seems desirable at the outset to present several basic definitions, especially
one relating to
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”.
three elements of this definition can be explained further simply by saying
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;
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
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.
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:
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
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.
foundation on which Freemasonry rests is the practice of every moral and
relation to its members, Freemasonry aims to build character, to develop
personality, to provide a
for brethren to wish to attain the highest standards of good citizenship,
indeed to promote a certain nobility of mind and thought.
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.
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?
as happens so often in considering Masonic origins and the like, one cannot be
attempts have been made over the years to suggest derivations of the word
“mason”, and a
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”.
speculative Craft uses “Freemason” as one word. How “free” became
attached to “mason” is not clear.
are numerous recorded instances going back to the 14th
century showing the
use of the word
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.
then did the more expert operatives have the syllable “free” placed before
the basic title
their employment?Why was “free” the particular word to be used?
number of reasons for the introduction of the word “free” have been
propounded by Masonic
and scholars. The most popular and credible are:
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
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.
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.
“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.
Masons may have
been regarded as “free” by the achievement of freedom, in other words,
membership, of a masons’ company or guild.
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.
is further complication in that, over a long period, “Freemason” appears to
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”.
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
further basic definition seems necessary and that concerns the word
“speculative” as applied to
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.
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.