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From the Beehive State Trestleboard, Feb. 1996.,
by Roy L. Demming, S.W., Utah Research Lodge

The Great Lights In The East

    Many of us have had the pleasure of visiting lodges in other
    jurisdictions within our country, and some have even had the
    opportunity to visit in foreign countries and observe the
    differences in ritual and arrangement of the lodge room.  I have
    not been fortunate enough to have enjoyed the latter, but have
    often wondered about proceedures in some of these jurisdictions
    -- how do they obligate a candidate who is not of the Christian
    or Jewish faith?  What is used on the Altar in place of the
    Bible, and how are the Great Lights arranged?

    While reading thru a copy of the Year Book of the Grand Lodge of
    Scotland, I came across some information which helped to satisfy
    my curiosity and which I thought might be of general interest to
    summarize here.

    Before proceeding farther, it may be advisable to consider
    briefly a few of the features of our order which might ease the
    appreciation of some of the Eastern customs:

    a. Belief in a Supreme Being is prerequisite to membership: and
       we believe that each individual has the freedom to worship
       according to his own beliefs.

    b. We accept that Volume of the Holy Writings which Speculative
       Freemasons have adopted from the Operative Lodges and on which
       a great deal of our ritual is dependent.

    c. A prime role of the Holy Writings is to provide an acceptable
       medium for taking and sealing our Obligations so that
       candidates will consider such Obligations to be solemn and
       binding upon them.

    If the Old and New Testaments of the Holy Bible are to be taken
    as seperate Volumes, there are no fewer than seven sets of Holy
    Writings in use in the Lodges of the East, in the band of
    countries stretching from Israel to New Zealand.  These are:

         1. The Bible (Old Testament) for Hebrews.
         2. The Bible (Old and New Testaments) for Christians.
         3. The Dhammapadra for the Mahay-ana Sect of Buddhists.
         4. The Gita for Hindus.
         5. The Granth Sahib for Sikhs.
         6. The Koran for Muslims.
         7. The Zend Avesta for Parsees and Zoroastrians.

    All of these Sacred Books Allude to a Supreme Deity.

    It is a universal practice, throughout this area, to have the
    Old Testament of the Bible open on the Altar (either open or
    closed -- the custom varies).  It is generally considered
    necessary to have a seperate Bible open at the New Testament
    since Christian Masons accept the whole volumn as one Sacred
    Book.  In Israel, however, where the Old Testament alone is the
    Holy Writings of the majority community, a New Testament is also
    open if there are Christian members present.

    Lodge Singapore No. 7178 (E.C.) has all seven volumes always on
    the Altar, of which six are open. The Bible used contains both
    Testaments and is open only at the Old Testament.

    The Square and Compasses are normally placed on the Bible, but
    when a candidate is taking an Obligation on another Book, a
    seperate set of Square and Compasses is placed on that Book.
    The Koran is normally kept closed until required for an
    Obligation and must not be handled by the bare hands of a
    non-Muslim.  Brethren, therefore, wear gloves as part of the
    Lodge regalia, and the Koran is usually covered with a white

    The Grand Lodge of India has six Sacred Books upon the Altar,
    with five open -- again the Bible is opened at the Old Testament
    only. Since there are no Buddhist Masons in India, the
    Dhammapadra is omitted.  The Square and Compasses are placed on
    the Holy Writings to which the MWGM owes allegiance.  In
    installations, they are placed on the Book of the MWGM-Elect's

    Constituant Lodges under the Grand Lodge of India follow the
    same proceedure.  Lodges under other Grand Lodges but residing
    in India place the Bible on the Altar and, uaually, the other
    Sacred Books representing the faith of their members.  Some
    Lodges display only the Bible on the Altar, but provide other
    Volumes when required for an Obligation.

    The Lodges of the Grand Lodge of Israel have the Old Testament
    always open on the Altar with the Square and Compasses thereon.
    If Christian and Muslim Brethren are present, the New Testament
    and Koran are added and one large set of Square and Compasses
    covers the three Volumes.

    There are several variations to the usual method of  taking
    Obligations, kneeling with the hands on the Bible, as we are
    accustomed.  In Singapore, Muslims kneel, but have the Koran
    held over the head and use the words "hereby and hererunder"
    rather than "hereby and hereon."

    In one New Zealand Lodge, the Charter is held over the head of
    the candidate, at the beginning of the Obligation, and the words
    "hereby and hereunder" are used.  Brethren in Israel of the
    Orthodox Jewish faith take their Obligation standing, with their
    hands on the Old Testament and with the head bowed towards it.
    Since the destruction of the Temple, Jews do not kneel, except
    on the Day of Atonement.  Jewish Brethren, also, usually have
    their heads covered when in Lodge, as in the case when in the

    The method of sealing the Obligation also varies from area to
    area. Christians, Jews, and some Muslims seal their Vows by
    kissing the Holy Writings, as we do.  Other Brethren may touch
    the Book with the hand or forehead, or salute with the hands
    before the face, palms together, and bowing.  There has even
    been an occasion when a Bhuddist candidate had a candle burning
    during his Obligation and considered his vow binding when, at
    its conclusion, he extinguished the flame.

    It is most interesting to note that the many problems, which
    could have arisen from the meeting of Brethren of various
    creeds, have been anticipated and proceedures have been adopted,
    to promote Peace and Harmony within the Lodges and the welfare
    of Freemasonry in general. While other Holy Writings may be
    introduced in various Lodges as occasion demands, the Old
    Testament Scriptures still perform their traditional function as
    a Landmark of our Order which has united men of every country,
    sect, and opinion, through the fundamental belief that above all
    things, there ever reigns Supreme but one Grand Architect of the


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