A modern man or woman goes calling or makes a visit casually, and with ease, oftentimes in an offhand fashion; to him "visitor" is a pallid word to which he seldom gives thought. It was otherwise in the Ancient World. In the days at the beginning of history that word was charged with feeling and emotion, and in any of its forms in the many languages it always denoted one of the most exciting experiences a man could have because it could be explosively pleasant or excruciatingly painful. The laws covering visitors and strangers stood high among the great laws, and the gods and oracles had much to say about the subject.
Among the Ancient Greeks a visitor was called xenios, a word subtle and many - faceted and therefore difficult to define; if it changed form or color when turned this way or that, if it even passed into its opposite, it was because visiting itself was an uncertain and many-sided occasion. The xenios, the stranger at the door, was met cautiously, was inspected, and if acceptable was received with many ceremonies. If not accepted he was turned away, threatened with the clogs, and the neighbors were warned. If he was received as a guest it was with a complex rite of hospitality, the forms of which were as binding as laws - certain of them were laws! At his departure he received gifts, called xenia. The fear or hatred of strangers and foreigners was called xenophobia.
Among the Romans and other Latin-speaking peoples a visitor was more often than not hospes, or guest, whose coming into a household was a red-letter day to be celebrated by a festival, and the guest himself would be crowned or have a garland hung about his neck - like the leis with which Hawaiians greet their visitors. We have the grand old Latin word in our own language in the forms of hospital, hotel, hospitable, hospitality - the last named a fine art of which every housewife is expected to be the mistress.
Among the Ancient Hebrews, as among the other nomadic peoples of the near East, "visit" had the same meaning as among Greeks and Romans, but it also was used with a second and different meaning which was almost the opposite of the first. Under the rule of blood revenge, or blood atonement, if a man was murdered his next of kin sought out the murderer or the murderer's next of kin, and "took a life for a life"; his finding of the guilty man was a "visit," his dread mission was called a "visitation." Jehovah himself is described as an evening visitor in Eden by the Book of Genesis; and the Prophets threatened their recalcitrant people with his dreaded visitations. An echo of that old note of dread lingers here and there in our own usage, as when we say that death visits a house, or a community is visited by a catastrophe.
Our own word "visit" is of a quieter and more humdrum lineage, and continues to carry much the same meaning as xenios or hospes except that we have given it a twist of meaning characteristically our own. It is a form of the Latin viso, which had in it not so much the idea of "to see," as visible, vision, and vision suggest, as it did the idea expressed in our "behold." To behold a thing is more than to look at it; it is even more than to see it (which means far more than to look); it means to keep the eyes held on it, or something which holds the eyes on itself - like the serpents in the hair of Medusa. It is a continuous seeing. The visitor is not one who comes to the door to look and then departs, but one who remains to see, and it is you yourself that he has come to see. In the high poetry of the King James translation of the Bible the translators have it that Jehovah came as a visitor to see, or to behold, the world he had made, and in their choice of words they had the old viso in mind, for Jehovah's eyes were held by what He saw, and for that reason He described it as very good; and continuing in the same veins of language they describe Him as arriving in the world as a Visitor for a time (He "tented" or "tabernacled"), as returning whence He came, and then as coming again as a Resident. In any event, and in any of its forms, a visit means that a visitor is more than a stranger, more than one who comes to the door, not a casual passer-by or one who casually drops in, but one who is invited in, and is made welcome, and for a little while can advance at least some little way into the circle.
In one aspect of it the Ritual of Ancient Craft Freemasonry with its Three Degrees is an acted - out philosophy of man in the world of work; the Ritual is always saying the same things, but it says it in the terms of just one major theme, and then of another, one after another; some of these themes are such as one would expect to find in the Fraternity - relief is one of these - but others are not obvious or to be expected - clothing and wages are examples; themes of this latter sort must be searched out. A number of the themes are on subjects about which we are all thinking in modern America (cooperation is one), but a number of them are on subjects about which few of us ever think at all, either much or little. Visiting is one of these major themes in the Ritual which is not obvious but must be searched out, and is not a theme about which we are all thinking and therefore must be thought out by conscious effort. It is in the Ritual, as one of its great themes, partly for historical reasons and partly because it belongs to the meaning of Freemasonry.
To repeat what is said in other chapters, men did not visit or travel much in the Middle Ages - the majority of men did neither, except in their own neighborhoods; it was because work and activities of many other kinds (including religion) were organized in gilds and fraternities with each one confined to its own local jurisdiction. A modern workman is free to go and come anywhere in the nation, a Medieval workman was not; he was tied down to his own farm, village, or town, and to men five miles away he was a stranger or even a foreigner. To this general rule the Freemasons were an exception, as they were an exception in many other ways also, because any Freemason could come from any other town or even from abroad, and nearly always they did come from a distance; while they were traveling they could visit Freemasons or Lodges wherever they might come upon them, and not only could but were expected to do so, because it was from his traveling Brethren that a Freemason could have the news about his own Craft. When such a traveler arrived he was accepted as a guest, as hospes, as xenios, and treated to hospitality; if he was ill he was nursed, if in need he received relief; and there was little danger of spurious visitors because each Freemason had received the Modes of Recognition under the oath of secrecy and could identify himself wherever he went. This freedom to travel and this right to visit were so necessary to Freemasons that without them they could not have carried on their work; being thus an essential, visiting became a Landmark, and has continued to be one ever since.
The place of this Landmark in the meaning of Freemasonry is second to no other in either importance or size. A Candidate is made a Mason; in the act of making him one he is made a Masonic visitor because to be one belongs to what it is to be a Mason. For in the very moment of becoming a Mason he becomes the friend of thousands of men in his own community or state and of millions of men in the world who already are sworn to be in friendship with him; he has never met them, he is not acquainted with them, he does not even know their names, but he has millions of acquaintances whom he has never seen, and whenever he meets a Mason and introduces himself as a Mason he will find himself in a land of amicable fellowship which was already there before he came - for it to be there is one of the things that is meant by being a Mason.
It is as if each and every Master Mason had a standing invitation from each Lodge in the world to be its guest. He does not need to seek their hospitality, their hospitality is seeking him. This is an amazing fact, especially if a man is an American Mason, because it means that the doors of 15,000 Lodges will be opened to welcome him in; and if a Mason rightly understands the art, and is a member in the sense of being one in his spirit and his interests as well as in the sense of having his name on the books, he will travel throughout the Craft as often as he can and visit as many Lodges as he can.
The rules by which visiting is governed vary in some details from one Grand jurisdiction to another, but not much, and differ nowhere in fundamentals:
1. Visiting is by permission. It is a Landmark that each member in any regular Lodge has the right to seek to visit any other Lodge in any Communication, but he cannot enter the Lodge without its Master's consent.
2. If a Mason has already visited a Lodge, and can be vouched for by the Tiler, he is free to enter without ceremony, but should first write his name in the Visitors' Book.
3. If he is a stranger to a Lodge he can be vouched for by a Brother whose avouchment is acceptable to the Master. In the majority of Grand jurisdictions an avouchment is acceptable if the avoucher has "sat in Lodge" with the visitor.
4. If a visitor cannot be vouched for the Tiler sends word "through the door" upon which the Master appoints a Committee (or calls a Standing Committee) to examine him; even after it has reported, the Master is still free to make the decision for himself but usually he will follow the Committee's recommendation. The purpose of the Committee is solely confined to ascertaining if a visitor is or is not a Master Mason in good standing in a regular Lodge, not to test his proficiency in the Ritual.
5. Refusal. A Master's refusal to grant admittance (and even if a Committee has recommended admittance) ought not to be taken as a reflection on the visitor. A refusal where the visitor is not at fault ought to be accompanied with explanations and apologies but if there are good reasons for it a Master ought to make his refusal without hesitation. There are many non-personal grounds for refusal as is illustrated by such cases as when: a Lodge is discussing a question private to its own members; if a question of discipline has arisen; questions involving relief under circumstances where it is desired to keep the details secret; etc., etc.
6. A voice in Lodge. A visitor cannot vote in a Lodge or participate in its discussions but he is entitled to the privileges of the floor on request, and should under proper circumstances ask for the privilege.
7. Hospitality. A Master acts as host to
Lodge visitors. He may ask a visitor to salute at the West, or
at the Altar; may remain seated when a visitor is received or
may advance to the Altar to greet him, may order the visitor escorted
to a certain place or leave him free to find his own seat, may
ask him to address the Lodge or may not, his conduct in each instance
being governed by the conditions at the time. Whatever these circumstances
may be it is etiquette for the visitor to accept his reception
in whatever form it may take without questioning it, and he should
place himself unreservedly in the Master's hands without reluctance
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