Masonic Motto: Ordo Ab Chao

Masonic Motto: Ordo Ab Chao

Of the many symbols and phrases of Freemasonry, a few mottoes are important enough to be prominently, and sometimes publicly displayed on flags, seals, or regalia. The phrase “Ordo Ab Chao,” is the motto of the 33rd degree, which can be found on the grand decorations of the Order of the Sovereign Grand Inspectors General, one of the highest honors and roles which can be bestowed upon a Mason. It is also featured on other seals and flags representing various Orders.

This phrase being depicted so prominently, particularly in relation to the 33rd degree, indicates a tremendous importance to Freemasonry. Indeed, Ordo Ab Chao, translated to “Order from Chaos,” is also associated with another latin phrase, Lux In Tenebris, which translates to “Light from Darkness.” Why is the idea of Order from Chaos or Light from darkness so significant to Freemasonry? Let’s explore this question together.

As always, this article does not represent the official views of Universal Co-Masonry, but are simply the reflections of one Co-Mason.

Historical Artifact, or Essence of the Craft?

One theory about the origin and significance of this phrase has mostly to do with Masonic history in the United States. In the early 1800s, there was some division and conflict between the Northern and Southern jurisdictions of the Scottish Rite, in the US. According to this theory, when the Rite being practiced in the North was found to be aorder from chaos fraud, and the conflict resolved in the restoration of the original Rite, this was where the original use of the phrase emerged.

Perhaps the most dismissive theory, in this case the “Order from Chaos” was simply the order restored from the chaos of the schism between jurisdictions, and all other meanings commonly attributed to it are purely speculative.

While it’s important not to rule out such an explanation simply because it’s only historically interesting, it’s hard to believe that the motto would be considered so significant if it didn’t have a deeper symbolic meaning. What are some other possible meanings?

The Universal Phoenix?

The first clue to the more profound meaning and significance of this phrase is the origin of it’s correlate, Lux in Tenebris. This phrase comes to us from the Latin translation of the Gospel of John, in which it is said “The Light shone in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” While Ordo Ab Chao can be traced to the early 19th century, this other phrase is obviously much older, and carries similar meaning.

What is meant when we say to bring Light from darkness, or Order from chaos? Much as the operative Masons of old took the rough stone of the natural world and hewed and smoothed it in such a way as to be fit for the construction of elaborate and pristine structures such as cathedrals, so the speculative Masons of today apply the same discipline, and even the metaphor of the builder’s tools, to draw forth Order from the Chaos of their own lives and minds. Just as God is said to have made a Light to shine in the darkness which comprehended it not, so are we to be as Lights of knowledge and integrity in the darkness and ignorance of the world, even when it does not understand that Light.

On an even deeper level, what is this universe made of? There are many ways to answer that, and one of them is that it is made of gradients of Order and Chaos. We can see in history and in our own lives that these are not two separate things, but are both a continuum, and a dynamic process of change. As Chaos ensues, old orders are broken down to allow new ones to emerge. Like Ying and Yang, death and rebirth, Order and Chaos follow from and give birth to one another, in an ever-renewing cycle of creation and evolution.

The Bond of Friendship: Brother Nellie McCool and Brother Ursula Monroe

The Bond of Friendship: Brother Nellie McCool and Brother Ursula Monroe

Friendships often are forged in Masonry but very few are as strong and long-lasting as that of Ursula Monroe and Nellie McCool, both Brothers of the 33rd Degree and members of the Supreme  Council of the Honorable Order of Universal Co-Masonry. “We met in a book store in Colorado Springs,” Monroe recalled during a recent joint interview. 

Their friendship now is in its fifth decade. The two, pictured above with McCool on the left and with Bro. Olimpia Sandoval in the center, have remained close since they regularly attend Lodge and various Masonic functions together. They also live across the hall from each other in separate apartments in the same building in Castle Rock, Colorado, very near the Order’s headquarters in Larkspur.

Ursula as a Berlin Philosophy professor before WWII

Ursula Monroe in 1943


“Friendships in Freemasonry are some of the strongest you will find,” McCool said.

Monroe was born on June 28th, 1919 in Berlin, Germany. She earned her degree in Philosophy and became a college professor. Unfortunately, she, as did many, suffered greatly during World War II.

McCool was born January 25th, 1922 in Lahunta, Oklahoma, and she grew up in Beaver, Oklahoma and Colorado Springs, Colorado with her older brother, Harry McCool.

Nellie's 1945 college yearbook photo

Nellie McCool’s 1945 college yearbook photo.

Shortly after graduating from high school, with the United State’s entry into World War II after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, both McCool siblings became aviators.

Lt. Harry McCool was part of Doolittle’s famous raid over Tokyo and later flew missions over Europe. 

Nellie McCool received her aviation training at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas, where she was among the Class 44-7-Trainees and became a member of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs), achieving the rank of Captain in the U.S. Air Force Reserves. 

“Our motto was ‘We live in the wind and sand…and our eyes are on the stars,” McCool recalled.

Nellie as a WASP

Nellie McCool as a WASP

Ursula’s life took a turn shortly after the war was over. “I married a G.I.,” she recalled. Her marriage to Clifford Monroe brought her to the U.S. and also gave her that first brush with Freemasonry. “My husband was a Freemason,” she said. “I supported him in that. I didn’t know much about it then. I thought it was only for men.”

Through the years, Monroe also indulged a love for travel and experiences. In 1969, she was adopted by the Sioux Red Cloud Clan tribe at Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota in honor of her translation into German a book about one of their Chiefs: Chief Eagle. She was given the name  “Pte Sanaki Napewin,” which translates into English as “She who brings out white buffalo cow.”

“I used to love to travel,” she said with a laugh. “Now I’m too lazy.” She earned her Ph.D. in English and was a professor in the department of Humanities at Colorado College until she retired.

McCool’s life also changed after World War II ended. The WASPs were disbanded, and McCool soon found herself back in school. She attended Colorado College, majoring in Psychology. She later earned her Ph.D. in the field. She became a teacher at several Colorado-area schools, including North Junior High, South Security School, and Harrison Senior High School. Later, she was supervisor of Vocational Guidance for the State Board of Community Colleges and Occupational Education.

Ursula during one of her many travels and experiences

Ursula Monroe on one of her many travels

Monroe’s life took yet another turn in 1972 when her husband died. A few years after that, she met an associate of Manly P. Hall. That associate introduced her to Co-Freemasonry, though it was not her first understanding of the Craft. 

“I was always interested,” Monroe said. “I had to make that first contact. You have to be around Freemasons and know Freemasons before you can become a Freemason.”

She did just that in 1979, Initiated on April 14th of that year in Lodge Amor-Sapientia in Pasadena, California. She was Passed the following 12th of August and then Raised on the 3rd of August 1980. She became Master of Kiva Lodge in Colorado Springs. On November 16th, 1998, she became a member of the Supreme Council and serves on that body today.

It was a few years after Monroe was made a Mason that she had that fateful meeting with McCool in a Colorado Springs-area book store. “It turned out we were living in the same area,” Monroe said.

The friendship blossomed from there. It wasn’t long after that Monroe introduced McCool to Co-Freemasonry. McCool was intrigued enough to go have a look at the Order’s headquarters in Larkspur, about an hour from her home then in Colorado Springs. “I drove there and had a look at the building,” she said. “It just felt right.”

She certainly was interested, McCool said. “I was very excited,” she said. “I was happy to have found a Masonry that accepted women as well as men.”

McCool was initiated soon after, and ever since, they have been Masonically together. If Monroe goes to a meeting, McCool does, too. If McCool does something related to Masonry, Monroe will be there, too. Brothers in the Order see the two as inseparable, where one turns up the other will soon follow.

Both took part in the funeral of then Grand Commander Helen Wycherly in May of 1993 at the Headquarters Temple in Larkspur. Monroe was Orator that day while McCool was Junior Deacon. Today, both serve on the Orders’ Supreme Council. McCool also became a member of the Order’s Grand Council of Administration when she succeeded John Tzaras, who passed to the Grand Lodge Eternal on October 23, 2009.

“It’s a way of life,” McCool said. “I can no longer imagine not being a Mason.”