Over and over again the question has been asked, What is the origin of speculative Free and Accepted Masonry?
The day of accepting vague tradition is rapidly passing and intelligent Masons are inquiring for themselves for historical facts, as well as for authentic traditions.
In their zeal for the antiquity of the Fraternity, orators and writers have traced it back to the Garden of Eden. Less enthusiastic ones have contented themselves with stopping at the building of King Solomon’s Temple.
The latter, by reason of the symbols and language used, are less unreasonable, but in truth there is no real historical relation between King Solomon’s Temple and Speculative Freemasonry.
Speculative Masonry, which is the Freemasonry of today in this country, is the outgrowth, the child of Operative Masonry.
To give intelligently the history of Speculative or Symbolic Freemasonry, we must first give briefly the history of Operative Masonry.
In all ages of the world, and especially since the building of King Solomon’s Temple, there have been skilled artisans distinguished from ordinary workmen.
Among the most noted of them were the workers in stone, called masons. The word “Mason” comes from the Latin “maconetus,” meaning “a builder.”
Skilled Operative Masons plied their trade in England, France and Italy, during the Middle Ages, and were famed for the character of their work.
They were not only builders, but were architects as well. They stamped their individuality on every building.
They had so far advanced as skilled Masons as to be a privileged class, free to travel wherever they pleased, and to plan and erect buildings exempt from the taxes and limitations imposed upon the less skilled workers.
Being free as to territory and taxes, and free as to the character of the work they undertook, they were called Free Masons.
They built many churches, cathedrals and other stately edifices, some of which still exist. These operatives traveled much in the performance of their work.
In those days, writing was not common and diplomas were unknown. So, in order to be accredited with each other as Craftsmen, a system of passwords and signs was adopted which enabled each to prove to the others that he had been regularly taught his trade, and was no pretender or cowan.
These ancient Operative Masons had their regulations by which a young man was admitted as an apprentice, taught his work and became entitled to practice his trade.
They easily and early fell into the custom of meeting in lodges. From time to time ceremonies for receiving members were adopted and a Ritual was formulated.
In A.D.926 the Operative Masons were granted a charter for a regular organization, empowering them to meet annually at York, where the first Grand Lodge was organized, at which Edwin, the brother of King Athelstan, presided as Grand Master. Operative Masonry was a religion and a trade combined.
I am sure that it will be interesting as well as profitable for me to give, first of all, the ceremonies of conferring the degrees in the Operative Lodges. Their similarity to the ceremonies of the Speculatives will impress the Masonic student.
I have gathered the information from various sources, but give credit for most of the descriptions which follow to “The Ritual of Operative Freemasons”, written by Thomas Carr, M. D., who is still living, and who is an honorary member of a Guild of Operative Freemasons, as well as a Past Master of a Lodge of Speculative Masons.
The form of the petition to an Operative Lodge for apprenticeship was as follows :
“I, being the son of a Free Man and years of age, humbly crave to be made an apprentice to the Ancient and Honorable Craft. I am prompted by a favorable opinion preconceived of the fraternity, and I desire full knowledge to enable me to work at the trade. I promise that I will conform to all the ancient usages and established customs of the Order.”
The candidate had to be proposed by one Mason, seconded by another and supported by five more. The application for apprenticeship was posted at the entrance of the quarry or workshop for fourteen days.
On three occasions he must stand by his application, when the men are going to and from work, so that all may see him; and if anyone knows anything against him, it must be reported at the head office, and the matter investigated.
If accepted, he had to appear on the appointed day — the sixth of the week — at high twelve, at the quarry or workshop. He applies at the door, and is admitted on giving the proper password, which had been given him.
He is admitted within the entrance of the Lodge, usually a porch with double doors, and takes an oath not to reveal any part of the proceedings. This is sealed by his kissing the book. The candidate puts his feet on the lower ledge of a foot stone.
It may be interesting just at this point to describe briefly the Lodge room of the Operatives, as they are about to confer the first degree. There are three Masters. They sit in the west so that they face and can see the rising sun.
The Junior Warden sits in the north so that he can see the sun at its meridian height, and the Senior Warden sits in the east so that he can see the setting sun.
The altar is in the center of the Lodge; over it is suspended the letter G, and the Rough Ashlar stone is on its east side. There are three Deacons present, one for the Masters and one for each Warden.
Inside the porch the candidate is divested of all money and hoodwinked. Then three men come out of the Lodge, divest him of all his clothes, and dirty him with mud. The doctor then arrives and removes the hoodwink. He is told to “Wash and be clean.”
The bath is ready and the candidate bathes. Seven times does he dip. The doctor then examines him to see that he is sound in wind and limb and reports him “perfect in all his parts.” Then he is elected by the “clean-hand” sign.
He is clothed in a white cloak, whence the original symbolism of white, signifying a candidate, is obtained, the word candidate meaning literally “I am white.” The candidate is again hoodwinked, still clothed in the white cloak.
He has also a blue cord looped around his neck, held by a man in front and a man behind, and a second blue cord around his center, held by a man on each side. The neck cord being longer than the center cord, the four men make a diamond, with the candidate in the center.
This diamond had a reference to Operative Masonry, and the candidate and his four attendants make “five points,” which has’ another reference to Operative methods.
The candidate now makes application at the inner door. The sword is held to his naked left breast. so as to draw blood.
He is then admitted and led to the north east corner.
Here he is questioned.
What age are you?
What is your character?
What is your knowledge?
Where have you been working?
Have you been a member of any Guild or Company before?
Do you swear you have never been expelled, discharged or “run away” from any work?
In all cases of difficulty and danger in whom do you put your trust?
In El Shaddai is all my t. Right. Rise.
The brothers in the E., S., W., and N. will take notice that — is about to pass before them. He is asked if he sees anything.
He replies No, and the hoodwink is slightly raised so that by bending his head a little forward he is able to see his own feet and two or three feet in front of them.
He is then cautioned to keep strictly to the track or tessellated border, and is led once around it.
He has put one foot in front of the other, toe to heel, and so on; it is called “end on work,” or “work in line.”
The candidate has to make this perambulation once correctly without failure.
From the N. E. corner he goes to the S. E., then to S. W., then to N. W. Then he comes to the Junior Warden, who bars his progress.
On due report the bar is raised and the candidate proceeds. Then back to the N. E. corner and to Senior Warden, who bars progress again.
On due report the bar is removed and then a strip of scarlet is laid down leading to the Rough Ashlar stone on the east side of the altar, so that the candidate shall not step on the squares of the Mosaic Pavement as he is led to the Ashlar stone.
Here he kneels with both knees bare on the rough Ashlar stone, with the left hand S. T. H. B. T. R. R. T. (Support the holy book)
It is interesting to note that this is still preserved as a sign in the Lodges under the Scotch Grand Lodge, as well as among the Operative Freemasons.
He then takes the following obligation :
I, do, in the presence of El Shaddai and of this worshipful assembly of Freemasons, Rough Masons, Wallers, Slaters, Paviors, Plaisterers and Bricklayers, promise and declare that I will not at any time hereafter, by any act or circumstance whatsoever, directly or indirectly, write, print, cut, mark, publish, discover, reveal or make known any part or parts of the trade secrets, privileges or councils of the Worshipful Fraternity or Fellowship of Freemasonry, which I may have known at any time, or at any time hereafter shall be made known unto me.
“The penalty for breaking this great oath shall be the loss of my life.
That I shall be branded with the mark of the traitor and slain according to ancient customs by being throatailed.
SO THAT MY SOUL HAVE NO REST BY NIGHT OR DAY.
Given under my hand and sealed with my lips.
So help me El Shaddai and the holy contents of this book.”
The form of these oaths explains the archaic form of the obligation in the Speculative Ritual.
People of the Middle Ages believed the soul could not rest unless the body was properly buried, hence the craving was for Christian burial.
It is really the remnant of a Pagan idea transmitted to Christian times. The ancient Romans believed that the soul of an unburied body could not pass the Styx for at least a hundred years.
There is no doubt that in ancient times it was contemplated that these penalties should be actually inflicted; indeed, at a time when physical mutilation such as amputation of a hand, and hanging, drawing and quartering were still in our statute books, there was nothing incongruous in such an oath.
Papworth and Gould record that in 1099 a Bishop of Utrecht was slain for extracting the grand secret from the son of a Master Mason.
After taking the obligation the candidate is requested to seal it with his lips. As his lips are brought to the book, a large seal of soft wax is placed underneath them; his head is forcibly pushed downward so that an actual impression of his lips is taken by the wax, and his obligation is “sealed with his lips” actually and literally.
When the obligation is finished the Master says to the Deacons, “Give light that he may place his hand to the bond.”
A pen is put in his hand, and he signs the bond, “Given under my hand and sealed with my lips.”
The candidate is then assisted to rise with the words, “Rise, apprentice to the Craft of Freemasons.”
George Thornburgh (January 25, 1847–March 9, 1923) was a politician, soldier, educator, and resident of Powhatan.
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