Previous Table of Contents Next

Chapter 9
Grange Ritualism Development, Meaning

While the Grange does not live for or by Ritual alone, the Ritualistic structure is the lifeblood of the Order. It is the ingredient that brings us together in harmonious relationship to work for the good of all people everywhere.

The teachings of the ritual enable our Order to be political without being partisan, religious without being denominational, and though it binds its members with a strong fraternal tie, it assures a complete individuality.

-C. Jerome Davis
Field Assistant to the National Master

To the Grange ritual-its beauty, its moral and spiritual influence, its patriotism and idealism-is attributed much of the deep feeling that members today have for the Order. Through this ritual since its beginning, the Grange has built and developed the best in men and women, bringing out the finer side of life and elevating the thoughts and practices of each member.

It is beautifully said in the Preamble to the Constitution of the National Grange, that:

. . . Unity of action cannot be acquired without discipline, and discipline cannot be enforced without significant organization; hence, we have a ceremony of initiation which binds us in mutual fraternity as with a band of iron; but, although its influence is so powerful, its application is as gentle as that of the silken thread that binds a wreath of flowers.

Underlying the material accomplishments of which the Founders dreamed for the Grange in their plans to serve the needs of rural people in every possible way, they prepared a fraternal ritual based upon the most exalted views of God and nature. The symbols come from nature and the art of farming. This plan was in the first recorded statement on the Grange in a letter written by Founder Oliver H. Kelley to Founder William Saunders in August, 1867. Kelley said:

I suggest the project of organizing an Order to embrace in its membership those persons interested in cultivating the soil. I should make it a secret order, with several degrees, and signs and pass words. The lectures in each degree should be practical, appertaining to agricultural work, and at the same time convey a moral lesson. While the Order would aim to advance agriculture to a higher rank, by encouraging education, it would at the same time naturally em

Grange Ritualism

  • First Degree
    - Faith
    - Spring
    - Laborer
    - Maid

  • Second Degree
    - Hope
    - Summer
    - Cultivator
    - Shepherdess

  • Third Degree
    - Charity
    - Autumn
    - Harvester
    - Cleaner

  • Fourth Degree
    - Fidelity
    - Winter
    - Husbandman
    - Matron

The higher degrees, Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh, are degrees of Pomona, Flora, and Ceres or Demeter and are conferred by Pomona Granges which are normally county Granges or District Granges depending upon the state; by the State Granges for the degree of Flora; by the National Grange in annual session of the Assembly of Demeter, in the case of the degree of Ceres.

These degrees are available to all those who fully subscribe to the long-established custom of teaching by symbols and emblems, to the principle of using the power of ritualism to bring out the finer characteristics of the members and the beauty of rural life.

About a month later in a letter to Anson Bartlett, of Ohio, he made this further statement:

Country and town societies and clubs are interesting for awhile, but soon lose their interest, and I see nothing that will be lasting, unless it combines with it the advantages which an Order similar to our Masonic Fraternity will provide. Among the objects in view may be mentioned a cordial and social fraternity of the farmers all over the country. Encourage them to read and think; to plant fruits and flowers, beautify their homes; elevate them; make them progressive. In our lectures in the various degrees, just see what a fund of beautiful material we have to make them sublime. Every tool the farmer works with, and all his surroundings, the beauties of nature, can convey a moral illustrated lesson, and in the labors of the farm also,-the preparation of the soil (the mind) for the seed (ideas)-planting-the harvest, etc.

While in Masonry there is much that is speculative, there will be in this Order little else but operative features. It will not call the members' minds from their work, but every tool they touch upon the farm in their daily labors, will call up some good thing they have learned in the Lodge.

Effective and Constructive Tie that Binds

Thus, during these first 100 years of the Grange its ritualism has been the effective and constructive tie that has bound together those who recognize the Brotherhood of Man as the finest expression of the Fatherhood of God.

The unusually fitting ritualism of the Grange, as reflected in the everyday experience of the farmer, is a constant reminder of man's actual partnership with the Almighty in producing a harvest of food and fiber.

Prominently featured is the Grange Cornucopia-the Horn of Plenty. This symbol is interpreted as teaching the lesson that we are to dispense as well as to accumulate; not to gather simply for the sake of possession but through proper use of our plenty, be prepared to share our abundance with others not so fortunate.

Another important feature about the value of the Ritualism in binding members together is the fact that the Grange member in Maine finds the Grange door in Oregon opening as readily to his signal as in his own Grange 3,000 miles away. Were it not for this universal tie,- a national organization might soon deteriorate into state or local groups and its strong cohesive power be broken as indeed happened to approximately 500 other national farm and rural organizations which did not have this cohesive fraternal tie, even though it is conceded that there may have been many other factors in their demise.

Throughout Grange history the ritual has dramatized the beauty and importance of the family, home, community, and agriculture. Grange ritual is a vital part of regular procedure, meetings, and activities.

Early discussions by the Founders on the Ritualism and its formulation indicated an almost uncanny "premonition" of what was correct, solid, and appealing. Their thinking and their actions were remarkable in effectiveness and completeness. Their work has stood the test of 100 years and now goes forward into its second century with experience, stature, breadth of organizational structure, and with a firm foundation upon which to build an even more significant Grange in rural, suburban, and agricultural America.

How the Grange Was Designed

First thought of the Founders was to divide the work into three degrees as is done in the Masonic Order. It was soon realized that the four seasons of the year would form a more appropriate basis for Grange ritual.

Most fraternal orders feature lessons from the Bible as a part of the ritual, and the same thing was to be done in this new fraternity. In many orders Faith, Hope, and Charity, are used as the principal lessons of the degrees, and it was evidently intended from the beginning to use these three Christian Graces as the foundation lessons. When it was decided to have four degrees, it became necessary to select a fourth lesson that would be a fit companion to these three. The lesson finally chosen was "Fidelity"-one of the most important attributes of civilized man.

It would be impossible to select four words more full of meaning than Faith, Hope, Charity, and Fidelity, or four virtues of more significance than these in our Christian civilization-or in rural life.

There are at least 43 direct quotations from the Bible in the ritual of the first four degrees, besides many indirect quotations, and allusions to matters contained in the Bible.

Ritual Stations Based on Old English Estate

Careful study of the ritual reveals that those who planned it had in mind the old-time large English estate which was a quite complete world in itself, and lends itself to ritualistic purposes much better than would the American type of farm estate. The Grange Master's desk represents the mansion, (or baronial castle) of the estate set in its own park-like enclosure, and approached through a broad avenue of trees. Another part of the estate was the farm or "grange" with its many little fields, usually fenced with hedges, and with the people who actually tilled the land living in the small farm village.

Grange officers are similar to the officers of this old baronial estate. The entrance to the estate, for instance, was closed by a massive gate, which was opened and closed by the Gate Keeper, who, with his family, lived in the gate keeper's lodge located beside the entrance. In the earlier days when might alone was right, his function in guarding the gate was an extremely important one. The owl is used as the emblem of the gate keeper because its habit of being awake at night makes it a fitting emblem for a watchman, which was the function of the gate keeper.

The Overseer had the duties that his name implies, and in addition to the supervision of the farming operations, (or the husbandry as it was called) often also bad charge of the upkeep of the park-like grounds surrounding the mansion.

The Lecturer, while not an officer of the English estate, never-the-less was included as an important station in the basic design of the Grange. His contributions are extremely vital throughout Grange organization and activities. (See also p. 72.)

The Steward was in a way the executive secretary of the estate. He made most of the purchases. He also had charge of the tools and supplies of the grange, and was the business agent of the whole enterprise.

To a large measure the physical comfort of those living on the estate was dependent upon his efficiency.

Even the Chaplain was in an official position, and his living, so-called, was provided by the estate, in which was located the little church, the entire expense of which was paid by the master's income, and not by the subscriptions of the congregation.

The Grange Hall, therefore, is meant to typify in miniature this farm estate with its palace, and park, and Grange or farm proper.

Women Early Had Important Roles in Grange

The Grange was the first fraternal organization to make the wise move of admitting women to membership upon full equality with the men. So, when it was decided to invite the women to join it seemed desirable to create certain offices for them. The need of a Lady Assistant Steward, for instance, was obvious, and in addition the Founders called upon Roman mythology for the names of three women officers, selected from the goddesses whose functions were the protection of growing things, though the ritualism itself is based on Greek mythology-and indeed on the Eleusinian rites of 25 centuries ago into which only the outstanding citizens were eligible.

CERES was the goddess who presented to mankind the great gift of grain upon which we depend to such a large extent for our sustenance. She had care over the cereals which are named after her, and over the grower of the grains.

POMONA was the goddess who presided over fruits, and to whom the fruit growers appealed for protection of their products and for an abundant yield.

FLORA was the goddess of flowers and of Spring, and to her was due the fact that the earth is so beautifully adorned with flowers.
More than equality has been given women, as it will be seen, for while a woman can hold any office in the Grange, there are four of the offices that are not open to men.

Lessons from the Bible

The terminology of farming as adopted by the Grange in its ritual is so very appropriate in illustrating lessons of the Bible. Practically all the words of Christ were spoken in the open. He drew largely upon agriculture for His similes and illustrations. Among the 43 or more direct quotations from the Bible, as mentioned earlier in this text, the Subordinate Grange ritualism embraces the following significant applications:

"The shepherd goeth before the sheep," He said and in many other instances
used the shepherd and the sheep to designate Himself and His followers.

Note also the parable of the seed, "Some fell by the wayside and the fowls
came and devoured them up. Some fell upon stony places and the sun scorched them. Some fell among thorns and the thorns choked them. But some fell into good soil and brought forth fruit, some an hundred-fold, some sixty-fold, some thirty-fold."
The vine and the vineyard are often used as similes in both the Old and the

New Testament.

The psalmist said, "I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills whence cometh my help."
And again He said, "He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb
for the service of man."

Well-conducted ritualistic work is a matter of prime importance in the Grange. It is an outlet for the dramatic ability of members and a degree team that works conscientiously can find full scope for the display of all of its dramatic genius. Moreover, it can find in the degree work the same enjoyment that is found in the presentation of plays and dramas. As a matter of fact, Grange ritualism permits thousands of patrons to participate in its attractive features, thus developing their interest in the Order, and at the same time building their own proper attitude toward improving their fellowmen and the world in which we live.
Structure of Grange Ritualism
It will be seen from the chart on page 44 that the first four degrees are conferred by the Subordinate Grange and the Fifth Degree is conferred by the county or Pomona Grange. Its beautifully constructed Fifth Degree lessons are designed to be a fitting next step after the Four Degrees of the Subordinate Granges.

This impressive Fifth Degree has been greatly perfected in recent years with the degree and drill teams providing an impressive, long remembered, inspiring stage setting and words of wisdom.

The Sixth Degree is now conferred exclusively by State Masters as a beautiful Floral court scene over which Worthy Flora, Goddess of Flowers, presides. There seems to be no limit to what State Granges have done in presenting the ritual through beautiful and inspiring mystic stage decorations, rose drills and other appropriate features and spectacles.

Jurisdiction over the ritualism of the First to the Sixth Degree is vested in the National Master of the Grange, as well as final determination on all matters of law and order and of the manuals of the junior Granges, Subordinate Granges, Pomona Granges and State Granges and all of their degree work.

From the very beginning, the Seventh Degree was envisioned as the highest or climax degree. This degree would not only interpret all of the ritualism of the Subordinate, Pomona, and State Granges, but it would be drawn from the most spectacular agriculture ritual in all the world's history.

Extensive research then was being done by the Greek Archaeological Society near the little town of Elevsis, some 18 miles northwest of Athens, Greece.

Founder Francis M. McDowell, who is credited for linking agriculture with the mythical teachings 'of earlier centuries in the Seventh Degree, was elected (in 1868) the first High Priest of the Assembly of Demeter, the controlling body of Ritualism of the Seventh Degree.

The first time this beautiful Seventh Degree was conferred was in Nashville, Tennessee, at the 18th Annual Session of the National Grange in 1884 on eight candidates. Over the years since then conferring of the Seventh Degree has become one of the outstanding events of Grange Annual Sessions, with nearly a quarter of a million members having received this degree so far.

Assembly of Demeter

All Grangers who have had the Seventh Degree conferred on them and who retain good standing in a Subordinate Grange become members of the Assembly of Demeter.

The Assembly of Demeter is also the custodian of the secret or unwritten work, the signs, the patrons' test, etc., and it is from the High Priest of the Assembly of Demeter that the annual passwords emanate. The High Priest has the responsibility for determining all matters relating to the secret work, and in relation to the Seventh Degree between Annual Sessions.

He personally originates the annual passwords-Subordinate, Pomona, and junior-and communicates them to the Master of the National Grange in connection with the conferring of the Seventh Degree.

The Assembly of Demeter holds three sessions a year: the session at which the Seventh Degree is conferred; the annual ritualistic convocation, at which secret work is demonstrated and reviewed; and a business convocation to transact routine business and discuss any matters resulting from action of the National Grange. Assembly of Demeter officers are elected biennially at this session.

The Assembly of Demeter is also the "Supreme Court" of the Grange and may serve, if ever necessary, as a Court of final appeal in which charges against officers of the National Grange can be preferred.

Non-Farm Rural Families as Grange Members

Recalling Founder Kelley's original thoughts in his letter of August, 1867, to Anson Bartlett (page 44), Grange ritual has been largely based on "operative features" with emphasis on the agricultural implements and the symbols of man's daily labors in partnership with the Almighty in producing food and fiber.

The "speculative" elements of the Grange ritual-the beauty and significance of its inspiring and stimulating gospel of man's relationship to Divine Nature-are there, but have been glowing only in the background.

Now, in America, since rural and suburban non-farm people are the fastest-growing segment of our population in most states, it would seem that the second century of the Grange could well take account of this shift in emphasis from the purely rural.

The Grange has been unique for 100 years as a rural family fraternity. But, is it not possible that rural and suburban non-farm families can also be exhorted to avail themselves, to their everlasting benefit, of the matchless beauty and intriguing "lessons" in the Grange's beautiful agricultural ritual-

Previous Table of Contents Next