The Great Lights In
by Roy L. Demming, S.W., Utah Research Lodge
The Beehive State Trestleboard, Feb. 1996
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 procedures 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
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 separate 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 separate Bible open at the New Testament
since Christian Masons accept the whole volume 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
separate 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 procedure. Lodges under other Grand Lodges but residing
in India place the Bible on the Altar and, usually, 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 Buddhist 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 procedures 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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