As anyone who has ever donned a Masonic apron knows, Freemasonry has a long and rich history. It is true no one truly knows where Masonry started. There are many legends people believe as to where it could have begun. But we have no actual written record we can point to as evidence.
In some ways, our Craft is really a collection of legends, stories, anecdotes, and histories woven together to make a patchwork quilt much like Fraternity itself. From the legend of the third degree through the allegories down through the Grand lodges and their histories each lodge and the individuals that comprised each square tell a story of a memory of a Brother or a lodge event that made the Fraternity what it is today. Hearing these stories or recalling a certain event you witnessed can give a just and upright Mason the warm feeling of Brotherly love and affection.
As most of us know. Not all these stories and legends are true. Some of these legends were created to illustrate a point or tell a story. And some sadly were created out of thin air just to give the Craft some “street cred” it truly didn’t need or wasn’t worthy of.
One of these legends is the well-known “Forget me not” legend. I really was heartbroken when I discovered the truth about this story. In my first few years as a Mason, this story gave me a really warm feeling. The thought of men risking their lives to aid and assist each other while in the shadow of a murderous regime to me seemed like one of the purest forms of Fraternity. So when I read the works of Most Worshipful Brother Bradley S. & Jean Rickelman “The Myths about Forget-Me-Not Flowers” appearing in The Oklahoma Mason Vol 2 May 2013. And a lodge devotional entitled The Forget Me Not flower – a growing Masonic Myth https://www.lodgedevotion.net/devotion-newsletter-content/editorial-educational-articles/the-forget-me-not-flower-a-growing-myth I can honestly say I was truly broken-hearted. I really wanted the story to be true.
I think that is why this one legend gets much more traction than many of the other Masonic legends we meet in our Masonic journeys. We as Masons want it to be true. We need it to be true in our hearts to remind us we are all a band of brothers and we are all there for each other, through thick and thin.
Another one of these legends that have been sadly debunked in recent years has been the story of General Lewis Armistead in the book “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Freemasonry in the American Civil War” by Most Worshipful Brother Michael A. Halleran https://amzn.to/3BfXjSk
Another debunked Masonic tale is "The lodge over Simpkins store". The sentiment behind this poem, beautiful as it may be, has recently been proved to be fictional by Brother Patrick Dey in Episode number 536 of the Whence came you? Podcast https://wcypodcast.libsyn.com/whence-came-you-0536-the-lodge-that-wasnt-over-simpkins-store
One thing each of these stories has in common (Besides not being true) is they illustrate Masonic principles each Mason cherishes; Faithfulness to your Brethren, dedication to your Masonic obligations, and spreading the cement of friendship and Brotherly love. Just a few of the “Rights, lights, and benefits” a candidate is looking for as he knocks on the door to a lodge room.
The forget me not and the story about General Armistead are placed in times when Masonry wasn’t just about ritual and reading minutes. And worrying about the lodge building’s roof. It was when men who made a Masonic obligation showed their true character and fulfilled the words they repeated while kneeling with actions.
So many times, we look to Masonry’s past to try and build our future. We love to point out that George Washington and John Wayne were a Mason or someone else a young man may have read about in his high school history class once with the hope that fact might impress him enough to sign a petition to join.
Sometimes I don’t think we realize how powerful these legends really are. Think about how many times you visit a lodge and see you see a Brother wearing a forget me not lapel pin or necktie. The same with General Armistead. That legend is so powerful and influential to Freemasons that the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania created a monument at the Gettysburg battlefield featuring it. The Northern Masonic Jurisdiction of The Scottish Rite even uses the story to teach a lesson in one of their degrees. In many ways, these legends are as powerful and as essential to American Freemasonry as the legend in the third degree.
If the craft has any common sense left, we should find a way to use these stories to our benefit, while at the same time pointing out their origins, to teach Masonic brethren about fulfilling their obligations. Not in a memorized allegorical way where a man will tune it out but in a way that will truly motivate him and at the same be proud of his membership.
Think of it this way Brethren: No one ever erected a statue or wore a lapel pin memorializing the reading of the minutes or of a pancake breakfast no more than anyone ever wrote a poem to commemorate a fish fry or a treasurer’s report.