Independent Order of Odd Fellows
 



The Independent Order of Odd Fellows (I.O.O.F.) was founded either in 1819 or 1843 as a fraternal order in North America. Insurance was added later. The I.O.O.F. publishes the International Odd Fellow, monthly, and boasted 462,780 members in 1994.
The I.O.O.F. had its roots in Washington Lodge No. 1, organized on April 26, 1819, by an expatriate Englishman named Thomas Wildey and a few fellow Odd Fellows. Other lodges were founded in Boston in 1820 and Philadelphia in 1821. The Grand Lodge of Odd Fellows of the United States was organized in 1825 under the auspices of the Manchester Unity, though other Odd Fellows organizations also supplied members to the new order. This lodge, now the Sovereign Grand Lodge, oversees Canadian as well as American Grand Lodges.
The reasons for the split from the English parent(s) are by no means clear. It is possible that it was provoked by the 1843 chartering of a black lodge, the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows, under the jurisdiction of the old United or Union Order of Odd Fellows in England. Whatever the reason, the split came in 1843, and the I.O.O.F. became the American Branch of Odd Fellowship. As in England, it attracted many of the artisan class; in California’s gold country, for example, I.O.O.F. halls still stand as testimony to their attractions for miners who did not want to spend all their money in the saloons. By the time of Wildey’s death in 1861, there were over 200,000 members of the I.O.O.F. and during the Civil War the seats of secessionist members were kept vacant, and their dues were remitted.
The peak membership was probably in 1915, when there were 3,400,000 members; the Great Depression halved that number, and by the late 1970s membership had fallen below the quarter-million mark. Astonishingly, this figure had nearly doubled by 1994, though this number may reflect the inclusion of auxiliaries.
The lodges work four basic degrees (the number of degrees was stabilized in 1880), but there are three additional degrees in the Encampment Lodge, which maintains a pseudo-militarily uniformed marching society called the Patriarchs Militant. There is also one honorary degree.
 
Lodge degrees:
Initiatory (1909)        Initiatory (1989)
Friendship (1909)      Friendship (1989)
Love (1909)              Brotherly Love (1989)
Truth (1909)              Truth (1989)
Encampment degrees:
Patriarchal
Golden Rule
Royal Purple
Patriarchs Militant degree:
Ritual of a Canton
Honorary degree:

Grand Decoration of Chivalry
 
All degrees are based on the customary rituals. William J. Whalen, in his Handbook of Secret Organizations, mentions skull and crossbones, scythe, scales, hourglass, coffin, and more. Many other Masonic symbols are also used, such as the all-seeing eye, the three links, and so forth. The rituals are rooted in deism, the postulant is required to believe in a Supreme Being who is described as the Creator and Preserver of the Universe, and the Bible is used, but according to a Sovereign Grand Lodge statement of 1963, “Odd Fellowship is not a religious institution.”
Masonic influence and terminology are clearly evident. The first-degree ceremony, for example, involves putting the blindfolded candidate in chains and forming a mock funeral procession. When the blindfold is removed, the candidate is brought face to face with a skeleton illuminated by two torches and is invited to mediate upon death. Various instructions in the secrets of the order are given by different lodge worthies, the Chaplain offers prayers, and with his right hand on his left breast the candidate vows:
I, [Name], in the presence of the members of the Order here assembled, do solemnly promise that I will never communicate to anyone, unless directed to do so by a legal lodge, the signs, tokens or grips, the term, traveling or other passwords belonging to the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. Nor will I expose or lend any of the books or papers, relating to the records or secret works of the Order, to any person or persons, except one specifically authorized to receive them. That I will never reveal any private business which may be transacted in my presence in this or any other Lodge. I also promise that I will abide by the laws rules and regulations of this Lodge, of the Grand Lodge of Odd Fellows, of [the State] or any other Grand or working Lodge to which I may be attached.
I further promise that I will never wrong a Subordinate or Grand Lodge to the value of anything. Nor will I take part or share, directly or indirectly, in any illegal distribution of the funds or other property of the Lodge; but will, to the best of my ability, endeavor to prevent the same. Nor will I wrong a brother or see him wronged without apprising him of impending danger;. if in my power to do so. Should I be expelled or voluntarily leave the Order, I will consider this promise as binding out of it as in. To the faithful performance of all of which I pledge my sacred honor.
He then receives the passwords, the signs of distress and recognition, the grip, and so forth from the Noble Grand performing the initiation, and brief homilies from the Chaplain and Past Grand. He is told that the organization “studiously avoids all affinity with systems of faith or sects,” while the “moral precepts which govern us, and according to which we would have all men regulate their conduct, are the laws of God?”
The essentially Judeo-Christian nature of the I.O.O.F. is made all the more clear in the next three degrees. The Degree of Fellowship is based on the story of the friendship of Jonathan and David. The Degree of Brotherly Love casts the candidate in the role of a traveler going from Jerusalem to Jericho and recites the parable of the Good Samaritan. The Degree of Truth uses a variety of Christian and Masonic symbols, and confers full membership of the lodge. The I.O.O.F. is not viewed with favor by the Roman Catholic Church, though Catholics may belong under the same sufferance as to the Knights of Pythias. They are traditionally denied the sacraments, but are not excommunicated. The order is similarly discouraged by a number of other churches.

The Odd Fellows propagate that all human beings, regardless of race, skin-color or position is society are brothers and sisters. In the past this was different. Until the mid-sixties of the 20th century, only white people could join the I.O.O.F. This was common use for societies in the United States, but orders outside the U.S., including the Netherlands adopted this policy. It has to be noted that the Dutch order had a compensation for the admission of members with an East-Indies background, due to the colonial history.
In the late fifties discussions about this 'full white blood clause' arose in the Netherlands. This case was also investigated by Dutch police and justice department. The Dutch order, together with some European orders brought this clause up for discussion. The Sovereign Grand Lodge abandoned this clause some years later officially, also due to the changed attitude towards racial segragation in the U.S.
Not just in the I.O.O.F. regulations was a racist tendency, also in one of the rituals. In an older version of the ritual of the second Encampment degree, the black race was typed as:  "in general they are barbarians and monsters in the practice of the most dire rapine". According to the Dutch Grand Secretary this ritual is no longer in use, but words as 'wilds' and 'heathens', in combination with the black race are still common in the American rituals. These words should be used in a different perspective.

Contrary to freemasonry, the Odd Fellows have an international coordinating organization, the Sovereign Grand Lodge. Under this SGL there are ten Grandlodges and about 100 jurisdictions. The Netherlands, together with Belgium have one Grand Lodge. Members  have joined local lodges. In the Dutch/Belgian jurisdiction there are about 60 lodges for men (late 1998: 2415 members) and 43 Rebekahlodges for women (late 1998: 1623 members). Besides these lodges there is also the Bond voor Jong Odde Fellow Clubs (League of Youth Odd Fellow Clubs), open for youngsters until 30. There are six of these clubs, with nearly 200 members.
There are seven encampments for men and since 2000 two for women in the Dutch jurisdiction. The Dutch Grand Lodge is since 2002 open for both men and women, which makes it theoretically possible that a women becomes Grandmaster of this Grand Lodge. The Dutch/Belgian jurisdiction is the first, and so far the only, that makes this possible.


Ritual of a Canton (Patriarchs Militant), (1997)
Ritual for a Ladies' Militant
(1906)
Ceremonies for Conferring the Grand Decoration of Chivalry on a Lady
Ritual for Conferring the Degree of Past Provincial Grand Master (Manchester Unity, 1967)
Ritual for the institution of a Fortress (US, 1906)
Ritual for the installation of officers of a Fortress (US, 1906)
Ritual for a Juvenile Lodge (Australia, 1946)
Ritual for a funeral ceremony (US, 1906)
Ritual voor de Installatie van een Loge: Zitting met alleen Broederen (Dutch, 1995)
Ritual for the Theta Rho Girls' Club (US, 1975)


We have published more rituals and texts on our CD-Rom Odd Fellow Library.

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