by E. Ellison
comparatively recent times no historical work on Freemasonry was
considered complete without an account of the "Travelling Masons." We
have been gravely assured by the writers on the subject, that
Freemasonry in medieval times was an international association of church
builders, incorporated under a charter issued by the pope, granting to
the society a complete monopoly in the building of religious edifices.
It was said that the mysteries of Gothic architecture, both operative
and speculative (practical and theoretical), were the particular secrets
of the corporation; and whenever a new cathedral or other religious
house was contemplated requisitions for plans and specifications must be
made to the headquarters of the body. When the plans were prepared and
approved, orders for details of craftsmen were sent from headquarters to
the subordinate lodges throughout Christendom; and from north and south,
east and west, masons obeyed the summons and journeyed to the site of
the proposed building, under the leadership of their overseers or
On arrival at
their destination, they made themselves known to the master builder by
means of secret signs and tokens. Huts, or lodges, were then built, in
which the workmen prepared the material for the structure in accordance
with plans and specifications. In these lodges the craftsmen held their
meetings, and here the mysteries of the craft were imparted to such
profanes as had been found "worthy and well qualified."
It was claimed,
further, that under the terms of the charter, the fraternity was
empowered to determine the wages and hours of labour of its members, as
well as other conditions of employment. The craftsmen were not subject
to the law of the land; but all charges or accusations against a member,
whether made by a fellow or by a profane, were tried before the tribunal
of the society which was clothed with complete judicial powers.
But alas, the
belief in the existence of an international corporation of builders has
been shattered and swept into the dust by Robert F. Gould, together with
many other venerable cobwebs which had gathered around the columns and
arches of the Masonic edifice, thus preventing us from viewing the
structure in the light of true history.
demonstrates conclusively that "International Freemasonry" in the Middle
Ages is a fiction. Careful search in the archives of the Vatican has
failed to bring to light the slightest evidence that the Masonic Craft
has ever received any special horrors or favours from the pope; and the
only basis for the belief in papal patronage seems to be that at various
times popes and prelates issued bulls promising indulgences to persons
who should make liberal donations of money, lands or labour, to churches
in course of construction.
Nor has anyone
been successful in locating the headquarters of this "international
society." True, the German Steinmetzen (Freemasons) were organized along
more than local lines. In 1567 they formed a federation of craft
societies in German lands and elected the workmaster of Strassburg
cathedral their chief judge (Oberste Rychter); but the federation did
not extend beyond the boundaries of Germany, and the authority of the
central government did not at any time receive more than passing
recognition. As a matter of fact, the real bond of union between the
constituent bodies lay in their common objects and common craft usages.
further shown that the general features of the Freemason's craft
societies did not differ from those of other callings, and such
differences as did exist were due to local conditions and the
peculiarities of the trade.
In the first
place, the Freemasons' guilds were of later origin than those of other
crafts. The former did not come into existence until architecture and
building operations generally had become so refined as to necessitate
specialization and subdivision of labour. Originally all masons,
whether they worked in rough or squared stone (ashlar) or brick, as well
as tilers, slaters and those working in the other component divisions of
the building industry, were members of the same guild. As time passed
the lines of demarcation between the different branches of the industry
became more clearly defined with a consequent division of the
organization. Finally, when the art of Gothic building had so far
advanced that it became necessary to specially, train men as architects
and to design and execute the delicate stonework and sculpture, a future
division took place. The architects, designers and sculptors branched
off from the mother society and organized separately. Their work was of
the highest character, and became more art than a craft, requiring
technical and science knowledge as well as great manual skill. Their
profession stood at the head of the building trades, and became known as
Only a limited
number of fellows were required; and in consequence we find masters,
journeymen (fellow crafts) and apprentices members of the same guild;
while in other trades, such as the masons' and carpenters' employing
larger bodies of men, the journeymen at an early period withdrew from
the masters and formed fraternities of their own. The apprentices,
while they were members of the craft, were not eligible to membership in
There were still
other points of difference: The Freemasons were employed almost
exclusively upon religious buildings. This brought their craft in close
contact with the clergy, and from this association the Freemasons'
societies received a deep religious imprint that is not apparent in
those of other crafts.
of Freemasonry was held in high esteem in the Middle Ages. The Church
was rich and powerful and displayed its wealth and taste in the
construction of beautiful churches. In fact, church architecture was
the only outlet for the genius of the people; all the intellectual
forces of society seemed to converge in architecture and kindred
professions; and the calling, therefore, attracted the best minds and
the highest intellects of the times. All other knowledge was
discouraged and condemned by the Church.
Victor Hugo says
that down to the time of the invention of printing the progress of
humanity in art and science is recorded in a "book of stone" -
architecture commenced to decline after the Reformation. The power of
the Church was broken; its right to levy contributions upon the people
was taken from it; and the people found other means of satisfying their
desire for knowledge, and to gratify their artistic tastes.
an operative art declined with the discontinuance of Gothic church
building, and with it went the operative fraternities. In order to
perpetuate the institution, the lodges admitted to membership men who
had not been bred to the trade. In many cases these "accepted" brethren
were men of learning and science, and through their influence the lodges
were gradually transformed into "speculative", or philosophical
societies, in which form they have come down to our times.
As time passed,
the old customs of the operative days fell into disuse and became only
memories and traditions; and, later, more or less fantastic explanations
of their meaning and purpose were invented, such as the legend of the
In order to get
a clear view of the craft usages of our operative Masonic forefathers,
we must look for their parallels in kindred crafts, such as the masons
and carpenters, whose fraternities have had a continuous existence from
the Middle Ages down to our own day.
Gould, in his
chapter on the German Steinmetzen (Freemasons), borrows freely from the
carpenters and masons for illustration of Masonic customs. He conveys
the impression that these societies, like their Freemasonic relatives,
have become extinct. In reality they still exist, although now rapidly
falling into decay, due to several reasons: the encroachment of modern
trades-unionism; the fact that the state has assumed some of their
benevolent and charitable functions; and, finally, because the stringent
apprenticeship rules are being more and more relaxed.
It is an
immemorial custom in these crafts, when an apprentice has completed his
service, to spend three years in travel from place to place, working for
a time in each. The purpose of his journey is to familiarize himself
with the methods employed in various places; to enable him to "see the
world," and, finally, to prevent crowding the trade. In this pilgrimage
the journeyman travels under the auspices and protection of his craft
guild, or fraternity.
Following are a
few facts concerning these organizations with particular reference to
the carpenter's trade, a body which claims to be the senior of the
building trades guilds, and to have had a continuous existence from the
early centuries of the Middle Ages.
The name of the
society is "Die Fremde Zimmergessellen." The translation of the name
presents some difficulties. "Fremde" in German means either a foreigner
or a stranger, or one absent from home. Considering the connection in
which the word is here used, "travelling" is the nearest equivalent in
English. The name therefore signifies the "Travelling Journeymen
Carpenters." The name reminds us of that used by the journeymen's
societies of France (Sons of Solomon) whose members called themselves
"compagnons etrangers" (stranger companions).
of the German carpenters' fraternity is at Bremen, and its subordinate
lodges are dispersed throughout Central Europe. A new lodge may be
formed in any place upon the petition of not less than seven members;
but only one lodge may be chartered in any one city or town. In the
vernacular of the craft, the opening of a new lodge is described as
"Opening the Book," so called from the "Brotherbook," a manuscript
volume containing the statutes and regulations of the fraternity,
without which no lodge can be legally held. The copy of the
Brotherbook, therefore serves the purpose of a charter. Lodges are
sometimes opened in remote foreign countries; for instance, in
Jerusalem, 1900; in Paris, 1904, and at Liege, Belgium, 1914.
head of the fraternity is called Hauptaltgeselle (Chief Senior Fellow),
and the General Secretary-Treasurer is called Hauptbuchgeselle. Local
lodges are presided over by the Senior Fellow (Altgeselle); the
Secretary is called Buchgeselle. These officers are elected for six
months. In addition the local bodies have an appointive officer, who
performs the joint duties of Steward and Doorkeeper.
apprentice has been set free by his master, after three years' service,
he applies for admission into the journeymen's fraternity. His
application is presented by a member who has worked with him and who
vouches for his character and qualifications. The application must be
accompanied by a certificate from the master under whom the applicant
has learned his trade. In certain states the law prohibits the
apprentice from taking employment as a journeyman until he has made an
essay, or masterpiece. In such case proof, of masterpiece must be
furnished. If no objection is made, the application is approved, and
the candidate is notified to present himself for initiation at the next
meeting of the lodge. Should objection be made, the application is
rejected without a ballot.
After the lodge
has been formerly opened the candidate is taken in charge by the member
who presented his application, and who now acts as his sponsor. He is
conducted to the Senior Fellow's station in the lodge. A number of
questions are put to him by the Senior Fellow, and are answered for him
by his sponsor. This dialogue refers to the importance and dignity of
the craft, the objects of the fraternity, and in particular to the duty
of the individual fellow to his brethren and to the craft. The
candidate is asked whether he is willing to subscribe to these
sentiments, and on his reply in the affirmative the obligation is
administered, to the observance of which he pledges his word as a true
man. He is then presented with "die Ehrbarkeit" (literally: Virtue), a
black neckerchief, and is informed that this piece of attire is a symbol
of manly virtue and the particular badge of the fraternity. He is
instructed to wear it during all his waking hours, whether work or at
play, and solemnly admonished never to disgrace it by word or act.
In former times
the fellows wore a distinctive livery, consisting of a short black
velvet jack double rows of silver buttons, knee breeches of the same
material, and black hat and shoes, together with the indispensable
neckcloth. The livery has long since fallen into disuse, although the
wearing of the "Ehrbarkeit" continues. It is still considered improper
to wear shoes of any colour other than black, and the members have a
special aversion to white hats.
Then follows a
lecture by the Senior Fellow in which the candidate is instructed in the
rules and regulations of the fraternity, its customs and usages; how to
conduct himself while travelling; how to present himself and make
himself known to his brethren in foreign parts, etc. At stated times
the Brotherbook is also read in the lodge. There is no mention of any
grip or token; only a brief catechism to which we shall hereafter refer.
The candidate is
now a Junior Fellow (Junggeselle), and the ceremonies are concluded by
draping his "ribbon" across the bar under the coat of arms of the craft,
suspended over the Senior Fellow's station. This ribbon is of silk,
about; six feet long by two inches wide, of any colour to suit the taste
of the candidate; on one end is inscribed his name and the place and
date of his birth; on the other, the date of his admission into the
fraternity. The Senior Fellow orders the Steward to fill the "Harmony
Tankard" (Vertragskanne), a large drinking vessel, which forms an
indispensable part of the furniture of the lodge. The tankard is
brought to the Senior Fellow, who dips his gavel in the beer and
sprinkles a few drops of the liquid on the new-made brother's ribbon,
and expresses the hope that the later will always live in amity and
harmony with his brethren. The business of the lodge being concluded,
the Senior Fellow calls off, and the health of the new brother is drunk,
while the members join in singing their craft songs, of which they have
I may mention
here the peculiar form of salutation. A member is never addressed in
lodge as brother or comrade; but always as "Ehrbarer Gesellschaft"
(trusty fellowship). The form of address of the Senior Fellow is
remain standing "in order" during the entire meeting, heels together,
toes pointing out, coat tightly buttoned and the hat held in the right
hand over the left breast. This attitude is characteristic of the
fraternity and is assumed on all occasions of craft business and
ceremony. The Senior Fellow also presides standing, but with covered
When the Junior
Fellow is ready to travel, he applies to the lodge for clearance; but
before it is granted must satisfy the Senior Fellow that he has parted
with his master in friendship, that he is in fellowship with his
brethren, and last but not least, that he is clear of debt. These
matters being satisfactorily settled, he is given a clearance card, or
"brief," as it is called, signed by the Senior Fellow and Secretary.
The Senior Fellow again reminds the journeyman about to set out, that
under the laws of the fraternity he is obliged to travel for three
years; that at least once a year he must visit a city where a lodge is
located, and work there not less than six weeks; that he should not
remain in the same place longer than six months, and in no event more
than one year; that he must not return to his birthplace, or the place
where he learned his trade, during his wandering years, except to attend
the funeral of a near relative, and in such case he should only remain
over night. He is warned against keeping bad company and against
incurring any debt, and urged to conduct himself in such a manner as to
reflect credit upon the fraternity.
health is then drunk by his brethren with the wish for a pleasant
journey and safe return.
meetings are invariably held on Saturday night, and on the following day
he sets out on his travels. In former times the brethren of the lodge
accompanied him beyond the city gates with music and song, but this
custom is now obsolete. He invariably journeys on foot, although there
is no special inhibition against the use of speedier means of
On arrival at
his destination, he goes to the house of call (herberg). This is an inn
frequented by his fellow craftsmen, where their lodge room is located.
Some of these houses of call belong to the fraternity. He presents
himself at the lodge door and knocks three times. He is received by the
Senior Fellow, or some other brother detailed for the purpose. He
assumes the posture already, described, and the following dialogue takes
Fellow: Your name!
(gives his name).
Fellow: Who are you?
true and trusty (ehrbarer und rechtschaffer) Travelling Journeyman
Carpenter, from . . .
Fellow: What do you desire?
favour and by your leave, (mit Gunst und Erlaubnitz), to ask the trusty
(ehrbarer) Senior Fellow to furnish me employment for eight or fourteen
days or as long as it may suit the master, and according to craft custom
Fellow: 'Tis well! (das ist loeblich! Literally: Praiseworthy; an
Fellow: Your brief!
(presents clearance card).
examines the card and finding it in order says: Be at ease! (Macht
The fellow lays
aside his hat, unbuttons his coat and takes his seat. His name is
entered upon the visitors' register, and he is told where he may apply
for employment. He is then treated to a schnapps and a glass of beer.
This ceremony is called "ausschenken"; literally, "drinking him out." He
is next informed of the conditions of trade, wages, etc., and in turn he
delivers the news of his travels. After this he is introduced to the
landlord and landlady of the inn, whom thereafter he calls father and
mother. If there is a daughter in the house, he calls her sister.
night's lodging and breakfast are paid for by the lodge.
If no one is
present in the lodge room when he calls, he goes into the tap room of
the inn, orders a stein of beer, and waits for some member to appear.
When he recognizes an arrival by the black neckerchief, he strikes the
table with his stein. The signal is immediately answered by the
newcomer, who addresses his as comrade and inquires whether he can be of
On the following
Saturday he visits the lodge, but is not admitted until the meeting has
been formally opened and the Senior Fellow has announced his arrival.
He is then introduced to the brethren; thereafter he is recognized as a
member of the lodge and entitled to take part in its proceedings.
If no work is
procured for him, and he is without funds, the lodge gives security for
his board and lodging; but if he owes any debt, he is not granted
clearance when he leaves town. Instead, he receives a letter addressed
to the Senior Fellow of any lodge to which he may apply, informing him
(the Senior Fellow) of the circumstance; and it is the duty of that
official to arrange that a reasonable amount be remitted each pay day,
until the debt is paid.
Should he arrive
at a town in which there is no lodge, he looks up some master who has
been a member of the journeymen's fraternity and applies in the
prescribed form. The master is authorized to tender such aid as the
circumstances require, being reimbursed by the fraternity.
If he should
become involved in a quarrel or fight with a fellow member, or be
accused of violating the laws or ethics of the craft, he is summoned to
appear at lodge. He is examined by the Senior Fellow, who possesses
power to hear and determine all questions of craft law and usage, and
summarily to impose penalties upon the guilty brother. Even in grave
cases the brethren are not asked to determine the guilt or innocence, or
to assess punishment. The power of the Senior Fellow to try and punish
is called domestic court (Stubenricht). The defendant has, however, the
right of appeal from the decision of the Senior Fellow to the Chief
Senior Fellow, and from the judgment of the latter to a commission
composed of seven Senior Fellows, chosen from different parts of the
jurisdiction. The commission is the supreme court of the order
If the penalty
imposed is a minor fine it is usually paid without question. Part of it
is expended for drink, and the atonement is celebrated in convivial
fellow meet with an accident, or be overtaken by illness, medical care
is provided at the expense of the lodge, if he is without means; and the
Senior Fellow details brethren in their turn to nurse him until he is
able to take care of himself, or until he dies.
In event of
death during his years of wandering, he is buried by the lodge. The
fraternity has no regular burial service, this being performed by a
clergyman; but the brethren follow the remains to the cemetery, wearing
their work squares across the right shoulder. Twelve fellows act as
pallbearers. As we read in the craft songs:
"Who shall be
craftsman has completed his years of travel he may settle down in his
hometown, or some other place to his liking, and is thereafter called a
resident member (Einheimischer). But he does not relinquish his
membership in the fraternity unless he becomes a master and goes into
business for himself. But even as a master he is in close contact with
the craftsmen's body, and is by custom bound to extend the hand of
fellowship and do acts of courtesy to such members as may apply to him.
here called to some peculiar rules of conduct followed by the members.
Mention has already been made of the fact that the craftsman must not
take off his black neckerchief while at work. If he finds it necessary
to open his shirt collar, he simply opens the neckcloth and slips it
down his bosom. It is considered bad form to work with sleeves rolled
up; and it is regarded as highly improper for a fellow to go more than a
house length from his lodging without coat or hat.
We have already
noted that the membership is divided into grades. The first, Junior
Fellow, is conferred at initiation. From the time he commences
travelling he is rated as a Fellow. After three years on the road he is
recognized as an Old Fellow, and eligible to election as presiding
officer of a lodge. No particular ceremony is connected with the last
two "degrees," nor do they confer any distinction beyond that due to
superior skill and experience.
carpenter's calling the authority of the Senior Fellow does not extend
beyond the lodge. In the shop or on the job every fellow is his equal.
In this respect the craft differs from the Steinmetzen, whose foreman
(parlier) in the shop became ipso facto the warden of the society. This
is no doubt due to the fact that in the latter craft all grades were
members of the same fraternity.
Like the masons,
the carpenters have their cowans. The latter call a travelling
journeyman, who is not a member of the society, a "Vogtlander." The
origin of the term is unknown, but it signifies one who is willing to
work unusually long hours for low wages.
reproduction of a clearance card issued by a lodge in Essen, 1904, note
the seal, bearing the name of the fraternity around the outer edge, and
the central design, composed of the coat of arms of the craft, viz.; A
plane between the extended compass, crossed hatchets, two adjacent
squares, and, at the bottom, a saw.
Note also the
legend printed around the outer border, which may be freely translated,
become an apprentice? Any man.
Who shall be
fellow craft? He who can.
Who shall be
master? He who can design and plan.
What should a
Travelling Fellow be? A true man."
It would be
interesting to examine this ancient society historically but the means
are not at hand. It is claimed that its Brotherbook is several
centuries older than that of the Steinmetzen, which was adopted in 1567
and there seems no reason to doubt the statement.
at present has no legendary history, such as we find in the Ancient
Charges of Freemasonry, but it is more than likely that in former times
such history formed part of the secrets of the craft, and that it has
either fallen into disuse or been forgotten during those periods when
the government attempted to suppress this and similar organizations.
During the "blood-and-iron" rule of Bismarck all secret societies and
clandestine meetings were forbidden, and though this order did not
completely destroy the body, the members had to exercise great care to
prevent the police from breaking up their meetings and lodging the
members in jail.
Why the black
neckerchief? Is it a symbol of mourning for some traditional founder or
martyr of the craft? Is it not possible that the original significance
of it has been lost or forgotten? How many seamen of today are aware of
the fact that the black neckerchief universally worn by the enlisted men
of all navies, was originally worn in mourning for Nelson, and that the
three white stripes on the naval seaman's shirt collar are commemorative
of the three great victories won by that great seaman?
It is my hope
that in the near future we shall have available a copy of the
carpenter's Brotherbook, which will enable us to form a clearer idea of
the inner workings of their craft fraternity.