Brethren, what does it mean to be made a Mason “at sight”? It is a term doubtless that many of us have heard, but perhaps not all have encountered it in practice. For many, the term may conjure the image of a Grand Master gesturing to the proposed candidate and proclaiming them a Master Mason. In truth, there is a procedure for making a Mason "at sight" that has been done many times throughout Freemasonry's history. While different jurisdictions may have variations in how the practice may be conducted, they generally follow the same method.

How Men are Made a Mason “At Sight”

Who better to guide us in this topic than Ill. Brother Louis L. Williams, 33°? Bro. Williams was a Masonic historian who was instrumental in forming the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum &Library and author of the book Making a Mason at Sight. As he describes in his book, becoming a Freemason “at sight” is by no means a free pass into our fraternity. Williams wrote:

“I was many years a Mason before I learned that under normal procedures the Grand Master would convene an Occasional Lodge, with the requisite number present, and then, by issuing a dispensation for the purpose, proceed to confer all three degrees on the candidate. The Grand Master would waive the petition, balloting, Catechism, and the like, but the degrees themselves were usually conferred in full, including lectures and charges, but usually on the same day, and in proper succession.”

The formation and convening of the Occasional Lodge comprise the standard ritual for making a Mason “at sight.” However, Bro. Williams went on to acknowledge, "using his unique and unquestionable power, the Grand Master could pretty well proceed as he might see fit." He implies that the broad powers bestowed upon a Grand Master would make it possible for him to decree an individual to be a Master Mason. We should also recognize that a man who is made a Mason at sight must still petition an individual lodge for membership.

A photograph of Ill. Brother John Glenn’s 33° ring
The 33° ring of Ill. Brother John Glenn who was made a Mason “at sight” in 1978.

Being made a Mason “at sight” differs from the so called “one day classes” often held today. Candidates participating in a one day class still file a petition for membership to be approved by the lodge and follow all other parts of the traditional process. For a man made a Mason “at sight,” the primary difference is that the Grand Master can vouch for the character of the man in question, and therefore forgo the petition, ballot, and interview process.

Famous Examples of Men Made a Mason "At Sight"

There is no question that to this day, one of the biggest allures of Freemasonry is the long line of famous leaders and influential figures of history that have found their way into our ranks. Calling these noble men “Brother” is one of the true honors of being a Mason. Several of our most inspiring brethren were made Masons “at sight” in their day, as typically a Mason “at sight” is reserved for someone of high regard or otherwise a pillar of society.

Here a couple of examples of famous Americans who joined our fraternity this way:

A photograph of President Howard Taft wearing his Masonic apron.
President Howard Taft (center), seen here wearing his Masonic apron, was made a Mason at sight” in 1909.
  • Ill. John Glenn, 33°: In 1978, the Grand Master of Ohio made Glenn a Mason at sight, raising him to the degree of Master Mason. Due to his celebrity status as a Senator and astronaut, the ceremony was a significant event that saw hundreds of Masons attend. Bro. Glenn went on to receive the Scottish Rite degrees in the Valley of Cincinnati and was named Sovereign Grand Inspector General and became a 33rd degree Scottish Rite Mason, Honorary Member of the Supreme Council.

  • · President Howard Taft: Taft became a Mason within weeks of his inauguration as President in 1909. The Grand Master of Ohio convened an Occasional Lodge at the Scottish Rite Cathedral in Cincinnati, and 14 Grand Masters of other jurisdictions were in attendance. Given that Taft was President-elect at the time, 800 people attended the ceremony, and more than 2,000 were turned away. Taft went on to petition and join Kilwinning Lodge No. 356, the same lodge where his father and brothers were members.

Other notable men who have been made a Mason “at sight” include several governors and other men who make up the pillars of society, such as police commissioners, dukes, and philanthropists.

Certain Masons may still look upon this ritual as an easy way into our fraternity. However, recognizing the many distractions and obligations facing men today, it is worth considering the value of this process. Welcoming worthy men into Freemasonry is a cause towards which we should all strive.