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The form of organization of Medieval Masonry and until the Seventeenth Century (circa) was in general outline everywhere the same: a youth of twelve or thirteen became an apprentice for some seven years, was indentured, or bonded, to a Master Masons usually lived at his Master's home, and was under a pledge of obedience; the Master in turn, if he was in a body of workmen, worked under the direction of a Master of Masons (different titles were used) to whom he had to give obedience, by whom his work had to be approved, and to disobey whom might lead to exclusion, or loss of means of making a living; and the Master of Masons was answerable, either according to accepted custom or to written contract, to the foundation or administration for which the Masons were working; throughout, each Mason was by oath and obligation, and under fixed rules and regulations, bound to each and every other member of the Brotherhood, for not otherwise could there be a Brotherhood or any art of Masonry.
This was no scheme on paper, no system of abstraction; it consisted of actual men, and in the Middle Ages men dealt with each other face to face, man with man or man against man. There were no great impersonal systems or agencies as now, through which an end could be gained; no trades unions, propaganda devices, newspapers, books, periodicals, radio, public meetings, nor any weight of public opinion to be employed or appealed to; Medieval men, and Masons necessarily included, were in contrast to ourselves more direct, more violent, more given to personal conflicts, because they had no other means to gain their ends or to redress their grievances; if they rebelled against a Master, or went on a strike, or walked away from work, or tore down work already done in retaliation for not receiving pay, as happened many times during four or five centuries, it was because no other eourse of action except a direct and personal one was open to them. A strike was not for sake of general or abstract aims but was directed against some particular Master, or at some particular building, or against some particular lord, bishop, abbot, prior, or administration. Inside the Mason Craft, as inside every other gild or fraternity, there were these strains and tensions.
This explains why in Europe craft gilds did not come into existence until long after merchant gilds, as they were called (mercatores), had long been formed; the craft gilds were organized as a protection, and sometimes out of desperation, against masters and employers who had begun to exploit their own workmen. The craft gilds were not a flowering out of a peaceableness, love, fraternalism already existing; they were more often designed to bring fraternalism into existence where there had been none before. This whole side of Operative Freemasonry has received such scant attention that as yet no book has been written about it; as a result, the picture drawn of the early Craft has had a certain amount of unreality in it; and the oversight is a strange one because the data are so conspicuous—the Old Regulations themselves as embodied in the earliest copies of the Old Charges imply and presuppose the continuous need for government, discipline, oversight, regulation, and penalties, and the OB's are based on the same presupposition. (See extensive article on page 455 ff.)
It cannot be said that the Rite (or drama, or tragedy, or story) of HA.-. was by some poet or dramatist, some unknown Medieval Shakespeare, expressly created to dramatize the stresses and strains always present in the Craft, of any of the conflicts which erupted, or was a mystic reading of the tragedies of Craftsmanship; but it can be said that if it had not been for the inherent stress and strain Masons would never have been interested in the story of the Grand Master, nor would they have seen any place for it in their rites; nor would it have had any point for them. They certainly did not preserve it for historical reasons because it is found nowhere in history; nor was it a theological drama because the Church would have condemned it as heresy; it was not a piece of folklore borrowed from customary tales; it was an enactment of a central fact of their own daily experience, and in it they could read a hundred of the questions and answers of their lives as Craftsmen. When it originated, where or by whom, and when a Degree was made of it, it is thus far impossible to discover; and of the more than a hundred theories of it any one of twenty or so is as reasonable as the others.
There is nowhere any mention or trace of the Tragedy of Hiram Abif in the Old Charges or in other records prior to 1725-1730. There are records of ceremonies held outdoors which in this connection is a suggestive fact; there is also the fact that the absence of records in this instance proves nothing because if the Operative Freemasons of the Fourteenth Century possessed the Rite it is the one above others on which they would have maintained the most complete silence. In the first, or 1723, Book of Constitutions some two or three pages are devoted to a description of the building of Solomon's Temple, accompanied by elaborate foot-notes on the name Hiram Abif, etc. and those pages, unlike too many other pages in the same book, are written with a power and eloquence which become genuine literature, and the fact may betoken a vere special interest in the subjecton the part of the writer, or writers; as against this is the fact that the account of Solomon, the Hirams, and their building is one among a long series of other narratives of other buildings and builders, and with nothing in it to set it apart from the others. We know what the Rite of the Raising was as of about 1750 because we still have it; of what it was, and if it was, before about 1725/1740 we have little knowledge.
The admittance to any Craft gild in the Middle Ages was a serious, solemn, ceremonious procedure, and in a number of known instances had connected with it some myth or legend about the Craft in particular. An oath was taken; the apprentice or candidate had read to him the rules and regulations; and a set of penalties were used to impress upon him how dangerous it would be to him if he proved disloyal or violated the rules and secrets of his gild. This use of a rite, or ceremony, or threat in the course of an admittance appears to belong essentially to ceremonies or modes of admittance and initiation everywhere, and in almost each and every type of initiation; in the hundreds of such ceremonies analyzed by anthropologists the effort made to impress on the postulant the dire consequences of his proving false are so common, so almost universal, that many writers describe the ceremonies as "ordeals."
The ordeal is a test of courage, endurance, reliability; in a caricature form it is the hazing which is the climax of initiation in college fraternities at the present, and they often are brutal. Medieval Masons had more reason than other gilds and fraternities of that period to engrave on the mind of each candidate how bitter and fateful would be the consequences of betrayal because they had more secrets than others, they met in locked rooms or buildings, and it is probable that their own teachings were kept wholly to themselves because more than in ordinary gild secrets they comprised truths which were more at variance with a number of generally-accepted, orthodox doctrines than others tortures, imprisonments, floggings, fines, burning at the stake were meted out to heretics.
The architects and builders of the cathedrals, abbeys, castles, mansions, halls were too intelligent, too civilized to stoop to mere physical brutality for its own sake, but on the other hand they knew too many things and understood and used too much of arts and sciences officially forbidden for them to permit their apprentices and members to talk much; and it is more reasonable than not to believe that when they admitted an apprentice they employed some very forceful devices to impress upon him how serious would be the consequences to him if he betrayed them or violated his pledges. This may not even have been a ceremony; .f it was a ceremony, it may not have been the Ceremony of the Raising; but in either event it was a fixed point in the whole procedure of admittance to enforce the idea of penalty and of dire consequence, and it was at this point, or on or around it, that the present ceremony developed, or in which it had its beginning.
It can be taken as certain that in any of its stages of use or development the "ordeal" was never intended to be an elaborate presentation of a secret theology because the Freemasons eschewed theology as none of their affair and left it to the Church; moreover they had no desire to be theological heretics, and nobody who has ever studied even one cathedral in detail can believe that they were theological heretics they were unquestionable "heretics" but in a different field; nor was the Raising a ceremony of occult teachings, for the Masons were not occultists, and also they were organized in a fraternity long before the occult schools of Kabbalism, Rosicrucianism, etc., had come into being. The rite or ceremony, or whatever device of impressing there was, was a craft ceremony, one inside their own frame-work of customs, in their own terms, against the background of their own traditions, for their own purposes, and hence was not occultistic, or theologic, or philosophic, but solely and wholly Masonic.
As it was then, so is the "ordeal" in its present form; understood in its sense as a Craft rite it is luminous and consistent, but the moment it is interpreted as if it were a religious mystery, or an occult secret, or a chapter of history, the interpretation becomes strained and impossible, runs counter to the plain facts, and more often than not is outright absurd.
It may be presumed that a modern Masonic student comes to the problem of the Rite of Raising without having made up his mind beforehand. He begins with the "text" itself (as we can call it) which consists of the actions and of the written and unwritten words; in this "text" he finds a number of facts:
1. Neither Hiram the King nor either of the architects named Hiram is a Jew, but each is a Tyrian. This raisese the question: was the Temple in a Jewish style of architecture, or was it in a Tyrian; it is not likely that it was Egyptian because, first, the Jews hated Egyptians, and second, Tyrian builders would not be trained in an Egyptian style.
2. Hiram Abif (or Abiff) was the architect's name The word "Abif" meant the same as our words "chief,'; or "duke," or "head" but such names then, as is true of such names as Duke, Carpenter, Smith now, often were used as surnames. This was true of Solomon's own name.
3. Solomon and not Hiram Abif ruled and governed the Craft. This is shown at the triad when it is the King and not Hiram's successor who presides, and who gives the verdict. Solomon represents government.
4. Hiram Abif was the architect; he made plans and designs ("the Word") and apparently the craftsmen were not familiar with them or they could not have been "lost."
5. Hiram himself was not at fault; he was carrying on his regular duties at the time, and there is no hint that he had been guilty of carelessness or neglect. It was government which had failed, and Hiram was therefore a martyr.
6. The assailants themselves are incidental, and only symbolize disorder, disobedience, crime. In early Speculative Lodge records their names differ from the present names and so does the number of them and they still do among Lodges in different countries; therefore little can be made of their name and number for purposes of interpretation. What does it matter if one of them was called this or that? It is what was done that is important.
7. When one man was gone another had to take his place. The knowledge of the plans and designs was lost it had to be recovered. In what, exactly, did the Raising consist? of a who? or of a what?
It does not say that HA.-. returns, it plainly says that another returns—a substitute, that is, a new Master of Masons to take the place of the old- just as the twelve-year-old boy admitted as apprentice today must take the place of veteran Masters in years to come, because the work must go on.
8. The penalties are hall-marked by Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century customs; and they, and whatever may be true of the other elements in the Rite, could scarcely be Medieval. It is possible that they date from about 1700 A.D.
9. The "rubbish" is significant, because it means that disorder had obtained over a period of time. one Benedict Arnold in an army occasions no surprise, or two, or even three but not hundreds- similarly in the Brotherhood of the Craftsmen it is not reasonable to think that twelve men could privately and independently have become traitors, at the same time, and in the same place; the number of them, like the piles of rubbish, suggests that internal unease, or resentment, or disorder had been fomenting itself generally over a period of time.
10. Why a "coffin"? There is none in the text. The acacia was not rooted or growing; it was merely a camouflage.
11. Was HA.-. himself "raised"? The text does not say so; nor do the self-imprecations of the culprits; nor does he re-appear to sit beside Solomon. There was a substitution of one man in place of another—a new man was raised up to take the place of the old one, and this appears to be the whole point of the raising. If this be true—and to question it is to question the text then the text itself does not support the theory that we have a drama of resurrection- The "solution" of the drama, as dramatic critics would describe it, is a Craftsman's solution of a Craft tragedy the loss of a Master without whom no work can be done, the loss of a veteran by death, and who must be replaced by a new workman, etc. (There are numbers of instances of this having actually occurred.)
12. The drama from beginning to end is not about history or theology, it is not even about Solomon's Temple; it is about the workmen, the men themselves, and it is for this reason that it has a quality unlike that of the Second Degree, still more unlike the First Degree, one of which has its setting in the building, the other of which is about a youth receiving his tools and learning an art.
13. When the Architect was lost, the designs and plans were lost with him. The Craftsmen were in consequence unable to go on with their work. This makes it as clear as the light that even the most "operative" Operative Masonry was as much intellectual work as it was manual work.
14. What became of the new man who took the place of the old? Nothing is said of him because he took his place with the workmen. The "grip" (it had its own name) meant, "I recognize you to be a Mason"; that is "You are now one of us, you are one of us at every point of fellowship; the place of the old Masons who move on is taken by the new Masons whom we bring into fellowship.
15 Everything centers in the idea: "the work is the thing." The laws of the Craft look toward the work; the "crime" is to be guilty of anything that stops the work. Men who are guilty of that crime are excluded; they are expelled. Law is not a restriction or a constraint, but the opposite; it secures men in their freedom, and it is only when government breaks down that craftsmen are unable to work.
16. If the Rite were a drama a dramatic critie would ask why it was that since Solomon was government, and sinee there would have been no criminals about if his government had not failed, he was not brought to task.
17. If Shakespeare had written the Rite as a drama he would have replied: "Solomon was brought to task in his very act of having to face the criminals. They were his rebuke." But the Rite is not a drama, has no plot, no hero, no denouement, tells no story; it is Ritual, and for that reason is interrupted and brought to a standstill some four or five times for actions which had nothing to do with the movement of the "dramatic" theme; the purpose is not to present a play (as Edwin Booth seems to have thought) but to make a Mason.
18. We have no data to show what Rite was used by Freemasons in, say, the Fourteenth Century; they knew about Hiram Abif, Solomon, and Solomon's Temple, but they also knew about the Tower of Babel, and York Minster, and Euclid, and Pythagoras. We have some data about Lodges from about 1590 to about 1725; that little suggests that the Rite (if there was one then) may have been very short and simple, perhaps only a lecture; what it became later is much richer and more elaborate. But if we resort to reasoning on the general probabilities it is difficultt to believe that the Craft, always very conservative, suddenly introduced a whole new Degree, or that the ceremonies of Lodges in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries were as meager as the written records are; and on analogy with general custom in the Fourteenth Century it is reasonable to believe that Masons had a richer and longer ceremony than now, essentially the same in purpose, but very different in contents.
Again reasoning on the analogy of what we know from the records about a number of the symbols, we can adopt the hypothesis that when the earlier form of the Rite came into the hands of the early Speculative Masons they did with it what they did with the two Pillars, transposed it into a different frame-work. In the case of the Raising this new framework was the Books of Kings and Chronicles in the Old Testament. The Rite of the Raising is neither given nor hinted at in the Old Testament (nor in the Talmud); in its essentials it was originally a Craft rite, not a Biblical one, and in those essentials it bears the marks of the Middle Ages; the Speculatives transferred it over into the Bible, gave it a Biblical setting and used Biblical names. This is hypothesis only; in any event the purpose and teaching remain as ever they were.
Freemasonry was in the United States for almost a century before Masonic symbologists began to appear and to make their first attempt to expound or interpret that Third Degree Rite which by common consent is a masterpiece worthy of Homer or Shakespeare within its own kind it has no peer. Through a misfortune of the times those Brethren had almost no literature to work with; through an even greater misfortune the first literature they received was the work of the Rev. George Oliver, and he was a broken reed to lean on because he could never make up his mind for a year at a time about "the true meaning" of the Raising. In Vol. XII, page 123, of the Lodge of Leicester Transactions, Bro. Hextall gives a list of fourteen separate theories of the drama of HA.°., as follows:
1. The real and actual death of an historical HA.-.
2. Legend of Osiris.
3. Allegory of setting sun.
4. Expulsion of Adam from Paradise.
5. Death of Abel.
6. Entry of Noah into the Ark.
7. Mourning of Joseph for Jacob.
8. An astronomical problem. (This was one of Yarker's typical contributions; he seemed to believe that it would be a great revelation to grownup men to hear that there are stars, that some of them have names, and that they are many miles away!)
9. Death and Resurrection of Christ. (It is almost impossible to believe that any Operative Masons ever could have made a ceremony out of a subject so sacred to them, and one which belonged to the Church. No Masonic scholar of standing has ever accepted this interpretation, and not only on religious grounds but also because there are no points of similarity between the Rite and the New Testament descriptions of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection.)
10. Persecution of the Templars. (This was one of De Quincy's fancies; Solomon's Temple was built more than 2000 years before there were any Templars.)
11. Violent death of Charles I.
12. A drama invented by Cromwell.
13. A representation of old age.
14. Drama of regeneration. To these may be added three others, also current:
15. A savage ceremony of initiation.
16. A memorial to the murder of Thomas à Becket.
17. An invention by the Jacobites. Of these 17 theories no fewer than nine were invented by Geo. Oliver! and one of them, the fourteenth, which was William Hutchinson's, Oliver was willing to accept!
In his chapter on the difficult subject of the French Compagnonnage (Vol. I; p. 99; Scribner's) in his History of Freemasonry, R. F. Gould quotes Livre du Compagnonnage, by Agricol Perdiguier (1841): "The stonemasons are accounted the most ancient of the Companions. An ancient fable has obtained currency amongst them relating, according to some, to Hiram, according to others, to Adonhiram; wherein are represented crimes and punishments; but this fable is left for what it is worth " In drawing up a table of coineidences as between the Compagnonnage and Freemasonry Gould gives (No. 41) "The mutual possession of an Hiramic Legend; with its probable existence among the Companions from a very remote period." In Vol. II Gould states that the HA. . Legend was introduced into Speculative Masonry between 1725/1729, more likely 1725. (Date of first Masters' Lodge.)
Albert Pike had a low opinion of the Ritual of Ancient Craft Masonry (in his last years he revised his estimate; at no time did he ever have much knowledge of it); in a brief discussion of it he animadverts upon "its Hiramic Legend, of modern invention."
In a treatise contributed to Ars Quatuor Coronatorum (Vol. XIV, p. 60) Edward Conder reported that he could find no trace of a Hiram Legend in any of the Medieval pageants, Mystery, Miracle, or Morality plays. Not long before his death Lionel Vibert reported the same failure after a thorough search, but confessed that the HA.-. Rite had the look and feel of one. In another connection he said: "Not merely is Hiram the builder a comparatively late addition to it [our traditional history] but his death is nowhere referred to." George William Speth on the other hand believed that the Hiramic Legend existed in the Fourteenth Century "closely connected with architecture," (See his Builders' Rites.)
Bro. Paul H. Davey (New Age: Vol. III, page 574) writes: "Nowhere in history, sacred or profane, in no document, upon no monument, is there a single shred of authentic historical evidence to support the Masonic Legend...." (The Masonic Ritual has never purported to be history; it is ritual!) With the air about him thus emptied, Bro. Davey then feels free to hazard the guess that the Raising is a tradition embodying an Egyptian story concerning the building of the pyramids! In his Morals and Dogma Albert Pike indulges an equal fancifulness, albeit in another field, when he builds an argument on a piece of the false etymologizing of which he was so often guilty; "Khurum, therefore, improperly called Hiram, is Khur-om, the same as Her-ra, Her-mes, and Her-acles," that is, the sun, god of light. (On this question of the name see Ball, Ars Quatuor Coronatorum; Vol. V. p. 136. Only a part of his essay could be printed. Ball was one of the most learned of modern Hebraists.)
In his Ars Quatuor Coronatorum essay (Vol. XII, p. 142) Johnston reports having reviewed the English literature of the Seventeenth Century and says: "of the Hiram Abif Legend, not even the slightest trace was discoverable."
Dr. Marks, a Hebrew scholar, reports an Arabic MS. of the Fourteenth Century in which a sentence contains the words, "we have found our Lord Hiram." (NOTE. Johnston's failure to discover any trace of the legend in the Seventeenth Century, its absence from the Miraele and Mystery Plays, and the silence concerning it in early Lodge records and in the OEd Charoes, ean be made to tell in favor of its antiquity, if one assumes on the one hand that Speeulative Masons did not suddenly make it up out of the whole cloth, and that on the other there was no floating material from which to fashion it [as there was for Solomon's Temple the Columns, etc.] for this could reasonably mean that it had come down to the Speeulatives through an esoteric channel; there are no written records because it was kept in secrecy. Few hypotheses better explain the almost complete tack of data, and yet are more consistent with the early Speeulatives' resentment of innovation. It is instructive to note when reading the oldest Speculative records that even when the Lodges were taking up with an innovation such as the Royal Arch Degree—they were always quick to justify it by the past, and to declare it ancient. See The Hiramie Tradition, by W. W. Covey-CrumpX sonic Record Co.; London; 1935.)
It is as yet too early to come to a final conclusion about the origin of the Rite of the Raising because there are still at least three problems of vital connection with it in which little or no research has beenmade:
1. There is the known fact that a century before the date Gould and other historians accepted for the origin of the Third Degree (as a separate Degree), and presumably for a period long anterior to that, Lodges had an outdoor ceremony. This is clearly proved by the records of Aberdeen Lodge of 1670. This is a fact of very great signifieanee, and every student of the Ritual can instantly surmise why it was far easier to conduct a certain ceremony outside and on the Sround than indoors.
2. Every detail of the assassination of Thomas à Becket is known. The manner in which it was carried out by the three ruffians who believed (or confessed themselves to have believed) that they were carrying out the wishes of the King, and the place and manner of the two dispositions of the body, the extraordinary connection between the second and final interment with the two Sts. John parallel lines, and circle, are extraordinarily suggestive if they were not the prototype, or origin, of a certain ceremony, then the coincidence is extraordinary almost too extraordinary to believe. In addition, there is the fact that for centuries Masons Companies in the towns and cities were dedicated to St. Thomas à Becket (not St Thomas the Apostle), took his day as a Craft holiday attended worship in his chapels, helped to sustain his shrines, and supported a number of hospitals each of which wers named St. Thomas.
It may be that for somereason now unknown to us early Operative Freemasons perpetuated the memory of the martyrdom of Thomas in their ceremonies. If so, why a transition to Hiram Abif? This also has an explanation, and it is not a forced explanation. The assassination of Thomas was an incident in England's attempt to break away from the Pope's control (Italian control, in practice) of the Church in England; the murder of Thomas so horrified the masses that they turned away from the King, and the King himself was forced to humble himself to the Vatican. The latter made such instant and effectual use of the incident that for generations Thomas à Becket was in popular eyes synonymous with rule by Rome. For that reason, and as soon as he had broken with the Pope, and ordered the dissolution of the monasteries, Henry VIII ordered that the name of Thomas should be deleted out of Church rites and literature and everywhere be removed; in London, Masons went about chiseling his name out of stone inscriptions.
It may be (it is an hypothesis, and the present writer is not espousing it) that at that time the Freemasons preserved their old ceremony by altering the names of the protagonists, and if they did so, the alteration was followed by many others of a like kind when in the Eighteenth Century the Speculatives removed muck of the symbolism from the old craft context over into a Bible context.
3. There is the fact of the Pps. The earliest record of them in their present form is about 1700, but they may have been in esoteric use long before. These Pps. are to the Rite of Raisingwhata keyistoa lock, are a complement of it; and could never have taken their present form untilil after the Rite had taken its present form. Very little research has as yet been made in the history of the Pps. (searches could be made, to cite only one source, among old Oath Books); when it is made, as one hopes it will be, new data on the Rite of Raising may be discovered.
Last modified: March 22, 2014