Ashlar Chippings

That ‘H’ word

There is often confusion about how the ‘H’ word is pronounced and even what its meaning is.

So here I will attempt to provide a few pointers but there is no intention to suggest any change to your lodge working. However, a little explanation may help to clarify things.

The word usually comes coupled with two others immediately following, forming what could be called a ‘rhyming triplicity’, in order to impress a specific significance in the mind of a candidate.

We find many examples of these memorable groupings throughout our rituals for that same reason and to assist the memory of the speaker.

Here is an example of non-Masonic use of the word from The Sussex Weekly Advertiser or Lewes and Brighthelmstone [1] Journal of 20 April, 1801:


Stone-Mason and SLATER,

RESPECTFULLY acquaints his friends and the public he has just imported, a large quantity of the best HEALING SLATES, which are selling wholesale and retail on the lowest terms.


So here we have a pronunciation which would rhyme and a meaning that implies ‘covering’.  We should also bear in mind that spelling was more art than science in those days!

Lesser Lights – what are they?

During one of our ceremonies the Master is required to point out for the edification of the candidate, the locations and symbolic attributes of the lesser lights.

Sometimes he fails to point to them at all or he points to the people whom the lights represent and not to the lights themselves; or even just vaguely waves his arms about!

As this seems to be so common an occurrence, I cannot put it down to the undoubted pressure alone which the delivery of ritual imposes on the Master.

On talking to many brethren about this either informally or when leading Q&A discussions in lodge, it has become apparent that very few realise the lesser lights are precisely that – physical lights.

And that it is they that represent certain objects or people. Once enlightened(!), it is humbly gratifying to notice, on subsequent visits, those candle lights being purposefully indicated.

There is a detailed discourse on this subject in Harry Carr’s The Freemason at Work.

The darkness comprehended it not!

As the candidate was leaving the JW, he inadvertently nudged something, he knew not what but there was a mighty crashing sound and much scuffling before reaching the SW, after which the rest of the proceedings were fairly uneventful.

Having been restored, re-admitted and introduced to all and sundry, he settled down to watch the rest of the meeting business being transacted and took in the elaborate and beautiful furnishings in the room.

Came the moment for the alms collection, announced in urgent yet ritualistic terms, for needs are great, our neophyte was seen by the Deacon to slip a fifty pound note into the bag.

When the meeting was over, the Treasurer gave him back his note saying that, though most generous, such an amount was really not expected from him, the norm being anything from a couple to five or ten pounds at the most.

The new-made brother responded that he felt he should make due recompense because it was his fault the column was broken!

Interpretations of Symbols 

Too often, Masonic symbols have remained just that – symbols without a serious commitment to realising their true meaning for us.

They have remained an outward sign, but without the inner meaning.

But Freemasonry has no dogma, and does not dictate to us how we should interpret symbols. Since there is no dogma, there seems to be a lack of guidance.

Its symbols are mostly allegorical and their meaning hidden. This is not because there is something to hide, far from it, but rather that there is something to be revealed.

To discover the true masonic secret, we have to work to bring it forth. It is in the de-coding of the symbols, that the fruits, the insights are gained.

There is however a need for a road-map with which to travel the path, a sort of companion on our journey, to hold our hand as we explore for ourselves.


The above is quoted from Light for the Entered Apprentice, an explanatory adjunct booklet to the ‘Lauderdale’ ritual [2] and puts me in mind of a couplet written inside the cover of a copy of William Preston’s Syllabus by its recipient, Bro John Sherwood, from its author during or shortly after 1812:

Empty the glare of symbol and of sign
Unless th’internal import thro’ them shine.

Thus the need for interpretation of our symbolic language, both in physical as well as linguistic form has been with us for a long time. [3]  

These days we might expect our lodge and personal mentors to assist brethren in coming to this understanding if they possess the necessary insight.

Our Toast Lists are wrong!

I have no doubt that you would agree Freemasonry is a bastion of correctness, etiquette and form in all we do.

However, an examination of the formal toast list we use after dinner might give us some pause.

Debrett’s, the authoritative reference work on all customary matters of quality, station and etiquette, makes it quite clear that members of the knightage, regardless of knightly rank should be addressed with one forename or forename and surname only.

E.g. Sir Archibald Featherstone-haugh would be correct but Sir Archibald Peregrine Featherstone-haugh would be incorrect.

Currently the toast lists being distributed to Craft lodges and to Royal Arch chapters use the latter incorrect form.

I note with some pleasure that the Grand Lodge Quarterly Communications uses the correct customary form and I hope consistency may be restored.


[1]  The old name for Brighton, on the south coast of Sussex.

[2]  Julian Rees, Light for the Entered Apprentice, Le Droit Humain.

[3]  The Treasures of English Freemasonry 1717 – 2017, ‘The Craft of Symbolism’, Lewis Masonic 2017.

Article by: Hugh O’Neill

Hugh O'Neill

Past Master of Craft lodges under the constitution of the United Grand Lodge of England. Member of Quatuor Coronati Lodge 2076, the world’s premier Masonic research lodge. Masonic historian and orator on Masonic topics.



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