Monthly Archives: May 2014

Six Hundred Years of Craft Ritual – Part Five of Five

Six Hundred Years of Craft Ritual



Bro. Harry Carr.

P.M. Quatuor Coronati Lodge, No. 2076

Prepared in this format by Bro. Mike Lawrence


The English planted Freemasonry in France in 1725, and it became an elegant pastime for the nobility and gentry. The Duke of So‑and‑So would hold a lodge in his house, where he was Master for ever and ever, and any time he invited a few friends round, they would open a lodge, and he would make a few more Masons. That was how it began, and it took about ten or twelve years before Masonry began to seep down, through to the lower levels. By that time lodges were beginning to meet in restaurants and taverns but around 1736, things were becoming difficult in France and it was feared that the lodges were being used for plots and conspiracies against government.

At Paris, in particular, precautions were taken. An edict was issued by Rene Herault, Lieutenant‑General of Police, that tavern‑keepers and restaurant‑keepers were not to give accommodation to Masonic lodges at all, under penalty of being closed up for six months and a fine of 3,000 livres. We have two records, both in 1736‑37, of well‑known restaurants that were closed down by the Police for that reason. It did not work, and the reason was very simple. Masonry had started in private houses. The moment that the officials put the screw on the meetings in taverns and restaurants, it went back into private houses again; it went underground so‑to‑speak, and the Police were left helpless.

Eventually, Herault decided that he could do much more damage to the Craft if he could make it a laughing‑stock. If he could make it look ridiculous, he was sure he could put them out of business for all time, and he decided to try. He got in touch with one of his girl‑friends, a certain Madame Carton. Now, Brethren, I know what I am going to tell you sounds like our English News of the World, but I am giving you recorded history, and quite important history at that. So he got in touch with Madame Carton, who is always described as a dancer at the Paris opera. The plain fact is that she followed a much older profession. The best description that gives an idea of her status and her qualities, is that she slept in the best beds in Europe. She had a very special clientele. Now this was no youngster; she was fifty‑five years old at that time and she had a daughter who was also in the same interesting line of business. And I have to be very careful what I say, because it was believed that one of our own Grand Masters was entangled with either or both of them. All this was in the newspapers of those days.

Anyway, Herault got in touch with Madame Carton and asked her to obtain a copy of the Masonic ritual from one of her clients. He intended to publish it, and by making the Masons look ridiculous he was going to put them out of business. Well! She did, and he did. In other words, she got her copy of the ritual and passed it on to him. It was first published in France in 1737, under the title Reception d’un Frey‑Magon. Within a month it was translated in three London newspapers, but it failed to diminish the French zeal for Freemasonry and had no effect in England. I summarise briefly.

The text, in narrative form, described only a single two‑pillar ceremony, dealing mainly with the floor‑work and only fragments of ritual. The Candidate was deprived of metals, right knee bare, left shoe worn `as a slipper’ and locked in a room alone in total darkness, to put him in the right frame of mind for the ceremony. His eyes were bandaged and his sponsor knocked three times on the Lodge door. After several questions, he was introduced and admitted in the care of a Warden (Surveillant). Still blindfolded, he was led three times round the floor‑drawing in the centre of the Lodge, and there were, resin flares’. It was customary in the French lodges in those days to have a pan of live coals just inside the door of the lodge and at the moment the candidate was brought in, they would sprinkle powdered resin on the live coal, to make an enormous flare, which would frighten the wits out of the candidate, even if he was blindfolded. (In many cases they did not blindfold them until they came to the obligation.) Then, amid a circle of swords, we get the posture for the obligation with three lots of penalties, and details of Aprons and Gloves. This is followed by the signs, tokens and words relating to two pillars. The ceremony contained several features unknown in English practice, and some parts of the story appear to be told in the wrong sequence, so that as we read it, we suddenly realise that the gentleman who was dictating it had his mind on much more worldly matters. So Brethren, this was the earliest exposure from France, not very good, but it was the first of a really wonderful stream of documents. As before, I shall only discuss the important ones.

My next, is Le Secret des Francs‑Masons (The Secret of the Freemasons) 1742, published by the Abbe Perau, who was Prior at the Sorbonne, the University of Paris. A beautiful first degree, all in narrative form, and every word in favour of the Craft. His words for the EA and FC were in reverse order (and this became common practice in Europe) but he said practically nothing about the second degree. He described the Masonic drinking and toasting at great length, with a marvellous description of `Masonic Fire’. He mentioned that the Master’s degree was `a great ceremonial lamentation over the death of Hiram’ but he knew nothing about the third degree and said that Master Masons got only a new sign and that was all.

Our next work is Le Catechisme des Francs‑Masons (The Freemasons’ Catechism) published in 1744, by Louis Travenol, a famous French journalist. He dedicates his book `To the Fair Sex’, which he adores, saying that he is deliberately publishing this exposure for their benefit, because the Masons have excluded them, and his tone is mildly anti‑Masonic. He continues with a note `To the Reader’, criticising several items in Perau’s work, but agreeing that Le Secret is generally correct. For that reason (and Perau was hopelessly ignorant of the third degree) he confines his exposure to the MM degree. But that is followed by a catechism which is a composite for all three degrees, undivided, though it is easy to see which questions belong to the Master Mason.

Le Catechisme also contains two excellent engravings of the Tracing Boards, or Floor‑drawings, one called `Plan of the Lodge for the Apprentice‑Fellow’ combined , and the other for `The Master’s Lodge’.

Travenol begins his third degree with `The History of Adoniram, Architect of the Temple of Solomon’. The French texts usually say Adoniram instead of Hiram, and the story is a splendid version of the Hiramic Legend. In the best French versions, the Master’s word (Jehova) was not lost; the nine Masters who were sent by Solomon to search for him, decided to adopt a substitute word out of fear that the three assassins had compelled Adoniram to divulge it.

This is followed by a separate chapter which describes the layout of a Master’s Lodge, including the ‘Floor‑drawing’, and the earliest ceremony of opening a Master’s Lodge. That contains a curious `Master’s sign’ that begins with a hand at the side of the forehead (demonstrate) and ends with the thumb in the pit of the stomach. And now, Brethren, we get a magnificent description of the floorwork of the third degree, the whole ceremony, so beautifully described and in such fine detail, that any Preceptor could reconstruct it from beginning to end ‑ and every word of this whole chapter is new material that had never appeared before.

Of course there are many items that differ from the practices we know, but now you can see why I am excited about these French documents. They give marvellous details, at a time when we have no corresponding material in England. But before I leave Le Catechisme, I must say a few words about its picture of the third degree Tracing Board or Floor‑drawing which contains, as its central theme, a coffin design, surrounded by tear drops, the tears which our ancient brethren shed over the death of our Master Adoniram.

On the coffin is a sprig of acacia and the word `JEHOVA’, `ancien mot du Maitre, (the former word of a Master), but in the French degree it was not lost. It was the Ineffable Name, never to be uttered, and here, for the first time, the word Jehova is on the coffin. The diagram, in dots, shows how three zig‑zag steps over the coffin are to be made by the candidate in advancing from West to East, and many other interesting details too numerous to mention.

The catechism, which is the last main item in the book, is based (like all the early French catechisms) directly on Prichard’s Masonry Dissected, but it contains a number of symbolic expansions and explanations, the result of speculative influence.

And so we come to the last of the French exposures that I must deal with today L’Ordre des Francs‑Magons Trahi (The Order of Freemasons Betrayed) published in 1745 by an anonymous writer, a thief! There was no law of copyright in those days and this man knew a good thing when he saw it. He took the best material he could find, collected it into one book, and added a few notes of his own.

So, he stole Perau’s book, 102 pages, the lot, and printed it as his own first degree. He said very little about the second degree (the second degree was always a bit of an orphan). He stole Travenol’s lovely third degree and added a few notes including a few lines saying that before the Candidate’s admission, the most junior MM in the Lodge lies down on the coffin, his face covered with a blood‑stained cloth, so that the Candidate will see him raised by the Master before he advances for his own part in the ceremony.

Of his own material, there is not very much; chapters on the Masonic Cipher, on the Signs, Grips and Words, and on Masonic customs. He also included two improved designs of the Floordrawings and two charming engravings illustrating the first and third degrees in progress. His catechism followed Travenol’s version very closely but he did add four questions and answers (seemingly a minor contribution) but they are of high importance in our study of the ritual: Q. When a Mason finds himself in danger, what must he say and do to call the brethren to his aid? A. He must put his joined hands to his forehead, the fingers interlaced, and say `Help, ye Children (or Sons) of the Widow’.

Brethren, I do not know if the `interlaced fingers’ were used in the USA or Canada; I will only say that they were well known in several European jurisdictions, and the `Sons of the Widow’ appear in most versions of the Hiramic legend.

Three more new questions ran:

Q. What is the Password of an Apprentice? Ans: T…

Q. That of a Fellow? Ans: S . . . .

Q. And that of a Master? Ans: G ….

This was the first appearance of Passwords in print, but the author added an explanatory note: These three Passwords are scarcely used except in France and at Frankfurt on Main. They are in the nature of Watchwords, introduced as a surer safeguard (when dealing) with brethren whom they do not know.

Passwords had never been heard of before this date, 1745, and they appear for the first time, in France. You will have noticed, Brethren, that some of them appear to be in the wrong order, and, because of the 30‑year gap, we do not know whether they were being used in England at that time or if they were a French invention. On this point we have a curious piece of indirect evidence, and I must digress for a moment.

In the year 1730, the Grand Lodge of England was greatly troubled by the exposures that were being published, especially Prichard’s Masonry Dissected, which was officially condemned in Grand Lodge. Later, as a precautionary measure, certain words in the first two degrees were interchanged, a move which gave grounds in due course for the rise of a rival Grand Lodge. Le Secret, 1742, Le Catechisme, 1744 and the Trahi, 1745, all give those words in the new order, and in 1745, when the Passwords made their first appearance in France, they also appear in reverse order. Knowing how regularly France had adopted ‑ and improved ‑ on English ritual practices, there seems to be a strong probability that Passwords were already in use in England (perhaps in reverse order), but there is not a single English document to support that theory.

So Brethren, by 1745 most of the principal elements in the Craft degrees were already in existence, and when the new stream of English rituals began to appear in the 1760s the best of that material had been embodied in our English practice. But it was still very crude and a great deal of polishing needed to be done.

The polishing began in 1769 by three writers ‑ Wellins Calcutt and William Hutchinson, in 1769, and William Preston in 1772, but Preston towered over the others. He was the great expounder of Freemasonry and its symbolism, a born teacher, constantly writing and improving on his work. Around 1800, the ritual and the Lectures, (which were the original catechisms, now expanded and explained in beautiful detail) were all at their shining best. And then with typical English carelessness, we spoiled it.

You know, Brethren, that from 1751 up to 1813, we had two rival Grand Lodges in England (the original, founded in 1717, and the rival Grand Lodge, known as the `Antients’, founded in 1751) and they hated each other with truly Masonic zeal. Their differences were mainly in minor matters of ritual and in their views on Installation and the Royal Arch. The bitterness continued until 1809 when the first steps were taken towards a reconciliation and a much‑desired union of the rivals.

In 1809, the original Grand Lodge, the `Moderns’, ordered the necessary revisions, and the Lodge of Promulgation was formed to vet the ritual and bring it to a form that would be satisfactory to both sides. That had to be done, or we would still have had two Grand Lodges to this day! They did an excellent job, and many changes were made in ritual and procedural matters; but a great deal of material was discarded, and it might be fair to say that they threw away the baby with the bath‑water. The Beehive, the Hour‑glass, the Scythe, the Pot of Incense etc, which were in our Tracing Boards in the early nineteenth century have disappeared. We have to be thankful indeed for the splendid material they left behind.


I must add a note here for Brethren in the USA. You will realise that until the changes which I have just described, I have been talking about your ritual as well as ours in England. After the War of Independence the States rapidly began to set up their own Grand Lodges, but your ritual, mainly of English origin ‑ whether Antients or Moderns ‑ was still basically English. Your big changes began in and around 1796, when Thomas Smith Webb, of Albany, NY, teamed up with an English Mason, John Hanmer, who was well versed in Preston’s Lecture system.

In 1797 Webb published his Freemason’s Monitor or Illustrations of Masonry, largely based on Preston’s Illustrations. Webb’s Monitor, adapted from our ritual when, as I said, it was at its shining best, became so popular, that the American Grand Lodges, mainly in the Eastern states at that time, did everything they could to preserve it in its original form; eventually by the appointment of Grand Lecturers, whose duty it was (and is) to ensure that the officially adopted forms remain unchanged.

I cannot go into details now, but from the Rituals and Monitors I have studied and the Ceremonies and Demonstrations I have seen, there is no doubt that your ritual is much fuller than ours, giving the candidate much more explanation, interpretation, and symbolism, than we normally give in England.

In effect, because of the changes we made in our work between 1809 and 1813, it is fair to say that in many respects your ritual is older than ours and better than ours.

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Six Hundred Years of Craft Ritual – Part Four of Five

Six Hundred Years of Craft Ritual



Bro. Harry Carr.

P.M. Quatuor Coronati Lodge, No. 2076

 Prepared in this format by Bro. Mike Lawrence



The earliest hints of the third degree appear in documents like those that I have been talking about ‑ mainly documents that have been written out as aide‑memoires for the men who owned them. But we have to use exposures as well, exposures printed for profit, or spite; and we get some useful hints of the third degree long before it actually appears in practice.

And so, we start with one of the best, a lovely little text, a single sheet of paper known as the Trinity College, Dublin, Manuscript, dated 1711, found among the papers of a famous Irish doctor and scientist, Sir Thomas Molyneux. This document is headed with a kind of Triple Tau, and underneath it the words ‘Under no less a penalty’. This is followed by a set of eleven Q. and A. and we know straight away that something is wrong!

We already have three perfect sets of fifteen questions, so eleven questions must be either bad memory or bad copying ‑ something is wrong! The questions are perfectly normal, only not enough of them. Then after the eleven questions we would expect the writer to give a description of the whole or part of the ceremony but, instead of that, he gives a kind of catalogue of the Freemason’s words and signs.

He gives this sign for the EA with the word B. He gives ‘knuckles & sinues’ as the sign for the ‘fellow‑craftsman’, with the word ‘Jachquin’. The ‘Master’s sign is the back bone’ and for him (ie the MM) the writer gives the world’s worst description of the FPOF. (It seems clear that neither the author of this piece nor the writer of the Sloane MS, had ever heard of the Points of Fellowship, or knew how to describe them.) Here, as I demonstrate, are the exact words, no more and no less: “Squeese the Master by ye back bone, put your knee between his, & say Matchpin.”

That, Brethren, is our second version of the word of the third degree. We started with ‘Mahabyn’, and now ‘Matchpin’, horribly debased. Let me say now, loud and clear, nobody knows what the correct word was. It was probably Hebrew originally, but all the early versions are debased. We might work backwards, translating from the English, but we cannot be certain that our English words are correct. So, here in the Trinity College, Dublin, MS, we have, for the very first time, a document which has separate secrets for three separate degrees; the enterprentice, the fellowcraftsman and the master. It is not proof of three degrees in practice, but it does show that somebody was playing with this idea in 1711.

The next piece of evidence on this theme comes from the first printed exposure, printed and published for entertainment or for spite, in a London newspaper, The Flying Post. The text is known as a `Mason’s Examination’. By this time, 1723, the catechism was much longer and the text contained several pieces of rhyme, all interesting, but only one of particular importance to my present purpose and here it is: `An enter’d Mason I have been, Boaz and Jachin I have seen; A Fellow I was sworn most rare, And Know the Astler, Diamond, and Square: 1 know the Master’s Part full well, As honest Maughbin will you tell.’

Notice, Brethren, there are still two pillars for the EA, and once again somebody is dividing the Masonic secrets into three parts for three different categories of Masons. The idea of three degrees is in the air. We are still looking for minutes but they have not come yet.

Next, we have another priceless document, dated 1726, the Graham MS, a fascinating text which begins with a catechism of some thirty Questions and Answers, followed by a collection of legends, mainly about biblical characters, each story with a kind of Masonic twist in its tail. One legend tells how three sons went to their father’s grave to try if they could find anything about him for to lead them to the veritable secret which this famous preacher had …

They opened the grave finding nothing save the dead body all most consumed away takeing a greip at a ffinger it came away so from Joynt to Joynt so to the wrest so to the Elbow so they Reared up the dead body and suported it setting ffoot to ffoot knee to knee Breast to breast Cheeck to cheeck and hand to back and cryed out help o ffather . . . so one said here is yet marow in this bone and the second said but a dry bone and the third said it stinketh so they agreed for to give it a name as is known to free masonry to this day …

This is the earliest story of a raising in a Masonic context, apparently a fragment of the Hiramic legend, but the old gentleman in the grave was Father Noah, not Hiram Abif.

Another legend concerns `Bazalliell’, the wonderful craftsman who built the mobile Temple and the Ark of the Covenant for the Israelites during their wandering in the wilderness. The story goes that near to death, Bazalliell asked for a tombstone to be erected over his grave, with an inscription `according to his diserveing’ and that was done as follows: “Here Lys the flowr of masonry superiour of many other companion to a king and to two princes a brother Here Lys the heart all secrets could conceall Here lys the tongue that never did reveal.” The last two lines could not have been more apt if they had been specially written for Hiram Abif; they are virtually a summary of the Hiramic legend.

In the catechism, one answer speaks of those that . . . have obtained a trible Voice by being entered passed and raised and Conformed by 3 severall Lodges . . .`Entered, passed and raised’ is clear enough. `Three several lodges’ means three separate degrees, three separate ceremonies. There is no doubt at all that this is a reference to three degrees being practised. But we still want minutes and we have not got them. And I am very sorry to tell you, that the earliest minutes we have recording a third degree, fascinating and interesting as they are, refer to a ceremony that never happened in a lodge at all; it took place in the confines of a London Musical Society. It is a lovely story and that is what you are going to get now.

In December 1724 there was a nice little lodge meeting at the Queen’s Head Tavern, in Hollis Street, in the Strand, about three hundred yards from our present Freemasons’ Hall. Nice people; the best of London’s musical, architectural and cultural society were members of this lodge. On the particular night in which I am interested, His Grace, the Duke of Richmond was Master of the lodge. I should add that His Grace, the Duke of Richmond was also Grand Master at that time, and you might call him `nice people’. It is true that he was the descendant of a royal illegitimate, but nowadays even royal illegitimates are counted as nice people. A couple of months later, seven of the members of this lodge and one brother they had borrowed from another lodge decided that they wanted to found a musical and architectural society.

They gave themselves a Latin title a mile long ‑ Philo Musicae et Architecturae Societas Apollini ‑ which I translate, ‘The Apollonian Society for the Lovers of Music and Architecture’ and they drew up a rule book which is beautiful beyond words. Every word of it written by hand. It looks as though the most magnificent printer had printed and decorated it.

Now these people were very keen on their Masonry and for their musical society they drew up an unusual code of rules. For example, one rule was that every one of the founders was to have his own coat‑of‑arms emblazoned in full colour in the opening pages of the minute book. How many lodges do you know, where every founder has his own coat‑of‑arms? This gives you an idea of the kind of boys they were. They loved their Masonry and they made another rule, that anybody could come along to their architectural lectures or to their musical evenings ‑ the finest conductors were members of the society ‑ anybody could come, but if he was not a Mason, he had to be made a Mason before they would let him in; and because they were so keen about the Masonic status of their members, they kept Masonic biographical notes of each member as he joined. It is from these notes that we are able to see what actually happened. I could talk about them all night, but for our present purposes, we need only follow the career of one of their members, Charles Cotton.

In the records of the Musical Society we read that on 22 December 1724 ‘Charles Cotton Esq’. was made a Mason by the said Grand Master’ [ie His Grace The Duke of Richmond] in the Lodge at the Queen’s Head. It could not be more regular than that. Then, on 18 February 1725 ‘. . . before We Founded This Society A Lodge was held . . . In Order to Pass Charles Cotton Esq`. . . .’ and because it was on the day the society was founded, we cannot be sure whether Cotton was passed FC in the Lodge or in the Musical Society. Three months later, on 12 May 1725 ‘Brother Charles Cotton Esq’. Broth`. Papillion Ball Were regularly passed Masters’.

Now we have the date of Cotton’s initiation, his passing and his raising; there is no doubt that he received three degrees. But ‘regularly passed Masters’ ‑ No! It could not have been more irregular! This was a Musical Society ‑ not a lodge! But I told you they were nice people, and they had some very distinguished visitors. First, the Senior Grand Warden came to see them. Then the Junior Grand Warden. And then, they got a nasty letter from the Grand Secretary and, in 1727, the society disappeared. Nothing now remains except their minute book in the British Library. If you ever go to London and go to Freemasons’ Hall you will see a marvellous facsimile of that book. It is worth a journey to London just to see it. And that is the record of the earliest third degree. I wish we could produce a more respectable first‑timer, but that was the earliest.

I must tell you, Brethren, that Gould, the great Masonic historian believed, all his life, that this was the earliest third degree of which there was any record at all. But just before he died he wrote a brilliant article in the Transactions of the Quatuor Coronati Lodge, and he changed his mind. He said, `No, the minutes are open to wide interpretation, and we ought not to accept this as a record of the third degree.’ Frankly, I do not believe that he proved his case, and on this point I dare to quarrel with Gould. Watch me carefully, Brethren, because I stand a chance of being struck down at this moment. Nobody argues with Gould! But I dispute this because, within ten months of this date, we have incontrovertible evidence of the third degree in practice. As you might expect, bless them, it comes from Scotland.

Lodge Dumbarton Kilwinning, now No 18 on the register of the Grand Lodge of Scotland, was founded in January 1726. At the foundation meeting there was the Master, with seven master masons, six fellowcrafts and three entered apprentices; some of them were operative masons, some non‑operative.

Two months later, in March 1726, we have this minute: Gabriel Porterfield who appeared in the January meeting as a Fellow Craft was unanimously admitted and received a Master of the Fraternity and renewed his oath and gave in his entry money.

Now, notice Brethren, here was a Scotsman, who started in January as a fellowcraft, a founding fellowcraft of a new Lodge. Then he came along in March, and he renewed his oath, which means he took another ceremony; and he gave in his entry money, which means he paid for it. Brethren, if a Scotsman paid for it you bet your life he got it! There is no doubt about that. And there is the earliest 100 per cent gilt‑edged record of a third degree.

Two years later, in December 1728, another new Lodge, Greenock Kilwinning, at its very first meeting, prescribed separate fees for entering, passing, and raising.


From then on we have ample evidence of the three degrees in practice and then in 1730 we have the earliest printed exposure which claimed to describe all three degrees, Masonry Dissected, published by Samuel Prichard in October 1730. It was the most valuable ritual work that had appeared until that time, all in the form of question and answer (apart from a brief introduction) and it had enormous influence in the stabilisation of our English ritual.

Its `Enter’d Prentice’s Degree’ ‑ by this time ninety‑two questions ‑ gave two pillar words to the EA, and the first of them was ‘lettered’. Prichard managed to squeeze a lot of floor‑work into his EA questions and answers. Here is one question for the candidate: ‘How did he make you a mason?’ Listen to his answer: With my bare‑bended Knee and Body within the Square, the Compass extended to my naked Left Breast, my naked Right Hand on the Holy Bible: there I took the Obligation (or Oath) of a Mason.

All that information in one answer! And the next question was, ‘Can you repeat that obligation?’ with the answer, ‘I’ll do my endeavor’, and Prichard followed this with a magnificent obligation which contained three sets of penalties (throat cut, heart torn out, body severed and ashes burned and scattered). This is how they appeared in 1730. Documents of 1760 show them separated, and later developments do not concern us here.

Prichard’s ‘Fellow‑Craft’s Degree’ was very short, only 33 questions and answers. It gave J alone to the FC (not lettered) but now the second degree had a lot of new material relating to the pillars, the middle chamber, the winding stairs, and a long recitation on the letter G, which began with the meaning ‘Geometry’ and ended denoting ‘The Grand Architect and Contriver of the Universe’.

Prichard’s ‘Master’s Degree or Master’s Part’ was made up of thirty questions with some very long answers, containing the earliest version of the Hiramic legend, literally the whole story as it ran in those days. It included the murder by ‘three Ruffians’, the searchers, ‘Fifteen Loving Brothers’ who agreed among themselves ‘that if they did not find the Word in him or about him, the first Word should be the Master’s Word’. Later, the discovery, `the Slip’, the raising on the FPOF, and another new version of the MM word, which is said to mean `The Builder is smitten’.

There is no reason to believe that Prichard invented the Hiramic legend. As we read his story in conjunction with those collected by Thomas Graham in 1726 (quoted above), there can be little doubt that Prichard’s version arose out of several streams of legend, probably an early result of speculative influence in those days.

But the third degree was not a new invention. It arose from a division of the original first degree into two parts, so that the original second degree with its FPOF and a word moved up into third place, both the second and third acquiring additional materials during the period of change. That was sometime between 1711 and 1725, but whether it started in England, Scotland, or Ireland is a mystery; we simply do not know.

Back now to Samuel Prichard and his Masonry Dissected. The book created a sensation; it sold three editions and one pirated edition in eleven days. It swept all other exposures off the market. For the next thirty years Prichard was being reprinted over and over again and nothing else could stand a chance; there was nothing fit to touch it. We lose something by this, because we have no records of any ritual developments in England during the next 30 years ‑ a great 30‑year gap. Only one new item appeared in all that time, the `Charge to the Initiate’, a miniature of our modern version, in beautiful eighteenth‑century English. It was published in 1735, but we do not know who wrote it. For fresh information on the growth of the ritual, we have to go across the Channel, into France.

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Six Hundred Years of Craft Ritual – Part Three of Five

Six Hundred Years of Craft Ritual



Bro. Harry Carr.

P.M. Quatuor Coronati Lodge, No. 2076

 Prepared in this format by Bro. Mike Lawrence


There were only two test questions for a fellowcraft degree, and that was the lot. Two degrees, beautifully described, not only in this document but in two other sister texts, the Chetwode Crawlev MS, dated about 1700 and the Kevan MS, quite recently discovered, dated about 1714. Three marvellous documents, all from the south of Scotland, all telling exactly the same story ‑ wonderful materials, if we dare to trust them.

But, I am sorry to tell you Brethren that we, as scientists in masonry, dare not trust them, because they were written in violation of an oath. To put it at its simplest, the more they tell us the less they are to be trusted, unless, by some fluke or by some miracle, we can prove, as we must do, that these documents were actually used in a lodge; otherwise they are worthless. In this case, by a very happy fluke, we have got the proof and it makes a lovely story. That is what you are going to get now.

Remember, Brethren, our three documents are from 1696 to 1714. Right in the middle of this period, in the year 1702, a little group of Scottish gentlemen decided that they wanted to have a lodge in their own backyard so to speak. These were gentlemen who lived in the south of Scotland around Galashiels, some 30 miles S. E. of Edinburgh. They were all notable landowners in that area ‑ Sir John Pringle of Hoppringle, Sir James Pringle, his brother, Sir James Scott of Gala (Galashiels), their brother‑in‑law, plus another five neighbours came together and decided to form their own Lodge, in the village of Haughfoot near Galashiels. They chose a man who had a marvellous handwriting to be their scribe, and asked him to buy a minute book. He did. A lovely little leather‑bound book (octavo size), and he paid `fourteen shillings’ Scots, for it. I will not go into the difficulties of coinage now but today it would be about the equivalent of twenty‑five cents.

Being a Scotsman, he took very careful note of the amount and entered it in his minute book, to be repaid out of the first money due to the society. Then, in readiness for the first meeting of the lodge, he started off at what would have been page one with some notes, we do not know the details. But he went on and copied out the whole of one of these Scottish rituals, complete from beginning to end.

When he finished, he had filled ten pages, and his last twenty‑nine words of ritual were the first five lines at the top of page eleven. Now, this was a Scotsman, and I told you he had paid `fourteen shillings’ for that book and the idea of leaving three‑quarters of a page empty offended against his native Scottish thrift. So, to save wasting it, underneath the twenty‑nine words, he put in a heading `The Same Day’ and went straight on with the minutes of the first meeting of the Lodge. I hope you can imagine all this, Brethren, because I wrote the history of `The Lodge of Haughfoot’, the first wholly non‑operative Lodge in Scotland, thirty‑four years older than the Grand Lodge of Scotland. The minutes were beautifully kept for sixty‑one years and eventually, in 1763, the Lodge was swallowed up by some of the larger surrounding lodges. The minute book went to the great Lodge of Selkirk and it came down from Selkirk to London for me to write the history.

We do not know when it happened but, sometime during those sixty‑one years, somebody, perhaps one of the later secretaries of the lodge, must have opened that minute book and caught sight of the opening pages and he must have had a fit! Ritual in a minute book! Out! And the first ten pages have disappeared; they are completely lost.

That butcher would have taken page eleven as well but even he did not have the heart to destroy the minutes of the very first meeting of this wonderful lodge. So it was the minutes of the first meeting that saved those twenty‑nine golden words at the top of page eleven, and the twenty‑nine words are virtually identical with the corresponding portions of the Edinburgh Register House MS and its two sister texts. Those precious words are a guarantee that the other documents are to be trusted, and this gives us a marvellous starting point for the study of the ritual. Not only do we have the documents which describe the ceremonies; we also have a kind of yardstick, by which we can judge the quality of each new document as it arrives, and at this point they do begin to arrive.

Now Brethren, let me warn you that up to now we have been speaking of Scottish documents. Heaven bless the Scots! They took care of every scrap of paper, and if it were not for them we would have practically no history. Our earliest and finest material is nearly all Scottish. But, when the English documents begin to appear, they seem to fit. They not only harmonise, they often fill in the gaps in the Scottish texts. From here on, I will name the country of origin of those documents that are not English.

Within the next few years, we find a number of valuable ritual documents, including some of the highest importance. The first of these is the Sloane MS, dated c1700, an English text, in the British Library today. It gives various `gripes’ which had not appeared in any document before. It gives a new form of the Mason’s oath which contains the words `without Equivocation or mentall Resarvation’. That appears for the very first time in the Sloane MS, and Brethren, from this point onwards, every ritual detail I give you, will be a first‑timer. I shall not repeat the individual details as they reappear in the later texts, nor can I say precisely when a particular practice actually began. I shall simply say that this or that item appears for the first time, giving you the name and date of the document by which it can be proved.

If you are with me on this, you will realise ‑ and I beg you to think of it in this way ‑ that you are watching a little plant, a seedling of Freemasonry, and every word I utter will be a new shoot, a new leaf, a new flower, a new branch. You will be watching the ritual grow; and if you see it that way, Brethren, I shall know I am not wasting my time, because that is the only way to see it.

Now, back to the Sloane MS which does not attempt to describe a whole ceremony. It has a fantastic collection of `gripes’ and other strange modes of recognition. It has a catechism of some twenty‑two Questions and Answers, many of them similar to those in the Scottish texts, and there is a note which seems to confirm two pillars for the EA.

A later paragraph speaks of a salutation for the Master, a curious `hug’ posture, with `the masters grip by their right hands and the top of their Left hand fingers thurst close on ye small of each others Backbone . . .’. Here, the word is given as `Maha ‑ Byn’, half in one ear and half in the other, to be used as a test word.

That was its first appearance in any of our documents, and if you were testing somebody, you would say ‘Maha’ and the other would have to say ‘Byn’; and if he did not say ‘Byn’ you would have no business with him.

I shall talk about several other versions as they crop up later on, but I must emphasise that here is an English document filling the gaps in the three Scottish texts, and this sort of thing happens over and over again.

Now we have another Scottish document, the Dumfries No 4 MS, dated c1710. It contains a mass of new material, but I can only mention a few of the items. One of its questions runs: ‘How were you brought in?’ ‘Shamfully, w’ a rope about my neck’. This is the earliest cable‑tow; and a later answer says the rope ‘is to hang me if I should betray my trust‘. Dumfries also mentions that the candidate receives the ‘Royal Secret’ kneeling ‘upon my left knee’.

Among many interesting Questions and Answers, it lists some of the unusual penalties of those days. ‘My heart taken out alive, my head cut off, my body buried within ye sea‑mark.’ ‘Within ye sea‑mark’ is the earliest version of the ‘cable’s length from the shore’. Brethren, there is so much more, even at this early date, but I have to be brief and I shall give you all the important items as we move forward into the next stage.

Meanwhile, this was the situation at the time when the first Grand Lodge was founded in 1717. We only had two degrees in England, one for the entered apprentice and the second was for the ‘master or fellow craft’. Dr Anderson, who compiled the first English Book of Constitutions in 1723, actually described the English second degree as ‘Masters and Fellow‑Craft’. The Scottish term had already invaded England.

The next big stage in the history of the ritual, is the evolution of the third degree. Actually, we know a great deal about the third degree, but there are some dreadful gaps. We do not know when it started or why it started, and we cannot be sure who started it! In the light of a lifetime of study, I am going to tell you what we know, and we will try to fill the gaps.

It would have been easy, of course, if one could stretch out a hand in a very good library and pull out a large minute‑book and say ‘Well, there is the earliest third degree that ever happened;’ but it does not work out that way. The minute‑books come much later.


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Six Hundred Years of Craft Ritual – Part Two of Five

Six Hundred Years of Craft Ritual



Bro. Harry Carr

P.M. Quatuor Coronati Lodge, No. 2076

Prepared in this format by Bro. Mike Lawrence


The Harleian MS is a perfectly normal version of the Old Charges, but bound up with it is a note in the same handwriting containing a new version of the mason’s oath, of particular importance because it shows a major change from all earlier forms of the oath. Here it is:

“There is seurall words & signes of a free Mason to be revailed to yu wch as yu will answ: before God at the Great & terrible day of Iudgmt yu keep Secret & not to revaile the same in the heares of any pson  w but to the Mrs & fellows of the said Society of free Masons so helpe me God xt.”

Brethren, I know that I recited it too fast, but now I am going to read the first line again: “There is several words and signs of a free mason to be revealed to you . . .” ‘Several words and signs . . .’ plural, more than one degree. And here in a document that should have been dated 1550, we have the first hint of the expansion of the ceremonies into more than one degree. A few years later we have actual minutes that prove two degrees in practice. But notice, Brethren that the ceremonies must also have been taking something of their modern shape.

They probably began with a prayer, a recital of part of the `history’, the hand‑on‑book posture for the reading of the Charges, followed by an obligation and then the entrusting with secret words and signs, whatever they were. We do not know what they were, but we know that in both degrees the ceremonies were beginning to take the shape of our modern ceremonies. We have to wait quite a long while before we find the contents, the actual details, of those ceremonies, but we do find them at the end of the 1600s and that is my next theme.

Remember, Brethren, we are still with only two degrees and I am going to deal now with the documents which actually describe those two ceremonies, as they first appeared on paper.


The earliest evidence we have, is a document dated 1696, beautifully handwritten, and known as the Edinburgh Register House Manuscript, because it was found in the Public Record Office of Edinburgh.

I deal first with that part of the text which describes the actual ceremonies. It is headed `THE FORME OF GIVING THE MASON WORD’ which is one way of saying it is the manner of initiating a mason. It begins with the ceremony which made an apprentice into an ‘entered‑ apprentice (usually about three years after the beginning of his indentures), followed by the ceremony for the admission of the, master mason or fellow craft’, the title of the second degree.

The details are fascinating but I can only describe them very briefly, and wherever I can, I will use the original words, so that you can get the feel of the thing. We are told that the candidate `was put to his knees’ and `after a great many ceremonies to frighten him’ (rough stuff, horse‑play it you like; apparently they tried to scare the wits out of him) `after a great many ceremonies to frighten him’, he was made to take up the book and in that position he took the oath, and here is the earliest version of the mason’s oath described as part of a whole ceremony.

“By god himself and you shall answer to god when you shall stand nakd before him, at the great day, you shall not reveal any pairt of what you shall hear or see at this time whither by word nor write nor put it in wryte at any time nor draw it with the point of a sword, or any other instrument upon the snow or sand, nor shall you speak of it but with an entered mason, so help you god.”

Brethren, if you were listening very carefully, you have just heard the earliest version of the words ‘Indite, carve, mark, engrave or otherwise them delineate’. The very first version is the one I have just read, `not write nor put it in wryte, nor draw it with a point of a sword or any other instrument upon the snow or sand.’ Notice, Brethren, there was no penalty in the obligation, just a plain obligation of secrecy.

After he had finished the obligation the youngster was taken out of the lodge by the last previous candidate, the last person who had been initiated before him. Outside the door of the lodge he was taught the sign, postures and words of entry (we do not know what they are until he comes back). He came back, took off his hat and made `a ridiculous bow’ and then he gave the words of entry, which included a greeting to the master and the brethren. It finished up with the words `under no less pain than cutting of my throat’ and there is a sort of footnote which says `for you must make that sign when you say that’. This is the earliest appearance in any document of an entered apprentice’s sign.

Now Brethren, forget all about your beautifully furnished lodges; I am speaking of operative masonry, when the lodge was either a little room at the back of a pub, or above a pub, or else a shed attached to a big building job; and if there were a dozen masons there, that would have been a good attendance.

So, after the boy had given the sign, he was brought up to the Master for the `entrusting’. Here is the Master; here, nearby, is the candidate; here is the `instructor’, and he, the instructor, whispers the word into the ear of his neighbour, who whispers the word to the next man and so on, all round the lodge, until it comes to the Master, and the Master gives the word to the candidate.

In this case, there is a kind of biblical footnote, which shows, beyond all doubt, that the word was not one word but two.  B and J., two pillar names, for the entered apprentice. This is very important later, when we begin to study the evolution of three degrees. In the two‑degree system there were two pillars for the entered apprentice.

That was really the whole of the floor work, but it was followed by a set of simple questions and answers headed – ‘SOME OUESTIONEs THAT MASONS USE TO PUT TO THOSE WHO HAVE YE WORD BEFORE THEY WILL ACKNOWLEDGE THEM’.

It included a few questions for testing a stranger outside the lodge, and this text gives us the first and oldest version of the Masonic catechism. Here are some of the fifteen questions. ‘Are you a mason? How shall I know it? Where were you entered? What makes a true and perfect lodge? Where was the first lodge? Are there any lights in your lodge? Are there any jewels in your lodge?’ the first faint beginnings of Masonic symbolism. It is amazing how little there was at the beginning. There, Brethren, 15 questions and answers, which must have been answered for the candidate; he had not had time to learn the answers. And that was the whole of the entered apprentice ceremony. Now remember, Brethren, we are speaking about operative masonry, in the days, when masons earned their living with hammer and chisel. Under those conditions the second degree was taken about seven years after the date of initiation when the candidate came back to be made ‘master or fellow craft’.

Inside the lodge those two grades were equal, both fully trained masons. Outside the lodge, one was an employer, the other an employee. If he was the son of a Freeman Burgess of the city, he could take his Freedom and set up as a master immediately. Otherwise, he had to pay for the privilege, and until then, the fellow craft remained an employee. But inside the lodge they both had the same second degree.

So, after the end of his indentures of apprenticeship, and serving another year or two for ‘meat and fee’, (ie board plus a wage) he came along then for the second degree. He was ‘put to his knees and took the oath anew’. It was the same oath that he had taken as an apprentice, omitting only three words. Then he was taken out of the lodge by the youngest master, and there he was taught the signs, posture and words of entry (we still do not know what they were). He came back and he gave what is called the ‘master sign’, but it is not described, so I cannot tell you about it. Then he was brought up for the entrusting. And now, the youngest master, the chap who had taken him outside, whispered the word to his neighbour, each in turn passing it all round the lodge, until it came to the Master, and the Master, on the five points of fellowship ‑ second degree, Brethren ‑ gave the word to the candidate. The five points in those days ‑ foot to foot, knee to knee, heart to heart, hand to hand, ear to ear, that is how it was at its first appearance. No Hiramic legend and no frills; only the FPOF and a word. But in this document the word is not mentioned. It appears very soon afterwards and I will deal with that later.




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Six Hundred Years of Craft Ritual – Part One of Five

Six Hundred Years of Craft Ritual



Bro. Harry Carr.

P.M. Quatuor Coronati Lodge, No. 2076

 Prepared in this format by Bro. Mike Lawrence

BRETHREN, MANY of you will know that I travel vast distances in the course of my lecture duties and the further I go the more astonished I am to see how many Brethren believe, quite genuinely, that our Masonic ritual came down straight from heaven, directly into the hands of King Solomon. They are all quite certain that it was in English, of course, because that is the only language they speak up there. They are equally sure that it was all engraved on two tablets of stone, so that, heaven forbid, not one single word should ever be altered; and most of them believe that King Solomon, in his own lodge, practised the same ritual as they do in theirs.

But, it was not like that at all, and tonight I am going to try to sketch for you the history of our ritual from its very beginnings up to the point when it was virtually standardised, in 1813; but you must remember, while I am talking about English ritual I am also giving you the history of your own ritual as well.

One thing is going to be unusual about tonight’s talk. Tonight you are not going to get any fairy‑tales at all. Every word I utter will be based on documents which can be proved: and on the few rare occasions when, in spite of having the documents, we still have not got complete and perfect proof, I shall say loud and clear ‘We think . . .’ or ‘We believe . . .’. Then you will know that we are, so‑to‑speak, on uncertain ground; but i will give you the best that we know. And since a talk of this kind must have a proper starting point, let me begin by saying that Freemasonry did not begin in Egypt, or Palestine, or Greece, or Rome.


 It all started in London, England, in the year 1356, a very important date, and it started as the result of a good old‑fashioned demarcation dispute. Now, you all know what a demarcation dispute is. When the boys in a trade union cannot make up their minds who is going to knock the nails and who will screw the screws, that is a demarcation dispute. And that is how it started, in 1356, when there was a great row going on in London between the mason hewers, the men who cut the stone, and the mason layers and setters, the men who actually built the walls. The exact details of the quarrel are not known, but, as a result of this row, 12 skilled master masons, with some famous men among them, came before the mayor and aldermen at Guildhall in London, and, with official permission, drew up a simple code of trade regulations.

The opening words of that document, which still survives, say that these men had come together because their trade had never been regulated in such form as other trades were. So here, in this document, we have an official guarantee that this was the very first attempt at some sort of trade organisation for the masons and, as we go through the document, the very first rule that they drew up gives a clue to the demarcation dispute that I was talking about. They ruled, `That every man of the trade may work at any work touching the trade if he be perfectly skilled and knowing in the same.’ Brethren that was the Wisdom of Solomon! If you knew the job, you could do the job, and nobody could stop you! If we only had that much common sense nowadays in England, how much better off we should be.

The organisation that was set up at that time became, within 20 years, the London Masons Company, the first trade guild of the masons and one of the direct ancestors of our Freemasonry of today. This was the real beginning. Now the London Masons Company was not a lodge; it was a trade guild and I ought to spend a lot of time trying to explain how lodges began, a difficult problem because we have no records of the actual foundation of the early operative lodges.

Briefly, the guilds were town organisations, greatly favoured by the towns because they helped in the management of municipal affairs. In London, for example, from 1376 onwards, each of the trades elected two representatives who became members of the Common Council, all together forming the city government. But the mason trade did not lend itself to town organisation at all. Most of their main work was outside the towns ‑ the castles, the abbeys, the monasteries, the defence works, the really big jobs of masonry were always far from the towns. And we believe that it was in those places, where there was no other kind of trade organisation, that the masons, who were engaged on those jobs for years on end, formed themselves into lodges, in imitation of the guilds, so that they had some form of self‑government on the job, while they were far away from all other forms of trade control.

The first actual information about lodges comes to us from a collection of documents which we know as the `Old Charges’ or the Manuscript Constitutions’ of masonry, a marvellous collection. They begin with the Regius Manuscript c1390; the next, the Cooke Manuscript is dated c1410 and we have 130 versions of these documents running right through to the eighteenth century.

The oldest version, the Regius Manuscript, is in rhyming verse and differs, in several respects, from the other texts, but, in their general shape and contents they are all very much alike. They begin with an Opening Prayer, Christian and Trinitarian, and then they go on with a history of the craft, starting in Bible times and in Bible lands, and tracing the rise of the craft and its spread right across Europe until it reached France and was then brought across the channel and finally established in England. Unbelievably bad history; any professor of history would drop dead if he were challenged to prove it; but the masons believed it. This was their guarantee of respectability as an ancient craft.

Then, after the history we find the regulations, the actual Charges, for masters, fellows and apprentices, including several rules of a purely moral character, and that is all. Occasionally, the name of one of the characters changes or the wording of a regulation will be altered slightly, but all follow the same general pattern.

Apart from these three main sections, prayer, history and Charges, in most of them we find a few words which indicate the beginnings of Masonic ceremony. I must add that we cannot find all the information in one single document; but when we study them as a collection, it is possible to reconstruct the outline of the admission ceremony of those days, the earliest ceremony of admission into the craft.

We know that the ceremony, such as it was, began with an opening prayer and then there was a `reading’ of the history. (Many later documents refer to this `reading’.) In those days, 99 masons in 100 could not read, and we believe, therefore, that they selected particular sections of the history which they memorised and recited from memory. To read the whole text, even if they could read, would have taken much too long. So the second part of the ceremony was the `reading’.

Then, we find an instruction, which appears regularly in practically every document, usually in Latin, and it says: `Then one of the elders holds out a book [sometimes “the book”, sometimes the “Bible”, and sometimes the “Holy Bible”] and he or they that are to be admitted shall place their hand thereon, and the following Charges shall be read.’

In that position the regulations were read out to the candidate and he took the oath, a simple oath of fidelity to the king, to the master and to the craft, that he would obey the regulations and never bring the craft to shame. This was a direct lift from the guild oath, which was probably the only form that they knew; no frills, no penalties, a simple oath of fidelity to the king, the employer (the master) and to the trade.

From this point onwards, the oath becomes the heart and marrow, the crucial centre of every Masonic ceremony. The Regius, which is the first of the versions to survive, emphasizes this and it is worth quoting here. After the reading of the Charges in the Regius Manuscript, we get these words: `And all the points hereinbefore To all of them he must be sworn, And all shall swear the same oath Of the masons, be they willing, be they loth’ Whether they liked it or not, there was only one key that would open the door into the craft and that was the mason’s oath. The importance, which the Regius attaches to it, we find repeated over and over again, not in the same words, but the emphasis is still there. The oath or obligation is the key to the admission ceremony.

So there I have described for you the earliest ceremony and now I can justify the title of my paper, Six Hundred Years of Craft Ritual. We have 1356 as the date of the beginnings of mason trade organisation, and around 1390 the earliest evidence which indicates a ceremony of admission. Split the difference. Somewhere between those two dates is when it all started. That is almost exactly 600 years of provable history and we can prove every stage of our development from then onwards.

Masonry, the art of building, began many thousands of years before this, but, for the antecedents of our own Freemasonry, we can only go back to the direct line of history that can be proved, and that is 1356, when it really began in Britain.

And now there is one other point that must be mentioned before I go any further. I have been speaking of a time when there was only one degree. The documents do not say that there is only one degree, they simply indicate only one ceremony, never more than one. But I believe it cannot have been for the apprentice, or entered apprentice; it must have been for the fellow of craft, the man who was fully trained.

The Old Charges do not say this, but there is ample outside evidence from which we draw this conclusion. We have many law‑suits and legal decisions that show that in the 1400s an apprentice was the chattel of his master. An apprentice was a piece of equipment that belonged to his master. He could be bought and sold in much the same way that the master would buy and sell a horse or a cow and, under such conditions, it is impossible that an apprentice had any status in the lodge. That came much later. So, if we can think ourselves back into the time when there was only one degree it must have been for the fully‑trained mason, the fellow of craft.

Almost 150 years were to pass before the authorities and parliament began to realise that maybe an apprentice was actually a human being as well. In the early 1500s we have in England a whole collection of labour statutes, labour laws, which begin to recognise the status of apprentices, and around that time we begin to find evidence of more than one degree.

From 1598 onwards we have minutes of two Scottish Lodges that were practising two degrees. I will come to that later. Before that date there is no evidence on degrees, except perhaps in one English document, the Harleian MS, No 2054, dated c1650, but believed to be a copy of a text of the late 1500s, now lost.

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The Mason Word – Part Six of Six





P.M. Quatuor Coronati Lodge, No. 2076

 The Prestonian Lecture for 1938

 Prepared in this format by Bro. Mike Lawrence

In part six we cover:

13) Twofold Origin of masonic Ceremonies

14) The Trinity College, Dublin MS

15) Influence of the Mason Word on Masonic Ceremonies.

 13) Twofold Origin of masonic Ceremonies

Nothing shows more clearly the twofold origin of masonic ceremonies than the oath set out in Sloane MS. 3329, by which the candidate swore to keep secret “the mason word and everything therein contained” and truly to observe “the Charges in the Constitution“. This confirms the Aberdeen practice, to which reference has already been made, that on the occasion when the Mason Word was communicated to an apprentice, a version of the MS. Constitutions of Masonry was read to him. At the end of another version of the MS. Constitutions of Masonry, known as the Harris No. 1 MS., which dates from the second half of the seventeenth century, there is a note referring to the secrets which must never be committed to writing, and the manner of communicating them. (I The Harris No. 1 MS. is printed in The Freemasons’ Chronicle, 30th December, 1922. The note is printed in Poole’s Old Charges, p. 23, as follows:‑Then let the prson wch is to be made a Mason chuse out of the Lodge any one Mason who is to instruct him in those Secrets wch must never be committed to Writeing which Mason he must alway Call his Tutor then let the Tutor take him into another Room and shew him all the whole Mistery that at his return he may Exercise with the rest of his fellow Masons.)

There is no evidence to show whether in the seventeenth century this MS. was used by operative masons or by “accepted” or “adopted” masons; but I am inclined to think it was the latter. That “accepted” or “adopted” masons in the later part of the seventeenth century did have secret signs and words is borne out by the contemporary statement of John Aubrey, the antiquary, who wrote in the second half of the century that members of the Fraternity of adopted masons were known to one another by certain signs and watchwords, and that the manner of their adoption was very formal and with an oath of secrecy. (John Aubrey (1624‑97), Natural History of Wiltshire, first printed in 1847)

It is confirmed also by a rough memorandum (Transcript and photographic reproduction in Coulthurst and Lawson, A.Q.C., Av., 69, and facing 74.)  referring to the several signs and words of a freemason, written by Randle Holme III. on a scrap of paper, now bound up with B. M. Harleian MS. 2054, close to the version of the MS. Constitutions of Masonry copied by him, with which it is thought to be connected, (This opinion, expressed by W. H. Rylands in the Masonic Magazine, January, 1882, is shared by Coulthurst and Lawson, A.Q.C., xlv.) both documents probably being associated with a Lodge of Freemasons held at Chester about the middle of the seventeenth century. That such signs and words were derived from the Mason Word of the operatives is strongly suggested by the fact that when Dr. Desaguliers, the prominent speculative mason, desired to visit the purely operative Lodge of Edinburgh in 1721, he was found “duly qualified in all points of masonry” and received as a brother. (Murray Lyon, 160, 161)

 14) The Trinity College, Dublin MS

On the subject of the connection between operative and speculative masonry, I wish finally to draw attention to the Trinity College, Dublin MS. (T.C.D. MS., 1, 4, 18. It is printed in the Transactions of the Lodge of Research, No. CC, Dublin, for 1924, also in Knoop, Jones and Hamer, The Early Masonic Catechisms, 2nd ed., pp. 69, 70. (Ist ed., pp. 63/4).) This bears the date 1711 in an endorsement, (I have seen only a photostat of the MS., but Dr. J. Gilbart Smyly, Librarian of Trinity College, Dublin, informs me that the endorsement is in the same hand and ink as the document itself, and that in his opinion there can be no doubt of the accuracy of the date.) and resembles the Edinburgh Register House, Graham, and Sloane MSS. in that it consists of a series of test questions and answers, together with a memorandum about signs and words.

Like the Edinburgh Register House MS., it appears to be a mason’s aide memoire; on the other hand, it is less operative in character, and may very possibly represent a link between the operative masonry of the seventeenth century and the speculative masonry of the eighteenth century. In support of this suggestion, three points may be noted:

(i) The endorsement on the MS. is “Free Masonry Feb: 1711”, though the term “Free Masonry” was rarely applied to the operative art, even in England.

(ii) Whereas operative masonry, so far as the Mason Word was concerned, apparently recognized only two classes of masons, viz., either entered apprentices and fellowcrafts, or fellowcrafts and masters, this MS. distinguishes three classes, viz., entered apprentices, fellow craftsmen, and masters, each with its own secrets. It is the earliest‑known MS. to make such a distinction. The probability is that during the early part of the eighteenth century, before Grand Lodges were formed and firmly established, a trigradal system developed gradually and independently in different parts of the country, by a division of the original entered apprentice ceremony, to form what ultimately became the First and Second Degree ceremonies. Brother Lionel Vibert, in his Prestonian Lecture for 1925 (The Development of the Trigradal System. See also his paper, “The Second Degree: A Theory”, A.Q.C., xxxix.) discussed this development, which he suggested took place in London about 1725. The reference in the Graham MS. of 1726 to being “entered, passed and raised and conformed by 3 severall Lodges” implies that three distinct ceremonies existed by 1726 in that district (probably the North of England) to which the Graham MS. belonged. It may quite well be that three distinct ceremonies existed there at an earlier date. Just as the surviving MSS. show considerable differences in the test questions and answers, and in the signs and words, so they indicate differences in the number of ceremonies. The Edinburgh Register House and Sloane MSS. refer to two ceremonies, the Trinity College, Dublin and Graham MSS. to three. Such differences are not astonishing, as no uniformity should be looked for before Grand Lodges were firmly established and capable of exercising a unifying influence.

(iii) The history of the document suggests the possibility that the MS. had a non‑operative origin. The manuscript is contained in one of the volumes of collected papers of Sir Thomas Molyneux (1661‑1733), a famous Dublin doctor and scientist and, in the opinion of Dr. J. Gilbart Smyly, Librarian of Trinity College, Dublin, (Expressed in a letter written to me, 23rd November, 1937, in reply to certain questions.) was quite possibly written by Molyneux. As the earliest reference to a Lodge of Freemasons in Ireland relates to Trinity College, Dublin, in 1688, (Lepper and Crossle, History of the Grand Lodge . . . of Ireland, 36. The late Bro. Chetwode Crawley discovered this reference to Irish masonry in a Trinity College, Dublin manuscript (T.C.D. MS. I, 5, 1), a Tripos [i.e. satirical speech] at the commencements of the University of Dublin, 11th July, 1688. He announced his discovery in his Introduction to Sadler’s Masonic Reprints and Revelations. Dr. J. Gilbart Smyly informs me that it has been published in full by Dr. John Barrett in an Essay on the earlier part of the Life of Swift, and in Jonathan Swift, Works, edited by Sir W. Scott, vol. vi., pp. 226‑60.) it is conceivable that there was a Lodge in Dublin in 1711, although no reference to freemasonry in Ireland in the first two decades of the eighteenth century can be traced. (3 Lepper and Crossle, 41)  If such a Lodge existed, Molyneux may well have belonged to it.

15) Influence of the Mason Word on Masonic Ceremonies

Whether or not the Trinity College, Dublin MS. represents a first link in one line of evolution of operative into speculative masonry, I am satisfied that the nucleus of the present First and Third Degree ceremonies can clearly be traced back to the somewhat crude usages and phrases associated before the end of the seventeenth century with the giving of the Mason Word. It apparently grew under speculative influence during the eighteenth century, until it developed into complete ceremonies. This was probably brought about partly by elaborating the content of the ceremonies, partly by embellishing the wording of the ritual, partly by laying more stress on some matters, such as the fidelity of Hiram in refusing to betray the secrets of a master mason, and less stress on others, such as the attempt to obtain a secret from a dead body, and partly by dropping or modifying operative rules and regulations, and developing instead moral teachings, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.

The process of expansion and evolution apparently went on right through the eighteenth century. I have no intention, however, of attempting to trace that development, a subject to which Bro. Vibert devoted considerable attention in his Prestonian Lecture. I shall content myself with observing that a great elaboration must have taken place by the last quarter of the eighteenth century, when William Preston, in successive editions of his Illustrations of Masonry, wrote his commentary on the then existing masonic ritual.

It was probably not until after the union of the two Grand Lodges in 1813 that our ceremonies attained to something approximating to their present form. By that time the influence exercised by the Mason Word had receded so much into the background as to be in danger of being entirely overlooked. My endeavour this evening has been to give it the recognition which, in my opinion, it deserves.


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The Mason Word – Part Five of Six





P.M. Quatuor Coronati Lodge, No. 2076

The Prestonian Lecture for 1938

Prepared in this format by Bro. Mike Lawrence

In part five we cover:

11) The Mason Word

12) The Age of the Mason Word

 11) The Mason Word

Both the Noah and the Hiram stories show that those engaged in the search did not find “the very thing itself”, or “the word”, for which they were looking, and that they had consequently to content themselves with substitutes.

This suggests the possibility that there was a genuine secret somewhere in the background, which might conceivably be THE Mason Word, to which no kind of direct reference appears to be made in any of the MSS. It is doubtless very tempting, on the strength of such hints as can be gathered from the limited material available and by reading between the lines, to conjecture what THE Mason Word was, and who shared a knowledge of it, always assuming that there was such a word.

As the MS. Constitutions of Masonry and the manuscripts which we have more particularly in mind this evening, all refer, directly or indirectly, to Jewish history, there would appear to be a presumption that THE Mason Word was connected in some way with the Scriptures, and it is conceivable, in view of the complete silence on the subject of the MSS., that it was the Name of God, which according to Jewish tradition was never to be pronounced.

If this was so, THE Mason Word was very possibly communicated amongst masons solely by means of a sign. In support of this very tentative surmise, it may be pointed out that the idea of a dread Demogorgon who was not to be named, occurs in sixteenth and seventeenth century literature both in Scotland and England, as can be illustrated from the writings of Sir David Lindsay (14901555), (Sir David Lindsay, Works, ed. D. Hamer, L, 266 [Monarche, i., 2253], and III., 331, where the matter is fully discussed)  Spenser (1552‑99), (Spenser, Faerie Queene, L, xxxvii., 7‑9, refers to Gorgon as the deity whose name may not be used)  Milton (1608‑74) (Milton, Paradise Lost, 11. 959) and Dryden (1631‑1700). (Dryden’s rendering of The Flower and the Leaf, in Poems, Oxford ed., p. 333)

Fascinating though such speculations may be, I mention the possibility of THE Mason Word only to show that it has not been overlooked. My object this evening is the much more prosaic task of attempting to give an account of the Mason Word as an operative institution, and to use such matter‑of‑fact evidence as is available, to construct a picture of the institution and the conditions governing its operation.

In this connection it must be borne in mind that the Mason Word was something of great practical importance to Scottish operative masons; so much so, that early in the eighteenth century one Lodge actually went to law to secure the right to give the Mason Word. (The Lodge of the Yourneymen Masons, Edinburgh (Murray Lyon, ch. xvi., and Seggie and Turnbull, Annals of the Lodge of journeymen Masons, No. 8, ch. i.).) It was part of the machinery for preventing unqualified masons from working in the burghs, and corresponded to the steps taken by the London Masons’ Company to preserve their monopoly of trade in the City. (The London Mason in the Seventeenth Century, 10.)

There was, however, this important difference: the London regulations aimed at restraining, if not entirely preventing, “foreign” masons, i.e. masons who were not freemen of the city, from carrying on their trade in London, whereas the object of the Mason Word was to check so‑called “cowans” (Cowan: One who builds dry stone walls‑applied derogatorily to one who does the work of a mason, but has not been regularly apprenticed or bred to the trade…. In 1705 Mother Kilwinning Lodge defined the Cowan as a Mason “without the word” (O.E.D.).) from doing the work of qualified masons. I know of no evidence to show that the Mason Word was in use amongst English operative masons, and think it quite possible that it was through the non‑operative members of Scottish Lodges that English “accepted” or “adopted” masons first became acquainted with the subject.

 12) The Age of the Mason Word

Although it is almost certain that the area to which the Mason Word applied was Scotland, its age as an institution is more problematical: there is mention of it in seventeenth century minute books of certain Scottish operative lodges; (Murray Lyon, 22) the earliest‑known printed reference to it occurs in Henry Adamson’s The Muses’ Threnodie, a metrical account of Perth and its neighbourhood, published in Edinburgh in 1638: (Henry Adamson, a Master of Arts and well‑known citizen of Perth, was very possibly a non‑operative member of the Lodge of Scoon and Perth, No. 3 (Crawford Smith, 41, 42).) “We have the Mason Word and second sight”. This clearly implies that the Mason Word was a well-established institution in Scotland by 1638. If, as appears likely, it was a privilege associated with the termination of an apprenticeship, or the admission to a fellowship, it might be as old as the system of apprenticeship. In London that system dates from the early thirteenth century, and outside London from the late thirteenth century, but no reference to a mason’s apprentice in England and Wales has been traced before the end of the fourteenth century.’ (The Medieval Mason, 160, 161)

How early the apprenticeship of masons developed in Scotland, I am unable to say, but as the Seal of Cause of 1475, which regulated the trades of the Masons and Wrights in Edinburgh, (Murray Lyon, 248)  provided for a seven years’ apprenticeship, it is possible that the Mason Word as an institution in Scotland goes back to the fifteenth century.

In England the earliest‑known printed reference occurs in 1672 in Andrew Marvell’s Rehearsal Transprosed, part i. : “As those that have the Mason’s word secretly discern one another”. (Grosart’s edition of Marvell’s Works, vol. iii., p. 55, quoted in Misc. Lat., N.S., xvii., 134)

I am disposed to think that the scope of the Mason Word gradually grew; I have already suggested that the imparting of secret methods of recognition to entered apprentices was probably a new development at some date prior to 1598; I am also inclined to think that an elaboration of the secrets imparted to fellowcrafts took place during the seventeenth century.

In Scotland in 1696, to judge by the Edinburgh Register House MS., before a candidate could be admitted to the fellowship, all apprentices had to retire, doubtless because the candidate, after being instructed outside by the youngest master, had to re‑enter the company, make the master’s sign, and advance and put himself into the “posture” to receive the word, which was given him by the Master, together with the grip. In 1598, the Schaw Statutes, which were to be observed by all master masons in Scotland, provided that two entered apprentices, in addition to six masters or fellows, should be present at the admission of a fellow, which implies that the admission at the end of the sixteenth century must have been different from what it was at the end of the seventeenth, as the master’s sign could not be made, nor the posture assumed, in the presence of two entered apprentices, though a word might have been communicated in a whisper. The presumption, therefore, is that there was no “pasture” in 1598, and if, as seems likely, the “posture” implied the “five points of fellowship”, then it follows that the “five points”, together with the story explaining them, were probably not associated with the Mason Word in 1598.

The practices connected with the communication of the Mason Word probably changed quite as much during the seventeenth century as did masonic ceremonies during the eighteenth, a matter to which I shall refer shortly. As a possible explanation of seventeenth century development, I would tentatively suggest that the five points of fellowship may have been introduced from witchcraft or folklore, without any explanation being given in the first instance, Scottish working men at that period being not unacquainted with such practices. In the second half of the century, to judge by the dates of most of the surviving Scottish versions of the MS. Constitutions of Masonry,  the Scottish lodges adopted the Old Charges and caused them to be read to the entered apprentices at their admission. (Miller, 21)

It is not inconceivable that in order to provide the fellowcrafts with some kind of corresponding history, and perhaps to supply an explanation of the “five points” for the benefit of the increasing number of non‑operative masons, (e.g. at Aberdeen in 1670 the non‑operatives largely outnumbered the operatives (ibid., 23).) a story was elaborated. This was possibly done, in part at least, by the utilization of existing traditions. The Noah story, with its distinctly necromantic flavour, would doubtless be formulated first; the Hiram story, further removed from witchcraft, but, in its oldest‑known form, very similar in its motifs to the Noah story, would follow later. In each case, a very minor character in the legendary history of the MS. Constitutions of Masonry was made the principal figure of the story.

That the secrets and “five points of fellowship”, communicated to fellowcrafts or masters, were a relatively late development, is also suggested by the fact that the so‑called Master’s Part (the prototype of the present Third Degree ceremony) was worked but little, if at all, in England at the time of the formation of Grand Lodge in 1717, or for some years afterwards. (Hughan, Origin of the English Rite (1925), 38 folg.)  It is, therefore, possible that just as a knowledge of the MS. Constitutions of Masonry was probably introduced from England into Scotland during the earlier part of the seventeenth century, (Vibert, “The Early Freemasonry of England and Scotland”, A.Q.C., xliii., 208) after the union of the two Crowns, or possibly during the reign of Elizabeth so a knowledge of the Mason Word may have been introduced from Scotland into England about the same period, before the elaboration of the ceremony associated with the giving of the Mason Word had taken place.

Thus many masons in England in the later seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries might be acquainted only with the older secrets and practices which in Scotland by that date had come to be associated with the giving of the Mason Word to entered apprentices, and might be ignorant of the newer and more carefully guarded and elaborate secrets restricted to fellowcrafts or masters.

On the other hand, if we are right in assuming that Sloane MS. 3329 was in the first instance derived from English sources, the master’s word was known to some masons in England as early as circa 1700. It may be noted, also, that although the Sloane MS., like the Edinburgh Register House MS., recognizes a twofold series of secrets, the Sloane MS. associates them with (i) fellowcrafts and (ii) masters, whereas the Edinburgh MS. associates them with (i) entered apprentices and (ii) fellowcrafts or masters. As already indicated, there are grounds for thinking that originally the Mason Word was communicated only to fellowcrafts, and it may be that whilst in Scotland the old secrets came ultimately to be communicated to entered apprentices and new secrets to fellowcrafts or masters, in England the old secrets were retained for communication to fellows and new ones were given to masters.

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The Mason Word – Part Four of Six





P.M. Quatuor Coronati Lodge, No. 2076

 The Prestonian Lecture for 1938

Prepared in this format by Bro. Mike Lawrence

In part four we cover:

9) The possible origin of the Noah and Hiram Stories

10) The Sloane MS. 3329

9) The possible origin of the Noah and Hiram Stories

The marked similarities between the Noah story and the Hiram story, in its oldest known form, are very striking; both have the same main motif, the attempt to obtain a secret from a dead body, and both have the same subsidiary motif‑the intention, to provide a substituted secret, failing the discovery of a genuine one. Where either story originally came from, or how it became associated with masonry, is unknown.

It is, however, possible that the Noah story had some connection with the narrative, in Genesis, ix., 21‑27, of the shaming of Noah, to which it is in some respects parallel. In Genesis, Noah was asleep; in the Graham MS. story he was dead; but the exposure of his person in the former story, and the exhumation of his body in the latter, both offended against the respect due to a progenitor. In Genesis, Ham was the chief offender, on which account his progeny was cursed, and he is perhaps also to be regarded as the ringleader in the original of the Graham MS. story.

The stories of Noah and Hiram call to mind the fact that in Biblical instances of the miraculous restoration of life, the prophet or apostle lay full length upon the body and breathed into its face. Three cases are cited in the Bible, namely, those of Elijah, who raised the widow’s son from death (1 Kings, xvii., 17‑23), of Elisha, who raised the son of the Shunammite woman (2 Kings, iv., 34‑35), and of St. Paul, who raised a young man named Eutychus (Acts, xx., 9‑12).

In the second case the process is described in detail:

34. And he [Elisha] went up, and lay upon the child, and put his mouth upon his mouth, and his eyes upon his eyes, and his hands upon his hands: and he stretched himself upon the child; and the flesh of the child waxed warm.

35. Then he returned, and walked in the house to and fro; and went up, and stretched himself upon him; and the child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes.

Here complete coincidence between living and dead was established twice, first by placing mouth to mouth, eyes to eyes and hands to hands, and secondly, by stretching at full length upon the body. It is thus not impossible that the original stories of Noah and Hiram may have been those of attempts to restore these men to life, because their secrets had died with them.

The Biblical examples show that the idea of complete coincidence of living and dead was to restore the dead to life. This would develop into necromantic practices, and in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the idea would survive only as necromancy. (Necromancy: the pretended art of revealing future events, etc., by means of communication with the dead (O.E.D.).)

It would seem not inconceivable that one story was modelled on the other, and that the original story rested on an old tradition connecting Ham, son of Noah, with magic and the black arts. The disinterment of Noah was clearly an act of necromancy, and it is therefore pertinent to note that Ham, son of Noah, is connected in medieval tradition, if not with necromancy in its narrower sense, at any rate with the black arts. (cf. Vincent de Beauvais, Speculum Historiale, book ii, chap. Ci.)

The tradition associating Ham with necromancy survived as late as the sixteenth century, when it was found in an English work, Reginald Scot, Discoverie of Witchcraft (1586). (In this book (ed. Montague Summers, p. 222) it is said of the devil Gaap, or Tap, that “certaine necromancers . . . offered sacrifices and burnt‑offerings unto him and to call him up they exercised an art saieng that Salomon the wise made it, which is false; for it was rather Cham, the sonne of Noah who after the floud began first to invocate wicked spirits”.) It may further be noted that the five points of fellowship, suggesting as they do that two bodies were made to coincide, presumably with the object of the knowledge possessed by one passing to the other, also savour of popular superstition, and they support the possibility that the origin of the story must be sought in witchcraft or folklore. The fact that the Mason Word was linked by at least two seventeenth century Scottish writers, Henry Adamson and Robert Kirk, with the subject of second sight, conceivably points to the same conclusion. (Thus (i.) Henry Adamson (The Muses’ Threnodie, Edinburgh, 1638) says: “We have the mason word and second sight”. (ii.) When Rev. R. Kirk dined in October, 1689, with Dr. Stillingfleet, Bishop‑elect of Worcester, the conversation turned on second sight. In the midst of the record of that conversation occurs the sentence: “The Dr. called the Mason word a Rabbinical mystery, where I discovered somewhat of it” (R. Kirk, London in 1689‑90, printed in Trans. Lond. and Mid. Arch. Soc. N.S. VII. (1933), 139). (iii.) R. Kirk in The Secret Commonwealth (1933 ed., 107‑8) enumerates five curiosities in Scotland “not much observed to be elsewhere”: (a) The Brounies, (b) The Mason Word, (c) Second Sight, (d) Charmes, (e) A being Proof of Lead, Iron and Silver. Whether this association is a mere coincidence, or whether it implies some kind of connection and, if so, what, there is no evidence to show.)

 10) The Sloane MS. 3329

Yet one other manuscript relating to the Mason Word, namely, Sloane MS. 3329,(This British Museum MS. consists of a double sheet, written on three and a half sides, bound up in a large volume, on the fly‑leaf of which Sir Hans Sloane has written: “Loose papers of mine concerning curiosities”.) calls for attention. This tract is headed “A Narrative of the Freemasons word and signes”, and differs in character from the Edinburgh Register House MS. and the Graham MS., as it does not appear to be a mason’s aide mimoire, but a collection of notes on the Mason Word, apparently gathered by the writer from various sources. It contains:

(i) an account of a dozen signs by which an operative mason could make himself known to a fellow mason.

(ii) a description of a fellowcraft’s grip and of a master’s grip, the latter in two forms.

(iii) two series of questions and answers, resembling those of the Edinburgh Register House and Graham MS.

(iv) a brief reference to the master’s word, mahabyn and the method of communicating it.

(v) an oath.

Mahabyn is very possibly a variant of matchpin, which is given as the master’s word in the Trinity College, Dublin MS.

The fact that the signs and words are associated in the Sloane MS. with operative freemasons, strongly suggests an immediate English source for the document, the word “freemason” being unknown in Scotland as a trade designation; the reference to “interprintices” [entered apprentices] and fellowcrafts, on the other hand, points to an ultimate Scottish origin, as these terms were used only in Scotland in operative masonry; the word “attenders” [intenders], which occurs in the oath, also suggests Scottish origin, as the practice of appointing intenders to be responsible for teaching entered apprentices (Intender, intendar: occurs in this sense in the Laws and Statutes of the Lodge of Aberdeen, 1670, and in the Schaw Statutes, 1598, as well as in the Minutes of the Aitchison’s Haven Lodge. Craigie, Dict. Older Scottish Tongue, defines Attender, Attendar, “One who attends on another, or to some duty”.)

did not extend to England, so far as I am aware. The use of the expression “this is bose or hollow” also suggests a Scottish origin. (See Wright, English Dialect Dictionary, under boss; also Craigie, op. cit., which gives bos, boys, bose, bois, adj., hollow, concave, perhaps from bos, boce, etc., etc., a leather bottle for liquids.) Dr. Schofield, of the British Museum Manuscripts Department, who recently examined the manuscript, gives the date as circa 1700.

As we know from the Edinburgh Register House MS. that a master’s word and sign existed at least as early as 1696, there is nothing in the document which makes this date improbable, (The late Brother J. Walter Hobbs stated some years ago that the earliest instance he had been able to trace of certain words which occur in the oath, namely “without any manner of equivocation or mentall reservation”, was in the Sovereign’s Accession Oath as revised by Parliament for use on the accession of James II. in 1685 (A.Q.C., xxxvii., 36), which suggests, if it does no more, that the Sloane MS. is not earlier than 1685. On the other hand, Brother Poole (ibid., 8) refers to the suggestion made by Findel [History of Freemasonry (1869), 118 n.], which he regards as not altogether impossible, that the Sloane MS. was among the papers Plot had before him when compiling his History of Staffordshire (1686). The grounds for making the suggestion are: (i.) that no earlier document is known especially mentioning that a Brother must come down, even “from the top of a steeple”, and answer a sign, and (ii.) that in at least one place the Plot account agrees practically verbatim with the Sloane M.S.) though the distinction drawn between the terms “fellowcraft” and “master” is not found in Scotland at such an early date. The five points of fellowship, as such, are not mentioned in the Sloane MS., but the method of communicating the master’s word, as described there, embodies four of the points.


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The Mason Word – Part Three of Six





P.M. Quatuor Coronati Lodge, No. 2076

The Prestonian Lecture for 1938

 Prepared in this format by Bro. Mike Lawrence


In part three we cover:

5) Relative age of the two ceremonies

6) The Five Points of Fellowship

7) The Graham MS. and the Noah Story

8) Prichard’s Masonry Dissected and the Hiram Story


5) Relative age of the two ceremonies.

Regarding the second question, the considerations I have just mentioned suggest the conclusion that the giving of the Mason Word originally concerned fellowcrafts only, and that the participation in it of entered apprentices was a later development. When such development took place is uncertain; very possibly it occurred when the category of entered apprentices, intermediate between apprentices and fellowcrafts, was first established, probably at some date prior to 1598. It doubtless represented an attempt to limit the number of potential masters, which rather suggests that it originated in the sixteenth century, a period when many gilds tended to develop restrictive policies.

The Minutes of Aitchison’s Haven Lodge (R. E. Wallace‑James, “The Minute Book of the Aitchison’s Haven Lodge, 1598‑1764,” A.Q.C., xxiv.)  show that as early as 1598, when a new entered apprentice was admitted, he chose two entered apprentices as his intenders and instructors, and when a new fellowcraft was admitted he chose two fellowcrafts as his intenders and instructors. If these intenders corresponded to the “youngest mason” and the “youngest master” of the Edinburgh Register House MS., who taught the candidates the signs and postures, then it may well be that there were two sets of secrets in 1598, and that it was these which the intenders imparted to the newly admitted entered apprentices and fellowcrafts respectively.

On the other hand, it must be noted that, whereas the Schaw Statutes of 1598 required the name and mark of every fellowcraft or master to be booked (there being no corresponding stipulation concerning the entered apprentice, who presumably had no mark), at Aberdeen in 1670 the names and marks of entered apprentices, as well as those of fellowcrafts, were recorded in the Mark Book. This suggests that the entered apprentice of 1670 enjoyed more privileges than his predecessor of 1598, but does not preclude the latter from having enjoyed some privileges.

If the giving of the Mason Word originally concerned fellowcrafts only, as I am inclined to think, the question at once arises whether the secrets and ceremony appertaining to apprentices were new, or whether they were those previously given to fellowcrafts. The words of entry, being common to apprentices and fellowcrafts, apart from the omission of a reference to the “common judge”, were almost certainly old, and the same is probably true of the test questions and answers. I think it not unlikely that any signs and words were also old, and that it was the fellowcrafts who had been provided with new and more elaborate methods of recognition. To explain why I incline to this view, it is necessary to examine more closely what is known about the Mason Word in relation to fe1lowcrafts.

 6) The Five Points of Fellowship

As previously mentioned, the Edinburgh Register House MS. tells little about the giving of the Mason Word to fellowcrafts, but the last question and answer clearly show that the person to be “admitted a member of fellowship” was made acquainted with what are called the five points of the fellowship, viz., foot to foot, head to head, heart to heart, hand to hand and ear to ear.

Further light, however, is thrown on the subject by the recently discovered Graham MS., which bears the date 1726. (This is named after the writer, Thomas Graham, and belonged to the Rev. H. I. Robinson, Londesborough Rectory, York, who first drew attention to it when he was initiated in 1936. He has since presented it to the Eboracum Lodge, York. A photographic reproduction, with introduction by Bro. Poole, appears in A.Q.C., vol. 1. (1937).)

7) The Graham MS. and the Noah Story

The Graham MS. appears to be the same type of document as the Edinburgh Register House MS., namely, a mason’s aide memoire, although it bears quite a different heading, viz., “The whole Institutions of free Masonry opened and proved by the best of tradition and still some reference to scripture”.

It consists of two parts, the first an examination, along somewhat similar lines to the Edinburgh MS., the second, an exposition, in the form of a “lecture”, of legendary matter, chiefly concerning Noah, Bezaleel and King Solomon, which bears little resemblance to the events recorded in the historical section of the MS. Constitutions of Masonry.

Before referring more fully to the legendary matter, I should state that the Graham MS. concludes with a cryptic reference to masons’ secrets, and an enumeration of what are called “five points off free Masons fellowshipe which is foot to foot, knee to knee, breast to breast, cheeck to cheeck and hand to Back”.

The reference to freemasons’ secrets reads thus :

So all [i.e. King Solomon’s Temple] Being ffinised then was the secrets of ffree Masonry ordered a right as is now and will be to the E End of the world for such as do rightly understand it‑in 3 parts, in refferance to the blesed trinity who made all things yet in 13 brenches, in refferance to Christ and his 12 apostles which is as ffollows; aword ffor adeveine, (A devine: ? a Divinity) Six ffor the clargey, and 6 ffor the ffellow craft.

The “three parts” conceivably refer to the three Degrees, which, as I shall attempt to show later, probably existed by 1726. I have no suggestions to offer regarding the “13 branches”, which, near the end of the MS., are set out thus:

 Your first is

your second is             your third is

……….                                    ………..

your twelfth is                         your thirteenth is

More important for our present purpose is the enumeration of the “five points of free Masons fellowshipe”, as the occurrence of the same five points in the legendary matter relating to Noah doubtless provides one possible explanation of their origin. The rather gruesome story is briefly as follows:

Noah’s three sons, desirous of finding something about him to lead them to the valuable secret which their father had possessed, for all things needful for the new world were in the Ark with Noah, went to Noah’s grave, agreeing beforehand that if they did not find the very thing itself, the first thing they found was to be to them as a secret. They found nothing in the grave except the dead body; when the finger was gripped it came away, and so with the wrist and the elbow. They then reared up the dead body, supporting it by setting foot to foot, knee to knee, breast to breast, cheek to cheek and hand to back. Thereupon “one said here is yet marrow in this bone and the second said but a dry bone and the third said it stinketh.2 So they agreed to give it a name as it is known to freemasonry to this day”. (It stinketh: possibly descendant of medieval and sixteenth century satires on relics. cf. The Four P P, ptd. ? 1545, of John Heywood (1497‑1580), in which the Pardoner offers the Apothecary the “blessed jaw‑bone” of All Hallows, and bids him kiss it devoutedly. The Apothecary does so and recoils with disgust. “…me‑thinketh That All Hallows’ breath stinketh.)

The bone, being the first thing found, must presumably have some significance. Whether the phrase “marrow in this bone” is significant is not so certain. It may be noted that the word marrow, in addition to its ordinary meaning, had certainly another, and possibly a symbolic meaning, for Scottish masons. It was used in Northern Middle English, and in Scotland down to the nineteenth century, to denote “partner”, “fellow”, “mate”, and it is not uncommon in that sense in sixteenth and seventeenth century Scottish building accounts. (e.g. “Item to Thom Crauford and his m[ar]rowis for 343 feet ashlar ú5 17s. 10d.” Edinburgh Register House, Master of Works Accounts, vol. iv., fo. 7, Holyrood House, 1535‑36.)  “Here is yet marrow in this bone” may thus have been a reminder that fellowship was of the essence of masonry. It is also possible that “marrow in this bone” may have been intended to serve as a mnemonic.

 8) Prichard’s Masonry Dissected and the Hiram Story

Another possible explanation of the five points of fellowship is provided by a story relating to Hiram, of which the oldest‑known form is that in Prichard’s Masonry Dissected, first published in 1730. (Masonic Reprints XII, Lodge of Research, Leicester, 1929)

According to this version of the story, three masons murdered Hiram, King Solomon’s master of the works at the building of the Temple, in an attempt to extort from him the secrets of a master mason. On his being missed, fifteen fellowcrafts were ordered to search for him, and they agreed that if they did not find the word in or about him, the first word should be the master’s word.

Ultimately his body was found under a covering of green moss, (The statement that the body was found “under a covering of green moss” may be compared with the statement in the Edinburgh. Register House MS. that the key of the Lodge is hidden “under a perpend esler and a green divot”) and King Solomon ordered that it should be taken up and decently buried. When they took him by the forefinger the skin came off, whereupon they took a firmer grip of his hand and raised him by the five points of fellowship, viz., hand to hand, foot to foot, cheek to cheek, knee to knee and hand to back.


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The Mason Word – Part Two of Six





P.M. Quatuor Coronati Lodge, No. 2076

 The Prestonian Lecture for 1938

Prepared in this format by Bro. Mike Lawrence

In part two we cover:

3)Two Distinct Ceremonies in 1696

4) Entered Apprentices and their Secrets

3) Two Distinct Ceremonies in 1696

Reverting to our MS., it may be noted that at the conclusion of what may be described as the ceremony, the word was circulated amongst those present and was finally given to the candidate by the Master. These signs and words were those of an entered apprentice, and, as the MS. points out, there were others belonging to a master mason or fellowcraft, which were imparted as follows:

First, all apprentices were ordered out of the company and none suffered to stay but masters. Then “he who is to be admitted a member of fellowship” knelt and took an oath of secrecy, after which he went out with the youngest master to learn “the posture and signes of fellowship”. On returning, he made the master’s sign and said the former words of entry, but leaving out the “common judge”; the masons then whispered the word among themselves, and finally the master gave him the word and the grip.

There is nothing in the MS. as to the nature of the master’s sign, word or grip, though some indications are given regarding the apprentice’s secrets.

The fact that in 1696 there were two distinct ceremonies, if they may be so described, one applying to entered apprentices and one to fellowcrafts or masters, raises two questions: first, who were the entered apprentices, and secondly, whether or not both ceremonies were equally old?

 4) Entered Apprentices and their Secrets

The object of obtaining the Mason Word was presumably to acquire a method of recognition, and thereby secure certain advantages in the matter of employment, and possibly of relief. (Murray Lyon, 28, and Miller, 30. It may be noted that masons were not the only craftsmen to possess a “word”. The squaremen, i.e. wrights, and possibly members of other building crafts, received the “squaremen word” (Murray Lyon, 23). O.E.D. defines squareman as “A carpenter, stone cutter or other workman who regularly uses a square for adjusting or testing his work”, and notes its earliest occurrence as 1790. Actually, one of the signatories of the so‑called St. Clair charter of 1628 describes himself as “deakin of squaemen”. (Murray Lyon, 68).

Ordinary apprentices were not free to seek work independently of the masters to whom they were bound, (In London in the seventeenth century apprentices sometimes worked apart from their masters, but probably only on jobs to which they had been sent by them (Knoop and Jones, The London Mason in the Seventeenth Century, 64, 65). and would therefore have no need of secret methods of recognition. Nor would they require relief, since their masters maintained them. The apprentice who was given the Mason Word could not, therefore, have been an ordinary apprentice. The explanation probably lies in the fact that in Scotland in the seventeenth century, and possibly earlier, apprentices and entered apprentices apparently formed two distinct classes or grades, (A Minute of the Aitchison’s Haven Lodge, dated 27th December, 1655 (A.Q.C., xxiv., 41), records that apprentices were not to be made entered apprentices under the sum of twelve pounds Scots.) the entered apprentices hardly being apprentices at all in the ordinary sense of the word, but rather journeymen ex‑apprentices.

In Scotland, the Schaw Statutes of 1598 (Printed in Murray Lyon, 9, and Knoop and Jones, The Medieval Mason, 258.)  provided that an apprentice must be bound for at least seven years, and that, except by special permission, a further period of seven years must elapse before he could be made a fellowcraft. During this second term of seven years, (Cases of masons serving double apprenticeships occurred in England in the seventeenth century. Thus Richard Varney of Islip, stonemason, examined in the Chancellor’s Court at Oxford, 26th April, 1681, stated that “he served his father (though he was his eldest son) more than a double apprenticeship”; John Saunders of Denton, stonemason, stated, on the same occasion, that he had served his father a double apprenticeship. (Abstract (very kindly lent to G. P. Jones and myself by the Rev. H. E. Salter) of papers labelled “1681 M” in the Oxford University Archives.] These double apprenticeships, however, were hardly analogous to the Scottish practice of apprenticeship and entered apprenticeship.) or less, as the case might be, the ex‑apprentice was apparently an entered apprentice, and normally worked as a journeyman for a master, though the Schaw Statutes did permit an entered apprentice to undertake a limited amount of work on his own account.

That this general ordinance applied locally is shown by the Mutual Agreement of 1658, which regulated the affairs of the Lodge of Perth. (Crawford Smith, chap. v.)  This provided that no entered apprentice should leave his master or masters to take any work or task work above 40s. Scots. Further, it was expressly provided that he was not to take an apprentice.

At Kilwinning in 1659, two fellowcrafts and one entered apprentice out of each quarter, together with the Deacon and Warden, were appointed to meet each year at Ayr to deal with transgressors. (Minute of the Lodge, dated 20th December, 1659, quoted in R. Wylie, History of the Mother Lodge, Kilwinning, 2nd ed., 60.)

At Melrose, the entered apprentices were parties to the Mutual Agreement of 1675, which regulated the affairs of the Lodge. (Printed in W. F. Vernon, History of Freemasonry in Roxburghshire and Selkirkshire, 13.)

At Aberdeen in 1670 the Laws and Statutes of the Lodge show that entered apprentices received the benefit of the Mason Word at their entry, (There is nothing in the Edinburgh Register House MS. to indicate when the entered apprentice received the benefit of the Mason Word. It merely refers to “the person to take the word”) and that they became eligible for the fellowship three years later; further, the Mark Book of the Lodge shows that each entered apprentice had his mark (See page from Mark Book reproduced in Miller, facing p. 28) and the same was the case at Dumfries in 1687. Regulation of the Lodge of Dumfries, approved 2nd June, 1687, printed in J. Smith, History of the Old Lodge of Dumfries, (The use of marks on work to enable the craftsman to be identified was not peculiar to masons. In London the Helmet‑makers, Blacksmiths, Bladesmiths and Brasiers used them (Riley, Memorials of London, 238, 361, 569, 626).)

The Schaw Statutes of 1598 provided that no master or fellowcraft should be received, except in the presence of six masters and two entered apprentices, and the early Minutes of the Lodge of Edinburgh prove that this requirement was observed. (Murray Lyon, 79.)

This evidence shows clearly that entered apprentices in Scotland had a real, if subordinate share in the government of the craft, and in its privileges. Their position can be compared with that occupied by the Yeomanry in the London Masons’ Company. It is inconceivable that either in London or in Scotland the ordinary apprentice had any say in the management of the craft, or that he enjoyed any privileges; his was purely a position of servitude until the period for which he was bound had expired.

Thereupon, in London he might be made a freeman and become part of the Yeomanry of the Masons’ Company; (Actually rather fewer than 50 per cent. of the apprentices bound in London took up their freedom (The London Mason in the Seventeenth Century, 63).)  in Scotland he became an entered apprentice and received the benefit of the Mason Word. In due course, a yeoman in London might be accepted into the Livery, and an entered apprentice in Scotland might be received as a master or fellowcraft (In London there was no prescribed minimum period, and very occasionally an apprentice was made a freeman, and accepted into the Livery, on the same day, e.g. Edward Strong, jun., in 1698 (The London Mason in the Seventeenth Century, 45 n). In Scotland, although the Schaw Statutes contemplated an entered apprenticeship of seven years, except by special permission, the period at Aberdeen in 1670 was three years. At Glasgow, in the early seventeenth century, the usual period appears to have been two years, to judge by the following: It would appear from the Minutes [of the Incorporation of Masons], 9th February, 1613, and 5th February, 1617, that nine years was the customary endurance of an Apprenticeship, viz., seven years to learn the trade and two for meat and fee (Cruikshank, Sketch of the Incorporation of Masons and the Lodge of Glasgow St. John, 63).)

There was however, an important difference: the former promotion was the exception rather than the rule; (The Quarterage Book of the Masons’ Company shows that in 1663 there were 45 members of the Livery, including assistants, as compared with 143 members of the Yeomanry; in 1677 the corresponding figures were 71 and 162 (ibid., 8, 9).) the latter promotion, so far as one can tell, was the rule rather than the exception. (That there were exceptions is shown by the fact that, in Edinburgh in the seventeenth century, it was not unusual for entered apprentices on the expiry of their entered apprenticeship to seek employment as journeymen, without having been admitted as fellowcraft (Murray Lyon, 28).)

A rather better analogy is provided by the London carpenters who, under an Ordinance of 1607, (Jupp and Pocock, Historical Account of the Worshipful Company of Carpenters, 423) were forbidden to have an apprentice until they had been “free” three years and had served at least one year with a freeman of the Company.

So far as I am aware, the term entered apprentice occurs in operative masonry only in Scotland. It is commonly held that the entered apprentice was so called “because entered in the Lodge books” (Kenning’s Cyclopedia of Freemasonry, 201)  but this cannot be regarded as a complete explanation. The Schaw Statutes of 1598 distinguished between (i) “receiving” an apprentice and (ii) “entering” an apprentice; “receiving” apparently took place at the outset of his career, and “entering” at some later, but unspecified, date, presumably at the expiration of seven years’ servitude.

The Statutes further provided that the name of the apprentice and the date of his “receiving” should be booked, and that, in due course, the date of his “entering” should be booked. Thus “entering” could hardly have meant simply that his name was entered in a book, as that had also been done when he was “received”. It related, more probably, to his admission or entry into the ranks of the time‑expired or fully qualified apprentices. The term “entered apprentice” occurs in the forms “enterprentice” (Trinity College, Dublin MS). and “interprintice”. ( Sloane MS., 3329)  Enter and inter are both Scottish forms of entire, so that the term may have denoted entire apprentice, i.e. complete or fully qualified apprentice.

Three pieces of evidence may be cited in support of this opinion. First, a Minute of the Aitchison’s Haven Lodge, dated 2nd January, 1600, records that Andrew Patten was “enterit prenteis to John Crafurd his maister”; (A.Q.C., xxiv., 36)  as a Minute of 7th June, 1599, records that Andrew Patten had served six years of his apprenticeship at that date, (ibid., 35) it follows that he had served about seven years when he was entered. Secondly, a Minute of the Lodge of Edinburgh, dated 3rd February, 1601, records that Andrew Hamilton, apprentice to John Watt, was “enterit … as past prenteis to the said Johnne War his m aiste]r”. (Murray Lyon, 79)  This clearly shows that Andrew Hamilton had served his time before being “entered”. Thirdly, Article XIV. of the Regius MS. requires “. . . if that the master a prentice have, Entirely then that he him teach.” If originally an apprentice was entered as an entire apprentice, confusion between entered and entire might easily have led to entire apprentice being changed to entered apprentice.

The secrets communicated to entered apprentices were probably not the essential ones, but means of recognition, safeguarded with less caution than the principal secrets and regarded partly as a joke. The possession of such secrets doubtless carried with it fewer privileges.

The first two conclusions are suggested by a study of the Edinburgh Register House MS.

(i) This shows that a good deal of horseplay was associated with the imparting of the entered apprentice secrets. Thus the oath was to be administered only “after a great many ceremonies to frighten” the candidate; when outside with the youngest mason, the candidate was to be frightened “with 1,000 ridicolous postures and grimmaces” before being given the sign, postures and words of entry; after rejoining the company he was to “make a ridiculous bow” and “put off his hat after a very foolish manner”. This horseplay may be compared with the practices common at the admission of freshmen to universities in medieval and later times, (R. S. Rait, Life in the Medieval University, chap. vi.) or with the tests imposed upon newcomers to the Hanseatic factory at Bergen. (Helen Zinunern, The Hansa Towns, 144‑47) That something of this horseplay was liable to be introduced into the early speculative Lodges is clearly implied by one of the by‑laws of the Lodge constituted at the Maid’s Head, Norwich, in May, 1724, which reads: “6. That no ridiculous trick be played with any person when he is admitted”. (G. W. Daynes, A.Q.C., xxxvii., 38) These by‑laws are stated to have been “recommended by our Worthy Bro Dr Desaguliers” [Grand Master in 1719 and Deputy Grand Master in 1722‑23 and 1725], and may be regarded as reflecting the desire of the recently formed Grand Lodge to suppress such horseplay. On the other hand, no corresponding fooling is mentioned in the Edinburgh Register House MS. in connection with being “admitted a member of fellowship”.

(ii) It is very noticeable, as previously mentioned, that whereas the MS. gives various indications as to the nature of the entered apprentice’s secrets, it preserves a complete silence regarding those of the fellowcraft or master.

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