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PILLARS AND GLOBES, COLUMNS AND CANDLESTICKS – Part 4 of 4

PILLARS AND GLOBES, COLUMNS AND CANDLESTICKS Part 4 of 4

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Harry Carr

 THREE PILLARS

Extracts from the modern Lecture on the First Tracing Board: Our Lodges are supported by three great pillars. They are called Wisdom, Strength and Beauty. Wisdom to contrive, Strength to support, and Beauty to adorn, but as we have no noble orders in architecture known by the names of Wisdom, Strength and Beauty, we refer them to the three most celebrated, which are, the Ionic, Doric and Corinthian.

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The problems relating to the furnishings of the lodge do not end with Solomon’s two pillars. As early as 1710 an entirely different set of three pillars makes its appearance in the catechisms and exposures. They appear for the first time in the Dumfries No 4 MS, which is dated about 1710:

  1. How many pillars is in your lodge?
  2. Three.
  3. What are these?
  4. Ye square the compass & ye Bible.

The three pillars do not appear again in the eleven versions of the catechisms between 1710 and 1730, but the question arises, with a new answer, in Prichard’s Masonry Dissected:

  1. What supports a Lodge?
  2. Three great Pillars.
  3. What are they called?
  4. Wisdom, Strength and Beauty.
  5. Why so?
  6. Wisdom to contrive, Strength to support, and Beauty to adorn.

Almost identical questions appeared in the Wilkinson MS c1727, and in a whole series of English and European exposures throughout the eighteenth century, invariably with the same answer, “Three. Wisdom to contrive, Strength to support, and Beauty to adorn”. But the descriptions of actual lodge furnishings in the early 1700s do not mention any sets of three, and it seems evident that these questions belong to a period long before there was any idea of turning them into actual pieces of furniture in the lodge room.

Early lodge inventories are too scarce to enable us to draw definite conclusions from the absence of references to any particular items of lodge furnishings or equipment. While it is fairly certain, therefore, that the early operative lodges were only sparsely furnished, it is evident, from surviving eighteenth‑century records that in the 1750s there were already a number of lodges reasonably well equipped.

A set of three pillars was mentioned in the records of the Nelson Lodge in 1757, and the Lodge of Relief, Bury, purchased a set of three pillars, for WM, SW and JW, in 1761. To this day, the ancient Lodge of Edinburgh (Mary’s Chapel), No l, now nearly 400 years old, uses a set of three pillars, each about three feet tall. The Master’s pillar stands on the Altar, almost in the centre of the Lodge; the other two stand on the floor at the right of the SW and JW respectively. (The three principal officers, there, do not have pedestals.)

Masonry Dissected remained the principal stabilising influence on English ritual until 1760, when a whole new series of English exposures began to appear, all displaying substantial expansion in the floor‑work of the ceremonies, and in their speculative interpretation. Three Distinct Knocks appeared in 1760, and J. & B. in 1762, claiming to expose respectively the rituals of the rival Grand Lodges, “Antients” and “Moderns”. Both of them now included several new questions and answers on the “Three great Pillars” agreeing that “they represent…The Master in the East…The Senior Warden in the West…[and] The Junior Warden in the South”, with identical full explanations of their individual duties in those positions.

It seems likely that these questions were originally intended only to mark the geographical positions of the pillars, but in that period of speculative development the explanations were almost inevitable.

THREE CANDLESTICKS

Apart from Prichard’s note in the 1730s on “large Candles placed on high Candlesticks”, the first evidence of a combination of these two sets of equipment (that I have been able to trace) is in the records of the Lodge of Felicity, No 58, founded in 1737, when the Lodge ordered “Three Candlesticks to be made according to the following orders Viz. 1 Dorrick, 1 Ionick, 1 Corrinthian and of Mahogany…”. In the Lodge inventory for Insurance in 1812 they had multiplied and were listed as “Six Large Candlesticks. Mahogany with brass mountings and nossils, carv’d of the three orders”. In 1739, the Old Dundee Lodge ordered a similar set, still in use today.

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The connection is perhaps not immediately obvious, but these were the architectural styles associated with the attributes of the three pillars belonging to the Master and Wardens, “Wisdom, Strength and Beauty”. The Masonic symbolism of the three pillars had been explained by Prichard in 1730, and it is almost certain that these two Lodges were putting his words into practical shape when they had their candlesticks made up in those three styles.

These two early examples may serve as a pointer to what was happening, but it was not yet general practice, and early evidence of their combined use is scarce. But we can trace the sets of three pillars from their first appearance in the ritual as a purely symbolical question, in which they support the Lodge, and are called “Wisdom, Strength and Beauty”. Later, they represent the three principal Officers, in the East, South, and West. From the time when they were being explained in this fashion, c1730 to 1760, it is fairly safe to assume that they were beginning to appear in the Drawings, Floor‑Cloths or Tracing Boards. We know, of course, that they appeared regularly in the later versions, but the general pattern of their evolution seems to indicate that they were almost certainly included in many of the early designs that have not survived.

In the 1750s, and the 1760s, we have definite evidence (meagre indeed), that sets of three pillars were already in use as furniture in several lodges, and this adds strong support to the view that they had formerly appeared in the Tracing Boards. When, towards the end of the eighteenth century, the lodge rooms and Masonic Halls were being furnished for frequent or continuous use, the three pillars became a regular part of the furnishings, occasionally in their own right, but more often as the ornamental bases for the three “lesser lights”, thus combining the two separate features into the one so frequently seen today.

THE GROWTH OF MASONIC SYMBOLISM

The growth in the number of symbols, as illustrated in the French exposures of the 1740s, and in the English versions of the 1760s, deserves some comment. In the Grand Lodge Museum there is a collection of painted metal templates, belonging apparently to several different sets. There are pillars with globes, a set of two small pillars without globes, and a separate set of three pillars. There is also a set of templates of “Chapiters and Globes”, i.e., headpieces only, clearly designed for adding the globes on to normal flat‑topped pillars.

All these, with many other symbols, were used in drawing the “designs” on the floor of the lodge. As early as 1737, when the “floor‑drawing” showed only “steps” and two pillars, it was a part of the Master’s duty to explain the “designs” to the candidate, immediately after he had taken the obligation. There appears to have been no set ritual for this purpose, and the explanations were doubtless given impromptu.

From 1742 onwards there is substantial evidence that the number of symbols had vastly increased, and this would seem to indicate a real expansion in the “explanations”, The Hernult Letter, 1737. See translation in Leics. L. of Research Reprints. No xiv.  Le Carechisme des Francs‑rnatons, 1742. and L’Ordre des Francs‑masons Trahi, 1745, and in the Frontispiece of a whole stream of English exposures that began to make their appearance from 1762 onwards. All three texts are reproduced in English translation in The Early French Exposures, Published by the Quatuor Coronati Lodge. No 2076. implying some sort of dissertation akin to the later “Lectures on the Tracing Boards”.

Many of these old symbols, which appear frequently on the later eighteenth‑century Tracing Boards and in contemporary engravings, etc, have now disappeared from our modern workings, among them the Trowel, Beehive, the Hour‑glass, etc, and it is interesting to notice that in the USA, where much of our late eighteenth‑century ritual has been preserved, these symbols, with many others, appear regularly on the Tracing Boards.

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In this brief essay, I have confined myself only to a few symbolised items’ of our present‑day furnishings whose origins are liable to be clouded because of standardisation, but there is a whole world of interest to be found in the remaining symbology of the Craft.

Extracts from the modern Lecture on the First Tracing Board: Our Lodges are supported by three great pillars. They are called Wisdom, Strength and Beauty. Wisdom to contrive, Strength to support, and Beauty to adorn, but as we have no noble orders in architecture known by the names of Wisdom, Strength and Beauty, we refer them to the three most celebrated, which are, the Ionic, Doric and Corinthian.

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PILLARS AND GLOBES, COLUMNS AND CANDLESTICKS – Part 3 of 4

PILLARS AND GLOBES, COLUMNS AND CANDLESTICKS Part 3 of 4

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By

Harry Carr

MAPS: MASONRY UNIVERSAL

The tradition that the globes on Solomon’s Pillars were covered with celestial and terrestrial maps is certainly post‑biblical, and appears to be a piece of eighteenth‑century embroidery to the ritual. We may wonder how this interest in earthly and heavenly maps arose, and there seems to be no sure answer. The early catechisms, 1700 to 1730, all indicate a growing interest in the subject, e.g.

  1. How high is your lodge?
  2. …it reaches to heaven…the material heavens and the starry firmament.
  3. How deep?
  4. …to the Centre of the Earth.

There are also the more frequent questions relating to the Sun, Moon and Master Mason, with subsequent variations and expansions. (See Knoop. Jones and Hamer. The Early Masonic Catechisms, 2nd edition, 1963, Sloane MS, 1700, p 48. Dumfries No 4 MS, 1710, p 62. And Prichard’s Masonry Dissected, 1730, p 162.) These questions may well be the first pointers towards the subsequent interest in maps, and the armillary sphere of 1745, noted above, carries the subject a stage further.

The Lodge Summons of the Old Dundee Lodge, dated c1750, showed three pillars, two of them surmounted by globes depicting maps of the world and the firmament. A certificate issued by the Lodge of Antiquity in 1777 displayed, inter alia, a similar pair of maps. The 1768 edition of J. and B. has an engraved frontispiece showing the furniture and symbols of the lodge, including two pillars surmounted by globes ‑ one with rather vague map markings, and the other clearly marked with stars. The various sets of geographical globes in pairs, described above (not “pillar‑globes”), all indicate a deep Masonic interest in the celestial and terrestrial globes during the eighteenth century.

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Preston, in his Illustrations of Masonry, 1775 edition, in the section dealing with the Seven Liberal Arts and Sciences, dwelt at some length on the globes and on the importance of astronomy and, of course, on the spiritual and moral lessons to be learned from them. All this seems to imply that the maps were beginning to appear at this time, in the verbal portions of the ritual.

The introduction of maps, “celestial and terrestrial”, led to a further development which eventually gave the Craft a phrase that has become a kind of hall‑mark of Freemasonry everywhere. The first hint of that expression appeared in l’Orde des Francs‑Magons Trahi, 1745, which added a new question to those passages in the catechism:

  1. And its depth?
  2. From the Surface of the Earth to the Centre.
  3. Why do you answer thus?
  4. To indicate, that Free‑Masons are spread all over the Earth, and all together they form nevertheless only one Lodge.

In 1760, Three Distinct Knocks (Antient’s ritual) altered the final answer very effectively:

  1. Why is your Lodge said to be from the Surface to the Centre of the Earth?
  2. Because that Masonry is Universal.

In 1762, J. & B. (Moderns’ ritual) gave the same answer, word for word. That is how we acquired the catchphrase “Masonry Universal”.

THE PILLARS AS ARCHIVES

The biblical accounts of the casting of the pillars make no mention of their being cast hollow, although this may be inferred from the fact that, if they had been solid, their removal from Zeradatha and their final erection at Jerusalem would have been a quite exceptional feat of engineering. Jeremiah 3 v. 21, states that they were formed hollow, the metal being cast to a thickness of ‘four‑fingers’, but there is no suggestion that this was done so that the pillars might serve as “armoires”, or containers of any kind, or that Solomon used them for, storing the constitutional Rolls.

Here again is a curious piece of eighteenth‑century “Masonic embroidery”, and it seems possible that this was an attempt to link the pillars of Solomon with the two earlier pillars upon which “all the sciences” had been preserved. The earliest Masonic note I have been able to find on the subject is extremely vague. In 1769, Wellins Calcott wrote in his Candid Disquisition, p 66: “…neither are the reasons why they were made hollow known to any but those who are acquainted with the arcana of the society…” 

This was undoubtedly intended to suggest that the hollow pillars were designed to serve some peculiarly Masonic purpose, but Calcott says nothing more on the subject, and I have been unable to trace any such reason for hollow pillars in eighteenth‑century Masonic ritual.

THREE LIGHTS: THREE PILLARS: THREE CANDLESTICKS

Seventeen Masonic documents have survived, dated from 1696 to 1730, and they provide the foundation for our study of the evolution of the ritual. The earliest of them is the Edinburgh Register House MS (ERH), dated 1696, with a valuable description of the two‑degree system of those days. The last of that series is Samuel Prichard’s Masonry Dissected (MD), which contains the oldest ritual of the three degrees, and the earliest version of the Hiramic legend. In all these early texts the ritual was mainly in the form of catechism, and we get some idea of its development during those thirty‑five years when we compare these two documents. The first contains fifteen questions and answers for the EA, and two for the “master or fellow‑craft”. Masonry Dissected has 155 Q and A in all, i.e. ninety‑two for the EA; thirty‑three for the FC; thirty for the MM.

THREE LIGHTS

Twelve of the oldest rituals contain a question on the “lights of the lodge”: “…Are there any lights in your lodge, yes three…”[ERH, 1696] The lights soon acquire a symbolic character, but originally they were probably candles or windows, with particular positions allocated to them, e.g. “NE, SW, and eastern passage”, or “SE, S, and SW”, etc., until we reach MD in 1730, which says the lights are three windows in the E, S and W and their purpose is “To light the Men to, at, and from their work”. MD distinguishes between symbolical lights and “fix’d lights”, explaining that the latter are “large Candles placed on high Candlesticks”.

Symbolically, several texts say that the lights represent, “the Master, Warden and fellow‑craft.” Four versions say “Father, Son and Holy Ghost.” Three others say twelve lights, “Father, Son, Holy Ghost, Sun, Moon, Master‑Mason, Square, Rule, Plum, Line, Mell, and Chisel”.  All these are of the period c1724‑26.

MD says “Sun, Moon and Master‑Mason” and after the question “Why so?” he answers “Sun to rule the Day, Moon the Night, and Master‑Mason his Lodge”. So we trace the lights from their first appearance in our ritual up to the point where they acquire their modern symbolism.

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PILLARS AND GLOBES, COLUMNS AND CANDLESTICKS – Part 2 of 4

PILLARS AND GLOBES, COLUMNS AND CANDLESTICKS Part 2 of 4

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Harry Carr

 CHAPITERS, GLOBES AND BOWLS

The biblical descriptions of Solomon’s pillars give rise to many problems, especially as regards their dimensions and ornamentation. For us, the chapiters, bowls or globes which surmounted them are of particular interest, because of ritual developments and expansions during the eighteenth century.

In this particular problem a great deal depends on the interpretation of the original Hebrew text. The chapiters appear in 1 Kings, VII, 16: “…and he made two chapiters…” The word is Ko‑thor‑oth = chapiters, capitals or crowns. Later, in verse 41, without mention of any further works, the text speaks of “…the two pillars and the two bowls of the chapiters…” The Hebrew reads Gooloth Ha‑ko‑thor‑oth, and the word Gooloth is a problem. Goolah (singular) means a ball or globe; also, a bowl or vessel, and various forms of the same root are used quite loosely to describe something round or spherical.

Our regular contacts with modern lodge Tracing‑Boards and furnishings have accustomed us to the idea that Solomon’s two pillars were surmounted by chapiters or capitals, with a globe resting on each, but that is not proven. The early translators and illustrators of the Bible were by no means unanimous on this point, and the various terms they used to describe the chapiters, etc., show that they were not at all certain as to the appearance of the pillars. To take one example, the Geneva Bible, of 1560, a very handsome and popular illustrated Bible, which provided the interpretation for some of the proper names and seems to have been much used by the men who framed the Masonic ritual.

At Kings, VII, v. 16, “…and he made two chapiters…”, there is a marginal note, “Or pommels”, i.e. globular features. At this stage the Geneva Bible clearly indicates that the chapiters were globes or spheres, and not the crown‑shaped heads to the pillars that we would understand them to be.

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Among the illustrations to this chapter in the Geneva Bible there are several interesting engravings of the Temple and its equipment, including a sketch of a pillar, surmounted by a shallow capital, with an ornamental globe poised on top. A marginal note to this illustration speaks of “The height of the chapiter or round ball upon the pillar of five cubites hight…” So the chapiter was a round ball.

At II Chron., IV, v. 12, the same Bible gives a new interpretation “…two pillars, and the bowies, and the chapiters on the top of the two pillars…” Here it is evident that the ‘bowies’ and the chapiters were two separate features.

Whether we incline to bowls or globes, there is yet another interpretation which would exclude both. The accounts in both Kings and Chronicles refer to the pomegranate decoration which was attached to the “bowies” or bellies of the chapiters (I Kings, VII, v. 41, 42, and II Chron., IV, v. 12, 13), and from these passages it is a perfectly proper inference that the chapiters were themselves “bowl‑shaped”, and that there were neither bowls nor globes above them.

Although the globes were finally adopted in Masonic furniture and decoration as head‑pieces to Solomon’s Pillars, they came in very slowly, and during a large part of the eighteenth century there was no uniformity of practice on this point. The Trahi, one of the early French exposures, contains several engravings purporting to be “Plan”’ of a Loge de Reception; in effect they are Tracing Boards for the 1st and 2nd combined, and another for the 3rd degree. The Apprentice Plan contains illustrations of the two pillars, marked J and B, both conventional Corinthian pillars, with flat tops. There is also, among a huge collection of symbols, a sketch which is described in the Index as a “sphere”, a kind of lattice‑work globe (actually an armillary sphere) used in astronomy to demonstrate the courses of the stars and planets.

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The Lodge of Probity, No 61, Halifax (founded in 1738), was in serious decline in 1829, and an inventory of its possessions was taken at that time. One item reads: “Box with Globes and Stands”. The Phoenix Lodge, No 94, Sunderland (founded in 1755), has a pair of eighteenth‑century globes, each mounted on three legs, standing left and right of the Master’s pedestal. All Souls’ Lodge, No 170 (founded in 1767), had until 1888 a handsome pair of globes, each mounted on a tripod base, clearly of eighteenth‑century style, similarly placed left and right of the WM. The Lodge of Peace and Unity, No 314, Preston (founded in 1797), in a recent sketch of its lodge‑room, shows a pair of globes on low, three‑legged stands, placed on the floor of the lodge, left and right, a yard or two in front of the SW.

Among the unique collection of lodge equipment known as the “Bath Furniture” is a pair of globes, “celestial and terrestrial”, on low four‑legged stands, and the minute’s show that they were presented to the Royal Cumberland Lodge in 1805. It is interesting to observe that the equipment also includes a handsome pair of brass pillars, each about 5ft 9in in height, standing as usual in the west, and each of them surmounted with a large brass bowl. These date from the late eighteenth century.

In this case especially, as in all the cases cited above, there is no evidence of globes on top of the B & J pillars; the globes formed a part of the lodge equipment entirely in their own right.

The frontispiece to Noorthouck’s Constitutions of 1784 is a symbolical drawing in which the architectural portion represents the interior of the then Free Mason’s Hall. At the foot of the picture, in the foreground, is a long table bearing several Masonic tools and symbols, with two globes on tripod stands, and the description of the picture refers to “…the Globes and other Masonic Furniture and Implements of the Lodge”.

All this suggests that the globes were beginning to play some part in the lodge, or in the ritual, although they were not yet associated with the pillars. But even after the globes or bowls had begun to appear on the pillars, there was still considerable doubt as to what was correct. This is particularly noticeable in early Tracing Boards and decorated aprons, some showing “bowls”, and others “globes”. (See illustrations, pp 1‑41 in AQC, vol lxxiv, for pillars with bowls, and ibid, p 52, where the pillars are surmounted by profuse foliage, growing presumably from bowls.)

To summarise:

(1) In the period of our earliest ritual documents, 1696 to 1730, there is no evidence that the globes formed any part of the catechism or ritual, and it is reasonably certain that they were unknown as “designs” or as furnishings in the lodges.

(2) Around 1745 it is probable that the sphere or globe had been introduced as one of the symbols in the “floor drawings” or Tracing Boards. There is no evidence to show that it appeared in the catechism. There are several highly‑detailed catechisms belonging to this period, 1744 and later, but globes are not mentioned in any of them. The appearance of the sphere in the 1745 exposure is the only evidence suggesting that it played some part in the more or less impromptu explanations of lodge symbolism which probably came into practice about this time, or shortly afterwards.

(3) In the 1760s and 1770s, Solomon’s Pillars with globes appear frequently in illustrations of lodge equipment and on aprons, but there is no uniformity of practice. In some lodges (as we have seen and shall see below) the globes were already a recognised part of the lodge furniture; elsewhere they surmounted the pillars, and were probably being “explained” in “lectures”. In other places the globes were virtually unknown.

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Six Hundred Years of Craft Ritual – Part One of Five

Six Hundred Years of Craft Ritual

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 Image

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.

BEGINNINGS OF MASON TRADE ORGANISATION

 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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