My masonic pedigree, while not
particularly unusual, has resulted in many discussions with fellow masons
concerning the origins of Freemasonry and the reasons for variations in masonic
ritual. A member of the Order of DeMolay since I was 14, I petitioned for the
degrees as soon as my twenty-first birthday drew near. As a Lewis
I was allowed to submit my petition before coming of age, and I was initiated
less than a month following my twenty-first birthday. Being on leave from the
U.S. Navy, I was initiated and passed in my home lodge, but was raised as a
courtesy candidate in another state.
a lodge I visited one night, an officer of many years standing noticed that I
would be helping out with the degree work and introduced himself to me. He
asked about my home lodge and I told him about my receiving the first two
degrees in Ohio, but the third in Virginia. He replied that he’d originally come
from another state, where the work was quite a bit different than Ohio’s, and
how this sometimes presented a challenge to him in his ritual work, even though
he’d been in Ohio now a number of years. I said I had the same problem, having
been active in Virginia for two years before getting out of the Navy.
then it happened. Confident and self-assured, the brother said, “Oh, that’s
had heard variations of this comment many times, usually along the lines of,
“Oh, they’re Ancient, Free &
Accepted.” These remarks had always troubled me, so I answered, “Well, Southern
Jurisdiction only applies to Scottish Rite.” To which the brother gave the
condescending response, “Don’t kid yourself, son. All grand lodges have
different rituals.” Stunned, I was just about to follow up when the Master
called for the brethren to clothe.
have been advised by brother masons that Southern/Northern Jurisdiction and F.
& A.M./A.F. & A.M. designations account for differences in lodge or
ritual practices on more occasions than I care to remember. Usually such
pronouncements are made with a gravity which brooks neither disagreement nor
discussion. Knowing the importance of looking for the good in things, I try to
remind myself that I have yet to hear anyone tell me “that Masonry in its
present form started in remote antiquity.”
it or not, this does happen. Bro. Harry Mendoza, a respected masonic historian,
gave a talk at an English lodge once. As he tells it,
My paper dealt with some of the phrases we use today – and one
of them was ‘from time immemorial.’ I said that Freemasonry as we know it today
stretched back no more than about 600 years, though some would argue 250 years.
A Grand Officer present – of some years’ seniority – stood up and said that he
couldn’t really allow that; I was misleading the brethren. Masonry, he declared
firmly, was of time immemorial; it
went right back to the time of Noah – and there were degrees to prove it!”
believe such statements reveal a need for more-focused masonic education
programs, programs aimed at basic misconceptions about the Craft, its
structure, and its history. What should be the goals of such a program? Several
come to mind, though in no particular order.
Our Origins – Separating Fact from Fiction
1. Compare and contrast traditional or ritualistic history, historical theories,
and scholarly historical research.
history dates Masonry from Adam, and includes the story of Hiram Abif and the
Lost Word. The story of Hiram Abif is not biblical, nor does everything in
Freemasonry come from the Bible, as I have heard claimed more than once.
Sources of traditional history include such things as the Old Charges and the
Traditional history is not history in the true sense of the word, being for the
most part fanciful products of the imaginations of various writers. When found
in the ritual, such accounts are meant to teach concepts of morality, not to
give an accurate portrayal of past events.
theories, only sometimes supported by valid research and investigation, range
from the operative-speculative transition theory, championed by Robert Freke
Gould and Harry Carr, to the monastic inner sancta theory, proposed by Cyril
Both of these are theories about the origin of speculative Freemasonry. It
should be stressed that no one today really knows how the Fraternity
originated, but the transition theory seems to have taken on a life of its own,
and is too often treated as the last word on the subject.
It should be stressed to our students that these are but theories of origin and
not established facts.
historical research requires reliable methods of investigation and inquiry.
Such works identify opinions and theories as such, provide citations for source
materials, rely on direct evidence where possible instead of hearsay, do not
make unwarranted pronouncements or implied assumptions, and are not subject to
credible attack as to their methodology.
education officers should both understand for themselves and clearly identify
to others which portions of a program are based on fact, theory, or traditional
history. Theories based on poor scholarship should be discouraged in official
education programs, or at least properly identified. Lets avoid teaching
parables as history.
2. Talk about masonic research,
particularly about the publications of The Masonic Service Association, Quatuor
Coronati Lodge, the Scottish Rite Research Society, the Masonic Book Club, and
other reputable sources. Advise masons where to locate masonic books, providing
names, addresses, and telephone numbers for various publishers. Indicate that
the popularity of a book (e.g., Born in
Blood) or writer (e.g., Arthur
Edward Waite) indicates
neither soundness of the theories espoused, validity of the conclusions made,
nor qualifications of the author. A one-year subscription to The Short Talk Bulletin should be given
to every mason with his first dues card. A new mason could do a lot worse than
to begin his study of Freemasonry by reading Carl H. Claudy.
3. Instruct masons on the structure of
American Freemasonry. Make sure new masons understand that although there is a
place in the Fraternity for the concordant and appendant bodies, the Grand Lodge is the ultimate governing
authority over the Craft,
there is no higher degree than that of Master Mason, and the attraction of the
side degrees should be viewed in its proper perspective.
Impress upon masons that the jurisdictional arrangements of the Scottish Rite
and other such bodies have no relevance to U.S. grand lodges nor to U.S. Craft
(blue lodge) Masonry in general. Furthermore, make it clear that neither the
location of a state on the map nor the designation of a grand lodge as F. &
A.M. or A.F. & A.M. has any bearing on grand lodge regularity. Nor do such
designations of themselves reveal anything about a grand lodge’s parentage or
4. Explain that the U.S. structure of
Masonry does not obtain in other countries. Explain that in some countries the
Craft degrees are under the jurisdiction of the Scottish Rite (or Ancient and
Accepted Rite), while in others (e.g.,
Sweden), the grand lodge directly controls advancement to degrees beyond that
of Master Mason. Explain that advancement in many parts of the world to the
next degree (starting with the Fellowcraft) is neither fast nor automatic, the
candidate having much more study to do than is usual in the United States.
Further, explain that some grand lodges (e.g.,
Sweden) limit masonic membership to Christians, though this is not the case in
the U.K. or the U.S.
5. Explain that Freemasonry in the United
States is not a Christian organization and that a brother called on to give a
non-ritual prayer at a masonic function should not use words such as “In
Christ’s Name” as doing so could well be offensive to non-Christian masons who
may be present. It would
seem the better path to keep non-ritual prayers on a basis “in which all men
agree” as the old charges suggest.
6. Tell of the controversies which gave
rise to the Antients grand lodge, which then labeled the first grand lodge as
“Moderns,” what the basic causes of the difficulties were, and how the two
grand lodges settled their differences and formed the United Grand Lodge of
that masons traveling to foreign countries may expect to find different
passwords in use (including the S.),
as well as different sets of working tools, different ways of presenting the
legend of the third degree, different GHSs, and other general differences
around the world, particularly between the more popular post-Union rituals used
in Britain and the Webb rituals used in the United States.
Explain that in some parts of the world (and the U.S., too) the Craft degrees
are worked using rituals propounded by the Scottish Rite.
Discuss the “Baltimore” Conventions of 1842, 1843, and 1847 and how they
affected American Freemasonry,
in part by launching the trend for lodges to transact business only on the
third degree and curtailing development of a general grand lodge for the United
7. Explain Prince Hall Masonry.
Point out that black and Prince Hall masons are not necessarily irregular, that
irregular black and Prince Hall masons are not irregular because of race, that
a black mason is not necessarily a Prince Hall mason, and that many black
masons belong to lodges chartered by so-called “white” grand lodges.
Irregularity stems from a grand lodge’s pedigree, not the racial makeup of its
lodges, and is, in any case, always judged subjectively.
8. Explain in general terms the history of
masonic ritual. The
original masonic degrees were Apprentice and Fellow. The Master Mason degree
was more or less settled in the 1720s
and the Royal Arch arose in the 1730s,
but all other degrees are more recent innovations and arose outside of the
Craft Masonry setting.
Grand lodges have sovereign authority to determine what Craft rituals will be
used in their jurisdictions. A grand lodge may specify a particular ritual, or
may leave the matter up to local lodges and simply set general guidelines.
The designations “F. & A.M.,” “A.F. & A.M.,” “F.A.A.M.,” or otherwise
are irrelevant as far as ritual is concerned.
9. Explain the origin of the words, “So
mote it be,” being Middle English for “So may it be” or “So be it,” and
appearing twice in the Regius Manuscript.
Provide new masons with a properly translated copy of the Regius MS and suggest
that they read John Hamill’s book, The
History of English Freemasonry.
10. Explain that masonic ritual is supposed
to make sense spiritually and emotionally, not logically or historically. Take,
for example, the Pythagorean theorem, which relates the lengths of the sides
of a right triable to its hypotenuse, stated algebraically as a2+b2=c2.
Mathematical historians dispute whether Pythagoras himself ever posited
the theorem named for him – or devised a proof of it. But in either case, the
Babylonians made use of the theory by about 2,000 B.C., some 1,400 years before
Pythagoras was born. Nothing survives of Pythagoras’ work, although the
“bride’s chair proof” or “proof walking on stilts” as it has been called,
popularized by Euclid and shown on masonic tracing boards, is as good a
representation as any of how the early Greeks would have approached the
problem. The proof
is used as the Past Master symbol by our English brethren.
is Pythagoras famous for saying “Eureka,” meaning “I have found it.” It was
Archimedes who gave this exclamation when, sitting in his bath, he realized how
to determine whether the crown of Hieron II, King of Syracuse, was pure gold by
immersing it in water to discover its specific gravity. Pythagoras was not, of
course, “raised to the sublime degree of Master Mason.” There was no such thing.
11. Foster an interest in quality ritual and
encourage establishment of lodges of instruction. The cipher ritual is not a
substitute for rehearsals and must not be used as a crutch. A lodge of
instruction could, by bringing together members of several lodges to practice
jointly, promote exchange of good ideas and discourage unnecessary practices
and bad habits. Ideas abound: teach deacons and stewards how to hold and carry
a staff properly; teach chaplains how to time their prayers and direct them to
the candidate; teach proper voice techniques; teach speakers how to deal with
unexpected situations (e.g., an
improperly prepared EA candidate being presented to the Master). There are two
areas where lodges of instruction could be especially helpful: demonstrating
proper salutes, and teaching correct pronunciation and delivery.
and signs. When I joined the Navy, I was told that salutes become
sloppier in direct proportion to the rank of the officer giving them. In
Freemasonry, however, where our only contention should be on “who best can work
and best agree” (i.e., make their
wall level and plumb), just the opposite should be true. Unfortunately it is
not. Due-guards and signs should be given in a crisp, military manner, and
accompanied by appropriate placement of the feet. Hands should be completely
flat for all due-guards and signs, except for the moving hand in the FC sign.
some unknown reason, the FC degree presents special problems. There is a
disturbing tendency in some lodges to give the FC due-guard with the one arm
extended. This is not correct! The
resulting gesture has no place in a masonic lodge. All signs, including the FC
sign, being p. signs, represent a ctg m and not
a plg m. We are not talking dolls, nor are we throwing salt or catching flies.
pronunciation and delivery. I am reminded of the story of the new mason
who went home and told his wife of the three types of men to be found in a
masonic lodge: the walkers, the talkers, and the holy men. The walkers walk
around the lodge; the talkers talk while the walkers walk; and the holy men
(they’re the ones with aprons trimmed in purple), they sit with their heads in
their hands saying, “Ohmigod.”
course it’s easy to preach from behind; its quite another when you’re sitting
in the East with all eyes upon you. We all acquire bad habits – some very dear
to the heart. In fact, certain passages sound better with a word pronounced, shall we say, “with improvement.”
For example, I much prefer /DAY-i-tee/, /PILE-as-tur/, and /DYE-ves-ted/. All of which are wrong. Mispronouncing the
word “divest” is particularly popular because emphasizing the first syllable
draws attention to the distinction between
investing and divesting.
Which proves the point that we must consider the message being conveyed not
only by the words but by their delivery as well. Correct pronunciation is only
a beginning, but it is a necessary one.
moving on, allow me to suggest three areas where a zero tolerance policy should
be employed and absolute perfection demanded: the apron presentation, the “G”
Lecture, and the presentation and description of the FPOF. These areas are
the hearts of their degrees. I believe that anything less than perfection in
their presentation is an insult both to the candidate and to the lodge.
let’s pronounce the words right. When they’re said wrong, the speaker comes
across as uncaring and un-prepared. Let’s understand the meaning, too, because
correct pronunciation will not save a speaker who doesn’t know what he’s
word usages (“stone,” “bourne,” “smote”) are commonly heard only in masonic
ritual. I would like to touch on these and the more common offenses which so
often arise, but I must leave a more thorough study for the future. A number of
problem words are listed in the Appendix.
much for ritual matters.
masons that Freemasonry is not anti-Catholic although, depending whom you ask,
the opposite may be true.
1974 Cardinal Seper wrote to the bishops, stating that “The Sacred Congregation
for the Doctrine of the Faith . . . has ruled that Canon 2335 no
longer bars a Catholic from membership of masonic groups. . . . And so a
Catholic who joins the Freemasons is excommunicated only if the policy and actions
of the Freemasons in his area are known to be hostile to the
Church. . . .”
But there have been developments since then.
In 1983, a new Code of Canon Law was published, wherein
Canon 2335 was replaced by Canon 1374, which only forbade membership in
organizations which “plot against the Church” and removed the penalty of
automatic excommunication, replacing it with “a just penalty.” This is in
conformity with Cardinal Seper’s interpretation. Shortly before the new Code
was published, however, the Sacred Congregation, under a new Prefect, issued a
pronouncement that Canon 1374 did not really affect the original policy.
Although the pronouncement nullifies Cardinal Seper’s earlier ruling, it was
issued prior to the effective date of the new canon. Accordingly, some dioceses
are holding that the canon supersedes the ruling and are on that basis
permitting masonic membership.
point is that masonry is neither “for” nor “against” any faith or denomination.
The repeated need to say so is deeply troubling as it reveals, at best,
questions arising out of on little or no capacity for independent thought.
13. Explain that the American Revolution was
not a masonic plot or conspiracy,
nor was the Boston Tea Party,
and suggest that masons curb their appetite for these stories. Certainly masons participated in all these events,
but if Masonry as an organization were to have done so it would be more cause
for shame than jubilation. After all, General Arnold was also a freemason.
Attending to the Gullible – and the Hateful
14. Discuss the Morgan Affair, and explain
the danger of ignoring anti-masonic sentiments.
Masons are charged not to let their zeal for the Institution lead them into
argument with those who through ignorance may ridicule it. But anti-masons are
not acting only out of ignorance. Their attacks are not ridicule but weapons
specifically employed to destroy society’s greatest champion of freedom of
conscience and universal morality.
Masons should be strongly encouraged to study Ed King’s website at http://masonicinfo
.com. It provides a wealth of information about the anti-mason and
15. Explain that Freemasonry isn’t about
secrets, and that “It’s a secret” is an unacceptable response to general questions
about the Craft. Anti-masons like to attack the straw-man of masonic “secrecy,”
attempting thereby to neatly avoid the fact that our organization, like any
other, is entitled to its privacy. As if we should be ashamed of restricting
our meetings to members only!
Make sure masons understand that “[t]he [real] secrets in
Masonry are personal insights. They are secret not because we are pledged to
conceal them, but because they cannot be truly communicated from one person to
who think they’ve done something clever by publishing what they believe to be
our “secrets” are truly a sad lot. An unexpected writer (Giovanni Casanova) put
it this way:
Men who plan only to be accepted as Freemasons with the purpose
of coming to know the secret of the Order run great risk of growing old under
the trowel without ever attaining their object. [There is] a secret, but it is
so inviolable that it has never been told nor confided to anyone. Those who
grasp at the superficiality of things believe that the secret consists in
words, signs and grips, or that in the final analysis it is the grand word of
the last degree. A mistake!
who discovers the secret of Freemasonry, for they never know where they are
finding it, will not arrive at that knowledge by reason of frequenting lodges.
He gains it only by the strength of reflecting, of reasoning, of comparing, and
of deducing. He will not confide it to his best friend in Freemasonry, for he
knows that if that brother does not find it for himself as did he, the friend
will not have the talent to extract the means to do so from what shall be said
in his ear. * * *
[T]hose who by dishonest indiscretion make no scruple of
revealing what is done [in lodge] have never revealed the essential: they do
not know it, and if they have not known, truly they cannot reveal. . . .
masonic history and many of the matters above are also not learned by
“frequenting lodges.” But unlike the secrets of the apron, square, compasses
and trowel, masonic education can be
taught – and we are the ones charged to do so.
hundred years ago, an anonymous priest, for his masonic education project,
This good lord
loved the craft full well,
and proposed to strengthen it, every dell;
For diverse faults
that in the craft he found,
he set about into the land
After all the
masons of the craft,
to come to him full even straghfte
For to amend these
by good counsel, if it might fall,
An assembly then he
could let make,
of diverse lords in their state --
Dukes, earls, and
knights, squires, and many mo.
(And the great
burgesses of that city,
they were there all in their degree.)
These were there
each one algate [everywhere, always],
to ordain for these masons’ estate --
There they sought
by their wit,
how [that] they might govern it:
Fyftene artyculus þey þer
poyntys þer þey wro3ton.
fifteen points are nothing compared to the timeless message of the Regius
Manuscript. But I flatter myself that my points also have their place. I’ve
been told that the trouble with masonic education of this type is that it never
reaches the brethren who need it most – that is, the ones who believe that
their long tenure in lodge equals knowledge of the Craft. This is alarming,
because as the saying goes, “If you think education is expensive, try
ignorance.” These harm us and no one else, and cry out for good counsel to be
whispered in a brother’s ear.
know that I’m preaching to the choir. But who else is there to call on? A more
aggressive masonic education program will work – if we work it. It is essential to raise the level of knowledge
on which the average mason stands. I pray the Craft to correct these
misconceptions wherever found, to examine the content of our education
programs, to continue being leaders and shining a brighter light into the
darkness of unconsidered speculation and hearsay which too often passes for
knowledge in our mystic circle.
has been incorporated into the notes.
The author thanks the
following persons for their comments and suggestions, all of which have contributed
to this work. In alphabetical order --
Wor. Bro. James G. Bennie, WM,
Lodge Southern Cross No. 44, F. & A.M., British Columbia
Wor. Bro. Greg M. Glur, PM,
Shiloh Lodge No. 1, A.F. & A.M., North Dakota
Bro. Karl-Gunnar Hultland, FC,
Saints John Lodge Ultima Thule, Swedish Order of Freemasons
Lisa J. Kiser, Ph.D., Professor
of Old English and Middle English Literature, English Linguistics, and History
of the English Language, The Ohio State University
Wor. Bro. Den Robinson, PM, Sant
Beuno Lodge No. 6733, A.F. & A.M., England
Wor. Bro. Richard D. Snow, PM,
New England Lodge No. 4, F. & A.M., Ohio; PM, Ohio Lodge of Research
Wor. Bro. Timothy B. Strawn, PM,
New England Lodge No. 4, F. & A.M., Ohio
Wor. Bro. Robert L. Tucker, PM,
Adoniram Lodge No. 517, F. & A.M., Ohio
Wor. Bro. Louis S. VanSlyck, PM,
Trinity Lodge No. 710, F. & A.M. of Ohio; PM, Ohio Lodge of Research
Fyftene artyculus þey þer
sow3ton, and fyftene poyntys þer þey wro3ton. (Fifteen
articles they there sought, and fifteen points there they wrought.) The words 3ower, sow3ton, and wro3ton (your, sought, and wrought)
contain a character called the yogh, which is often mistaken for,
and wrongly transliterated as, a z. The Middle English yogh
was used for two sounds, later inscribed y at the beginning of a word, and gh
elsewhere to indicate the velar-fricative. This shift was underway when the
Regius MS was written. The gh survives silently today in such
words as knight. Pyles, Thomas, and Algeo, John, The Origins and Development of the English Language, pp. 107-108,
139-140 (Third ed., 1982). Old and Middle English also had characters for the
voiced and unvoiced dental fricative th. These characters were called the
(Ð, ¶) and the thorn (Þ, þ)
respectively. Middle English used both characters, as well as th, interchangeably. My favorite words in
the poem: “Kyng Nabogodonosor.”