The Masonic Trowel

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[From The Newsletter of the Committee On Masonic Education of the Grand Lodge A.F.&A.M. of Canada in the Province of Ontario, Winter 1995. They include questions and answers that were compiled and prepared by R. W. Bro. Frank J. Bruce. The answers were supplied by W. Bro. Harry Carr (past Secretary and editor of Quatuor Coronati Lodge #2076 U.K.]

Question: Where did the 'Five Points of Fellowship' originate? How did they become a part of the ritual?

Answer : From the time that our ritual documents begin to appear in 1696, the Points of Fellowship may count as one of the oldest items in Craft ritual and procedure.

Between 1696 and 1730 we have seventeen separate texts, from different parts of Britain, ten in manuscript and seven in print, and the Points of Fellowship appear in all except three of them. The earliest version appears in the Edinburgh Register House MS, 1696, i.e. before there is any evidence of 'Speculative' influence, and it appears in the second degree (Master or Fellow-Craft) at a time when only two degrees were known and roughly thirty years before the three-degree system came into use.

In 1696, the Points were described as 'foot to foot, knee to knee, heart to heart, hand to hand and ear to ear.' Several of the later versions differed substantially and, for obvious reasons, we cannot discuss those, but their regular appearance in nearly all our ritual texts is ample evidence of their antiquity as well as their widespread usage. Indeed, I believe we may confidently date their introduction into Craft ritual in the early 1500s, at a time when the two-degree system was probably established.

One more item must be noted and emphasized. In all fourteen of the early texts that contain the Points of Fellowship there is no mention or hint of the Hiramic legend except in the last version, dated 1730. To all intents and purposes, the Points of Fellowship were in use in the Craft for more than thirty years before the Hiramic legend made its first appearance.

As to the first question 'Where did the Points of Fellowship' originate? We are on less sure ground. Our late Bro. Douglas Knoop discussed this subject in his Prestonian Lecture on The Mason Word, quoting three 'Biblical instances of the miraculous restoration of life,' in which 'the prophet or apostle lay f ull length upon the body and breathed into it's face'.

The first of these is in I Kings XVII, 17-23, in which Elijah raised the son of the widow in whose house he lived. The second, in 11 Kings IV, 34-35 described in detail how Elisha revived the child of the Shunamite woman. The third case, in Acts XX, 9-12, tells how St. Paul resuscitated a young man who was taken up dead after a fall. All three are interesting, but the second case, of Elisha, is described in detail, and I quote verse 14:

And he (Elisha) went up, and lay upon the child, and put his mouth upon his mouth, and his eyes upon his eyes, and his hands upon his hands, and he stretched himself upon the child; and the flesh of the child waxed warm.

It seems very likely that the Points of Fellowship are more or less directly related to those Biblical versions of our modern 'Kiss of Life,' But Bro. Knoop carried the idea a stage further by suggesting that these examples of 'complete coincidence of living and dead ... would develop into necromantic practices ... in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.' Necromancy is defined (in OED) as the pretended art of revealing future events, etc., by means of communication with the dead, and this raises interesting aspects of the Points of Fellowship in relation to the Hiramic Legend. (See 'The Mason Word' by Douglas Knoop in The Collected Prestonian Lectures. pp 255-257. Publ. by the Quatuor Coronati Lodge).

While I am in full agreement with the possibilities envisaged in Bro. Knoop's discussion, my own instinct is to look for a more practical explanation of the Points of Fellowship. If they ever had a practical purpose, we may, for the moment ignore the precise terms in which they appear in our ritual today and it seems possible that they were taught, originally, as a method of reviving someone who had been killed by a fall in the course of his work.

Accidents of this kind must have been fairly common in operative times, as we may judge from one of the earliest official rules made on the subject of scaffolding. It was promulgated by William Schaw, Master of Works to the Crown of Scotland and Warden General of the Mason Trade.

I produce it here in modern spelling: Item, that all masters, enterprisers of works, be very careful to see their scaffolds and walkways (futegangis) surely set and placed, to the effect that through their negligence and sloth no hurt or harm (skaith) come unto any persons that work at the said work, under the penalty of being forbidden (dishargeingof thaim) thereafter to work as masters having charge of any work but (they) shall be subject all the rest of their days to work under or with an other principal maister having charge of the work. Hist- of the Lodge of Edinburgh... Tercent. edn. by D. Murray Lyon, p. 11.

The penalty for carelessness in scaffolding is an excellent example of the powers of the operative Lodges in those days. A master, virtually at the peak of his profession, who was found guilty in such a case, was doomed for the rest of his life to work as an underling. In the light of this regulation, the Points of Fellowship, viewed as a practical lesson, acquire a new importance, which might well explain their regular appearance in nearly all our earliest ritual texts,

In spite of the total absence of legend in connection with the earliest versions of the 'points,' I have always believed that there must have been some sort of legend, or story, not necessarily Masonic that would have explained those details.

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