The Masonic Trowel

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How did the words “Free” and “Accepted” originate?

The ancient craftsmen were very skilled and their craft was considered to be indispensable to the welfare of both church and state. They were the men who built castles and cathedrals. For this reason, they were not placed under the same restrictions as were other workers. They were ‘free” to do their work, travel, and live their lives in a manner which was in line with their duties. No one could become an Apprentice unless he was free born.

The Masons organized into “guilds”, something akin to a trade union, and individual companies or groups of Masons contracted for specific construction projects.

In the England of that time, various crafts (carpenters, distillers, pewterers, ironworkers, etc.) also organized into guilds, but most of the population worked under bond to the owners of the land on which they lived.

The word “Accepted” also goes back to the time of the Operative Mason.

During the later years of the Middle Ages, there were few educated outside the monasteries of the church. The “accepted” mason was originally a man who, in a lodge operative in origin or still partly so in character, was for all practical purposes of membership accepted as a mason. From this practice grew in course of time the use of the words “accepted” and “adopted” to indicate a man who had been admitted into the inner fellowship of Symbolic Masons. Candidates were “accepted” into freemasonry no earlier than the mid-seventeenth century. We first meet the phrase “free and accepted” in 1722.

By the late 1600’s the demand for the type of architecture that lent itself to the guild type of operation was declining. Architecture itself was changing; and the number of men, as well as the number of operative lodges, were declining. Increasingly, Masonry adopted the legends and habits of the old operative lodges, for spiritual and moral purposes. As time went on, there became many more “Accepted” members than there were Operative members. Sometime in the eighteenth century, the “Accepted Masons” outnumbered the “Operative Masons” and Masonry became exclusively a speculative organization rather than an operative one.


As you can see, there are actually two kinds of Masonry. One we call “Operative” and the other “Speculative”.

Operative Masonry can be traced back to the Middle Ages and beyond. Operative Masons, formed groups with Lodge structures similar to ours today. We have officers similar to theirs. Men were admitted only after they had served a number of years of apprenticeship, usually seven years. This is the origin of the first or Entered Apprentice degree. In Operative Masonry, Masons actually did the physical labour of building. They were the best at their craft, and they kept secret their methods of building.

When the organization became what is called Speculative Masonry, men were accepted into the Craft without being actual builders, that is, they were spiritual builders. Speculative Masonry adopts the terms and concepts, of the actual builders, but substitutes men for stone and mortar, and works toward self-improvement rather than the actual construction of buildings.

Click to learn more about the Origins and Evolution of Speculative Masonry

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Last modified: March 22, 2014