The Black Cube
"A WHITE ball elects, a black cube (or ball) rejects."
STB-NO29 November 1929
This, or some similar statement, is usually made at a lodge prior
to voting on the application of one who would be an initiate of
In all Jurisdictions in the United States, the ballot on an
applicant is taken secretly--that is, with no brother knowing how
another may vote. In most Jurisdictions it is an infraction of
Masonic law--in all it is a serious infraction of Masonic
ethics--to endeavor to ascertain how another brother will vote, or
has voted on an applicant or to disclose how he voted or will vote.
The "secrecy of the ballot" and the universal (in this country)
requirements that a ballot be unanimous to elect are two of the
greatest bulwarks of the Fraternity. Occasionally both the secrecy
and the unanimity may seem to work a hardship on a man apparently
worthy of being taken by the hand as a brother; but no human
institution is perfect, and no human being acts always according to
the best that is in him. The occasional failure of the system to
work complete justice may be laid to the individuals using it and
not to the Fraternity.
"Harmony being the strength and support of all well regulated
institutions, especially this of ours." This phrase, or one
similar, is familiar to all Masons. Harmony--oneness of mind,
effort, ideas and ideals--is one of the foundations of Freemasonry.
Anything which interferes with Harmony by so much hurts the
Institution. Therefore it is essential that lodges have a
harmonious membership; that no man be admitted to the Masonic home
of any brother against his will. For this reason it is required
that the names of applicants to a lodge be set before the entire
membership, prior to a vote, that all may know that John Smith is
to be balloted upon; that any who think him unfit timber for the
lodge, or who have personal objections to entering into the sacred
relation of brotherhood with him, may have the
opportunity to say "No."
The power thus put in the hands of the individual Master Mason is
very great. No officer, not even the Grand Master, may inquire how
we vote, or why we voted as we did. No Grand Master has the power
to set aside the black cube we cast. If in the ballot box is a
black cube, the applicant is rejected. (In many Jurisdictions a
single black cube in the ballot box requires the ballot to be
taken again, immediately, to avoid the possibility of a mistake. If
the black cube reappears the second time, the applicant is
This rejection of an application does more than merely prevent the
applicant from being given the degrees. It creates over the
petitioner a lodge jurisdiction. He may not apply to another lodge
for the degrees refused him by this one, without first securing
from that lodge a waiver of jurisdiction. He may not again apply
even to the lodge which rejected him until after a certain
statutory period--usually six months. When his application is again
received and brought up for ballot, the fact that he previously
applied and was rejected is stated to the lodge.
In other words, the casting of a black cube not only rejects for
the degrees, but puts a certain disability upon the applicant which
he is powerless to remove.
The brother who casts a ballot, then, upon an applicant, wields a
tremendous power. Like most powers, it can be used well or ill. It
may work harm, or good, not only upon him upon whom it is used, but
to him who uses it. Unlike many great powers put into the hands of
men, however, this one is not subject to review or control by any
human agency. No king, prince, potentate; no law, custom or
regulation; no Masonic brother or officer, can interfere with the
individual's use of his power.
For no one knows who uses the black cube. No one knows why one is
cast. The individual brother and his God alone know. The very
absence of any responsibility to man or authority is one of the
reasons why the power should be used with intelligence, and only
when, after solemn self-inquiry, the reason behind its use is found
to be Masonic.
Any one can think of a hundred reasons why black cubes are cast.
Our neighbor applies for the degrees. Outwardly he is an honest man
of good character, bearing a good reputation. However, we have
heard him quarreling violently with his wife. We are morally sure
that he struck her. We can't prove it; the poor woman never said
anything about it; she suffered the blow in silence rather than
endure the greater agony of publicity. It is not for us to have him
arrested as a wife beater if his wife can stand him! But we don't
want a coward, a bully in our lodge! Naturally--and most brethren
will say properly--we cast the black cube.
Our office associate wants to be a Mason. He applies to our lodge.
As far as the investigating committee can ascertain he is a good
man, honest, pays his debts, is a church member, a hard worker. But
we have heard him repeat, to us and to others, matters which we
know were given to him in confidence. We have learned to distrust
his discretion. We don't believe that a promise means much to him.
It may be, of course, that a Masonic obligation would be kept. But
we are not sure. Naturally, we vote against him.
Some men otherwise "good and true" are ill-natured, violent
tempered, disagreeable. To admit them to our lodge might destroy
its harmony of spirit. Others are vain and boastful, self-seeking,
apt to bend every agency in which they come in contact to their own
ends. We do not believe such a man will be an asset to our lodge.
We keep him out.
A certain man IS our personal enemy. The quarrel between us may
have nothing to do with right and wrong; it may be the result
merely of a life time of antagonism. He applies to our lodge. Our
lodge is our Masonic home. We would not want this man in our family
home; we do not think we will be happy with him in our Masonic
home. It is our privilege to keep him out.
These, and a thousand other good reasons, are all proper ones for
the casting of a black cube. If the lodge might suffer, if we might
suffer, if we know that our absent brother would suffer from the
applicant being elected, we have the best of reasons for seeing
that he is rejected. Such use of our power is proper, Masonic,
ethical, wise, just.
But there is another side of the shield. Unfortunately, no hard and
fast rule can be laid down. There is no way to explain "this is a
good reason, but that is not a good reason" for casting a black
cube. Each of us has to judge the reason for himself. Yet some
suggestions may be given.
We know a man we dislike. He has different ideas from ours. He
belongs to a different "set." He is not the type we admire. Our
dislike does not amount to hatred, nor is it predicated upon any
evil in the man's character. He and we are antipathetic; we rub
each other the wrong way. When he applies to our lodge we must
decide this question: will the unpleasantness to us, in having him
as a member, be greater than the good to him which may come from
his reception of the Masonic teachings? Are we sure that we cannot
accept him as a brother merely because we "have never liked him?"
We all know cases like this; the president of the bank turns down
Johnson's application for a second mortgage. Johnson makes the
matter personal. He "has it in" for the president. The president
applies for the degrees. Some one casts a black cube. It may, and
may not, be Johnson. We don't know. But perhaps, later, we hear
Johnson's boast "I got even with the son-of-a-gun who turned down
my loan !" He doesn't say how he "got even," of course. But we are
pretty sure we know.
Such a use of the black cube is, of course, utterly un-masonic. It
is a misuse of a great power. As well turn down the minister of the
Baptist church because he doesn't agree with our minister, who is
a Methodist! As well turn down the automobile dealer because he
refused to give us a larger allowance on our old car! Turning the
Masonic black cube into a secret dagger for personal revenge is
Freemasonry works some curious miracles. A self-made man applied
five times for the degrees in a certain lodge. The man was rather
ignorant, yet a commercial success. He had, literally, raised
himself by his bootstraps from the poverty of the streets to a
business position of some prominence. Yet he was rather raw, rough
add ready, even uncouth. No shadow of personal unworthiness rested
upon him; he was honest, upright, a good citizen.
In this lodge a certain Past Master--as was discovered in after
years--voted four times against this applicant. The Past Master
left the city. On the fifth application the petitioner was elected.
Something in Masonry took hold of his heart; through Masonry he was
led to acquire some of the education he lacked; through Masonry he
was led into the church. In time he made such a reputation for
himself as a Mason that he was put in line, and finally achieved
the solemn distinction of being made Master of his lodge. He is
still regarded as one of the best, most constructive and ablest
Masters that lodge has ever had.
In the course of ten or twelve years the absent Past Master
returned. In the light of history, he confessed (which strictly
speaking he should not have done!) that it was he who had kept this
man out for what he really believed were good reasons; he thought
the "rough neck" would detract from the dignity and honor of the
Fraternity. Yet this same "rough neck," through Masonry, became
educated, a good churchman, a fine Mason and an excellent officer.
Had the Past Master whose black cube were cast with honest
intention to benefit the Fraternity not left town, the blessings of
Masonry might forever have been denied a heart ready to receive
them, and society, lodge and church been prevented from having the
services of a man who gave largely of himself to all three.
The black cube is the great protection of the Fraternity; it
permits the brother who does not desire to make public his secret
knowledge to use that knowledge for the benefit of the Craft. It
gives to all members the right to say who shall not become members
of their lodge family. But at the same time it puts to the test the
Masonic heart, and the personal honesty of every brother who
deliberates on its use. The black cube is a thorough test of our
understanding of the Masonic teaching of the cardinal virtue
Justice, which "enables us to render to every man his just due
without distinction." We are taught of justice that "it should be
the invariable practice of every Mason, never to deviate from the
minutest principles thereof."
Justice to the lodge requires us to cast the black cube on an
applicant we believe to be unfit.
Justice to ourselves requires that we cast the black cube on the
application of the man we believe would destroy the harmony of our
Justice to the applicant--we are taught to render justice to every
man, not merely to Masons--requires that no black cube be cast for
little reasons, small reasons, mean reasons.
And justice to justice requires that we think carefully, deliberate
slowly, and act cautiously. No man will know what we do; no eye
will see, save that All Seeing Eye which pervades the innermost
recesses of our hearts, and will, so we are taught, reward us
according to our merits.
Shakespeare said, "O, it is excellent to have a giant's strength,
but it is tyrannous to use it like a giant!"
The black cube is a giant's strength to protect Freemasonry. Used
thoughtlessly, carelessly, without Masonic reason, it crushes not
only him at whom it is aimed but him who casts it.
A well used black cube goes into the ballot.
Ill used, it drops into the heart and blackens it.