Monthly Archives: March 2014

The Development of the Trigradal System – Part 2 of 6

By Bro. Lionel Vibert, P.A.G.D.C.

The Prestonian Lecture for 1925

Prepared in this format by Bro. Mike Lawrence

It would be outside the scope of this lecture to enlarge on the changes then made, but I shall very briefly summarise the actual developments that took place in the ceremonies as disclosed by a comparison of the exposures from Prichard in 1730 to Claret in post‑Union times, only referring however to the most conspicuous of these modifications. And while the changes themselves are manifest enough, it is in respect of most of them not possible to suggest with any approach to accuracy the dates at which they were affected.

The brethren originally sat round a table with the Master at one end and both Wardens at the other. The South was occupied by a Senior Entered Apprentice. During the century the Junior Warden moved to the South and Deacons were introduced; after the Union the table disappears and the I.P.M. is recognised and given a share in the opening. The Candidate, who previously passed outside the brethren seated at the table, now passes round in front of them. The Opening in the First Degree is modified as the officers change their positions, but the essentials are there in 1730 except that there is no prayer.

Until towards the end of the century there seems to be no special opening for the other degrees. The First Degree Obligation is all along closely similar to the present one, the penalty being identical; but there is no reference to the more effective penalty originally. The ceremony is, however, far shorter because much that we now introduce by way of charges or addresses was imparted by way of question and answer in lectures. The Antients had a prayer for the Candidate, but it is quite different from what we are today familiar with.

The method of advancing as usually described is much simpler, and this applies to all three degrees; but a passage in the preface to the first edition of Ahiman Rezon suggests that the Moderns had something more resembling what we are today familiar with. The exposures, however, have no indication of this.

Prichard mentions two Names, and refers to both as being communicated in the First Degree, the second alone being used in the F.C. The Moderns reversed them while the Antients retained this order, and at the Union their practice was maintained, with one word only for each degree.

The Candidate was originally restored to light in the midst of a circle of swords. This, which is Irish working today, is still preserved in some Provinces, but was eliminated from the ritual as recommended after the Union. The working tools of the First Degree are the same but only one, the 24 inch gauge, is moralised in the exposures. There is no reference to Working Tools in the other degrees, but they almost certainly were known and were in all probability moralised in extempore addresses.

In the Second Degree there appears originally to have been no distinct obligation and when it does come in it includes some provisions that now form part of that in the Third. But there was an addition to the ceremony in that the newly made F.C. re‑entered the Lodge to receive his wages, which he did from the Senior Warden between the Pillars after having passed a test. The earlier rituals also include a set of verses on the letter G. and other indications that part of the working may have originally been in rhyme. The earliest account of the penalty gives it as we have it.

The changes that took place in the Third Degree both before and at the Union are much more considerable. It does not appear that prior to the Union the Lodge was darkened; indeed there is direct evidence to the contrary in the various plates which show the ceremony in progress with the candles all lit.

The original narrative as we have it described the F.C. discovering the Master decently buried in a handsome grave. It is not till Hiram and, Jachin and Boaz that he is found in a mangled condition, etc. Then the blows given by the first two villains were originally reminiscent of the penalties of the first two degrees, while the whole narrative was different in many particulars. The obligation, as given in Hiram, has the chastity point, but not the Five Points of Fellowship. These are found, however, in another connection in the ceremony from the very first.

A phrase which I may designate by the letters MACH is the first given; then we get the other form with the remark that Mach is the more general. From this time onwards according as the exposure is Antient or Modern it gives one phrase or the other as the more usual, but always mentions both.

In this respect our system today is a manifest compromise. We tell the candidate that one is the Antient and the other the Modern working. It is clear that in this particular point neither Grand Lodge would give way and the only solution of the difficulty was to carry forward into the combined system the workings of both Grand Lodge. But in other respects what appears to have happened was that the Grand Lodge of the Moderns gave in on all points where their ceremonies differed from those of the Antients and the sister Grand Lodges (Wonnacott, A.Q.C., xxiii, 261).

The only distinction in the 18th century as regards the apron was apparently that the edging for Grand Officers was blue. The apron itself was plain, but from about 1760 the custom came in of decorating it with any designs the owner fancied. The Master Mason may have worn it with the flap down, as we do today; the E.A. and F.C. keeping the flap up, buttoned to the waistcoat, the E.A. further turning up one corner. The tassels are not earlier than 1814; the rosettes with us are later still, but may have been adopted in Germany in the 18th century; they seem to represent original buttonholes for the turned‑up corners (Hills, in Som. Master Trans. 1916, Masonic Clothing).

If then we compare the system as disclosed in 1730 with the system as recommended by the Lodge of Reconciliation in 1816, we find that the changes that have been introduced are that the form of the Lodge is altered and the way in which it is officered; that the opening formerly only used for the First Degree is now required, with appropriate modifications, in all; that the clothing has become more elaborate and eventually the aprons of the degrees and of the Past Masters are discriminated; and that there has been a certain amount of transference of ritual matter from lectures to the actual degree ceremony. The First Degree is not otherwise materially changed; the Second is deprived of the incident of the receipt of wages by the new Fellow‑Craft, but now has its own obligation; and in the Third the narrative has been considerably re‑written and the signs would also seem to have been added to, as the only ones given in pre‑Union editions of Jachin & Boaz are the grip, penal sign and Grand and Royal sign.

The pass‑words are now introduced between the degrees; they were hitherto part of them. But these are in every case changes of detail only. Substantially the system of 1730 is the system today; that is to say, we still have the trigradal arrangement of that period, the Third Degree of which was concerned with the Hiramic Legend.

We must now take our enquiry back a further stage and endeavour to ascertain how that threefold system itself came into existence and what was the source of the materials of which it was constructed.


Leave a comment

Filed under Freemasonry

The Development of the Trigradal System – Part 1 of 6

The Development of the Trigradal System

The Prestonian Lecture 1925


 by Bro. Lionel Vibert P.A.G.D.C.

Prepared in this format by Bro. Mike Lawrence

The Three Degrees, as we have them in the Craft today, are a development at the hands of speculative craftsmen of a Gild system which consisted originally, as far as we can ascertain, of a simple oath of admission for the apprentice, a lad in his teens, and a formal ceremony of admission to full membership, with possibly a secret rite associated with the mastership. By the days of Grand Lodge this had come to be a system of two degrees only, the Acceptance and the Master’s Part. In, or just before 1725 the Acceptance was divided up to form the E.A. and F.C. degrees, and by 1730 the trigradal system was definitely established. But the form of working which we practice today cannot be said to have come into existence until after the ritual had been agreed on by the Lodge of Reconciliation. That ritual was rehearsed at the Especial Meeting of Grand Lodge, held on the 20th May, 1816, but it is probably the case that the Lodge of Reconciliation did not arrange a set form of words for the whole of each ceremony and did not intend to do so.

It was not till 1838 that Claret published his first ritual (his name was first appended to the edition of 1840) he having been present at two meetings of the Lodge of Reconciliation as a visitor acting as candidate. He was P.M. of Lodges 12 and 228, and the work appeared in successive editions till 1866. The most that can be claimed for it is that it represents the form into which the working had settled down by this time in Claret’s own Lodges.

For all practical purposes it is our present‑day working, as taught in the Lodges of Instruction, and the statement that the system as we have it today is the system as agreed on after the Union of the two Grand Lodges is after all sufficiently accurate for most people, for we are pretty safe in assuming that such modifications as were introduced after the Lodge of Reconciliation had ceased to function were all addressed to matters of detail; but there were subsequent modifications, and the claims put forward today to an absolutely exact knowledge of the ceremonies as they were rehearsed in 1816 were not unfairly described by Bro. Hextall, is A.Q.C. in 1910, as illusory, for the very reason that in 1816 they were not stabilised in their entirety.

And it should be clearly understood that the Ritual as rehearsed in 1816, with or without later modifications, was not by any means universally adopted, and it is not universal under the United Grand Lodge today. It was not enjoined by Grand Lodge, although the contrary is frequently asserted.

At the present time the two leading schools of Instruction, differ in their version of the Obligations, while in the Provinces the phraseology is often still further departed from, and was probably never adopted verbatim, nor was it taken that it was intended to be so adopted. Variations in the opening ceremonies exist in many Provinces which are of considerable interest, as a wording is often preserved which is to be found in mid‑eighteenth century exposures, and has clearly been maintained unaltered from pre‑Union days.

The phrase of the official record of the meeting of Grand Lodge in June, 1816, when the final result of the labours of the Lodge of Reconciliation was dealt with, is that the several ceremonies recommended are with two alterations approved and confirmed; not by any means enjoined. The Lodge of reconciliation were strongly opposed to any part of them being reduced to writing and an attempt to do so by a certain Bro. L. Thompson was visited with severe censure. And the Craft as such was by no means unanimous in approval.

Certain brethren declared that the Lodge of Reconciliation had not done what they were directed to do by the articles of Union, and had altered all the ceremonies and language of Masonry and not left one sentence standing. And while this is no doubt the language of controversy, it is clear, if pre‑Union exposures are at all to be relied on, that the ceremonies were not merely recast but were substantially varied in material particulars; and the phraseology used by the members of the Lodge of Reconciliation themselves certainly suggests that they considered they had been given a free hand with regard to the material at their disposal.

It was in 1730 that Samuel Prichard published his Masonry Dissected, the first occasion when the Third Degree purported to be exposed; and this was the commencement of a whole series of these exposures, many of which were reprinted over and over again in edition after edition. It would be misleading to accept these publications at their face value; but we can avail ourselves of them as affording some indication of what may have been the practice of the Lodges of the period, correcting them by our own experience.

We have then, in Masonry Dissected, first published in 1730, Jachin & Boaz 1762, Hiram 1764, Shibboleth 1765, and Tubal Kain 1777, a series in which, except for certain changes in the Third Degree, the text is preserved, almost verbatim from 1730 right up to just before the Union, and it purports to be the working of the Grand Lodge of the Moderns.

Jachin & Boaz also specifies certain points in which the Antients and Moderns differ, and gives the Antient working as well. Another exposure, Three Distinct Knocks, first published in 1760, expressly claims to give the Antient ritual, but is practically identical with Jachin & Boaz, except with regard to the words of the two first degrees and the prayers used by the Antients. These two also give an Installation Obligation, with a word and grip for the Master; the Wardens take the Obligation but are not given the word and grip. It is generally understood that this ceremony was practised by the Antients but neglected by the Moderns.

Other alleged exposures are translations from the French, such as Solomon in all his Glory, and yet others are manifestly mere catchpenny productions of no validity, such as the Master Key to All Freemasonry of 1760. All these need not detain us.

But with this body of evidence in our possession we can gather a very good idea of the practice in both Grand Lodges before the Union, and we can appreciate that what then took place was more than a mere reconciliation of two systems not in themselves really very dissimilar, as far as the Craft degrees were concerned.



Leave a comment

Filed under Freemasonry

The Prestonian Lectures – Part 2

Prepared in this format by Bro. Mike Lawrence

It is interesting to see that neither of those two extracts (mentioned in part 1) announcing the revival of the Prestonian Lectures made any mention of the principal change that had been effected under the revival, a change which is here referred to as their new form. The importance of the new form is that the Lecturer is now permitted to choose his own subject and, apart from certain limitations inherent in the work, he really has a free choice.


Nowadays the official announcement of the appointment of the Prestonian Lecturer usually carries an additional paragraph which lends great weight to the appointment: The Board desires to emphasize the importance of these the only Lectures held under the authority of the Grand Lodge. It is, therefore, hoped that applications for the privilege of having one of these official Lectures will be made only by Lodges which are prepared to afford facilities for all Freemasons in their area, as well as their own members, to participate and thus ensure an attendance worthy of the occasion.

The Prestonian Lecturer has to deliver three “Official” Lectures to Lodges applying for that honour. The “Official” deliveries are usually allocated to one selected Lodge in London and two in the provinces. In addition to these three, the Lecturer generally delivers the same lecture, unofficially, to other Lodges all over the country, and it is customary for printed copies of the Lecture to be sold, in vast numbers, for the benefit of one of the Masonic charities selected by the author.

The Prestonian Lectures have the unique distinction, as noted above, that they are the only Lectures given “with the authority of the Grand Lodge”. There are also two unusual financial aspects attaching to them. Firstly, that the Lecturer is paid for his services, though the modest fee is not nearly so important as the honour of the appointment.


Secondly, the Lodges which are honoured with the Official deliveries of the Lectures are expected to take special measures for assembling a large audience and, for that reason, they are permitted‑on that occasion only to make a small nominal charge for admission.

Of necessity the Lectures are given orally to different kinds of Masonic audience (ranging from ordinary Lodges to Study Circles and prominent Research Lodges). The subjects are usually popular and simple themes, or at least capable of being expressed in clear and uncomplicated language. In three cases within the period covered by this volume (1924‑1960) the Lectures dealt mainly with esoteric matters‑always of the highest interest to the listeners‑but the nature of their contents prevented them from being printed and they are necessarily omitted from this collection. They are:-

1924 W.Bro. Capt. C. W. Firebrace, P.G.D. – The First Degree.

1932 W.Bro. J. Heron Lepper, P.G.D. – The Evolution of Masonic Ritual in England in the Eighteenth Century

1951 W.Bro. H. W. Chetwin, P.A.G.D.C. – Variations in Masonic Ceremonial.

Extract from The Collected Prestonian Lectures 1925 – 1960 – edited by Harry Carr


My reasons for publishing these lectures, through Freemasons Are Us, is to ensure that they are not overlooked and that new Freemasons, Masonic students and Freemasons in general can easily access this well researched, well written and sanctioned material, after all, the education of our people is paramount to their retention.

Also, as all of the lectures are now out of print, the only chance one has of obtaining copies are through sites like “ebay” where copies have fallen into the hands of non-Freemasons who expect a higher than normal price, purely because they are Masonic. The other reason is that these days many of them can only be accessed through larger Masonic libraries which not every brother has time to visit or search.

Therefore, I hope that by publishing the lectures though this site, the legacy of many faithful brethren will not be lost and that they will prove a valuable aid in Masonic study as well as a motivational tool for further research and study.

The first lecture in this series will be:

1925: The Development of the Trigradal System by Lionel Vibert

Leave a comment

Filed under Freemasonry

The Prestonian Lectures – Part 1


Prepared in this format by Bro. Mike Lawrence


 “In the year 1818, Bro. William Preston, a very active Freemason at the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth centuries, bequeathed £300 3 per cent. Consolidated Bank Annuities, the interest of which was to be applied “to some well‑informed Mason to deliver annually a Lecture on the First, Second, or Third Degree of the Order of Masonry according to the system practised in the Lodge of Antiquity” during his Mastership. For a number of years the terms of this bequest were acted upon, but for a long period no such Lecture has been delivered, and the Fund has gradually accumulated, and is now vested in the M.W. the Pro. Grand Master, the Rt. Hon. Lord Ampthill, and W. Bro. Sir Kynaston Studd, P.G.D., as trustees. The Board has had under consideration for some period the desirability of framing a scheme which would enable the Fund to be used to the best advantage; and, in consultation with the Trustees who have given their assent, has now adopted such a scheme, which is given in full in Appendix A [See below], and will be put into operation when the sanction of Grand Lodge has been received.”

The Grand Lodge sanction was duly given and the “scheme for the administration of the Prestonian fund” appeared in the Proceedings as follows:-


1. The Board of General Purposes shall be invited each year to nominate two Brethren of learning and responsibility from whom the Trustees shall appoint the Prestonian Lecturer for the year with power for the Board to subdelegate their power of nomination to the Library, Art, and Publications Committee of the Board, or such other Committee as they think fit.

2. The remuneration of the Lecturer so appointed shall be £5. 5s. 0d. for each Lecture delivered by him together with travelling expenses, if any, not exceeding £1. 5s. 0d., the number of Lectures delivered each year being determined by the income of the fund and the expenses incurred in the way of Lectures and administration.

3. The Lectures shall be delivered in accordance with the terms of the Trust. One at least of the Lectures each year shall be delivered in London under the auspices of one or more London Lodges. The nomination of Lodges under whose auspices the Prestonian Lecture shall be delivered shall rest with the Trustees, but with power for one or more Lodges to prefer requests through the Grand Secretary for the Prestonian Lecture to be delivered at a meeting of such Lodge or combined meeting of such Lodges.

4. Having regard to the fact that Bro. William Preston was a member of the Lodge of Antiquity and the original Lectures were delivered under the aegis of that Lodge, it is suggested that the first nomination of a Lodge to arrange for the delivery of the Lecture shall be in favour of the Lodge of Antiquity should that Lodge so desire.

5. Lodges under whose auspices the Prestonian Lecture may be delivered shall be responsible for all the expenses attending the delivery of such Lecture except the Lecturer’s Fee.

6. Requests for the delivery of the Prestonian Lecture in Provincial Lodges will be considered by the Trustees who may consult the Board as to the granting or refusal of such consent.

7. Requests from Provincial Lodges shall be made through Provincial Grand Secretaries to the Grand Secretary, and such requests, if granted, will be granted subject to the requesting Provinces making themselves responsible for the provision of a suitable hall in which the Lecture can be delivered, and for the Lecturer’s travelling expenses beyond the sum of £1 5s. 0d., and if the Lecturer cannot reasonably get back to his place of abode on the same day, the requesting Province must pay his Hotel expenses or make other proper provision for his accommodation.

8. Provincial Grand Secretaries, in the case of Lectures delivered in the Province, and Secretaries of Lodges under whose auspices the Lecture may be delivered in London, shall report to the Trustees through the Grand Secretary the number in attendance at the Lecture, the manner in which the Lecture was received, and generally as to the proceedings thereat.

9. Master Masons, subscribing members of Lodges, may attend the Lectures, and a fee not exceeding 2s. may be charged for their admission for the purpose of covering expenses.

Thus, after a lapse of some sixty years the Prestonian Lectures were revived, in their new form, and, with the exception of the War period (1940-1946), a Prestonian Lecturer has been appointed by the Grand Lodge regularly each year.

Extract from The Collected Prestonian Lectures 1925 – 1960 – edited by Harry Carr

Leave a comment

Filed under Freemasonry