Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
At its inception in England, Odd Fellowship was, essentially, a social club. The members – all men in those days – gathered in the local pubs to swap stories, sing lusty songs, have conversations, drink ale, and generally have a good time. Because there were no telephones, or radios, or television sets or movies, these social gatherings were important interludes for the working men of of the time. In the latter part of the 18th Century and well into the 19th Century, Odd Fellowship morphed into what the British call a “friendly society”. Because government provided virtually no social services to citizens, and because there was no insurance industry to speak of, people were essentially on their own. Under these conditions, fraternal organizations like Odd Fellows stepped in to provide support. The Order, over time, provided hospitals, old-age homes, orphanages, and cemeteries. The Order also provided help to members who had lost their jobs, including small grants of money and assistance in finding a job. From these services grew the ancient principles and admonitions of the Order such as “visit the sick, relieve the distressed, bury the dead and educate the orphan.”
Due in large measure to the wide range of services, help and support provided by Lodges in those early days, there was great demand to join Odd Fellowship by those who desired that safety net of support and assistance. And it was not uncommon that men who were not Odd Fellows, would attempt to get services from the Order by passing themselves off as brothers. There is documentary evidence about men traveling from town to town, passing themselves off as brothers out of work seeking employment, and asking for financial support to tide them over. Because of these sorts of things, Odd Fellowship established an elaborate system of secret signs, passwords and grips so that frauds could be exposed and services could be rendered only to true members. In fact, if you look at the back of the Encampment dues card, you will see a series of “telegraph ciphers” that were used in the old days so that Lodges could communicate with each other, via telegraph, using code words and shorthand to expose fraudulent efforts. The code words included, for example, “black” which is shorthand for “he is a fraud, and if he has a card or other papers from this lodge, they are forgeries.”
These quaint relics from our fraternal past are interesting historical vignettes. They are, however, as obsolete today as the telegraph.
We are, after all, in the 21st Century, the Era of the Internet. And in this age of the Internet, there are no secrets. We shouldn’t delude ourselves with the notion that we are a secret society anymore. In fact, virtually everything we believe to be a “secret” of our society has been, is, or will eventually be, out there in the public domain. If you do about ten minutes of research on the Internet, you can find the ritual, or a pretty close facsimile, of the Initiatory Degree, the First Degree, the Second Degree, and the Third Degree of our Order. All our oaths and affirmations are in the public domain. You can find a description of all our officer positions, and their function. You can find explanations for our signs and our grips. Heck, you can even find our passwords. On the Internet, you can find copies of our cards, our forms and our papers. All our ribbons, medals, pins and jewels are available for purchase through Amazon, or eBay, or Etsy or any number of other websites.
So, why am I telling you all this?
I have attended a number of meetings of Lodges where the meetings consist of little more than a recitation of the opening ritual and the closing ritual. The middle of the meeting – what is supposed to be the meat of the meeting – is virtually non-existent. There are no committee reports, there is no old business and there is no new business. These Lodges don’t do much more than open the meeting in form, read the minutes, pay a couple of bills, and close the meeting in form. Brothers and sisters, I urge you to realize that there is more to Odd Fellowship than the ritual. While that ritual is important and is what makes us unique as Odd Fellows – if that is pretty much all you are doing in your Lodge, then you are missing out on the true meaning of Odd Fellowship. We must do more in our fraternal life than open and close meetings. To reach our full potential, to exercise the commitment to “friendship, love and truth” and “to elevate the character of man” we must actively contribute to our local communities and we must find ways to bring back a fun social life for our Lodge members. If you think that keeping the secrets of the Order is the end-all and be-all of your IOOF experience, think again. There are no secrets in the Age of the Internet.
We must evolve from the historical fiction that we are a secret society to the modern reality that we are a society with secrets.
F – L – T
Jurisdiction of California