“When my wife and I moved to Austin, Texas in early 2019, we had planned to return to the UK every few months to see people and coordinate my visits to link up with various masonic meetings.
This way I could keep involved with my Middlesex and Berkshire freemasonry.
However, the best laid plans have so far come to nought in this plague-filled world and we’ve still not managed to get back and see people.
We decided to retire out here as my wife is American.
After keeping her in the UK for 20 years we eventually decided to settle in Austin which has plenty going on.
I also continue to keep involved with my UK-based work for 1-2 days week.
Masonic Plans –
Part of my plan was always to continue my masonic career in the States so one of the first things I did was to visit various lodges in the Austin area to try and find a new ‘home’.
There are five or six lodges in and around Austin (a population of around 1m) and it Is not uncommon to have 200+ members in a lodge.
In the end, I chose to join Hill City Lodge, No. 456 which meets in the Scottish Rite Theatre in central Austin.
Proving myself prior to joining was down to checking my Middlesex Lodges in their various directories and then testing my signs and tokens comprehensively.
They found my Grand Lodge Certificate to be interesting, but they appeared to have been taught to be extra cautious.
The Blue Lodge –
Blue, or Craft, Lodges tend to meet weekly.
One meeting a month is the “Stated Meeting” where official business is handled including reporting on Lodge expenditure and voting on the more important propositions.
The other three or four meetings are “Called Meetings” in which there are rehearsals, Degree ceremonies and the testing of candidates.
Whilst there are a few Lodges that have a festive board, these are rare and most have a one or two course meal which is cooked by the Stewards each week.
No alcohol but a plentiful iced tea is provided at a princely sum of $7USD per meal, or around £5.
There are usually a number of prospective candidates at each weekly pre-meeting meal, which is used to get to know them (and they us) and to gradually ensure that they become suitable candidates for freemasonry.
One lodge has an open Masonry-101 (one on one) each week where there are always 7-8 prospective candidates asking questions and learning about the Craft.
They often attend sessions each week for many months before petitioning to join.
I became affiliated to Hill City Lodge No 456 – ( http://hillcitylodge.org/ which meant I didn’t need to go through the degrees again.
Having seen how these Degrees are acted out, it appears they far more graphic than in Emulation Ritual with a large cast of characters.
For example, in the 3rd, rather than the just WM (or whoever) telling the story of Hiram Abif, the entire plot is acted out including the search for the Ruffians.
Before being admitted formally, however, there was much formal communication between the Lodge, the Grand Lodge of Texas, United Grand Lodge of England, Provincial Grand Lodge of Middlesex and then my two Middlesex Lodges.
My red Provincial Stewards apron attracted a huge amount of interest, as with the exception of active officers, all the aprons here are plain white, with details of the Degrees passed written under the flap.
Typical dress at Called Meetings would be Jeans and tee shirts – Jeans tends to be the answer to dress code everywhere here, including “Cowboy Formal” (Jeans, black tie and Tuxedo jacket) for formal dinners.
Stated Meetings tend to mean a jacket, trousers and tie (or sportscoat and pants as the locals would say).
The Degrees –
It Is more structured going through the degrees here in Texas.
Each Lodge has its Elected Officers for the year and also Degree Teams for each of the three degrees.
These team members have learned the ritual and take over the meeting when performing a ceremony.
Everyone from the WM down comes out of their seats once the lodge is open and the team takes over their seats for the ceremony.
Whoever is in the WM chair or is delivering a charge wears a Stetson which is ‘doffed’ when mentioning the GAOTU.
The candidates have a lot more to learn ahead of the degree ceremony and have to commit to memory various questions and answers which they are tested on at one of the weekly Called Meetings before they are deemed proficient and able to take their degree Degree.
Having been through a ceremony and attained a degree, there’s then a further oral test that they must pass in open lodge, which is typically an extended version of the obligation.
Keeping the ritual secret is exceptionally strict No ritual books, notes or written ritual are allowed in Ceremonies or at rehearsals.
The ritual book itself is full of cipher symbols and is almost unintelligible to the casual reader.
One has to learn the ritual orally and practice it with another brother until it sinks in.
The shape of the ritual is familiar but very different to Emulation or Taylors.
During this current year I have been appointed Junior Steward which is the bottom or starting point of the progression ladder.
Being a Steward means that you are responsible for the meals at each week’s meeting.
So, between the Senior Steward and myself we have to plan menus, shop and cook the meals each week, typically for between 25-40 people.
There is generally a main course followed by a dessert or ice cream.
We have a professional kitchen to cook in so tend to be in the building 2-3 hours before a meeting and serve the meal at 6.30pm.
The Other Orders –
As well as the Blue lodges, which are equivalent to our Craft lodges, there is York Rite and Scottish Rite masonry here.
These are separate orders that one has to join once one’s attained the rank of MM.
Within York Rite there are several degrees including the Holy Royal Arch.
I am still trying to organise a visit to a Chapter here so watch this space.
Other familiar degrees include Rose Croix which has no Christian connotation here so anyone can join.
There’s also Scottish Rite which is very popular and includes many degrees from the 4th to the 32nd.
This meets monthly and once or twice a year holds a ‘Reunion” at which petitioners are invited to join and to go through the degrees.
This tends to be over a one or two day meeting where the Degrees are worked one after the other.
I recently joined the Scottish Rite at an abridged one-day Reunion in Austin.
Rather than aprons Scottish Rite masons wear caps and rings to denote their rank, but as in masonry everywhere, everyone is equal.
1. Lodge of Perfection (4th to 14th degrees)
2. Chapter of Rose Croix (15th to 18th degrees)
3. Council of Knights Kadosh (19th to 30th degrees)
4. Consistory of the Royal Secret (31st and 32nd degrees)
There is a substantial amount of esoteric depth to each of these Degrees and many of the brethren get deeply involved in the underlying meanings, the spiritual aspects and also how this all relates to the Kabbalah.
Such a depth of involvement and research isn’t required, but it is encouraged.
Needless to say I am just scraping the surface right now.
Twenty six members went through the four “terminal” degrees (14th – Perfect Elu, 18th – Knight of the Rose Croix, 30th – Knight Kadosh and 32nd – Master of the Royal Secret) together.
Each is elaborately staged with intricate staging and props.
We did this at the Scottish Rite Theatre in Austin which has over 50 backdrops and scenery drops that are over 100 years old and which depict the various settings of the degrees.
It was an extraordinary experience and my head throbbed with the amount of information I had tried to take in after 12 hours of ceremonies (plus breakfast, lunch and drink breaks).
The Tyler Rides Shotgun –
There are some other Lodges that meet in various interesting settings.
One in particular meets outdoors in a disused quarry.
The quarry floor is laid out as a Masonic Temple with the Tyler sitting at the top of the quarry ramp in his pickup truck with his shotgun to ‘keep off all intruders’.”
Ed: This has been highly enlightening and broadens our masonic knowledge of other Constitutions.
Thanks are due to W Bro Nick for producing “A Letter from America”.
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