Monday, July 5, 2010

Changes in the DeMolay Ritual?

In the second edition of the DeMolay Handbook, printed in May, 1960, an interview with Dad Land, conducted at least 50 years ago, was printed as Chapter 1, on pages 1-5.

QUESTION: But, how do you know so positvely that ritual has been the key to DeMolay's amazing growth and success?"

Dad Land replied: "We have proof in the spoken and written testimony of hundreds of thousands of DeMolays who in the brief span of four decades have climbed to the top in their chosen fields of adult endeavor. They testify freely that much of the initial impetus up the ladder of success started in DeMolay Chapter rooms."

"It is also supported by the fact that since the ritual was written in 1919 by Frank A. Marshall, a Kansas City newspaperman and Masonic leader, it has remained virtually unchanged - even in its most minute detail. Top-ranking ritualists have heralded the DeMolay ritual as ageless."

This is the LEGEND of the Ritual, but is it, in fact, the truth? Or is truth a matter of degree-- of how much change is to be counted when we say that it is "virtually unchanged" even today?

I have a copy of the "original" manuscript of the ritual-- presumably Frank Marshall's first draft of the ceremonies.

I also have a copy of the printed First Edition, the one owned and annotated by Frank S. Land.

Lastly, I will make reference to the 4th Edition text of the DeMolay Degree from the Ritual (published in the mid-1920's, to the best of my knowledge.)

The original draft changed significantly before it was published, but the basics are all there-- the principles and much of the language we use today. The same can be said of the First Edition, except that much more of it is close to the language that we still use in the current 14th corrected edition.

Clearly, however, the text of the Fourth Edition DeMolay Degree is a far cry from being close to the Degree we confer today. In the mid-1920's there was some innovation going on in the Grand Council. You would be astounded at the changes that were made in the Fourth Edition. Certainly these changes were approved by Dad Land and Dad Marshall or they wouldn't have been printed. One of the very significant changes was a final speech by Jacques DeMolay in which he "salutes" the generations of the future who will carry on his work and the principles of knighthood. This was removed, but the "return salute" in the Orator's prayer was left in to this day, which is why we listen to that prayer and say, "When and how did DeMolay salute us in these times of ours?"

The dramatic changes included different characters in the DeMolay Degree dramatic section. But obviously, these changes must not have been well received by the general membership, because by 1930, the Fifth Edition was printed to return to what had been standard and accepted as "the Ritual" of the Order of DeMolay. Although there are some very interesting nuances to the Fourth Edition degree, they must have been rejected by a membership that had no intention of buying new ritual books or learning new material. The Fifth Edition is only marginally different from the First Edition and only a few words different from the 14th Corrected Edition.

So, yes, we can say that today's text is very similar to the early ritual. But I am not sure we can say it is "virtually unchanged" because, in truth,it was significantly changed at one time. Dad Land wasn't afraid to try significant changes. He also wasn't afraid to admit a ritualistic mistake, and he wasn't stubborn enought to insist that the changes MUST be accepted by everyone, as evidenced by the return to the more traditional language.

Should changes be made in the DeMolay Ritual? If you could "fix" something in the Ritual today, what would it be? Don't tell me that it should never be changed -- that duck won't float with me. The Holy Bible, the most sacred text in the world, has been retranslated, revised, paraphrased, musicalized, and rewritten to help make it more relevant to today's readers. The DeMolay Ritual isn't sacred text, but it should be easily understandable by the 12, 13, 14 and 15 year old new member who is seeing it for the first time. Maybe the time has come to update the preceptors, and modernize some of the language. What do YOU think?

"Dad" Tom Labagh, Executive Officer in PA


  1. Dad Labagh,
    At DI Session, I briefly looked through the 4th edition of the ritual, and there was one part that I would be sure to add if it were up to me. I would ad the vote actually being taken, so that way when Guy or other characters refernece it, it would all add up. It's similar to the salute you make reference too, if the ritual is going to reference it, then it should be in there.

    Andrew Roberts
    SMC NY

  2. Interesting thought, Andrew. I was always under the impression that the dramatic story we tell has the King's Constable interrupting the proceedings BEFORE the vote is ever taken... or am I missing something?

    DAD L.