When a big undertaking such as the
building of a cathedral was in preparation, a select company of masons
was formed to undertake the job. All necessary tradesmen such as
blacksmiths and carpenters etc. were included in the company, but not in
the Masons Lodge and work-yards. A unique company password was settled
on to differentiate the company from other companies in the area and to
keep out cowans and eavesdroppers.
Despite this constant intermingling
of various trades, the Masons kept their own identity, but speculative
masonry has brought in a password that belonged to those artificers in
metal, the blacksmiths guild.
The first charter granted to a
Masons Company was in 926 A.D., by Athelstane. The present Masons
Company of London was incorporated in 1411 in the reign of Henry IV.
They were given a heraldic coat of arms through the influence of Sir
Christopher Wren. The supporters of the weapons are two Masons, the one
on one side having blue facings and holding a square, the one on the
other having red facings, and carrying compasses. The blue masons were
known as square masons and the red masons as round masons. We will hear
more about these puzzling differentiations later.
Operative Masonry consisted of
seven degrees, the first four being operative and the last three
supervisory and administrative and requiring special qualifications. The
first four degrees were divided into blue and red masons each division
having separate signs, tokens, and words and meeting in different
The seven degrees were:
Apprentices to the Craft of
Freemasons – square and round.
Fellows of the Craft of Freemasons
- square and round.
Super Fellows who have their Mark –
square and round.
Super Fellows also Erectors on the
Site – square and round.
Intendents, Superintendents or
Those who have passed technical
instruction for Master, Certified Master, or Passed Master, also called
The Grandmasters, two were elected
for life or until retirement, and the third elected annually,
collectively known as the Sanhedrin.
In the old days, most workers were
bondsmen working under bond to the town or city or to some big landlord.
These men were common labourers or apprentices learning a trade. After
an apprentice had attained proficiency, he became a freeman and could
travel in search of work, something that we take very much for granted.
Only the sons of freemen could become Masons.
A lad to become a Mason (not a
Freemason) had to be 14-15 years of age and make an application for
permission to become an apprentice to the Society. If granted
permission, he then signed the following petition – which happens to be
to the Masons Company of London.
“Application to the Superintendent
of the Works of the Worshipful Society of Freemasons-
Roughmasons-Wallers-Slaters-Paviers-Plasterers and Bricklayers.
I John Smith being the son of a
Freeman and 14 years of age humbly crave to be made an apprentice to the
Ancient and Honourable Craft. I am prompted by a favourable opinion
preconceived of the Fraternity and the desire for knowledge to enable me
to work at the trade. I further promise and swear that I will conform to
all the ancient usages and customs of the Order.
Witness my hand this day
This was followed by the signature
of the applicant and that of a witness.
This petition was posted at the
entrance of the quarry or work yard for 14 days, and the applicant had
to stand by his application on three occasions when men were coming to
or leaving, work. If anything adverse was known of the applicant, it was
reported at the office and an investigation made.
If the petition was accepted the
lad had to be proposed by a Mason, seconded by another, and supported by
five more. Note the number seven, as seven Masons are necessary to make
a speculative lodge perfect or to initiate a candidate.
After this, the applicant goes to
the workshop or quarry at high twelve on Friday, the sixth day of the
week High-twelve because, according to operative tradition, something
extraordinary happened at that hour and that tradition has been followed
by and incorporated into, speculative Freemasonry.
Friday was the last day of the week
in the time of King Solomon, and on that day workmen received their pay,
which carries through into the Mark ceremony today. The candidate is now
admitted to the ante-chamber of the Lodge by his conductor who gives the
password "free and of good report." The candidate then takes an oath
never to reveal anything in the event of his rejection during the
ceremony. This is done by reading out his application and kissing the
book when he says "promise and swears". He also takes another oath that
avoiding fear, on the one hand, rashness on the other, he will persevere
through the ceremony of his initiation.
The candidate then puts his feet on
the lower area of a footing stone, which is checked by the Treasurer,
but left until the candidate is obligated.
An Operative Lodge is not set out
in the same way as ours as there are three Masters. Grand Lodge, Royal
Arch, and the Scottish Lodges have three Masters, but with one
exception, it is not necessary for all three to be present together. The
floor of the Lodge is three squares in the area. The Masters sit in the
west to mark the rising sun, the S.W. in the east to mark the setting
sun, and the J.W. in the north to mark high twelve!
We will discuss this apparent
anomaly, later. The altar is in the centre of the Lodge, under the
letter G and a perpendicular line is suspended over the centre of the
platform. The rough ashlar is near, and to the east, of the altar.
The candidate in the ante-room is
divested of all money and metals and hoodwinked. Three men come from the
Lodge to strip him naked and splash him with mud. The surgeon removes
the hoodwink and says "wash and be clean." A bath is ready, and the
candidate bathes. He has to dip himself seven times. The surgeon
examines him and reports to the Lodge that "John Smith is perfect in all
The Master then asks the Lodge if
they will accept him as an apprentice to the Craft. He is received by
the "clean hard" sign. The candidate is then hoodwinked again, clothed
in a white robe, has a blue or red cord looped around his neck held by a
man in front and another behind. A shorter red or blue cord is then tied
around his waist and held by a man on each side. The four men make a
diamond with the candidate in the centre. This diamond has reference to
a method of checking the correctness of work by operatives, being four
right-angled triangles. The candidate and his attendants make five
points. This is known as the five-point system. Annually the third
Master of the Lodge underwent a ceremony similar to our third degree,
and this probably, is where the five points of fellowship were derived.
The candidate now applies for
admission to the Lodge at the inner door, and is asked "how do you hope
to obtain admission?" giving the answer "by the help of God and being
free and of good report."
The sword is held to his naked left
breast to draw blood. He is then admitted and led to the northeast
corner where he is questioned while kneeling. "What is your age?" What
is your character?" What is your knowledge?" "Have you ever been a
member of any company or guild before?" "do you swear you have never
been expelled, discharged, or run away from any work?" In all cases of
difficulty or danger, in whom do you put your trust?"
"In God is all my trust," the
Right, rise. The brothers in the E.
S. W. and N. will take notice that John Smith is about to pass before
them. He is then led around the Lodge. After the first perambulation, he
is asked if he can see anything to which he replies "no." The hoodwink
is then raised sufficiently for him to see his feet and about a yard in
front of them. He is warned to keep strictly to the path, or tessellated
border, the next time around he puts one foot in front of the other,
heel to toe, this called "end-on-work" or, ‘work-in-line," and he must
make one perambulation correctly without fail. He starts at the N.E.
then to the S.E. and on the way to N.W. and on his way back to the N.E.
he is barred by the J.W. who allows him to pass on an excellent report.
He then proceeds until blocked by the S.W. who will enable him to pass
on a good report. A strip of carpet is laid down leading to the rough
ashlar so that the candidate does not tread on the Mosaic Pavement as he
is directed to the ashlar.
The candidate kneels with both
knees on the rough ashlar, right hand resting on V.S.L. and left hand
holding compasses. I had heard that before the V.S.L. was available, the
candidate rested his hand on the perfect ashlar, it is a symbol of
The obligation was practically the
same as ours and the penalty, "your heart shall be taken out while
alive, your head cut off and your body buried in the sea and not in any
place where Christians are buried.
After taking the obligation, the
candidate is told to seal it with his lips. As his lips approach the
book, a sheet of soft wax is placed on the book, and his head forced
down so that his lips make an impression on the wax. Thus his obligation
is literally sealed with his lips.
The Master then says “Give light
that he may place his hand to the bond." A pen is then given to him, and
he signs the bond. The candidate then says "I deliver this as my act and
deed." The candidate is then assisted to rise with the words "rise
apprentice to the Craft of Free Masons." He is then given the grip which
is the same as ours, but it must be covered.
The charge is then given. The
obligation in Speculative Masonry covers a lot of the operative charge,
except for that part relating to the Dame of the House. All operative
lodges had a housekeeper who was protected, and she had to swear to be
of good character. The candidate is now given his actual working tools,
chisel, maul, and straight-edge with compasses besides in the red, given
his apprentice's apron, and taken back to the N.E. corner. There he is
asked how he is going to live to his first pay. If he has the money or
is living with his father, nothing further is done. If, however, he says
he is poor and has no money, the Master craves charity for him, and a
collection is made.
For seven years he is an apprentice
and wears a blue or red cord around his neck to show that he is bound.
The initiation is complete, and for seven years the candidate works as
an indentured apprentice. After he has completed his time, he again
makes an application to the Superintendent to be passed to the necessary
degree of Fellow of the Craft of Free Mason, after swearing to conform
to the Ancient charges, established customs, etc.
The applicant has to go and kneel
on the same ashlar stone as when he was bound seven years previously.
The bond is torn up, and the blue or red cord is removed from his neck.
Rise Free Brother, you are now superior to an apprentice but inferior to
a Fellow of the Craft of Free Masons. He is then given the password and
pass grip which is the same as ours, but again covered.
Before the Free Brother can be
passed to the second degree, he has to prepare a rough-dressed ashlar or
cylinder. This stone is prepared in the apprentice's yard and is a
fraction of an inch too large all over and must be passed by the
Inspector of the Works.
The candidate for the second degree
must take his prepared stone to Lodge with him and swear that it is all
his own work and that no man has used a tool upon it.
Again on a Friday at high twelve
after giving the pass-grip and word and with no special preparation, the
Master calls the attention of the Fellows that the candidate is about to
pass before them. This time he is led around the Lodge twice with his
right foot across the Lodge and his left at right angles to it. This is
called header and stretcher work or, one and one. He is then led to the
altar as before, kneels on both bare knees, and takes his obligation
which practically covers our second and third, but remember the five
points of fellowship as such is unknown to the operatives. The sign is
rather like our second, and the word means builder.
The new Fellow of the Craft is
invested with the fellow's apron and presented with his actual working
tools which are the plumb, the level, the square and the straight edge,
the two-foot rule, and the ashlar square, a royal cubit having faced 21
7/8 inch square. He starts work in the N.E. corner of the fellow's yard.
There he is taught to square up and true his rough ashlar. Now that he
is a Fellow, he is a Freemason and becomes a freeman of his town or
city. When he has dressed and polished his rough ashlar, and after it
has passed trial and inspection, he is given the word and a sign
representing plumb, level, and square.
Having the word and sign and his
polished stone as proof of craftsmanship a Fellow has the password and
sign to the third degree or Super-fellow who has his Mark. This degree
and the fourth degree Super-fellow who is an Erector are so very similar
to the MMM degree that they cannot be given here. In the third degree,
the Super-fellow is given his own mark and taught the building marks so
that the Erectors know where every stone goes. He is also taught to use
the tracing board to fit the stones and mark them correctly.
In the blue degree the headstone of
the corner, and in the red degree, the keystone is lost. In both cases
“the stone which the builders rejected and etc.” brings the work to a
halt. But these details you will have to find out for yourselves in
After working for a year in the
third yard, the Super-fellow becomes an Erector and works on the actual
building and knows from the marks on the stones their exact location in
work. So after at least eight years, he is actually a hands-on worker.
This is usually as far as the
working Mason goes as the higher degrees demand much more technical
knowledge. The red Masons were always in close contact with the
Bow-makers, Bowmen, or Centre-Makers whose headquarters were at Bow in
London. These men made the wooden arch frames or false-work called
centres, necessary when building arches. When the arch was finished in
stone, this timber work was dismantled and used to cook the feast to
celebrate the completion of the work.
We also come across the expression
Accepted Mason. The Accepted Mason was a man received into the Masons
Guild for reasons of finance or for exceptional work in some craft
necessary to the Masons, or foreign masons. The Operative Masons were
Freemasons after their apprenticeship was completed. In this way, we get
the current title of Free and Accepted Masons.