A Short Explanation of Charity (The Bookmark Lecture)
By R.W.Bro. R. Dennis Kaiser, PDDGM
First delivered 10 June 2003.
After our annual Christmas dinner, [one of the Brethren] posed the question “Why is the Fraternity sometimes referred to as the Blue Lodge?” That question did prove most difficult to answer. I’m not what many would call a serious historical scholar of Freemasonry, but when my curiosity on a particular topic about the fraternity is piqued, I like to research it through to its conclusion. Your query proved most difficult, indeed.
Simply stated, no one is exactly sure where or when the phrase “Blue Lodge” originated and made its way into the Masonic vernacular. However, with your indulgence, there are a number of explanations I was able to both research and logically deduce. I have broken down each explanation into point form, for ease of reading.
Blue is the predominant color of the fraternity. It is typically found on the collars, aprons and other regalia of the Lodge. Often, some Lodges also decorate with that theme in mind, deploying different shades for flooring, paints, trims, curtains and other Lodge property. Sackville Lodge has used the color on the cushions, carpets, and walls. As a lawyer or philosopher might observe, however, this more than plausible answer “begs the question”: if we call it the “blue lodge” due to the colors used, an explanation of why the color blue was initially chosen would also need to be addressed.
The phrase “blue lodge” has often acted as a way for masons who are involved with various concordant bodies to distinguish which lodge they may happen to be referring to. More specifically, some of the other concordant bodies use other colors as their primary color (such as “the red room”).
For some reason long since forgotten, certain feelings were often attributed to colors: red often indicated anger, yellow indicated joy, etc. Although the color blue has more recently (i.e. the 20th century) been associated with depression (i.e. “feeling blue”), it was often associated with truth, fidelity, sincerity, and friendship (you may have heard the expression “true-blue friend”). These are considered some of the basic teachings of the Craft.
Other scholars have indicated that the color was adopted because it was the favorite color of one of the Kings of England. More specifically, that of William III.
As a matter of Historical reference, William III served from 1689 to 1702, jointly with Mary II from 1689 to 1694 (the time of her death). The generally agreed year in which Speculative Freemasonry was founded [i.e. due to the union of the Lodges in England] was 1717. William III was also the Prince of Orange and did much to usurp Louis XIV and his father-in-law James II’s desire to bring Catholicism back into England’s mainstream as well as “planting” a number of Protestants in Ireland. Thus to a certain – however slight – degree he may have been a catalyst to the 1795 formation of the Orangemen. While William III was not a Freemason, the possibility that this statement is true may possibly lend credibility to the use of blue in the fraternity and the subsequent usage of the phrase “blue lodge” into the Masonic vernacular because it could possibly indicate that there is some underlying political and anti-Catholic connotation to the use of the color blue in Lodge (which itself may have contributed to the issuance of the 1738 Papal Bull forbidding Catholics to join the fraternity for fear of excommunication). Ultimately, however, this is akin to grasping at straws. Freemasonry adopts no particular creed or theology and forbids sectarian discussion within it halls. If this were true, it would certainly be a significant historical discovery.
This argument does have its flaws as there is no readily accessible information available to back up the claim that William III’s favorite color was blue. It is circumstantial and extremely suspect at best.
It has been argued that symbolism may be found in the so-called “blue arch of the heavens” (source unknown) and have urged that for a Freemason the virtues of friendship and benevolence must be as expansive as the heavens, or likewise as “blue.”
There are, of course, some more far-fetched theories. Some believe that it originated from the blue color of the stones at Stonehenge, which is claimed to be the site of the very first operative Masonic Lodge. While I personally don’t put much faith in this explanation myself, I feel I would be remiss if I did not provide you with all of the theories available on the topic in question.
My research has indicated that the most plausible use for the color blue in the Fraternity can be found within the book of Exodus. Specifically, Chapters 25-39 (please note that I used the King James Version and limited my search to the Old Testament). Blue is mentioned numerous times in relation to God’s commandment to Moses that he build a tabernacle. More specifically, as my biblical research discovered, it held prominence in the making of the tabernacle’s curtains. It could be argued that due to the element of secrecy with which the Fraternity has been credited, that the color blue was adopted as a connotation of the level of secrecy that is expected of the brethren, as the curtains would prevent eavesdroppers to view those members within. Chapter 4 of the book of Numbers also contains an appreciation of the color blue for its use in holy ritual.
It should be noted that the phrase “The Blue Lodge” is typically considered apropos, or inappropriate slang, and should be referred to as “The Craft Lodge” or “the Symbolic Lodge”. It is typically only referred to in that sense to members who belong to one of the concordant bodies (The Holy Royal Arch, The Order of the Eastern Star, etc.), whose members require a way to distinguish themselves from one another.
While historians and scholars – Masonic and otherwise – may continue to debate over the origins of the phrase “blue lodge”, none will doubt that whatever the answer may be, the Fraternity will still continue its practice of taking good men and making them better.