We built this FAQ because people have lots of questions about the Odd Fellows and we’ll try to answer them all here and now.
FAQ About Odd Fellows
Yes, they do. They do not number in the millions any longer, but they have a strong presence in some US States.
No, they’re not. During the Golden Age of Fraternalism (the decades before and after 1900), 1 out of 5 Americans (some say 2 out of 5!) were in a fraternity of some kind and that Odd Fellows was the biggest; the Masons were the second largest. Today the Masons are larger but the Odd Fellows are different in that we allow women to be lodge members without exception while Masons primarily exclude women.
Every institution that confers degrees (like colleges) has a degree system (like a bachelor’s or master’s degree); an order of degrees that increases based on successfully completing a prior degree.
In Odd Fellows, there are three degrees (Friendship, Love and Truth) and each is represented by a link because, just as the links of a chain, the links are bound together to make them useful.
This is also why Odd Fellows is referred to as the “Three Link Fraternity.”
In this small space, we can only cover so many; the important thing to know is that the meaning of each symbol carries special meaning and significance to Odd Fellows and they are revealed during the conferring of degrees.
However, this hasn’t stopped some Odd Fellows, specifically a Wm. Henry Ford (not the car-maker) to write a book and explain some of the history and deeper meaning and significance of each symbol.
In it, he describes not just all of the symbols (also called emblems) used in Odd Fellowship, but also many Judeo-Christian symbols. This was done because there is a a great deal of overlap between the symbology of both Judeo-Christian schools of thought and the thoughts behind the degrees of Odd Fellowship.
There are so many answers to this question, but the definition, based on their membership as an Odd Fellow, is that they have become a member of am organization of Odd Fellows (of which many exist) and have been found to be of good moral character, believe in a Supreme Being and is loyal to their country. Odd Fellows has an anti-discrimination policy so all are welcome to join once they reach a minimum age. They are also sponsored by someone and interviewed to see if they would be a good fit for the lodge to which they have applied.
Odd Fellows, in general, are do-gooders. The first Odd Fellows depended on each other rather than depending on their government to avoid the become destitute or to serve in the poorhouse. They also helped society in general such as educating orphans, providing dignified burials for those who cannot afford it or have no family and also provided sick benefits and provided for widows like an insurance company. Today, Odd Fellows can be found making a difference in their community, starting up fundraising events for different causes or doing fun things together as a lodge.
One of the rules in Odd Fellows (in North America the largest Odd Fellows is the IOOF or Independent Order of Odd Fellows) is to not discuss religion or politics during lodge sessions as this can create discord and uneasy conversations.
Because of this reason, it was not uncommon for a new Odd Fellows building to be called a temple as it is distinct from a church (which would then be overtly religious in its name). A temple can mean many things but also can be generic; it may also mean it is a place where a Bible is open and prayers are recited but still not a church.
Today the distancing of Odd Fellows from being a religious organization (Odd Fellows were once persecuted by religious organizations) has gone further to the point where new buildings are not called temples and there are some lodges that observe a moment of silence rather than recite prayers.
Rebekahs, or the International Association of Rebekah Assemblies (a component of Odd Fellows; but a separate organization) are so-named for the Degree of Rebekah which takes its namesake and source from the Biblical story of Rebekah.
The Rebekahs were started in 1851 when it was quite unusual for women to be given the opportunity to self-govern to organize and implement good deeds in their communities. It would take another 70 years for women in the US to vote!
In the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, the Sovereign Grand Lodge is the body of representatives and elected officers who administer the organization comprised of districts.
Each district of the IOOF is administered by a Grand Lodge comprised of elected officials and representatives from each lodge within that district.