The largest American Masonic organization for women, the Order of the Eastern Star was the brainchild of Robert Morris, an influential American Freemason. Morris was familiar with the French system of adoptive Masonry – a rite with its own lodges and degrees for Master Masons and their female relatives – and in 1850 began to draft a ritual for an equivalent American system, using narratives from the Bible as its basis. Some evidence suggests that an earlier adoptive degree with the same name may have had a role in Morris’s creation. He founded the first Constellations (as local lodges were then called) of the Eastern Star in 1852, but Morris’s organizational skills proved inadequate, and his system struggled along for more than a decade with limited success.
In 1866, before an extended trip to Palestine, Morris gave control over the Eastern Star system to Robert Macoy, one of the most enterprising Masonic promoters of the age. Macoy completely reorganized the rite, and relaunched it with much more success. In place of Constellations and Families, Macoy named local units “chapters,” with state and provincial Grand Chapters and an international General Grand Chapter to govern them. In 1873, after Macoy gained control of the rival Order of the Amaranth, he joined the two degrees together with a third, the Queen of the South degree, to form the grandly titled Rite of Adoption of the World. In this rite the Order of the Eastern Star formed the first degree, the second was the Queen of the South, and the Order of the Amaranth was the third degree.
The combined system proved unworkable, however; members of Eastern Star chapters in particular resented having their order being turned into the lowest rung of an initiatory ladder. In 1897 the Rite of Adoption broke apart and the three degrees went their separate ways. The Order of the Eastern Star proved far and away the most successful, and quickly rose to its present position as the dominant women’s organization within Masonry. A social and charitable organization, its main activities today include raising money for a galaxy of charitable causes and helping to support the activities of other Masonic bodies. Like all Masonic bodies, the Order of the Eastern Star has suffered sharp declines in membership numbers in recent decades but it remains as active as any of the Craft’s concordant bodies.
Morris’s choice of symbolism for his newly minted order had unexpected effects in the late twentieth century, when the rise of Christian fundamentalism and conspiracy theories sparked a revival of antimasonic agitation in America and elsewhere. The emblem Morris created for his order was a five-pointed and five-colored star with one point down, bearing the initial letters of the sentence “Fairest Among Ten thousand, Altogether Lovely.” This fine example of Victorian American sentimentality took on entirely different meanings a century later, when an inverted pentagram with the word FATAL in it was redefined as a Satanic symbol. The Eastern Star logo has thus appeared frequently in modern books attempting to prove that Freemasonry is a secret cult of devil worshippers.
The Element Encyclopedia of Secret Societies : the ultimate a-z of ancient mysteries, lost civilizations and forgotten wisdom written by John Michael Greer – © John Michael Greer 2006