THE MASON WORD
Bro. DOUGLAS KNOOP, M.A.
P.M. Quatuor Coronati Lodge, No. 2076
The Prestonian Lecture for 1938
Prepared in this format by Bro. Mike Lawrence
In part one we cover:
1) The Mason Word more than a mere word
2) The Edinburgh Register House MS.
The subject which I have chosen for my Prestonian Lecture is the Mason Word, and the customs and usages associated with its communication, about which all too little is at present known. What little is known, however, suggests that this operative forerunner of our speculative rites probably throws more light on the origins of our present ceremonies than do those early Craft regulations and medieval histories of masonry, commonly known as the MS. Constitutions of Masonry, or, more familiarly, as the Old Charges.
The MS. Constitutions present a wider field for investigation, as approximately one hundred different versions of them, ranging in date from the late fourteenth to the early nineteenth century, are known, and they have naturally been studied in considerable detail. (See, e.g., Hughan, Old Charges of British Freemasons, 1st ed., 1870; rev. 2nd ed., 1895; Gould, Commentary on the Regius Poem, Q.C.A., i. (1889); Speth, Commentary on the Cooke MS., Q.C.A., ii. (1890); Poole, The Old Charges, 1924, and The Old Charges in the Eighteenth Century, Prestonian Lecture for 1933; Poole and Worts The “Yorkshire” Old Charges of Masons, 1935; Knoop, Jones and Hamer, The Two Earliest Masonic MSS. (the Regius and Cooke MSS.), 1938.)
My field tonight is much narrower, as the principal materials on which I rely for my study of the Mason Word consist only of five late seventeenth or early eighteenth century manuscripts. Two of these, the Edinburgh Register House MS. (1696) and the Chetwode Crawley MS. (c. 1700), ( Discovered at the beginning of the century [Hughan, A.Q.C., xvii. (1904), 91, 92], this MS. is now in the possession of the Grand Lodge of Ireland. A transcript appears in the Masonic Reprints of the Lodge of Research, No. 2429, Leicester. Its contents have subsequently proved to be practically the same as those of the Edinburgh Register House MS., except that the two parts are transposed.)are practically identical, apart from verbal variations and points of spelling and punctuation, with the all‑important exception that the former is endorsed with a date.
Thus the information is mainly derived from four documents, the Edinburgh Register House MS. (1696), the Graham MS. (1726), the Trinity College, Dublin MS. (1711), and the Sloane MS. 3329 (c. 1700). The last has been known for many years, (It is quoted in the English edition of Findel’s History of Freemasonry, published in 1865.) but its importance has recently been greatly enhanced by the discovery of the first two. Jointly these MSS. constitute a most valuable source of information about early masonic ceremonies, and I am glad to avail myself of the opportunity afforded by my appointment as Prestonian Lecturer to draw the attention of the Brethren to some of the significance of these four documents.
At the outset I desire to acknowledge my indebtedness to various masonic students, and especially to Bro. the Rev. Herbert Poole, who has made such a close study of the Old Charges and of contemporary Masonic MSS. (See more especially “Masonic Ritual and Secrets before 1717”, A.Q.C., xxxvii. (1924); and “The Graham Manuscript”, A.Q.C., 1, (1937). I enjoy one definite advantage over earlier writers approaching the same problem; thanks to the recent discovery of the Edinburgh Register House MS., endorsed 1696, I have escaped their difficulties regarding the probable dates of the Sloane and Chetwode Crawley MSS. The handwriting of these two MSS. pointed to circa 1700; so did the fact that the Chetwode Crawley MS. contained, almost verbatim, the words of the so‑called “Haughfoot Minute” of 1702 (Poole, A.Q.C., xxxvii., 7). The MSS., however, refer to two ceremonies, whereas many masonic students maintained that there was only one prior to 1723. This conflict of external and internal evidence led to much doubt about the probable dates. Now that we know for certain that there were two distinct ceremonies at least as early as 1696, there need be no hesitation in accepting 1700 as the approximate date of these two MSS.) It was his recent paper on the Graham MS. which first caused me to turn my attention to the various MSS. forming the basis of my lecture this evening.
1) The Mason Word more than just a mere word
The justification for stressing the importance of the Mason Word as a factor in the development of masonic ceremonies lies in the fact that it consisted of something substantially more than a mere word. Thus the Rev. Robert Kirk, Minister of Aberfoyle, writing in 1691, (The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies, 3rd ed., 1933, 108.) says the Mason Word “is like a Rabbinical Tradition, in way of comment on Jachin and Boaz, the two Pillars erected in Solomon’s Temple (I. Kings, 7, 21), with one Addition of some secret Signe delyvered from Hand to Hand, by which they know and become familiar one with another”.
A letter of 1697 states that “The Laird[s] of Roslin … are obliged to receive the mason’s word which is a secret signall masons have thro’out the world to know one another by. They alledge ’tis as old as since Babel, when they could not understand one another and they conversed by signs. Others would have it no older than Solomon. However it is, he that hath it will bring his brother mason to him without calling to him or your perceiving of the signe” . (Hist. MSS. Com., Portland MSS., ii., 56. For particulars about the Lairds of Roslin, a branch of the St. Clair family, and their claim to be protectors and patrons of the Craft in Scotland, see Murray Lyon, History of the Lodge of Edinburgh (Mary’s Chapel), No. 1, Tercentenary Edition, 64‑72.)
2) The Edinburgh Register House MS.
The Edinburgh Register House MS., (Edinburgh Register House, Miscellaneous Papers, No. 52. A photographic reproduction appears in A.Q.C., xliii. (1930). 153‑5, and a transcript in the Trans. of the Manchester Assoc. for Masonic Research, xxii. (1932), 143, in each case with an introduction by Bro. J. Mason Allan.) a document discovered about 1930 among the records in the Historical Department of the Register House, Edinburgh, is considerably more informative. It is endorsed “Some Questiones Anent the mason word 1696” and consists of two parts, the first headed “Some Questiones That Masons use to put to those who have ye word before they will acknowledge them”, and the second “The forme of giveing the mason word”.
The test questions relate partly to the conditions of admittance and partly to matters with which nobody could be acquainted without previous instruction. As the MS. provides answers to all the questions, and states that they have to be answered exactly, it is obvious that the necessary instruction regarding all the questions must have been given to a candidate either at his admission or subsequently.
As the questions and answers are not very long, I propose to read them in full, (To facilitate reading, the various abbreviations used in the MS. for “question” and “answer” have been made uniform, the punctuation has been modernized, and such sentences as appear to be instructions have been printed in italics.) in order to give the Brethren a first‑hand acquaintance with the kind of Examination to be found in all the manuscripts with which we have to do this evening:
Q. 1: Are you a mason? Ans. : Yes.
Q. 2: How shall I know it? Ans.: You shall know it in time and place convenient. Remark the fors[ai]d answer is only to be made when there is company present who are not masons. But if there be no such company by, you should answer by signes, tokens and other points of my entrie.
Q. 3 : What is the first point ? Ans. : Tell me the first point ile tell you the second. The first is to heill ( Heill, hele, heal: to hide, conceal, to keep secret (O.E.D.). and conceall; second, under no less pain, which is then cutting of your throat. For you most make that sign when you say that.
Q. 4: Where wes you entered? Ans. : At the honourable lodge.
Q. 5: What makes a true and perfect lodge ? Ans. : Seven masters, five entered apprentices, A dayes journey from a burroughs town, without bark of dog or crow of cock. (cf. Laws and Statutes of the Lodge of Aberdeen, 1670, rule iii., “that no lodge be holden within a dwelling house wher ther is people living in it but in the open fieldes except it be ill weather, and then let ther be a house chosen that no person shall heir nor sie ws”; and rule v., “that all entering prentises be entered in our antient outfield Lodge in the mearnes in the parish of negg at the scounces at the poynt of the ness” (Miller, Notes on the Early History and Records of the Lodge, Aberdeen, 59, 63).
Q. 6 : Does no less make a true and perfect lodge? Ans. : Yes, five masons and three entered apprentices, &c.
Q. 7: Does no less? Ans. : The more the merrier, the fewer the better chear.
Q. 8 : What is the name of your lodge? Ans. : Kilwinning.
Q. 9 : How stands your lodge ? Ans.: East and west as the temple of Jerusalem.
Q. 10: Where wes the first lodge? Ans. : In the porch of Solomons Temple.
Q. 11: Are there any lights in your lodge? Ans.: Yes, three‑the north east, s w, and eastern passage. The one denotes the maste[r] mason, the other the warden. The third the setter croft.
Q. 12: Are there any jewells in your lodge? Ans.: Yes, three Perpend (Perpend, parpen 1. a stone which passes through a wall from side to side, having two smooth vertical faces (O.E.D.).) Esler [ashlar], a square pavement, and a broad ovall. (Broad ovall: ? broached ornel. Broached: worked with a chisel (O.E.D.). Ornel, urnall, urnell: a kind of soft white building stone (O.E.D.). The terms “Parpeincoins”, “pament”, and “urnell” figure in the Rochester Castle Building Account, 1368 (Arch. Cant., ii., 114).
Q. 13: Where shall I find the key of your lodge? Yes [?Ans.:] Three foot and an half from the lodge door under a perpend esler and a green divot. But under the lap of my liver where all my secrets of my heart lie.
Q. 14: Which is the key of your lodge? Ans. : a weel hung tongue.
Q. 15: Where lies the key? Ans. : In the bone box.
After the masons have examined you by all or some of these Questions and that you have answered them exactly and mad the signes, they will acknowledge you, but not as a master mason or fellow croft, but only as as [ ? an] apprentice, soe they will say I see you have been in the kitchine, but I know not if you have been in the hall. Ans.: I have been in the hall as weel as in the kitchine.
Q. 1: Are you a fellow craft? Ans. : Yes.
Q. 2 : How many points of the fellowship are ther ? Ans. : fyve, viz., foot to foot, Knee to Kn[ee], Heart to Heart, Hand to Hand, and ear to ear. Then make the sign of fellowship and shake hand and you will be acknowledged a true mason. The words are in the 1 of the Kings Ch 7, v 21, and in 2 Chr: ch 3 verse last.
The conclusion of the examination shows, first, that the fellowcraft or master mason (which were equivalent terms in Scotland at this period) had secrets distinct from those of an entered apprentice; and secondly, that only the fellowcraft was acquainted with what are called “the five points of the fellowship”. Further reference will be made to these two matters shortly.
“The form of giving the mason word” is a series of instructions to those admitting “the person to take the word”, and indicates in a general way what was to be said to him and what he was to say. After he had taken an oath of secrecy, in which he swore not to reveal by word or writing any part of what he should see or hear, nor to draw it with the point of a sword, or any other instrument, upon the snow or sand, he was to go out with the youngest mason from whom he was to learn “the signe and the postures and words of his entrie”.
He then rejoined the company and said the words of his entry, which I shall now read: (To facilitate reading, the punctuation has been modernized, and such sentences as appear to be instructions have been printed in italics.)
Here come I, the youngest and last entered apprentice, As I am sworn by God and St. Jhon, by the square and compass and common judge,(In mining, a judge is a staff used to measure the depth of holes (O.E.D.). Amongst masons, it probably referred to the virga geometricalis, or measuring rod, with which the foundation or ground plan of a building was marked out. (See Note by Knoop and Jones on “Latlaying the Groundwork”, Misc. Lat., September, 1937). Pictures of medieval masons sometimes show them with a square, a compass and a measuring rod, as in Libergier’s tomb slab in Rheims Cathedral (Coulton, Art and the Reformation, 140). to attend my masters service at the honourable lodge, from munday in the morning till saturday at night and to keep the keyes therof, under no less pain then haveing my tongue cut out under my chin, and of being buried within the flood mark, where no man shall know; then he makes the sign, again with drawing his hand under his chin alongst his throat, which denotes that it be cut out in caise he break his word.(These words of entry may be compared with those still used at an old practice of the Scoon and Perth Lodge No. 3, called the Baptism, which is performed at the time of refreshment. The Master, taking a little whisky and water in his hand, pours it on the head of the newly made apprentice, who repeats after the Master these words: “Here comes I the youngest and last made mason willing to do my Master’s bidding from Monday morning to Saturday night…… There is a reference in the Lodge minutes of 22nd January, 1741, to washing the newly admitted apprentice’s head, and the likelihood is that the practice goes back to operative days (Crawford Smith, History of the Ancient Masonic Lodge of Scoon and Perth, 101).
This shows that, whatever other objects the formal admission might have, it served to emphasize the duties which the entered apprentice owed to his master.
In at least one Scottish operative lodge in 1670, namely, the Lodge of Aberdeen, the entered apprentice, in addition to receiving the Mason Word at his entry, had read to him the “Mason Charter”, which was the version of the Old Charges now described as the Aberdeen MS., and also the Laws and Statutes of the Lodge. (See quotation from the Mark Book of the Lodge, in Miller, 21. The Charter and the Statutes of 1670 are printed in the Appendices to that book.) As the reading of these two documents would require the best part of an hour, the proceedings at the admission of an entered apprentice, if the Aberdeen practice was at all general, (In addition to the Lodge of Aberdeen, the Lodges of Aitchison’s Haven, Kilwinning, Melrose, Stirling and Dumfries all appear to have possessed versions of the Old Charges dating from the second half of the seventeenth century (Poole, Old Charges. 15‑17). must have been considerably longer than a perusal of the Edinburgh Register House MS. would suggest.
In part two we cover:
3)Two Distinct Ceremonies in 1696
4) Entered Apprentices and their Secrets