Odd Fellowship is Unique
It is sometimes said that Odd Fellowship is the offspring of Masonry, but this is in no sense true and the writer of this knows whereof he speaks. While occasionally a similarity of expression can be traced in a few of the unimportant parts of the ceremonials, in the fundamentals they are essentially different. Masonry is a noble institution, but is as unlike Odd Fellowship, as two institutions, organized by human beings can well be. The one is theoretical, the other practical; the one is ancient, the other modern; the government of the one is autocratic, the other democratic; the one deals out charity and assists its needy members, but only to a limited extent and only as charity; the other assists its members, not only from charity, but because it is their due, and this assistance is afforded in large measure.
In America, Odd Fellowship is composed of the great middle, industrial classes almost exclusively: Masonry, of all grades of society, from the titled and wealthy of this and foreign lands, to the humblest laborer in our midst. In England, where Odd Fellowship arose, we are told that Masonry was composed almost exclusively of the titled and the proud, and not of the mechanics and working men who organized the more modern institution. Masonry has been long in achieving its present standing. Odd Fellowship in less than two centuries has [become one of] the grandest fraternal organizations of the world.
["Introduction" by John H. White, pp. 2-3, in The History and Manual of Odd Fellowship, Theodore A. Ross (The M.W. Hazen Company: New York, 1902).]
There have been many organizations brought together for the benefit of mankind. They have been social, political, fraternal, in the business world, in the army and navy, and in all the branches of life. The aim in one and all was concentration. The strong front of a body of men, who are able to achieve success individually, is well nigh irresistible when united. In union there is strength. And I stand before you tonight as one of you. We are brothers. Our interests lie along the same lines when once we are gathered together in the walls of the lodge, with the emblems of the great organization on all sides of us, and with the elbow touch of comradeship to help us realize that we are not alone in holding the high ideals and aims which we hear proclaimed this evening.
Ours is no feeble upstart. This society for years has brought honor and renown to its members, and in times of distress it has stood by them one and all, no matter what the evils which threatened, or the ills which have already befallen them. There is nothing so capable of protecting a man in the midst of the thousand and one ills and struggles and perplexities of life, or which can so aid him and bring the strength back to his fainting heart as the strong arm of a group of men who believe what he believes, and reveres the sentiments which are so sacred to him. Now and then there may have occasional seeming causes of difference among our members. But in the long run, these have swallowed up in the great work whose furtherance we all strive to help. They have been merely ripples on the ocean’s bosom.
The love which binds men together in a cause like ours cannot be severed by any trivial personalities. As long as mankind endures and the freedom of the will is a reality, just so long will men continue to have different opinions upon matters coming up before them. The church connection, the political party with which he has allied himself, the relationships of family and the strong bands of personal friendship, do not stand between a man and his brothers in this our organization. So many times have we acted together, and with our united effort have achieved what at first seemed the impossible, that now we have found that confidence in the organization which is like the irresistible momentum of a great body, vast and imposing. For a body of men is in itself worthy of respect, one might almost say, of awe.
Over this fair land of ours we have our representatives. There are brothers of ours in every city of importance, from one edge of the continent to another. The names that we use, the secret signs with which we convey the messages of fraternal greeting, are recognized in every state of our vast Union. There is no place, one might almost say, where we are not able to grasp the hand of a brother in the grip of our fraternity, and where the welcome and protection afforded by fellow members of our organization is not extended to us through the far-reaching influence of our might society.
Back of us stand our wives and little ones. And when old age at last overtakes us, my brothers, and we are unable to grapple with the tasks of life, and when the arm of the bread winner is weakened, then beside our tottering frames will stand the form of the great organization, ready to lift them from despair and support them to the end of their days, or until they can fight the battle of life for themselves.
Such is the beneficent and powerful influence of our society. The strength, the influence, the character, the renown which belong to it are, I feel sure, gladly accredited to it by each and all of us here tonight. There is not one of us but would gladly do all in his power to help her and assist her in her time of need. I therefore propose to our society a toast in which we all will join.
Our society: may its influence never wane, its name never die, and its roll of honor never be tarnished.
[Address of Dr. J.S. Caster, N.G., Excelsior Lodge No. 268, I.O.O.F., Burlington, Iowa, July, 1903, quoted in The Fraternal and Modern Banquet Orator, Hon. W.W. Dodge (Monarch Book Company, Chicago, 1903).]
The Broader Fraternalism
Whole-hearted men whose every impulse is to help others, whose whole purpose is to relieve distress and want, who visit the sick and comfort the dying, who care for the orphan and the widow, who shed a radiance of sunshine and love in habitations of darkness and sorrow, who lift up the poor wrecked brother or friend, and by kindly efforts restore him to a proud place in the world’s affairs, are to be more admired than kings, and are given places in the halls of fame that will live longer than those whose memory is perpetuated by images of granite, bronze or marble.
The purpose to help others, which has inspired your Order and is carrying it forward to its great success, has been the foundation stone of all kindred organizations throughout all time.
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As quietly as the color is given to the rose, as beautifully as the tint comes to the summer skies, as sweetly as the odor arises from a summer shower giving purity and loveliness to everything about, so gently and quietly will be the influence of the members of our organizations in the world at large that all elements of society must be benefited by their example.
We are taught to obey all lawful authority, to be law abiding men. Unless we had promised the observation of these requirements we could not have been admitted to our fraternities.
If we carry out in our lives the principles taught at the altars of our lodge rooms, lessons of good fellowship will go out in every community wherever a branch of our Order is established.
The members of our great organization are helping to build the churches; they build homes for the orphans, and for the old men and women; they build hospitals to care for the sick and suffering ; they look after the needs of their fellowmen; they dispense charity in a quiet, modest way to the help of all mankind. All modern fraternities are organized practically upon the same lines.
We submit to no religious creed, are bound by no church association, the membership of all churches is represented amongst our members. The work in which we are engaged may be performed by all, no matter their church affiliation or religious belief.
We go forward asking and seeking the co-operation of all just and honorable men. We do not oppose the church, but try to help it, and we boast of the fact that no man or woman can belong to our Orders and follow their teachings that is not made better by having joined with us and better fitted to perform the duties enjoined by church ties and duties.
We are all striving for a broader fraternity; money is expended, much valuable time is given, great labor performed, many sacrifices are made, that we may bring within the folds of our several organizations [referring here to the Odd Fellows, Improved Order of Red Men, and Knights of Pythias] men and women from all walks of life to enable us to yield a larger influence and exert a wider good. Every sacrifice, every bit of labor performed and time given and all money expended to these ends are wisely bestowed. These great Orders, reaching into the most remote corners of the earth, shedding lessons of love to mankind, loyalty to country and faith in God, gathering under our several banners from all classes of people, giving light to the intelligence, character, manhood and womenhood of all who follow our leadership must necessarily do great good and exercise a great power in the world’s affairs.
Let us go forward … in this great work for mankind. Let us by every act of ours set example to our fellowmen for the elevation of human character and the promotion of human happiness. Let our banner be unfurled everywhere, and let all men who believe in our principles rally bout it so that the spirit and intent of true fraternity may be carried forward to the realization of that success to which it is so justly entitled, to the end that men of all tongues and kindred of the earth may join in the work of universal brotherhood.
When our efforts and principles are fully understood by all men, wars will cease, troubles between governments will have ended, disputes between labor and capital will have been solved, and we will have realized our aim to preserve peace throughout the whole civilized world and to establish and maintain fraternal brotherhood with one another.
[Excerpts from an address by the Hon. John B. Crockrum, Grand Sire of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows given at the Annual Session of the Great Council of the Improved Order of Red Men of the United States in 1912 (Fraternal Publishing Co.: Houston, Texas, 1912).]
The Jericho Road
The duty of man to himself is taught in the Initiatory Degree; that of man to his friend in the Degree of Friendship, and that of man to mankind in the Degree of Brotherly Love. In the Degree of Truth, Odd Fellowship teaches the duty of man to God. That is the primary purpose of the Order. All other purposes are incidental.
While the great first principle of Odd Fellowship, and the cornerstone upon which its superstructure rests, is fraternity, that principle is based on the fact that man is a constituent of one universal brotherhood and God is the common parent of all. The Degree of Truth emphasizes that relationship, causes the initiate more clearly to understand it, and teaches him that while we meet for mutual counsel and for the relief of distress, which are among the practices of the Order, while mutual relief is a leading office of our affiliation, and while visiting the sick, relieving distress, burying the dead, and educating the orphan are commands of our law, and imperative duties enjoined by the Order, they are but a tithe of its intrinsic excellencies; that more important is the improvement and elevation of the character of man, the imbuing of him with proper conceptions of his capabilities for good, the enlightening of his mind, and the enlarging of the sphere of his affections, and that the most important work, and the aim of the Order, is the leading of man to the cultivation of the true, fraternal relations designed by the Great Author of his being.
Odd Fellowship does that, it seeks to lead man to a proper understanding of his duty to God and his relationship to Him; to become imbued with a desire to live in conformity with His will; to learn and to conform to His plan of life; to treat his neighbor as himself, in accordance with the commandment accompanying the parable of the Samaritan; to hold fast to friends, after the fashion of Jonathan; to refuse to do anything which is contrary to the duty he owes to himself; to reflect in his life the goodness of the Father of all men, and to strive to live on earth so that after his human habitation is no longer fit for occupancy, he may have a spiritual habitation which shall never change.
Odd Fellowship seeks to do those things, but in doing so it avoids affinity with any system of faith or sect. It seeks to inculcate a veneration for religion, and it conforms to religion, but it banishes from its councils those sectarian discussions which create heartburnings and divisions among men. It accepts the laws of God, and it would have them indelibly engraven upon the hearts of men as moral precepts to guide and direct their daily walks of life, but it presents no plan or religious instruction.
[From, The Jericho Road, at 132-133, Thomas G. Andrews, Past Grand Sire, Independent Order of Odd Fellows (The William Thomas Co., Oklahoma City, OK, 1937) Note: In addition to having held the highest office attainable in the Odd Fellows fraternity, Thomas G. Andrews other fraternal affiliations included membership in the Knights of Pythias, Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, and Freemasonry, in which he was a 33°, Honorary, member of the Supreme Council, A. & A. Scottish Rite, Southern Jurisdiction and a Past Commander of his Knights Templar Commandery. Andrews was active in his Church. Andrews was a practicing attorney and served as a Justice of the Supreme Court of Oklahoma. Busy men get things done! ]
A.C. Cable, Grand Sire, addressing the Sovereign Grand Lodge, IOOF, in 1902
As Odd Fellows, we find as much pleasure in looking backward as we feel in looking forward. The past comes before us, in which we see the blanched cheeks of men and women struggling against adversity's tide, and then the picture of stalwart hearts and willing hands making fields of hope from the fallows of despair, and where once were misery and tears, are found contentment and joy.
Man's fraternity to man has given countless thousands relief against distress, and for the shadows that cast their gloom over the fireside there have come the bright rays of brotherly love, banishing want and care with the magic sunlight of our hope.
The past century has been called the century of achievements. The nineteenth century, however, has produced nothing so great as its men, its women, and its institutions of organized benevolence. Great personalities have appeared in art and literature, in invention and commerce, in philanthropy and religion, in science and in politics. The past century will be forever memorable as having given to the world Cavour, the reconstructor of Italy; Lincoln, the liberator, and one of the great constructive statesmen of America; Bismarck, the unifier of Germany; Victoria, England's lovely Queen, who served the British Empire longest, and was the most beloved of all the British rulers; Wildey, the founder, and Ridgely, the great constructor of Odd Fellowship, whom Odd Fellows the world over regard as the most practical benefactor in the world's history.
When history spreads before you the bloody page of war, and Alexander, in the breadth of his campaigns; Marlborough, in the number and certainty of his victories; Hannibal, in the difficulties which he encountered; Napoleon, in his genius, resources and results; Martel, in his persistent hammering; Wellington, in his cold, calculating methods and astounding victories; Grant, "the man on horseback," "the silent man," whose tribute of love and loyalty to all the people was embodied in the enduring words of "Let us have peace!" Lee, the world-renowned soldier and educator, whose sword was a trophy that Alexander, Caesar, and Napoleon would have envied as the brightest diadem for victory's jeweled crown; Dewey and Schley, whose great battles at Manila Bay and off the coast from Santiago, respectively, made them the great heroes of modern times of the navies of the world, march across the canvas of your vision, your heart grows faint and sick within you; it is then you turn away your face to look upon the real heroes of the world, and to the men who have stepped from earth to heaven on noble deeds nobly done for others.
It is then that your eyes are dimmed with tears of gratitude to God that He made man so noble in feeling and glorious in destiny.
All the philosophers in mediaeval times, all the men who wrote the chronicles of those years, unite in telling us how great were the good influences of the Knights Errant, who went up and down he world, redressing human wrongs, championing the cause of the weak, wearing the color of their lady love, living above their age in virtuous morality, and dying as heroes on the battle-field. But, my brothers, would you see the real heroes of the world, the men who laid broad and deep the foundation of our age and all succeeding ages, then turn your eyes to the procession where march no Knights in glittering mail, where rustle no implements of war and savagery, but where pass in review the sons of God - the sons of peace, wearing the jeweled helmet of immortal hope for all men and the breastplate of Friendship, Love, and Truth for all who toil and struggle under the burdens of life.
In a world such as ours it ought not to seem strange that our common Father, God, has kept the best wine of civilization until the last of the feast. Everything in nature and history tells us that this is the law of the universe, the solemn, strange march of creation – "moving to unheard music and unseen banners to some great enterprise." When this march of creation shall have ended, and the sons of men hang out their banners on the battlements of Heaven, and the rolls of honor are read, those who have truly loved their fellow-men will enter upon their reward. In the earthly life of the human race God pitches His tent close beside the tents of His children, and inspires His sons to speak His words, and opens the eyes of each new-born babe to behold the beatific vision, and deluges each day with the greatness of His own divinity. God is ever as of old. So long as light is in the sky, he rustle of His garments is heard, and His hand stretches out, and His ear bends to hear our human voices and to fill our souls with His own thought and speech. "What God was, He is; what He did, He does; what He said, He says." Shall we, who stand before all the world as the representatives of His will, say, by an indifference to His expressed command: "Thou hast been, but Thou art not now concerned with the welfare of men," forgetful that through service we reveal the life of God – the life of sovereign worth and everlastingness? Your works of Friendship, Love, and Truth denote eternal verities; duties; patriotism; goodness; goodness; lead out to the infinite. Your ideals bring you to the heart of God. So follow your aspirations to their highest reach; rise to the supreme significance of your ideals, and you will discover that your happiness, and the happiness of your fellow-man, is "bound up in the bundle of life with the Lord our King." "Sell all thou hast and give to the poor;" hold all that you have and are for the race to which you belong; for eternal life is the life of duty, and rests upon the character of God and the capacity of man.
Whatever may become of individual forms and end of all achievement is the higher life of man. We conquer the world for each other; and the more real and ideal our lives, the sooner will the world be won to that exalted truth of universal fatherhood and brotherhood of which the Lord was the most illustrious and shining example.
[Annual Address of the Grand Sire (A.C. Cable) to the Sovereign Grand Lodge, IOOF, at the September 15, 1902 session at Des Moines, Iowa, quoted in Thoughts for the Occasion: Fraternal and Benevolent Orders, Franklin Noble, DD, ed. , pp. 97-101 (E.B. Treat & Company, New York, 1905)