Help Me Maintain OUR Website!!!!!!
SPECULATIVE MASONRY, EARLY.
The Masonic Fraternity writes its own historv as it goes along in the form of Minutes and Proceedings. Unfortunately, it is not an easy history to read, nor convenient, nor is it furnished with an index, but it is a better and more reliable chronicle of the Craft than any work written by the historians. Below is a summary drawn from some 200 Minute Books and Lodge Histories of the oldest Lodges in Britain, Canada, and the United States; of these, about 60 are of the very earliest Speculative Lodges, of which one-half or so are long since defunct, or else have been merged with other Lodges.
The items are chosen to illustrate some point important to the history of the Fraternity; and to save space, names, numbers, and dates are omitted; also, the data are representative, not exhaustive; scarcely any two of the earliest Lodges were alike in the details of Lodge practice, and the same Lodge made changes in itself from time to time. The summary is not so much a portrait of early Speculative Freemasonry as a photomontage:
The majority of Lodges were very small; one of Sixty members was excessively large, almost too large to be managed; the majority had some fifteen or twenty members. Meetings with only six or seven members present were common.
During the Eighteenth Century and well into the Nineteenth they met in taverns inns hotels. Since the room was in use for other purposes, Lodge furniture was either the property of the landlord, or else had to be packed up and stored away between meetings. The arrangement was almost never satisfactory, and Lodges moved much about—one of them made twelve removals in ten years. It did the Fraternity no good to hold its meetings at the centers of hard drinking. Sometimes a " wine drawer " or waiter, or even the landlord, were 'made" expressly to enable him to enter and leave the Lodge Room while the Lodge was in session.
Lodges went by the name of the tavern in which they met—thus " the Lodge at the Goose and Gridiron, " the Lodge at " the Goat's Head, " etc. They were thus entered on the Grand Lodge's engraved lists of Lodges. They were not numbered until Dr. Thomas Dunckerley made the suggestion (he ranked with Desaguliers, Preston and Dermott as an architect of the Fraternity).
In the center of the Lodge Room was placed a table, usually of the board and trestle type. The Lodge was opened with the members at table; Lodge business was conducted there; initiations were "made"; the Brethren ate and drank together for hours on end, the feasting being not an adjunct to Lodge business but as an integral part of it.
A Lodge "feast" was therefore a Lodge meeting, and when the old Lodges insisted that Grand Lodge "Quarterly Feasts " be restored, it was in reality a demand that full Grand Lodge meetings be held, "as according to the old customs. " The meals in the richer Lodges sometimes were elaborate and costly, with a dozen liquors, and a long list of " healths. " In one instance the Seeretary of a rich Lodge set down one "feast," for 51 members, at a sum now worth about 8500. Many Lodges owned their own punch bowls, plate, glasses, pitchers; a few of them had their own wine cellars.
Dues were caned "subscriptions"; most of the money went to pay for the dinners. The charity fund usually was voluntary, a Charity Box being kept at hand. Fines were mposed right and left, for non-attendanee, for "being disguised in liquor, " for quarreling, for "profane swearing, " ete. Visitors were " fined " a dollar or two as their share of the costs of the food and drink. The title of the Master was " Right Worshipful. " He was elected for six months, and in some instances appointed his own Wardens.
Only a few Seeretaries received stipends, and almost none of them had any regular system of books, so that there was frequent trouble over Lodge accounts (The Grand Lodge of Scotland expelled a Grand Secretary for that reason.) The Tiler wore a sword or a " poignard, " and received pay- he was a "servant" and seldom belonged to the same "elass" as the members. He had many duties: to stand guard, to examine visitors, to deliver summons, to care for the furniture, ete.; the office was sometimes held in succession from father to son in the same family. (Montgomery, a famous Grand Tiler, became a personage almost as well known as the Grand Masters.) In at least one ease a Brother made a profession of being Lodge Seeretary to a group of Lodges; Tilers often did.
Minutes were bare, brief, and never of large importance in the early years. For decades they were not eountersigned by the Master. The Seeretary kept his records " in ye bag," and either took the bag home with him, or stowed it in the bottom of a pedestal. Spelling went by ear, and a Seeretary spelled words as they chanced to sound to him at the moment; in more than one Minutes the Master's name was spelled three ways in one entry.
Thus, one encounters apprentice as prentiee, interprentiee, prentiss, prentayee, ete. (The language was not pronouneed then as now; thus, tea was pronounced to rhyme with " tay, " as one recalls from a couplet by Bro. Alexander Pope.) Minutes were meagre because Seeretaries did as little work as possible; or were afraid of violating secrecy; or as a protection from prying eyes when they kept the bag at home.
Candidates, it appears, wore robes, for there is often mention of the purchase of them in Lodge inventories or minuses; sometimes "trousies," or "drawers" are mentioned. (Present day British Masons have weird notions about American customs. Even a learned Lodge of research was recently told that " in the States Candidates go naked!" )
The average early British Lodge was as local as it was small. and knew little about the Fraternity at large, still less about foreign countries To many of them "America" meant the West Indies. This lack of knowledge made them an easy prey to " foreigner " impostors. A number of Minute Books record relief being given to "Turks" who turned out to be frauds, to Freneh counts, ditto, and to men coming over as " rich Americans "—the "rich American" myth is even now still alive in some British centers; a "Turk" was almost any dark-skinned foreigner.
The great majority of members were Fellowerafts only. In one ease a Worshipful Master was an Apprentiee. The two grades often were conferred at one time, in "emergeney meetings." The Master Mason grade was at first given in Masters' Lodges, and was confined, it appears, to Masters or Past Masters only (actual or virtual.)
The oldest Lodges, such as constituted the first Grand Lodge in 1717, were familiar with the rites and customs; but after Lodges ol 'new men" had multiplied by the hundreds, the Masons themselves had only a rudimentary understanding of Freemasonry, and made many experiments, changes, ete., trying out first one thing and then another. (One Lodge might use a Bible on the altar, another would use the Old Charges on a pedestal.)
The Lodges of Speculatives under the Grand Lodge with their two Degrees (and later, their Third) were only one of many developments which came out of the old Operative Masonry; there was a Right Worshipful Soeiety of Operative Masons; Masons' Companies in the cities; there were many self-eonstituted (St. Johns') Lodges whuch were regular but did not belong to a Grand Lodge; in North Ireland there were many individual Masons who sometimes called themselves " clandestines " and who had no Lodges or only loose and temporary ones; there were many " high grades, " or " side orders " (sued as the "Seoteh Masons" who appear then disappear in English Lodge Minutes), ete.; that this was confusing to Chartered Lodges is exhibited by almost every Minute Book, and it took nearly a century to clear up and erystallxze and unify a single system of Regular Masonry.
If Masons quarrelled outside the Lodge, if one of them accused another of some dishonest practices they often brought the quarrel into the Lodge for adjudication. (This occurrence of private non-Lodge affairs is another reason for the brevity of the Minutes.)
Lodges (except in and about London) had little consciousness of Grand Lodge. or interest in it, and the Grand Lodge itself appears to have had even less interest in the Lodges because it was almost impossible oftentimes for a Lodge to secure a reply from the Grand Seeretary. After a Provincial Grand Lodge was established, a Lodge was given to thinking of it, rather than "the London Grand Lodge," as "Grand Lodge."
Also, Lodges were not encouraged to submit their grievances to Grand Lodge; still less were they encouraged ever to question any act of Grand Lodge—one Lodge was rebuked for doing so by the Grand Secretary who told them they had " insulted H. R. H. the Grand Master." The Wigan secessionist Grand Lodge was formed partly in consequence of the almost complete inactivity of both Grand Lodge and a Provineial Grand Lodge for nearly four years.
An American Mason is always very conscious of "the Fraternity"; even when he has his own Lodge in mind he refers to it as "the Fraternity"; Masons 501) years ago had only a thin awareness of "the Fraternity" and their interest was almost solely concentrated in the local Lodge. But as against the present day Mason, with his dim consciousness of his own Lodge, a Mason 200 years ago loved his Lodge next only after his home. He filled it up with gifts—silverware, glassware, pictures, furniture, paraphernalia, books, etc., until many old Lodges had scarcely a square yard of bare wall, and a very rich atmosphere of family feeling, of an intimate friendliness, and of Brethren gone but who had left many mementos in the Lodge Room.
Piecing together scattered hints it appears that a "Degree" followed in the main the same pattern as now, but with less of it enacted (wherein American Masonry still differs most from British). The Candidate was prepared; he took an OB--; a Traeillg Board (or floor Cloth, or the "Lodge") contained the symbols of the Degree and these were explained.
It was only gradually that Degrees became in a strict sense "degrees," or separate ceremonies, each one complete in itself, and with its own members and officers, with the Lodge not permitted to alter the ceremonies, and with Lodges everywhere using the same ceremonies.
The earliest Speculatives spoke not of the "Degree" of Apprentice (etc.) but of the Lodge of Apprentices. To become a full-fledged member of the circle, was the principal aim of initiation; the ceremonies were a means to that end. A new movement began, and was destined to become triumphant, especially in America, when Preston and Hutchinson and a few others began to study the Ritual for its own sake.
Any Mason could belong to more than one Lodge— in one Lodge record a member is listed as belonging to thirteen. The smallness of Lodges was partly responsible. As "class Lodges" became a rule, each with a specialized membership and interests, a new incentive to plural membership came into play. But the greatest incentive was the simple one, that many Masons enjoyed Lodge life for its own sake.
The Minute Books and Lodge Histories leave the history of the Master Mason Degree as unsettled as ever, not because thes contradict each other but because for nearly a century there was no uniform rule. Some of the oldest (Time Immemorial) Lodges appear to have kept firm hold on the whole of ceremony. Some had the Master's Degree separate from the other two (a Candidate was "made" a Felloweraft) but kept it under Lodge control.
There were Masters' Lodges, with their own rooms, officers, and meeting times; to them would go members from a number of surrounding Lodges. In some Lodges it looks as if any member could become a Master Mason; in others, only Masters or Past Masters; and in the latter, some had to be actual Past Masters, some could be "virtual" Past Masters by "passing the chair." The general tendency seems to have been to look upon the Grand Master as sovereign over the Craft, with Grand Lodge in a secondary role; which was in contrast to the present American tendency (in reality the Grand Master and the Grand Lodge have equal sovereignty but in different fields).
Since a Grand Master was a Prince of the Blood, a Duke, an Earl, etc., the prerogatives which belonged to his person remained with him in the Grand East; in consequence a deal of snobbishness and exclusiveness developed among the Lodges, titles and ranks were over-valued, and this exclusiveness was (the writer so takes it) the principal reason for the division of England between two Grand Lodges; such a Mason as Peter Gilkes refused to accept Grand Honors or to attend Grand Lodge because the gentlemen there were "above his station." This was not true of the Antient Grand Lodge, or of Scotland, Ireland, Canada, and the American Colonies.
The oldest American Minute Books could almost be interchanged with the oldest British, so alike were the customs of the two until the end of the Revolution.
There were, however, two fundamental differences in the Craft in general; first, Lodges of English, Scottish, Irish, and French origin worked here side by side, and this made more puzzling the questions the earliest American Masons were called upon to decide; second, the American Provineial Grand Lodges were left hanging in the air, because they could not obtain continuous cooperation or supervision from Britain, and at the same time did not possess complete sovereignty; expediency became the general rule. Also, the American Lodges could not obtain light on Masonry itself, because it had no teaching from Grand Lodge and no literature of its own.
(Note. One instance is that of Thomas Smith Webb, who had to move in the dark, and who adopted Preston vb ith no clear knowledge of Preston's status in the Grand Lodge in England. Another is the odd fact that two of the first American Books of Constitutions begin with a paragraph explaining that the Book is designed for Operative ( ! !) Masons; further on in the Book it transpires that the authors had taken ' Operative" to mean the book-keeping of the Seeretary, the care of Lodge rooms funds, ete.; by "Speculative" they meant the Ritual.)
The Eighteenth Century Lodges had no Order of the Eastern Star; yet the women had some connections with the Craft. In Ireland there were called "Masonie Dames." In England one Lodge purchased "gloves for the ladies." The history of Lodge symbolism is obscure; in old Tracing Boards are pictures of symbols no longer used, absence of symbols nove in use, and symbols would be dropped and then resumed, etc.
The broached thurnel (a stone axe plus a certain type of stone); Common Gudge (or judge; a template); perpend ashlar; these are a few of the symbols or terms not familiar to us also on Tracing Boards were arches, the Star of David, a chisel, sometimes a pencil, etc.; the trowel v, as once widely used then widelv discontinued. The Pps. of the OB. . was used at least as early as 1700, but not in its present elaborate form. The Ob.-. appears to have been shorter. The Box, for relief, was a fixture in a Lodge; but such monies were expended from it represent but a fraction of the relief given; for where Lodges were small, and relations were close, much help was given Masonieally to widows and orphans which was not done by Lodge action.
Early Ameriean Lodges were those which worked between 1730 and 1780-5; and while, as stated above, they were in essential Lodges of the same sort as worked in Britain during the same period, there was as between the former and the latter one difference which though small at the time was to lead to an ever widening divergence: the British Lodge was small, its members were recruited (generally) from its immediate neighborhood, and their social evening around the table was their Lodge's greatest appeal to them;
an American Lodge was larger, had fewer sister Lodges near it, drew its members from a larger radius, its membership represented every type, and the Lodge's greatest appeal to them was as a meeting place, an opportunity to become acquainted, a social center, a place to see friends which a man could not see otherwise; there was far less emphasis on the "feast" (which usually was a luCch) and much more on the Work.
(At the present time, and not to make comparisons, the American Craft Ritual is larger, more complete, more interesting, and more artistically and self-consistently developed than its English counterpart in any one of the English Workings.) In their first impact on a Masonic student's mind the 200 or so Minute Books and Lodge Histories of which the above random notes are only slight indicia, alive him a sense of confusion, as if Speculative Masonry began with no clear understanding of itself; in the end he learns that the opposite was true.
There never has been deviation or uncertainty in the things that count. Before even the Mother Grand Lodge waw dreamed of, Freemasonry was a fraternity of workmen, was a philosophy of work (the first ever given to the world). raised work to the level of an attribute of God whose name was appropriately Sovereign Grand Architect (or Workman), envisaged mankind as a Lodge, or body of workmen, taught that work was not a curse but belongs to what a man is and therefore it cannot be despised without abasing him.
It was these discoveries truths, and principles which brought Freemasonry into being; they drove it forward, they persisted unaltered among many changes, and in the long run, by the tests they imposed, determined what belonged to Freemasonry and what did not, what rites, ceremonies, symbols, lectures, rules. regulations, and customs; whatever has opposed them has died, or hangs withering on the branch; and it is they, working through the Lodges, which have made Masonry a power among men. Deviations, details, experiments, localisms, these have been unumportant in the long run. It is Freemasonry that has created the Lodges; not the Lodges that have created it. This stands clear and evident in the Histories and Minute Books themselves.
The word Speculative is used by Freemasons in its primary sense as symbolic, or theoretical, when opposed to Operative. The Matthew Cooke Manuscript transcribed about 1400 A. D. from an earlier original, makes use of the word in this technical connection, and its adoption by Anderson in his version of the Old Charges, 1723 A.D., is one of the proofs that this Manuscript was under his hand when compiling the Book of Constitutions Otherwise he would have substituted for Speculative and Operative the Scottish terms Geomatic and Domatic, just as he used Fellow Craft and Cowan.
Domatic is derived from the Latin word Domus, which signifies a house. It therefore means of or belonging to a house. Its Masonic meaning is transparent from its usage in former times. When a body of Freemasons who were also Operative Masons, applied for a Charter to found a Lodge, as was the case with the petitioners for Ayr Kilwinning in 1765, they designated themselves Domatic Masons.
On the other hand, members of Lodges who were not Operative Masons—Nobles, Lairds, etc.—were styled Geomatic Masons, a term derived from the Greek word afa, the land or soil, and therefore intended to show that they were landed proprietors or men in some way or another connected with agriculture. This was evidently the idea the word was meant to express at first but it was by and by applied to all Freemasons who were not Operative Masons, and who were in those days styled "Gentlemen Masons."
So says Brother D. Murray Lyon, of the Grand Lodge of Scotland, in his History of Mother Kilwinning. But this will hardly hold water; it may pass with the bastard Latin Domaticus, but no one sufficiently acquainted with Greek to know that meant the Earth, could tolerate the meaningless termination. Judging by linguistic analogues, Geomatic should be a corruption of Geometic, due to the sharp sound of the short e in Lowland Scottish aided by the jingling assonance of Domatic (see Domatic).
Similarly, the word Cowan is first met with amongst Scottish Operative Masons applied with contempt to a Dry-Diker, that is, a spurious Freemason who builds walls without cement. Its etymology is uncertain and the far-fetched derivations from a dog, or from listening, a listening person, that is, an eavesdropper, must be dismissed as inconsistent with philological principles. In the present writer's opinion the most likely derivation is that which connects it with the French Cofon or Coyon, a man of no account, a wretch. If so, it adds another to the list of low French words embedded in Lowland Scottish, during the medieval intercourse of the two countries, for the curious derivation of the French word and its Romance cognates from Latin Coleus, Greek (see Cowan).
The above notes are by Brother W. J. Chetwode Craxvley (Caementaria Hibernica, Faseieulus 1, page 6).
1. The Moral Doctrines.
2. The Religious Doctrines
3. The Philosophical Doctrines
The lectures of the Symbolic Degrees instruct the neophyte in the difference between the Operative and the Speculative divisions of Freemasonry. They tell him that "we work in Speculative Masonry, but our ancient Brethren wrought in both Operative and Speculative." The distinction between an Operative Art and a Speculative Science is, therefore, familiar to all Freemasons from their early instructions.
To the Freemason, this Operative Art has been symbolized in that intellectual deduction from it which has been correctly called Speculative Freemasonry. At one time each was an integral part of one undivided system. Not that the period ever existed when every Operative Mason was acquainted with, or initiated into, the Speculative Science. Even now, there are thousands of skilful artisans who know as little of that as they do of the Hebrew language which was spoken by its founder. But Operative Masonry was, in the inception of our history, and is, in some measure, even now, the skeleton upon which was strung the living muscles and tendons and nerves of the Speculative system. It was the block of marble, rude and unpolished it may have been, from which was sculptured the life-breathing statue.
Speculative Masonry, which is but another name for Freemasonry in its modern acceptation, may be briefly defined as the Scientific application and the religious consecration of the rules and principles, the language, the implements, and materials of Operative Masonry to the veneration of God, the purification of the heart, and the inculcation of the dogmas of a religious philosophy.
Speculative Masonry, or Freemasonry, is then a system of ethics, and must therefore, lice all other ethical systems, have its distiaetive doctrines. These may be divided into three classes, namely, the Moral, the Religious, and the Philosophical.
1. The Moral Doctrines.
These are dependent on, and spring out of, its character as a social institution. Hence among its numerous definitions is one that declares it to be "a science of morality," and morality is said to be, symbolically, one of the precious jewels of a Master Mason.
Freemasonry is, in its most patent and prominent sense, that which most readily and forcibly attracts the attention of the uninitiated; a fraternity, an association of men bound together by a peculiar tie; and therefore it is essential, to its successful existence, that it should, as it does, inculcate, at the very threshold of its teachings, obligation of kindness, man's duty to his neighbor.
"There are three great duties," says the Charge given to an Entered Apprentice, "which, as a Mason, you are charged to inculcate—to God, your neighbor, and yourself." And the duty to our neighbor is said to be that we should act upon the square, and do unto him as we wish that he should do unto ourselves.
The object, then, of Freemasonry, in this moral point of view, is to carry out to their fullest practical extent those lessons of mutual love and mutual aid that are essential to the very idea of a brotherhood. There i8 a socialism in Freemasonry from which spring all Masonic virtues—not that modern proJect exhibited in a community of goods, which, although it may have been praetised by the primitive Christians, is found to be uncongenial with the independent spirit of the present age but a community of sentiment, of principle, of design, which gives to Freemasonry all its social, and hence its moral, character. As the old song tells us:
That virtue had not left mankind
lier social maxims prove
For stamp'd upon the Mason's mind
Are unity and love.
Thus the moral design of Freemasonry, based upon its social character, is to make men better to each other; to cultivate brotherly love, and to inculcate the practice of all those virtues which are essential to the perpetuation of a brotherhood. A Freemason is bound, say the Old Charges, to obey the moral law, and of this law the very keystone is the divine precept—the Golden Rule of our Lord—to do unto others as we would that they should do unto us. 'I`o relieve the distressed, to give good counsel to the erring, to speak well of the absent, to observe temperance in the indulgence of appetite, to bear evil with fortitude, to be prudent in life and conversation, and to dispense justice to all men, are duties that are inculcated on every Freemason by the moral doctrines of his Order.
These doctrines of morality are not of recent origin. They are taught in all the OkZ Constitutions of the Craft, as the parchment records of the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries show, even when the Institution was Operative in its organization, and long before the speculative element was made its predominating characteristic. Thus these Old Charges tell us, almost all of them in the same words, that Freemasons "shal be true, each one to other, that is to say, to every Mason of the science of Masonrye that are Masons allowed, ye shal doe to them as ye would that they should doe unto youth
2. The Religious Doctrines
of Freemasonry are very simple and self-evident. They are darkened by no perplexities of sectarian theology, but stand out in the broad light, intelligible and acceptable by all minds, for they ask only for a belief in God and in the immortality of the soul. He who denies these tenets can be no Freemason, for the religious doctrines of the Institution significantly impress them in every part of its instructions. The neophyte no sooner crosses the threshold of the Lodge, but he is called upon to recognize, as his first duty, an entile trust in the superintending eare and love of the Supreme Being, and the series of initiations into Symbolic Freemasonry terminate by revealing the awful symbol of a life after death and an entrance upon immortality.
Now this and the former class of doctrines are intimately connected and mutually dependent. For we must first know and feel the universal fatherhood of God before we can rightly appreciate the universal brotherhood of man. Hence the Old Records already alluded to, which show us what was the condition of the Craft in the Middle Ages, exhibit an eminently religious spirit. These ancient Constitutions always begin with a pious invocation to the trinity, and sometimes to the saints, and they tell us that "the first Charge is that a Mason shall be true to God and holy Chureh, and use no error nor heresy." And the Charges published in 1723, which professes to be a compilation made from those older records, prescribe that a Freemason, while left to his particular opinions, must be of that "religion in which all men agree," that is to say, the religion which teaches the existence of God and an eternal life.
3. The Philosophical Doctrines
of Freemasonry are scarcely less important, although they arc less generally understood than either of the preceding classes. The object of these philosophical doctrines is very different from that of either the moral or the religious. For the moral and religious doctrines of the Order are intended to mal;e men virtuous, while its philosophical doctrines are designed to make them zealous Freemasons. He who knows nothing of the philosophy of Freernasonry will be apt to become in time lul;ewarm and indifferent but he who devotes himself to its contemplation wiil feel an ever-inereasing ardor in the study.
Now these philosophical doctrines are developed in that symbolism which is the especial characteristic of Masonie teaching, and relate altogether to the lost and recovered word, the search after divine truth, the manner and time of its discovery, and the reward that awaits the faithful and successful searcher. Such a philosophy far surpasses the abstract quiddities of metaphysicians. It brings us into close relation to the profound thought of the ancient world, and makes us familiar with every subjeet of mental science that lies within the grasp of the human intellect. So that, in eonelusion, we find that the moral, religious, and philosophical doctrines of Freemasonry respectively relate to the social, the eternal, and the intellectual progress of man.
Finally, it must be observed that while the old Operative Institution, which was the cradle and forerunner of the Speculative, as we now have it, taught abundantly in its Constitutions the moral and religious doctrines of vhich we have been treating, it makes no reference to the philosophical doctrines. That our Operative predecessors were well acquainted with the science of symbolism is evident from the architectural ornaments of the buildings which they erected; but they do not seem to have applied its principles to any great extent to the elucidation of their moral and religious teachings; at least, we finall nothing said of this symbolic philosophy in the Old Records that are extant.
And whether the Operative Masons were reticent on this Subject from choice or from ignorance, we may lay it down as an axiom, not easily to be controverted, that the philosophic doctrines of the Order are altogether a development of the system for which we are indebted solely to Speculative Freemasonry.
[What is Freemasonry] [Leadership
Development] [Education] [Masonic
This site is not an official site of any recognized Masonic body in the United
States or elsewhere.
Last modified: March 22, 2014