Masonic Miscellanies

Excerpts from J.S.M. Ward (EA’s Handbook)

Why ‘free’?

Well, in mediaeval days he had to bind himself to serve as an apprentice for seven years.

Unless he was a free man, his owner might come along and take him away, before he had completed his apprenticeship and, worse still, might extort from him such secrets as he had learnt from the masons.

Thus, the master might be enabled to set himself up as a free lance, not under the control of the fraternity.

The Candidate is taken in hand by the Tyler, who makes him sign a form to the effect that he is free, and of the full age of 21 years.

Why do we have a Tyler?

If the Freemasons erected a lodge before they started to build a church or castle, we shall see that their meeting in the open would be merely occasional, e.g., while the temporary lodge was being built, and not a regular custom; but the very fact that it was a temporary building, and open to approach by all and sundry who came to the site of the new edifice, is quite sufficient to explain why they had someone on guard.

Why, however, is he called a Tyler, instead of Sentinel, or some similar name?


There are three explanations, and we can adopt which we please:

1. To tile is to cover in; hence the Tyler is one who covers or conceals what is going on in the lodge.

2. In the old mediaeval Templar ceremony there were three sentinels; one inside the door, one outside, and one on the roof or tiles, who could see if anyone was approaching the building. It will be remembered that the old Templar Churches were round, so that a man perched on the roof was able to see in every direction.

3. That the tilers were inferior craftsmen as compared with the genuine Freemasons; poor brethren, as it were, and not admitted to full membership, although one or two were chosen to act as Outer Guards.


I am not greatly impressed with the latter theory, and my person predilection is in favour of No 1; but there is a good deal to be said for No 2. The tyler guarded the brethren from ‘cowans’ or eavesdroppers.

The former word is still used in the country districts of Lancashire and Westmorland for a dry-dyker, that is, a man who builds rough walls between the different fields, of rough, uncut, and un-mortared stones.

When I was living in Yorkshire, I had a number of fields so surrounded; the stones for which were picked from the hillside and piled one upon another.

No particular skill was needed to build such a wall; I repaired several myself.

In other words, a ‘cowan’ is one who pretends to be a mason because he works in stone; but is not one.

Some fanciful derivations have been suggested from ‘Cohen’, the Jewish priest. I disagree entirely with this view.

Why should the Jewish Cohens be more likely to pretend to be Freemasons than any other priests?

As the other word is spelt as we spell ours, and means what I have stated, I see no reason to invent this suggestion regarding the Jewish priests, who were always few in number, and in the Middle Ages hardly existed: the Jews were driven out of England by Edward I, and not re-admitted until the time of Cromwell.

‘Eavesdroppers’ means men who listen under the eaves. The eaves of a primitive or of a mediaeval cottage overhung a considerable distance beyond the walls, and between the roof and the wall was an open space.

Through this space the smoke of the fire escaped; the general arrangement being very similar to that found in the tropics.

The walls of such a cottage were often only five to six feet high, and thus a man could stand under the eaves in the shadow, hidden from the light of the sun or moon, and both see and hear what was going on inside, without those who were in the lodge knowing he was there.

But the Tyler was on guard outside the door of the Lodge; he was armed with a d..n s..d, and woe betide any eavesdropper he discovered, for our mediaeval brethren undoubtedly interpreted their obligations literally.

Incidentally, I understand that nominally the duty of carrying out the pen. still rests on the shoulders of the Tyler.

With regard to the use of temporary buildings on or near the site of the edifice, it should be noted that during the building of Westminster Abbey there was at least one, if not two, such lodges, and they are mentioned in the records of the Abbey.

One seems to have stood on the site of the subsequent nave.

Thus we can see that it was essential that there should be an Outer Guard to keep off intruders, owing to the fact that Lodges were usually held in temporary buildings, often with overhanging eaves and an open space between the top of the walls and the beams which supported the roof.

What is to ‘hele’

– and how do we pronounce it?

The word ‘hele’ should, in my opinion, be pronounced ‘heal’, not ‘hale’.

The use of ‘hale’ is due to the fact that in the 18th century the words ‘conceal’, and ‘reveal’, were pronounced ‘concale’ and ‘revale’.

Since the words obviously were a jingle, I consider it is more correct to-day to pronounce it ‘heal’.

Moreover, the word ‘hele’ means to cover over. You still hear the phrase used, ‘to hele a cottage’, or even a haystack, and the word ‘Hell’ implies the place that is covered over, e.g., in the centre of the earth.

‘Hele’ is connected with ‘heal’ to cover up, or to close up, a wound-and the meaning therefore is tautalogical, viz, ‘to cover up the word’. (The Masonic s–t)

The use of the pronunciation ‘Hale’ is today most misleading and is apt to cause a newly initiated Bro. to think he has to ‘hail’ something, or ‘proclaim it aloud’.

Article by: J. S. M. Ward

John Sebastian Marlow Ward (22 December 1885 – 1949) was an English author who published widely on the subject of Freemasonry and esotericism.

He was born in what is now Belize. In 1908 he graduated from the University of Cambridge with honours in history, following in the footsteps of his father, Herbert Ward. who had also studied in history before entering the priesthood in the Anglican Church, as his father had done before him.

John Ward became a prolific and sometimes controversial writer on a wide variety of topics.

He made contributions to the history of Freemasonry and other secret societies. He was also a psychic medium or spiritualist, a prominent churchman and is still seen by some as a mystic and modern-day prophet.

EA Handbook

by J.S.M. Ward


An interpretation of the first degree, the meaning of the preparation, symbolism, ritual and signs as theorised by the author.


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