Home > Masonic > A Mason at Sight – The Rare Special Event with Common Misconceptions

A Mason at Sight – The Rare Special Event with Common Misconceptions

The Following is a report I submitted to the Pennsylvania Academy of Masonic Knowledge.  Again, I’ve tried to reference everything found during my research for accuracy. If you find anything that needs attention please let me know.

A Mason at Sight
The Rare Special Event with Common Misconceptions

A phrase that seems to appear from time to time is “Mason at Sight.”  For many Masons and non-Masons alike this conjures up images of the Grand Master waving his hand like a wizard and saying something along the lines of, “ABRA KA-DABRA…IT IS DONE.”   The result being an ordinary man is instantly titled Master Mason without any effort or knowledge of the craft.

There is no shortage of misinformation out there on the process of being made a Mason at sight.  The term itself implies that with one pen stroke the Grand Master takes a man and declares him a Freemason.  This could not be further from the truth.

In fact, when a Grand Master makes a Mason at sight, it is not too extremely different from our widely accepted one day classes.  Of course there are certain differences that exist between jurisdictions, but for the most part being made a Mason at sight is not as much of a free pass that many people claim.

The actual process of making a Mason at sight is common but rare.  As of 2011, in Pennsylvania, this has only happened 91 times since 1842.1  Often times these special events are very large ceremonies attended by many members to witness the degree work in its entirety as was the case in 1998 when three Pennsylvania State Police officers were raised to the Sublime degree of a Master Mason by the Pennsylvania State Police Masonic Degree Team.2

With the Grand Masters approval, a Mason at sight event can be more than just degree work by any ordinary members.  Many times special degree teams made up of men from specific lines of work make it not only a special event for the candidates involved, but also displays the various special interest degree teams recognized by the Grand Jurisdiction of Pennsylvania.  As mentioned above the Pennsylvania State Police Masonic Degree team was just one of the various degree teams.  Pennsylvania also hosts the Pennsylvania Masonic Emergency Services Degree Team which took part in a similar event in 2002 when two men of the emergency services profession were made Masons at sight.

In Pennsylvania, the Grand Master has the authority as the chief Masonic official in the Jurisdiction to make a man a Mason without the traditional process of petitioning a lodge, submitting to an investigation of his background, or awaiting the outcome of a lodge vote.  In addition, the candidate does not have to wait a month in between degrees. 4

Although it is becoming more common than ever for one day conferrals and mass initiations, especially in Pennsylvania, there are differences between the so called ‘One Day Classes” and being made a Mason at sight.  During an official one day class, each candidate has gone through the exact preparation as a traditional candidate.  He has filed a petition seeking the prayer of his petition to be granted.  The petition was signed by two Master Masons as recommenders.  The petition is brought before the lodge for the approval or rejection of the candidate’s prayer being granted, and then upon approval, the candidate is interviewed by a committee of three Master Masons.  Upon a report to the lodge on the candidate, the lodge votes to approve or reject the candidate for membership.   If approved, the candidate then moved through three degrees of the symbolic lodge either in a traditional format of one degree at a time, or in a one day event receiving all three degrees one after the other.

When a man is made a Mason at sight, he still takes the degree work the same as any candidate would.  The differences lie in the fact that the Grand Master can vouch for the character of the man in question, and therefore forgo the petition, ballot, and interview process.  The candidate still takes his full degree work, complete with charges and investiture.  5

Typically a Mason at sight is someone of high regard or otherwise a pillar of society.  Just a few noted men who have become Masons at sight in Pennsylvania include Samuel W. Pennypacker (1897), Governor of Pennsylvania; John Wanamaker (1898), Merchant; Andrew and Richard Mellon (1928), Financiers; Milton S. Eisenhower (1951), brother of President Dwight Eisenhower; George M. Leader (1955), Governor of Pennsylvania; Fitz Eugene Dixon, Jr. (1976), Philanthropist; and Col. Paul J. Evanko (1999), Pennsylvania State Police Commissioner.6

The record for most Masons made at sight by a Pennsylvania Grand Master is nine.  It is held by Grand Master Benjamin Page who was in office from 1932 -1933.He is followed by William A. Carpenter with 7 between 1984 and 1985.  Tied for third are Grand Masters William J. Kelley (1897-1898) and J. Wilson Smith (1928-1929) each with 5.7

The earliest accounts, according to Mackey’s Encyclopedia, include an instance of Lord Lovell making the Duke of Lorraine, who later became Emperor of Germany, a Mason at sight in 1731.  Mackey also tells us that the Duke of Gloucester was made a Mason at sight in 1766.  The Duke of Cumberland received this honor in 1767.  In 1787, in an “occasional Lodge”  the Prince of Wales was made a Mason at sight.   The term “occasional lodge” can also be called “emergency lodge” which Mackey tells us is; “specially convened by him (The Grand Master), and consisting of such Master Masons as he may call together for that purpose only; the Lodge ceasing to exist as soon as the initiation, passing, or raising has been accomplished, and the Brethren have been dismissed by the Grand Master.”8

Although the practice of making Masons at sight had been recorded in some form or another as early as 1731, it did not become officially authorized in Pennsylvania until 1825.   In this year an addition of the “Ahiman Rezon” was printed that listed one of the Grand Masters powers; “To cause masons to be made in his presence, at any time; and at any place, a lodge being opened by him for that purpose.”9

As of 1995, the authority was expanded to read as; “To cause Masons to be made in his presence, at any time and at any place, a Lodge being opened by him for that purpose; To grant, and authorize to be granted, Dispensations for making Masons, for constituting Lodges, for laying Cornerstones, for forming Masonic processions, and for the burial of unaffiliated Master Masons; Adopted December 6, 199510

It is also worth noting that a man made a Mason at sight still has to petition an individual lodge for acceptance.  So while a few steps in the process have been relaxed with the approval, supervision, and direction of the Grand Master, these men still need to ballot a lodge for membership.  Unlike the one day classes when a man is made a member of a lodge while typically sitting beside many men who are becoming members of different lodges, Masons at sight, many times, are just made Masons of that particular jurisdiction.  A lodge still has to accept his prayer of his petition for membership. This is similar to a membership transfer.

As stated in the current Ahiman Rezon; 19.04. “Brethren made at sight or by Dispensation do not thereby become members of the Lodge in which they are made. To become members they must apply by petition, and be duly elected, as hereinafter provided.”11

The idea that making a Mason at sight is somehow bad or negative to Freemasonry is nothing new.  Many authors have touched on this topic for years.  While it is worth noting this practice has been around for many years, some jurisdictions have claimed they forbid it, but at the same time actually performing it in practice.   One noted Masonic author, Albert G. Mackey, touched on this topic in 1874;

The prerogative of the Grand Master to make masons masons at sight, is a Landmark which is closely connected with the preceding one. There has been much misapprehension in relation to this Landmark, which misapprehension has sometimes led to a denial of its existence in jurisdictions where the Grand Master was perhaps at the very time substantially exercising the prerogative, without the slightest remark or opposition…12

The misleading title of “mason at sight” has caused many uneducated members to hold animosity towards such an action.  While it only takes a few minutes of searching online or browsing Grand Lodge records to prove otherwise, there still exist the thought that a member is somehow less a member because he was made a Mason at sight.  Indeed, there is typically discussion among brethren when referring to our Masonic presidents that often times leads to at least one person pointing out that President Taft was made a Mason at sight, and for that reason was less a real Mason and more of an honorary Mason.

In reality, not only did Taft receive the entire three degree ritual in person, but also went on to witness other men complete their Masonic journey in the Master Mason degree.   When Taft received his degrees at the Scottish Rite Cathedral in Ohio in 1909, the Grand Lodge of Ohio had already been performing the Mason at Sight ritual for some time. 13

So often was the notion of “Mason at Sight” misunderstood with a negative connotation that from time to time some Grand Masters would issue statements on such proceedings.  As we can read from Maryland Grand Master Thomas J. Shryock in 1897;

By virtue of the authority in me vested as your Grand Master, I convened an Emergency Lodge, and made, “at sight,” His Excellency, Lloyd Lowdes, Governor of Maryland, a Mason.  An erroneous idea has arisen in the minds of many of the fraternity as to the ceremony if making a Mason ‘at sight,’ and to erase this wrong, and perhaps damaging impression, I deem it but proper to sat that, in the making of a mason ‘at sight,’ by the Grand Master, the candidate is required to pass through all the forms and ceremonies incident to the conferring of the Three Degrees, in the same manner that an applicant does in applying to a subordinate lodge.  The impression of some that the Grand Master, by virtue of his authority, touches a man on the shoulder and creates him a mason is entirely erroneous and I know that this impression does exist to a certain extent.  I think it proper to here state, so the craft may understand it throughout our Jurisdiction, that such is not the case.  The making of a Mason ‘at sight,’ is one of the landmarks of the Fraternity, the prerogative of the grand Master, and I have on two occasions exersized that prerogative, as much for the purpose of not allowing it to become dormant as for any other reason.”14

One thing to take from the above clarification made by Grand Master Shryock is that it would seem a defense added to the use of such a ceremony would be the claim that it must be used in order for it to continuously be understood.  While to some that may seem like a fancy way of politicking the situation, it is very true.  As we see too often in lodges as men move though the chairs, become Master, and move on to bigger and better things, many times the members holding the reins are only educated in what they have personally seen or took part in.  Any ritual, extra floor work, or otherwise seldom used ceremony that is not constantly utilized it often lost to the next generation of men.  For proof of this, I can attest with my own personal knowledge that when Grand Lodge officially allowed stated meetings to be opened and closed in the short way; 15 what at first seemed like a harmless shortcut became a matter of many new members not seeing the long form traditional opening or closing for up to 2 years.  These same men who had never seen the work performed were clueless when asked to do it in ritual.  As easy as it is for some to say, “Attend school of instruction.”  The reality is, if you don’t use it, you lose it.

What is also important to remember is that each Jurisdiction is subject to no one except the Grand Master of their own Jurisdiction.   While this practice has been seen as controversial, it is also widely practiced across the world each year.  In fact, our own “One Day Class” events that are held by dispensation of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania in which large numbers of men are made Masons in a one day auditorium type event are very similar in practice.

It is worth noting that those who decry the practice of making Masons at sight, but seem to acknowledge the practice of one day classes are obviously blindly ignorant to what exactly this practice is.  In fact, the one day class ritual could be seen as more detrimental to the Craft, as each candidate is not led individually through the degree, but rather sits among many other men viewing it from a chair.

The growing popularity of one day Masonic classes is not in itself met without controversy.  One does not have to ask around for very long before they realize that there stands a silent but constant negative aura of feelings between some members of the fraternity.  While there is never an official designation of who is or is not a traditional candidate, one day Masons do face scrutiny from time to time.

The rising popularity of one day events has paved the way for a more general acceptance of this practice, although it is up for debate as to its effectiveness on productive membership.  There are arguments to be made on both sides of the aisle.

What is clear however is that there is no shortage of highly dedicated men claiming the ranks of Past Master or other officers of the lodge who are products of the one day classes.  It would seem that no matter how a man is made a Mason, if he, individually, chooses to pursue the path to Masonic enlightenment he will achieve his goals, even with negative and unnecessary hurdles in his way.

Another hurdle that appears from time to time is cross Jurisdiction recognition.  As is the case in any Grand Jurisdiction, each Grand Master technically answers to no person outside his Jurisdiction.  While many states vary slightly in certain aspects of ritual, practice, or work, for the most part they all maintain the same landmarks and mutual respect.  This allows each Grand Master to govern his Jurisdiction accordingly while maintaining harmony and recognition of other Jurisdictions.  On occasion, a Grand Master may perform a dispensation that goes contrary to what most other Grand Masters would feel is acceptable.

There is a long-standing legend among many Prince Hall Masons that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was made a Mason at sight posthumously in 1999 in Georgia.  As is typical online, once this is posted, or reposted, emotions run wild with men from both sides both in support and adamantly against this notion.   As it turns out, this legend is false.  Dr. King was never made a Mason in life, nor posthumously.  Not to mention the shear notion of this action would go contrary to the landmarks of the fraternity.

Although this notion may seem far fetch and unlikely, there is a very large population that continues to perpetrate this myth.  This does raise an interesting question though.  What if a grand Master were to posthumously declare a man a Mason at sight?  For starters, based on the official process of making a Mason at sight, this would be impossible, as a dead man cannot go through degree work.   In the highly hypothetical and unlikely situation that a Grand Master just decided to declare a man a Mason after death without the ceremony what could happen?   This is where the “cross Jurisdiction recognition” comes in.

Each Grand Jurisdiction is subject to no one but their own Grand Master in that jurisdiction.  If any Grand Master in any jurisdiction were to declare a man a Mason posthumously it would not be subject to the debate of any other authority but its own. While this may cause massive ripples in the harmony of the order among other Jurisdiction, the fact is, no other Jurisdiction could stop it from happening.   This sort of action would no doubt cause serious recognition repercussions from other Grand Jurisdictions.

Because many other Grand Jurisdictions carry mutual recognition, a Mason made at sight in one state would stand to be a Mason in another as long as each Grand Jurisdiction recognized each other. In that line of thought, any other Grand Jurisdiction that shares recognition with the Jurisdiction in question would also recognize the dead man as a brother.

In Pennsylvania there is limited (although expanding) Prince Hall recognition. If King or any other man were made a Mason posthumously by the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Georgia it still would not mean all men would recognize him as a brother. In fact, at the current time Prince Hall Masons of Georgia are not recognized by the Pennsylvania Grand Lodge, and so, all so-called “regular” members in lodges across Pennsylvania would be subject to the Jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania and would not recognize Dr. King as a Freemason.

There is no doubt that King carried many outstanding characteristics of a qualified candidate for Freemasonry.  In fact his father and Grand Father were both Prince Hall Masons.   To put this myth to bed though, King was never made a Freemason.  16

To sum it all up; it is safe to say that the act of “Making a Mason at Sight” is justified, regulated, and rightfully preformed.  The candidates are still given degrees, and the lessons are being told to each person, individually.   The Grand Masters who chose to perform this act are neither breaking any landmark nor bending any law of Freemasonry.  This is a practice that has been documented for well over 200 years and has not brought about the absolute destruction of the craft.  Hopefully, with a little education, this practice can lose the negative stigma that it has carried for many years.   We all can have an opinion on the matter.  While it may be justified to disagree with the practice, it is not justified to accuse any Grand Master of malfeasance.

It would wise for us to recognize that no matter how a man is made a Mason, he is only as good of a Mason as he makes himself.  Masons at sight and one day class Masons are every bit a member as the next guy.  These men have every opportunity, right, and privilege that their lodges offer every member.  To degrade their character or membership based on ignorance of Masonic law or differing opinion on the manner in which they were made a Mason would be truly un-masonic.  We are a brotherhood.  We are all with our own strengths and weaknesses.

Bibliography

  1. Pennsylvania Freemason Magazine, Volume LVIII, May 2011, Number 2, page 15.
  2. Pennsylvania Freemason Magazine, Volume XLV, November 1998, Number  4
  3. Pennsylvania Freemason Magazine, Volume XLIX, February 2002, Number  1
  4. Pennsylvania Freemason Magazine, August 1987
  5. National Heritage Museum, Making a Mason at Sight, the Case of President-elect Taft. http://nationalheritagemuseum.typepad.com/library_and_archives/william-h-taft/
  6. The Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, newly Made Masons at Site, 2001. http://www.pagrandlodge.org/events/masonsatsite2001/index.html
  7. Pennsylvania Freemason Magazine, August 1987
  8. Making a Mason at Sight, Bro. Wildey E. Atchison, Colorado, The Builder, February 1916 http://www.masonicdictionary.com/sight.html
  9. Pennsylvania Freemason Magazine, August 1987
  10. Ahiman Rezon; 19.04
  11. Ahiman Rezon; 12.03
  12. An Encyclopedia of Freemasonry and its Kindred Sciences, Moss and Co., 1874, page 441.
  13. The American Tyler-Keystone, decoted to Freemasonry and Its Concerdant Other, Volume 24, Page 55, Craft Movement in Michigan.
  14. Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Ancient, Free, & Accepted Masons of Canada, 1896, page XXXVII
  15. Renaissance as to Grand Lodge, PA Freemason Magazine, January 2010, page 15, (Opening and Closing Meetings) http://www.pagrandlodge.org/freemason/0110/page15.html
  16. The Texas Prince Hall Freemason, Winter 2001, Page 59-62, Was MLK Jr. a Mason?

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  1. 15 May 2013 at 6:31 pm

    Congratulations on receiving such an honorable recognition.

    • 15 May 2013 at 9:11 pm

      Thank you Bro. Juan. Thanks for all you do with the Winding Stairs. I actually just listened to episode 5 on Courage just yesterday. Keep up the great work brother.

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