The Sun Times - Owen Sound, Ontario, Canada
City branch of Order of the Eastern Star turns 85
Sunday, May 13, 2007
There are people in our midst who belong to the Order of the Eastern Star.
Along with a mysterious name, they have secretive rituals with a hierarchical structure topped by the Worthy Grand Matron. Saturday they gathered to celebrate 85 years in Owen Sound.
The event in the legion hall drew more than 100 people from 22 chapters from places including Flesherton, Wiarton, Orangeville and Brampton. They dined, heard tributes, speeches and entertainment, including a skit and music performed by senior women playing electric piano, a lap guitar and a banjo.
An offshoot of the Masons, the Eastern Star provides a similar organization which women can join who are related to Masons.
The group’s name refers to the guiding light in the eastern sky under which Jesus was born. They say they are a community of people who seek to better themselves while helping others through charitable work.
Mostly grey- and white-haired now, their numbers have dwindled to some 40 people. But there would have been hundreds of members in Owen Sound years ago, filled with prominent community members.
In Owen Sound the first Eastern Star meeting was held May 3, 1922. Its members still gather at monthly meetings in the Masonic Hall on 2nd Avenue West.
Its members learn five secret hand signals which may be discretely flashed to strangers if they suspect they might be a fellow member of the order.
They’re taught the five points of the star, each named for a different biblical heroine: Adah, Ruth, Esther, Martha and Electa. Each holds a particular virtue and the women must try to become better people by exemplifying them.
Each meeting is opened with prayer and a song. The bible, or possibly another book of worship since it’s not strictly a Christian organization, is always open in the middle of the room to remind members from where they receive guidance.
The Eastern Star website, www.easternstar.org, says there are about one million members in most of North America and in Puerto Rico.
Mason Rob Morris is credited with creating Eastern Star in 1850. He wrote down the rituals and meanings of the five points of the star and devised its corps of officers.
But the true origins of the order will always be “shrouded in mystery,” it says. Origins of “female Masonry” may trace to France as far back as 1703.
Pat Larson, a personable retired secretary in the pharmacy at St. Thomas General Hospital, is the Worthy Grand Matron for Ontario and she presided over the event Saturday.
She used the secret hand sign once while traveling. Her car shows signs saying she’s with the Eastern Stars. A fellow Eastern Star, whom Larson had never met, flashed a sign to signal she was a friend. The woman then joined Larson for dinner, just like that.
“We can go anywhere in the world almost and find an Eastern Star member. If we’re in distress we can find an Eastern Star member that will help us or a Master Mason and they’ll just do it.”
Lillian Playford, who has been in the Eastern Star order for nearly 40 years in Owen Sound wouldn’t reveal any of the signs.
“Oh, I can’t,” she said with a laugh. “Oh, I might get expelled. You’re not allowed to reveal any of the secret work.”
Membership in the Eastern Star makes Larson feel loved “without bounds, really.” She feels safe in the presence of Eastern Stars or Masons, who she says are bound to protect their own women and those of fellow Masons.
Local members visit members in nursing homes and hold fundraising teas and raffles to support diverse needs, from the Good Cheer ice rink to the women’s crisis centre. In each of the past two years Eastern Star members donated $2,000 to the hospital for new equipment.
Each year the Grand Worthy Matron picks a cause to support. This year it’s research into the links between alcoholism and chronic depression. The $80,000 goal will be met with teas, draws and member donations.
Owen Sound Eastern Star member Barbara Fraser said local records of the organization are lost.
She joined in Scotland 63 years ago, with her mom and two sisters and started attending meetings here in the 1950s. She received 60-year membership honours Saturday.