Masonic ritual applied to Scouting, the Empire Sentinels Handbook and Ritual 1918

In New Zealand, another Boer war veteran and friend of B-P named Major David Cossgrove (probably not a Freemason) started something for older boys called the “Empire Sentinels.”  Sentinels were organized into “Towers” and the scheme had three degrees based on religious duty, patriotism, sacrifice and work, each with a corresponding “Watch,” or ritual.  A quick list of other details, gleaned from letters between Cossgrove and B-P, shows that the idea had very direct Masonic affinities: The Tower is opened on the third Watch and dropped to the first or second as required; Sentinels enter the Watch using a password and a salute; the alarm is a series of knocks; halters and blindfolds are used; the phrase “So Mote it Be” is used; there are four principal officers; the Watch works in darkness with the symbols of each Watch illuminated.  Substitute the word “Lodge” for “Tower” and “Degree” for “Watch” and one finds practically no difference from describing the workings of a Masonic Lodge.  In a letter to B-P dated 1919, Cossgrove writes: “….the scheme has already been taken up enthusiastically in Africa, America and in Austria, I believe, and will be here when our young warriors return and settle down….”  He is presumably referring to young men abroad in the British colonial army, and the attitude of his letter does much to support the theory that Scouting was given impetus by colonial psychology.  They were, after all, the Empire Sentinels.  But where, if Cossgrove was not a Mason, did the Masonry of the Empire Sentinels come from?  That remains a mystery.

some examples from the book of ritual

es9 es40

A PDF of the handbook empire sentinels handbook and ritual (1918)

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5 Responses to Masonic ritual applied to Scouting, the Empire Sentinels Handbook and Ritual 1918

  1. nibor says:

    Reads like part of a bad comedy sketch.

    • esotericnz says:

      ‘The significant owl hoots in the night,’ ” said the visitor, trying to wring the rainwater out of its robe.
      ” ‘Yet many grey lords go sadly to the masterless men,’ ” intoned a voice on the other side of the grille.
      ” ‘Hooray, horray for the spinster’s sister’s daughter,’ ” countered the dripping figure.
      ” ‘To the axeman, all supplicants are the same height.’ ”
      ” ‘Yet verily, the rose is within the thorn.’ ”
      ” ‘The good mother makes bean soup for the errant boy,’ ” said the voice behind the door.
      There was a pause, broken only by the sound of the rain. Then the visitor said, “What?”
      ” ‘The good mother makes bean soup for the errant boy.’ ”
      There was another, longer pause. Then the damp figure said, “Are you sure the ill-built tower doesn’t tremble mightily at a butterfly’s passage?”
      “Nope. Bean soup it is. I’m sorry.”
      The rain hissed down relentlessly in the embarrassed silence.
      “What about the caged whale?” said the soaking visitor, trying to squeeze into what little shelter the dread portal offered.
      “What about it?”
      “It should know nothing of the mighty deeps, if you must know.”
      “Oh, the caged whale. You want the Elucidated Brethren of the Ebon Night. Three doors down.”

  2. nibor says:

    Ah but that’s good comedy.

  3. Ed says:

    A letter from Cossgrove wrote to Baden Powell In 1919 includes the following comment about the Empire Sentinels: “There are no groups of these in New Zealand at present. The Scheme is for young men who are beyond Scout age and whose work prevents them taking up Scout activities. The scheme has already been taken up enthusiastically in Africa, America and in Australia, I believe, and will be here when our young warriors return and have settled down. Various schemes for Senior Scouts do not appeal to Scoutmasters here due to the fact that all our boys of 14 years and over must attend to their military duties, often two and three times a week and also on Saturday afternoons. In the towns where most of these boys are they have to attend Technical Schools too, and in the country districts they have no time for Scouting as they work late and early.

    I like your Rover scheme very much but at present no troop has been found with a sufficient number of old boys to form a troop or even a patrol. I sent your provisional Rules to several of the larger troops but the pamphlets were returned. A new scheme for Senior Cadets is about to be introduced, I hear, and much of our Scout work is to be undertaken. If that be so I may be able to get these formed into Rovers, but not just yet.”

    The 1919 Annual Report of the New Zealand Scout Association included the following: ‘At various times the Imperial Council (in London) has urged the Chief Commissioner to introduce its schemes for Senior Scouts. First the ‘Scouts Friendly Society’, then the Old Scouts Association and now the ‘Rovers’. Owing to the fact that the Dominion Association is handicapped by the Military Service Act, your Committee sees no immediate prospect of making a success of any scheme for Boy Scouts between the ages of fifteen and eighteen years; and as the new Senior Cadet Regulations provide for much of our Scout work; and as so much more of the Cadet’s time will be taken up with the new scheme, your Committee is satisfied that very few Rover troops will be formed under existing conditions.

    Extensive searches have not been able to show that Lieut. Col. David Cossgrove was ever a member of a Freemasons Lodge, (and we know that Lord Robert Baden Powell never joined either). Cossgrove was however a member of the Oddfellows, and is recorded at Maheno as being the first Noble Grand of that Lodge.

    The Empire Sentinel ceremonies appear to contain typical sentiments of the day.

    • esotericnz says:

      Hi Ed, thanks for the further elucidation on the context under which this handbook came into existence, it is a reoccurring theme in the history of this country that people with bold and eccentric ideas saw their cultural offerings wither on the vine due to the lack of a like minded audience (our population being small and characterisable as practical and conservative) though we believe that in these surfacings of the weird there’s a glimpse into the heart of the New Zealander that he usually suppresses due to the prevailing stoicism encouraged by wider society.

      The existence of the Strange’s advertisement on the handbook points to a certain earnestness about the endeavour at the very least (and an investigation of the companies relationship with the Freemasons and Odd Fellows may point more definitely to the inspiration for the rituals contained in the Handbook.)

      as to the characterisation of the Empire Sentinels as Masonic, this is as much a product of current discussions about the origins of various practices within the occult community (both academic and online) as it is of the phoenix masonry article.
      The prominence of the four cardinal points evidenced by the Sentinels suggests a Masonic origin for their ritual practice (which doesn’t necessarily mean Cossgrove himself was a mason), though we must confess our knowledge of the Odd Fellows is little more than the fact that they exist and are a friendly society. Our cursory internet investigations show no connection between the Odd Fellows and the use of the four directions, though this may be due effective secrecy or eccentricities of the culture of the society of which we are ignorant.

      J Collins

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