Freemasonry has been aptly described as ‘the gentle Craft’. Its teachings are of brotherly love, relief, truth, love of God, charity, immortality, mutual help, sympathy.
To the initiate, therefore, the penalty in his obligation comes often with a shock of surprise and sometimes consternation.
Let it be said with emphasis: the penalties are wholly symbolic.
The small boy uses the expression ‘By golly’, keeping alive an ancient Cornish oath in which goll or the hand, uplifted, was offered as a sacrifice if what was said was not the truth.
In our courts of law we say, ‘So help me, God’, in taking the oath to tell the truth. But the small boy does not expect his hand to be cut off if he happens to fib, nor is the penalty for perjury such that only God may help him upon whom it is inflicted.
Masonic penalties go back to very ancient times; to years when punishments were cruel and inhuman, often for very small offenses.
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Throats were cut, tongues torn out, bodies cut in half, hooks struck into breasts and the body torn apart; men were dismembered for all sorts of offenses which seem to us much too trivial for such extreme punishments; looting a temple, stealing a sheep, disclosing the king’s secrets, etc.
Other punishments of the Middle Ages were based on religious fears.
To be buried in un-consecrated ground was a terrible end for ignorant and superstitious people who believed that it meant eternal damnation. Similarly, to be interred in land which was no man’s property – between high and low water mark – was symbolical of spiritual death.
These and other horrible penalties were inflicted by law by various peoples at various times. That the legal penalties for certain civil crimes were incorporated in Masonic obligations seems obvious.
But that they ever meant or were ever intended to mean any death but a symbolic one is simply not so.
The yokel who cries ‘May God strike me dead if this is not so’ does not mean that he wishes to die; but he says that he believes be will be worthy of death if he lies.
It is in such a way that the Masonic penalties are to be understood; the Entered Apprentice states his belief that he would merit the penalty of his obligation if he failed to keep it.
The only punishments ever inflicted by Freemasons upon Freemasons are reprimand, suspension (definite and indefinite), and expulsion from the Fraternity.
The initiate who violates his obligation will feel the weight of no hand laid upon him. He will suffer no physical penalties whatever.
The contempt and detestation of his brethren, their denial of the privileges of Freemasonry to the foresworn, are the only Masonic penalties ever inflicted.
Article by: Carl H. Claudy
Carl Harry Claudy (1879 – 1957) was an American author, magazine writer, and journalist for the New York Herald.
His association with Freemasonry began in 1908, when, at the age of 29, he was raised a master Mason in lodge Harmony No. 17 in Washington, DC. He served as its master in 1932 and eventually served as Grand Master of Masons in the District of Colombia in 1943.
His Masonic writing career began in earnest when he became associated with the Masonic service Association in 1923, serving as associate editor of its magazine, The master mason, until 1931.
Under his leadership the service Association was brought to a place of predominance through his authorship and distribution of the short talk bulletin which made his name familiar to virtually every lodge in the country.