That's Not the Way It's Done

by Midnight Freemason Guest Contributor
Bro. Guidon Sobecki

My career as a Masonic officer began like many others. I was a new member who had been to a few meetings since my third degree, and the Steward’s chair was empty. I was asked if I could sit in so we could have a full slate for opening, and I walked over figuring it could be fun to hold a staff and wear a jewel for the evening. Ten minutes later, I was jolted by someone yelling to “un-socket your rod.” Bewildered, I pulled the staff out of its base next to my chair and held it. As we stood up to give the sign, the ritual was halted as someone told me I was passing the staff to my other hand the wrong way. As we sat down for the business meeting and members brought out their phones and planners, I went to put my rod away, and was instantly told to un-socket it again until the Master gave permission. The Master overheard this and casually said we could put the rods away. But first, I had to uncross my legs and keep them planted firmly on the floor at all times. I looked around the room at the sideliners who were comfortably leaning back in their pews with their legs crossed. “So this was what it feels like to be an officer,” I thought. 

Six months later, we were conferring a degree, and they needed me to take the Steward’s chair that night. A Brother from another lodge walked up behind me, grabbed my arm and forcibly walked me through the Steward’s floor work without a word of introduction of explanation. I didn’t know who he was, and still don’t, but I remember his hand leaving a mark on my arm. As I circled the lodge room behind the blindfolded candidate, voices would randomly sound off from the sidelines that my pace was off, I was ahead or behind, or that someone else was similarly out-of-spec. The candidate, hoodwinked and undergoing a transition into our ancient fraternity, heard every word of their commentary tossed in between the prayers and sacred obligations.  After the last gavel sounded, I was told not to leave until I had been given a refresher on the proper way to turn ninety degrees. 

One year later, I was at a district ritual class. The sidelines were packed with members from several lodges, gathered to review the latest ritual instructions from the experts. I was twenty-two at the time; the next youngest Brother in attendance was in his sixties. As the instructors filled the chairs, someone volunteered me for a position. The usual voices were now amplified and multiplied because there wasn’t a candidate to distract them. After completing my segment, someone in the corner seated in the corner raised his hand to tell the instructor that I should be run through the section one more time for practice. The instructor obliged, and it all happened all over again. At the coffee and donut session afterwards, I sat alone for a while and left without anyone noticing. 

Not long ago, I served as Junior Deacon for a First Degree. Someone whose name I didn’t know, sitting by the door in jeans, crossed his arms and announced that I wasn’t having the candidate knock on the door at the right moment. Later, as the newly initiated Brother was handed off to me for the grand exit, the same Brother near the door yelled from behind us that I had to switch my rod to the other hand.   I ascended the East to give the last lecture of the evening. At various points of my memorized speech, I could hear the casual conversations from the sidelines about the temple board meeting and the restaurant on First Street that just closed. It took me an hour and a half to get home, which was a relief compared to the two hours it took to drive from my office to the lodge. 

The other day, I was enjoying a rare night off. My desk was cluttered with my blue ritual book with the pages wedged open to a lecture another lodge asked for help with, a red York Rite script because I had a feeling someone would cancel and I’d need to change parts, and printed copies of a Scottish Rite degree and the Shriner initiation lectures. As I pushed my dinner plate aside and picked up the blue ritual book with the bent corners, I found myself skimming the degree for what seemed like the thousandth time, double-checking the second half of the sentence in paragraph six just in case I’ve been saying  “therefore” to myself instead of “hence.” It matters. No one has ever told me why, but it apparently does. 

That first night in the chair being told to un-socket my rod, I suspected that it was all a part of the journey. Hidden amongst all these awkward dance classes was a true reflection of something grander than all of us. There would be a time when it wasn’t just casual rehearsal, and perfect ritual would truly make an impact. And on that day, when I turned ninety degrees just right, an old past master would summon me to a candlelit room and tell me the true power behind all this “wax on, wax off” hazing. I would finally be included in understanding these ancient mysteries and could someday pass them on to those who would seek them after me.  As time went on, I realized that this would never happen. If the officers all truly achieved ritual perfection within our year, the sidelines would be silent, and the candidate would only hear the ritual and his own thoughts. That is, there would be silence until an inexperienced Brother would take a chair, and the uninvited chatter and correction would start all over again. 

I have been duly taught that these words and movements, which have been passed down verbatim for generations, must be preserved in their true form at all costs. However, I don’t know who wrote them, what inspired them, or what some of these words even mean. Neither do many of those Brothers on the sidelines watching out for infractions. But I do know when to socket my rod during meetings, even though some jurisdictions have no rod instructions, and some don’t even use rods at all. I can draw out the Steward’s movements with enough detail to put John Madden to shame, but I didn’t know what the word Steward meant until Jon Snow became one on ‘Game of Thrones’ and I looked it up. I’ve asked the ones correcting me what these words mean and how all this started. At best, I’ve been told that they do ritual, not education. At worst, I’ve been told to just read it again. It’s all right there in my dog-eared blue book. 

I first walked into the lodge looking for reflection, tradition, and moral contemplation. I keep going back to that lodge because I know that if I don’t sit in that chair and walk the gauntlet of ritual corrections, there may not be anyone else willing to sit in that chair when it’s time to perform our duties. While I was being taught how to walk and talk, new members came and went like phases of the moon, and the officers and those on the sidelines remained in their chairs. I’ve slowly become a better ritualist and hopefully a better Mason over these last few years, but the lodge room seemed to grow emptier and emptier. 

I don’t know much about this fraternity. I’m often told I know even less about ritual. But I may just have an idea why the new members never came back, and why it so often seems that no one wants to walk up and sit in those chairs. 


Guidon Sobecki is a Master Mason out of DeKalb Lodge #144 in DeKalb, IL. He is also a member of the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite, Valley of Chicago, NMJ and is also the current King of Keystone Chapter #281 of the York Rite.


  1. Outsider observation: It would almost seem as though anything less than a full and perfect spiritual possession regarding every detail is simply not quite satisfactory. It is all an acting/reenactment of something to be taken seriously, else why bother with all the fancy trappings, etc.? How would fans of Shakespeare react to anyone taking broad license to those noble works?

    I wonder though, how many of those hopefully constructive but often annoying and apparently rude critics are simply out to prove their knowledge or perhaps trying to reconstruct their own historic personal vision? Perhaps a dress rehearsal is a better time for such? Perhaps that side show is part of the bigger show? It does turn out that way, does it not? No, new members would not understand, at least not without some explanation. Critical thinking, it seems, is a lost art.

  2. I have found that those who are the most critical, especially in regards to the minutiae of ritual, really have little idea of what the lessons within the degrees are teaching. We had a new JD in our lodge who was recently raised and was in his first meeting as JD. The District Deputy was there and as we opened the lodge, he worked over the JD "shift your rod, knock this way, cross your feet, etc.". The JD never came back.

  3. I remember an old Past Master reciting the closing charge along with me...out loud. After the meeting I requested that he please refrain. Also the WM is in charge of the Lodge..he should have asked the members to not interrupt...he can announce it before the Lodge is tyled. We hold rehearsals several days before meetings specifically for training. Never in an open Lodge or in front of a candidate...bad form. Training should be done kindly and supportive, not rough or rude.

  4. This makes me love my Lodge so much more.

  5. The beauty of "On the level", is you can single these hecklers up in open lodge and point out the err of their ways. Kindly ask them to keep their mouths shut during ritual unless you queue a prompt. If the WM doesnt support you, you have two options to affect change: become WM yourself or leave. But I do agree such schooling is unproductive. Much better to counsel a worthy brother one on one and offer assistance and education.

  6. Before I ever confer a degree, I make sure to announce very pointedly and strenuously that commentary from the sidelines, including hissing out stage-whispers to "prompt" somebody, is out of bounds. This kind of asinine, childish silliness ruins an initiation for a new Brother, which is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We appoint one prompter and he alone can prompt, and only then at the express request of the person who's up for that part of the ritual. I've been thankful more times than I care to remember that I was initiated by some real old hands who had their ritual work down pat, and if I live to be a thousand years old, I'll never forget my First Degree. It should be like that for every candidate.

  7. There is a right way and a not quite correct way. How instruction is given to a Brother learning the ropes of his role is what makes the difference. Technically, only the DoC should be correcting the Brother. Those on the sidelines should be more courteous than you have described.

  8. Brethren, Although ritual varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, the lessons do not. The meaning of the lessons is to be mentored to every candidate after receiving each degree and before receiving the next degree. There is never to be more than one cipher open in Lodge and that in the hands of the Ritualist, in addition it is the Ritualist who is the only other voice to make corrections during the Open Lodge. Having a full line is nice but NOT required. I believe that this article brings out the importance of rehearsal prior to the degreework. One other point is that floorwork is the at discretion of the Master, where better to hear his thoughts than at REHEARSAL. Every candidate deserves the best degreework possible for all their degrees in all the bodies. Every degree should be a meaningful memory. I know that I'm not preaching to the choir here, I just thought that I would add my point of view. Thanks for listening!

  9. Brother Sobecki, this is a good outline of the typical problems that disrupt the harmony of the Lodge: overly critical comments regarding the efforts of new brethren, routine editorials from the sideline turning every meeting into a rehearsal atmosphere, the need for the Master to rule and govern effectively, and a lack of focus on the candidate's impressions during the degree work. Good for you in persevering in your Masonic progress in spite of the challenges along the way.

  10. AMEN, BROTHER, AMEN. No wonder newbies don't return, or fogies like me. The sideline whispering is completely distracting to the candidate, besides being rude and annoying to the officer. And to what good do these sideline "hecklers" think will come of their whispers? As a Brother as well as past-master, I go to lodge to encourage and add-to the event, not detract from it. Sour grapes, bad form, useless, rude are all appropriate for the experts who interrupt the lodge proceedings. And the candidate is far more aware of what he hears by being blindfolded. There is (or should be) an "awe" about degree work, a solemness, and dignity to the meaning of the work. Has anyone of us ever attended a "perfect" degree? I don't think so. But commenting on imperfections during the degree is wrong. Guidance and good counsel outside the tiled door would be welcomed.

  11. some guys get off on that garbage. you have to rise above it.-John Kitzmiller, PM 810

  12. That sounds terrible, that would have made me never want to sit in a chair again. As a past Master I always cautioned the members to be quiet in a degree if they want to give you some friendly brotherly advice afterward that is fine, appreciated and expected but the candidate should not hear any "corrections" as it takes away the degree and it makes us brothers seem like an ass.


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