BRETHREN, MANY Of YOU will know that I travel vast distances in the course of
my lecture duties and the further I go the more astonished I am to see how many
Brethren believe, quite genuinely, that our masonic ritual came down straight
from heaven, directly into the hands of King Solomon. They are all quite certain
that it was in English, of course, because that is the only language they speak
up there. They are equally sure that it was all engraved on two tablets of
stone, so that, heaven forbid, not one single word should ever be altered; and
most of them believe that King Solomon, in his own lodge, practiced the same
ritual as they do in theirs.
But, it was not like that at all, and tonight I am going to try to sketch for
you the history of our ritual from its very beginnings up to the point when it
was virtually standardized, in 1813; but you must remember, while I am talking
about English ritual I am also giving you the history of your own ritual as
well. One thing is going to be unusual about tonight’s talk.Tonight you are
not going to get any fairy-tales at all. Every word I utter will be based on
documents which can be proved: and on the few rare occasions when, in spite of
having the documents, we still have not got complete and perfect proof, I shall
say loud and clear ‘We think . . .’ or ‘We believe . . .’. Then you will
know that we are, so-to-speak, on uncertain ground~ but I will give you the best
that we know. And since a talk of this kind must have a proper starting point,
let me begin by saying that Freemasonry did not begin in Egypt, or Palestine, or
Greece, or Rome.
BEGINNINGS OF MASON TRADE ORGANIZATION
It all started in London, England, in the year 1356, a very important date,
and it started as the result of a good old-fashioned was a great row going on in
London between the mason hewers, the men who cut the stone, and the mason layers
and setters, the men who actually built the walls. The exact details of the
quarrel are not known, but, as a result of this row, 12 skilled master masons,
with some famous men among them, came before the mayor and aldermen at Guildhall
in London, and, with official permission, drew up a simple code of trade
The opening words of that document, which still survives, say that these men
had come together because their trade had never been regulated in such form as
other trades were. So here, in this document, we have an official guarantee that
this was the very first attempt at some sort of trade organization for the
masons and, as we go through the document, the very first rule that they drew up
gives a clue to the demarcation dispute that I was talking about. They ruled,
‘That every man of the trade may work at any work touching the trade if he be
perfectly skilled and knowing in the same. ‘Brethren, that was the wisdom of
Solomon! If you knew the job, you could do the job, and nobody could stop you!
If we only had that much common sense nowadays in England, how much better off
we should be.
The organization that was set up at that time became, within 20 years, the
London Masons Company, the first trade guild of the masons and one of the direct
ancestors of our Freemasonry of today. This was the real beginning. Now the
London Masons Company was not a lodge; it was a trade guild and I ought to spend
a lot of time trying to explain how lodges began, a difficult problem because we
have no records of the actual foundation of the early operative lodges.
Briefly, the guilds were town organizations, greatly favored by the towns
because they helped in the management of municipal affairs. In London, for
example, from 1376 onwards, each of the trades elected two representatives who
became members of the Common Council, all together forming the city government.
But the mason trade did not lend itself to town organization at all. Most of
their main work was outside the towns - the castles, the abbeys, the
monasteries, the defense works, the really big jobs of masonry were always far
from the towns. And we believe that it was in those places, where there was no
other kind of trade organization, that the masons, who were engaged on those
jobs for years on end, formed themselves into lodges, in imitation of the
guilds, so that they had some form of self-government on the job, while they
were far away from all other forms of trade control.
The first actual information about lodges comes to us from a collection of
documents which we know as the ‘Old Charges’ or the Manuscript
Constitutions’ of masonry, a marvelous collection. They begin with the Regius
Manuscript c1390; the next, the Cooke Manuscript is dated c1410 and we have 130
versions of these documents running right through to the eighteenth century.
The oldest version, the Regius Manuscript, is in rhyming verse and differs,
in several respects, from the other texts, but, in their general shape and
contents they are all very much alike. They begin with an Opening Prayer,
Christian and Trinitarian, and then they go on with a history of the craft,
starting in Bible times and in Bible lands, and tracing the rise of the craft
and its spread right across Europe until it reached France and was then brought
across the channel and finally established in England. Unbelievably bad history;
any professor of history would drop dead if he were challenged to prove it; but
the masons believed it. This was their guarantee of respectability as an ancient
Then, after the history we find the regulations, the actual Charges, for
masters, fellows and apprentices, including several rules of a purely moral
character, and that is all. Occasionally, the name of one of the characters
changes, or the wording of a regulation will be altered slightly, but all follow
the same general pattern.
Apart from these three main sections, prayer, history and Charges, in most of
them we find a few words which indicate the beginnings of masonic ceremony. I
must add that we cannot find all the information in one single document; but
when we study them as a collection, it is possible to reconstruct the outline of
the admission ceremony of those days, the earliest ceremony of admission into
We know that the ceremony, such as it was, began with an opening prayer and
then there was a ‘reading’ of the history. (Many later documents refer to
this ‘reading’.) In those days, 99 masons in 100 could not read, and we
believe, therefore, that they selected particular sections of the history which
they memorized and recited from memory. To read the whole text, even if they
could read, would have taken much too long. So the second part of the ceremony
was the ‘reading’.
Then, we find an instruction, which appears regularly in practically every
document, usually in Latin, and it says: ‘Then one of the elders holds out a
book (sometimes “the book”, sometimes the “Bible”, and sometimes the ”
Holy Bible”) and he or they that are to be admitted shall place their hand
thereon, and the following Charges shall be read.’ In that position the
regulations were read out to the candidate and he took the oath, a simple oath
of fidelity to the king, to the master and to the craft, that he would obey the
regulations and never bring the craft to shame. This was a direct lift from the
guild oath, which was probably the only form that they knew; no frills, no
penalties, a simple oath of fidelity to the king, the employer (the master) and
to the trade.
From this point onwards, the oath becomes the heart and marrow, the crucial
center of every masonic ceremony. The Regius, which is the first of the versions
to survive, emphasizes this and it is worth quoting here. After the reading of
the Charges in the Regius Manuscript, we get these words:
‘And all the points herein before To all of them he must be sworn, And all
shall swear the same oath Of the masons, be they willing, be they loth’
Whether they liked it or not, there was only one key that would open the door
into the craft and that was the mason’s oath. The importance, which the Regius
attaches to it, we find repeated over and over again, not in the same words, but
the emphasis is still there. The oath or obligation is the key to the admission
So there I have described for you the earliest ceremony and now I can justify
the title of my paper, Six Hundred Years of Craft Ritual. We have 1356 as the
date of the beginnings of mason trade organization, and around 1390 the earliest
evidence which indicates a ceremony of admission. Split the difference.
Somewhere between those two dates is when it all started. That is almost exactly
600 years of provable history and we can prove every stage of our development
from then onwards.
Masonry, the art of building, began many thousands of years before this, but,
for the antecedents of our own Freemasonry, we can only go back to the direct
line of history that can be proved, and that is 1356, when it really began in
And now there is one other point that must be mentioned before I go any
further. I have been speaking of a time when there was only one degree. The
documents do not say that there is only one degree, they simply indicate only
one ceremony, never more than one. But I believe it cannot have been for the
apprentice, or entered apprentice; it must have been for the fellow of craft,
the man who was fully trained. The Old Charges do not say this, but there is
ample outside evidence from which we draw this conclusion. We have many
law-suits and legal decisions that show that in the 1400s an apprentice was the
chattel of his master. An apprentice was a piece of equipment, that belonged to
his master. He could be bought and sold in much the same way that the master
would buy and sell a horse or a cow and, under such conditions, it is impossible
that an apprentice had any status in the lodge. That came much later. So, if we
can think ourselves back into the time when there was only one degree it must
have been for the fully-trained mason, the fellow of craft.
Almost 150 years were to pass before the authorities and parliament began to
realize that maybe an apprentice was actually a human being as well. In the
early 1500s we have in England a whole collection of labor statutes, labor laws,
which begin to recognize the status of apprentices, and around that time we
begin to find evidence of more than one degree.
From 1598 onwards we have minutes of two Scottish Lodges that were practicing
two degrees. I will come to that later. Before that date there is no evidence on
degrees, except perhaps in one English document, the Harleian MS, No 2054, dated
c1650, but believed to be a copy of a text of the late 1500s, now lost.
FIRST HINT OF TWO DEGREES
The Harleian MS is a perfectly normal version of the Old Charges, but bound
up with it is a note in the same handwriting containing a new version of the
mason’s oath, of particular importance because it shows a major change from
all earlier forms of the oath. Here it is:
There is seu’all words &
signes of a free Mason to be revailed to yu wch yu will answ: before God at the
Great & terrible day of Judgmt yu keep secret & not to revaile the same
in the heares of any pson but to the M’s & fellows of the said Society of
free Masons so helpe me God xc.
Brethren, I know that I recited it too fast, but now I am going to read the
first line again:
There is several words and signs of a free mason to be revealed to you . . .
‘ ‘Several words and signs . . .’plural, more than one degree. And here in
a document that should have been dated 1550, we have the first hint of the
expansion of the ceremonies into more than one degree. A few years later we have
actual minutes that prove two degrees in practice. But notice, Brethren, that
the ceremonies must also have been taking something of their modern shape.
They probably began with a prayer, a recital of part of the ‘history’,
the hand-on-book posture for the reading of the Charges, followed by an
obligation and then the entrusting with secret words and signs, whatever they
were. We do not know what they were, but we know that in both degrees the
ceremonies were beginning to take the shape of our modern ceremonies. We have to
wait quite a long while before we find the contents, the actual details, of
those ceremonies, but we do find them at the end of the 1600s and that is my
next theme. Remember, Brethren, we are still with only two degrees and I am
going to deal now with the documents which actually describe those two
ceremonies, as they first appeared on paper.
EARLIEST RITUAL FOR TWO DEGREES
The earliest evidence we have, is a document dated 1696, beautifully
handwritten, and known as the Edinburgh Register House Manuscript, because it
was found in the Public Record Office of Edinburgh. I deal first with that part
of the text which describes the actual ceremonies. It is headed ‘THE FORME OF
GiVING THE MASON WORD’ which is one way of saying it is the manner of
initiating a mason. It begins with the ceremony which made an apprentice into an
‘entered- apprentice (usually about three years after the beginning of his
indentures), followed by the ceremony for the admission of the ,master mason or
fellow craft’, the title of the second degree. The details are fascinating but
I can only describe them very briefly, and wherever I can, I will use the
original words, so that you can get the feel of the thing.
We are told that the candidate ‘was put to his knees’ and ‘after a
great many ceremonies to frighten him’ (rough stuff, horse-play it you like;
apparently they tried to scare the wits out of him) ‘after a great many
ceremonies to frighten him’, he was made to take up the book and in that
position he took the oath, and here is the earliest version of the mason’s
oath described as part of a whole ceremony.
By god himself and you shall answer to god when you shall stand nakd before
him, at the great day, you shall not reveal any pairt of what you shall hear or
see at this time whither by word nor write nor put it in wryte at any time nor
draw it with the point of a sword, or any other instrument upon the snow or
sand, nor shall you speak of it but with an entered mason, so help you god.
Brethren, if you were listening very carefully, you have just heard the
earliest version of the words ‘Indite, carve, mark, engrave or otherwise them
delineate’. The very first version is the one I have just read, ‘not write
nor put it in wryte, nor draw it with a point of a sword or any other instrument
upon the snow or sand.’ Notice, Brethren, there was no penalty in the
obligation, just a plain obligation of secrecy.
After he had finished the obligation the youngster was taken out of the lodge
by the last previous candidate, the last person who had been initiated before
him. Outside the door of the lodge he was taught the sign, postures and words of
entry (we do not know what they are until he comes back). He came back, took off
his hat and made ‘a ridiculous bow’ and then he gave the words of entry,
which included a greeting to the master and the brethren. It finished up with
the words ‘under no less pain than cutting of my throat’ and there is a sort
of footnote which says ‘for you must make that sign when you say that’. This
is the earliest appearance in any document of an entered apprentice’s sign.
Now Brethren, forget all about your beautifully furnished lodges; I am
speaking of operative masonry, when the lodge was either a little room at the
back of a pub, or above a pub, or else a shed attached to a big building job;
and if there were a dozen masons there, that would have been a good attendance.
So, after the boy had given the sign, he was brought up to the Master for the
‘entrusting’. Here is the Master; here, nearby, is the candidate; here is
the ‘instructor’, and he, the instructor, whispers the word into the ear of
his neighbour, who whispers the word to the next man and so on, all round the
lodge, until it comes to the Master. and the Master gives the word to the
candidate. In this case, there is a kind of biblical footnote, which shows,
beyond all doubt, that the word was not one word but two. B and J, two pillar
names, for the entered apprentice. This is very important later, when we begin
to study the evolution of three degrees. In the two-degree system there were two
pillars for the entered apprentice.
That was really the whole of the floorwork, but it was followed by a .set of
simple questions and answers headed ‘SOME QUESTIONES THAT MASONS USE TO PUT To
THOSE WHO HAVE YE WORD BEFORE THEY WILL ACKNOWLEDGE THEM’. It included a few
questions for testing a stranger outside the lodge, and this text gives us the
first and oldest version of the masonic catechism. Here are some of the fifteen
questions. ‘Are you a mason? How shall I know it? Where were you entered? What
makes a true and perfect lodge? Where was the first lodge? Are there any lights
in your lodge? Are there any jewels in your lodge. The first faint beginnings of
masonic symbolism. It is amazing how little there was at the beginning. There,
Brethren, 15 questions and answers, which must have been answered for the
candidate; he had not had time to learn the answers. And that was the whole of
the entered apprentice ceremony.
Now remember, Brethren, we are speaking about operative masonry, in the days,
when masons earned their living with hammer and chisel. Under those conditions
the second degree was taken about seven years after the date of initiation when
the candidate came back to be made ‘master or fellow craft’. Inside the
lodge those two grades were equal, both fully trained masons. Outside the lodge,
one was an employer, the other an employee. If he was the son of a Freeman
Burgess of the city, he could take his Freedom and set up as a master
immediately. Otherwise, he had to pay for the privilege, and until then, the
fellow craft remained an employee. But inside the lodge they both had the same
So, after the end of his indentures of apprenticeship, and serving another
year or two for ‘meat and fee’, (ie board plus a wage) he came along then
for the second degree. He was ‘put to his knees and took the oath anew’. It
was the same oath that he had taken as an apprentice, omitting only three words.
Then he was taken out of the lodge by the youngest master, and there he was
taught the signs, posture and words of entry (we still do not know what they
were). He came back and he gave what is called the ‘master sign’, but it is
not described, so I cannot tell you about it. Then he was brought up for the
entrusting. And now, the youngest master, the chap who had taken him outside,
whispered the word to his neighbour, each in turn passing it all round the
lodge, until it came to the Master, and the Master, on the five points of
fellowship - second degree, Brethren gave the word to the candidate. The five
points in those days - foot to foot, knee to knee, heart to heart, hand to hand,
ear to ear, that is how it was at its first appearance. No Hiramic legend and no
frills only the FPOF and a word. But in this document the word is not mentioned.
It appears very soon afterwards and I will deal with that later.
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 Crawley 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 actualiv used in a lodge; otherwise
thev 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 neighboitrs 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 mental
reservation’. 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
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
Among many interesting Questions and Answers, it lists some of fhe 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.
HINTS OF THREE DEGREES
The earliest hints of the third degree appear in documents like those that I
have been talking about - mainly documents that have been written out as
aide-memoires for the men who owned them. But we have to use exposures as well,
exposures printed for profit, or spite-, and we get some useful hints of the
third degree long before it actually appears in practice. And so, we start with
one of the best, a lovely little text, a single sheet of paper known as the
Trinity College, Dublin, Manuscript, dated 1711, found among the papers of a
famous Irish doctor and scientist, Sir Thomas Molyneux. This document is headed
with a kind of Triple Tau, and underneath it the words ‘Under no less a
penalty’. This is followed by a set of eleven Q. and A. and we know straight
away that something is wrong! We already have three perfect sets of fifteen
questions, so eleven questions must be either bad memory or bad copying -
something is wrong! The questions are perfectly normal, only not enough of them.
Then after the eleven questions we would expect the writer to give a description
of the whole or part of the ceremony but, instead of that, he gives a kind of
catalogue of the Freemason’s words and signs.
He gives this sign (EA demonstrated) for the EA with the word B
He gives ‘knuckles, & sinues’ as the sign for the
‘fellow-craftsman’, with the word ‘Jachquin’. The ‘Master’s sign is
the back bone’ and for him (ie the MM) the writer gives the world’s worst
description of the FPOF. (It seems clear that neither the author of this piece
nor the writer of the Sloane MS, had ever heard of the Points of Fellowship, or
knew how to describe them.) Here, as I demonstrate, are the exact words, no more
and no less:
Squeese the Master by ye back bone, put your knee between his, & say
That, Brethren, is our second version of the word of the third degree. We
started with ‘Mahabyn’, and now ‘Matchpin’, horribly debased. Let me say
now, loud and clear, nobody knows what the correct word was. It was probably
Hebrew originally, but all the early versions are debased. We might work
backwards, translating from the English, but we cannot be certain that our
English words are correct. So, here in the Trinity College, Dublin, MS, we have,
for the very first time, a document which has separate secrets for three
separate degrees; the enterprentice, the fellowcraftsman and the master. It is
not proof of three degrees in practice, but it does show that somebody was
playing with this idea in 1711.
The next piece of evidence on this theme comes from the first printed
exposure, printed and published for entertainment or for spite, in a London
newspaper, The Flying Post. The text is known as a ‘Mason’s Examination’.
By this time, 1723, the catechism was much longer and the text contained several
pieces of rhyme, all interesting, but only one of particular importance to my
present purpose and here it is:
‘An enter’d Mason I have been, Boaz and Jachin I have seen; A Fellow I
was sworn most rare, And Know the Astler, Diamond, and Square: I know the
Master’s Part full well, As honest Maughbin will you tell.’
Notice, Brethren, there are still two pillars for the EA, and once again
somebody is dividing the Masonic secrets into three parts for three different
categories of Masons. The idea of three degrees is in the air. We are still
looking for minutes but they have not come yet. Next, we have another priceless
document, dated 1726, the Graham MS, a fascinating text which begins with a
catechism of some thirty Questions and Answers, followed by a collection of
legends, mainly about biblical characters, each story with a kind of Masonic
twist in its tall. One legend tells how three sons went to their father’s
grave.To try if they could find anything about him for to Lead them to the
vertuable secret which this famous preacher had They opened the grave finding
nothing save the dead body all most consumed away takeing a greip at a ffinger
it came away so from Joynt to Joynt so to the wrest so to the Elbow so they
Reared up the dead body and suported it setting ffoot to ffoot knee to knee
Breast to breast Cheeck to cheeck and hand to back and cryed out help o ffather
… so one said here is yet marow in this bone and the second said but a dry
bone and the third said it stinketh so they agreed for to give it a name as is
known to free masonry to this day …
This is the earliest story of a raising in a Masonic context, apparently a
fragment of the Hiramic legend, but the old gentleman in the grave was Father
Noah, not Hiram Abif.
Another legend concerns ‘Bazalliell’, the wonderful craftsman who built
the mobile Temple and the Ark of the Covenant for the Israelites during their
wandering in the wilderness. The story goes that near to death, Bazalliell asked
for a tombstone to be erected over his grave, with an inscription ‘according
to his diserveing’ and that was done as follows:
Here Lys the flowr of masonry superiour of many other companion to a king and
to two princes a brother Here Lys the heart all secrets could conceal] Here lys
the tongue that never did reveal.
The last two lines could not have been more apt if they had beer, specially
written for Hiram Abif; they are virtually a summary of the Hiramic legend.
In the catechism, one answer speaks of those that . . . have obtained a
trible Voice by being entered passed and raised and Conformed by 3 severall
‘Entered, passed and raised’ is clear enough. ‘Three several lodges’
means three separate degrees, three separate ceremonies. There is no doubt at
all that this is a reference to three degrees being practised. But we still want
minutes and we have not got them. And I am very sorry to tell you, that the
earliest minutes we have recording a third degree, fascinating and interesting
as they are, refer to a ceremony that never happened in a lodge at all; it took
place in the confines of a London Musical Society. It is a lovely story and that
is what you are going to get now.
In December 1724 there was a nice little lodge meeting at the Queen’s Head
Tavern, in Hollis Street, in the Strand, about three hundred yards from our
present Freemasons’ Hall. Nice people; the best of London’s musical,
architectural and cultural society were members of this lodge. On the particular
night in which I am interested, His Grace, the Duke of Richmond was Master of
the lodge. I should add that His Grace, the Duke of Richmond was also Grand
Master at that time, and you might call him ‘nice people’. It is true that
he was the descendant of a royal illegitimate, but nowadays even royal
illegitimates are counted as nice people. A couple of months later, seven of the
members of this lodge and one brother they had borrowed from another lodge
decided that they wanted to found a musical and architectural society.
They gave themselves a Latin title a mile long - Philo Musicae et
Architecturae Societas Apollini - which I translate, ‘The Apollonian Society
for the Lovers of Music and Architecture’ and they drew up a rule book which
is beautiful beyond words. Every word of it written by hand. It looks as though
the most magnificent printer had printed and decorated it.
Now these people were very keen on their Masonry and for their musical
society they drew up an unusual code of rules. For example, one rule was that
every one of the founders was to have his own coat-of-arms emblazoned in full
colour in the opening pages of the minute book. How many lodges do you know,
where every founder has his own coat-of-arms? This gives you an idea of the kind
of boys they were. They loved their Masonry and they made another rule, that
anybody could come along to their architectural lectures or to their musical
evenings - the finest conductors were members of the society - anybody could
come, but if he was not a Mason, he had to be made a Mason before they would let
him in; and because they were so keen about the Masonic status of their members,
they kept Masonic biographical notes of each member as he joined. It is from
these notes that we are able to see what actually happened. I could talk about
them all night, but for our present purposes, we need only follow the career of
one of their members, Charles Cotton.
In the records of the Musical Society we read that on 22 December 1724
‘Charles Cotton Esq’. was made a Mason by the said Grand Master’ [ie His
Grace The Duke of Richmond] in the Lodge at the Queen’s Head. It could not be
more regular than that. Then, on 18 February 1725 ‘. . . beiore We Founded
This Society A Lodge was held … In Order to Pass Charles Cotton Esq’. . .
.’ and because it was on the day the society was founded, we cannot be sure
whether Cotton was passed FC in the Lodge or in the Musical Society. Three
months later, on 12 May 1725 ‘Brother Charles Cotton Esqr. Broth’. Papillion
Ball Were regularly passed Masters’.
Now we have the date of Cotton’s initiation, his passing and his raising;
there is no doubt that he received three degrees. But, regularly passed
Masters’ - No! It could not have been more irregular! This was a Musical
Society - not a lodge! But I told you they were nice people, and they had some
very distinguished visitors. First, the Senior Grand Warden came to see them.
Then the Junior Grand Warden. And then, they got a nasty letter from the Grand
Secretary and, in 1727, the society disappeared. Nothing now remains except
their minute book in the British Library. If you ever go to London and go to
Freemasons’ Hall you will see a marvellous facsimile of that book. It is worth
a journey to London just to see it. And that is the record of the earliest third
degree. I wish we could produce a more respectable first-timer, but that was the
I must tell you, Brethren, that Gould, the great Masonic historian believed,
all his life, that this was the earliest third degree of which there was any
record at all. But just before he died he wrote a brilliant article in the
Transactions of the Quatuor Coronati Lodge, and he changed his mind. He said,
‘No, the minutes are open to wide interpretation, and we ought not to accept
this as a record of the third degree.’ Frankly, I do not believe that he
proved his case, and on this point I dare to quarrel with Gould. Watch me
carefully, Brethren, because I stand a chance of being struck down at this
moment. Nobody argues with Gould! But I dispute this because, within ten months
of this date, we have incontrovertible evidence of the third degree in practice.
As you might expect, bless them, it comes from Scotland.
Lodge Dumbarton Kilwinning, now No 18 on the register of the Grand Lodge of
Scotland, was founded in January 1726. At the foundation meeting there was the
Master, with seven master masons, six fellowcrafts and three entered
apprentices; some of them were operative masons, some non-operative. Two months
later, in March 1726, we have this minute:
Gabriel Porterfield who appeared in the January meeting as a Fellow Craft was
unanimously admitted and received a Master of the Fraternity and renewed his
oath and gave in his entry money.
Now, notice Brethren, here was a Scotsman, who started in January as a
fellowcraft, a founding fellowcraft of a new Lodge. Then he came along in March,
and he renewed his oath, which means he took another ceremony; and he gave in
his entry money, which means he paid for it. Brethren, if a Scotsman paid for it
you bet your life he got it! There is no doubt about that. And there is the
earliest 100 per cent gilt-edged record of a third degree.
Two years later, in December 1728, another new Lodge, Greenock Kilwinning, at
its very first meeting, prescribed separate fees for entering, passing, and
PRICHARD’S MASONRY DISSECTED
From then on we have ample evidence of the three degrees in practice and then
in 1730 we have the earliest printed exposure which claimed to describe all
three degrees, Masonry Dissected, published by Samuel Prichard in October 1730.
It was the most valuable ritual work that had appeared until that time, all in
the form of question and answer (apart from a brief introduction) and it had
enormous influence in the stabilisation of our English ritual.
Its ‘Enter’d Prentice’s Degree’ - by this time ninety-two questions -
gave two pillar words to the EA, and the first of them was ‘lettered’.
Prichard managed to squeeze a lot of floor-work into his EA questions and
answers. Here is one question for the candidate: ‘How did he make you a masonT
Listen to his answer:
With my bare-bended Knee and Body within the Square, the Compass extended to
my naked Left Breast, my naked Right Hand on the Holy
Bible: there I took the Obligation (or Oath) of a Mason.
All that information in one answer! And the next question was, ‘Can you
repeat that obligation’ with the answer, ‘I’ll do my endeavor’, and
Prichard followed this with a magnificent obligation which contained three sets
of penalties (throat cut, heart torn out, body severed and ashes burned and
scattered). This is how they appeared in 1730. Documents of 1760 show them
separated, and later developments do not concern us here.
Prichard’s ‘Fellow-Craft’s Degree’ was very short, only 33 questions
and answers. It gave J alone to the FC (not lettered) but now the second degree
had a lot of new material relating to the pillars, the middle chamber, the
winding stairs, and a long recitation on the letter G, which began with the
meaning ‘Geometry’ and ended denoting ‘The Grand Architect and Contriver
of the Universe’.
Prichard’s ‘Master’s Degree or Master’s Part’ was made up of thirty
questions with some very long answers, containing the earliest version of the
Hiramic legend, literally the whole story as it ran in those days. It included
the murder by ‘three Ruffians’, the searchers, ‘Fifteen Loving Brothers’
who agreed among themselves ‘that if they did not find the Word in him or
about him, the first Word should be the Master’s Word’. Later, the
discovery, “the Slip’, the raising on the FPOF, and another new version of
the MM word*, which is said to mean ‘The Builder is smitten’.
There is no reason to believe that Prichard invented the Hiramic legend. As
we read his story in conjunction with those collected by Thomas Graham in 1726
(quoted above), there can be little doubt that Prichard’s version arose out of
several streams of legend, probably an early result of speculative influence in
But the third degree was not a new invention. It arose from a division of the
original first degree into two parts, so that the original second degree with
its FPOF and a word moved up into third place, both the second and third
acquiring additional materials during the period of change. That was sometime
between 1711 and 1725, but whether it started in England, Scotland, or Ireland
is a mystery; we simply do not know.
Back now to Samuel Prichard and his Masonry Dissected. The book created a
sensation; it sold three editions and one pirated edition in eleven days. It
swept all other exposures off the market. For the next thirty years Prichard was
being reprinted over and over again and nothing else could stand a chance; there
was nothing fit to touch it. We lose something by this, because we have no
records of any ritual developments in England during the next 30 years - a great
30-year gap. Only one new item appeared in all that time, the ‘Charge to the
Initiate’, a miniature of our modern version, in beautiful eighteenth-century
English. It was published in 1735, but we do not know who wrote it. For fresh
information on the growth of the ritual, we have to go across the Channel, into
FURTHER EVIDENCE FROM FRANCE
The English planted Freemasonry in France in 1725, and it became an elegant
pastime for the nobility and gentry. The Duke of So-and-So would hold a lodge in
his house, where he was Master for ever and ever, and any time he invited a few
friends round, they would open a lodge, and he would make a few more Masons.
That was how it began, and it took about ten or twelve years before Masonry
began to seep down, through to the lower levels. By that time lodges were
beginning to meet in restaurants and taverns but around 1736, things were
becoming difficult in France and it was feared that the lodges were being used
for plots and conspiracies against government.
At Paris, in particular, precautions were taken. An edict was issued by Ren6
Herault, Lieutenant- General of Police, that tavern-keepers and restaurant-
keepers were not to give accommodation to Masonic lodges at all, under penalty
of being closed up for six months and a fine of 3,000 livres. We have two
records, both in 1736-37, of well-known restaurants that were closed down by the
Police for that reason. It did not work, and the reason was very simple. Masonry
had started in private houses. The moment that the officials put the screw on
the meetings in taverns and restaurants, it went back into private houses again;
it went underground so-to-speak, and the Police were left helpless.
Eventually, Herault decided that he could do much more damage to the Craft if
he could make it a laughing-stock. If he could make it look ridiculous, he was
sure he could put them out of business for all time, and he decided to try. He
got in touch with one of his girl-friends, a certain Madame Carton. Now,
Brethren, I know what I am going to tell you sounds like our English News of the
World, but I am giving you recorded history, and quite important history at
that. So he got in touch with Madame Carton, who is always described as a dancer
at the Paris opera. The plain fact is that she followed a much older profession.
The best description that gives an idea of her status and her qualities, is that
she slept in the best beds in Europe. She had a very special client&le. Now
this was no youngster; she was fifty-five years old at that time and she had a
daughter who was also in the same interesting line of business. And I have to be
very careful what I say, because it was believed that one of our own Grand
Masters was entangled with either or both of them. All this was in the
newspapers of those days.
Anyway, Herault got in touch with Madame Carton and asked her to obtain a
copy of the Masonic ritual from one of her clients. He intended to publish it,
and by making the Masons look ridiculous he was going to put them out of
business. Well! She did, and he did. In other words, she got her copy of the
ritual and passed it on to him. It was first published in France in 1737, under
the title Reption d’un Frey-Maqon. Within a month it was translated in three
London newspapers, but it failed to diminish the French zeal for Freemasonry and
had no effect in England. I summarise briefly.
The text, in narrative form, described only a single two-pillar ceremony,
dealing mainly with the floor-work and only fragments of ritual. The Candidate
was deprived of metals, right knee bare, left shoe worn ‘as a slipper’ and
locked in a room alone in total darkness, to put him in the right frame of mind
for the ceremony. His eyes were bandaged and his sponsor knocked three times on
the Lodge door. After several questions, he was introduced and admitted in the
care of a Warden (Surveillant). Still blindfolded, he was led three times round
the floor-drawing in the centre of the Lodge, and there were .resin flares’.
It was customary in the French lodges in those days to have a pan of live coals
just inside the door of the lodge and at the moment the candidate was brought
in, they would sprinkle powdered resin on the live coal, to make an enormous
flare, which would frighten the wits out of the candidate, even if he was
blindfolded. (In many cases they did not blindfold them until they came to the
obligation.) Then, amid a circle of swords, we get the posture for the
obligation with three lots of penalties, and details of Aprons and Gloves. This
is followed by the signs, tokens and words relating to two pillars. The ceremony
contained several features unknown in English practice, and some parts of the
story appear to be told in the wrong sequence, so that as we read it, we
suddenly realise that the gentleman who was dictating it had his mind on much
more worldly matters. So Brethren, this was the earliest exposure from France,
not very good, but it was the first of a really wonderful stream of documents.
As before, I shall only discuss the important ones.
My next, is Le Secret des Francs-Maqons (The Secret of the Freemasons) 1742,
published by the AbbÈ Perau, who was Prior at the Sorborme, the University of
Paris. A beautiful first degree, all in narrative form, and every word in favour
of the Craft. His words for the EA and FC were in reverse order (and this became
common practice in Europe) but he said practically nothing about the second
degree. He described the Masonic drinking and toasting at great length, with a
marvellous description of ‘Masonic Fire’. He mentioned that the Master’s
degree was ‘a great ceremonial lamentation over the death of Hiram’ but he
knew nothing about the third degree and said that Master Masons got only a new
sign and that was all.
Our next work is Le Catechisme des Francs-Macons (The Freemasons’
Catechism) published in 1744, by Louis Travenol, a famous French journalist. He
dedicates his book ‘To the Fair Sex’, which he adores, saying that he is
deliberately publishing this exposure for their benefit, because the Masons have
excluded them, and his tone is mildly anti-Masonic. He continues with a note
‘To the Reader’, criticising several items in Perau’s work, but agreeing
that Le Secret is generally correct. For that reason (and Perau was hopelessly
ignorant of the third degree) he confines his exposure to the MM degree. But
that is followed by a catechism which is a composite for all three degrees,
undivided, though it is easy to see which questions belong to the Master Mason.
Le Catechisme also contains two excellent engravings of the Tracing Boards,
or Floor-drawings, one called ‘Plan of the Lodge for the Apprentice-Fellow’
combined , and the other for ‘The Master’s Lodge’.
Travenol begins his third degree with ‘The History of Adoniram, Architect
of the Temple of Solomon’. The French texts usually say Adoniram instead of
Hiram, and the story is a splendid version of the Hiramic Legend. In the best
French versions, the Master’s word (Jehova) was not lost; the nine Masters who
were sent by Solomon to search for him, decided to adopt a substitute word out
of fear that the three assassins had compelled Adonirarn to divulge it.
This is followed by a separate chapter which describes the layout of a
Master’s Lodge, including the ‘Floor-drawing’, and the earliest ceremony
of opening a Master’s Lodge. That contains a curious ‘Master’s sign’
that begins with a hand at the side of the forehead (demonstrate) and ends with
the thumb in the pit of the stomach. And now, Brethren, we get a magnificent
description of the floorwork of the third degree, the whole ceremony, so
beautifully described and in such fine detail, that any Preceptor could
reconstruct it from beginning to end - and every word of this whole chapter is
new material that had never appeared before.*
Of course there are many items that differ from the practices we know, but
now you can see why I am excited about these French documents. They give
marvellous details, at a time when we have no corresponding material in England.
But before I leave Le Cat&hisme, I must say a few words about its picture of
the third degree Tracing Board or Floor-drawing which contains, as its central
theme, a coffin design, surrounded by tear drops, the tears which our ancient
brethren shed over the death of our Master Adoniram.
On the coffin is a sprig of acacia and the word ‘JEHOVA’, ‘ancien mot
du Maitre, (the former word of a Master), but in the French degree it was not
lost. It was the Ineffable Name, never to be uttered, and here, for the first
time, the word Jehova is on the coffin. The diagram, in dots, shows how three
zig-zag steps over the coffin are to be made by the candidate in advancing from
West to East, and many other interesting details too numerous to mention.
The catechism, which is the last main item in the book, is based (like all
the early French catechisms) directly on Prichard’s Masonry Dissected, but it
contains a number of symbolic expansions and explanations, the result of
And so we come to the last of the French exposures that I must deal with
today L’Ordre des Francs-Maqons Trahi (The Order of Freemasons Betrayed)
published in 1745 by an anonymous writer, a thief! There was no law of copyright
in those days and this man knew a good thing when he saw it. He took the best
material he could find, collected it into one book, and added a few notes of his
own. So, he stole Perau’s book, 102 pages, the lot, and printed it as his own
first degree. He said very little about the second degree (the second degree was
always a bit of an orphan). He stole Travenol’s lovely third degree and added
a few notes including a few lines saying that before the Candidate’s
admission, the most junior MM in the Lodge lies down on the coffin, his face
covered with a blood-stained cloth, so that the Candidate will see him raised by
the Master before he advances for his own part in the ceremony.
Of his own material, there is not very much; chapters on the Masonic Cipher,
on the Signs, Grips and Words, and on Masonic customs. He also included two
improved designs of the Floordrawings and two charming engravings illustrating
the first and third degrees in progress. His catechism followed Travenol’s
version very closely but he did add four questions and answers (seemingly a
minor contribution) but they are of high importance in our study of the rit6al:
Q. When a Mason finds himself in danger, what must he say and do to call the
brethren to his aid?
A. He must put his joined hands to his forehead, the fingers interlaced, and
say ‘Help, ye Children (or Sons) of the Widow’.
Brethren, I do not know if the ‘interlaced fingers’ were used in the USA
or Canada; I will only say that they were well known in several European
jurisdictions, and the ‘Sons of the Widow’ appear in most versions of the
Three more new questions ran:
Q. What is the Password of an Apprentice? Ans: T
Q. That of a Fellow? Ans: S
Q. And that of a Master? Ans: G
This was the first appearance of Passwords in print, but the author added an
These three Passwords are scarcely used except in France and at Frankfurt on
Main. They are in the nature of Watchwords, introduced as a surer safeguard
(when dealing) with brethren whom they do not know.
Passwords had never been heard of before this date, 1745, and they appear for
the first time, in France. You will have noticed, Brethren, that some of them
appear to be in the wrong order, and, because of the 30-year gap, we do not know
whether they were being used in England at that time or if they were a French
invention. On this puzzle we have a curious piece of indirect evidence, and I
must digress for a moment.
In the year 1730, the Grand Lodge of England was greatly troubled by the
exposures that were being published, especially Prichard’s Masonry Dissected,
which was officially condemned in Grand Lodge. Later, as a precautionary
measure, certain words in the first two degrees were interchanged, a move which
gave grounds in due course for the rise of a rival Grand Lodge. Le Secret, 1742,
Le Catechisme, 1744 and the Trahi, 1745, all give those words in the new order,
and in 1745, when the Passwords made their first appearance in France, they also
appear in reverse order. Knowing how regularly France had adopted - and improved
- on English ritual practices, there seems to be a strong probability that
Passwords were already in use in England (perhaps in reverse order), but there
is not a single English document to support that theory.
So Brethren, by 1745 most of the principal elements in the Craft degrees were
already in existence, and when the new stream of English rituals began to appear
in the 1760s the best of that material had been embodied in our English
practice. But it was still very crude and a great deal of polishing needed to be
The polishing began in 1769 by three writers - Wellins Calcutt and William
Hutchinson, in 1769, and William Preston in 1772, but Preston towered over the
others. He was the great expounder of Freemasonry and its symbolism, a born
teacher, constantly writing and improving on his work. Around 1800, the ritual
and the Lectures (which were the original catechisms, now expanded and explained
in beautiful detail) were all at their shining best. And then with typical
English carelessness, we spoiled it.
You know, Brethren, that from 1751 up to 1813, we had two rival Grand Lodges
in England (the original, founded in 1717, and the rival Grand Lodge, known as
the ‘Antients’, founded in 1751) and they hated each other with truly
Masonic zeal. Their differences were mainly in minor matters of ritual and in
their views on Installation and the Royal Arch. The bitterness continued until
1809 when the first steps were taken towards a reconciliation and a much-desired
union of the rivals.
In 1809, the original Grand Lodge, the ‘Moderns’, ordered the necessary
revisions, and the Lodge of Promulgation was formed to vet the ritual and bring
it to a form that would be satisfactory to both sides. That had to be done, or
we would still have had two Grand Lodges to this day! They did an excellent job,
and many changes were made in ritual and procedural matters; but a great deal of
material was discarded, and it might be fair to say that they threw away the
baby with the bath- water. The Beehive, the Hour-glass, the Scythe, the Pot of
Incense etc, which were in our Tracing Boards in the early nineteenth century
have disappeared. We have to be thankful indeed for the splendid material they
A NOTE FOR BRETHREN IN THE USA
I must add a note here for Brethren in the USA. You will realise that until
the changes which I have just described, I have been talking about your ritual
as well as ours in England. After the War of Independence the States rapidly
began to set up their own Grand Lodges, but your ritual, mainly of English
origin - whether Antients or Moderns - was still basically. English. Your big
changes began in and around 1796, when Thomas Smith Webb, of Albany, NY, teamed
up with an English Mason, John Hanmer, who was well versed in Preston’s
In 1797 Webb published his Freemason’s Monitor or Illustrations of Masonry,
largely based on Preston’s Illustrations. Webb’s Monitor, adapted from our
ritual when, as I said, it was at its shining best, became so popular, that the
American Grand Lodges, mainly in the Eastern states at that time, did everything
they could to preserve it in its original form; eventually by the appointment of
Grand Lecturers, whose duty it was (and is) to ensure that the officially
adopted forms remain unchanged.
I cannot go into details now, but from the Rituals and Monitors I have
studied and the Ceremonies and Demonstrations I have seen, there is no doubt
that your ritual is much fuller than ours, giving the candidate much more
explanation, interpretation, and symbolism, than we normally give in England.
In effect, because of the changes we made in our work between 1809 and 1813,
it is fair to say that in many respects your ritual is older than ours and
better than ours.