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date: 27 November 2022

Freemasonry’s Sacred Space in Americafree

Freemasonry’s Sacred Space in Americafree

  • Phillip Gordon MackintoshPhillip Gordon MackintoshBrock University


American Freemasonry is as much a spatial as sacred practice. Emerging from arcane Enlightenment origins, Masonic theology and practice brim with a spatiality representative of Masonry’s compulsion to make men moral. Moral masculinity reflects in Freemasonry’s “sacred space,” Masonic geography fixed with symbols vital to the moral, social, and spiritual growth of potential and actual Freemasons.

Masons have routinely embedded sacred geography in architecture from stylish Georgian, Victorian, and Edwardian “temples,” to humble lodges occupying multi-use back rooms or above street-level shops. Masonic historical preoccupation with spatiality evokes Victorian faith in moral environmentalism: the impulse to effect virtuous and civil behavior through orderly manipulations of environment. Indeed, the dedicated employment in the lodge of Masonic furniture and furnishings loosely mimics the Victorian middle-class parlor’s preoccupation with order, design, and moral aesthetics. Masons call this ritual and allegorical décor the lodge’s form, support, covering, furniture, ornaments, lights, and jewels. Such furnishings figure in Masonry’s performance of rituals, and, together, they both produce sacred space in the lodge and substantiate the rites’ moral masculine transformation of Masonic candidate and Mason alike.

Masonic spatiality includes a waning penchant for racial and sexual apartheid, originating in early modern American misapprehensions of biology, anthropology, and gender. Accordingly, “black” Masons have attended separate lodges. Prince Hall Freemasonry has existed since the late 18th century and is named for its eponymous founder, although “black” Masons join “white” lodges today. Women Masons or “matrons” are initiated in an appendant Christian rite: the Order of the Eastern Star, which includes a Prince Hall form, was developed for evangelical Protestant women followers of Jesus intentionally to distract them from the deism of the men’s rituals in a milieu of 19th century Christian anti-Masonry.

Recognizing the lodge as sacred space contributes to its existence as sacred “place.” Thus, the lodge-as-place becomes a “sacred retreat” for Masons who dwell outside its precincts.


  • Christianity
  • Religion in America

Although Masonry is most commonly recognized as a social organization, it has also been called “a place.”1 The term is appropriate because of the Masonic propensity to imagine geographically, and because Masonry is fundamentally a spiritual, moral, and homosocial feeling symbolically embedded in physical space, a set of meticulously spatialized sacred practices. Masonic ceremonies, spaces, and places allow Masons and Masonic candidates alike to re-imagine, and give teleological significance to, the common experience of their everyday lives. Masonic belief, ritual, behavior, and even member-to-member sociality—all sponsored by a putative universal deity and understood by Masons in terms of ideal manhood—occur in a highly specified geography shaped to inspire Masons to live virtuous, compassionate, and interrelated lives. Masonic space, then, is “sacred” and gendered (and, as we will see, racialized). The Masonic spatial imagination focuses on Masonry’s central place—the lodge. Here Masons engage symbols—“landmarks”—and perform rites they consider “ancient” and “immutable”; indeed, the arrangement of lodge spaces has remained relatively unchanged century after century.2 Masonic theology (an appropriate but qualified term) and its resulting ritual brim with a spatiality representative of a compulsion to make men moral in a world that Masons think daily threatens to demoralize and undermine them. Masonry, accordingly, fancies itself “a science of symbolism” that “can be shown to be strictly compatible with the true religious sentiment of Masonry.”3 If it is true that every Masonic lodge is “a Temple of religion,” that Masonry is a “religion in which all men agree,” and that its teachings are “instructions in religion,” then the geographic elaboration of Masonry’s religious symbolism that occurs in Masonic space must assume a central role in the practice of Masonry.4 Thus, Masonic space becomes a religious mnemonic for the idealized masculine life Masons aspire to achieve.

Masonic History and Theological Space

Masonic spatiality originates in Masons’ historic quest to link Masonry to their reading of the Judeo-Christian past. From this reading, Masons developed a kind of theology or theologized history and literature on which they have drawn for their spatial ideas and rituals. J. W. S. Mitchell’s History of Freemasonry (1859) makes evident that their understanding of Solomon and his temple was particularly important in this regard: “God gave Solomon superior wisdom, that he might be capable of teaching the principles of the true religion, and thus prepare the minds of the wise men, of all nations, for the coming of our Savior; and, we think, the Temple was the place set apart, in the divine plan, to commence that great work.” Perceptions of Solomon and his temple have thoroughly informed Masonic beliefs; Mitchell asserted that careful examination of the history, legends, and teachings of Freemasonry reveals “a great system of ethics, teaching the doctrine of one living and true God . . . instituted by King Solomon.”5 Masonic historian Albert Mackey’s (1898) seven-volume history attempted to suppress this literal-minded ersatz history and its tropes, such as pagan origins and even Solomon’s temple, for which he contended there was no “historical evidence.” Nonetheless, ritualized myths parading as “a true representation of real occurrence” substantiate Freemasonry.6

From this assertion of ties to Solomon’s temple, Masons contrive what they consider a “sacred body of knowledge,”7 which provides the essence of their lodge-centered beliefs and practice: in short, the rites, their purposes, and their performances that have existed in written form since 1738.8 Belief in a history of Masonry’s own making permeates not only the three “blue lodge” degrees—Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft, and Master Mason—but all the appendant orders and their spatial inclinations.9 For example, Hiram Abiff, the supposed master architect of Solomon’s temple—and the “most distinguished man then living, and, in many respects, the greatest man in the world”—is the focus of the blue-lodge Master Mason degree (discussed further, below). Abiff’s murder and resurrection are the arguable reasons for the persistence of Masonry as an idea of individual reform. Another biblical character, Zerubbabel, the Hebrew Bible administrator who laid the foundation of the Second Temple in Jerusalem (Ezra 3:2, 8), occupies the core of the Knights of the East rituals in the Scottish Rite.10

Masonic emphasis on temple “builders” such as Hiram Abiff, while perhaps self-evident for a fraternity of “Masons,” has broader theological significance. Masons are deists. Their “god” is universal not personal, the Grand Architect of the Universe (“GAOTU”) or great builder of physical and spiritual space. The GAOTU is implicated in both the worldly creation and construction of natural and material spaces, but also the erection of the Mason’s “spiritual temple,” through which moral betterment occurs (GAOTU is symbolized in the lodge, and sometimes on bumper stickers, as the letter “G”). Masonic deism presented problems in the context of the expansion of evangelical Protestantism in 19th-century America, as growing numbers of Americans believed that spiritual improvement and salvation were attainable only through the atonement of Jesus Christ; it is also likely that Masonry’s allegiance to morality through its science of symbolism, rather than the tuition of a holy spirit, allowed anti-Masons to associate Masonry with Catholicism.11 Masonic deism also meant that, while Masons believed in god, immortality, and resurrection, they implicitly associated all three with the life and slaying of the Christ figure Abiff rather than with the founder of Christianity—largely because the latter was not a recognized personage in Freemasonry’s Jewish, pre-Christian historicized theology.12

Masonic Space: The Lodge

The locus of Masonic sacred spatiality as derived from this history was and is the lodge, which denotes both the building space and its occupants. The lodge in conception and form establishes for Masons at all levels of membership the moral and symbolic nature of Freemasonry. Its orientation, layout, and decoration hint at Masonry’s preoccupation with moral environmentalism, the idea that environment can shape moral behavior, especially in a Victorian world accented by moral angst.13 From approaching the lodge on the street, to entering the building, to taking their seats in the lodge room, to assuming their places in the rituals—whether they were raised Masons or candidates in one of the three initiate degrees, or observers in the theater of the advanced degrees—even to conducting their Masonic secrecy in their everyday out-of-the-lodge lives, Masons were taught by the lodge space that they were moral “others” in a patently immoral world.

The lodge’s moral coding, materiality, architectural footprint, and location on the street spatially elaborate Masonry’s moral imperative. 19th-century Masonic historian Albert Mackey explains,

A Lodge-room should always, if possible, be situated due East and West. This position is not absolutely necessary; and yet some sacrifice should be made, if possible, to obtain so desirable a position. It should also be isolated, where it is practicable, from all surrounding buildings, and should always be placed in an upper story. No Lodge should ever be held on the ground floor. The form of a Lodge-room should be that of a parallelogram or Oblong Square, at least one-third larger from East to West than it is from North to South. The ceiling should be lofty, to give dignity to the appearance of the hall, as well as for the purposes of health, by compensating, in some degree, for the inconvenience of closed windows, which necessarily will deteriorate the quality of the air in a very short time in a low room. The approaches to the Lodge-room from without should be angular, for, as Brother Oliver says, “A straight entrance is un-masonic, and cannot be tolerated.”14

The lodge’s east–west rectangular orientation seems entirely moralized. Mimicking the footprint of Solomon’s temple, lodge placement follows the Masonic belief that enlightenment lies eastward, as the sun rises. Thus, a lodge entrance ideally faces west compelling Masons inside to move continuously eastward toward spiritual and intellectual enlightenment. Mackey’s explanation also draws on the extant belief in well-designed environments aiding physical vitality; hence, ceiling heights compensated for closed windows. A “lofty room” indicated Masonry’s awareness of the Victorian obsession with “pure air” and miasma theory, the belief that bad air and bad smells were deleterious and potentially fatal. The Masonic insistence on high windows served another purpose as well: regarding the lodge as morally apart from the everyday, Masonry insisted that the outside world must not see in and that lodge members must not see out. As Abraham H. Howland of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts exclaimed, in the lodge “the outward turmoil reaches not; here the din of the worldly conflict is not heard; here the oppositions and clamors of worldly strife prevail not. This spot is sacred to peace, charity, good will, and to all those graces that exist and redeem mankind.”15

Masons emplaced their moralized and sacralized ideas in Georgian, Victorian, and Edwardian “temples,” such as the historic Beaux Arts Masonic Temple at Tremont Street and Temple Square, Boston (Figure 1). Lodges found equal utility in prosaic frame, brick, or block urban and suburban structures.16 Still humbler lodges could be found in unadorned, multi-use rooms above street-level shops. A famous Masonic poem immortalizes one such lodge, noting that the “plainest Lodge room in the land” occupied a modest space above a street-front store.17 This variation in lodge style was likely the simple consequence of class and the financial ability of any given lodge to demonstrate a conspicuous commitment to the craft, a circumstance to which “The Lodge Room over Simpkins’ Store” alludes.

Masonic sacred spaces, then, contrast. The Waller Masonic Lodge #808 of Waller, Texas, began as lodge room above a drugstore in 1897, then moved to a room above a hardware store in 1910, then another drugstore until 1957.18 Alternatively, Victorian, Edwardian, and interwar newspapers, magazines, and architectural and building journals regularly announce the building and details of a new Masonic temple or hall. The construction of a New York temple at Sixth Avenue and Twenty-Third Street (built in 1874) followed the principles of Corinthian, Doric, Ionian, and Tuscan architecture, boasting a second-floor Grand Lodge Room, numerous third- and fourth-floor lodge rooms, and a fifth floor dedicated for the use of local Knights Templar, while the dome of the temple housed an armory to accommodate seven hundred Knights.19 Concerned with cultivating morality and spirituality, Masons ultimately considered the lodge’s internal space more consequential than its external appearance.

Sacred Furnishings

To transform these varied and numerous lodges and temples into sacred spaces, Masonry uses what it calls its form, support, covering, furniture, ornaments, lights, and jewels. Masonic décor established, in part, what Mackey called the “Form of the Lodge,” a symbolic intimation of the world, instantiated in the “oblong square.” Masonry is silent on the spatial need of a rectangle, but such an arrangement facilitates and maximizes west-to-east movement through the lodge. Support refers most specifically to columns representing the five orders of Western architecture—Tuscan, Doric, Ionic, Corinthian, and Composite—and their metaphorical significance: as the Mason is required to be upright, orderly, and strong, he must, like the orders of architecture, “form a beautiful, perfect and complete whole.”20 Lodge rooms contain two actual columns, both Corinthian (Masonry’s “column of beauty” and “the master-piece of art,” symbolizing Abiff). The columns, called “Jachin” (or “God will establish”) and “Boaz” (or “strength”), represent the right and left pillars that purportedly stood at the porch of Solomon’s temple and are found on each side of the Senior Warden’s chair.21

The covering or ceiling of the Masonic lodge represents the universe, a deistic acknowledgment of the realm of the GAOTU. Webb, however, contends it represents “no less than the canopy of heaven. To this object the Mason’s mind is continually directed, and thither he hopes at last to arrive, by the aid of the theological ladder which Jacob, in his vision, saw ascending from earth to heaven” (Figure 2).22 That said, any given lodge may or may not have a ceiling adorned with stars.23 In some cases, banners bearing the

words “wisdom,” “strength,” and “beauty,” also symbolically supporting Masonry, can be found above Masons’ heads. As for Masonic furniture, Webb affirms that every lodge displays a Bible, square, and compass. “The Bible points out the path that leads to happiness, and is dedicated to God; the Square teaches us to regulate our conduct by the principles of morality and virtue, and is dedicated to the Master; the Compass teaches us to limit our desires in every station, and is dedicated to the Craft.” Virtually every image of a lodge interior includes a Bible on an altar at the center of the room.24

The lodge ornaments—the mosaic pavement, the indented tessel, and blazing star—are decorative, spatial, and geometrical, and meant to transmit a moral message from below. This begins with the black-and-white-checkered mosaic floor, with its tessellated border or skirting, which represents the flooring in Solomon’s temple, symbolizing the checkered nature of human life, and the simultaneity of good and evil. The mosaic is then circumscribed with the tessel, signifying both the blessings and comforts Masons hope to attain. At the center sits the blazing star that directed the wise men eastward to the nativity of Jesus Christ.

Masonic lights divide into Great Lights and Lesser Lights (overlapping somewhat with the furniture of the lodge). The former includes the altar, the Bible (or Volume of Sacred Law), and the square and compass. Three burning tapirs arranged in a triangle around the altar constitute the latter. These represent the sun, moon, and, crucially, the moral authority of the worshipful master of the lodge. Finally, many of the jewels of the lodge are those the public associates with Freemasonry. A stone block, each of rough and perfect ashlar, and a trestle board are called movable jewels. The so-called immovable jewels, the square, level, and plumb, unlike moveable jewels, are confined to particular locations in the lodge, namely the square to the east, the level to the west, and the plumb to the south.26

Each instance of this symbolic employment of “furnishings” signifies in a degree rite’s moral masculine metamorphosis of Masonic candidate and Mason alike. All Masonic furnishings are dedicated to the metaphorical spatial construction of the individual Mason’s own “spiritual temple.” The movable jewels, for example the ashlar blocks, are merely the operative Mason’s lithic building material, yet in Masonry they obtain curious moral import: the rough or undressed stone mimics the unshaped life of a man before his adoption of Masonic principles; the perfect stone reflects his refined moral life. The immovable jewels are likewise symbolic. Prosaic tools of the operative Mason’s trade—the square, level, and plumb—become in Freemasonry representative of daily rectitude of conduct, moral deportment, and the recognition of the social equality of brotherhood. Furnishings, then, not only exist as both Masonic sacred space and icons, but also contribute to the creation of moralized human male space: the practicing Master Mason as spiritual temple.

Spatialized Performances

The fashioning of this spiritual “temple” necessarily involves ritualized performance. Blue lodge rites flourish with sacred performances, while the appendant orders are pure sacred theater.27 Full analysis is impossible here, but brief examples from the Entered Apprentice and Master Mason rituals (respectively, the first and final levels of blue-lodge initiation) are instructive. Duncan’s Ritual and Masonic Monitor (1866, hereafter Duncan’s Monitor) describes not only the performance of the blue-lodge or craft rites, but also the material layout of the lodge and the spatial positioning of lodge members. This includes how and where members should move. For example, Figure 3 depicts the expected geography of the lodge room, and the pattern of the circumambulation of the Entered Apprentice candidate—in anticipation of receiving “the higher mysteries.”28

Conducted blindfolded around the room three times, advancing uprightly to the first stop where the candidate places the heel of his right foot in the hollow of his left, the initiate stands erectly at the altar before the Worshipful Master seated in the east. Here the candidate kneels at the altar in the center of the lodge and swears an oath of secrecy. Contemporary Masonic exegesis of the Entered Apprentice rite explains circumambulation: “no single man . . . alone . . . without a true and trusted friend in whom we can confide, can always, unfailingly find his way home. Masonry teaches us that we live and walk by faith, not by sight; and the understanding of that fact is the beginning of wisdom.”29 Curiously, Masonic spatiality includes “time geography,” or a representation of the dynamism of space and time relations, in this case ritualized walking.

It also includes sound geography, the idea that the audile is spatial. Masonic sacred performances are accompanied by the resonance of lodge brothers in key roles in the rites, rehearsing memorized lines. 19th-century rituals were a veritable drone of repetitious and prolix dialogue, commands, prayers, hymns, oaths, and threats. The ambient sounds of the performances were equally prominent: the loud whispering of directions as the untrained candidate inevitably misunderstood his cues, the shuffling of feet during the circumambulations, the scraping of chairs and props, the recitations of reams of script, the likely off-key hymnody (and, if in use, the pumping of a melodeon), and even the expressions of surprise from the candidates during the assassination phase, among others, accompanied this profusion of rites in halls large and small across America.30

The Master Mason ritual, wherein the candidate is ritually “murdered” and “resurrected,” is blue-lodge Masonry’s ultimate performance. It requires the undressing, blindfolding, and cable towing of the Master Mason initiate accompanied by wordy monologues by the lodge master connecting Masonry to Hiram Abiff and his assassination to the design and erection of Solomon’s temple. All were marshaled around the lodge room, unseeing, half naked, and roped. Pushed from one “station” to the next, these often terrified and bewildered near-Master Masons, acting as proxy for the murdered Masonic archetype, Abiff, met each of three “ruffians,” Jubela, Jubelo, and Jubelum, themselves proxies of the ancient assassins of Masonry’s grandest Master Mason (Figure 4).31 Each assassin carried a tool of the Mason’s trade, symbols of speculative Masonry’s veneration of Abiff: the ruler, the square, and the stone-setting maul.32

In the early 19th century, these lodge-ruffians physically struck the candidate with these tools. The Jachin and Boaz (1803), an early Masonic handbook, claimed that physically abusing candidates with the ruler, square, and setting maul was “the custom in most lodges.” The blows were often so severe that some prospective Master Masons fell to their knees begging for mercy; others ran for their lives.33 Later in the century, Duncan insisted that Masons had deescalated their enthusiasm for this intentional terrorizing of the candidate, resorting instead to slashing, stabbing, and clocking the would-be Master Mason with hands only.34 Reduced hazing notwithstanding, we can imagine the profound impact of this sacred performance: being killed, buried, lamented, and prayed over (the accompanying prayer including the line, “man dieth and wasteth away; yea, man giveth up the ghost, and where is he?”). The “dead” Mason is then exhumed (using a body grip known as the “Five Points of Fellowship”),

and finally reborn as a Master Mason (hence the phrase “raised Mason”). Imagine the potentially life-long sobering effect of, for example, the Master Mason rite on hundreds of thousands of men who, in the unveiling of the ritual, witnessed their own deaths and funerals. There can be little doubt the performance had a sacralizing and eschatological effect on the Masonic perception of the lodge and its space. For example, in his 2010 investigation of Masonry and the Civil War, Masonic historian Michael Halleran refuses to reveal descriptions of these hardly secret Masonic rites—because, like all Master Masons, Halleran too has knelt partially naked and hoodwinked at the Masonic altar, his hands resting on the Bible, square, and compass, with the three burning tapirs flickering, the lodge master’s voice commanding him to keep Masonic secrets inviolable, and the threat of disemboweling (the punishment for revealing sacred Masonic confidences) ringing in his ears. As he writes, “I took an oath and I intend to keep it.”35

Moral Masculinity and Masonic Space

Masonry’s sacred space has been shaped by a determination not only to re-create Solomon’s temple but also to encourage proper male comportment. Masons have sought to construct moral masculinity through a homosociality that embraces (an apparently qualified) conviviality, congeniality, compassion, honesty, integrity, and above all loyalty. In this aim, Freemasonry betrays its origins in wider 18th-century constructions of Anglo-American manhood, specifically, the Enlightenment’s fascination with nature, and specifically the principle of association, which Masons believed pervaded a natural world rife with friendship, kindness, and goodness. The idea was to engender amicable male interrelations, replacing jealousy and suspicion of strangers with public-minded “virtue,” friendship considered the source of universal benevolence. Consequently, Masonic “friends” made better citizens and patriots, with Masons believing that their brotherhood replaced selfishness with sympathetic concern for others and that the putative divinity of friendship helped cultivate gentility and “polished manners.” Friendly Masons, annealed to local prejudices, were “citizen[s] of the world” whose philanthropy extended to “all the human race” (meant only figuratively, as we see below).36 Masonic philosopher Albert Pike elaborated this moral masculine sentiment: in the lodge “are inculcated disinterestedness, affection, toleration, devotedness, patriotism, truth, a generous sympathy with those who suffer and mourn, pity for the fallen, mercy for the erring, relief for those in want, Faith, Hope, and Charity. Here we meet as brethren, to learn to know and love each other.” The lodge space was meant to house and nurture this male compassion, and its rituals to teach them moral, social, and civic mindedness. The payment of dues in particular not only served as a material expression of brotherly charity but also maintained the physical structure and ritualized space of the lodge, thus making the space a tangible expression and reflection of their values. Masonic lodges were “islands of mutual trust and support.”37

Masonry, like many other male-only social clubs of the 18th century, regularly lubricated its associational amiability with alcohol. The Jachin and Boaz offered approximately one hundred toasts and sentiments to be used in lodge ceremonies.38 We can imagine how groups of drinking, singing, and oath-taking Masons gathering in lodges engendered homosociality, trust, and male succor. Yet the inevitable lodge-night inebriation let antebellum Americans regularly see and hear (lodge activities included songs, odes, and anthems) happy Masonic drunks strolling and serenading arm-in-arm along streets on lodge night—an unintended form of Masonic urban social geography.39 These public sounds of male comradery outside the lodge defined Masonry’s spatial presence as much as the sound of the rituals themselves.

During the early decades of the 19th century, changing understandings of ideal manhood in the United States––particularly temperance and domesticity––gradually transformed Masonic practice. Burgeoning evangelical Christianity and social reform made lodges notorious for their “intemperance,” contributing to a powerful antebellum anti-Masonic backlash.40 Therefore, while early-century Masons disported in grog shops and taverns, midcentury Masons eschewed alcohol and promoted temperance enthusiastically.41 Because the temperance movement was grounded in emerging Victorian models of middle-class manhood emphasizing public probity, Masonic candidates were now taught that temperance was “one of the cardinal virtues.”42 Lodges became temperate places, and members openly rejected such intemperate spaces as saloons. Masonry was hardly a temperance society, but restraint of the “staggering, reeling, degraded, incorrigible drunkard” doubtless contributed to Masonry’s “transformation” into “an icon of middle-class respectability.”43

The lodge spaces of the mid- to late 19th century likewise reflected middle-class men’s engagement with the contemporary ideology of domesticity. The dedicated employment in the lodge of Masonic furnishings loosely mimics the Victorian middle-class parlor’s obsession with order, design, and moral aesthetics––a reflection of the gentility expected of Masonic men.44 At the same time, however, Masons established a distinctly masculine spatial order, conceived in opposition to feminine domesticity and to what Masons perceived as the increasingly feminizing and domesticating city. Victorian women were engaged in what one historian has called a “grand domestic revolution” in which bourgeois women, believing environments produced either virtues or defects, enacted a domestic aesthetic that assumed a pejorative definition of Victorian manhood under which men were deemed rude, uncivil, and in need of feminine spatial and social amelioration.45

Masonic conceptions of manhood aligned with, and lodge life promoted, contemporaneous understandings of bourgeois respectability. But lodge space and décor—identified by some scholars as “Masonic domesticity”—also served decidedly masculinizing purposes.46 Interpreting the world as cruel and hard, Masons designed and ornamented their lodges to train men to withstand the world’s pressures and temptations as men. This is where Masonry’s commitment to symbolism and furnishings effected moral masculine geography. Masonic lodge space through the employment of masculine symbols made moral—tools, phallic columns, swords, even top hats—sought to teach Masons the divinity of their manhood, and of manhood’s affinity with order of things as established by the GAOTU. Importantly, Masons learned how to be better men—as taught by men, not women. Where women used a bourgeois domestic aesthetic to influence men to be more feminine, and to expunge men’s traditional rough-hewn masculinity, Masons accepted men not only as men but also as men with a moral purpose exclusive of feminist intentions.47 This meant, chiefly, organizing the lodge around rituals, as we have seen, that allow all Masons to eventually stand as proxies for “the greatest Mason the world ever knew, viz., [the] Grand Master, Hiram Abiff.”48 Thus, generations of Masons have acquired Masonic manhood through masculine (not feminine) ideology and décor, and through the tutelage of the most respected man they personally know: the master of the lodge. Yet, if Masonry’s interior geographies are decidedly anti-feminine, they are indicative of a Masonic masculine spirituality offering respect and honor. Historian William Moore contends that Masonic furnishings intentionally “ennoble” their occupants. He draws attention, for example, to the chairs—an obvious material detail of the lodge. “Every surface of these chairs,” Moore writes, “is adorned with decorative articulation, be it zoomorphic carving, foliation, architectural detailing, or simple linear grooving.” For Moore, the Masonic predisposition for furnishings is “architectonic”—artful design for a specific purpose, in this case, masculine veneration.49 Artwork on lodge walls followed a similar anti-feminine ethos, ignoring the Victorian Folk Arts ideal that combined beauty and use as part of the domestic moral aesthetic of everyday life, including beautiful paintings, wallpaper, home accessories, and the like. On the contrary, Masonry’s esoteric artwork and iconography epitomized the craft’s arcane and abstruse mysteries, and were intended to be didactic rather than aesthetically beautiful. Masculine decoration suggests that Masons imagined proximity to Masonic interior geography would prompt moral masculine performances.50

Race and Gender Segregation

Conceived at a time when most American men associated manhood with whiteness and defined it in contrast to womanhood, Masonic sacred space has long entailed an ironic penchant—waning by the turn of the 21st century—for racial and sexual apartheid.51 While black Masons join white lodges today, white and black Masons have long practiced in separate Masonic institutions that maintain distinctive identities. Prince Hall Freemasonry, named for its eponymous founder, emerged alongside the white American organization in the 18th century.52 Predating the revolutionary war, it became “the largest and most geographically extensive secular organization in nineteenth-century black America.”53 While Prince Hall Freemasonry’s rituals and spatiality are virtually the same as in white Masonry, its lodge spaces carry added meaning for its members, for Prince Hall Freemasonry presents itself as a counterpoint to the dominant slavery-supporting white public of the 18th and 19th centuries. Prince Hall Masons have perceived their lodges as proud and assertive black physical and human spaces.54 Their lodges not only asserted a civicmindedness by which Prince Hall Masons apprehended and attempted to amend their exclusion from American polity; they also produced what historian Corey Walker calls an African American “cartography of democracy.” Through the associational, institutional, and structural (thus spatial) logics of Masonry, Prince Hall Masons could effect what Walker calls “the freemasonry of the race”: the “appropriation of the symbols, rituals, languages, and structures of Freemasonry” by which to formulate a contingent communal identity, and racial and national belonging—in short, black place in America.55 Additionally, Prince Hall chapters promoted the development of other kinds of black space, exploiting “their Masonic and religious networks and connections in a coordinated effort to challenge the political hierarchy.” Religiously and politically, Prince Hall Freemasonry has constituted a sustained spatial counterpoint to the Grand Lodge’s definition of its Masonic spaces, and indeed other American spaces, as white.

Masons likewise defined their spaces as specifically male, which had curious consequences for Masonic lodges in a late-Victorian America experiencing the effects of feminization, including women joining lodges––the Master Mason rite includes an oath ensuring that Masons will never participate in the “raising” of a woman.56 Women Masons or “matrons” are initiated in an appendant Christian rite. Women began attending lodges in 18th-century France, under the name “Androgynous” and “Adoptive” Masonry. In the United States, Masons founded the Order of the Eastern Star (OES), probably in 1850, to accommodate lodge members’ wives and daughters.57 The segregation is now history; Master Masons join the OES. OES matrons, as stridently committed to the cause as Masons, meet as chapters. They sometimes have their own buildings, or they may meet in Masonic temple meeting rooms, churches or schools, or even Masonic lodges on days the men are absent. Prince Hall OES chapters are common, and open to all women.

Historian Mark Carnes argues that the OES was developed—cynically—for evangelical Protestant women followers of Jesus, within the milieu of Christian anti-Masonry, to distract them from the unconcealed deism of the men’s rituals.58 Indeed, Masonic philosopher Rob Morris, composer of the first OES rite in America, intended the Eastern Star matron “to be true; to be aiding; to be counseling; to be loving; to be secret; to be the servant of Jesus Christ,” in other words a paragon of evangelical Protestant womanhood.59 There is nothing of the Victorian “cult of Jesus” in the male ritual, and its inclusion in the OES doubtless contributed to “deceiving the ladies” about the deistic propensities of males’ rites and spaces. Carnes notes contemporaneous “[f]raternal scorn for the ladies’ degrees, and for women who seemingly failed to apprehend the obvious deception.”60 Today, however, the OES is regarded as anti-Christian by opponents of Freemasonry, although its iconic five-point “eastern” star (of Bethlehem) represents virtuous women of the Bible: Adah, Ruth, Esther, Martha, and Electa. From the beginning, then, Masonic space was racialized and gendered. Lodge brothers begrudged sharing it, despite retaining their own proprietary and exclusionary “white”-males-only lodges.

Conclusion: Lodge as Sacred Masonic Place

That Freemasonry thoughtfully produced and reproduced space should come as no surprise given the craft’s preoccupation with “geometry” (literally “world measurer,” and the focus of the Fellow Craft rite), an implicitly spatial science. Masonic space as sacred space, however, promotes the continuous, unchanging reproduction of Masonic ways of seeing and knowing. Freemasonry’s ritualized spaces fit with an accepted geographical premise averring that space exists both as “a product of interrelations” and as a process; space is “never a closed system.”61 Both these ideas mean that Masons’ interrelationship with morality, spirituality, masculinity, and materialism persists diachronically to generate an ongoing spatial process called “Freemasonry.” It simply matters that lodges and temples assiduously follow historical spatial precedents and ascribe the impulse to their generational attention to Masonry’s “old charges.” This is how Masonic sacred space becomes sacred place, through historical use of the lodge in the sacred, place-making ways explored here. Thus, Masonry signifies “geography” as much as theology, philosophy, or sociology, because Masonry’s moralizing of space makes it “a place.” As such, the Masonic lodge will continue as a “sacred retreat,” since Masons will always live outside its doors.62

Review of the Literature

Scholarship of American Masonry has only touched on Masonic geographical and spatial awareness. Historian Jessica Harland-Jacobs alerts us to the Masonic geographical imagination as it first grasped the cultural geopolitics of British imperialism, and then aided its unfolding “as an ally” in the 18th through the 20th centuries.63 Likewise geographers Paul Elliott and Stephen Daniels associate the broader geographical interests of Enlightenment Masonry with “new forms of civic life and urban improvement” and “scientific culture.”64 Halleran shows how Union and Confederate Masons reimagined the battlefields of the American Civil War, reshaping for themselves the latter’s geographies of antagonism and death “by the rendering of aid to injured or endangered brother Masons in distress”—no matter for which side Masons fought.65 The Masonic lodge has even been called a “performative geography,” which describes Masons’ personal, ritual encounter with the lodge and its symbolic space. Repeated performance of spatialized rites involving “religious” interaction with Masonry’s sacred material symbols allowed Masons to adjust “continuously” their moral masculinity, the growth of which being the ostensible purpose of Freemasonry.66

Freemasonry’s specific interest in sacred space, as we have seen, extrudes from its geographic imagination. Freemasonry, like all forms of religious practice, undertakes the “sacralization of some elements of terrestrial geography,” but for uniquely social-, moral-, and masculinity-honing purposes.67 Just as there is an art and architecture of Freemasonry, there is now a geography of Freemasonry, especially noting the relationship between the lodge and its construction of hallowed space.68 Moore regards the Masonic hall, or lodge, as “a sacred space of masculine spiritual hierarchy.” This fits with historian Steven Bullock’s observation that turn-of-the-19th-century Masonry not only adopted the appearance of sanctity, but may well have “moved within the boundaries of the sacred for many Americans.”69 Moore holds that Masonic halls “served as both theaters and sites of worship,” being “spiritual spaces where . . . men found religious meaning, and attempted “to deal with forces larger than themselves.”70 In a later work, Moore extends his interest in Masonic space to include the processes of constructing Masonic halls and their influence on the streets and neighborhoods of their location.71 The Masonic hall became a standard feature of the American urban landscape, if one set apart from the normative understandings of the community.

Primary Sources

Numerous extant Masonic monitors, or guidebooks, to Masonic rites and their performance (these now take in internet websites, that include online Masonic dictionaries, e.g., Masonic present the richest sources of the persistent Masonic theo-historical geographical imagination and its explication as ritualized space. Important select historical monitors include:

  • Davis, Z. A. The Freemason’s Monitor, Containing a Delineation of the Fundamental Principles of Freemasonry. Philadelphia: Crawford & Co., 1843.
  • Duncan, Malcolm. Duncan’s Masonic Ritual and Monitor. 3rd ed. New York: Dick & Fitzgerald, 1866.
  • Gentleman belonging to the Jerusalem Lodge. Jachin and Boaz; or, an Authentic Key to the Door of Free-masonry, both Ancient and Modern. Boston: Gilbert and Dean, 1803.
  • Morgan, William. Illustrations of Masonry. Chicago: Ezra A. Cook Publications, 1827.
  • Webb, T. S. The Freemason’s Monitor, or, Illustrations of Masonry. Cincinnati: Moore, Wilstach, Keys & Co., 1859.

Further Reading

  • Bullock, Steven. Revolutionary Brotherhood: Freemasonry and the Transformation of the American Social Order, 1730–1840. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996.
  • Carnes, Mark. Secret Ritual and Manhood in Victorian America. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1989.
  • Curl, James Stevens. The Art and Architecture of Freemasonry: An Introductory Study. Woodstock, NY: The Overlook Press, 1993.
  • Hackett, David. That Religion in Which All Men Agree: Freemasonry in American Culture. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2014.
  • Harland-Jacobs, Jessica. Builders of Empire: Freemasons and British Imperialism, 1717–1927. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007.
  • Kuhlke, Olaf. Geographies of Freemasonry: Ritual, Lodge, and City in Spatial Context. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 2008.
  • Lance Brockman, C., ed. Theatre of the Fraternity: Staging the Ritual Space of The Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, 1896–1929. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996.
  • Mackintosh, Phillip Gordon, and Clyde R. Forsberg. “Performing the Lodge: Masonry, Masculinity, and Nineteenth-Century North American Moral Geography.” Journal of Historical Geography 35 (2009): 451–472.
  • Moore, William. Masonic Temples: Freemasonry, Ritual Architecture, and Masculine Archetypes. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2006.
  • Walker, Corey. A Noble Fight: African American Freemasonry and the Struggle for Democracy in America. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2008.


  • 1. So reads the tab for “Masonry Is a Place,” Waller Masonic Lodge #808 AF & AM.

  • 2. R. W. William T. Woodruff, The New York Masonic Code; Containing the Old Charges, Compiled in 1720 (New York: Masonic Publishing and Manufacturing Co., 1866), 12–13.

  • 3. Albert Mackey, “The Lodge as a Symbol of the World,” in The Ashlar, vol. 3, ed. Allyn Weston (Chicago: Scott & Co, 1858), 350–353.

  • 4. Albert Pike, Morals and Dogma of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry (Charleston, NC: Supreme Council of the Thirty-Third Degree, 1871), 213; David Hackett, That Religion in Which All Men Agree: Freemasonry in American Culture (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2014). Fraternal initiation plausibly served “as a substitute for religious conversion”; and Mark Carnes, Secret Ritual and Manhood in Victorian America (London: Yale University Press, 1989), 72.

  • 5. J. W. S. Mitchell, The History of Freemasonry and Masonic Digest, vol. 2 (Marietta, GA: Published by the author), 87, 247.

  • 6. Mackey, History of Freemasonry, vol. 7, 1771.

  • 7. An example of this prolixity is Albert Mackey, History of Freemasonry, 7 vols. (New York: Masonic History Company, 1887); and Steven Bullock, Revolutionary Brotherhood: Freemasonry and the Transformation of the American Social Order, 1730–1840 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996), 243.

  • 8. James Anderson made a first attempt to document masonic ritual in 1723: Frank Hankin, “Masonry,” in Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, vol. 10, ed. Edwin Seligman (Chicago: The Macmillan Company, 1937), 177–184.

  • 9. Masons use “blue” lodge because blue is “emblematic of universal friendship and benevolence,” hence the blue decorations of the three blue lodge degrees; Albert Mackey, “Blue,” “Blue Lodge,” in A Lexicon of Freemasonry (London: Richard Griffin and Company, 1860), 37.

  • 10. The name Hiram Abiff appears nowhere in the Bible. Mackey implicitly links Hiram Abiff (“Hiram the Builder”) to the “Hiram” mentioned in 2 Chronicles 2:18 and 4:16 and 1 Kings 8:14 (Mackey, “Hiram the Builder,” in Lexicon of Freemasonry, 137); and Malcolm Duncan, Duncan’s Masonic Ritual and Monitor, 3rd ed. (New York: Dick & Fitzgerald, 1866), 88.

  • 11. Albert Mackey, The Symbolism of Freemasonry: Illustrating and Explaining Its Science and Philosophy, Its Legends Myths and Symbols (New York: Clark and Maynard, 1869), 72; see Bullock, Revolutionary Brotherhood, 45–46.

  • 12. Mackey, History of Freemasonry, vol. 7, 1769.

  • 13. Phillip Gordon Mackintosh and Clyde R. Forsberg, “Performing the Lodge: Masonry, Masculinity, and Nineteenth-Century North American Moral Geography,” Journal of Historical Geography 35 (2009): 471.

  • 14. Mackey, “Lodge Room,” in Lexicon of Freemasonry, 198–199.

  • 15. Lynn Dumenil, Freemasonry and American Culture, 1880–1930 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984), 72.

  • 16. See, for example, North Star Masonic Lodge in downtown Jeffersonville, IN.

  • 17. M.W. Lawrence N. Greenleaf, “The Lodge Room over Simpkins’ Store,” November 19, 1898, Waller Masonic Lodge #808 AF & AM.

  • 18. “Waller Masonic Lodge History,” Waller Masonic Lodge #808 AF & AM.

  • 19. “The Masonic Temple—Description of the Interior,” The Manufacturer and Builder 6 (June 1874): 138.

  • 20. T. S. Webb, The Freemason’s Monitor, or, Illustrations of Masonry (Cincinnati: Moore, Wilstach, Keys & Co., 1859), 70.

  • 21. Mackey, “Beauty,” in An Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, 111; Mackey, “Jachin” and “Boaz,” in Lexicon of Freemasonry, 152 and 38, respectively; and William Preston, Illustrations of Masonry, Twelfth Edition (London: G. Wilkie, 1812), 53.

  • 22. Webb, Monitor, 50–52.

  • 23. A Google image search produces images of “starry” ceilings in, for example, the Naval Lodge no. 4, Washington, DC, or an unidentified lodge in Naperville, IL; or perhaps to the Severn Street lodge, Birmingham, U.K..

  • 24. A Google image search under “masonic lodge altar Bible” produces numerous examples of the sacred pride of place of this masonic “furniture.”

  • 26. Webb, Monitor, 52–53, 54.

  • 27. C. Lance Brockman, ed., Theatre of the Fraternity: Staging the Ritual Space of the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, 1896–1929 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996).

  • 28. Mackey, History of Freemasonry, vol. 7, 1758.

  • 29. “Entered Apprentice Mason—Entered Apprentice Study Guide,” Masonic Lodge of Education.

  • 30. Mackintosh and Forsberg, “Performing the Lodge,” 465.

  • 31. A reliable guide to the Victorian Master Mason ritual is Duncan, Monitor, 87–127, esp. 123.

  • 32. Masons distinguish between “operative masons” (actual stone workers) and “speculative masons” (fraternal brothers). The Master Mason rite confers on the initiate the “working tools” of the mason’s trade: the apron and the trowel (Duncan, Monitor, 99).

  • 33. Gentleman belonging to the Jerusalem Lodge, Jachin and Boaz, 34.

  • 34. Duncan, Monitor, 106: “It is the general belief . . . that a candidate is knocked down with a large setting-maul kept for that purpose, but no reasonably sane person would for one moment entertain any such idea of the ceremony of making a Master Mason.”

  • 35. Duncan, Monitor, 120, 121; and Michael Halleran, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Freemasonry in the American Civil War (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2010), x.

  • 36. Preston, Illustrations of Masonry, 3.

  • 37. Robert Davis, “Understanding Manhood in America: The Elusive Quest for the Ideal in Masculinity,” Heredom 10 (2002): 14.

  • 38. Gentleman belonging to the Jerusalem Lodge, Jachin and Boaz, 40, 60–63.

  • 39. George Oliver, “The Revelations of a Square,” Freemasons’ Quarterly Magazine and Review, December 31, 1851 (London: Richard Spencer, 1851), 417; Jessica Harland-Jacobs, Builders of Empire: Freemasons and British Imperialism, 1717–1927 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007), 93. For a compilation of early songs, see Gentleman belonging to the Jerusalem Lodge, Jachin and Boaz, 42–59; see also Heather Morrison, “‘Making Degenerates into Men’ by Doing Shots, Breaking Plates, and Embracing Brothers in Eighteenth-Century Freemasonry,” Journal of Social History 46 (2012): 48–65.

  • 40. See Paul Goodman, Toward a Christian Republic: Antimasonry and the Great Transition in New England, 1826–1836 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 85.

  • 41. Dumenil, Freemasonry and American Culture, 72–78; Carnes, Secret Ritual and Manhood, 33.

  • 42. Allyn Weston, “Masonry and Temperance,” in The Ashlar, vol. 3, ed. Allyn Weston (Chicago: Scott & Co, 1858), 319–320; original emphasis.

  • 43. Weston, “Masonry and Temperance,” 319, original emphasis; Arturo de Hoyos and S. Brent Morris, “History,” in Freemasonry in Context: History, Ritual, Controversy, eds. Arturo de Hoyos and S. Brent Morris (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2004), 1–2; and “Georgia,” in “Report on Foreign Correspondence for 1903,” Transactions of the M. W. Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of the State of Wisconsin, at Its Fifty-Ninth Annual Communication (Milwaukee: S.E Tate & Co., 1903), 35–38.

  • 44. Dolores Hayden, The Grand Domestic Revolution: A History of Feminist Designs for American Homes, Neighborhoods, and Cities (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1982).

  • 45. Frances Willard, Glimpses of Fifty Years: The Autobiography of an American Woman (Chicago: H. J. Smith and Co., 1889), 610.

  • 46. Mackintosh and Forsberg, “Performing the Lodge,” 453.

  • 47. See Michael Kimmel, Manhood in America: A Cultural History, 3rd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 44–45.

  • 48. Duncan, Monitor, 122.

  • 49. William Moore, “Masonic Lodge Rooms and Their Furnishings, 1870–1930,” Heredom: Transactions of the Scottish Rite Research Society 2 (1993); see note 18.

  • 50. Mackintosh and Forsberg, “Performing the Lodge,” 456.

  • 51. The United Grand Lodge of England formally recognized Prince Hall Freemasons “as ‘regular’ masons” in 1996, and most white grand lodges in the United States adopted the policy; Corey Walker, A Noble Fight: African American Freemasonry and the Struggle for Democracy in America (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2008), viii. Nevertheless, contemporary masons confirm that racism still exists in 21st-century masonic lodges; “Racism in the Craft,” Masonic Roundtable.

  • 52. Walker, A Noble Fight, 45–85; see, vii-viii. For a chronology of Prince Hall masonry, see Peter P. Hinks and Stephen Kantrowitz, eds., All Men Free and Brethren (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2013), xi–xv.

  • 53. Edward Palmer, “Negro Secret Societies,” Social Forces 23 (1944), 208; and James Sidbury, Becoming African in America: Race and Nation in the Early Black Atlantic (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 74.

  • 54. Joanna Brooks, “The Early American Public Sphere and the Emergence of a Black Print Counterpublic,” The William and Mary Quarterly 62 (2005); and Craig Steven Wilder, In The Company Of Black Men: The African Influence on African American Culture in New York City (New York and London: New York University Press, 2001).

  • 55. Walker, A Noble Fight, 45–85, 4, 165.

  • 56. Duncan, Monitor, 95.

  • 57. Willis Engel, The History of the Order of the Eastern Star, 2nd ed. (Indianapolis, IN: Willis D. Engle, 1917), 7–8, 11.

  • 58. Mark Carnes, Secret Ritual and Manhood, 81–87.

  • 59. Morris, in Engle, History of the Order of the Eastern Star, 9–10.

  • 60. Carnes, Secret Ritual and Manhood, 81–89, esp. 88.

  • 61. Doreen Massey, For Space (London: Thousand Oaks, 2005), 10.

  • 62. Duncan, Monitor, 145.

  • 63. Jessica Harland-Jacobs, Builders of Empire: Freemasons and British Imperialism, 1717–1927 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007), 6.

  • 64. Paul Elliott and Stephen Daniels, “The ‘School of True, Useful and Universal Science’? Freemasonry, Natural Philosophy and Scientific Culture in Eighteenth-Century England,” The British Journal for the History of Science 39 (2006): 209.

  • 65. Halleran, The Better Angels of Our Nature, 4. This occurred similarly during the American War of Independence; see “Part Four: Freemasonry and American Independence,” in Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, The Temple and the Lodge: Inside Freemasonry (London: Arrow Books, 1989), 271–336.

  • 66. Mackintosh and Forsberg, “Performing the Lodge,” 470.

  • 67. David Sopher, Geography of Religions (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1967), 47.

  • 68. James Stevens Curl, The Art and Architecture of Freemasonry: An Introductory Study (Woodstock, NY: The Overlook Press, 1993); and Olaf Kuhlke, Geographies of Freemasonry: Ritual, Lodge, and City in Spatial Context (New York: Edwin Mellen Press, 2008).

  • 69. Bullock, Revolutionary Brotherhood, 164.

  • 70. William Moore, “The Masonic Lodge Room,” 28, 36. See also C. Lance Brockman ed., Theatre of the Fraternity: Staging the Ritual Space of The Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, 1896–1929 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996); and Mary Ann Clawson, “Masculinity, Consumption and the Transformation of Scottish Rite Freemasonry in the Turn-of-the-Century United States,” Gender and History 19 (2007): 101–121.

  • 71. William Moore, Masonic Temples: Freemasonry, Ritual Architecture, and Masculine Archetypes (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2006).