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The History of Blood and its Masonic Connection

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

Worshipful Master, Right Worshipful Sirs, Distinguished East, Officers of the Tuscan Lodge, special visitors, my brethren all: I have, this evening, been given the singular pleasure of addressing this august group of men on a subject that I am not only personally committed to but also (as you will see) quite passionate about.

For thousands of years, scientists hailing from diverse cultures and literally every corner of the globe have observed, explored and experimented with the human body in an effort to find answers to and remedies for all of its ailments. Nowhere was this search more elusive – and, it would turn out, more important – than in understanding the very blood that coarses through our veins.

As early as 2,500 B.C., ancient Egyptian hieroglyphical signs and symbols clearly depict bloodletting, or phlebotomy as it known today, as a common medical practice; and, in at least one instance they illustrate a patient being bled from the foot and neck. Other Ancient cultures such as the Greeks, the Aztec and the Mayans also employed this practice as a medical treatment. Many cultures of a more recent date also copied this example. Of Masonic interest, the practice of bloodletting was practiced well into the 19th century and is not thought to have directly contributed to the death of George Washington. He had been treated for a fever and throat infection by having 5 pints (or 1.7 l) of blood drained from his system. Physicians now believe that the shock and dehydration caused by the bloodletting is what tragically ended his life in 1799.

Between 450 and 400 B.C. Empedocles, a Greek philosopher, theorizes that all matter is comprised of four “roots” or elements, namely Earth, Fire, Air and Water. Influenced by these ideas, Hippocrates, the preeminent physician of his time and forefather of Western medicine as we know it today, proposes that the human body is composed of four humors – Blood, Phlegm, Black Bile and Yellow Bile. His Humorial Theory further supposes that disease is caused by natural sources, namely an imbalance among the four humors – not magic as had previously been commonly accepted. The importance of this and other contributions by this learned man are recognized to this day, as all candidates for medicine are guided in their daily duties by ethical standards and the undertaking of an obligation, commonly referred to as the Hippocratic Oath.

Another important contributor to our understanding of the human body and its inner workings was Claudius Galenus, a.k.a. Galen. His dissections of and experimentation on animals confirmed for the first time that arteries carry blood, not air as was previously believed, and further suggests that venous blood was created in the liver, while arterial blood originated from the heart. The intricate systems of arteries and veins (until then thought to be one and the same) were further proven by Galen to be totally and completely separate and distinct in form and function. While not all of his theories were correct, his practical understanding and extensive writings on the philosophy and practice of medicine, stand alone as the most complete of their time.

By the middle of the 13th Century, the respected Egyptian physician, Ibn al-Nafis discovered and authored a detailed account of pulmonary circulation – the flow of blood to and from the lungs – long before any of his European counterparts reach the same conclusion. He is also credited with describing capillary and coronary circulations. As such, he is regarded as one of the most advanced physicians of his time, and is dubbed the father of circulatory physiology.

Progress in these matters has not always been easy, my brethren. Take for example, Michael Servetus, a Spanish physician and theologian. Unaware of al-Nafis’ findings almost 300 years earlier, he was the first European to propose that blood flowed from one side of the heart to the other by way of the lungs. This theory along with his theologic views earned him a conviction for heresy by the French Inquisition, who ordered him and his writings burned at the stake for denying the Holy Trinity.

Approximately 100 years later, the dawn of the Renaissance ushers in a period of unprecedented learning and discovery. Jan Swammerdam, a biologist and microscopist from the Netherlands is thought to be the first person to observe and describe red blood cells; and, by 1665, Richard Lower, performs the first recorded blood transfusion between animals.

In 1667, not two years later, Jean-Baptiste Denis, personal physician to Louis XIV, is the first person to administer a fully-documented human blood transfusion when he transfuses nine ounces of lamb’s blood to a teenage boy suffering from a persistent fever. In November of that same year, Drs. Lower and King transfuse several ounces of sheep’s blood to a patient, before the Royal Society in England, for a fee of 20 shillings. Both patients survive the transfusions without any ill effects.In 1818, British obstetrician and physiologist James Blundell, performs the first recorded human-to-human blood transfusion by injecting a patient with 12-14 ounces of blood from several donors. The patient seems to begin recovering well but then dies – which is not surprising, as blood types aren’t discovered until nearly 83 years later by Austrian Karl Landsteiner.

At the beginning of the 20th Century, in 1901 to more precise, Karlsteiner publishes the details of his three blood groups – A, B and C (which he later changes to O). His findings conclude that two different types of antibodies exist to cause agglutination “one in group A, another in group B and both together in group C.” His colleagues identify one last group, AB, which causes agglutination in the red blood cells of both A and B groups.

In 1907, Dr. Reuben Ottenberg, performs the first of 128 transfusions using cross matching of blood types at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, virtually eliminating transfusion reactions.

By 1914, two separate researchers – Albert Hustin of Brussels and Luis Agote of Buenos Aires – discover that the addition of sodium citrate to collected blood, keeps it from clotting. Dr. Richard Weil, further finds that citrated blood can be refrigerated, stored for a few days and then successfully transfused to patients. At the Rockefeller Institute, Francis Peyton Rous and J.R. Turner develop a citrate-glucose solution that allows blood to be stored for a few weeks.

In 1917, while serving in the U.S. Army during World War I, researcher and surgeon Dr. Oswald Hope Robertson, who studied for some time at the Rockefeller Institute and was therefore acquainted with Rous’ and Turner’s work on the subject, collects and stores type O blood infused with the citrate-glucose solution in advance of the arrival of casualties at the Battle of Cambrai, creating the first known blood bank.

In 1936, Canadian surgeon Dr. Norman Bethune, while a volunteer with the leftist forces (Republican Army) in the Spanish Civil War, organizes the Spanish-Canadian Blood Transfusion Institute in Madrid. The service collects blood, tests it, pools it by blood group, preserves and stores it in bottles under refrigeration, and by way of vehicles fitted with refrigerators, transports it to front line hospitals. Incidentally, Bethune’s work was the model for what later became Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals or MASH units.

Ironically, Bethune died in Tanghsien, Hopei, in November, 1939 of blood poisoning, which he contracted from a cut he received while performing surgery for the Chinese Communist Army during the Second Sino-Japanese War. Chairman of the Chinese Republic, Mao Tse-tung, published an essay that same December entitled In Memory of Norman Bethune, which became mandatory reading for all Chinese people and has become one of his best known works. In it he concludes:

We must all learn the spirit of absolute selflessness from him. With this spirit everyone can be very helpful to each other. A man’s ability may be great or small, but if he has this spirit, he is already noble-minded and pure, a man of moral integrity and above vulgar interests, a man who is of value to the people.

Mao Tse-tung

Masonically speaking, our tradition of supporting and contributing to the blood supply in Canada, subscribes quite fittingly to the above conclusion and the extent of our involvement may come as a surprise to many of our younger members.

In 1941, while Junior Deacon of Electric Lodge No. 495 in Hamilton, Bro. William Hoyle was named chairman of a small committee of the Masters’ and Wardens’ Association in his district and charged with the promotion of the blood donation program. The idea attracted 105 Masons from the Hamilton area, who were each checked and grouped into their respective blood types, and were ready when called upon to replenish the supply of blood for a hospital in times of dire need. By 1942 the notion of a Masonic Blood Donor Program was put forward to and approved by the Grand Master, M. W. Bro. J. A. McRae. At its inception, the program was specifically intended for the benefit of any Brother or his immediate family, and then only by special request of the committee, as blood was at that time only available at a cost or by making arrangements to have it replaced. The service made it possible for a Brother Mason or his family to receive immediate care, without the worry of having to find donors to replace the existing supply. In fact, some instances in London, Ontario, suggest that some of the many members who joined the fraternity in the 1940’s and 1950’s may have done so (at least in part) in order to have access to this life-saving benefit of membership.

On May 23, 1944, the fledgling committee was able to respond to a real crisis in true Masonic fashion. In the early morning hours, a disastrous fire raged through the Moose Hall, injuring many. At 1:30 a.m. Bro. Hoyle was called by hospital staff to see if some of the members of his list could donate blood to assist in saving the lives of the victims of the fire. By 5 a.m. “more than 50 Masons gave blood” and provided lifesaving aid to the victims of that fire. Similar call lists were created in Ottawa, Toronto and London shortly thereafter.

In 1947, the Blood Transfusion Service of the Canadian Red Cross came into being. Its’ mandate was to collect and store blood and blood products and supply them to Canadians free of charge, thereby gradually replacing the Masonic Blood Donor Groups and their respective call lists. In those days, donors were asked to lay in full hospital beds while donating. After the donation, nurses would hand crank the back rest of the beds to an upright position and allow the donor to rest. As you can imagine, these heavy, awkward and cumbersome beds proved quite a challenge for mobile clinics of the day. It is well documented however, that many Masons in the London area would quite regularly volunteer their trucks and their time to transport the hospital beds for mobile clinics to places as far away as Grand Bend.

In order to “assist” with the recovery from the procedure in those days, it was also regular practise to give the donor a shot of rum (presumably due to it being derived from sugar cane), and sent on his or her way when fit to leave. Stories abound of telephone calls to Masons in the middle of the night, asking them to come in for specific recipients ranging from infants to accident victims. Each and every time, our fraternity has answered the call with the fervency and zeal that characterizes us in our respective communities as pillars of selfless charity.

Masonic involvement in the propagation of the virtue of saving lives through blood donations was formalized in 1958 by then Grand Master M. W. Bro. Harry L. Martyn when he created a special committee called “The Blood Donors’ Committee.” Its purpose is “to assist agencies working in this field and to keep identified with their wonderful work”. The committee is further tasked with ensuring that all Masons are aware of the important work of Canadian Blood Services and are encouraged to donate blood and blood products.

On this, the 50th anniversary of the formation of the Grand Lodge Blood Donor Committee, the need for blood still exists. Our special guests from Sarnia District, this evening, may well recognize this story:

When Bill Cafazzo greets blood donors at the Sarnia Blood Donor Clinic, he not only offers them refreshment, as he works there as hospitality volunteer, but oftentimes he takes a moment to personally thank them for their donation.

Diagnosed in 1997 with Chronic Lymphocitic Leukemia, Bill had rounds of chemotherapy and regular blood transfusions before and after having received a Peripheral Blood Stem Cell Transplant in October, 2005. Stem cells from bone marrow, blood, and products derived from blood such as plasma and platelets, are required every day to meet the needs of patients in surgical procedures and critical emergencies. 

“We need different types of donors,” Bill says. “And with the aging population, and more medical procedures requiring the use of transfusion, we specifically need younger donors to…give and give regularly.”

Bill speaks from experience. It took well over 100 donors who gave blood and platelets to help save his life during the course of treatment-a fact that he says has left him “awestruck.” Bill’s sister was his stem cell donor.

As Canada’s demographic makeup changes, Canadian Blood Services is reaching out to ethno-cultural groups and youth to encourage registration on both the Unrelated Bone Marrow Donor Registry, as well as donation of blood and blood components. Diversity amongst donors is important because it creates a pool of donors that best represents the changing tapestry of the country.

When you give blood, my Brethren, you give someone:

Another Birthday;

Another Day At The Beach;

Another Night Under The Stars;

Another Talk With A Friend;

Another Laugh;

Another Hug;

Another Chance; and, (quite simply)

You give someone their life back.

Let us now recognize some of the more prolific donors in the London West District.


Bro. Rob Weir St George’s No. 42 G.R.C.

Bro. Dan Dignard The Tuscan No. 195 G.R.C.

W. Bro. Dave Sanderson Ashlar No. 610 G.R.C.

Bro. Joshua Workman Ashlar No. 610 G.R.C.


Bro. Wayne Tilmos St. John’s No. 209a


Bro. Christopher Morgan The Tuscan No. 195 G.R.C.


Bro. Steve Pocock St. Paul’s No. 107 G.R.C.

W. Bro. Thomas Weihmayr The Tuscan No. 195 G.R.C.


V. W. Bro. Jim Abrams The Tuscan No. 195 G.R.C.


W. Bro. Shuards Sutherland Corinthian No. 330 G.R.C.


On a personal note, I will share a story with you of a brother mason, whom I have known for some years. I knew him to be a regular blood donor and used to see his name in the book when I signed my own. I also quite enjoyed his company when we would happen to donate on the same day, as we would share a coffee and cookies afterwards. As busy lives go, our schedules didn’t meet up for some time – a few years actually – and I didn’t see his name in the book anymore. Frankly, I wondered what became of my friend. A couple of weeks ago, I was pleased to see him quite by chance and in talking to him found that he had by now donated over 775 times!

Neither he nor his lodge, nor our Fraternity in general, or our District in particular were ever congratulated or recognized for his quiet efforts. From the General Charge at Installation we learn that the ideal of a Freemason is among other things “…a man who modestly moves in the sphere of his life; […] who without courting applause, is loved by all noble-minded men…; who never proclaims what he has done, will do, can do, but where need is, will lay hold with dispassionate courage, circumspect resolution, indefatigable exertion, but who then, without pretension, will retire into the multitude, because he did the good act, not for himself, but for the cause of good.”

The moral of this short story is clear: please, my Brethren, sign the book and let us know of your good deeds. And please help me congratulate Bro. Shuards Sutherland on reaching his 750 donation milestone.

Finally, please allow me to present the future of the blood program in this country. Will the following Brethren please come forward:

Bro. Lyndon Bzydel St. Paul’s No. 107 G.R.C.

Bro. Joseph Iro The Tuscan No. 195 G.R.C.

Bro. John Powell The Tuscan No. 195 G.R.C.

W. Bro. Ben Dawson Delaware Valley No. 358 G.R.C.

V. W. Bro. Harvey Morrison Delaware Valley No. 358 G.R.C.

One does not get to 100 donations, or 300, or 750 for that matter, without making their very first donation. Of these Brothers, I must single out Bro. Bzydel, who gave his first donation in October 2007 and has since then made 20 more! In fact, if we had had this ceremony in the latter part of next month, he would have received his 25th donation certificate as well as this one.

Congratulations to all of our recipients and thank you all for coming tonight!

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