Six Hundred Years of Craft Ritual
Bro. Harry Carr.
P.M. Quatuor Coronati Lodge, No. 2076
Prepared in this format by Bro. Mike Lawrence
EARLIEST RITUAL FOR TWO DEGREES Cont/d from Part Two
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.