American Freemasonry is the progeny of English Freemasonry and descended from those tavern lodges of which the most famous is perhaps the Goose and Gridiron where the Grand Lodge of England was formed in 1717. The Green Dragon Tavern in Boston is famous for being the meeting place of a Masonic lodge as well as the Boston Tea Party (more on caffeinated beverages later). Today, particularly in Alabama lodges, we put on a fresh pot of coffee without a sign of beer in the lodge. If a Knight Templar commandery holds a Christmas observance, we may see wine poured but in the Scottish Rite it is strictly grape (and perhaps coffee before the meeting). A long view of history shows that these beverages have been the center of great moral controversy. Consider that there was a generation of Freemasons that would have been shocked at coffee drinkers allowed into lodge!
Alcohol in Freemasonry
The cornerstone laying ceremony is perhaps one of the quickest reminders of Freemasonry’s veneration for wine. Wine is mentioned frequently in Masonic ceremony in Craft lodges, the Scottish Rite and the York Rite, but it is not a common sight at regular meetings. The Alabama Masonic Code specifically prohibits a Mason to be drunk in lodge. A short list of “who cannot be a mason” includes “those who traffic in illegal spirits.” Perhaps this is a holdover from the temperance movement that began in 1780 resulting in the prohibition of alcohol up to 1933. This movement supported many blue laws which included forbidding the sale of alcohol on Sunday, which persisted in Alabama until the late 20th century. The term “blue laws” has no connection to the term “blue lodges.” Although it may be interesting for some to note that the first blue laws were enacted by Constantine in 312 A.D.: “On the venerable Day of the Sun let the magistrates and people residing in cities rest, and let all workshops be closed.” — Codex Justinianus, lib. 3, tit. 12, 3 The formation of the Grand Lodge of England in 1717 consisted of tavern friendly lodges. Dr. Anderson lists the “Four Old Lodges” as: 1. At the Goose and Gridiron Ale- house in St. Paul’s Churchyard. 2. At the Crown Ale-house in Parker’s Lane near Drury Lane. 3. At the Apple-Tree Tavern in Charles Street, Covent Garden. 4. At the Rummer and Grapes Tavern in Channel Row, Westminster
Coffee in the age of Enlightenment
This probably accounts for the duty of the Junior Warden, as given in the Alabama Officer Installation, to “see that none of the craft convert the purpose of refreshment into intemperance of excess.” Tavern meeting lodges probably had a much greater concern for such oversight than coffee drinking lodges. We have some idea that drunkenness did occur thanks to the artwork of Brother William Hogarth’s painting, Four Times of Day, created in 1736. While Hogarth himself was a Mason, it is not a flattering picture of Freemasonry. The night scene depicts a worshipful master in apron, with master’s jewel and hat walking drunk through the streets with the assistance of the Tiler, sword tucked under his arm, while a woman empties her chamber pot – which contents find their way to pour onto the master’s hat. The worshipful master is suspected to depict Sir Thomas De Veill who spoke at length of temperance in lodge but was regularly seen in public quite the opposite. While Hogarth’s painting derides a drunken Mason, it does establish that drinking alcohol in lodge was not considered unmasonic at the time, but what about coffee? In 1645, twenty-two years before the formation of the Grand Lodge of England and twenty-seven years after the First Schaw Statutes, the first coffee shop in Christian Europe appeared. The coffee bean had come to Europe thanks to trade and war in Arabia. Coffee houses spread across Europe and became a popular place to share news, debate politics, and discuss philosophy. The criticism of government in coffee houses resulted in publications by Royalists that “the alehouse patron ‘is one of the quietest subjects his Majesty has, and more submissive to monarchical government.’” At one point, the monarchy commanded all coffee houses closed for fear of sedition. The Women’s Petition against Coffee in London 1666 claimed coffee was making husbands impotent. On the other hand, coffee house patrons included John Milton, Sir Isaac Newton, and several of the great thinkers of the Enlightenment. (Melton, 2001)
Lodge Beverages As stated earlier, the Temperance Movement likely influenced the exclusion of alcohol from Masonic lodges. The once wicked coffee bean is now the mainstay of lodges while beer is relegated to the Shrine. Wine persists in some appendant bodies for ceremonial purposes. The idea of forming a lodge that would meet in a tavern or bar would be met with strong resistance. All of these bits of information are presented here for your consideration when you drink your coffee before lodge to consider its “evil” reputation at the time of the birth of modern Freemasonry and to consider after lodge, when you leave the building to go to a local bar to have a beer with a brother. Some appendant bodies allow alcohol for ritual purposes and some for socializing. Some grand lodge jurisdictions have fewer restrictions than Alabama. So wherever you are and whatever your poison, remember the Entered Apprentice lecture that “our mother earth alone has never proved unfriendly to man….though she produces poison still she supplies the antidote and returns with interest every good committed to her care.”
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_ law. (n.d.). (n.d.).
https://oxfordre.com/americanhistory/view/10.1093/ acrefore/9780199329175.001.0001/ acrefore-9780199329175-e-82. (n.d.). (n.d.).
https://oxfordre.com/ americanhistory/view/10.1093/ acrefore/9780199329175.001.0001/ acrefore-9780199329175-e-82.
Melton, J. V. (2001). The Rise of the Public in Enlightenment Europe. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.