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the word "mason"

by Bro. Watson Kirconnell
Published in THE FREEMASON, May-June, 1969


The history of the name for a Mason carries one back through strange and unfamiliar territory.

Six and one half centuries before speculative Masonry began in the reign of George I, the word mason was brought to England by those great builders, the Normans. The English term is derived from the Old French masons (Modern French Mašons) and this goes back to the medieval Latin machiones, of which Isodore of Seville (who died in A.D. 640) explained that the masons were so called from the machinae (scaffolding) on which they had to stand because of the height of their walls.

With classical Latin we encounter an entirely new set of words: structor ("a builder" later lengthened to constructor); caementarius ("Maker of a rough ashlar," or caementum, from caedo, I cut); and latomus ("stone-cutter", a word borrowed from the Greek). Classical Greek had at least four words for 'mason,' based on two words for stone, las and lithos. They were latomos and lithomos (both meaning "stone-cutter"); latypos ("stone-striker") and Lithourgos ("Stone-worker").

Remembering that in II Samuel, Ch.5, v. 11, King Hiram "sends masons" to King David (This is earlier than his more familiar help to King Solomon), I looked up the Hebrew text to find what the original term was. It turned out to be a triple compound, haraash-ebhen-qir ("Cutter of stone for a wall"). Unlike the scaffolding of the mediaeval machiones, the term in Latin, Greek and Hebrew are aptly related to Speculative Freemasonry.

But stone-masonry did not originate in either Tyre or Jerusalem, not as late as 1000 B.C. Its beginnings were rather in Egypt, around 3,000 BC, when it was created by the genius Imhotep. I therefore turned to Dr. Wallis Budge's Egyptian Language (London, 1922) to find the hieroglyphic sign for a stone-mason. It is pronounced "hus", and shows a worker with bared arms and lower legs, standing beside a three-foot wall and testing it with a plumb-line! He even seems to be wearing an apron. He is a striking anticipation of Amos, 7:7, in a hieroglyphic that goes back to 3,000 BC., or 2,000 years before that prophet. In the Jerusalem Bible, more accurately translated than the King James Version, verse 7 of Chapter 7 reads: "This is what the Lord Yahweh showed me: a man standing by a wall, plumb-line in hand." In other words, what the Lord showed to the prophet Amos of Tekoa in this third vision was a fellowcraft mason at work, as carved by the Egyptians on obelisks and pyramids almost 5,000 years before our time.

The Junior Warden may well take pride in his symbolic jewel!

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Last modified: March 22, 2014