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From: PROSPER THE ART by J. G Sullivan - Chapter 2.
Developed by W.Bro. Kent Henderson
Dip. T., B. Ed., Grad. Cert. Ed., Grad. Dip. Ed., M. Ed, Diploma of Masonic Education (Sth. Aust.)
Past Junior Grand Deacon, A. F. & A. Masons of Victoria, Australia.


It seems desirable at the outset to present several basic definitions, especially one relating to

Freemasonry itself.


Many brethren have indicated to me over the years that, when confronted with the question from non-Freemasons as to what our order represents, they have difficulty in providing a concise yet meaningful answer. And yet there is an eminently suitable and also quite short answer that can be given - one with which all Freemasons are familiar. This definition was first applied to Freemasonry many years ago and is quite appropriate today, namely, that our organisation is a “peculiar system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols”.


The three elements of this definition can be explained further simply by saying that:


i.                     Freemasonry provides a special (the sense in which the word “peculiar” is intended) code of general morality based on and derived from the lives of operative stonemasons of ancient times to guide us in our daily living;

ii.                    the moral system is provided by the Masonic ritual in an allegorical format and is part fact, part legend, made necessary because of a lack of precise knowledge of the circumstances surrounding the erection of the great Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem some 3000 years ago. This edifice was selected as the historical “point of  commencement” or datum point in connection with the development and presentation of the Masonic message, having particular regard for the fact that a large number of stonemasons were employed in the construction of the Temple; and

iii.                  the guiding principles of life set out in the Masonic code are explained and exemplified by the use in a symbolic manner of the tools of the stonemason’s craft, the square, plumb rule, compasses, chisel, gavel, pencil, etc. This is further related to the fact that education and learning in the ancient world was undertaken principally by the use of symbols.


In addition to the foregoing, there are other short definitions which can be used singly or in combination to explain Freemasonry’s aims and aspirations in a non-verbose manner. For example, we can say:


  • Freemasonry’s main principles are related to a love of mankind, a preparedness to assist others when relief is required and a truthful and thoroughly moral approach to life.

  • Freemasonry teaches its members to recognise that they have at all times a three-fold duty - to the Supreme Being, to other members of the human race, and to themselves.

  • The foundation on which Freemasonry rests is the practice of every moral and social virtue.

  • In relation to its members, Freemasonry aims to build character, to develop personality, to provide a

  • stimulus for brethren to wish to attain the highest standards of good citizenship, indeed to promote a certain nobility of mind and thought.

  • Freemasonry encourages all that is good and kind and charitable, and opposes all that is sinful, cruel and oppressive.The fundamental requirement of members of the Masonic order is that they aim to adhere absolutely to all virtuous principles, including benevolence, charity, prudence, temperance, fortitude, justice, mercy, honour, obedience and fidelity.

Why are we called Freemasons? What is the origin of the word? Should it be written as one word, or as a hyphenated word, or as two separate words?


Here, as happens so often in considering Masonic origins and the like, one cannot be sure or



Many attempts have been made over the years to suggest derivations of the word “mason”, and a

number of meanings have been put forward. To me, however, the most likely and satisfying meaning is the one presented by a noted philologist W W Skeat, who considers that the original mason was a hewer and cutter of stone. He establishes a connection in this context with a Norman French word “mason” coming from a Low Latin word which, itself, was derived from the German language; there is, so he tells us, a German word “mezzo” which means “to hew” and is associated with an older word meaning “chisel”.


The speculative Craft uses “Freemason” as one word. How “free” became attached to “mason” is not clear.


There are numerous recorded instances going back to the 14th century showing the use of the word

“freemason” to denote operative masons, some rather skilled operatives being called “freemasons”, and others who apparently performed less responsible work being called simply “masons” or “rough masons”. It should be noted, however, that the term was not always written as one word.


Why then did the more expert operatives have the syllable “free” placed before the basic title

describing their employment?Why was “free” the particular word to be used?


A number of reasons for the introduction of the word “free” have been propounded by Masonic

historians and scholars. The most popular and credible are:


i.                     Masons may have been “free” because membership of a mason’s association (especially as an apprentice) could be given only to men who were free born, that is, not under bondage to a lord or other noble. Even though they may have become free from serfdom by escaping from their bondage, such action did not make them acceptable.

ii.                   Because of their particular abilities and the resulting demand on their services, skilled masons may have been termed “free” in the sense that, unlike most in the community, they were exempted from restrictions on travel as they moved to and from building sites.

iii.                  Masons moving from town to town in their work may have been given freedom form the control of local trade organisations, or freed from the payment of tolls or taxes, particularly if they were men working under ecclesiastical control. In the latter regard, some masons under the protective authority of Papal Bulls.

iv.                 The word “free” may have been assigned to skilled masons because much of their work was carried out in freestone - a soft-cutting stone most suitable for use in special shaping processes.

v.                   Masons may have been regarded as “free” by the achievement of freedom, in other words, membership, of a masons’ company or guild.


The position is confusing from this distance and the real basis for the addition of “free” may have been  a combination of several of the possibilities referred to above.


There is further complication in that, over a long period, “Freemason” appears to have several

different meanings. Also, some associations of operative stonemasons functioning in different parts of England, were known as “Companies of Masons” and others as “Companies of Freemasons”.


As for our early speculative brethren describing themselves as “Freemasons”, there is nothing we can point to as evidencing exactly how or why this happened. All we can imagine is that our pioneers must have considered the question and decided that “Freemason” was the proper word to employ, having regard for the meaning of the word in those times vis-a-vis the aspirations of the Masonic fraternity.


One further basic definition seems necessary and that concerns the word “speculative” as applied to

our order. The word “speculative” means “reflective”, “meditative”, or, more simply, “thinking” and is used to distinguish our philosophical body from the craft of operative stonemasonry.


Perhaps it can be said that the operative stonemason is a man who constructs edifices of material substances, whereas the speculative Freemason is involved in philosophical considerations associated with the building of a spiritual building - a temple within himself which will provide the necessary guidance in every action of his life.

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