Marlon S. Honeywell, FPS-Life
Until the mid-late 20th century, many southern masonic lodges, especially in rural areas, did not facilitate degree work until the stroke of midnight. Through recapitulation of a personal experience, this manuscript seeks to expose the esoteric importance of such a calculated timeframe and its relationship to the symbolism involved when fraternal initiates became masonically-enlightened for the first time. Further, the importance of facilitating meaningful communication between younger and seasoned members and finding common ground when generational issues arise will be emphasized. Such actions shall ensure that our beloved fraternity and the significance of older traditions, such as midnight initiations - whether or not in current practice - are not lost in antiquity; and efforts of those who contributed for years to masonry and transitioned from labor to refreshment are not in vain.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Marlon S. Honeywell is a professor of pharmacy practice at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Florida. Honorable Brother Honeywell has been appointed as President of the M.W. Walter Gulley, Jr. Masonic University and Grand Instructor for the Most Worshipful Union Grand Lodge of Florida. He also serves as Grand Minister of State and Overseer of the Works for the Florida Council of Deliberation.
As I gaze into the sky on what seems like a particularly gloomy and dismal evening, the dark and cold of the night are inexplicably mystifying. Her fragrance is stale with the bold, distinct stench of transgression, envy, wickedness, and vice. Lurking within her bosom and covertly cloaked behind the dim illumination of the moon are false prophets in sheep’s clothing1, gallivanting to and fro, who patiently await the perfect opportunity to devour the unenlightened with soothing, harmonious lies enveloped within the crescendo of intermittent truth and practicality. Such melodious and hypnotizing lullabies appear to delicately massage the tympanic membranes of the profane and adequately suppress their innate inclination to enter into a natural state of spiritual enlightenment. Luckily for me, having been strategically instructed during my earlier years by my parents - both of whom are members of the masonic order – on this dreary night, I try desperately to ignore these provocative temptations and prepare mentally to enter Widow’s Son Lodge #92 (Prince Hall Affiliated) in Madison, Florida to receive the first degree in masonry.3,4
Arriving at the Lodge
Upon arriving in the lodge’s parking lot, in a feeble attempt to tolerate the unbearable weather, I reached into the back seat of my mom’s grey 1977 Mercury Cougar and grabbed my coat, gloves, and scarf. Once dressed, I glanced down the uninhabited road. It became quickly apparent that ½ mile of asphalt and classic cars of varying colors and models serve as an effective barrier between the front door of the lodge and me. Frantically peeking at my watch, the time is now 10:56PM; and my heart rate doubled in a matter of seconds - especially since the Master of the lodge was adamant about arriving before 11PM for degree work. Down the concrete road I sprinted in a black suit and dress shoes, swerving in between parked cars and arriving just in the nick of time at a large, white door baptized with a gold, masonic emblem. After knocking desperately, my godfather, Vernell Flowers, who is affectionately known as ‘Quick’ by his friends and who serves as senior deacon, opened the door and welcomed me into the lodge. “You almost had to wait until next winter to become a mason. Are you aware that it takes an entire year to complete this process?” he chuckled with a sheepish grin. “No worries. You will soon learn the significance of timeliness and the 24-inch gauge,” 3,4 he noted as he boldly shook my sweaty hand. By this time, Worshipful Master Manor Wright, Sr. walked down the stairs, wearing a black suit, white shirt, black tie, and a black derby with a red feather rising out of the band, to greet the only approved candidate for this fraternal year. Extremely grateful for the lodge’s acceptance of my candidacy and for the Master’s southern hospitality, I remarked, “Thank you very much, sir, for allowing me to join. I am very appreciative of this phenomenal opportunity.” However, in the midst of my grateful expressions, there is one thing about this night that puzzled me: Why would the members of this lodge wait until 12AM to schedule a meeting? Why couldn’t it have been planned for an earlier time?
In search of a plausible answer, I patiently waited until the Worshipful Master retired upstairs and quickly inquired, “Godfather, may I ask you a candid question?” He nodded affirmatively. “Is there a reason why the lodge convenes at 12AM? In my humble opinion, this is a very unusual time for any organization to gather,” I questioned with a shaky voice. My godfather looked proudly at me with immense wisdom in his eyes and smiled. He said nothing more than my father wouldn’t be able to make it to the meeting because of work; and walked slowly, yet, triumphantly up the stairs. And I dare not ask him again. I simply spent the remaining time downstairs, reminiscing about the reasons why I am blessed to be in this historic lodge on this very night – the lodge that my father, uncles, and godfather joined. I immediately felt honored to stand within the corridors of wisdom which witnessed my family enter into its midst for the past fifty years.
The secretary, junior deacon and two stewards entered the room dressed in silver masonic collars with a blue velvet background and white aprons. After a few probing questions from the secretary, within a matter of seconds, I found myself veiled by darkness and my pupils attempted with no luck to adjust to the gloom that ensued. Nothing more than voices moving around me could be heard. About my neck was placed an object, which felt like coarse sandpaper, pricking sporadically at the back of my neck, meeting somewhere in the middle of my chest, and dangling back and forth like the pendulum of a grandfather clock. Afterwards, the hem of my left pants leg crawled leisurely just above my knee and my balance immediately shifted to the right. My arms inadvertently extended outward to adjust and I swayed slightly to compensate. My posture resembled a Florida flamingo. When I placed my left foot back on the floor, my arch rose and toes curled from the chill of cold tile lingering beneath.
I was slowly led upstairs and heard the stewards, Algie and Fred Honeywell, who appeared to be behind me from the proximity of their voices, tell Junior Deacon Abraham Edwards that it was almost midnight and to prepare to alarm the door. The chime of the antique grandfather clock reverberated throughout the building and Junior Deacon Edwards began to knock. Someone opened the door exclaiming, “Who comes here?!”3,4 I could tell it was my godfather speaking from his unquestionable baritone voice. An exchange of catechisms occurred between the junior deacon and my godfather. Eventually, I was asked to wait with patience and the door was slammed so hard that it should have fallen from the hinges. I was ultimately afforded an opportunity to enter and participate in a series of deliberate events. What was most memorable for me was my travel around the room in what appeared to be a circle, speaking intermittently with several individuals along the way and sitting ultimately in the northeast corner of the lodge. Once seated, the Master spoke fluently about the significance of several masonic working tools. Upon completion, he asked that I go downstairs to be reinvested with that of which I was divested and return upstairs for additional training.
Cementing Mental Blocks
When I arrived upstairs, Senior Deacon Flowers asked me to again sit in the northeast corner and reminded me of the question that I asked while downstairs. “You asked me why we meet at 12AM. Well, here is the answer,” he said. He proceeded to explain the designated timeframe for degree work as follows:
Ra and the Sun
Ancient Egypt and its gods and cultural practices have a substantial influence on the symbolism of masonry. For instance, one of the most important deities in Egyptian mythology, the sun god Ra (or Re), was considered to be the supreme power in the universe.5 The creator of life, he was often merged with another god Amun as Amun-Ra. Some myths present Ra as the head of the Egyptian pantheon and ruler of all the gods. As the sun god, he is often depicted as one who rode across the sky in a golden ship, bringing light and warmth to all creatures living on earth. When the sun set in the evening, he descended to the underworld and delivered light and air to the people who dwelled there. Moreover, history records Ra and the sun as notable Egyptian and masonic symbols of power, life, and light.6 An image of Ra may be seen in Figure 1.
FIGURE 1. Ra (Re). The Egyptian Sun god
Ra, The Sun God. http://www.curriculumvisions.com/search/R/ra/ra.html. Accessed March 26, 2016.
King Solomon’s Temple
The wisest man that ever lived, King Solomon is revered by masons as the final ruler of a united Israel. In the Book of Kings, Solomon was commissioned by God to build a magnificent sanctuary of worship on a precise location with prescribed materials.7,8 Masonic rituals describe clearly the orientation of King Solomon's Temple, intently delineating the fact that the temple’s location prevented the rays of the sun at meridian height from entering a north window.3,4,9 Therefore, the north is recorded in fraternal literature as a place of darkness and the east as a place of light, knowledge or wisdom - in admiration of the rising sun.3,4
The Sun and the Lodge
Circumambulating is a very ancient ritual, which may be traced to ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia.10,11 To ancient Egyptians, traveling in a clockwise fashion exemplified a pilgrimage undertaken for spiritual purposes.12 Likewise, for an entered apprentice candidate, circumambulation of the lodge also epitomizes a journey, embodying one day – sunrise to sunset - of his life. Furthermore, within the lodge, the east, south, west, and north may be correlated with the position of the sun at various times of the day, representing sunrise (6AM), the middle of the day or high meridian (12PM), sunset (6PM), and midnight (12AM), respectively. As is seen in King Solomon’s Temple, the north of the lodge or midnight (12AM) is also a place of darkness and emblematic of ignorance to what masons commonly regard as wisdom, strength, and beauty, and their relationship to harmony, sacred geometry, liberal science, and the significance of prime numbers.3,4,13,14 To this end, since candidates are ignorant of the aforementioned, Widow’s Son always opens at 12AM for initiation in an effort to symbolize the candidate’s travel from ignorance (north) towards wisdom and knowledge (east). This is the very reason that candidates are instructed to sit in the northeast corner after degree work is completed.4 An image of circumambulation may be seen in Figure 2.
FIGURE 2. Circumambulation in a Masonic Lodge
Circumambulation. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circumambulation. Accessed March 25, 2016.
Impressed by the stellar and candid explanation, I thanked my godfather and the lodge for the phenomenal period of enlightenment. It is now 12:55PM; and we are preparing to break down the room and go home. As my uncles transferred several ornaments from the main room into a closet near the anteroom, something about the night began to feel eccentric. I just wasn’t quite sure why.
Gazing around the room, I noticed Worshipful Master Wright talking to my godfather. While they were conversing, I spotted my godfather’s unique masonic ring, sparkling beneath a light bulb in the south section of the lodge. It was absolutely exquisite: 10-karat gold with a royal blue stone and a square and compass without the letter G. I once told him in a joking manner that I wanted him to give me his ring as a present after initiation. He laughed and said, “This ring is too heavy for your hands. You can’t handle it!” Admittedly, though I adored it, seeing that ring again kept bothering me for some reason. Where last did I see it, I pondered? And then it dawned on me: That very ring was buried with my godfather at his funeral in April 2015! In fact, my father and I attended his funeral at Mt. Zion #2 African Methodist Episcopal church in Cherry Lake, Florida. As a result of this discovery, demented thoughts began to dance around in my mind. More frightening to me now was the realization that everyone encountered on this evening is dead! That’s why my father couldn’t make it to the initiation: He is one of the last living members of Widow’s Son Lodge #9! The membership of Widow’s Son Lodge #9 from 1965-1982 may be seen in Table 1.
Table 1. Members of Widow’s Son Lodge #9 from 1965-1982
Worshipful Master Manor Wright, Sr.*
Senior Warden Fred Nesbitt*
Junior Warden Sam Graham*
Secretary Ausborn Glee*
Treasurer Willie Martin*
Senior Deacon Vernell Flowers*
Junior Deacon Abraham Edwards*
Senior Stewart Algie Honeywell*
Junior Stewart Fred Honeywell*
Tyler Manor Wright, Jr.
Marshal Oliver Wilkins*
Member Charlie Alexander*
Member Napoleon Honeywell^
Member Sammie Lee Franklin
^The author’s father
- Robinson, Phillip. RW Grand Secretary. Most Worshipful Union Grand Lodge of Florida, PHA.
- Honeywell, Napoleon. Widows Son Lodge #9. PHA. Madison, Florida.
- Honeywell Catherine J. AREME Chapter #37. PHA. Madison, Florida.
- Franklin, Sammie L. Widow’s Son Lodge #9. PHA. Madison, Florida
- Glee, Wille. Sweet 16 Lodge. Free & Accepted Masons, Inc. Madison, Florida
The oxygen in the room started to slowly dissipate from fear of the unknown. Apprehensive of my surroundings, I quickly grabbed my belongings and ran as fast as I could towards the door. Paying minimal attention to my surroundings, on my way down the stairs, the heel of my shoe was caught on a step. I fell and tore an enormous hole in my dress pants on the left knee. With blood dripping from the tear and a slightly injured ankle, I hobbled downstairs, bumping into the adjacent wall on every fifth step. Once I finally reached the first floor, the entire lodge appeared to be waiting for me. My godfather observed as I limped towards the outer door and uttered only five words: Son, tell the story right! Though I clearly heard him speaking, I was concentrating heavily on getting out of the door. Staggering out of the lodge, I looked back in the corridor where everyone was standing and observed the members watching me for what seemed like an eternity. Worshipful Master Wright eventually slammed the door shut and the startling sound of the door woke me from my slumber.
The Divine Comedy
Such an intense and evocative experience leads one to consider a few, poignant questions: Do the dead hear our silence? Do the dead witness our inaction and intentionally come forth to remind us of our inherent divinity and of our duty to God, family, country, and ourselves?3,4
In my dream, I was escorted through a virtual maze and instructed on initiating members at midnight by my godfather. His actions resembled an infamous character named Virgil - a knowledgeable, yet, deceased man in the epic 14th century poem - The Divine Comedy.15 Virgil guided Dante Aligheri through the depths of hell and purgatory and told him about the misguided deeds that led men to be trapped in such dreadful places. Daunte’s masterpiece transcribed his experience so that future generations would be informed of these interconnected realms in the afterlife. Like Virgil, my godfather and his comrades may have appeared to me for a similar motive: To remind me of the hard work, time, and labor that each person contributed to masonry over the years and of the fact that they loved their lodge and wish for it to continue to flourish.
Located in a rural area where young men now appear to be fascinated by everything except for masonry, Widow’s Son Lodge #9 has to enact innovative methods to revitalize, as most of their members have traversed from labor to refreshment. How can Widow’s Son determine if this new generation of men is ready and willing to delve into the ancient mysteries? Will this younger generation, who appear to be interested in technological advancement, multitasking, and quick results, be enticed by a fraternity which values age-old traditions and necessitates the time required to make good men better?
Masonry, specifically in bucolic areas, must find a way to convince two generations of men, older and younger, to coexist in a beneficial manner. Acceptance by seasoned men of new, state-of-the-art approaches to solve long-standing issues and positive reception by a younger generation of the wisdom garnered through experience - without judgment from either party - in my opinion, is the answer. If the aforesaid approaches are instituted by Widow’s Son Lodge #9 and others like it, perhaps, the ideals for which our dead have labored will live on in the next generation and masonry will continue to thrive for years to come.
Widow’s Son Lodge #9
A well-known and respected fraternal organization in the mid-late 20th century, Widow’s Son once possessed a roster which included many of the most admired and accomplished men in Madison, Florida. According to my father, members of Widow’s Son absolutely adored masonry because it was one of the only constructive, recreational outlets for men of color.A However, due to minimal communication with veteran affiliates, most millennials are unaware that Widow’s Son was once a prominent lodge because gentlemen of that era rarely spoke of masonry in unrestricted forums and only wore paraphernalia when the lodge participated in sanctioned masonic or church events.B These men believed wholeheartedly in God, attended church regularly, and worked hard to support their families. Further, one would never be afforded an opportunity to join a lodge in that period unless he was cut from the same cloth. Moreover, following Prince Hall masonry’s ideals and fraternal customs and initiating men of all ages with moral values and extensive community service were always of the utmost importance to lodge members.C
Although I initially joined an international lodge instead of Widow’s Son, I revere the dedication and tenacity shown towards fraternalism while many of these men were living. As such, this manuscript is dedicated to our deceased brothers; and submitted to remind younger members to sit at the feet of our sages and to learn as much as possible while they are alive. Vital history, such as conferral of masonic degrees at midnight and associated esoteric meanings, could very well be lost unless these traditions are recorded in the annals of time. Finally, to summarize the impact of the symbiotic relationship between elders and youth, please consider the following quote: Be courteous to your elders who have explored to the point from which you will advance; and helpful to your juniors who will progress farther by reason of your labors.16 Therefore, if life is the sum of all of our choices17, let us choose on this day to find a way to work together – the young and the old - for the survival of our beloved fraternity and the betterment of mankind. God save the Craft!D SO MOTE IT BE.
- The Holy Bible. King James Version. Matthew 7:15. http://biblehub.com/matthew/7-15.htm. Accessed March 14, 2016.
- MWUGL of Florida. Local Lodges. http://www.mwuglflorida.org. Accessed March 14, 2016.
- MWUGL of Florida Ritual. MWUGL of Florida. 2013.
- Duncan MC. Duncan’s Masonic Ritual and Monitor of Freemasonry. 1866. Pg 7-57.
- Quirke S. The Cult of Ra: Sun Worship in Ancient Egypt. Thames & Hudson November 2001.
- Singh M. The Sun: Symbol of Power and Life. Harry N Abrams. October 1993.
- Deffinbaugh B. The Reign of Solomon. Creation from the Cross. https://bible.org/seriespage/20-reign-solomon-1-kings-1-11. Accessed March 26, 2016.
- The Holy Bible. King James Version. 1st King Chapter 6. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1%20Kings%206. Accessed March 25, 2016.
- The Masonic North. The Masonic Trowel. The Grand Lodge of Texas. http://www.themasonictrowel.com/Articles/degrees/degree_1st_files/the_masonic_north_gltx.htm. Accessed March 24, 2016.
- Haywood HL. Symbolical Masonry. sacredtexts.com/mas/syma/syma15.htm. Accessed March 22, 2016.
- www.cannabisclergy.com/guide/circumambulation/html. Accessed March 22.
- We’re All Dancing in a Ring Around the Sun. dcsymbols.com/theater/circumambulation/htm. Accessed March 23, 2016.
- Kingsbury HA. The Three Supporting Pillars of the Lodge. http://www.masonicdictionary.com/pillars.html. Accessed March 24, 2016.
- Masonic Geometry. Mackey’s Encyclopedia of Freemasonry. http://www.masonicdictionary.com/geometry.html. Accessed March 24, 2015
- Alighieri D. The Divine Comedy (The Inferno, The Purgatorio, and the Paridiso). NAL. May 27, 2003.
- Lowell A. Quote on elders. http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/elders_2.html. Accessed March 27, 2016.
- Camus A. Quotes. http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/405686-life-is-a-sum-of-all-your-choices-so-what. Accessed March 29, 2016.
A. Honeywell, Napoleon. Conversation about Widow’s Son Lodge #9 and ceremonial practices. December 23, 2015; February 20, 2016; March 22-24, 2016; April 4, 2016.
B. Honeywell, Napoleon. Dialogue regarding when Widow’s Son wore masonic paraphernalia. March 22-24, 2016.
C. Honeywell, Napoleon. Discussion regarding the values of Widow’s Son Lodge #9. April 13, 2016.
D. Stafford, Sr. Anthony. 17th Most Worshipful Grand Master. Most Worshipful Union Grand Lodge of Florida, PHA. Statement provided at the end of verbal and written communications. Recently published in the 2016 USC Winter Bulletin; page 18.
- Thomas, Tracy A. Grand Worthy Matron. Jerusalem Grand Chapter, Order of the Eastern Star. State of Florida. Prince Hall Affiliated.
- Honeywell, Napoleon (father). Widow’s Son Lodge #9. Most Worshipful Union Grand Lodge of Florida. Prince Hall Affiliated. Madison, Florida.
- Honeywell, Catherine J (mother). AREME Chapter #37. Jerusalem Grand Chapter, Order of the Eastern Star. Prince Hall Affiliated. Madison, Florida.
- Glee, Willie. Sweet 16 Lodge. Free & Accepted Masons, Inc. Madison, Florida.
- Worlds, Patrick C. New Light Lodge #242. Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Texas, PHA. Killeen, Texas.
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