is the basis of all fraternalism–of Odd Fellowship. In effect, Colaw states that working against vice, letting the universe care for those who do good, the vanity of worldly things, the limits of human power, and the possibility of mortality can only lead to two conclusions: that the kinship of humanity is an important realization, and that we are sustained by a universe that promotes goodness and love. It only hopes we choose them.
Adapted from: “The Beacon Light,” by J. A. Colaw, pages 92-96.
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
2 thoughts on “Joshua Colaw’s Six Truths for Initiates.”
It’s always wonderful to read or hear different takes on the symbolism behind the rituals of Odd Fellowship. The moral and spiritual dimension of the Order’s work and rituals is undervalued, in my opinion, and I wish there was more written about it.
I agree. I recently wrote a book “Think Like An Odd Fellow” that goes pretty deeply into a philosophy of the Order you may find interesting. You can search it on Amazon. Thanks!