Odd Fellows Hand Painted Third Degree Ritual Banner
An original hand painted silk Odd Fellows Lodge Banner dating from the early 1900s. Overall very good condition, paint intact, some uneven fading of fabric but no splitting in silk. Back has some discoloration. Missing one tassel and one finial from rod.
“An hour glass is rapidly exhausting its sands, and a coffin stands ready for the bier; but above them, with illuminated pages, is the open hook of the oracles of God. Disciple, you can go no further! Your lesson is complete. You see a Universal Brotherhood, united by golden chains of Relief and Sympathy; Friendship and Love triumph in works of Charity, and Truth, severe and beautiful, asserts dominion. For time flies rapidly away and the grave has its victory; but Truth never fails, and will endure forever. The march of time is the revolution of all mundane things. On the great dial of history we may see the slowly moving fingers that overturn and build up, and again cast down all human hopes, as the solemn bell tolls out the coming of some epoch then gone forever. But time has one minister whose works follow as the mighty retinue of so great a power. Death is the prime minister of time, and executes his edicts and works his will among the people. Death also has his emblem blazoned on his black and blood-stained shield : but the coffin, by God's mercy, is also the emblem of immortality. — James Lot Ridgely, The History of American Odd Fellowship (1878)
The International Order of Odd Fellows is an initiation based fraternal order originally established in England in the mid 18th Century. In 1819, the first North American branch was chartered and over the following century this group saw explosive growth reaching its peak in 1921 with 16,298 lodges and nearly two million active members.
As an initiation based secret society, the group utilized a variety of esoteric symbolism and imagery in its rituals and pageants. Some of the imagery was quite macabre, with skulls, tombstones, coffins, and other frightening objects mixed with more conventional religious appurtenances. Despite the often sinister trappings, the mission of the Odd Fellows was benevolent as indicated by their motto “Friendship, Love, and Truth” and much of their resources were towards their stated mandate to “visit the sick, relieve the distressed, bury the dead and educate the orphan.”
There are four degrees of initiation into Odd Fellowship beginning with the Initiatory Degree, the First or Friendship Degree, the Second or Brotherly Love Degree, and cumulating in the final Third or Truth Degree. This banner is adorned with the assigned symbolism appropriate to this advanced stage of enlightenment- the scales and sword, the Bible, the hour-glass, and a coffin. Even the scarlet background has symbolic import, representing that “truth is an Imperial virtue.” As part of the initiation ceremony the candidate is quizzed on the meaning of the symbolism and tin return gives the following response:
"The scales and sword are emblematical of justice, which judges with candor and rewards with impartiality. Among Odd Fellows, both justice and mercy are administered without regard to the false distinctions of society. In the lodgeroom, the high and the low, the rich and the poor, the learned and the unlearned, meet as brothers, and unitedly. engage in the promotion of benevolence and truth.
The Bible is an exhaustless fountain of truth, the store-house from which all our principles are derived. Guided by its instructions, we may reach that golden age when the fetters of prejudice will be broken, the shackles of mental and moral bondage fall off, and man, redeemed and disenthralled from the slavish life of the passions, will assert his high birthright, and own the ties which bind him in universal consanguinity with his brother man.
The hour-glass indicates the march of time, and tells us of the frailty of human life. Like the sands of the glass, we are passing away. How important that we improve our fleeting hours, in order that we may meet our end in peace.
The coffin points to the last home of man. How great or small, high or low, all must meet on this common level all must submit to the dominion of death. How cheerless the home of the dead unrelieved by the prospect of immortal life! But hope bends over man's last resting-place a bow bright with immortality, which, based upon earth, extends far into the sacred realms of eternity."