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by WM Don Falconer


Speculative foundations
Man in Pre-History
The earliest masons
The development of literacy
Monumental masonry
Classical masonry
Cathedral masonry

The Medieval Freemasons
Medieval Lodges
The Ceremonials of Medieval Lodges
The Foundations
The Solomonic Degrees
The First Temple
The Second Temple

Symbols in antiquity
Symbols in the Sacred Writings
The origin of Masonic Symbols
The scope of Masonic Symbols
The Mystical Theme

Masonry through the ages
The Freemason and his Lodge
English operative lodges
Scottish operative lodges
Irish operative lodges
Early "non-operative" Masons
Early speculative lodges
The "Mason word"
Tradition in perspective

The Craft
Lodges of operative Masons
Training in operative Lodges
Speculative Lodges
Religious influence
Operative working tools
The Apprentice's working tools
The Fellow's working tools
The Master's working tools
The symbolism of the Square
The symbolism of the Level
The symbolism of the Plumb Rule

Guild Masonry
Operative influences
Modern speculative Freemasonry
The purpose of Freemasonry

The Old Charges in summary
The liberal Arts and Sciences
The foundation of the Crafts
The two Pillars
Nimrod and the Tower of Babel
The call of Abraham
The Temple at Jerusalem
Masonry in France
Masonry in England

Origins of the Rite
Operative background
Divestiture of the metals
The Hoodwink
The Cable Tow
The bare Right Arm
The bare Left Knee
The Slipshod Heel

The Jewels
Operative origins
Early Speculative Jewels
Speculative Tracing Board

The rise of civilization
What is Freemasonry
Early Masonry
Temple Masonry
Classical Masonry
Cathedral Masonry
Modern Freemasonry evolves
The Templar influence
Other influences on Freemasonry

In the Beginnings
The First Principles
Behaviour and Responsibility
   Social Conduct
   Moral Virtues
   Social Virtues
   Intellectual Virtues



Speculative freemasonry is a natural extension of man's spiritual and mental attempts to unravel his origins, to comprehend the meaning of life and to perceive his ultimate destiny, as well as to communicate his thoughts on these matters to others. Although purely speculative lodges are of recent origin, speculative freemasonry is as old as the operative art itself. Moreover, the speculative rituals were not invented by those who established the first purely speculative lodges, which led to the formation of the early Grand Lodges in the eighteenth century. These early speculative freemasons were intellectual men who saw great value in existing rituals, which they culled, collated and codified into the form used speculative ceremonials. In so doing they were careful to ensure that every passage of ritual was expressed appropriately in the best language of the day. The resulting rituals neither did nor could include all the available material, but they do provide a sound and effective basis for the speculative ceremonials.

It must be emphasised that those who established the early speculative lodges did not see the ritual work as an end in itself, but rather as a foundation for philosophical discussion. The ceremonials used in the lodge room should provide only an unobtrusive vehicle, subsidiary to the primary function of communicating one's thoughts to others. These ceremonials have been standardised to relieve the participants' minds of extraneous matters, that otherwise might impede clear thought and hinder the delivery of the charges. Furthermore, word perfect delivery of ritual has no value unless communicated to the recipient in such a manner as to engage his mind, arouse his interest and incite his comprehension. Nor are the words of the ritual intended to be the sole instruction, but rather to provide a sound basis on which to establish discussion on a subject of relevance and interest. Unlike other animals, man has an insatiable curiosity concerning his origins and the environment in which he lives. Since recorded history began some 6,000 years ago, there is continuing evidence of mythologies and religions being developed in an attempt to provide answers to these concerns, as does speculative freemasonry also. To appreciate better how masonry assists man to contemplate his existence, it will first be helpful to consider the origins and evolution of mankind.


It is presently considered that the physical universe as we now know it has existed for about 20,000 million years, but that our solar system was formed only about 4,600 million years ago. Although the first living organisms on earth probably came into existence about 3,500 million ago, they appear to have remained unchanged for several thousand million years. Life first flourished in the seas, but dry land was not successfully colonised until about 400 million years ago, while all the present continents were still intact, forming a single continent called Pangaea. It was about 100 million years ago when the present continents began to split apart, reaching their present configuration around 40 million years ago at the height of the last Ice Age, when so much water was locked up in the polar ice caps that the sea level fell, exposing most of the continental shelf areas. The ice caps and glaciers had retreated to roughly their present positions by about 8,000BC.

The most recent investigations of archaeologists and palaeontologists suggest that the ramapithecines, which lived between fourteen million and eight million years ago and flourished across Africa, Asia and Europe, might be our earliest hominid ancestors, distinguishing us from all other primates. But this is by no means certain, because the ramapithecines are followed by a gap of some four million years in the fossil record, after which several hominid species begin to appear. A more recent and more certain ancestor, called Homo habilis which signifies "skilful man", lived in the East African Rift Valley around two million years ago and survived for almost a million years. Our most recent forebear, Homo erectus which signifies "upright man", seems to have lasted for about one-and-a-half million years. Finally, Homo sapiens which signifies "wise man", has existed for a mere 100,000 years or so. When compared with the age of the universe, our occupation of the earth has been short indeed.

The first 50,000 years of Homo sapiens existence was almost at the end of the Old Stone Age, which had lasted for nearly 250,000 years. This was the period of the Early Hunters, during which cultural advance was very slow. Nevertheless, they made a wide range of stone implements and weapons and also achieved the control of fire, although they could not kindle it. They could cut and stitch fur clothing, approaching the standard of modern Eskimos, whilst both men and women ornamented themselves with necklaces and bracelets of shells, teeth, ivory beads, mother of pearl and stone. However, their most significant cultural advance towards the end of this period, probably was that they buried at least some of their dead with ceremony. It was not uncommon for graves to be marked with stones or horns and for food and implements to be placed beside the bodies. Thus, for the first time, man was manifesting a belief in some form of after-life, heralding the "age of wisdom" signified by his name. Henceforth man's development would accelerate at an ever increasing rate.

The Early Hunters usually lived in limestone and sandstone caves where these were prevalent. In other areas they gradually learnt to use locally available materials such as grass, reeds, mud and even mammoth bones to construct huts, as well as to make tents from the skins of animals. Around the Mediterranean the Early Hunters developed into Advanced Hunters between 35,000BC and 30,000BC, at the height of the last Ice Age, then into the Late Hunters who preceded the Agricultural Revolution which began between 10,000BC and 8,000BC from region to region. The advanced Hunters developed a remarkable artistic genius and were the originators of representational art. The Gravettians of eastern and central Europe used ivory, bone, clay and even stone, to make small figurines of women and also some lively animal carvings.

But the greatest achievement of the advanced Hunters was to develop painting, principally in the south-west of France and in Spain. This was achieved by the Magdalenians, who most probably were descendants of the Gravettians. These paintings were made between 15,000BC and 10,000BC, mostly deep inside caves and far from the hearth and living area. Many of the cave roofs are crowded with paintings of bison and other animals in the polychrome style, using powdered ochre, haematite and manganese applied moist with brush, pad or blowpipe. This period also is noted for being the first when stone was used in construction, albeit in the simplest form. Although natural caves are quite common in the eastern Mediterranean, huts with circular stone footings were built in Palestine and Syria, probably with light domed coverings made from twigs and daub. There is evidence that at about the same time on the plains of Mesopotamia, where there are no caves, shelters with stone footings were also used, probably with superstructures of reeds. These people, the advanced Hunters of around 10,000BC, therefore were the unlikely progenitors of architecture and masonry.


These humble beginnings ushered in the Agricultural Revolution, which was begun by the Late Hunters in the New Stone Age and provided the necessary foundation for the growth of civilisation. True farming was first developed in the uplands that sweep to the east and north on the flanks of the valley formed by the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. This was the natural area for development, because the wild ancestors of wheat and barley, sheep and goats were native to it and the upland valleys generally provided fertile soil and good water supplies. The oldest known evidence of the domestication of sheep and goats is to be found in this area, dating from 8,200BC and earlier. As the cropping and grinding of cereals and the herding and domestication of animals developed, the small upland settlements were extended down into the fertile valley, where villages began to form around 6,000·BC. Mixed farming had been carried to the fertile plain of Thessaly in Greece at about the same time, thence southwards to the Peloponnese, as well as to Crete and Cyprus.

The population grew with these developments, with settlements becoming larger and more permanent. As a result of this impetus, mud bricks were first made in Mesopotamia and the Eastern Mediterranean and used in the construction of houses. These bricks were first shaped by hand, as a Jericho, but later the mud was rammed into moulds. The use of stone for walls and dykes also became more prevalent. The largest villages may then have held up to 5,000 people, but generally were much smaller. Jericho is probably the oldest city in the world and when constructed around 8,000BC it occupied 4 hectares. It was surrounded by a massive stone wall 3 metres thick and 4metres high, against which was constructed at least one circular tower of rock 10 metres in diameter and 8.5 metres high, with a built in stairway, which presently is the world's oldest known structure. The city was abandoned for a period, but was colonised again about 7,000BC. The town walls were not renewed, but rectangular houses of mud brick with high quality plastered walls and floors spread over the whole site. Jericho was abandoned and reoccupied a number of times thereafter and perhaps is best known for its destruction by Joshua in Biblical times.

Two other events in this period also were of particular significance, these being the construction of some of the earliest known religious buildings at Catal Huyuk in Turkey and the construction of "beehive" houses at Khirokitia in Cyprus. The "beehive" houses were circular in plan, around 8 to 10 metres in diameter, with high thresholds to keep out surface water. Their foundations were of stone, which was carried to a height of about 2 metres, while the superstructures were corbelled vaults constructed of mud brick and of sufficient height to accommodate a bedroom gallery accessed by ladder or stairway. The ground level compartment was partitioned as required with mud brick walls which also served as supports for the gallery. These houses continued in use until supplanted by more conventional houses around 5,000BC or even more recently. The mud brick vaulted arch was a significant advance in architectural design and construction, paving the way for arch construction in stone. The "beehive" houses in Cyprus thus reflected the greatest advances of the earliest masons.

Catal Huyuk was occupied from about 6,500BC to 5,500BC and covers an area of 13 hectares. It is thought to have had a population of 6,000 in its heyday, comprising three different races nowhere else found together in this period. The houses were rectangular timber framed structures, with mud brick exterior walls and flat mud rooves placed on closely packed timber poles supported by timber rafters, furnished with hearths, platforms, benches and ovens. Among the houses was a series of elaborately decorated shrines which were similar to the houses in construction and furnishings, though frequently larger. Their sanctuaries were decorated with wall paintings, plaster reliefs, cult statues and animal heads. The richly coloured wall paintings frequently depicted hands and ritual or magic hunting scenes, but the most unusual painting found was a unique landscape depicting a terraced town of individual houses and blocks of houses and shrines, with a volcano erupting in the background. The dead of successive generations of the same family were buried within the platforms of the shrines, together with appropriate grave goods. This indicates a significant advance in religious thought, even though the rather crude and sometimes barbarous manifestations within the shrines were in stark contrast to the great religious inspiration of architecture and art that was soon to blossom with civilisation.

Masonry, by its very nature, is conducive to speculation in relation to building work in progress, however primitive the building might be. It is necessary to consider the suitability and dimensions of the available materials; to determine the best location and orientation for the structure; and to prepare sound and level foundations that will support the structure adequately and can be properly drained. The dimensions must be delineated on the ground before erection commences and walls must be plumbed, corners must be squared and tops of walls must be levelled during erection to ensure that the structure is both stable and pleasing to the eye. Even the earliest masons had to accomplish some or all of these operations, requiring constructive thought that inevitably would heighten their awareness to things other than their immediate requirements. Having constructed walls of rough stones, for example, the first masons soon comprehended the advantages of regular bricks and used their ingenuity to provide them. Thus, in a practical sense, speculative masonry was born and soon would also embrace moral contemplation through a natural association of ideas.


The next important period of development, from 5,000BC to 3,000BC, roughly coincides with the copper age and ushers in the first of the monumental architecture in Egypt and Mesopotamia. Using the simplest of raw materials, principally mud brick and imported timber, the local inhabitants achieved remarkable results. Egypt concentrated on huge royal tombs. The mastaba tombs of the First Dynasty are typical, being decorated externally to represent a "palace facade". Efforts in Mesopotamia were concentrated on temple building Their temples rapidly grew larger, more complex and externally more impressive, as typified by Eridu, in Sumer, where a continuous series of temples has been distinguished from about 5,500BC to 3,000BC. At Arpachiya, in northern Mesopotamia, circular houses were constructed similar to the earlier "beehive" houses of Cyprus, usually extended by a rectangular gable roofed wing, the unit being called a "tholos". Another notable development was the fortified settlement at Dimini in Greece, one of the earliest towns known in Europe, dominated by the "megaron" palace with its pillared porch. Dimini was surrounded by six concentric walls of undressed limestone, with narrow gateways and passages which formed a defensive system.

Although great advances were made in architecture and the development of cities during this period, the greatest achievement undoubtedly was the dawning of literate civilisation. The Sumerians of the southern plain of Mesopotamia, around 4,500BC, first drew cuneiform pictograms which represented actual material objects, to assist in the recording of inventories for grain, cattle and other commodities. The turning point came when it was realised that a sign could also stand for a sound, when phonetic writing began. But as the scribal profession and schools developed, the system of combined ideograms and phonetics became extremely complicated and it was not until about 3,500BC that writing had been forged into a practical vehicle for the communication of language. Meanwhile the Egyptians were developing hieroglyphic writing, which incorporated a combination of signs for both sounds and ideas when it was first used about 3,300BC. The Egyptian name for their writing meant "speech of the gods", reflecting its original use for royal inscriptions for the divine pharaohs, not for the keeping of accounts as cuneiform was originally used in Sumeria.

With the continually increasing emphasis on the construction of larger and more complex buildings, palaces, temples, shrines, monumental and sepulchral structures, masonry was no longer a simple task for a small gang of men. It must, therefore, have been during this period that skilled gangs of masons began to develop. To enable the work to be carried out successfully it would have been necessary for the chief of the builders, or master mason, to arrange training and supervision for very large gangs of masons and allied workers. This must have been an extremely difficult task, especially as written instructions could not then be given in writing. The only means of tuition available to them was by catechism, aided by sketches on slate or an earthen floor, which constituted their tracing boards. Archaeological investigations have provided overwhelming proof that, despite these difficulties, the early masons did indeed construct many outstanding edifices that had a remarkably high standard of finish.

Masonic instruction could only have begun as outlined above, as it has continued in principle to the present day. Moreover, the frequent if not continual contact that masons through all ages have had with shrines, temples, cathedrals, monuments and sepulchral buildings, must have induced masons to contemplate the meaning of life and certainty of death, as well as to seek an understanding of the hereafter, much more than would have been usual among the general population. This would contribute significantly to the speculative aspects of masonry and would also foster symbolic explanations of the mason's implements of labour. As in the present day, so then had many relevant masonic expressions become a part of the languages of those bygone days, which were recorded with the advent of cursive script. Such philological evidence proves beyond doubt that at least some elements of symbolism and speculative thought must have been a part of masonic instruction from the earliest days of organised masonry.

A host of symbolic references in masonic terms are to be found in the Scriptures, of which many such as the following are very well known. During a visit to Bethel about thirty years before the fall of Israel around 745BC, that event is prophesied in Amos 7, v. 7-9, when the Lord measured his people Israel with a plumb line and found them to be irremediably warped by sin. In the reign of Manasseh, the murderous and idolatrous king who ruled from 696BC to 642BC, the captivity of Judah by Babylon around 606BC is foretold in II Kings, Ch. 21, v. 13, when the Lord said he would "stretch over Jerusalem the measuring line of Samaria and the plummet of the house of Ahab". In Isaiah 28, v. 16, written between 750BC and 700BC, the coming of Christ is foretold in the words "Behold I am laying in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tested stone, a precious corner stone, of a sure foundation." This prophesy is referred to in I Peter 2, v. 6-8 around 60AD, when the death of Christ is alluded to in the following significant words added "for those who do not believe": "The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner, a stone that will make men stumble, a rock that will make them fall". Other Passages from the book of Genesis, taken in conjunction with some of the traditions preserved in Sumerian, Assyrian and Hebrew literature, also provide some interesting sidelights on masonry.

In Genesis 4, v. 19-22, we read that Lamech a descendant of Cain had two wives, Adah and Zillah. Adah bore two sons, Jabal and Jubal, the former being recorded as "the father of those who dwell in tents and have cattle" and the latter as "the father of all those who play the lyre and pipe". Traditionally, Jabal is also said to be the founder of geometry and the first mason who built stone walls and houses of stone. Zillah bore a son Tubal-cain and a daughter Naamah, the former being recorded as "the forger of all instruments of bronze and iron" and the latter being referred to in the traditions as the founder of weaving. These four are thus credited with the origin of civilised society. We also read of Nimrod in Genesis 10, v. 8-11, where we are told that he was "the first man on earth to be a mighty man", "a mighty hunter" and that "he built Ninevah . . . . that is the great city". Traditionally, it is said that masons first became of note at the building of the Tower of Babel, the first structure to be mentioned in the Scriptures (Genesis 11, v. 1-9); also that Nimrod was a master mason who loved the craft, formed his masons into lodges and gave them a charter and a charge when he sent them forth to build all the cities in his kingdom. Although it is impossible at present to date events such as these with any accuracy, they must have occurred around the beginning of the Agricultural Revolution.


By 3,000BC the Egyptians had developed a calendar with 365 days to the year, from which time their historical records are accurate. The development of writing and literature continued apace in Sumeria, but Egypt was supreme in the visual arts and architecture. Civilisation began to flourish and monumental masonry developed on an immense scale and with unprecedented complexity. The three Great Pyramids of Giza in Egypt and the huge Ziggurat of Urnammu in Mesopotamia are typical of this period. Although the scale of architecture in Mesopotamia was not as great as in Egypt, it was the Mesopotamians who were more innovative in their use of the arch, which they used extensively in tombs. The art of writing continued to develop and its use was becoming more widespread. Signs unearthed at Byblos in Lebanon date from around 2,500BC and are in a script similar to that then used in Syria. Pottery found at Byblos and Sidon, also in Lebanon, from the period 2,100BC to 1,700BC, provide some of the earliest evidence of the use of a linear script called pseudo-hieroglyphics. This was an early form of non-Egyptian alphabetic script variously designated as Canaanite, Sinaitic or proto-Phoenician.

This comparatively simple script progressively replaced the syllabic cuneiform scripts of Babylonia and Syria, as well as the complex hieroglyphic writing of Egypt, so that by about 1,500BC an alphabet was in general use. From this alphabet were progressively derived the Phoenician about 1,000BC, early Hebrew about 700BC, old Greek also about 700BC and formal Greek about 500BC whence the Roman was derived. With the development of writing in an era of prodigious monumental construction, coupled with the advances being made in moral and religious teaching, albeit spasmodically, it must reasonably be assumed that the speculative aspects of masonry also were developing and would have received considerable impetus when the building of so magnificent an edifice as King Solomon's Temple was commenced around 960BC at Jerusalem. The later desecration of the temple and its destruction by Nebuchadnezzar about 587BC must have had a serious impact on the faith of masons in those days, but that faith would have been renewed by the decree of Cyrus in 538BC, allowing the captives in Babylon to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the house of the Lord, initially under the leadership of Sheshbazzar, or Zerubbabel. The restoration and enlargement of the temple by Herod in the period 20BC to 64AD, when 1,000 priests were trained as masons to build the shrine, must have significantly enhanced speculative masonic thought.


The emergence of Greece as a colonising nation and centre of learning, art, and religious thought in the western Mediterranean, from around 1,100BC, heralded the era of classical masonry. Their first stone temples were erected at Corinth and Isthmia before 650BC, whence the Doric order originated, followed by the temples at Corfu and Ephesuswithin the next hundred years, whence the Ionic order originated. The Corinthian order was first used in Delphi around 390BC. Until the ascendancy of Rome, even in Rome itself, Greek architecture prevailed around the Mediterranean and temples proliferated. Without doubt the most famous classical Greek structures are the Parthenon at Athens and its surrounding structures, built between 447BC and 432BC. The emphasis which the Greeks placed on the ancient Mysteries in classical times must have been a significant influence on speculative masonic thought, still being reflected in some masonic ceremonials. This influence continued into the turbulent period of Roman rule.

Rome began to expand her territory by taking Carthage and Corinth in 146BC and Pergamum in 133BC. By 100BC Rome's territory nearly encircled the Mediterranean and by 117AD the Roman empire was at its greatest in strength and extent. During this period Rome developed cities and constructed amphitheatres and temples apace throughout its region of influence, particularly in the Middle East. Of the Roman era, the two most celebrated structures probably are the Colosseum in Rome and the temple complex at Baalbek in Lebanon, between Beirut and Damascus in Syria. The temple complex was built on the podium of an ancient temple, progressively over a period of almost 300 years, being completed around 260AD. When it became part of Ptolemy's Egyptian empire in 332BC, until the Roman occupation around 30BC, Baalbek was known as Heliopolis in Phoenicia and was the religious centre of the region. Baalbek is remarkable for its size and architectural finish, many foundation blocks being 4 metres square in section and 20 metres long, weighing up to 800 tonnes. Many of the columns were monolithic, of pink Aswan granite and having an overall height of 19.6 metres.


The decline and fall of the Roman empire heralded the beginning of the final phase in speculative evolution, that period of almost continuous cathedral building in Britain and Europe lasting from 500 until at least 1,700. Operative or Guild Masons were organised in England with royal approval dating at least from the Annual Assembly of 926, which was authorised and encouraged by King Athelstan. The lodges of operative Free Masons were organised under the guardianship of craft guilds, originally in the form of religious fraternities, continuing in this manner until Henry VIII dis-endowed all religious fraternities by the Act of 1547. Masters of lodges were responsible for the moral and religious welfare of their indentured apprentices, as well as for their practical training in the craft of masonry. The ancient charges testify to this. It is clear from the old catechisms and other records that have come down to us from the operative lodges, especially in Scotland where the Reformation was less drastic in its effect, that moral instruction was an integral part of the ceremonies. The working tools clearly were vehicles of moral instruction from a very early date, as also were various aspects of a mason's work that were converted to simple plays to communicate a message. These were adapted by Dr James Anderson and other early speculative ritualists in the preparation of the rituals in use today.

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To appreciate what may be called the traditional degrees, it is first necessary to understand what is meant by freemasonry. The earliest known recorded use of the word "freemason" dates from 1376, when it implied an operative mason of a superior class, apparently the Master Mason in charge of a building operation, or the Master Builder. Many early masonic writers could not accept that the medieval Freemason, or Master Mason, was a man of superior knowledge and skill, equally well versed in religious matters, the graphic arts, sculpture and geometry as he was in the manual aspects of his trade. Writers as eminent as A.E.Waite could not imagine how "horny handed labourers" could have developed the symbolism and philosophy that has been incorporated into modern speculative freemasonry. As a possible explanation, R.F.Gould proposed that these "operatives" accepted "gentlemen" into their ranks and that they transformed the operative craft into a speculative art, but he could offer no logical reason for such an occurrence, which in any event would have been socially unacceptable in those days.

Those writers seemed unaware that freemasonry was not restricted to the quarrying, shaping and setting of stones, but that it included the geometry and structural design of the building and also the multitude of associated trades such as the sculpture, stained glass windows and all decorative work. These freemasons had inherited and continually developed the ideas, teachings and organisation that had long since crystalised as a Fraternity. They had a multiplicity of emblems, an elaborate system of symbolism and many rites and ceremonies, which they continued to use long after the decline of cathedral building. The speculative art had developed concurrently with and had become an integral part of operative practice. Manual dexterity was achieved by practical "hands on" training, while the accompanying theory was imparted by demonstration and catechism, including participation in appropriate dramatic presentations to illustrate the use of the more sophisticated implements in setting out and controlling the work.

Should there be any doubt as to the intelligence, technical capacity and practical capabilities of the medieval Master Masons, it would be instantly dispelled by a study of the design and construction of the world famous Chartres Cathedral, which is considered to be the most authentic surviving example of the spirit of the most spiritual of all periods in European history. In 1020 a cathedral, almost as large as the present one, replaced a smaller church on the site. In the 1130s it was extended at the western end by adding two bays, a vestibule and two towers framing the Royal Portal and its renowned sculptures. All except the western end and the crypt were destroyed by a dreadful fire in 1194. Reconstruction was commenced almost immediately, continuing unabated until virtual completion during the 1230s, while more than a dozen other cathedrals were also under construction in the vicinity.

Years earlier, the Council of Nicea had ruled that "the arrangement belongs to the clergy and the execution to the artist". Accordingly, the Chapter would have stated its requirements as to the form of the cathedral, the size of the choir and the arrangement of the chapels, transepts and other features. During construction some innovations almost certainly would have been requested. However, although the church's involvement in the detailing and structural problems would have been minimal, no architect was engaged to design and supervise the work, only a permanent staff of clergy being provided to check that requirements were being met and to provide the necessary funds. Nine different Master Masons were engaged on the work cyclically throughout the construction period, each being entirely responsible for the geometry, design and construction of his sections of the work. In all there were more than thirty successive contracts or "campaigns" to complete the cathedral. The first Master Mason who prepared the original design, set out the building and constructed the foundations, was only on site for less than a year. Each of the nine contractors was engaged more than once, but the first and some others were engaged several times. Each successive builder made some modifications, but without altering the work already completed. The completion of such a complicated and beautiful structure, so successfully and under such difficult conditions, proves beyond doubt the capacity and integrity of the medieval freemasons.


The remarkable structural feats of the medieval freemasons can be seen and appreciated, but their work and ceremonials within their lodges is not so immediately evident. To achieve his objectives on successive sites year after year, the Master Mason not only had to be talented himself, but also required a talented, loyal and dedicated team that could be relied upon to follow him in the search for and prosecution of the work. His team in fact was a family, intensely proud of its skills and traditions, but jealous of its operating methods and trade secrets. Skill, morality and fidelity were essential ingredients for success, but constant training was necessary in all of these aspects. The Master Mason was responsible for all of this training, which was a primary activity of his lodge. Effectively his apprentices were his sons for seven years and upwards, but usually for a lifetime. All members of the Fraternity were brothers in the truest sense.

Instruction was required and provided in three ways. The necessary manual instruction was carried out either in the stone yard or on the construction site, according to the type of work. The theoretical instruction was usually provided within the lodge, as was all moral instruction, for which purpose lodges were convened each Saturday at midday. Prior to their acceptance into the Fraternity, all those seeking apprenticeship were required to stand at the entrance to the stone yard or work place for two weeks as the men were going to and coming from work, so that the members could appraise their suitability and raise any valid objections. If no objections were raised, the applicant was balloted for by a show of hands in open lodge. If so accepted he was also examined to ascertain his wholeness and soundness of body and limb, to ensure that he was physically capable of carrying out the arduous tasks that would be required of him.

To impress upon the candidate that purity of body and mind were to be essential components of his life within the Fraternity, he was then required to bathe seven times. After bathing he was prepared in a white cloak, "neither naked nor clad", was blindfolded and conducted into the lodge under restraint by four of the members. He was then required to kneel with his knees bare on a rough ashlar stone and take an obligation of fidelity, on the completion of which he entered into his bond of indentureship for at least seven years. When his training was complete, the Indentured Apprentice was formally released from his bond, was required to take another obligation as a Fellow of the Craft and was entrusted with new modes of recognition as a fully fledged craftsman. These initial stages in the life of an operative mason are the basis of the first two degrees in modern speculative lodges, though there are differences in detail of which some will be mentioned later. As a tradesman the Fellow of the Craft was required to gain diversified experience progressively over many years, during which his training continued in specialised areas of the work.

At each new level of responsibility the craftsman would be tested and if accepted would be required to take another obligation. He would then be entrusted with the modes of recognition pertaining to his new station, to enable him to prove his level of competence when required. After many years the craftsman might become a Superintendent of Work, responsible for all of the work in a stone yard, or on a construction site. When obligated and appointed, the Superintendent was reminded that he must have and always maintain a good knowledge of the work of all associated Guilds, but especially the carpenters, iron workers, bronze founders, white smiths and gold smiths, as well knowing all materials used in the work, the required standards of workmanship, the quality of the work done, the time required and the cost. Eventually a very experienced Superintendent might assemble a gang and become a Master Mason in his own right, frequently starting as a subcontractor to his previous Master. In this way freemasonry expanded to meet therequirements of the times. Some of these progressive steps also are reflected in the degrees of modern symbolic craft masonry.


The medieval lodges operated during the centuries of intense religious fervour, usually working closely with or under the surveillance of a religious establishment. It was an era of great pageantry, when the church rituals became fully developed and Passion Plays were a feature of religious life. During this period, each branch of knowledge was considered to be a secret, which its possessors must not communicate to anyone outside their own class or fraternity. Every art, science and trade was called a "mystery" and was treated accordingly. Indeed, concealment was often practised for the love of concealment. It was inevitable that freemasonry would enhance its long established methods of symbolic instruction by incorporating more drama and ritual in its ceremonials, similar to those of its religious counterparts. These ritualistic dramas developed along three distinct lines. The oldest theme probably is that referring to early events recorded in the Book of Genesis. The best known theme, which is the basis of most modern symbolic degrees, relates to the temples at Jerusalem. The third theme is different in character, relating to the early Christian era.

The Genesis theme is concerned with Noah and the flood; Lamech and his four children, who are credited with the origin of civilised society; the tower of Babel; and Nimrod, the first great builder mentioned in the Bible and the traditional founder of operative masonry. The Genesis theme is the basis of the first part of the "traditional history" of the operative free masons, leading into the better known part that relates to the construction of King Solomon's temple at Jerusalem. The moral presented in the Genesis theme is that divine judgment is inevitable, but that a reconciliation is available to those who repent, who will be preserved and with whom a new covenant will be entered into. The only symbolic degree relating to this theme is the Royal Ark Mariner, in respect of which the installation degree is significant. Several aspects also are included in some degrees of the Ancient and Accepted Rite.

The best known theme, which also has a key role in operative masonry, is based on the construction of King Solomon's Temple at Jerusalem, which was completed about 950 BC; its destruction by Nebuchadrezzar in 587 BC and the captivity and exile of the Jews to Babylon; their release from captivity in 538 BC under the Decree of Cyrus, the King of Persia who had captured Babylon; and the rebuilding of the temple at Jerusalem under Zerubbabel, completed in 515EBC. The degrees relating to this theme are usually called "Solomonic" and are represented in symbolic Craft masonry, Mark masonry, Royal Arch masonry, Cryptic Rite masonry and also the Allied Masonic Degrees, as well as in the Ancient and Accepted Rite. In addition to its historical content and the symbolism relating to the working tools of an operative mason and the construction of the temple, this theme also provides an avenue for the "search within", which includes the search for and discovery of the "Lost Word".

It has been suggested that the New Testament theme may have arisen as a means to distinguish operative craftsmen from the then "new fangled" speculatives during the 1700s. There is no doubt that the modes of recognition given in the degrees relating to this theme were of great importance to operative masons travelling in search of work, but the content of the degrees suggests an earlier origin and that recognition was not their primary purpose. In particular, the morals presented teach fortitude, humility and universal equality. The New Testament theme is represented in two of the Allied degrees. St Lawrence the Martyr commemorates the martyrdom of the Saint in Rome in the middle of the third century AD, when he displayed humility with extreme fortitude. The Knights of Constantinople refers to an event during the reign of Constantine the Great in the fourth century AD, when the Emperor curbed the pride and arrogance of the nobility and rewarded the common people, his loyal artisans and labourers in Constantinople.


The traditional degrees of speculative freemasonry are all those that were derived from earlier operative practice, including those from the transitional period in the 1600s and 1700s. They include the three degrees already mentioned, as well as several others that will also be discussed. Of the others the first two of the modern degrees, which are based on the induction of Indentured Apprentices and the making of Fellows of the Craft in medieval lodges, are the foundation of modern speculative freemasonry, also known as symbolic Craft masonry. They will now be discussed in more detail. It will be evident from earlier comments, that the ceremonials of these two symbolic degrees closely resemble those of their operative precedents. Moreover, there also are many similarities in the working tools and modes of recognition, although there are some significant differences. For example, some of the operative signs have been omitted and the words have been changed, even though the ancient penalties are substantially the same. It is interesting to note that the new words, which have no place in the old operative rituals, reflect the old emblematical signs not used in the Craft, which suggests that their choice was not a mere coincidence.

Some masonic authors have advanced the opinion that the third degree of symbolic Craft masonry was "manufactured" to fill an apparent gap, that of Master Mason. As we have already seen, the fully qualified and experienced craftsmen were masters of the craft in the true sense, while the Master Mason was the manager ot proprietor of a workforce operating as a lodge within the Fraternity. The Master Mason very often was a contractor, who engaged and paid the craftsmen and labourers he required to carry out the work under the terms of his contract with the client. In its present form the degree of Master Mason includes a significant part of the old craftsman's ritual now referred to as the "five points of fellowship", which then formed a discrete and very relevant component of the Fellow's ritual. With some constructive imagination, this was grafted onto an ancient operative drama that was enacted during annual festivals, when a new appointee was invested as one of the three Grand Master Masons to rule over the Fraternity. The drama could be attended by all members of the Fraternity, because it highlighted the fortitude and fidelity of the principal architect without revealing the secrets that had been entrusted to him.

Of the other traditional degrees, that of Mark Master Mason is very important because the principles it embodies were of great importance to the operative masons. This degree not only emphasises the skill and precision required of a craftsman, but also highlights the care that must be exercised by overseers when inspecting the work, because the responsibility for acceptance or rejection is entirely theirs and they will bear the blame for any error. In the operative context the principles enunciated in the Mark degree are ancient indeed, but did not only relate to the modern "keystone" ceremony. Speculatives in the early 1700s were working at least seven degrees that included the word Mark, of which some were intimately associated with the Ark which has already been mentioned. In its original form as used in symbolic Craft lodges, the Mark degree comprised two distinct sections, namely Mark Man for the Fellowcraft and Mark Master for the Master Mason. In the fullness of time they were consolidated into the present ceremony based on the "keystone". The operative ceremonies, which included both the preparation of the stones and their erection in the building, were covered in the ceremonials of two degrees. Again there are some close similarities that clearly reflect the antecedents of the symbolic Craft degree, but there are some significant differences.

These four degrees complete the "work oriented" components of the old operative ceremonials, laying the foundation for the esoteric theme which is the ultimate reason for all masonic ritual, the search for light and knowledge and the allegorical discovery of the "Lost Word", which leads to the ultimate truth. The esoteric theme is comprised in several degrees under the various masonic orders previously mentioned, but no order includes all of these degrees. In any particular masonic order, the degrees may not be arranged in their correct chronological sequence, nor is there any coherent arrangement between the orders. There also are differences in detail between some equivalent degrees that are worked in different masonic orders, though their themes are substantially the same. Having in mind the lack of communication in those days, the similarities are more remarkable than the differences.


Although at first sight this group of degrees appears to represent a random collection of unrelated incidents, a coherent narrative is achieved by arranging them in their correct sequence. The following is the complete series of "Solomonic" degrees currently worked under the various masonic orders, including the four Craft and Mark degrees already discussed. They are arranged in their chronological sequence and given their modern titles most commonly used, with the approximate dates of a key event in the narrative of each degree:

  • 1 Entered Apprentice Apprenticeship begins
  • 2 Fellowcraft Qualified as a craftsman
  • 3 Master Mason Esoteric theme established
  • 4 Mark Master Mason 960 BC Preparation for building
  • 5 Select Master 955 BC Construction of the vault
  • 6 Royal Master 953 BC Deposition of the Word
  • 7 Most Excellent Master 950 BC Dedication of the temple
  • 8 Super Excellent Master 587 BC Destruction of the temple
  • 9 * Knight of the Sword 538 BC Release from captivity
  • 10 Excellent Master 536 BC Return, rebuilding begun
  • 11 Royal Arch Mason 535 BC Word found, work stopped
  • 12 * Knight of the East 520 BC Zerubbabel visits Darius
  • 13 * Kt. of the East & West 516 BC Rebuilding completed

The three degrees marked (*) constitute the Red Cross of Babylon, or Babylonish Pass in the Scottish and some other workings, which differs somewhat from its counterpart in the Allied degrees. In addition to these degrees, there are ceremonies of installation in the Craft, the Mark, the Royal and Select Masters, the Red Cross of Babylon and the Royal Arch, all of which enhance and amplify the narrative and help to bind it into a cohesive whole.

From the above summary it is evident that the narrative is woven round a series of events recorded in the Old Testament and that the secret vault is an essential ingredient. Jewish tradition also relates that a secret vault was constructed beneath the temple, in which confidential meetings could be held and all sacred treasures and secret documents could be stored. The construction of such a vault under ecclesiastical and other buildings of importance was not unusual in ancient times, the custom being continued into medieval times by providing the crypts associated with most cathedrals and monasteries and the castles of the Crusaders. Underground excavations carried out by the Knights Templar between 1118 and 1125 and by the British Royal Engineers in 1895, as well as modern Israeli archaeological surveys, all confirm the existence of passages and vaulted chambers beneath the mosque erected on the original temple site, but a more detailed investigation is not possible at present. A brief resume will now be given of the narrative that is the basis of the esoteric theme of the traditional or Solomonic degrees of freemasonry.


The construction of the temple at Jerusalem is well documented in the Old Testament and is the scene for the beginning of the narrative in the degree of Mark Master Mason. Of special interest is this record in 1 Kings 5, verses 13 to 16: "King Solomon raised a forced levy from the whole of Israel amounting to thirty thousand men .... Adoniram was superintendent over the whole levy .... Solomon also had seventy thousand hauliers and eighty thousand quarrymen, besides three thousand three hundred foremen in charge of the work who superintended the labourers." We also read in 2 Chronicles 2, verses 13 and 14, a letter written from Huram King of Tyre to King Solomon, in which the King of Tyre says: "I now send a skilful and experienced craftsman, master Huram, the son of a Danite woman, his father a Tyrian .... who will be able to work with your own skilled craftsmen .... to execute any design submitted to him."

In the degree of Mark Master Mason the candidate represents one of the three thousand three hundred foremen, who are responsible for ensuring that all stones are properly prepared in accordance with the working plans and correctly fitted, marked and numbered ready for erection at the site. The ritual is very dramatic. The degree teaches that every diligent workman has a chance to distinguish himself by preparing some special and superior piece of work that will strengthen and adorn the structure and that he will be rewarded appropriately, provided that he carries out the work strictly in accordance with the Divine Plan.

As soon as the temple site had been prepared, twenty seven experienced and trustworthy craftsmen were chosen, appointed as Select Masters and delegated to construct the secret vault beneath the future location of the Holy of Holies, with underground access from King Solomon's most retired apartment. In the degree of Select Master the candidate represents Zabud, a particular friend of King Solomon, who had some important business to communicate and inadvertently gained admission. The unworthy guard whose laxity allowed Zabud to enter was condemned to death and Zabud was pardoned and obligated as a Select Master. This degree warns of the great danger of carelessness and teaches the need for constant care, uprightness and integrity in the fulfilment of one's allotted duties, coupled with justice and mercy. A similar legend, but with interesting variations, is included in the Allied Masonic degrees and called the Grand Tilers of Solomon.

When the secret vault was completed the three Grand Masters deposited therein true copies of the holy vessels and an exact copy of the Book of the Law. It was agreed that if any one of the three Grand Masters should die, the other two would deposit the Word in the secret vault so that it could be restored should the temple be destroyed. In the degree of Royal Master the candidate represents Adoniram who wishes to know when he might receive the master's word. The third Grand Master responds to Adoniram with an elegant and striking discourse, during which he inadvertently reveals the place of preservation. Adoniram is told that he must continually strive in his search for truth, but that only after the temple of this life has been destroyed by death can the temple of the life hereafter be built on its foundations.

The temple was completed shortly after the death of the third Grand Master. When his death had been mourned, the holy relics from the tabernacle were moved into the Holy Place and the Ark of the Covenant was put in the Holy of Holies under the outspread wings of the cherubim, then the temple was consecrated in all its glory and beauty. King Solomon resolved to reward the most skilful of his workmen by creating them Most Excellent Masters, thus creating a new tie with his faithful craftsmen. The degree teaches that faithful service will be justly rewarded and that the tenets of freemasonry should bind us together in one fraternal union.

The temple retained its original splendour for thirty-three years, but soon after the death of King Solomon ten of the tribes revolted and formed the nation of Israel, leaving Judah and Benjamin as the Kingdom of Judah in possession of the temple. About 921 BC Shishak, King of Egypt, raided the temple and carried away the treasures. Thereafter idolatrous rulers desecrated the temple and allowed it to fall into decay, although it was partially restored by Josiah around 635 BC. The ten tribes were captured and progressively deported into captivity in Asyria from about 722 BC. The temple was destroyed in 587 BC when Nebuchadrezzar plundered Jerusalem, taking the people of Judah captive to Babylon. In the degree of Super Excellent Master, Zedekiah the last King of Judah had already fled, leaving his people to their fate. He was captured by the Chaldean army on the plains of Jericho, when his eyes were put out and he was carried into captivity bound in chains of brass. Before their capture the loyal craftsmen, including Gedaliah who was appointed and became the wise and gentle governor of Judeah, pledged themselves to continue faithful to their trust, to be true to their obligations and to be honourable on all occasions. The objective of the degree is to inculcate true devotion to the God whilst striving to enlighten our minds and purify our hearts.


In 539 BC Cyrus, King of Persia, captured Babylon. He was a great and humane ruler who gave permission to the Hebrew captives to return to their homeland and rebuild their temple. To enable them to do this he issued the Decree that is recorded in EzraE1, verses 2 and 3: "This is the word of Cyrus, King of Persia: The Lord the God of heaven has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he himself has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem in Judah. To every man of his people now among you I say, God be with him and let him go up to Jerusalem in Judah and rebuild the house of the Lord ..... and every remaining Jew, wherever he may be living, may claim aid from his neighbours in that place ....." The setting for the degree of Knight of the Sword is in the palace at Babylon. The candidate represents Zerubbabel who was born in Babylon, his name meaning the "Exile", but he was known locally as Sheshbazzar, the Prince of Judah. Zerubbabel obtains an audience with Cyrus and requests permission to return to Judea to rebuild the temple, which is granted. Cyrus sets Zerubbabel free and appoints him chief among his brethren, exacting a tribute as evidence to the neighbours that Zerubbabel is still under the protection of the King of Persia. Cyrus issues his decree and creates Zerubbabel a Knight of the Sword, investing him with a sash and sword as the emblems of his office. This degree concludes with the hazardous return to Jerusalem, including the ancient drama of "crossing the bridge".

As the Decree of Cyrus applied only to the descendents of the captives from the Kingdom of Judah, it was necessary to make sure that only they were returning to work on the temple. So that the craftsmen working on the temple could be identified easily, Zerubbabel decided to institute a new degree, that of Excellent Master, founded on the history and traditions of their ancestors. It was a relevant choice to relate this degree to their previous release from Egyptian bondage, when the Lord called Moses from his exile to lead the Chosen People out of captivity, as well as to their journeyings in the years that followed. The portions of Scripture selected for this degree, as well as the modes of recognition adopted, relate to those visions in which God gave to Moses certain signs by which the people would know that he came with Divine authority. There also are relevant aspects of the symbolism of the Tabernacle, which came into existence during the wanderings of the Exodus, although those aspects are not the basis of the degree. The degree was conferred on the craftsmen before they left Babylon. They pledged themselves to serve God, their brethren and their chosen leaders and were enjoined to journey through life with humility and to render to God that honour and praise which are most justly due to Him. The degree is commonly called the Passing of the Veils. There is no English equivalent of this Scottish form of the degree, but in some other jurisdictions variations of the Passing of the Veils are incorporated in the Royal Arch degree as an essential preamble.

The records show that about 42,360 of the remnant in exile returned to Jerusalem progressively, the first contingent under the leadership of Zerubbabel in 535 BC, followed by Ezra in 458 BC and finally Nehemiahin 445 BC. Three exiles from Babylon, having received the tokens of an Excellent Master and wishing to avail themselves of the Decree of Cyrus and assist in rebuilding the temple, presented themselves to the Sanhedrin on their arrival. They were engaged immediately, to begin clearing away the rubbish from the first temple. This is the setting for the Royal Arch degree. The three workmen detected a hollow sound when digging at the site of the previous Holy of Holies. On further investigation, after removing the keystone, they discovered the secret vault. Access was gained through the opening and the items previously deposited were recovered safely. Thus the Word was restored and the degree of Royal Arch Mason was established. The candidate represents one of the workmen who made the discovery, whose reward is exaltation as a Royal Arch Mason. He receives several lectures on historical, philosophical and mystical aspects of the degree to impress upon him that masonry is that great and universal science which includes almost every other, but that more particularly it teaches us our duty to God and to our neighbour and a knowledge of ourselves.

Shortly after work had commenced, the Samaritans in the surrounding areas sought to join in the work, but were told that they were not among those who had the right to build. Thereafter the Samaritans harassed the builders and also enlisted the support of Tattenai, the Persian governor of Samaria. Cyrus died in 530 BC and Artaxerxes usurped the throne for a brief period. By the time the site had been surveyed, the foundations laid and the walls commenced, Artaxerxes, at the instigation of the Samaritans stopped the rebuilding of the temple in the year 522 BC. Tattenai and another Persian officer of rank, Shethar-boznai, went to Jerusalem and sent a fair report to the new King Darius, suggesting that a search be instituted to learn whether the building was going on in accordance with a royal decree. At the request of the Sanhedrin, Zerubbabel went to Persia in 522EBC and visited King Darius to make a personal plea when Tattenai's report was being considered, which is the central theme of the Knight of the East.

During his visit to Babylon, Zerubbabel was asked to participate in a debate in the Persian court on questions posed by Darius, who asked which was the strongest of wine, the king or women. Zerubbabel convinced Darius that women were the strongest of those three, but that truth was stronger than all things, which is the moral taught in this degree. Darius then accepted Zerubbabel as his Kinsman who would sit by him and said that he would be happy to grant Zerubbabel's requests, even beyond what was in writing. It was then that Zerubbabel's statements concerning the rebuilding of the temple were verified by the discovery of the original decree, in the personal records of Cyrus held in the castle at Ecbatana in the province of Media. Accordingly Darius issued written confirmation of the Decree of Cyrus and gave instructions that the rebuilding was to be given every support and that no taxes should belevied. Tattenai and his colleagues thenceforth applied themselves with vigour to execute the royal commands. All of these events are recorded in the Scriptures. Before returning to Jerusalem, Zerubbabel was constituted as a Knight of the East by Darius, who also gave him all of the temple treasures not previously recovered.

Rebuilding of the temple was recommenced in 520 BC and was completed in 516 BC, without any further problems from the Samaritans. As a reward for his services, both his successful approach to Darius which resulted in the recovery of the temple treasures and also his work on the rebuilding of the temple, the Sanhedrin constituted Zerubbabel as a Knight of the East and West, this being the highest masonic honour they could bestow. This is the theme of the degree, which teaches that integrity and fortitude, as well as wisdom such as that displayed by Zerubbabel when answering the questions of Darius, are essential masonic attributes.


The foregoing degrees are but some of the many hundreds that came and went during the transition from operative free masonry to speculative freemasonry in its present form. They have stood the test of time and provide a coherent and comprehensive avenue of masonic wisdom. In the York Rite of American masonry they constitute the trunk that leads to the Knights Templar. There are several other orders in freemasonry, but most of them stand more or less in isolation. Some of them are Christian in orientation. The other major series is that of the Ancient and Accepted Rite, under various jurisdictions. Variations of nearly all of the traditional degrees are included in that Rite, but they are seldom worked except in America and Canada. In the context of this review, it is worth mentioning the Worshipful Society of Free Masons, Rough Masons, Wallers, Slaters, Paviors, Plaisterers and Bricklayers, which is commonly referred to as "The Operatives". Its rituals provide a great deal of background to the modern speculative freemasonry that evolved from it.

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Symbols are not a recent innovation, but have been in use ever since the first hominids endeavoured to communicate with their associates, even preceding articulate speech. Before speech, the only available means of communication was by gestures, with which it was sought to convey some physical need or personal desire. As a natural reaction, sounds were uttered in conjunction with particular gestures, in due course becoming recognisable as representing the gestures themselves. Words thus evolved, providing a simpler means of expressing needs and desires. From that time onwards the roles of sound and gesture were reversed in communication, gestures being used only to give emphasis when required. Variations of these basic words gradually came into use, differentiating between objects and actions as well as qualifying them. Thus a rudimentary grammar developed concurrently with the evolution of coherent speech, which immutably incorporated symbolism as an integral part of everyday life. Coherent speech soon fostered a desire to create visual records, leading in turn to the development of the written word.

In its original form, writing was a series of crude pictograms that represented individual words, again interchanging the roles of speech and symbols. Thus were developed the cuneiform writing of Sumeria, the hieroglyphs of Egypt, the conventionalised characters used in Chinese and Japanese writing and the very simple pictograms of the American Indians. As language became more sophisticated, pictographic and hieroglyphic methods of writing became inadequate, because the embellishments of oral expression could not be recorded. This gave rise to the development of the early scripts, such as the Sinaitic and Hebrew, which were based on an alphabet having characters representing physical objects. Alphabets developed over many centuries, from those of Assyria and later of Egypt, which used several hundred symbols to represent syllables. These were followed by the Sinaitic script and its Hebrew derivative, which used symbols to represent consonants, leaving the vowels to be understood. These symbols gradually became stylised in the final stage of writing, represented by both the Greek alphabet and its Roman derivative, which have symbols for consonants and vowels, allowing every nuance of oral expression to be recorded.

Language and writing are two of the greatest intellectual achievements of the human race, without which all other achievements would not have been possible. Language and writing transcend the realms of personal intercommunication and the maintenance of records, facilitating both logical thought and rational evaluation. This complex use of symbols enables the mortal mind to contemplate the wonders of the creation and the Divine promise of a life hereafter, as well as to explore and progressively to solve the mysteries of the universe. This clearly distinguishes humankind from all other life on earth.


There can be no doubt that speech and writing, in the process of their evolvement through the ages, have established themselves as the most pervasive of all symbols in the modern world. But writing was derived from previously acquired abilities to draft other symbols, utilising a variety of methods. For example, the cuneiform script of Sumeria was an adaptation of the wedge shaped imprints made by a stylus upon wet clay tablets, from about 3,200BC. The hieroglyphic writing of Egypt was painted on papyrus from 2,800BC or even earlier, using techniques similar to those first developed by the Magdalenians for their cave paintings from as early as 15,000BC. Texts, such as the Canaanite inscriptions on Ahiram's sarcophagus unearthed at the ancient city of Gebal, now called Byblos, have been carved on stone from at least as early as 1,100BC, using metal chisels and gravers. These and other practical aspects of the arts and crafts have been interwoven with the technique of writing from its inception, thus greatly enhancing the evolution of the symbols.

In the early stages of the development of articulate speech, symbols referred almost entirely to those objects required for subsistence, augmented by a few symbols reflecting actions of practical importance in everyday life. As speech became more sophisticated and writing developed, additional symbols were introduced to reflect the abstract ideas beginning to formulate in the human mind. The earliest recording of abstract ideas relates to the concept of the transmigration of the human spirit to a life hereafter when the body dies, as is graphically illustrated by hieroglyphic inscriptions in the tombs of the Egyptian pharaohs. With the advent of cursive writing abstract ideas could be expressed even more vividly, as exemplified in Ecclesiasts, wherein the preacher portrays the transitory nature and consummate emptiness of earthly life and the certainty of death, counterbalanced only by the sure hope of the immortality of the soul.

The sacred writings of all religions include allegories, or long and elaborate stories, which illustrate moral principals that frequently are not stated specifically, being left for the recipient to discover. Briefer parables also are used, typically showing the application of a moral precept in a familiar situation, so that abstract principles are represented in a concrete and vibrant form. The relevant attributes of implements and other well known objects are used in a similar fashion, to demonstrate the requirements for proper moral conduct. This use of symbols to convey important religious messages reached its culmination in the century preceding the Christian era, with the introduction of the pesher technique. Pesher is a Hebrew word that signifies an interpretation or explanation, being derived from peshitta, another Hebrew word which means simple, or plain. Peshitta and its adjectival form, peshito, also are Syrian words. They are used to designate the principal version of the Old and New Testaments translated from the ancient Syriac and sometimes called the Syriac Vulgate. Pesher in the Old Testament signifies "interpretation of dreams", but in scrolls of the Christian era it is used to explain that a section of text has a second or special hidden meaning. Many Old Testament texts are used with the pesher technique to convey special messages, some having been established by tradition over hundreds of years.


The domain of freemasonry has included the design and construction of ecclesiastical buildings throughout their history. This has demanded an intimate and detailed knowledge of religious doctrines and tenets, which must be reflected in the structure and especially in the detail of its ornamentation. King Solomon's Temple, completed about 950BC after seven years and more under construction, is a pre-eminent example of the vision and inspiration required in the conception and erection of such a building. Every feature of that magnificent edifice was of religious and symbolic importance. The details provided in the first books of Kings and Chronicles preclude any doubt of the comprehensive knowledge that the masons and their associated artificers had of the symbolism embodied in the structure and its lavish furnishings, both inside and outside. The renowned Jewish historian, Josephus, records that when Herod the Great restored the second, or Zerubbabel's Temple, around the beginning of the Christian era, not only did he carry out the work piecemeal to avoid interrupting the usual ritual observances, but also trained 1,000 priests as masons to build the shrine.

The restoration was completed in 64AD, but the temple was completely destroyed by the Romans in 70AD. Operative masons were then engaged continually in the massive construction projects of the Roman Empire, until the fall of Rome, which was captured by the Visigoths in 410AD. This was followed by the invasion of northern Italy by Attila the Hun in 452AD, then the sacking of Rome by the Vandals in 455AD. However, Constantinople had become the Christian capital of the Roman Empire in 330AD, in direct opposition to heathen Rome. As the Byzantium Empire it established Christianity in the East, carrying out the first great wave of Christian ecclesiastic building. These great works surpassed even the efforts of the Persian renaissance, continuing unabated until Constantinople fell to the Turks in 1453AD. As the Dark Ages from the fifth to at least the ninth century drew to a close in western Europe, an incredible era of cathedral building was ushered in, spanning the late Middle Ages through the Renaissance. Even in Britain, seriously hampered by the Reformation in the mid-1500's, work on ecclesiastical buildings continued into the 1700's. Hundreds of churches, castles and civic buildings were constructed. Chartres Cathedral in France, the first in the "Gothic" style, is a renowned example. York Minster in England is another prime example; frequently called "poetry in stone", it was some two and a half centuries in building.

These events spanned almost 3,000 years, usually under ecclesiastical influence or control, whence the underlying principles of speculative freemasonry and its symbolism largely derived, developing in parallel with the operative art. All extant records of the ceremonials in operative lodges confirm that symbols played a vital part in the teachings of operative free masons, which stimulated the development speculative contemplation. The incorporation of symbols into the rituals of purely speculative lodges was a natural extension of this long established practice. Indeed, having regard to the principles actuating those who formed the first purely speculative lodges, this was an inevitable outcome which prompted them to describe freemasonry as "a peculiar system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols", aptly defining one of its central tenets.


Freemasonry encompasses all of the symbolism deriving from the ancient mysteries and the great religions of the world. This does not suggest that every such symbol is used, or that the usages are identical, but that all important aspects of symbolism have been incorporated in the teachings and rituals of freemasonry. In particular, preparation in a personal sense is used to establish an appropriate receptiveness for moral instruction; masonic implements and other appropriate subjects are used as symbols to illustrate and teach specific moral principles; parables provide ethical instruction in some of the shorter rituals; the exoteric stories in some of the more expansive rituals are woven round elaborate allegories, establishing a basis for the communication of fundamental precepts; and the esoteric interpretations of several of these allegories are concealed in a manner analogous to the pesher technique used in sacred writings of the early Christian era.

The first symbol encountered in freemasonry is preparation, as in the ancient mysteries. It combines mental disposition, meditation and symbolic purification, coupled with the wearing of appropriate apparel and accoutrements. Darkness is an essential precursor of light, which light is attained by trial through a symbolic journey. All of these aspects are involved when initiating an apprentice into a lodge of operative free masons, but the traditional degrees of speculative freemasonry do not include any symbolic ablution except in one of the installation ceremonies in the Royal Arch. Baptism by immersion was the final step in admission to the early Christian church, as it still is in some sects. But in most modern Christian sects, babies clothed in white are baptised by sprinkling with water, under the guardianship of an adult, their symbolic journey being completed later when they are taught the seven bitter agonies of Christ, learn the creed and are admitted into communion. Muslims perform a ritual ablution before entering their mosque for prayer, as well as completing their symbolic journey perambulating round the Kaaba when performing their pilgrimage to Mecca. All other important religions also include some form of symbolic preparation, journey and acquisition of light, this procedure having been regarded from time immemorial as a spiritual rebirth.

The various modes of recognition entrusted to candidates are symbols of importance, most being of ancient origin when trade secrets were "mysteries" and the knowledge of them had to be guarded jealously. A wide range of the mason's working tools, materials, gauges and methods are used symbolically to provide moral instruction, often, though not necessarily referring to work on King Solomon's temple. The temple is a pre-eminent symbol in freemasonry. It is an emblem of a glorious futurity, as was Ezekiel's mystical temple for the Jews held captive in Babylon. Many aspects of the temple's construction and dedication about 950BC, its final destruction by Nebuchadnezzar in 587BC and the construction of the second temple by Zerubbabel between 537BC and 515BC after the return from captivity in Babylon, are incorporated in dramatic detail in parables in the traditional degrees. Features of the temple, such as the two great pillars at the entrance, also are used as symbols. Many of the symbolic interpretations are so well known as to have become a part of everyday usage, some early enough to have been recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures.


An important mystical theme is hidden beneath the superficial moral theme of the more important allegories, which are in the nature of the "Passion Plays" of the Middle Ages. The first allegory relates to a late stage in the construction of King Solomon's Temple, when several of the workers feared that they would not be given the modes of recognition and therefore would not be able to obtain work after the completion of the temple. When the principal architect was accosted he remained true to his vows and was slain, so that substitute modes of recognition had to be used thereafter. The superficial story is that death is preferable to dishonour and that we must perform our allotted tasks whilst we can, believing that we will be a rewarded appropriately in a life hereafter. The esoteric message is that mortal death is only a gateway for the resurrection of the spirit, which can be achieved by steadfast faith in the Most High. The theme continues in a dramatic allegory in the cryptic degree of Royal Master, with the promise that the "True Word" will be preserved in a place of safety, esoterically signifying that the "True Word" transcends all mortal delinquency and can always be found through faith.

The second allegory connects the foregoing allegories, also relating to the construction of the first temple. In its various forms it relates to either the great cornerstone or to the keystone required to complete the arch of the secret vault. In the superficial story a diligent and faithful mason prepares a beautiful piece of stonework, essential to complete the structure. Because it can not be found on the plans it is rejected and work comes to a standstill. When the missing stone is recovered and work continues, the skilful craftsman receives his just reward. The esoteric meaning is that the acceptance or rejection of this life's work is not within the province of mortal man, the gates of victory being opened only through the grace of that living Stone which the builders rejected, but which became the chief cornerstone, as foretold in Psalm 118 and confirmed in I Peter 2.

A subsequent allegory relates to the period after the destruction of the first temple, when the captives in Babylon are released by the Decree of Cyrus and are instructed to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. The ceremony called "passing the veils" concerns three sojourners who journey to Jerusalem and present their credentials to the Sanhedrin, asking to be given work on the new temple. However, the veils allude to the Tabernacle erected by Moses and the Scripture readings refer to the Exodus story, replicating a ceremonial carried out every seven weeks by the Therapeutae Essenes of Qumran in the first centuries BC and AD, exhorting obedience to the Covenant until the second coming of the Lord. The moral is revealed in the allegory of the Royal Arch, when the sojourners are put to work to clear away the rubbish in preparation for the second temple. Through their diligence the "Lost Word" is recovered, teaching that all men are equal in the sight of God and that the lowest work will receive full and just reward if properly carried out. The esoteric lesson is that salvation can be found only through a complete faith in the "True Word", representing the present, future and eternal "I Am".

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The seeds of masonry were sown when our primeval ancestors took their first faltering steps on their path to civilisation. Masonry began as an entirely practical enterprise, to satisfy the wants of day to day living. As civilisation developed masonry became involved in the erection of tombs, shrines, temples and other structures for religious purposes, reflecting mankind's growing spirituality. Over the centuries, such an intimate association with moral and spiritual influences naturally developed the speculative aspects of masonry concurrently with the operative art. By medieval times, the moral teachings of speculative freemasonry were well established and had become a significant part of the ceremonial activities in operative lodges. It is generally accepted that speculative freemasonry, as we know it today, owes its origin to operative masonry, although there are few written records of the early stages of the transition. In fact, the ways in which operative masonry came to be superseded by speculative freemasonry were not the same in all places.

As those who established the first speculative lodges did not record their reasons for doing so, we can only surmise that they valued the esoteric teachings of the operative lodges. However, we know that Drs James Anderson and John Desaguliers, influential Presbyterian clergymen and members of the Royal Society, who were leaders in the reorganisation of the early lodges that culminated in the establishment of the first Grand Lodge, both fervently believed that speculative freemasonry should be part of the emerging philosophy of Enlightenment and provide a forum for advanced thought and discussion. This undoubtedly should still be freemasonry's prime objective.

In England, the medieval operative lodges were virtually defunct in the first half of the 1600s because of the Reformation, although a few brave stalwarts kept the speculative aspects alive, but hidden from public knowledge. A few operative lodges were reassembled later for particular projects, but purely speculative lodges seem to have emerged independently of them only a few decades before four old lodges met in London in 1716 to form the first or "Premier" Grand Lodge, establishing England as the home of speculative freemasonry. In Scotland, where operative masonry continued to function into the second half of the eighteenth century, the situation was quite different. Operative lodges in Scotland generally were small and often were family concerns, so that when there was a lull in the work, or work ceased to be available altogether, many though not all lodges continued to function socially, often becoming speculative lodges. Although operative masonry in Ireland was active until at least 1700, there is no evidence that any operative lodges became speculative lodges as in Scotland, all apparently being established independently as in England.


To appreciate how operative lodges developed their speculative content, providing a basis from which speculative lodges could develop, some understanding of the origins of masonry, its functions and the scope of its activities is desirable. The birth of the operative art occurred towards the end of the Old Stone Age, when the Early Hunters began to move out of their caves and learnt to construct huts from locally available materials. About 35,000 years ago at the height of the last Ice Age, the Advanced Hunters originated representational art in the form of figurines and carvings. They also developed painting around 15,000 years ago and became the unlikely progenitors of architecture and masonry about 12,000 years ago, being the first builders to use stone when they constructed circular huts with stone footings in Palestine, Syria and Mesopotamia. These humble beginnings of civilisation heralded in the Agricultural Revolution which the Late Hunters started in the New Stone Age.

The gradual development of settlements in Mesopotamia, Greece, Crete and Cyprus provided the impetus for the first production of mud bricks and the use of stone for perimeter walls and dykes, which were used in the construction of Jericho around 8000 BC. By about 6500 BC masonry had developed sufficiently for the circular "beehive" houses in Cyprus to be constructed with stone foundations and walls that supported corbelled domes of mud brick. About the same time in Turkey, construction of the town of Catal Huyuk was begun. It had a peak population in the vicinity of 8,000 people and continued in occupation until about 5500 BC, being the site of the earliest known religious buildings. This ushered in almost 8,000 years of continuous and intimate association of masonry with religion, commencing with the earliest period of temple and monumental masonry in the Copper Age. This period began in Mesopotamia, where progressively larger and more complex temples were erected. They were typified by one continuous series discovered at Eridu in Sumer and dating from about 5500 BC to 3000 BC. Work during this period in Egypt is typified by the chambered mastaba tombs constructed for royal burials.

A period of massive monumental masonry followed, typified by the huge ziggurat of Ur-Nammu in Mesopotamia and the three great pyramids of Giza in Egypt, dating from about 3000 BC to 2500 BC. Massive temple building continued in Egypt, being represented by such well known complexes as those at Karnak and Abu Simbel, completed since 2000 BC. Masonry carried out in this magnitude required huge gangs of skilled workers, trained, organised and supervised by master masons of great experience. The Biblical description of the construction of King Solomon's Temple, about 950 BC, provides ample evidence of the work force and skills required for such structures in those days. The classical masonry of Greece that commenced around 500 BC and of Rome that commenced around 150 BC, required similar work forces and skills. This was followed by an incredible period of cathedral construction in Europe and Britain, commencing about 500 AD and continuing for more than a thousand years, during which innumerable religious structures were built.

"Ecclesiastical" masonry was not confined to these regions, but spread from the Levant throughout Asia, producing a vast array of religious complexes and structures of monumental proportions, of which a few examples will be mentioned. The intricate though massive temple of Borubudur in Java, constructed around 800 AD, is the largest individual religious monument in South-East Asia. The awe-inspiring temple-city complex of Ankor in Cambodia, constructed around 1000 AD, occupies an area of almost 200 square kilometres. The breathtaking Taj Mahal in India, constructed of pure white marble around 1650 AD and "designed to breathe an image of Paradise on earth", undoubtedly is one of the most beautiful buildings in the world. Nor should we overlook the remarkable structures in Central and South America, of which the overwhelming city-temple complex at Tikal in Gautemala, constructed by the Mayans around 500 AD, is a prime example. The citadel and city-temple complex of Machu Picchu, constructed by the Incas at an elevation of almost 3,000 metres in the Andes Mountains, around 1450 AD, also is well known. Such an incredible array of ecclesiastical buildings, erected in so many places during the last 8,000 years, clearly show the intimate integration of masonry with religious activities.


There are differing opinions as to the origin of the word "freemason". The first known use of the word in England dates from 1376, when it specifically implied an operative mason of a superior class. However, it is quite possible that when the word was first used in different places, the reasons for its use and its interpretations could have been different, therefore some of the various explanations are worth mentioning. Bearing in mind the close association with France and the common use of the French language in medieval times, the suggestion that the word is a corrupt pronunciation of the French "frerè maçon", meaning "brother mason", ought not to be dismissed lightly. Another suggestion is that it is a derivative of the more general "freeman", that was used in the late Middle Ages to distinguish those having personal liberty from serfs, slaves or others subject to the restrictions then prevalent. The stonemasons who specialised in using freestone to carve and sculpt decorative masonry for the vaulting, tracery, columns and capitals in English cathedral building were first called "masons of free stone", then "freestone masons", which later was abbreviated to "freemasons". There is an entirely different derivation in Scotland, dating from about 1600, when the minutes of the Lodge of Edinburgh record that the Freedom of the Burgh had been accorded to its "frie mesones", giving them the right to practice their Craft. In 1725 the same lodge is referred to in the Burgh records as "the Society of Free Masons", again confirming their right to practice.

Operative masons held their meetings in their stoneyards or in suitable buildings on the worksite. In operative practice the "lodge" originally was the place of work, especially the stone yards. The word is derived from the Old French "loge" meaning an arbour, later adopted into Middle English to mean a stall, as in a modern theatre. The earliest known reference to a "lodge" as a building occurs in the building accounts of Vale Royal Abbey in 1277, when "logias" and "mansiones" were erected for the workers, the site of the abbey being some distance from habitation. "Logias" derives from Old French and "mansiones" from Middle Latin, respectively signifying "to lodge" and "a household", reflecting the use of French and Latin in England in those days. There are many references to lodges in later operative documents, including one from York in 1399 which clearly indicates that the lodge also served as a repository for tools and implements. The body of masons comprising an operative work force may also have been called a "lodge" in medieval times, but there is no known record of that usage dating from then. The earliest recorded uses of "lodge" to indicate a body of masons are from operative practice in Scotland. They occur in the minutes of Aitchison's Haven Lodge in 1598 and also in the "Schaw Statutes" of 1598 and 1599, in which three organised bodies of masons are referred to as the Lodges of Edinburgh, Kilwinning and Stirling. Thereafter it was common practice in Scotland to refer to a body of masons as a lodge.


In England, a majority of the operative lodges worked under the immediate control of a religious establishment such as a cathedral, often for periods extending over several generations of their work forces. However, they also came under the guardianship of craft guilds, originally in the form of religious fraternities, which were organised to protect the interests of skilled workers in the various trades. These guilds were well established in England in the reign of Henry I, around 1153. The London Company, formed as a stonemasons' guild around 1356, probably is the best known. Its original constitution, recorded in the Regius Manuscript, dates from about 1390 and is the earliest written record of such guilds in England. The guilds continued to operate very successfully until the Reformation of 1530-1560, notwithstanding the statutes of 1360 and 1425 which forbade the organisation of masons, apparently to limit the escalation of wages when labour was short. Although it did not become common practice until almost a century later, apprentices were bonded under indentureships to their masters from about 1230, when the earliest known London regulation was issued.

In the final year of his reign, Henry VIII proclaimed and enforced the Act of 1547, which disendowed all religious fraternities. His son and successor, Edward VI, confiscated any remaining guild funds. The available records indicate that, of all the fraternities in England, the stonemasons probably suffered the worst under this process of disendowment. Those fragmented guilds that survived the Reformation developed into Livery Companies, many of which still exist in the City of London. Prior to the Act of 1547 the old London Company was known variously as "The Fellowship of Masons" or "The Worshipful Company of Ffree Masons of the City of London". It was kept alive through the Reformation, though hidden from official eyes, jealously guarding its medieval craft doctrines and secrets. Although the Company's books and documents prior to 1620 have been lost, the letter-books and other records of the City of London confirm the Company's continuity through to 1655, when it changed its title to "The Company of Masons". The records show that membership has included several women, of whom one was apprenticed as late as 1713 for the usual term of seven years.


Although the operative lodges in Scotland developed in a similar way to those in England, there were many more lodges in Scotland, usually much smaller than those in England. There is no record of Scottish operative lodges having a traditional history like that used in English lodges, but they had the "Mason Word" which was guarded jealously. The organisation of operative lodges in Scotland also differed from that of their English counterparts, especially in the formative years of the trade. Operative lodges in Scotland usually worked independently, the buildings generally being smaller and more dispersed than in England, with travel both difficult and time consuming. As a consequence, the whole mason trade in Scotland originally revolved around individual lodges. However, the many territorial lodges in Scotland were gradually organised under the supervision of head lodges, not all of which were located in large towns. This system prevailed until Scotland was disrupted by the Wars of Independence, 1286-1371, which caused extreme poverty and forced the Mason Guilds to amalgamate with the organisations of other Crafts, though not destroying their continuity.

Despite the continuing efforts of Parliament to suppress the travelling bands of craftsmen, the lodges of masons in Scotland gradually rebuilt their own organisation, which grew in power as the Merchant Guilds declined. By 1475 the Masons and Wrights of Edinburgh were strong enough to obtain from the Burgh a "Charter of Incorporation of Freemen-Masons and Wrights of Edinburgh", called the "Seal of Cause", when Trade Regulations also were drawn up. Thenceforth operative masonry in Scotland remained active and strong, despite the Reformation, culminating with the drafting of the "Schaw Statutes", first drawn up in 1598 and also revised in 1599 by William Schaw, who had been appointed Master of Work and General Warden of the Masons by James VI in 1583. The "Schaw Statutes" provided an elaborate code of organisation and procedure within a regional structure. By the end of the seventeenth century at least six "Seals of Cause" had been granted in various localities.


Although there is ample visible evidence that stonemasons must have begun working in Ireland about the same time as in England and Scotland, it is Cormac's Chapel at Cashel, built by a Munster king in 1130, that is the first positive connection with Irish operative masonry. The Chancel Arch at St Mary's Cathedral in Tuam, which was built in 1152, is another fine example of the skill of early Irish operative masons. The first evidence of guild activity in Ireland is the Charter granted in 1508 to the Dublin Masons, in company with the Carpenters, Millers and Heliers (Tilers). There is no evidence that Irish operative lodges had a traditional history equivalent to that of their English counterparts, but there is ample evidence that they were using their working tools as symbols for moral instruction early in the sixteenth century.


As long ago as the 1500's many Scots lodges welcomed local "lairds" or landowners as honorary members. The Dublin Guild, chartered in 1508, also accepted people who were neither operative masons nor craftsmen in any other trade. Some time prior to 1600 the Lodge of Edinburgh, meeting in Mary's Chapel at Holyrood House, admitted a gentleman by the name of John Boswell, the Laird of Auchinleck. He was an ancestor of another famous mason, James Boswell, who was Depute Grand Master of Scotland 1776-1778 and the biographer of Dr. Johnson. The same lodge, then meeting near Newcastle in 1641, admitted as a member the Right Honourable Robert Murray, General Quartermaster of the Scots army and later Secretary of Scotland, who was buried in Westminster Abbey in 1673 under the title of Sir Robert Moray. This is the earliest known record of an initiation of a speculative Freemason on English soil.

Murray's initiation preceded by five years the initiation of first known English speculative freemason, Elias Ashmole, who in 1646 was admitted into a lodge at Warrington, in Lancashire. Research has identified the members of the Warrington lodge as men of good social position, not one of whom was an operative mason, but nothing is known of the dates and places of their admissions into freemasonry. This lack of information is common in the minutes of early English speculative lodges and accounts for much of the uncertainty regarding their origins and activities, suggesting that English speculative lodges may have been in existence longer than is generally assumed. This lack of records probably was not through laxity, but to avoid persecution during the political and religious disruptions that had plagued England since the Reformation. From 1663 onwards, the records of "The Company of Masons" in London also give details of the admission of several "non-operative" members.


A speculative lodge of unknown origin at Warrington has already been mentioned. Four old lodges met at the Centre of Union and Harmony in London in 1716 to form the first Grand Lodge of England and elected Anthony Sayer as its first Grand Master of Masons on 24th June 1717. They were all speculative, although the lodge referred to as the "Original No 1", which met at the "Goose and Gridiron", appears to have been composed primarily of operative stonemasons. It probably was established by members of an operative lodge formed for the rebuilding of St Paul's Cathedral, which was begun in 1675, some nine years after the medieval cathedral had been destroyed in the disastrous Great Fire of London. The earliest known reference to an Irish speculative lodge is a witty passage contained in the "commencements harrangue", or opening address, given in 1688 by John Jones at Trinity College in Dublin, after the College had been overrun for several years by operative masons erecting new buildings. When the Grand Lodge of Ireland, which is the second oldest in the world, was formed in 1725, six "Lodges of Gentlemen Freemasons" were represented, of which two are still in existence.

By contrast with England and Ireland, most Scottish operative lodges continued into the 1750's, some even longer. Many of them seem to have transformed into speculative lodges almost as a matter of course. The strong and continuing influence of the regional operative structure in Scotland, probably helped to delay the formation of the Grand Lodge of Scotland until 1736. At least two of the first lodges amalgamating to form that Grand Lodge, the Lodges of Edinburgh (Mary's Chapel) and of Canongate Kilwinning, originally were operative lodges and are still active. Several speculative lodges joining the new Grand Lodge soon after, including Glasgow and Kilwinning, also have records proving their continuity from operative lodges. Lodge Kilwinning, which is known as "Mother Kilwinning", takes its name from the Abbey of Kilwinning (the church of Wynin), about 35 kilometres south-west of Glasgow. The Abbey was founded about 1150 on the site of a church built in the sixth century by the Irish monk St Wynin. It originally was of considerable magnificence, but was substantially destroyed in 1561. A lodge of Kilwinning is reputed to have existed continuously since the fifteenth century.


Although the ceremonial in the earliest operative lodges may not have been elaborate, there is every reason to believe that the "Mason Word" was well established in Scotland by 1550 and probably accompanied by the bestowal of a mark, although the exact method of communication is not known. Nevertheless, it is clear from various old catechisms that the word was conferred with some form of ceremony similar to that of a present-day speculative Master Mason. A fairly comprehensive explanation is given in the "Edinburgh Register House MS", believed to date from 1696. There were several variations of the word, very similar to those in use today. Having regard to the lack of literacy in those days, it is remarkable that the words are recognizable. The earliest published reference is in Henry Adamson's "The Muses Threnodie", printed in Edinburgh in 1638: "For we are brethren of the Rosie Cross; we have the Mason Word . . ." One of the earliest references to the instruction of Fellows of Craft in the "Mason Word", as well as to the instruction of "prentices" by Entered Apprentices, is found in the minutes of Aitchison's Haven Lodge in 1598.


A great deal of modern speculative ceremonial is derived from the practices in operative lodges, including preparation of the candidate, entrance of the candidate into the lodge room, perambulation within the lodge room and the use of working tools and tracing boards. None of these is identical with its operative predecessor, but sufficiently similar as to leave no doubt of its origin. In Scotland an apprentice completed seven years (sometimes a longer or shorter period) under indenture, after which he was "entered" in the books of the lodge and became an Entered Apprentice. He was then allowed to do a certain amount of work on his own account, although not allowed to employ subordinate labour. After another seven years or so he became a Fellow of Craft and could undertake contracts as an employer. This system was a feature of operative free masonry in Scotland at least as early as 1598 and it has been established beyond doubt that admission to the grades of Entered Apprentice and Fellow of Craft was of an esoteric nature by then. In England the titles of Entered Apprentice and Fellowcraft were not known until 1723, when they were included in the first "Book of Constitutions" written by Dr James Anderson, a Scotsman educated at Marischal College in Aberdeen.

Preparation of the candidate in operative practice included bathing and examination by a physician to ascertain wholeness and soundness of body. The candidate was blindfolded and "neither naked nor clothed", being conducted into the lodge room under the restraint of cabletows. The challenge at the door was similar to modern practice. Perambulations were clockwise around the candidate's track during the induction ceremony, but all other movements in the lodge room were by the most direct method, as is the practice in Emulation lodges to the present day. The left heel slipshod comes directly from operative practice, where it received even greater emphasis than it does in speculative freemasonry, being used to remind the candidate of the binding nature of his indentureship. This aspect of operative practice still survives in a familiar mode of interrogation in Scottish freemasonry.

In Scottish lodges, until near the end of the seventeenth century, the presiding officer was usually called a Deacon, Warden or Preses. After then his title usually was Master Mason, perpetuating the operative title of Master which referred to the mason who organised and took charge of the building work, usually the proprietor of the lodge engaged as the contractor for the work. The Grand Lodge of Scotland has always used the title of Grand Master Mason for its chief presiding office bearer. In England, until the end of the seventeenth century, Master and Master Mason were used only in reference to the Mason in charge of a building operation. The earliest recorded use of the title is with reference to John of Gloucester, who was Master Mason for the erection of Westminster Hall from 1254 to 1262. It was in this sense that the title of Master was used in the "Old Charges" that are set out in the Levander-York MS, which is believed to have been written in 1560. It is interesting to note that, when referring to the members of the lodge as distinct from its office bearers, those "Old Charges" also distinguish between Apprentices, Brothers and Fellows, though not as specifically as in Scottish operative practice.


In common with all ancient societies and religions, tradition plays an important role in freemasonry. In this context tradition refers to knowledge and doctrines transmitted to successive generations, rather than to ritualistic procedures. Masonic traditions are primarily communicated in legends and traditional histories. Traditions, such as those relating to the untimely death of Hiram Abif, frequently are allegorical and should be considered in the light of the truths they illustrate, rather than as historical fact. They should not be rejected for the want of irrefutable evidence. It is of interest to note that neither the Irish nor the Scottish operative masons had a traditional history similar to that included in the Old Charges of English Freemasonry, but that both used the working tools as vehicles of moral instruction.

The lectures given to English medieval stonemasons usually included a mythological history of the Craft, tracing it back into antiquity. Although these lectures varied considerably from locality to locality, they usually emphasised the influence of Nimrod and dramatised the construction of King Solomon's Temple. English tradition also features a supposed Great Assembly of Masons held at York in 926 with the approval and encouragement of King Athelstan. Whilst it is accepted that the traditional continuity of masonic patriarchs and "Grand Masters" from Adam or Noah to the present has no basis in fact, the medieval stories should not be dismissed arbitrarily because, like all myths, they contain elements of truth.

For example, Nimrod is the first great builder referred to in the Old Testament. He did establish a huge team of stonemasons and is recorded in Genesis as the founder of Ninevah which has been occupied continuously since 5000 BC. Likewise the construction of King Solomon's Temple was a stupendous task in its time. The Biblical record of the methods and workforce then used reflect a remarkable affinity with those of the medieval cathedral builders. Recent investigations at the temple site in Jerusalem support the existence of a vault under the Holy of Holies, which traditionally is reputed to have been constructed by King Solomon for use as a secret meeting room and repository.

There is no known record of the Northumbrian King Athelstan's influence on masonry, but the "Venerable Bede", an historian of antiquity, records at least as significant an event in York. Around 500 AD an earlier Northumbrian King, Prince Edwin, was converted to Christianity by his Kentish wife with the assistance of Bishop Paulinus. As a consequence of this, Prince Edwin built the first church in York for Paulinus and it became the centre of the Bishopric, after which the whole of Northumbria became Christian. Thus began a long and auspicious association of York with English freemasonry, which has continued unbroken to the present day.

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A craft originally was an organisation of workers who had a range of skills in a particular trade or vocation. Craft comes from the Old English craeft, derived from the Old Saxon and Old German kraft. The word originally meant "strength" and "skill" and its adjective craeftig, meaning "crafty", signified "dexterous" or "expert". The sinister aspects of "crafty", which include "cunning" from the Old English cunnan meaning "to know", are modern usages of the word. This change in usage is reflected in the Bible in different versions of I Kings 7, verse 14, which records that Hiram Abif was sent by Hiram King of Tyre to assist King Solomon at the construction of the temple at Jerusalem. In the Authorised Version of King James, Hiram Abif is described as "filled with wisdom and understanding and cunning to work all works in brass", whereas in the New English Bible he is called "a man of great skill and ingenuity, versed in every kind of craftsmanship in bronze".

Family peace guilds, called frith, existed in London about the middle of the tenth century. The first merchant guild is believed to have originated in Dover about the middle of the eleventh century, when the first weaver guilds also seem to have been established. In medieval times the workers in many crafts established fraternal associations for the mutual assistance of their members, which they called guilds from the Old English gield and the Old Norman gildi. There is ample evidence that the craft guilds were well established in Britain around 1135, during the reign of Henry I. Although the craft guilds came into existence to safeguard the interests of skilled workers in the various trades, they also were religious fraternities whose members were required to attend church on a regular basis and frequently. Under the protection of the guilds, many families rose from serfdom to become employers within a few generations. The operative masons who erected medieval ecclesiastical structures formed the largest and most effectively organised of the craft guilds and became known as free masons, or more familiarly as "the craft". The rough masons, wallers, slaters, paviors, plaisterers, bricklayers, carpenters, bronze founders, iron workers, gold smiths and white smiths, who worked closely with the free masons on all important building works, often formed their own craft guilds in the larger centres.


Although the members of most crafts could find work in the vicinity of their homes, many members of the craft of free masonry frequently had to travel long distances to find work and establish new project sites. This undoubtedly was a significant factor leading to the establishment of lodges. In operative practice the "lodge" originally signified the place of work, especially the stone yard, being derived from the Old French loge meaning an arbour, which was adopted into Middle English to mean a stall as in a modern theatre. The earliest known reference to a "lodge" as a building occurs in the accounts of the Vale Royal Abbey in 1277, when logias and mansiones were erected for the workers because the site of the abbey was some distance from habitation. Logias derives from Old French and mansiones from Middle Latin, respectively signifying "to lodge" and "a household", reflecting the influence of French and Latin on English. In England, operative documents often refer to "lodges" as places of residence and sometimes also as repositories for tools and implements, as at York in 1399. By association a body of masons also became known as a "lodge", almost certainly in medieval times, although the first known references in this context are to be found in relation to operative practice in Scotland, in the minutes of the Aitchison's Haven Lodge in 1598 and in the Schaw Statutes of 1598 and 1599.

In the earliest days many of the lodges must have worked independently, because travel was very difficult and time consuming. Even so, there is evidence that annual assemblages of free masons were taking place during the 1300s and that these were the gatherings sought to be prohibited in 1436-1437 by the Statutes of Henry VI. The guild system was highly successful until devastated by the Reformation of 1530-1560, when Henry VIII confiscated most of their possessions. The process of disendowment was completed by his son, Edward VI, under the Act of 1547 by which any remaining guild funds that had been dedicated for religious purposes were confiscated, as were the funds of all other religious fraternities. The guilds that survived the Reformation became the Livery Companies of the City of London, among the best known of which is the "Fellowship of Masons". Until some time in the 1500s it was formally entitled "The Worshipful Company of Ffree Masons of the City of London", but in 1655 in the aftermath of the Reformation it was renamed "The Company of Masons".

Within the operative lodges there also were officers such as foremen, intendents, superintendents, wardens and deacons, who were responsible for control of the various sections of the work. All were fully qualified craftsmen who were promoted through the ranks as they gained experience and demonstrated sufficient skill and ability to undertake progressively higher levels of responsibility. Medieval guilds in England had wardens of the craft and wardens of the mystery. In medieval lodges in Scotland the chief officer frequently was a deacon who was often supported by wardens, although the two offices sometimes merged into one or a warden alone was the chief officer. In some assemblages the masons were under deacons and the lodges were under wardens. By the second half of the seventeenth century Master Masons began to rule operative lodges in Scotland, with Wardens as their deputies. Evidence suggests that English speculative lodges had Wardens in the seventeenth century and that Deacons were later introduced following the practice in Scotland.


In medieval times in England, a youngster learning the mason trade was indentured as an apprentice in a lodge of operative masons. He received training nominally for a period of seven years. The earliest known regulation relating to apprenticeships in London dates from about 1230, but it was not enforced strictly for many years and almost a century had passed before apprenticeship was in general use. In operative masonry apprentices were recruited from suitable boys, usually aged between twelve and fifteen years. A boy seeking engagement and acceptable to the members of the lodge was required to swear that he would be obedient and learn the craft. He would then be bound over as an Indentured Apprentice to a senior mason, who was his master for the period of his indentureship. Whilst in training, the apprentice lived with his master and gave him implicit obedience in all things, with little recompense other than food, clothing and lodging. His place in lodge life was equally subordinate.

In England, an apprentice who had a good record was tested in the stoneyard for practical proficiency at the end of period of his indentureship. If he proved himself to be capable and passed an examination in the lodge, the members voted on his admission into full membership. When accepted, he was regarded as a fully qualified tradesman. However, as he did not then have sufficient experience to take charge of construction, he would be required to work under the guidance of expert craftsmen for up to seven more years, although the time varied considerably. When he had proved his ability to take charge of building work, he was accepted as a Fellow and was free to engage subordinate labour and to carry out work in his own right. As a title, Fellow is first found in English documents towards the end of the fourteenth century, when it clearly signified membership of a fraternity, but did not appear to indicate a specific grade of proficiency.

Records in Scotland, dating from the fifteenth century, show that youths were apprenticed to monasteries for periods varying from five to nine years. When an apprentice mason had satisfactorily completed his training in the stoneyard, he was "entered" in the books of his lodge. This feature of Scottish operative practice dates from 1598 and probably earlier. In Scottish lodges an Entered Apprentice was put in charge of a small group of junior apprentices, but he was still required to work for a few more years under the guidance of experienced masons to develop his proficiency and leadership. In Edinburgh the Trade Regulations incorporated in the Seal of Cause of 1475 provided for an apprentice to serve a term of seven years, after which he was to be examined by four searchers. If proficient he became a Fellow of the Craft, when he was entitled to all the privileges of membership of his lodge. Fellows of the Craft in operative lodges were fully qualified masters of their craft in all its aspects, being allowed to engage labour and take charge of building work. In operative times the title of "Master Mason" usually referred to the master tradesman in charge of a building project, often the proprietor of the lodge engaged to carry out the work.

It is of interest to note that the word "fellow" is associated with the Middle English word fee, which signified a fief or payment, derived from the Old High German fihu or fehu. It has an important cognate in the Scandinavian group of Germanic languages, the Old Norman felag, which signified a laying together of property and hence a partnership. From this came the Old English feolaga, then the Middle English felaghe which later became felawe, whence the English fellow, signifying an associate, a companion and an equal. Thus a Fellow of the Craft was someone who held membership in his craft, for which a fee usually was payable, in respect of which he accepted the duties and enjoyed the privileges. The title of Fellow is now most commonly used to signify the highest grade of membership in a scientific or technical institution; it also is used in universities to designate the holder of a Fellowship.


Records from the beginning of the 1500s indicate that Scottish and Irish operative lodges accepted persons of stature as honorary members, even though they were neither operative masons nor craftsmen in any other trade. This does not seem to have occurred in England until "The Company of Masons" in London established an inner fraternity known as the Acception, whose members were not necessarily members of the Company. Although seven members of the Company were enrolled in the Acception during 1620 and 1621, the King's Master Mason, who also was the Master of the Company in 1633, was not enrolled in the Acception until 1639! It is on record that several "non-operatives" were enrolled in the Acception from 1663 onwards. The English craft guilds were decimated by the Reformation of 1530-1560, after which period any lodges of operative masons that were established were set up only for the duration of specific projects. With the exception of an Assemblage at York, there are no records of English lodges transforming from operative to speculative practice as they did in Scotland, although many operative masons in England were involved in the establishment of speculative lodges. By contrast with England and Ireland, most operative lodges in Scotland continued well into the 1750s, some of them much longer and many becoming speculative lodges almost as a matter of course.

The titles "Entered Apprentice" and "Fellow Craft" were not used in English lodges until the 1700s, when both of these speculative grades were adopted from operative practice in Scotland and were firmly established in English speculative freemasonry by appearing in Dr James Anderson's Constitutions of 1723. The first known use of these titles in England was in that very old operative Assembly of Masons at York known as the York Grand Lodge, which was independent from the Grand Lodges formed in London. The earliest surviving minutes of the York Grand Lodge date from 1712, when it already was in the process of becoming speculative. Of particular interest are the minutes of its meeting held on the Festival of St John in 1725, because they refer to the attendance of E.P. (Entered 'Prentice), F.C. and M.M., clearly indicating that these three degrees were being worked at that time. Prior to this meeting the Master was usually referred to as the President, but from that meeting he was called the Grand Master and a Deputy Grand Master and Grand Wardens also were elected. It has been established beyond doubt that admissions to the grades of Apprentice and Fellow were of an esoteric nature at least as early as 1598. The speculative degree of Master Mason follows the ceremonial of the Ancient Drama in operative masonry that has been enacted annually from time immemorial.


Because so much of its work was carried out in an ecclesiastical environment, the craft of free masons was subject to a stronger religious influence than any other of the craft guilds. This no doubt explains why the old operative ceremonies were based on stories from the scriptures and included extensive moral instruction. In this respect the "Old Charges" were a key element in the induction of candidates into English operative lodges, providing a foundation for the ethical teaching carried out in the weekly meetings. An essential part of the "Old Charges" was the traditional history, in which the concurrent development of civilisation and masonry was recounted on the basis of legends derived from biblical history, supplemented by allegorical anecdotes of contemporaneous events. Erudite researchers have expressed the opinion that the "Old Charges" probably were prepared by a learned monk who was well acquainted with the usages and customs of the mason trade and that the subject matter is much older than the earliest known manuscript, the Regius MS that dates from around 1390. It is possible that much of the original matter relating to the conduct of a mason may have been derived from the earliest trade ordinances around the end of the eleventh century, of which no copies have yet been discovered. No other medieval craft guild or religious fraternity is known to have possessed a similar document.

Although the traditional history and charges were not identical everywhere, they had a consistent theme and were regarded by the medieval operative masons in England as the foundation of their craft in all ages and in all places. Authentic copies constituted the authority under which operative lodges held their meetings before warrants were issued. An interesting aspect of the traditional history is the allegorical account of the establishment of masonry in England by Charles Martel (688-741), who was known as Charles the Hammer in France. Masonic legends in France include the anomalous assertion that Charles Martel learnt the craft of masonry from a curious mason named Naymus Graecus, who had been present at the erection of Solomon's temple. Scotland had a close association with France that began when the Irish apostle and Benedictine monk St Columba (521-597) established a monastery at Iona. St Columba converted the northern Picts to Christianity and also worked in Brittany and the Vosges district of France where he founded the great abbey at Luxeuil. Having regard to this religious association, which was supported by a significant inflow of operative masons from France to Scotland, it is surprising that Scottish operative lodges did not have their own traditional histories. The few "Old Charges" associated with Scottish operative masonry date from around the time of the Edinburgh Seal of Cause of 1475 and obviously were copied from English sources. Nor is there any evidence that Irish operative lodges had a traditional history similar to that of their English counterparts, although there is ample evidence that they were using their working tools as symbols for moral instruction early in the sixteenth century.

Operative lodges traditionally met at noon on the sixth day of each week, when they conducted their business, inducted their candidates and imparted moral instruction. That time of meeting is the basis of the paradoxical answer to one of the questions put to a speculative Entered Apprentice during his examination. Operative masons were obligated under oath, subject to penalties that were customary for the period. In operative lodges the candidate in each of the several degrees represented a particular stone required in the construction of Solomon's temple. The ceremonial and its inherent religious component was woven around the preparation, testing and placement of that stone in the temple, symbolising the erection of a spiritual temple. The perambulations of the candidate around the lodge room also related to the erection of the temple. Candidates were taught by charge and catechism and were required to learn much by rote. From the earliest times, one of the most important components of the ritual was a moral interpretation of the many working tools of a mason. This is not surprising, because the names of so many of the tools express a moral quality without requiring any further definition. The working tools presented in the speculative degrees were not the only ones used by the Apprentice, Fellow and Master in operative lodges, but were chosen to illustrate the teachings of the degree.


The Fabric Rolls of York Minster provide a detailed inventory of the tools stored in the masons' lodge at the end of the year 1399, including stone-axes, iron chisels, mallets, tracing boards, a hatchet, a big gavel, a compass and a host of other tools. Some of the less familiar tools listed in early inventories include stone-hammers and stone-axes in a large variety of shapes and weights; setting-hammers with hollow heads for the hard stone hewers; scabbling hammers for the rough layers; hammer-axes, brick-axes, pickaxes and mattocks; chisels, puncheons and augers; crowbars, levers and wedges; and mallets, mauls and trowels. The Fabric Rolls of York Minster of 1360 list a kevel, sometimes incorrectly called a keevil, which was similar to a very large gavel or stone-axe and was used to break and roughly shape stones in the quarry. The name was used in Scotland and northern England until the early 1800s, but its origin is obscure, possibly deriving from the Old Norman French keville which means a key and from which "clavicle" is descended. The principal wooden tools used by operative masons were the straight-edges, rules, squares, levels, plumb-rules and heavy setting mauls required to ensure that the stones were placed and set to the correct lines and levels during the erection of the structure. They were wooden to avoid marking the dressed and polished stones. Thus we read in I Kings 6, v 5 of the New English Bible that "no hammer or axe or any iron tool whatever was heard in the house while it was being built".


The three symbolic working tools of an Entered Apprentice in a speculative lodge are not the same as those presented to his operative counterpart when first indentured. They were the metal straight edge, the maul or mallet and the chisel, which were the first tools he would learn to use. As the metal straight edge is used as a guide for the chisel, so it constantly reminds the apprentice that he is required to maintain a straight and undeviating course of action in his work and in his dealings with others. As the maul or mallet applies the driving force to the chisel, so it reminds the apprentice that it is his duty to work hard and diligently in the stoneyard and also in his private life. As the keen edge of the chisel is accurately shaped to cut the stone, it impresses upon the apprentice's mind that knowledge is essential in all activities. The three tools in combination remind the apprentice that all difficulties can be overcome if the correct approach is used with knowledge, hard work and perseverance. During the course of his indentureship, the apprentice mason learned to use many more working tools, including such implements as axes, bevels and squares, calipers and compasses, gauges of various shapes, hammers, rasps and scrapers - the range was limited only by the sizes and shapes of the stones he was required to cut and dress. The 24 inch gauge of the speculative apprentice was introduced to impress upon the candidate the importance of allocating his time properly, so that it would be well spent. The operative apprentice had this aspect of his duties impressed upon him throughout his training by the strictest adherence to his daily schedule of practical instruction, his weekly attendance in lodge and his regular participation in the religious services of the institution for or under which his lodge was working.

The maul or mallet, which is also called a mell in northern England and Scotland, must not be confused with the heavy setting maul, which is also called a beetle or sledge hammer. The beetle is a very heavy wooden mallet with a long handle used for driving wedges, crushing broken stone for a macadam road surface, or beating down paving stones. The speculative ritualists replaced the maul with a common gavel, which in fact is not used with a chisel. Moreover, as the gavel is an emblem of power, it is not a very appropriate symbol in relation to the duties of an apprentice. The similarly shaped implements used in operative masonry was the much larger kevel and the stone-axe with a steel cutting edge, with which the quarrymen broke and roughly shaped the stones. As the stone-axe symbolises the force of conscience, the early speculative ritualists might have intended the wooden gavel to be a miniature representation of it. It is possible that later ritualists may have inadvertently called it a gavel, a name of American origin in the nineteenth century that refers to its gable-like shape. Unlike their speculative counterparts the master and wardens in an operative lodge did not use gavels, but carried truncheons which have been staffs of authority since early medieval times; the master also had a maul as a symbol of his driving force in the lodge. In some Irish lodges the master's emblem of authority was a stone-axe or hammer and the wardens carried truncheons. In some Scottish and American lodges the master's emblem of authority is a maul. In Scottish lodges the senior deacon's jewel is a maul and the junior deacon's jewel is a trowel, indicating that the respective responsibilities of the senior and junior deacons are to exercise control in the work and to maintain harmony.


Of the several wooden working tools used in operative lodges, the square, level and plumb-rule were appropriated to the Fellowcraft in speculative freemasonry. This is logical because his operative counterpart was a mason of superior status who was directly responsible for ensuring that the building was erected in strict conformity with the working plans. It should be noted that three different squares were used by operative masons, each for a specific purpose and each having an important though somewhat different symbolical meaning. Each of these squares has an important place in the speculative ritual, but as they are not differentiated in the ritual the subtle differences of meaning in a charge might be missed by anyone who is not familiar with the operative art. Attention will be drawn to these differences when discussing the symbolism of the square. The working tools of a Fellowcraft freemason in a speculative lodge are only miniature representations of the operative tools and are made of metal as a matter of convenience, so that it may be difficult to envisage the way they are applied in building construction.

The levels and plumb rules used by operative masons were closely related, because each utilised a line and plumb bob to determine the vertical plane and hence the correct attitude of the implement. In their simplest form, as used continuously in operative masonry at least from the times of ancient Egypt, the frames of both implements were constructed from stout wooden staves that could be dressed perfectly and would not warp or twist. The level generally was in the shape of an equilateral triangle constructed from staves about 2 cubits, or a little over a metre long, with the line and plumb bob suspended from one apex. When the plumb line hung vertically so as to bisect the base, the base was horizontal and could be used either to lay levels, or to try and if necessary to adjust horizontals. From the use of the level, in conjunction with the beetle or heavy setting maul, is derived the expression "setting to a dead level". The plumb rule usually was a stave about 2 cubits with its edges dressed parallel. A line and plumb bob were suspended from the upper extremity of the stave on its centre line to determine its verticality. Thus either edge of the stave could be used either to set verticals, or to try and if necessary adjust to uprights to the vertical plane.

As the apprentice in operative lodges learnt to use a wide range of tools during his period of training, so also did the fellow during his first few years whilst under the supervision of more expert craftsmen. In addition to the square, level and plumb-rule, he learnt to use the wooden straight-edge, plumb lines or plummets, string lines and skirrets, trowels and the Pythagorean square composed of three graduated rods. String lines and skirrets are for setting out lines, but the wooden straight edge is the implement used to test a course of stones for straightness along a line. Plumb lines or plummets are used for plumbing points in a vertical plane and also to line up intermediate points in straight lines over long distances, but the plumb-rule is the implement used to check the stones for verticality in successive courses. The Pythagorean square is used for setting out a building, but not for checking right angles during erection, for which purpose the gallows square is more appropriate. The working tools of a fellow thus fall into two distinct groups, one for use during the erection of a building and the other for use when setting out the building.


Most fellows could set out a building if given the location of a corner of the building and one of the building lines commencing from that corner. However, most stately edifices were required to be set out from a given centre point, which only the most capable craftsmen were competent to perform. Thus it usually was only the master of the lodge, the master mason himself, who set out the building with the assistance of some of his most experienced craftsmen. For this purpose he utilised plumb lines, string lines, skirrets and the Pythagorean square. In the northern hemisphere the north-south axis could be determined by sighting the Pole Star through a plumb line set up over the required centre point, then lining in another plumb line at or beyond each of the required northern and southern extremities. With a string line on the north-south axis, the east-west axis and the required diagonals could then be established using the Pythagorean square in conjunction with string lines drawn from a skirret at the centre. The north-south axis can be established in both hemispheres by the bisection of an equidistant transition of the sun from the eastern quarter to the western quarter, sighted through a plumb line set up over the required centre point. There are paintings at Thebes in Egypt, dating from 3000 BC or earlier, that show masons using a stretched cord to draw a line.

In medieval times the master mason usually would be provided with only a description of the required sizes and layout of a building he was required to construct. More often than not the details would be developed progressively with input from the owner over many years of construction. Thus another very important duty of the master mason was to prepare layout plans of the building for the owner's approval, from which he would prepare detailed designs and working drawings. Usually he would also be required to provide detailed drawings for all important components of the structure, even to the extent of detailing the designs of the windows and the symbolic decorations incorporated in most ecclesiastical buildings. As the pencil and compasses were essential implements used by the master mason of an operative lodge when preparing designs and drawings, it was appropriate to include them with the skirret and line as the working tools of a Master Mason in a speculative lodge. The ancient use of the measuring line is recorded in Jeremiah 31, v 39 of the New English Bible: "The time is coming, says the Lord, when the city shall be rebuilt in the Lord's honour, from the Tower of Hananel to the Corner Gate. The measuring line shall then be laid straight out over the hill of Gareb and around Goath." Then in Zechariah 2, v 1-2, when Zechariah saw a man carrying a measuring line and asked where he was going he was told "To measure Jerusalem and see what should be its breadth and length".


The three types of square used by operative masons were the square gauge, the try square and the gallows square. The square gauge is an enclosed square of the required inside dimensions to test a cubic ashlar or the cross section of the running stone. The try square has two arms of equal length that include an angle of 90°. It is not calibrated to measure lengths along the arms, because it is only used to test the angle between the two faces of a stone along the arris where they meet, to ensure that they subtend a right angle. The gallows square is used to set out right angles and has two arms of unequal length that include an angle of 90°. Both arms are calibrated on the inside and outside edges to facilitate the measurement of dimensions when scribing stones for cutting. It is also used to set out column bases, wall recesses and other details in the ground plans of structures. The usual sizes of gallows squares used in operative lodges were the small 2:3 ratio square having 12" x 18" arms; a general purposes 3:4 ratio Pythagorean square having 18" x 24" arms; and a large 2:3 ratio square having 24" x 36" arms that was useful for checking corners and other wall intersections internally and externally.

When admitted for advancement as a Fellowcraft in a speculative lodge the candidate is told that, being obligated within the square, he is bound to act on the square to all mankind. This exhortation derives from the operative practice of requiring the candidate to kneel with both knees bare on an ashlar stone placed within the square gauge. The reason for the change is not recorded, but the present method of supporting the candidate's elbow within the angle of a small Pythagorean square was substituted for the operative practice at about the time of the reconciliation between the Antients and the Moderns. The try square is used in the traditional "Square and Compasses" emblem and is one of the three great emblematic lights of Freemasonry. Because the try square is used to test the angles of a perfect ashlar stone and is a universal emblem of morality and justice that inculcates truthfulness, honesty and a strict obedience to the law of God's Word, it is rightfully included in the three great emblematic lights by which we shall be tried as "living stones". In Isaiah 28, v 16 of the New English Bible we read "These then are the words of the Lord God: look, I am laying a stone in Zion, a block of granite, a precious corner-stone for a firm foundation; he who has faith shall not waver". In Psalm 118, v 22 we also read that "The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief corner-stone".

The gallows square, with arms in the 3:4 or Pythagorean ratio, is the traditional emblem of the Master that has been used by operative masons from time immemorial. It is still used as the Master's emblem by them and by most Continental freemasons. As the gallows square is used to set out the work, which is the Master's duty, so it is the most appropriate square to use as the emblem of the Master's office. For some reason that has not been recorded, but apparently in the 1830s after the introduction of Euclid's 47th Proposition as the basis of an English speculative Past Master's jewel, the speculative Master's emblem was changed to a try square. Perhaps it better suited the early speculative ritualists' passion for symmetry. The Master's jewel is a symbolic reminder that his lodge should be justly and properly ruled by his square conduct and impartial decisions. The Immediate Past Master's jewel in English speculative freemasonry is a miniature illustration of Euclid's 47th Proposition suspended from a gallows square with sides of 3 units and 4 units and therefore a hypotenuse of 5 units. Euclid's Proposition is general, but long before him some skilful craftsman in ancient Egypt discovered the convenient right angled triangle with sides of 3:4:5 ratios, although the discovery is traditionally attributed to Pythagoras of Greece, who studied and worked in Egypt. These ratios are the basis of the operative mason's Pythagorean triangle of rods that is used when setting out a structure.

It is of interest to note that the jewels of Scottish Masters and Irish Past Masters, as well as of many American Past Masters, incorporate the try square and compasses combined. This is a symbolic reminder that, in addition to conducting themselves squarely and taking impartial decisions, Masters must keep all their actions within due bounds. The letter G within the square and compasses is a common decoration on the flap of freemasons' aprons in Scotland and America, combining the symbolism outlined above with the following symbolism. In medieval Europe the shape of the gallows square with arms in the ratio of 3:4 was used in ecclesiastical script to represent the capital letter G, because it was exactly the same shape as the Greek letter Gamma and equivalent to G in the Roman alphabet, standing alike for God and His great attribute "Justice". In medieval paintings of the disciples, the gallows square is often found embroidered on their vestments, as it is on some priestly robes to this day. Eminent researchers have stated that the gallows square was also used in early speculative lodges where the letter G is used nowadays, thus at the same time representing God the Grand Geometrician of the Universe and also showing that the square is the most important moral instrument of the Craft.


As a working tool of an operative mason, the level is used to set all required points to the same level on a construction site. From this is derived its symbolic interpretation, which is equality. Such equality does not refer to wealth or poverty in the financial sense, nor to social distinction, civic responsibility or service to mankind. The symbolism of the level relates to humanity in its broadest sense, that is to the internal rather than the external qualifications of a human being. It refers to that fraternal quality which, in recognising the Fatherhood of God, also accepts as a necessary corollary the Brotherhood of Man.. The level reminds us that we are infinitesimal creatures in God's grand scheme of the universe. It naturally follows that all human beings must appear the same in His sight, in which sense we are all equal and subject to the same infirmities and vicissitudes of life, seeking the same immortal mansion and preparing to be judged by the same immutable laws. The equality of brethren in the lodge is that of the dignity and worth of the human soul, which is the same for everyone regardless of man-made distinctions. Masonic equality also recognises that one man may have greater potentialities for service, for life or for reward than another, but also it denies that any such differences should preclude any man from aspiring to any height, no matter how great. The level demonstrates that, as we have all sprung from the same stock and are all partakers of the same nature, so we are all sharers of the same hope. The level is an appropriate emblem of the Senior Warden, because when the lodge is at labour all are under his immediate supervision and therefore are on a common level of subordination.


Plumb lines and plumb rules are implements used to determine a vertical plane, often called plummets in the scriptures. Each depends upon a line from which a heavy plumb bob is suspended, so that when hanging freely the line is perpendicular. They are one of the oldest emblems and have the same symbolic interpretation. The plumb is a symbol of truth and rectitude of conduct. It inculcates that integrity of life and undeviating course of moral uprightness which alone can distinguish a good and just man. When erecting temporal structures the operative mason pays strict attention to the vertical, as determined by the plumb, because any deviation from the upright contributes to instability. So the speculative freemason should be guided by the unerring principles of right and truth symbolised by the plumb, neither succumbing to the pressures of adversity nor yielding to the seductions of prosperity. We read in Isaiah 28, v 17 of the New English Bible that the Lord said "I will use justice as a plumb-line and righteousness as a plummet; hail shall sweep away your refuge of lies and flood-waters carry away your shelter". In Amos 7, v 7-8 we also read that the Lord said "I am setting a plumb line to the heart of my people Israel; never again will I pass them by."

It is interesting to note that, from the most ancient times, many common words used in everyday speech have had a symbolic meaning related to the practical usage. Thus the Hebrew word "tsedek" denotes rightness and straightness in a physical sense, whilst signifying what is right and just in a moral sense. The Greek word "orthos" in the physical sense means straight, erect or standing upright, whilst in the ethical sense it signifies right, correct, proper and equitable. In Latin the word "rectum" denotes something straight or upright and also someone of honesty and integrity. In English the word "right" has a similar duality, in one sense denoting something that is just, fair or equitable, whilst in another sense indicating that something is straight, or perpendicular, or with reference to an angle that it is formed by a right line or plane perpendicular to another right line or plane thus forming an angle of 90°, a right angle. All of these interpretations are represented in the symbolism of the plumb rule, which therefore is appropriate as the jewel of the Junior Warden, because it is emblematic of the upright conduct which should always distinguish the brethren during refreshment when symbolically they are under his control.

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The origins of Speculative Craft Freemasonry can be traced directly and indirectly to the craft practised by the operative Free Masons, who flourished in the Middle Ages under the auspices of the guild system. The skill of the medieval Free Masons was outstanding and they were renowned for the cathedrals they built. Their work was the pinnacle of operative masonry, reflecting the experience gained by masons throughout the evolution of civilisation over some 12,000 years, working in brick and stone to construct every conceivable building from the humblest dwellings to the stateliest edifices. In the present context Freemasonry distinguishes the purely speculative art from the practical craft that was the province of the Free Masons. However, it should not be inferred that there was no speculative component in the work carried out in the lodges of operative free masons, because they had developed their own rich tradition and ceremonials, some of which were similar in presentation to the Passion Plays of the Middle Ages. As all medieval guilds were highly secretive in respect of the private proceedings of their fraternities, information concerning their ceremonials is somewhat sketchy. Because very few relevant records have survived from before the formative days of purely speculative lodges in England, masonic writers all too frequently have said that operative masonry had no speculative component and therefore that speculative freemasonry could not be a derivative of it. Having regard to the circumstances prevailing in those times, it is remarkable that any documentary evidence has survived and been discovered!

Lodges of operative masons must have worked independently in the earliest days, because travel was difficult and time consuming. However, some time in the twelfth century the operative masons appear to have been organised under the protection of the craft guilds that came into existence to watch over the interests of skilled workers in the various trades. The guilds were known as Fellowships or Fraternities and with the exception of the operative masons their constituent trades worked under the provisions of relevant ordinances. Guilds were also religious fraternities, whose members were required to attend church frequently, if not regularly. Frith, or family peace guilds, existed in London around the middle of the tenth century. The first merchant guild is believed to have originated in Dover around the middle of the eleventh century, when the weaver guilds also appear to have been formed. There is no doubt that many craft guilds were well established in England during the reign of Henry I, by around 1135. There is evidence that annual assemblages of masons were being held from the 1300s onwards and that they were the gatherings which Henry VI unsuccessfully sought to prohibit by the Statutes of 1436-1437. Under the guild system many families rose from serfdom to become employers in a few generations. The system was highly successful until the Reformation, when Henry VIII enforced the Act of 1547 that disendowed all religious fraternities, including the operative masons. Henry VIII confiscated most of the guilds' possessions. His son Edward VI seized nearly all of the remaining guild funds that had been dedicated to religious purposes, when most guild records were destroyed to conceal the identities of those who might otherwise have suffered persecution. The masons appear to have been the worst affected by the confiscations of property and funds.

As in the other craft guilds, lodges of operative masons were subject to a strong religious influence and their ceremonials had a religious component. Practical work and its related instruction took place in the stone yards, but all moral and ethical instruction and matters relating to general conduct, as well as the modes of recognition, were imparted in the ceremonial lodges held weekly on Saturdays at high twelve. All apprentices were obligated and indentured in the ceremonial lodges, where candidates for promotion also were examined, tested for proficiency in the non-manual aspects of their work, obligated and entrusted. Lodges of operative masons were unique, because the rules and regulations for their establishment and operation were set out in documents called "charges". The possession of an authentic copy of the "charges" was the authority under which a lodge worked. The "charges" included a traditional history, rules governing work practices and codes of conduct for behaviour at church, in the home and in company. The oldest known record of the Antient Charges of operative masonry is a document written by a priest, comprising thirty-three vellum sheets and entitled the "Poem of the Craft of Masonry". It is believed to have been based on a much older document and is known as the Regius or Halliwell MS, No 23,198 in the British Museum. It was discovered in 1839 and was thought to have been written about 1390, which was later revised to 1410. In modern terminology it is classified as dating "from the first quarter of the fifteenth century". The rules and regulations set out in the Regius MS are stated to have been established at a great assemblage of masons ordered by King Athelstan. They are arranged under fifteen "Articles" for ye maystur mason and fifteen "Points" for felows and prentes.

Prior to the Reformation, the guilds and other religious fraternities undoubtedly were the guardians of centuries-old traditions and esoteric ceremonies, carefully concealed from public scrutiny. The guilds that survived the Reformation became the Livery Companies still operating in the City of London. Livery comes from the Anglo-French liver, meaning "handed over", derived from the Latin liber,re meaning "to free". Among them was The Worshipful Company of Ffree Masons of the City of London that had existed for several hundred years before the Reformation, continued through the Reformation hidden from public view, then resurfaced after the Reformation. Before the Reformation it was commonly called The Fellowship of Masons, but in 1655 changed its name to The Company of Masons. Because all of the Company's books and documents were destroyed during the Reformation, those in existence only date from 1620. Fortunately, various letter-books and other records of the City of London confirm that The Company of Masons had an unbroken existence from late in the thirteenth century until the middle of the seventeenth century.


The unbroken existence of The Company of Masons over some four hundred years maintained the continuity of operative lodges in England, even through the fifteenth century persecutions, which enabled their traditions and practices to be preserved. Possibly other operative lodges also survived, though hidden from public view. Entries in the books of The Company of Masons in 1620 and 1621 show that the membership then included "accepted masons" and "operative masons", but no records have been found to indicate when or why any of the masons were "accepted". Entries in 1648 and 1650 clearly indicate that the Company had an inner fraternity, known as the Acception, that could be entered only on being made a freemason, but there are no details of the ceremonials associated with admission so it is not known whether they were of an esoteric nature. It therefore is a matter of conjecture whether the "accepted masons" were speculative in the modern sense, but it is reasonable to assume that some special benefit of membership was perceived. From 1663 onwards the Company admitted to membership a number who were not craftsmen, including several women. One woman was apprenticed as late as 1713 for the usual term of seven years.

The usages and customs of operative masons that have come down to us in speculative craft freemasonry include various traditions concerning the construction of the temple at Jerusalem, the symbolic use of the working tools to impart moral instruction and the modes of recognition used in the various grades of membership. When persons other than tradesmen were first received into operative lodges, men of learning and public stature no doubt would have been welcomed because of their erudition and the influence they could bring to bear in the community for the benefit of the members. Those who had been received into membership also would have benefited from the widening of their interests in the new avenues of tradition and knowledge that were then available to them. As long ago as the 1500s many Scots lodges welcomed local lairds as honorary members. Although they would not be regarded as speculative freemasons in the modern sense, they were the forerunners of the many who joined Scots operative lodges when work declined. The minutes of the Lodge of Edinburgh record the attendance in 1600 of James Boswell, the Laird of Auchinleck and in 1634 they also record that Lord Alexander, Sir Antony Alexander and Sir Alexander Strachan were admitted as Fellows of the Craft.

In England the Civil War of 1642-1646 led to the domination of Oliver Cromwell, which was followed by a very turbulent period until the settlement of 1689 when William of Orange and Mary acceded to the throne of England. The few surviving records that have been discovered now show that this was the formative period of modern speculative freemasonry in England. This is in contrast with Scotland, where records reveal that many of the operative lodges progressively became speculative lodges. Of particular interest during that period is the first known initiation on English soil of someone who was not an operative mason. It was the admission of the Right Honourable Robert Moray, General Quartermaster of the Scots army, into the Lodge of Edinburgh at a meeting held near Newcastle in May 1641. The lodge also has the appellation "Mary's Chapel". Robert Moray later became Secretary of Scotland and in 1673 was buried in Westminster Abbey under the name Murray. The earliest known record of an Englishman initiated on English soil is of Elias Ashmole, who was made a mason in a lodge at Warrington in Lancashire in 1646. Nothing is known of the admissions into freemasonry of any of the members at that time, but there is reason to believe that they included Royalists and also supporters of Parliament. There is no record of any of the members being an operative mason, although one may have been.

In England some operative masons, such as the members of lodges engaged on the construction of the York Minster, could work for a lifetime on a single project. Other lodges could work for many years on smaller cathedrals before having to move to a new work site, often in the same district. However, there always were small lodges that had to move frequently, as well as many itinerant masons moving from site to site in search of work. In Scotland the whole mason trade revolved around smaller operative lodges, of which there were many more than in England. The territorial lodges in Scotland were organised under the supervision of head lodges, which were not always in large towns. The repressions of the Reformation were less severe in Scotland than in England, so that a large number of Scots operative lodges were able to become speculative lodges, a development that had no direct parallel in England.

Throughout the Middle Ages and thereafter until well into the eighteenth century, travel in Britain was greatly restricted and very hazardous. Although the more affluent residents could make journeys on horseback or by horse and coach, ordinary persons were usually confined to travelling on foot, commonly called going "on tramp". Robbery under arms was commonplace, so that the general population avoided travel whenever possible, but because of their vocation the operative masons frequently had to travel long distances in search of new work. A unique custom in the craft was that an itinerant mason, when seeking work in an operative lodge, had either to be given employment for an appropriate minimum period or to be provided with sufficient sustenance to reach the next nearest place of work. To facilitate their travel in safety, the operative masons in those days had unobtrusive distinguishing signs enabling them to seek out members of the craft at roadside hostelries, as well as modes of recognition with which to establish their credentials with a prospective employer. Some masonic researchers hold the view that the possession of masonic credentials for safe travel was a primary objective of those who were "made" masons in the seventeenth century. This has been called the "passport theory" for the development of speculative craft freemasonry and might have been a contributing factor, but it would not explain why the working tools and procedures of operative masons were adopted as the basis of moral instruction in the speculative art.


It is now generally accepted that modern speculative freemasonry began to emerge in the seventeenth century, which is when operative lodges in Scotland already were transforming into speculative lodges, when Elias Ashmole the renowned antiquary was made a mason in England in October 1646 and when The Company of Masons in London had been admitting non-masons to the Acception from around 1648. Of particular interest is a note in Elias Ashmole's diary in March 1682, that records his attendance at "a lodge held at Masons Hall London". He states that he was the "Senior Fellow among them", that six gentlemen were admitted into the "Fellowship of Free Masons" and that afterwards they dined at a tavern in Cheapeside "at a Noble dinner prepaired at the charge of the New-accepted Masons". Excepting the new admissions, all but three of those present were members of The Company of Masons, including its Master and several who had been Master in previous years. References in various pamphlets and periodicals between 1676 and 1710 confirm that Londoners then were more familiar with Freemasonry than with The Company of Masons or the Acception. It is not known how many speculative lodges had been formed in England before June 1717, when four or possibly six among the oldest of them assembled in London and established the first Grand Lodge, claiming jurisdiction over all lodges meeting in London and Westminster. Its sphere of jurisdiction included at least sixty-four lodges by 1726, when it had become known as the Grand Lodge of England and its first two Provincial Grand Masters had been appointed. Of the founding lodges, the Original No 1 is recorded as having been constituted in 1691, but it is believed to have had an earlier origin and that its members almost certainly had been members of an operative lodge involved in rebuilding St Paul's Cathedral from 1675 to 1710.

Unlike the situation in Scotland, only one lodge of operative masons in England that is known to have become a speculative lodge is still in existence. Originally it was located at Stalwell in County Durham and accepted a warrant from the Grand Lodge of England in 1735. It continued to work as an operative lodge for another twenty years before becoming speculative and moving to Gateshead, where it still meets as the Lodge of Industry No 48. By way of contrast another lodge of operative masons meeting at Alnwick in Northumberland, that had been in existence long before the Grand Lodge of England was formed, did not accept a warrant and appears to have ceased to function around 1763. Its minutes from 1703 onwards are still in existence, together with a copy of the Old Charges and a code of rules devised by the lodge in 1701. When Dr James Anderson drafted the original Constitutions for the Grand Lodge of England in 1723, not more than ten copies of the Old Charges were available for his reference, although more than a hundred have now been found and classified. The Cooke MS is the oldest copy of the Old Charges used in the compilation of the Constitutions. It is the second oldest known to be in existence and is in the library of the British Museum. As its date of origin has been assessed to be around fifty years after the Regius MS, it also was in use before the Act of 1547 that disendowed all religious fraternities. These two documents have many similarities, although the Cooke MS was intended primarily as a history. The third oldest copy of the Old Charges is the Grand Lodge MS No 1, dated 25 December 1583. Written after the Act of 1547, it is significant because it reflects a distinct transition from the purely operative nature of earlier documents to include much of a speculative nature.

In 1725 an operative lodge of great antiquity in York, then in the process of becoming speculative, proclaimed itself a Grand Lodge. In the following year it claimed to be the "Grand Lodge of All England" under its "undoubted right", thus disputing the superiority of the Grand Lodge of England, although its authority never extended beyond Yorkshire. It was dormant from 1740 to 1760, and finally ceased to operate around 1792, but was never formally dissolved. In Ireland there is no record of any operative lodge becoming a speculative lodge. The earliest reference to a speculative lodge is in the opening address given in 1688 by John Jones at Trinity College in Dublin. The Dublin Weekly Journal in June 1725 reports that six "Lodges of Gentlemen Freemasons" met and elected a new Grand Master. This is the earliest record of the Grand Lodge of Ireland, because all official records prior to 1760 have been lost. This contrasts with Scotland where most operative lodges continued into the 1750s and even longer, although by then many of them had become speculative. The Masters and Wardens of four old lodges that were or had been operative met in Edinburgh in October 1736 and formed the Grand Lodge of Scotland. Two of those lodges and several others joining soon after still exist and have records substantiating their continuity from operative days. In 1752 the Grand Lodge of Antients was formed in protest against the apathy and neglect being displayed by the Grand Lodge of England which they dubbed "the Moderns", as well as through dissatisfaction with the rituals being used and the ceremonials being practised. The Antients and the Moderns finally settled their differences and their two Grand Masters signed and sealed twenty-one Articles of Union in 1813. These were quickly ratified by the two Grand Lodges representing 647 lodges, thus establishing the United Grand Lodge of England. There can be no doubt that the rituals of modern speculative freemasonry were greatly enhanced under the influence of the Grand Lodge of Antients.

Modern freemasonry has many branches, with a multitude of complementary degrees that are progressive along a variety of paths. The constitutions and laws of modern Grand Lodges usually refer to their members as Antient, Free and Accepted Masons. Most constitutions define Pure Antient Masonry as comprising the three degrees of Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft and Master Mason, commonly with the stipulation that it also includes either or both of the Honourable Degree of Mark Master Mason and the Supreme Order of the Holy Royal Arch, even though the constituent degrees usually are not worked under the auspices of the Grand Lodge. The traditional degrees of freemasonry include all of the foregoing and several others that are based on the story of the construction of King Solomon's temple at Jerusalem; its subsequent destruction when the Jews were exiled to Babylon; and its rebuilding by Zerubbabel under the provisions of the Decree of Cyrus. The narrative of these degrees is woven around a series of events recorded in the Old Testament. Other important orders in modern freemasonry are the Royal Order of Scotland, the Ancient and Accepted Rite, the Red Cross of Constantine, the Knights Templar and the Knight Templar Priests, which have Christian aspects, as well as several others. Of particular relevance is "The Worshipful Society of Free Masons, Rough Masons, Wallers, Slaters, Paviors, Plaisterers and Bricklayers", commonly called The Operatives, which was founded in 1913 by the few remaining members of some English operative lodges that were rapidly becoming defunct, so as to ensure that the traditions and ceremonials of the operative masons would be perpetuated instead of being lost.


Although the catechism that every initiate in the Craft is required to learn, defines freemasonry as a peculiar system of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols, there are many misconceptions about the purpose of freemasonry. A significant factor contributing to this dilemma is the reversal in the roles of two key elements in the practice of the speculative art. The available records clearly show that the founders of Speculative Craft Freemasonry in England regarded a lodge meeting as a forum for philosophical discussion, wherein the members could discourse upon a wide range of relevant topics, more or less in the fashion of meetings of the Royal Society to which many of them belonged. Before an application for membership would be considered, the petitioner was required to demonstrate that his interests were compatible with those of the members. Admission into the various degrees was to ensure that all members had a common foundation for their activities in the lodge, as well as establishing a basis for assessing the credentials of strangers wishing to attend meetings. This followed the precedents established in lodges of operative masons and other trade and religious fraternities that had been in existence for many centuries. In contrast, modern freemasonry places the greatest emphasis on the working of the various degrees, which in the great majority of lodges is almost to the exclusion of philosophical discussion.

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In operative lodges, history was a key element used to illustrate the moral teachings of masonry. Tradition also was an essential component in the instruction of apprentices and craftsmen at all levels of competence. Although the details differ and the English language has changed, the charges and traditional histories of modern speculative freemasonry are derived from the Old Constitutions of the lodges of operative masons in medieval England, from when the craft guilds were established during the reign of Henry I around 1153, until during the Reformation when all lodges were prohibited by Henry VIII's Act of 1547 disendowing all religious fraternities. In operative practice the Old Constitutions, usually referred to as the Ancient Charges or Old Charges, were a central part of the ceremonial and the basis of moral instruction in lodges. An authentic copy of the Old Constitutions was the authority under which operative lodges worked. They included the Traditional History, the Charges of Nimrod and the Ancient Charges, which admonished candidates to behave in an appropriate manner, cautioned them to preserve the rights and privileges of their craft and warned them not to reveal their trade secrets and modes of recognition to strangers not entitled to receive them.

No other medieval craft or religious body is known to have possessed documents similar to the Old Constitutions. Their content and character differed greatly from the Guild ordinances of other trades and clearly reflected the moralising influence of the ecclesiastical environment in which most operative masons worked and lived. A fundamental part of the Old Constitutions was the traditional history, which recounted the development of civilisation and highlighted the important part played by masonry in the improvement of mankind. Although some of the anecdotes were allegorical, most were based on biblical history. The ancient charges and traditional histories were not identical in all copies of the Old Constitutions, nor were they handed down in unvarying form, but they did have a common theme. The standardised lectures and traditional histories that are used in modern speculative lodges do not include all of the material incorporated in the Old Constitutions.

The oldest known copy of the Old Constitutions is a document written by a priest, comprising thirty-three vellum sheets entitled the "Poem of the Craft of Masonry". It is believed to have been based on a much older document and is known as the Regius or Halliwell MS. It was discovered in 1839 and was thought to have been written in about 1390, which was later revised to 1410. In modern terminology it is classified as dating "from the first quarter of the fifteenth century". The rules and regulations set out in the Regius MS are arranged under fifteen "Articles" for ye maystur mason and fifteen "Points" for felows and prentes. They are stated to have been established at a great assemblage of masons ordered by King Athelstan, reputedly held at York in 926, though there is no known record of the event. The Regius MS and the Cooke MS, which was written about fifty years later, are both held in the British Museum. A later copy is The Grand Lodge No. 1 MS held by the United Grand Lodge of England and dated 1583, after Henry VIII had prohibited all lodges. Probably transcribed in secret to preserve the old traditions, it reveals a distinct transition from earlier copies of the Old Constitutions, because it includes much of a purely speculative nature.


The Old Charges were voluminous documents. Some of the older as well as a few of the more recent copies are in book form, but many are written on skins and stitched end to end to form rolls. The text is usually in three parts. The first part is a prayer invoking a blessing, usually of the Holy Trinity, but El Shaddai and other appellations also are used when referring to God, though mainly in obligations and charges. The second part is an extended historical statement which usually culminates with the requirement for the candidate to take an obligation on the Holy Book, sometimes in Latin. The final part comprises the actual Charges, which are very comprehensive. They were rehearsed to the candidate, who was then required to take a vow to keep them well and truly and to the utmost of his knowledge and ability, which he ratified by saluting the Holy Book. As the prayer, the actual Charges and the associated obligations are not historical in character, they are not relevant to this discussion. Aspects of the traditional history will now be examined in respect of their historical content without referring to any specific copy of the Old Charges, but having regard to the usual context in which they are used.


It is not known when the seven liberal arts and sciences were first incorporated into the Old Charges, but they are an important component in nearly all of the known copies. A discourse on the characteristics of the arts and sciences and how they are utilised by the various crafts may be given in the opening statement, but it usually appears later in the traditional history following the legend relating to their preservation on two pillars that together would resist the ravages of fire and water. This discourse concludes by emphasising that, in reality, all of the arts and sciences are dependant in some way upon measurement and therefore that they are all founded on the one science, that is called Geometry, which in medieval days was synonymous with masonry. The references to the liberal arts and sciences included in the rituals of the Second Degree of modern speculative freemasonry clearly evolved from the discourse in the Old Charges. As the liberal arts and sciences were the foundation of the curricula in all institutions of advanced learning in medieval times, their inclusion in the Old Charges is to be expected and confirms that the medieval master masons were men of considerable learning and skill. They proved their ability by transforming the visions of their employers into the glorious cathedrals and other stately edifices they designed and constructed. This knowledge was regarded as an essential part of a craftsman's training, especially geometry, because measurement is the foundation of a mason's work. The history proper begins with the biblical story of how the various crafts came into existence, which is paralleled in the legends of other peoples and has been confirmed by archaeological investigations.


This section is about the beginnings of history, after the creation and before the flood, commencing with Lamech, a descendant of Adam through Cain. It is taken directly from the book of Genesis, chapter 4, verses 19-22, which in the New English Bible translation says: "Lamech married two wives, one named Adah and the other Zillah. Adah bore Jabal who was the ancestor of herdsmen who live in tents; and his brother's name was Jubal; he was the ancestor of those who play the harp and pipe. Zillah, the other wife, bore Tubal-cain, the master of all coppersmiths and blacksmiths, and Tubal-cain's sister was Naamah." The biblical exposition is amplified in the traditional history by including the Hebrew tradition that Jabal, while tending his sheep in the fields, was the first to construct walls and later houses of stone, thus founding the craft of masonry. It also ascribes the founding of the craft of weaving to Naamah, thus completing the requirements for the rise of civilisation and urban dwelling.

Until about a century ago chronologers calculated the Old Testament dates solely on the recorded genealogies, which do not provide all of the required details. It was on this basis that in 1650 Archbishop Ussher dated the creation of the world and the appearance of Adam at 4004 BC, from which the Year of Light in speculative freemasonry was derived and by adding 4,000 years to the Common Era date. Modern research, supported by archaeological discoveries, indicates that the earliest biblical records relate to man at about 10,000 BC or possibly earlier, with the flood probably before 5000 BC, the development of Noah's descendants into nations around 5000 BC, the erection of the tower of Babel around 4800 BC and the first great buildings in Babylonia very soon after. As writing was invented many centuries after the events and the genealogies were based on oral tradition, such differences in dating are to be expected. It is of particular interest to note that archaeological investigations reveal that stone fences and footings in houses were first used in Palestine, Syria and Mesopotamia about 12,000 years ago, when the domestication of wild sheep and goats also began, coinciding in place and time with those of Lamech and his children.


This section is the original legend of the pillars and deals with the preservation of the arts and sciences. The legend is not of masonic origin and bears no relation to the two pillars erected at the entrance to King Solomon's temple. The Greek historian Berosus transcribed the legend around 300 BC, reputedly from a Sumerian account that had been recorded in cuneiform around 1500 BC. Flavius Josephus, the eminent Jewish author who lived in the first century and wrote in Greek, also included the legend in his History of the Jews. Ranulf Higden, a monk of Chester who died about 1364, copied the legend from Josephus when he wrote his world history, Polychronicon. It is not known whether the legend was included in the Old Charges before then, but in view of masonry's close ecclesiastical connections in those days it seems likely. The legend is no longer referred to in speculative craft freemasonry, but it is still a part of the tradition in the Royal Ark Mariner and the Ancient and Accepted Rite.

The tradition records that Lamech's four children, who were the founders of the crafts, "knew well that God would do vengeance for sin, either by fire or water", thus foreseeing the flood of Noah's time. They therefore determined to preserve the seven liberal arts and sciences against such a calamity by inscribing them on two pillars, one which would survive a fire and the other which would survive a flood, although accounts of the two materials vary. Some say marble that cannot be burnt and laternes (laterite - a stone formed from clay) that cannot be destroyed by water, whilst others more correctly say that brick resists fire and either marble or brass resists water. Archaeological discoveries reveal that the smelting and casting of copper and the open hearth firing of earthenware were being used in the area by around 7,000 years ago, which is before what probably would be the earliest period of the flood, so that either method of preservation would have been possible. Tradition relates that the knowledge thus preserved was providentially recovered after the flood by Hermes, called the "father of wisdom" and reputedly a descendant of Noah through Shem, who applied it to the benefit of mankind. The moral of this ancient legend is that knowledge and truth must be preserved, but that corruption will be punished.

An apparent problem with this tradition is that the oldest cuneiform inscriptions presently known date from about 5,200 years ago and hieroglyphs from a century or so later, which is after the likely period of the flood. But some pre-flood inscriptions have been found, including a pictographic tablet found by Dr Langdon under the flood deposit at Kish, seals found by Dr Schmidt under the flood layer at Fara and pre-flood seals found by Dr Woolley at Ur. One of the ancient Babylonian kings, Hammurapi who promulgated the famous code of laws around 1750 BC, recorded that "he loved to read the writings of the age before the flood". Hammurapi was a contemporary of Abraham and is usually identified with Amraphel in Genesis 14. When Assur-ban-apli founded Nineveh's great library around 600 BC, he also referred to "inscriptions before the time of the flood". Around 300 BC, the Greek historian Berosus recorded a tradition from the Sumerian accounts, which said that before the flood Xisuthrus, the Babylonian equivalent of Noah, buried the Sacred Writings at Sippar on tablets of baked clay and dug them up afterwards. Finally, there is a tradition among Arabs and Jews that Enoch invented writing and left a number of records.


This part of the traditional history is derived from the biblical account of events that took place in the first few hundred years after the flood, taken from two sections of the book of Genesis, chapter 10, verses 8-13 and chapter 11, verses 2-9, which in the New English Bible translation say: "Cush (who was a son of Ham and a grandson of Noah) was the father of Nimrod, who began to show himself a man of might on earth; and he was a mighty hunter before the Lord, . . . His kingdom in the beginning consisted of Babel, Erech and Accad, all of them in the land of Shinar. From that land he migrated to Asshur and built Nineveh, Rehoboth-Ir, Calah and Resen, a great city between Nineveh and Calah." "As men journeyed in the east, they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. They said to one another, 'Come, let us make bricks and bake them hard'; they used the bricks for stone and bitumen for mortar. 'Come', they said, 'let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens and make a name for ourselves; or we shall be dispersed all over the earth.' . . . So the Lord dispersed them from there all over the earth and they left off building the city. That is why it is called Babel, because the Lord made there a babble of the language of all the world; from that place the Lord scattered men all over the face of the earth."

Archaeological investigations reveal that the ziggurat known as the Tower of Babel was constructed in the manner described in Genesis. Ziggurat is derived from the Assyro-Babylonian word ziqquratu which means a pinnacle or mountain top and denotes a sacred temple tower. The traditional site of the tower is one at Borsippa, about 15 kilometres south-west of the centre of Babylon (ancient Babel). An inscribed cylinder found by Sir Henry Rawlinson in a foundation corner states that a former king completed the tower to a height of 42 cubits, but that it fell into ruins in ancient times. It further states that the brickwork and roofing tiles were rebuilt as new at the behest of Marduk, restoring the tower as it was in remote days. Marduk or Merodach was the Babylonian God that Nimrod was said to be in human form. Tradition records that masons were first made much of at the building of the Tower of Babel and that Nimrod, the great King of Babylon, was himself a Master Mason who loved the craft and made the masons Free Men and Free Masons in his kingdom. Tradition also records that when Nimrod sent sixty lodges of masons to build Nineveh and the other cities of the east, he gave them a Charter and the Charges of Nimrod, which reputedly are those set out in the Old Charges. When an apprentice was indentured in an English operative lodge, his obligation traditionally was called the "oath of Nimrod".


The traditional history relates how Abraham, who was born at Ur of the Chaldees in southern Babylonia about 2160 BC, responded to the Lord's call recorded in the New English Bible translation of the book of Genesis, chapter 12, verses 1-4: "The Lord said to Abraham 'Leave your own country, your kinsmen and your father's house and go to a country that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, I will bless you and make your name great . . .' And so Abraham set out . . ." Although he lived in a world of idolatry Abraham was not an idolater, but believed in one God. He set out from Ur in search of the land where he could build a nation free from idolatry, reaching the ancient caravan city of Haran 1,000 kilometres to the north-west about 2110 BC, where he stayed for many years. After the death of his father Terah, he travelled south-east and reached Shechem in Canaan about 2085 BC, where he built an altar to God as he did later at Bethel and also at Hebron. Because of the famine in Canaan he continued on into Egypt.

Tradition says the patriarchs taught the seven liberal arts and sciences in Egypt, where Euclid was a worthy scholar who subsequently was commissioned by the king to teach the sons of royalty the science of geometry and the practice of masonry and all manner of worthy works. This is entirely allegorical, because Euclid was not born until about 330 BC. In fact, one of the first Greek scholars to visit and study in Egypt was Thales of Miletus, who was born about 630 BC. When he returned from Egypt he was well versed in the techniques of Egyptian geometry. The Egyptians knew from their experience in building that a triangle with two sides of equal length also had two equal angles adjacent to them. They also knew that a triangle with sides three, four and five units long had a right angle opposite the long side. Thales devised a practical proof for the properties of an isosceles triangle, but it was Pythagoras, born about sixty years after Thales, who was credited with being the first to prove the famous theorem of a right angled triangle, that the square of the hypothenuse equals the sum of the squares of the other two sides. However it was Euclid who formulated the theorems, including his Forty-seventh Proposition for a right-angled triangle, which are still used as a basis for teaching classical geometry.


This major episode in the traditional history could be regarded as the culminating component, because it is a foundation for all instruction in moral precepts that were imparted in the degrees of operative masonry. To appreciate this section of the traditional history in its proper context, it would be pertinent to comment on the ceremonials within which the degrees of operative masonry were conferred. They were conducted in a specifically historical setting in which the candidate personified a "living stone" being wrought from the rough, as prepared in the quarry, to a state of perfection fit for erection in the most glorious of all temples. In each degree the candidate represented a particular stone in the construction of King Solomon's temple at Jerusalem. He was required symbolically to undergo the preparation of that stone, its testing prior to use and its erection in the temple. Each degree related to relevant passages in the scriptures and was explained in practical terms with reference to the work of an operative mason. The appropriate working tools also were introduced and their practical uses and moral interpretations were explained.

The discourse in the traditional history is taken directly from the scriptural record of King David's desire to build a temple at Jerusalem, the preparations he made for its construction and its construction by King Solomon with the assistance of Hiram King of Tyre and Hiram Abif, the son of a widow of the Hebrew tribe of Dan and of a Tyrian father. Hiram Abif was the man of great skill and ingenuity sent by King Hiram to execute the principal works of the interior of the temple and the various utensils required for the sacred services. Adoniram was the official appointed by King Solomon to superintend the monthly levies of ten thousand men working in relays in Lebanon. All of this is described I Kings chapters 5-10, I Chronicles chapters 21-22 and 28-29 and II Chronicles chapters 1-9. The following especially relevant extracts are taken from the New English Bible translation of II Chronicles chapter 3 verse 1, I Kings chapter 5 verse 17 and I Kings chapter 6 verse 7: "Then Solomon began to build the house of the Lord in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the Lord had appeared to his father David, on the site which David had prepared on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite." "By the king's orders they quarried huge, massive blocks for laying the foundation of the Lord's house in hewn stone." "In the building of the house, only blocks of dressed stone direct from the quarry were used; no hammer or axe or any iron tool whatever was heard in the house while it was being built."

The Old Charges variously refer to the master of geometry and chief master of all masons as Aynon, Agnon, Ajuon or Dyon, whom they call the son of the King of Tyre, although the context suggests that Hiram Abif is the person referred to. It seems that the word could have been a corruption of the Hebrew word Adon which signifies Lord, so that the title could refer to Adon Hiram, or even to Adoniram with whom he is sometimes confused, though the latter seems less likely. Another possible interpretation is the old use of Anon or Anonym signifying one whose name is not divulged and from which the modern anonymous is derived. Whatever the derivation of Anon, he takes on a purely allegorical mantle after the completion of the temple at Jerusalem and is credited with travelling to many lands with other masons to practice and teach the craft, thus introducing masonry into Europe and Britain.


The allegorical story of Aynon is taken up in France under about twenty-five different variations of what most probably was intended to be the same name, among which Naymus Graecus and Maynus Grecus possibly are the best known, although in the second edition of the Constitutions of the premier Grand Lodge, Dr James Anderson refers to him as Ninus. When Pythagoras established his famous school at Crotona in about 530 BC and later in other cities, Greece was known as Magna Graecia, or "Greater Greece", which included Asia Minor, southern Italy and Sicily and continued from the settlement of Syracuse around 750 BC until the Punic Wars 264-241 BC. Pythagoras, who taught geometry and philosophy and established a comprehensive system of symbolism to explain his esoteric teachings, has a legendary connection with masonry which he is supposed to have introduced into France.

It seems highly likely that Naymus Graecus and its variants were corruptions of Magna Graecia, arising from the legendary connection between Pythagoras and masonry. In any event, the legend says that "a curious mason named Naymus Graecus, who had been at the making of Solomon's Temple, came into France and there taught the craft of masonry". The legend then includes an anomaly similar to that of Euclid in Egypt, asserting that a person of French royal blood, Charles Martel, had learned the craft from Naymus Graecus and "loved it well", establishing masonry in France with good methods of payment. Charles Martel (688-741) was known as Charles the Hammer and although not actually the king of France, he was a notable soldier and ruled France under the title "Mayor of the Palace".


The historian Rebold says of Charles Martel that "at the request of the Anglo-Saxon kings, he sent workmen and masters into England", which is the reason why medieval operative masons in England regarded Charles Martel as one of their patrons and included him in the traditional history. The traditional history continues with an allegorical account of the establishment of masonry in England and the fixing of good rates of pay. Briefly, it says that England was pagan and had neither masonry nor the ancient charges until the time of St Alban, when a worthy knight who was chief steward to the king constructed the town walls. He is said to have cherished the masons for their good work, on which account he obtained from the king and his counsel a charter, naming the masons an Assembly. He also gave them charges and doubled their wages, which previously had been only a penny a day throughout the whole land. The early background to St Albans is worth recounting.

St Albans is the successor of the important Roman-British town of Verulamium, which according to the records of the Roman historian Tacitus may have been one of the few examples in Britain of a municipium, wherein the inhabitants had the same rights as the citizens of Rome. The town owes its name to St Alban, a Roman soldier who was the first Christian martyr in England, beheaded in 303 for giving refuge to St Amphibalus, the priest who had converted him to Christianity. In about 793 Offa, the king of Mercia, founded a Benedictine abbey in honour of St Alban. It rose to such great power end wealth that its abbot was the premier abbot in England from 1154 to 1396. Another contemporaneous legend says that the emperor Gordianus (244-238 BC) sent many architects into England, and that they constituted lodges and instructed the craftsmen in the true principles of freemasonry. It also says that a few years later, when Carausius (293-287 BC) was emperor in Britain, he was a lover of the craft and appointed Albanus as Grand Master of Masons, who employed the fraternity in building the palace of Verulamium. Despite the obvious discrepancies in the dates, it is a fact that architecture and the craft of masonry were first encouraged in England during the third century and that the earliest masons came from Europe.

In the light of the early history of St Albans, it is not surprising that its establishment features in the traditional story of the origins of operative masonry in England. Some researchers are of the opinion that the increase in wages attributed to the time of St Alban was the increase that came into effect after the period of the Black Death, the bubonic plague that swept through Asia and Europe and reached England in 1348. Because of the unprecedented demand for labour in the aftermath of the Black Death, a Statute of Labourers was enacted in 1350 to regulate wages and prevent extortionate pricing. The wages of a master freestone mason were then fixed at four pence per day and of other masons at three pence per day, which are much higher than those referred to in the traditional history, strongly suggesting that there were two different events, that in the traditional history occurring much earlier. Some have expressed the opinion that the Statute establishes that the traditional history is a product of the period shortly after the Black Death, but it seems most unlikely to have been compiled at a time of such misfortune and labour shortage. In any event, it almost certainly is a collection of oral traditions that had evolved over a long period.

The traditional history concludes with the legend of an Assembly held at York in 926 during the reign of King Athelstan, whose half-brother Edwin (often called his son), had learnt geometry and the mason's craft, then prevailed upon the king to issue a Charter for the masons and a Commission to hold an annual Assembly. There is no known record of the Assembly, but a tradition handed down for many centuries often has a basis in fact. In any event, the continuing association of York with masonry began with the conversion to Christianity of the Northumbrian king, Prince Edwin, by his Kentish wife. He was baptised on Easter Day 627 by Paulinus, the first Bishop of York, in a wooden chapel on the site of the present Minster. The Venerable Bede, a renowned historian who lived in the Jarrow monastery on Tyneside from 682 until his death in 735, records that Edwin replaced the chapel with a stone church which became the centre of the Bishopric, but it was burned down about 741 and replaced by a magnificent stone church ruined around 1080, following the Norman Conquest. After progressive rebuilding, the York Minster was erected between 1220 and 1474.

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Ceremonial preparation is an ancient rite that has its origins shrouded in the mists of time. In every period, from the primeval ages of the most primitive races to this modern era of diverse and sophisticated peoples, some form of preparation has been required and continues to be required of candidates for acceptance into many of the broad spectrum of our religious organisations, sects and societies. Lengthy and arduous preparation, which usually involved fasting and frequently involved danger, was a prerequisite for admission into the ancient Mysteries. Severe personal trials also must be completed for initiation into many African, Australian, South American and other aboriginal tribes. Ceremonial preparation frequently includes washing, or an equivalent symbolic purification, followed by the wearing of a special garment such as a white robe to signify that the candidate has completed the purification process. Ceremonial preparation is an integral part of many religious ceremonies as diverse as the Jewish bar mitzvah, Christian baptism and the Islamic hadj.

In the Mysteries of Osiris in Egypt, Mithras in Persia, Eleusis in Greece, the Druids of Britain and Gaul and many others, as much care was taken with the preparation of the candidate as with the initiation ceremonies that followed. It is recorded in the Scriptures that great care also was taken in respect of the personal condition of every Israelite who entered the tabernacle or temple for Divine worship. In a similar manner, Muslims are required to wash their hands and remove their shoes before entering the mosque for prayers. The traditional preparation of a candidate for initiation into modern speculative Freemasonry obviously has been influenced by these ancient practices, although it was derived more directly from the usages and customs in operative lodges, which have been modified and extended. The mode of preparation is entirely symbolic, with every part conveying an important message. It is an essential part of a candidate's initiation and is one of the most delicate duties to be performed, because of the lasting impression it will create in the candidate's mind.


The rituals of the operative Free Masons were based on Biblical events. Nimrod, the renowned hunter who also was the first great builder mentioned in the Scriptures, plays an important role in the ancient traditions. The floor work in the several operative degrees is based symbolically on the procedures used during the erection of the temple at Jerusalem for King Solomon. In each degree the candidate personifies a particular stone used in the construction of the temple, on the basis of which he receives moral instruction, is gauged and must pass the test. Whilst being conducted around the candidate's track, from which the perambulations in a speculative lodge were derived, the candidate is required to take steps that symbolise either the placement of the stones in a particular course or the measurement of the relevant dimensions. The steps used in a speculative lodge to approach the altar for obligation are not used in operative lodges.

In operative lodges the initiate was "neither naked nor clad" and wore a special white garment or "toga candida" to give effect to that description. "Candidate" derives from the Latin and originally meant "clothed in white", from the Roman custom of requiring candidates for office to wear a "toga candida" in the form of a white robe. In the old operative lodges, candidates were examined by the Fraternity's physician to ensure that they were "perfect in all their parts". If found to be whole and physically fit and accepted by the brethren and fellows of the lodge, the candidate was required to bathe seven times and to be clothed in the "toga candida". He was then conducted around the lodge to prove to the brethren and fellows that he was "properly prepared" and "fit and proper" to be admitted to the Fraternity. In contrast to speculative practice, candidates in operative lodges were specially prepared only for their initiation, being clothed in the apron of their degree for later advancements.


In operative lodges the candidate for initiation usually was a young teenager seeking his first employment, who therefore was poor and penniless. Towards the end of the initiation ceremony the new apprentice would be asked how he would subsist until he drew his first wages. On receiving the inevitable response, the master would have a collection taken on the new apprentice's behalf, relieving him of his embarrassment and illustrating the generosity of the Fraternity. The apprentice then received a brief homily on the importance of service and charity in the Fraternity. As candidates for initiation in speculative lodges cannot be in a similar situation, they are divested of all metals so that a similar moral can be imparted. The lesson simply is that a man should not be esteemed on account of his worldly possessions, but that when he is in need he should be assisted to the extent that prudence and the capacity to assist will allow.


In all of the ancient Mysteries the aspirant was shrouded in darkness for long periods, most commonly deep within a cave, when he was required to fast and undergo a series of trials and afflictions. In the rites of Mithras around 5000EBC and in the Eleusian rites around 1800EBC, the aspirants endured fifty and twenty-seven days respectively in darkness, to remind them of their inherently wicked nature and prepare them by solitary contemplation for the full light of knowledge. The hoodwink represents that darkness and also is a mystical reminder to the candidate that he is lost without the light that comes from above. The removal of the hoodwink signifies that the candidate has acquired the right attitude of soul that will lead him quickly from darkness to everlasting light, as symbolised in JohnE1,EvE5, which in the New English Version of the Bible says: "The light shines on in the dark and the darkness has never mastered it". The hoodwink is also a symbol of silence and secrecy.


In operative Lodges the candidate was fully restrained and guided by pairs of ropes held by four members, who thus conducted him into and around the Lodge. One of the ropes was a cable tow, which seems to have been used the same way in the ancient Mysteries. This symbolism is very old and has been found around the world. In some Temples in Egypt, the bas reliefs show candidates being led into the Mysteries by a cable tow. A vase found in Mexico depicts several candidates going through a similar ceremony, each having a cable tow with a running noose round his neck A cable tow was also used by the ancient Israelites when leading their victims for the burnt sacrifice to and around the altar, whence it became known as an emblem of death.. The cable tow obviously provides a means of restraint until the candidate has taken his obligation. As an emblem of death the cable tow also signifies that the candidate is prepared to sacrifice his old life to gain a new and higher one, that spiritual rebirth achieved in his search for the Light and symbolised by his initiation.

After admission into the Fraternity, the cable tow should be a continuing reminder to every freemason that he is bound to attend and serve his Lodge, "if within the length of his cable tow". This is derived from operative practice, in which the cable tow was replaced by a blue cord after the candidate had been obligated and had signed his indenture. The Indentured Apprentice was required to wear that cord for the full seven years of his apprenticeship, as a constant reminder of his bond to the Fraternity. The blue colour of the cord was a token of the universal friendship the Apprentice would always find within the Fraternity. In the Irish working the candidate wears the cable tow as an emblem of servitude until he is about to take his obligation. It is then removed by the conductor and thrown contemptuously onto the floor behind the candidate, who is informed that none but a free man may be made a freemason. In some old Scottish and related workings the cable tow is wound three times round the neck in the first degree, twice in the second degree and once in the third degree, symbolising a progressive reduction in the "bondage of ignorance".


The use of the right hand as a token of sincerity and as a pledge of fidelity is ancient and universal. For example the members of many Indian tribes of Central and North America, when preparing for their sacred dances, apply the mark of the right hand to their naked bodies by smearing them with white or coloured clay, to demonstrate their sincerity and allegiance to their Deity. We also know from the Scriptures that the Israelites, from the time of Abraham to the days of Saint Paul, considered the right hand to be an emblem of truth and fidelity. Among the Hebrews "iamin" signified the right hand, which was derived from "aman" meaning to be faithful. Among the Romans "jungere dextras" meant to join the right hands and thereby to give a mutual pledge. Among the Persians and the Parthians the right hands were joined by those entering into a pact, to signify that they had taken an inviolable obligation of fidelity. In ancient days, before printed books were available, operative masons took their obligations with their right hands placed on a cubic stone on the altar. This was the custom in Biblical days, when it was deemed essential that nothing should be interposed between the flesh and the stone. When printed books became available, operative masons were obligated supporting a copy of the Holy Book on the left hand with the right hand placed upon it, from which is derived the Scottish practice.

In masonic preparation the right arm is made bare as a token of sincerity and to signify that an obligation of fidelity is being taken. The right arm is used for the reasons already mentioned and also because, from time immemorial, the right side has been regarded as the stronger or masculine side. Plato was the first to rationalise this belief, when he expressed his opinion that the right side is the stronger because it is used more than the left. By way of interest, this is supported by statistics, which indicate that at least 90% of the members of the human race use their right hand as their working and therefore stronger hand. The bare right arm also demonstrates that no weapon of offence or defence is being carried, because neither is required when within the lodge. Whilst the usual convention is for a sword to be worn on the left side so as to be readily available for use in the strong right hand, it is a traditional belief that small weapons usually are concealed in the right sleeve.


As a corollary to the ancient belief that the right side is the stronger, so the left side is considered to be the weaker. In the symbolism of Freemasonry, the candidate is taking his first or weakest step when he is being initiated, therefore it logically follows that an apprentice is typified by the left side. It is for this reason that in speculative lodges the initiate kneels on his bare left knee. The progressive kneeling postures adopted in speculative lodges were not derived from operative practice, but they probably are intended to reflect the symmetry of nature and to symbolise the progressive character of freemasonry, as well as reminding the candidate of the posture of his daily supplications that are due to the Creator. In operative lodges the candidate was required to kneel with both knees bare on the rough ashlar stone, so that nothing was interposed between his flesh and the stone. This perpetuated the ancient concept that the strength and stability of the stone would thereby be communicated to the candidate, so that an oath taken on a stone would be inviolable.


From the most ancient times it has been customary, as a token of respect, to remove the shoes before stepping onto holy ground. The practice is mentioned many times in the Bible, on the first occasion when Moses saw the burning bush and the angel of the Lord said to him: "put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground". In most Eastern countries it is customary to remove the shoes before entering a temple, as the Muslims do before entering a mosque. The Druids practised the same custom when celebrating their sacred rites. The ancient Peruvians are said always to have removed their shoes before entering their magnificent temple consecrated to the worship of the sun. In Freemasonry the candidate is considered to be on holy ground when taking his obligation and therefore symbolically is required to "slip his shoes from off his feet". It also was an ancient custom among the Hebrews, when sealing a bargain and "confirming all things", to hand over a shoe, as recorded in the Bible in relation to Boaz and Ruth. Symbolically, the "slipshod heel" might be regarded as equivalent to removing the shoes on holy ground, as well as ratifying the obligation taken by the candidate. The custom is derived only indirectly from the practice in operative lodges, where the candidate for initiation must slip off both his shoes at the appropriate time in the ceremony. Later he is also required to remove and hand over his left shoe to confirm his obligation.

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Under most jurisdictions, every speculative craft lodge has three movable and three immovable jewels, on which the brethren are intended to moralise. They are the square, the level, the plumb rule, the rough ashlar, the perfect ashlar and the tracing board. An eminent masonic writer, the Rev Dr George Oliver (1782-1867), said they are called jewels because "they have a moral tendency which renders them jewels of inestimable value". It is interesting to note that the square, the level and the plumb rule are called movable jewels in the English system, because they are transferred to the incoming master and his wardens each year, whereas in the American system they are called immovable, because the square is assigned to the east of the lodge, the level to the west and the plumb rule to the south. In the English system the ashlars and the tracing board are called immovable jewels, probably because in the early speculative period they tended to be located in particular parts of the lodge, but in the American system they are called movable, because they may be placed in any convenient position which varies from lodge to lodge.

Having regard to the allegorical importance assigned to the jewels of the lodge, it is surprising that the authors of the early speculative rituals did not indicate what they considered to be the most appropriate positions for the immovable jewels to be placed in the lodge. Nor has the United Grand Lodge of England ever issued a ruling on the subject. As a consequence, enquiring masons cannot find a definitive answer to their questions concerning the placement of the tracing board and the ashlars. In practice they are to be seen in various locations, which often is only a matter of convenience, but may be part of the tradition relating to the particular ritual being worked or the custom in the individual lodge, district or jurisdiction. In this regard it is interesting to note that Irish lodges do not have a tracing board.


The jewels of modern lodges of speculative freemasonry have come down to us from the usages and customs of operative free masons in earlier times. In operative lodges a particular stone was used as an emblem in each of the working degrees. The candidate was told, at an appropriate stage in the ceremony, that he represented that stone being wrought from its rough hewn condition, as brought from the quarries, to a state of perfection suitable for erection as a "living stone" in that most glorious of all Temples, "that house not made with hands eternal in the heavens". Each degree also had a representative jewel, which was a miniature representation of one of the gauges used to test the stone and the work of the degree. The ceremonies in operative lodges reflected the various stages in the preparation, testing and erection of stones in the temple of King Solomon at Jerusalem, emphasising their purpose and importance in the structure. The symbolic teachings also were based on the preparation, testing and incorporation of the stones in the structure. The several types of stones and the working tools and gauges used in their preparation, testing and erection, therefore were of particular significance to the operative mason.

During his progress through the several degrees, the candidate in a lodge of operative free masons was tested on the work he had prepared in the preceding degree, before being instructed in the work and the use of the gauges in the next degree. When a Fellow of the Craft had proved his ability to produce perfect ashlar stones, he was entrusted with the square, the level and the plumb rule as proof of his ability, but not as jewels of the degree. Operative degrees beyond that of a Fellow of the Craft were related to increasing levels of supervision, with special duties and responsibilities attaching to the rank. A Fellow of the Craft in operative free masonry was a master mason in respect of his capabilities, but the title of Master Mason was usually reserved for the mason who had overall responsibility for a job. The Master Mason frequently was the chief officer of a lodge carrying out work under day labour in England, or the proprietor of a lodge carrying out work under contract in Scotland. Some of these operative aspects are reflected in the degrees of other branches of freemasonry, for which membership of a speculative craft lodge is a prerequisite. However, the direct relationship between the purpose for which a particular stone is used and its symbolic meaning is no longer a significant part of the work in speculative craft freemasonry. Nor do the speculative craft degrees have jewels equivalent to those of the operative degrees.

The jewels of the master and wardens of modern speculative lodges are derived from the insignia of office worn by their counterparts in the old operative lodges. They also are the working tools of a speculative Fellowcraft Freemason, which might seem to be an anomaly, but it must be remembered that in operative days a Fellow of the Craft was a fully qualified craftsman. In operative lodges the rough ashlar typified the Apprentice and the perfect ashlar typified the Fellow of the Craft. Candidates for admission as an Apprentice were placed in the north-east corner, but qualified Fellows of the Craft seeking further advancement were placed in the south-east corner, from which is derived the practice of seating speculative Apprentices and Fellowcrafts in those corners. In speculative lodges the rough and perfect ashlars are often placed in the north-east and south-east corners, but in some lodges they are placed in front of the Junior and Senior Wardens respectively. In some constitutions the jewels of the deacons also are derived from operative practice, such as the maul of the senior deacon and the trowel of the junior deacon in Scottish lodges.


One of the earliest known references to the jewels of the lodge is to be found in the records of operative free masonry in Scotland, the Edinburgh Register House MS dated 1696, which is endorsed "Some Questions Anent the Mason Word". It is a catechism which sets out fifteen questions that must be put to a mason who claims to have the Word, as well as the answers he was required to give before he could be acknowledged as a mason. To the question: "Are there jewells in your lodge?" the reply was: "Yes three, perpend esler, a square pavement and a broad ovall." Every freemason will be familiar with the square pavement, but the other two may not be known to him. The perpend esler or ashlar is an important stone used in the construction of masonry walls, but it is not the perfect ashlar stone required to be produced by a Fellow of the Craft as a test piece in operative lodges. Nevertheless the early speculative freemasons called it a perfect ashlar, possibly mistaking perpend for perfect. In speculative lodges the perpend ashlar was later replaced with the finely polished cubical stone used in modern lodges. The square pavement, to which a great deal of symbolism attaches, is no longer called a jewel and is included in the furniture of the lodge. The broad ovall is one of a multitude of names by which the broached thurnel appears to have been known and will be discussed later.

The perpend ashlar is commonly called a header and is usually three units long and one unit square in cross-section. It passes through the wall from the inside face to the outside face, tying the leaves of the wall together for added strength. The end faces of a perpend ashlar are dressed to conform with the surface finishes of the exposed faces of the walls, but all other faces are broached or scabbled to provide a good bond with the courses of stone through which it passes. The running stone used in wall construction is a similar stone, but it is broached for bonding on all faces except those to be exposed, which are dressed accordingly. At the end of his training in the old operative lodges and before he could be passed as a Fellow of the Craft, an apprentice was required to produce a satisfactory rough dressed ashlar, usually three units long and one unit square in cross-section, suitable for finishing as a perpend ashlar or a running stone. Before being allowed to take charge of the fitting and marking of stones for erection in the structure, an experienced Fellow of the Craft was required to prove his capabilities by producing a perfect ashlar as a test piece. It was similar to the rough dressed ashlar, but fully dressed and polished on all faces.

In the early 1700s, when an apprentice was being tested on the catechisms in a speculative craft lodge he would be asked: "What are the immovable jewels?", to which the answer was: "The trasel board, rough ashlar and broached thurnel". The word trasel, which is sometimes corrupted to tarsel, comes from the Old French through the Middle French trestel, which signified a bar or beam supported by legs, whence is derived the English trestle. The trasel board was the trestle table on which sketches were drawn, or over which the plans were spread. The trasel must not be confused with the indented tassel or indented tarsel in the old catechisms, which comes from the Old French tassel through the Middle English, among other things signifying an ornamental piece of fabric, the tassel or ornamental tuft of threads in modern English. It is interesting to note that a torsel, which is a plate supporting the end of a beam in a brick wall, is also called a tassel, but it comes from the French tasseau signifying a bracket. Although most of the practical aspects of these jewels have been omitted from the speculative explanation, the philosophical aspects of the instructions given in operative days have been incorporated and expanded upon.

It is generally accepted that the rough ashlar refers to a rough hewn stone as brought from the quarries, which in olden times was cut one eighth to one sixteenth of an inch over the required finished measure. However, the meaning of the broached thurnel in the catechism is uncertain. It seems most likely to have been derived from the Scottish operative masons to whom broach meant to rough hew, or to groove or scarify. A broaching thurmal, broaching thurmer or broaching turner was the chisel used to carry out broaching work. One form of the broaching thurmal is a narrow serrated chisel similar in many respects to the scutch, a cutting and dressing tool used by a bricklayer, probably is derived from the Old French escousser meaning to shake off. Thus the three immovable jewels referred to in the old catechisms of an apprentice logically symbolised the instructions he received for the work, represented by the trasel board; the tools he used to execute the work, represented by the broached thurnel; and his finished product, the rough ashlar. Another possible derivation of thurnel is as a variation of the French tournelle, which means a turret, because the word was in common use in England in various forms from about 1400 until at least the 1750s.

Yet another suggested derivation is from the German thurm, which means a tower, because that word also was in general use in England during the same period. Moreover, it is likely that the French tournelle and German thurm have a common ancestry, from which the Scottish thurmal or thurmer may also have been derived. In any event, the cutting face of one form of the chisel used as a broaching thurmal is somewhat similar in appearance to a small castellated turret when viewed from above. Very early French tracing boards and some of their contemporaneous English counterparts depicted a cubical stone surmounted by a pyramid, not unlike a squat church tower with a tall spire, which also was called a broached thurnel in English speculative lodges. This stone is still retained on French tracing boards, but long ago disappeared from English tracing boards. French freemasons have always referred to this stone as "la pierre cubique a pointe", literally meaning a pointed square stone. The original French ritual, still in use, explains that it is a model of a spire or turret, whose various outlines provide a means of teaching the apprentice the forms of the square, triangle, cube and pyramid. Whatever the derivation and intended symbolism of the broached thurnel in the old English lodges and the broaching thurmal in the old Scottish lodges, it had disappeared from use by 1720.

The sequence of events by which the rough ashlar and the cubical perfect ashlar became jewels in modern speculative lodges was progressive in nature, varying from location to location and from lodge to lodge, with no clear boundaries between one usage and another. Not only are the available records scarce, but such as are available often do not record the actual dates when one custom lapsed or another was introduced. It is not clear why the perpend ashlar came to be replaced by the cubical perfect ashlar, nor when the change was made. All that can be said with certainty is that the cubical perfect ashlar seems to have been in general use in English speculative lodges by 1800. The perpend ashlar is an emblem of perfection and strength, coupled with the bonds of brotherly love. This is much more expressive than the cubical perfect ashlar as a symbol which illustrates the advancement of an apprentice from the rough and unpolished state to the state of discipline and education that is the hallmark of an experienced craftsman. As the bonding of men in friendship is an important objective of speculative freemasonry, it is a great pity that the perpend ashlar of operative masonry is no longer one of the jewels of the lodge.


Tracing boards were an important piece of equipment in all lodges of operative free masons. The inventory of stores recorded in the Fabric Rolls of the York Minster in 1399 include "ij tracying bordes". In lodges of operative free masons the locations of the tracing boards was entirely a matter of convenience to suit the work, but there would be at least one in the office the Super Intendent of Work in the stone yard and at the building site. During the construction of large buildings, such as cathedrals, there usually were drafting offices as well as the site offices. The practical tuition given in conjunction with the ceremonial work of an operative lodge, customarily commencing at noon on the sixth day of the week, was carried out with the aid of a plan sketched on the floor or a drawing laid on a trestle board, usually in the centre of the lodge room so that those under instruction could gather round it.

In operative lodges the tracing board was used to give practical instruction to the candidates in the development of the required shapes of stones, in the preparation of the required templates and in the marking out of stones appropriate to the work of the degree. It was also used to illustrate the setting out of the work and to show how the stones should be assembled in the structure. In the early speculative lodges it was customary to draw a plan on the floor of the lodge room using chalk, charcoal and any other suitable medium, much as would have been done in an operative lodge. Like the drawings of the operative masons, they were placed in any convenient location where the members could gather round. This practice continued until painted or printed pictures of the "floor drawings" or "floorcloths" first became available around 1744 in France and 1760 in England. The location of modern tracing boards at the western end of the squared pavement, or in any other position offering a clear view, has become acceptable and is in keeping with ancient practice.

The oldest known set of speculative tracing boards in Great Britain belongs to Lodge Faithful, which was founded at Norwich in 1753 and now meets at Harleston in Norfolk. These boards are dated 1800 and depict the modern form of rough and perfect ashlars on the First Degree board. The modern ashlars are also depicted on a set of tracing boards painted by William Dight in 1808 for the Lodge of Unanimity and Sincerity, which meets at Taunton. A set of tracing boards painted for the Chichester Lodge in 1811 by Josiah Bowring, a portrait painter of London, also depicts the modern ashlars. These boards appear to be the prototypes of the famous set painted by John Harris in 1821, from which most modern tracing boards are derived. The rough ashlar on tracing boards is usually placed at the foot of the Corinthian column representing the Junior Warden, who traditionally is in charge of the apprentices. The perfect ashlar is usually placed at the foot of the Doric column representing the Senior Warden, who traditionally is in charge of the craftsmen.

During the evolution of speculative freemasonry, there was a significant tendency to rearrange the symbolism and related rituals of operative free masonry, in what might best be described as a perceived orderliness and regularity. This may have been the underlying objective in replacing the perpend ashlar with the cubic perfect ashlar, perhaps influenced by a work entitled The First and Chief Groundes of Archytecture published by Ihon Shute, Paynter and Archytecte in 1563 and reprinted in 1912. Early speculative freemasons included many erudite scholars who shaped our rituals in conformity with the literary English of the day. Among them, no doubt, would have been some who were familiar with Shute's work, in which he offers the injunction that "Ye shall make a four square stone like unto a dye" and continues with a description of the origin and rise of the architectural orders, which is repeated in virtually the same language in some of the old masonic lectures.

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Civilisation began when the stone age hunter gatherers first captured wild animals for domestication, established grazing and developed agriculture. From that time, the development of civilisation was directly related to the progressive improvements in masonry that enabled better buildings to be erected and more effective irrigation schemes and other facilities to be constructed. With the advance of civilisation, humans developed a consciousness of their mental and emotional life and also began to differentiate between their physical beings, their minds and their spirits. This evolution of the human psyche awakened a belief in the existence of some higher controlling power which, though unseen, was felt to have a direct connection with emotion and morality. Thus evolved the concept of god and a complementary human soul. Various rites of worship developed as a natural outcome of these emotional and spiritual processes, whence religions came into existence. As the nomads developed a more settled life, religious leaders soon demanded permanent and more substantial places of worship, which only the masons could construct. Hence masonry, which first evolved to supply some of mankind's material requirements, also became an indispensable agent of religion to provide for some of mankind's spiritual needs.


In the context of this discussion, freemasonry means the system of moral teaching and its associated traditions and rituals that, in earlier times, were a significant component of day to day life in lodges of operative masons and are now incorporated in the ceremonies of modern speculative Freemasonry. When compiling the rituals used in modern Freemasonry, the emerging speculative masons defined freemasonry as a peculiar system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols. The authors based the ceremonial procedures on those used in operative lodges, adapting them for use in social surroundings instead of in a working environment. Although the fundamental elements of operative practice were retained, the explanations became more erudite and were expressed more verbosely. When operative masons were receiving instruction, the practical applications of their working tools and the methods to be used when carrying out the work were of primary importance, but those applications and methods were also used symbolically to give moral instruction. In speculative lodges the emphasis is reversed.

The ability of medieval operative masons to devise ceremonials similar to those used in modern speculative lodges has often been questioned. Even a masonic writer as eminent as A.E.Waite could not imagine how "horny handed labourers" could have developed a system of symbolism and philosophy to give moral instruction within the lodge. A most improbable solution was offered by R.F.Gould, the renowned masonic historian, who thought that operative masons might have accepted "gentlemen" into their ranks to transform the operative craft into a speculative art. Both writers seem to have overlooked the fact that the members of medieval operative lodges included many skilled artificers who were required to work as much with their brains as with their hands. They were supervised by Master Masons of superior knowledge and skill, well versed in religious matters, the graphic arts, sculpture and geometry, as well as in the manual aspects of their trade. It should also be remembered that medieval operative masons were living in an era when the rituals of the church were becoming established, when Passion Plays were a regular feature of religious observances and pageantry was a part of everyday life. All of these factors would have encouraged the development of ritual within the lodges. The undoubted capabilities of the operative masons in all aspects of the design, construction and symbolic adornment of ecclesiastical buildings were confirmed by the Council of Nicea in 787, when it ruled that "the arrangement belongs to the clergy and the execution to the artist".


Compacted earth was first used by Advanced Hunters of the Near East to construct primitive circular dwellings about 12,000 years ago. They soon added stone footings, set in hard clay, which improved stability and provided protection against the exceptionally high runoffs that were occurring during the melt down after the last great Ice Age. With the discovery of mud brick production, building erection was greatly enhanced, ushering in the Agricultural Revolution started by the Late Hunters in the New Stone Age. A pre-eminent example of early advances in masonry is a township of some four hectares constructed at Jericho around 8000 BC. It included a group of round beehive houses of mud brick, at least one round defensive stone tower and a massive stone wall surrounding the development. Undressed water-worn stones were used, but they were split to provide a stable laying surface and were carefully set in hard clay. The earliest known religious buildings were constructed around 6500 BC at ?atal H?y?k in Turkey. The intimate association of masonry with religion was firmly established in Mesopotamia when the Sumerians constructed a continuous series of temples at Eridu, dating from 5500 BC or earlier until about 3000 BC.

The first religious structure mentioned in the Bible, the temple-tower or ziggurat called the Tower of Babel, also was constructed during that period, probably some time before 4000 BC. Sumerian tombs in the Royal Cemetery of Ur, constructed between 2700 BC and 2370 BC, are of particular interest because all were roofed in stone and buried deep in the alluvial flood plain. They were of composite construction using limestone masonry, mud brick, kiln fired brick and timber, because the nearest source of rock was at least 60 kilometres away. The earliest tomb had a corbel vault, but later tombs had either barrel vaults or domes with pendentives, the spherical triangular segments that connect square corners to true arches. In Egypt during the same period, massive chambered tombs for royal burials were being constructed of mud brick with flat roofs, called mastaba tombs from the Arabic mastabah meaning a bench. Imhotep, the renowned architect of the pharaoh Zoser, is credited with the invention of stone masonry in Egypt. He was responsible for what is reputed to be the first pyramid constructed of dressed stone, the Step Pyramid built for Zoser at Saqqara around 2650 BC. This was an abrupt departure from the mud brick construction previously used in Egypt.

The three pyramids of Giza are reputed to have been built for Khufu (Cheops), Khafra (Chephren) and Menkaura (Mycerinus) during the period 2500 BC to 2400 BC, but their ages and their assignment to specific pharaohs is based solely on doubtful circumstantial evidence. Mounting evidence implies that these pyramids might date from as early as Tep Zepi, or the First Time of Egypt around 10450 BC. The construction of these three pyramids differs from and is vastly superior to that of all other pyramids in Egypt, most of which have deteriorated badly, many having collapsed into rubble. Unlike the later pyramids, the pyramids of Giza did not contain mummies or funerary objects, nor did they have any hieroglyphic inscriptions or other adornments. There is compelling evidence that the arrangements of the chambers, galleries and shafts in the Great Pyramid of Khufu are of religious significance, reflecting ancient Egyptian beliefs concerning the rebirth of the pharaohs and the transmigration of their souls to the astral plane of the heavenly Duat. The pyramids of Giza incorporate 12 million tonnes of dressed stone, or forty percent of the total mass of the eighty pyramids built in Egypt. Khufu's pyramid is the largest stone structure in the world, incorporating 2.5 million limestone blocks weighing up to 12 tonnes each and laid in 203 courses, accurately fitted without mortar. The 68,000 square metres of external surface was clad with polished limestone facing blocks weighing 15 tonnes each. The Grand Gallery, climbing on a slope of 26.5o to the King's Chamber, is constructed of 30 tonne black granite blocks from Aswan, 750 kilometres to the south. The walls of the King's Chamber comprise 70 tonne blocks of red granite, supporting a flat ceiling of 50 tonne blocks. The Queen's Chamber is constructed of white limestone blocks and has a gabled ceiling exactly on the east-west axis.


Subsequently many magnificent temples of dressed stone also were constructed in Egypt, of which the remarkable complexes at Karnak commenced around 1990 BC and at Abu Simbel commenced around 1200 BC probably are the best known. The first permanent religious structure described in the bible is the temple at Jerusalem, built by King Solomon with the assistance of Hiram King of Tyre and his building specialists and completed around 950 BC. Although the temple building itself was only about 30 metres by 10 metres, very much smaller than any of the temples in Egypt, its opulence has never been surpassed. The layout of the temple was based on an extensive series of Canaanite temples dating from as early as 2500 BC and a later series built by the Phoenicians in Syria from as early as 1400 BC. The Phoenicians then were renowned for their building activities in the Levant and culturally were much more advanced than the Hebrews.

Three centuries after its construction, in the time of Josiah, King Solomon's temple needed extensive repairs which had to be financed by the worshippers. Then in 587 BC the temple was destroyed by Nebuchadrezzar, when he sacked Jerusalem, removed the Ark of the Covenant and deported the remainder of the Hebrews into Babylonish captivity. When Cyrus the Elamite king conquered Babylon in 539 BC and founded the vast Persian Empire, Judea became one of its provinces and remained so for the next 200 years. In 538 BC Cyrus issued a decree releasing the Israelites from their captivity and allowing them to rebuild their temple. Under the leadership of Sheshbazzar or Zerubbabel in 535 BC, Ezra in 458 BC and Nehemiah in 445 BC, about 42,360 Israelites returned to Jerusalem. Rebuilding of the temple soon began under Joshua the high priest, but the many difficulties that were encountered necessitated Zerubbabel's visit to Cyrus and delayed completion of the temple until 515 BC. This second temple, usually called Zerubbabel's, was similar to Solomon's though much less ornate. However it survived for almost 500 years, until the Roman general Pompey captured Jerusalem in 63 BC and the Roman consul Crassus plundered the temple nine years later.

When Antipater, a Jew of Idumaean descent, was appointed procurator of Judea by Julius Caesar in 47 BC, he appointed his son Herod as military prefect of Galilee. The Romans were so impressed by Herod's abilities that they appointed him "King of the Jews" when the Parthians invaded Syria and Palestine in 40 BC. After three years of fighting, culminating with the defeat of Cleopatra and Mark Antony in the battle of Actium, he established his position and ruled as Herod the Great from 37 BC until his death in 4 BC. Herod was an indefatigable builder, who decided to demonstrate his own grandeur by restoring Zerubbabel's temple as a much more beautiful building of twice the area, set in a complex of courtyards covering an area of some ten hectares surrounded by a massive stone wall constructed using blocks usually 1.25 metres high and 4.6 metres long. Herod trained 1,000 priests as masons and also had the work carried out in stages, so that the ritual observances were not interrupted. Although the work was begun in 20 BC and the main structure was completed within ten years, the whole complex was not completed until 64 AD. The temple was burned when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Roman armies in 70 AD.


Greece emerged as a colonising nation around 1100 BC, soon becoming the centre of learning, art and religious thought in the western Mediterranean. The era of classical masonry began with the erection of the first of the Greek stone temples at Corinth and Isthmia some time before 650 BC, where the Doric order originated. The Ionic order was established during the next hundred years, with the construction of the temples at Corfu and Ephesus. The Corinthian order was first used in Delphi around 390 BC. Without doubt the most famous of the classical Greek structures are the Parthenon and its surrounding structures on the Acropolis in Athens, built between 447 BC and 432 BC. The Parthenon was about 115 metres long and 55 metres wide, with a pitched roof and completely surrounded by a colonnade of forty six massive Doric columns. The Parthenon typified the monolithic unity of Greek temples and was the ultimate expression of the Greek city-state. The emphasis which the Greeks placed on the ancient Mysteries continued into the turbulent period of Roman rule and must have had a significant influence on the development of speculative masonic thought, because it is still reflected in masonic ceremonials. Roman architecture owes much to Greek architecture, but it is not simply an extension of it. Probably the two most significant differences are the greater magnitude of the Roman buildings and the more elaborate decoration of their interiors which are designed to match their exteriors and to reflect their imperial pride and growing self awareness.

One of the most interesting examples of Roman masonry is the temple complex at Baalbek, on the site of an ancient holy place of the Canaanites. To provide for greater public participation around 1200 BC, the Canaanites constructed a raised stone court surrounded by a stone wall, thus creating a sanctuary at the centre of which they erected a sacrificial altar, similar to the forecourt used some 250 years later by the priests of King Solomon's temple. Alexander the Great defeated the Persian Empire and entered Egypt in triumph in 332 BC, when the Beqa'a valley became part of the Egyptian Empire and the Ptolemies proposed building a huge temple at Baalbek. However, construction was delayed by disputations with the Seleucids, who won the Beqa'a valley in 198 BC under Antiochus the Great. When the Roman general Pompey occupied Phoenicia in 64 AD, an immense podium with an area of about 17,000 square metres was nearing completion at Baalbek. The Temple of Jupiter on the podium had been under construction for about four years. The structure was completed around 70 AD, but embellishments continued for at least another sixty years. The sandstone foundation courses were laid with the largest stones ever used in masonry construction, perfectly fitted without mortar. They were up to 20 metres long and 4 metres square in cross-section, weighing as much as 800 tonnes each. The temple was surrounded by a colonnade of fifty four of the tallest monolithic columns that exist from antiquity. They were of pink granite from Aswan in upper Egypt, having shafts 16.6 metres high and 2 metres in diameter and weighing 135 tonnes.

The Temple of Bacchus at Baalbek was adjacent to the Temple of Jupiter and similar in construction, but only about half the area. Nevertheless the Temple of Bacchus was larger than the Parthenon of Athens and is still the best preserved of all Roman temples. Also in the Baalbek complex were the much smaller Temple of Venus and Temple of the Muses. The Emperor Constantine declared Christianity to be the religion of the Roman Empire in 313 AD and a Christian church was built in the township, but it was destroyed in 361 AD when Julian "the Apostate" came to power. When Theodosius came to power in 379 AD he destroyed the altar of sacrifice and the observation tower in the Great Court and replaced them with a Christian Basilica that was 63 metres by 36 metres and raised on a podium 2 metres high. However, when Syria became an Arab state in 637 AD, the Basilica was converted into a palace and the Temples of Jupiter and Bacchus were converted into a huge walled fortress with a surrounding moat. The fortress was only abandoned when Baalbek became part of the Ottoman Empire in 1517 AD. To this day the precinct is known to the Arabs as the Kala'a, meaning a fortress.


The final phase in the evolution of speculative freemasonry followed the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. In addition to their work constructing castles, fortifications and other public facilities, the operative masons in Britain and Europe were engaged on an intensive program of cathedral building that continued almost without a break from around 500 until at least 1700. It is not known how many cathedrals were built in Britain and Europe during those 1,200 years of intensive construction, but there were several hundred as well as an even greater number of priories and other ecclesiastical buildings. Most of the finest of those cathedrals have survived the ravages of man and nature and are still in service. The operative or Guild Masons in England were organised with royal approval from at least as early as the Annual Assemblage of 926, which was encouraged and authorised by King Athelstan. The lodges of operative masons assembled under the guardianship of craft guilds, which originally were in the form of religious fraternities that continued until Henry VIII disendowed all religious fraternities by the Act of 1547. It is evident from the old catechisms and the Ancient Charges, that the masters of operative lodges were responsible for the moral and religious conduct of their apprentices and fellows, as well as for their welfare and practical training in the craft of masonry. It also is clear that the tools and procedures employed by operative masons in their work were woven into simple dramas that were enacted to illustrate moral principles, which in turn were adapted by Dr James Anderson and others for incorporation in the speculative rituals still used in modern lodges of Freemasonry.

York and its Minster are of special importance in the annals of English masonry. The present York Minster is on the site of a wooden chapel erected for the baptism of Edwin of Deira, King of Northumbria, together with the members of his court, by Paulinus the first Bishop of York on Easter Day in 627. The King had been converted to Christianity by his Kentish wife, who previously had been converted to Christianity by the Roman mission led by St Augustine, who arrived in Kent in 597. The renowned historian known as the Venerable Bede, who lived in the Jarrow monastery on Tyneside from 682 until his death in 735, records that Edwin soon replaced the chapel with a stone church, which became the centre of the Bishopric and continued as such until the church was burned down about 741. It was replaced by another magnificent stone church about 55 metres long and 17 metres wide, that was commenced by Archbishop Albert around 767. When this church was ruined with the city during the troubles following the Norman conquest, its rebuilding was begun around 1080 by the first Norman Archbishop, Thomas de Bayeux. About a century later the choir was rebuilt by Archbishop Roger de Pont-l'Ev^que.

The last church was replaced by the present York Minster progressively and in distinct stages. The first work was the addition of the south transept that was commenced in 1220, followed by the addition of the north transept that was commenced in 1241. Work on the new nave, chapter house and vestibule was commenced in 1291 and completed by about 1345. The Norman choir was then replaced, commencing in 1361. The final stage of construction was the erection of a central tower begun in 1400 and completed in 1423, followed by the erection of the western towers 62 metre high, begun in 1433 and completed in 1474, when construction had been in progress for some 250 years. The choir was badly damaged by fire in 1829 and the nave also was damaged by fire in 1840. After almost 500 years of continuous use, investigations revealed that the central tower and west end of the Minster were in danger of collapse, as a result of water erosion and fatigue in the building materials. Extensive remedial works carried out since the 1960s have restored the foundations fully and strengthened the fabric of the building.

The development of the Gothic style of cathedrals in France, where the height of the building almost became an obsession and flying buttresses were used to support the main aisles, completes the story of the close association between freemasonry and religion. The Cathedral of the Notre-Dame in Paris probably is the best known example of this style, begun in 1163 and completed with the erection of the western towers around 1240. It is noted for the lightness of the stone skeleton and the richness of its glowing glass, which captures the genius of Gothic architecture. However, the world famous Chartres Cathedral is considered to be the most authentic surviving example of that most spiritual of all periods in European history. It is a cathedral church in the middle of a town, which distinguishes Gothic cathedrals from the earlier monastic churches that were set in the French countryside and had enclosures of cells and cloisters. Originally there was a small church of unknown age on the site, which by 1020 had been replaced by a cathedral almost as large as the present one. The cathedral was extended at the western end in the 1130s, when two bays, a vestibule and two towers framing the Royal Portal and its renowned sculptures were added.

A dreadful fire that razed much of the township of Chartres in 1194, also destroyed all of the first cathedral except the western end and the crypt. Reconstruction was commenced almost immediately and continued unabated while a dozen other cathedrals were also under construction in the vicinity. No architect was engaged to design and supervise the work, which was carried out under more than thirty successive contracts, or "campaigns", controlled by nine different Master Masons engaged cyclically throughout the construction period. The first Master Mason prepared the original design, set out the building and constructed the foundations in less than a year. Each of the Master Masons was engaged more than once, but the first and some others were engaged several times. Each successive builder made some modifications in the details of the design, but without altering any of the work already done. The cathedral was completed during the 1230s. The successful completion of this complicated and beautiful structure under very difficult conditions, coupled with the proven durability of the building, demonstrates beyond all doubt the remarkable ability, integrity and capacity of medieval freemasons.


Many hypotheses have been advanced about the evolution of modern speculative Freemasonry. One suggestion is that Freemasonry was invented by members of the four speculative lodges in London who joined to form the first Grand Lodge of England in 1717. Another suggestion that once received strong support perceives Freemasonry as a direct offshoot of the Rosicrucian movement. Two of the more tenable claims are that Freemasonry is either a direct or an indirect derivative of the medieval lodges of operative masons. It also has been asserted that Freemasonry was founded in antiquity and revived by the Knights Templar in the Holy Land. Although the extensive association of the Knights Templar with operative masons does not appear to account for the emergence of modern speculative Freemasonry, it undoubtedly influenced the speculative aspects of operative masonry. It is surprising that the protagonists who advance one or another of these theories, usually do not acknowledge the possibility that modern speculative Freemasonry could have evolved from more than one source. A brief review of these theories will help to put the relationship between freemasonry and religion in its proper perspective.

It is significant that the key episodes on which the rituals are based in the degrees of the Craft, the Mark, the Royal Arch, the Cryptic Council and their associated orders are all biblical events recorded in passages of scripture in the Old Testament. A well known example is the Hiramic legend relating to the untimely death of the architect during the construction of King Solomon's temple at Jerusalem. Although not detailed in the Old Testament, the narrative of the legend is ancient and many variations and amplifications of it are to be found in the Judaic apocrypha and the earliest Talmudic traditions. In The Hiram Key, Christopher Knight and Robert Lomas describe extensive investigations they carried out, from which they conclude that the Hiramic legend originally referred to the murder, around 1600 BC, of Seqenenre Tao a Theban pharaoh. They also give an interesting Egyptian derivation of the substitute word. The name of the central figure in the Hiramic legend is not always the same in the various versions of the Traditional Histories of English operative masons.

It is clear from the Cooke MS of about 1410, that the architect of King Solomon's temple and the events concerning the construction of the temple already were firmly established in the traditions of the guilds of operative masons. If speculative Freemasonry had been invented in England during the period of religious fervour and intolerance that prevailed for about two centuries prior to the formation of the first Grand Lodge, the Hiramic legend probably would not have been included and the degrees almost certainly would have had a strong Christian emphasis based on events taken from the New Testament. However, the orders that include degrees with a Christian basis did not appear until the 1750s and 1800s, after the first Grand Lodge of England had been established. Although it is believed that some members of the lodges forming first Grand Lodge were Rosicrucians, who would have exerted a strong Christian influence on modern speculative development, there is no evidence of any direct connection between the Rosicrucian movement and freemasonry.

The weight of evidence supports the view that speculative Freemasonry was derived indirectly from the ceremonials of English operative lodges, through speculative lodges that probably had some operative masons as members, at about the same time as many Scottish operative lodges were making a direct transition to speculative lodges. The early development of operative masonry in England and Scotland was similar, although the lodges in Scotland were smaller and more dispersed, with much of the work carried out under contract instead of by direct labour. In London the Fellowship of Masons, probably established around 1356, had an inner conclave from the 1620s that was known as the Acception, whose members included operative masons and also many who were not tradesmen. The conditions that prevailed during the Reformation and the need to maintain secrecy within organisations, explain the dearth of records in England, which is the reason why it is much more difficult to establish the evolution of Freemasonry in England than in Scotland.

In 1441 King James II appointed Sir William St Clair (now Sinclair), the Laird of Roslin, as hereditary patron and protector of Scottish masons. In Edinburgh in 1475 the Seal of Cause was issued, establishing trade regulations for masons in Scotland about a century earlier than any similar regulations were issued in England. The Schaw Statutes of 1598 and 1599 strengthened those regulations and formalised arrangements for the management of Scottish operative lodges. With the express permission of William Schaw, the St Clair Charters of 1601 and 1628, signed by representatives of many widely dispersed lodges, confirmed that the Lairds of Roslin had been for ages and would continue to be patrons and protectors of the mason craft in Scotland. Records of Scottish operative lodges from 1598 onwards indicate that ritual work was being carried out and they frequently record the admission of non-masons as members. In 1736 four old Scottish operative lodges associated in the formation of the Grand Lodge of Scotland. The thirty-three lodges that met later in the same year and elected William St Clair, the Laird of Roslin, as the first Grand Master Mason of Scotland also were or had been operative lodges. This differs significantly from the formation of the first Grand Lodge in England by four speculative lodges, of which few if any of the members had been operative masons.

It would be appropriate now to consider the "de-Christianising of the Craft" often mentioned by masonic authors. Any Christian influence stemmed from the fact that, when purely speculative Freemasonry was being organised, Christianity was the only religion recognised in England. For centuries in England and on the Continent it had been the custom of the old crafts and guilds, including the masons, to have their patron saints on whose days festivals were held. Many ancient lodges held a festival on June 24, the summer solstice that had been a day of heathen rejoicing, but which in early Christian times became St John the Baptist's day. They also held a festival on December 27, the winter solstice which also had been a day of heathen rejoicing, but became St John the Evangelist's day. Although other saints were held in high regard by masons, including the Four Crowned Martyrs known as Quatuor Coronati in Latin, the two Saints John were adopted as the patron saints of Freemasonry, giving rise to such old expressions as "a St John's Lodge" and "the St John's Men". In the early days of speculative lodges the officers were installed every six months, usually on the days of the Saints John. Nowadays the annual festivals in England are held on St George's Day and in Scotland on St Andrew's Day.

Some authors have expressed the opinion that prior to the Constitutions of 1723 masons were expected to be Christians, but it is not known whether there was any firm basis for that opinion. There is no record that any of the Craft rituals referred to Jesus Christ, but it has been suggested that some of the symbolism might have been given a Trinitarian explanation. The records of some catechisms in the early 1700s include references of a Christian character, more particularly in the Royal Arch. The "precious corner-stone for a firm foundation", from Isaiah 28, verse 16 and the tau cross used as "a sign of the righteous on the foreheads of the Lord's people", from Ezekial 9, verse 4, also came into question because of their later Christian connotations. Even the pentalpha, a magical sign used in ancient times as a talisman against the danger of fire and adopted in Freemasonry as an emblem of the five points of fellowship, was questioned because it became a Christian symbol alluding to the five wounds of Christ. Fortunately these and other symbols of ancient origin, like the triple tau, survived the "de-Christianising of the Craft". From the early 1720s the Jewish membership of lodges steadily increased and any Christian overtones that had been in the ritual were progressively eliminated. These superficial changes, which reflected a desire for Freemasonry to be open to all men believing in God irrespective of their creed, were fostered by the Duke of Sussex who was a Hebrew scholar, a member of Jewish learned societies and also a supporter of Christian Emancipation.


There is strong evidence in Scotland of an association between the Knights Templar and Freemasonry, especially in relation to the Mark and the Royal Arch. Extensive studies carried out on this and related subjects in the 1980s and 1990s are described and commented on by the investigators in two excellent books. The earlier book is The Temple and the Lodge by Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh and the other is The Hiram Key already mentioned in relation to the Hiramic legend. The association between the Knights Templar and Freemasonry will be summarised briefly for reference. The Poor Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Solomon, known as the Knights Templar, were established in France in 1118 or earlier. It is significant in the later history of the Knights Templar that their first Grand Master, Hugues de Payen, was married to Catherine de St Clair, a Scottish woman of Norman descent, who set up the first Templar preceptory outside the Holy Land on her family's property a few kilometres south of Edinburgh. This was the Preceptory of Balantrodoch, in the village now called Temple, not far from where Rosslyn Chapel was built later.

When Hugues de Payens first went to Jerusalem with eight other knights, it was ostensibly to protect Christian pilgrims on their journeys in the Holy Land, but the French historian Gaetan Delaforge, who made a special study of the Knights Templar, states in his book The Templar Tradition in the Age of Aquarius that their real task was to obtain relics and manuscripts containing the secret traditions of Judaism and ancient Egypt. Hugues de Payen persuaded King Baldwin I to give him a section of the royal palace that was in the area of the Temple. The nine knights apparently spent their first nine years on this project and carried out extensive excavations under the Temple, but no record of the results is available. In 1895 Lieutenant Charles Wilson led a contingent of Royal Engineers from Britain to explore and map the passages and chambers under the ruins of the Temple. In his book, The Excavation of Jerusalem, Wilson states that many discarded relics of the Templars were found underground and that many of the passages and chambers were vaulted with keystone arches. Official reports of modern Israeli archaeological investigations also support the proposition that the knights were searching the Temple ruins for something special.

The Knights Templar included many operative masons in their establishment and also engaged local masons to work with them constructing a wide range of castles, hospitals and ecclesiastical buildings in the Holy Land over about 150 years. During that time the Templar masons must have acquired a sound knowledge of the customs and traditions of the local masons, whose direct lineage extended back through the Phoenicians to the Sumerians and also the Egyptians. The Templar castle constructed around 1217 at Athlit, about fifteen kilometres south of Haifa, was their last great stronghold to be abandoned when al-Ashraf, with an army of a quarter of a million men, finally defeated the Knights Templar in 1291. The cemetery at Athlit contains two of the oldest known masonic graves, with well preserved headstones each having a large Templar cross carved vertically in the centre, between a kevel on the left and a Master Mason's gallows square on the right. When Philippe IV, King of France, ordered all Templars to be seized in October 1307, the large Templar fleet escaped, reputedly around Ireland to Argyll in Scotland, where there are many Templar relics. In March 1314 after intensive interrogation, torture and trial by the Inquisition, the Grand Master Jacques de Molay was roasted to death over a slow fire.

Meanwhile a large number of Templars had escaped to Scotland and are reported to have provided the force of horsemen that swung the battle in Robert Bruce's favour at Bannockburn on 24 June 1314. After Bruce died in 1329 and in accordance with his dying wish, Sir James Douglas, Sir William St Clair, Sir William Keith and two other knights set out with Bruce's heart in a silver casket to be buried in the Holy Land. All except Sir William Keith died in Spain supporting King Alfonso XI in his campaign against the Moors at Granada. Sir William Keith, whose arm was broken, brought the casket back to Scotland and Bruce's heart was buried under the east window of the chancel in Melrose Abbey. The close association of the Lairds of Roslin with the Knights Templar and masonic tradition culminated when a later Sir William St Clair decided to build a large collegiate church. The foundations were laid in 1446 and Rosslyn Chapel was completed in the 1480's, although the main church was never built. The chapel is a remarkable structure, with a foundation plan similar to the temple at Jerusalem and external rows of spires that appear to be modelled on the drawing of the "Heavenly Jerusalem" by Lambert of St Omer who died about 1121.

Rosslyn Chapel incorporates two highly ornamented pillars representing Jachin and Boaz and it is ornately decorated inside with Celtic, Templar and masonic symbols. The embellishments include a wounded head relevant to the Hiramic legend, a Latin inscription quoting part of Zerubbabel's discourse when he sought Cyrus's support during the rebuilding of the temple and symbols of significance in the Royal Arch. Rosslyn Chapel also has a scroll shrine in the form of a vault sealed under a metre of rock, the contents of which are unknown, but which Knight and Lomas believe may contain relics from the vaults under the Temple at Jerusalem. A remarkable feature of the interior decorations are the accurate representations of maize and aloe plants from the New World that must have been carved into the columns and arches around 1470, although Columbus's first landing on the mainland was not until 1498. This gives weight to the belief that, after its arrival in Scotland, the Templar fleet sailed west in search of the land that is called Merica in the Nasorean scrolls and marked by a star. It seems that the Templars almost certainly landed on the New England coast of America early in 1308 and after settling there journeyed back to Scotland more than once. This contention is supported by the famous image of a fourteenth century knight carved on a rock at Westford in Massachussets and also by the stone tower at Newport in Rhode Island, constructed like a round Templar church, that was recorded as an existing "Norman Villa" by the Italian navigator Giovanni de Verrazano, who was thought to be the first European to discover that part of the coastline.


Several other organisations and ethical systems have been put forward from time to time as the progenitors of freemasonry. It is unlikely that any of them would have been the direct ancestor of modern speculative freemasonry, although several probably influenced the course of freemasonry directly or indirectly. Among the more tenuous possible associations are the Druids and the Culdees whose influence, if any, would have been similar to that of the Rosicrucians mentioned earlier. The ancient Celtic priests of Germany, Gaul and Britain, called the Druids, are not known to have had any association with the craft of masonry and very little is known of their rites and ceremonies, so their supposed influence on freemasonry at best is conjectural. We do not know what contact the Culdees, a fraternity of monks who lived in isolation in groups of cells in Scotland from the 700s, had with the craft of masonry, so their supposed influence also is conjectural though possibly more tangible. The Mithraic cult was devoted to the ancient Persian light-god, whose worship became popular in the Roman Empire. As the Persians and Babylonians were pre-eminent among the ancient builders, whence there was a continuous line of descent over several thousand years through the Canaanites and Phoenicians to the Roman builders in the eastern Mediterranean, it is reasonable to assume that the Mithraic cult influenced the development of ancient esoteric freemasonry. The systems of morality taught for several thousand years through the symbolism and elaborate rituals of the ancient Mysteries of Egypt and Greece, also must have influenced ancient freemasonry. The Essenes, who were closely connected to the Pythagoreans, probably had a greater influence. Menahem, a Diaspora Essene, founded the Magians whose name reflects their Babylonian culture. They shared the traditions of the Palestine Essenes, but did not enforce seclusion nor have the same strict views on morality. The Jewish historian Josephus records in War that Menahem told the young Herod he would become king, for which Herod held him and all Essenes in honour and trusted them throughout his reign. The Diaspora Essenes supported restitution of the Davidic rule, but they could accept another king with the David in a subordinate role, which was more acceptable to Herod than the proposals for the priesthood in the Temple Scroll prepared by the Palestine Essenes when Herod announced around 21 BC that he would rebuild the temple. Herod's decision to train 1,000 priests as masons probably was in deference to Menahem's influence. The preparation and obligation of candidates and the degrees and allegorical instruction they received at Qumran, as detailed in the scroll called the Manual of Discipline or Community Rule, are closely mirrored in freemasonry.

Socio-religious craft clubs called the Collegia flourished at the height of the Roman Empire and probably accompanied the Roman armies and masons to Britain. During the reign of Emperor Henry III (1039-56), the Pope is said to have issued a diploma to an Italian group, the Travelling Architects, to build churches all over Europe. The Comacine Masters of Italy and the Steinmetzen or stonecutters of Germany also are supposed to have been established by Papal Bulls, but none of these documents has been found. In 1260 the stonemasons of France received their code and privileges from Charles Martel who appears in the Ancient Charges of English masonry, which suggests a positive connection. A code of masons issued in France in 1407 and the later Compagnonnage of journeyman masons have similarities with English masonry.


The foregoing historical summary briefly outlines the key role that has been played by operative masonry in the support of religion during the progress of civilisation over almost 12,000 years, from the beginnings of operative masonry until its decline and replacement by modern Freemasonry. By its very nature, operative masonry takes into account the practical experience of previous ages, builds upon it and passes its new found knowledge on to succeeding generations. The intimate association of operative masonry with the ancient priesthoods and later with the Medieval and Renaissance ecclesiastical fraternity, must have influenced the masons' lives sufficiently to mould their beliefs into the true principles of freemasonry. It is an inevitable consequence of operative practice and traditions, that the system of moral teaching and its associated rituals used in speculative freemasonry, also would have been acquired progressively, developed and passed on, even as language itself has evolved through the centuries.

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A study of man's evolution, especially in relation to the development of his thought and speech concurrently with his growing awareness of things beyond his day to day existence, reveals an intimate connection with the development of freemasonry. Having achieved an ability to eke out a frugal subsistence within their natural environment, the primitive hunter gatherers then turned their thoughts to improving their personal comfort. With the erection of their first rudimentary shelters, the seeds of masonry were sown, heralding the imminent birth of speculative freemasonry. Articulate speech became an ever more pressing necessity, as man sought to communicate his thoughts and wishes to others and his mind strived to fathom the significance of his mortal existence. From its earliest Stone Age beginnings, operative masonry and its speculative counterpart have mirrored man's physical and intellectual progress, as well as the development of his spiritual conception.

As primitive man strived to comprehend his place and purpose in the universe, the spiritual aspects of his existence began to exercise his mind. He progressively evolved his perception of a creator, a supreme being, the controlling force from which all things emanated and upon which they depended for their continuing existence. In an endeavour to express his thoughts, man drew on the experiences of his physical existence. When explaining the concepts he was developing, masonry provided him with many useful examples, with which he could portray his unfolding appreciation of the spiritual elements of his life and illustrate the moral principles he was formulating. The speculative aspects of masonry became a natural extension of man's vocabulary, enabling him to expound his moral precepts simply and graphically.


First and foremost among the precepts of freemasonry is a belief in a divine creator, the one true God. This belief is the foundation of all masonic teaching, the cornerstone of every branch of freemasonry and the keystone which unites its many component parts. It is the first principle of freemasonry, from which all else derives. Thus it is that no man can be accepted into freemasonry unless he has freely expressed a belief in God. Whilst a man's religion is immaterial to his acceptance into freemasonry, being only a factor of his upbringing or a matter of personal choice, nevertheless his belief in God is of paramount importance. Every degree in freemasonry acknowledges the existence of a supreme being, whose blessing is supplicated at the opening and closing of all proceedings. As in all religions and the ancient mysteries, the various titles used for God in masonic rituals reflect those of His attributes relevant to the particular ceremonial.

An essential element of the faith embodied in this first principle is that a man's spirit does not perish with his mortal frame but, as so eloquently expressed by the preacher in Ecclesiastes: when "the dust shall return to the earth as it was, the spirit shall return to God who gave it". The freemason is exhorted to contemplate this aspect of his ultimate destiny and to regulate his life and actions according to God's will, so that at the end of this transitory mortal life he may confidently hope to be raised to those "immortal mansions, eternal in the heavens". Although various moral issues are expounded in the three degrees of craft freemasonry, the fundamental substance of their teachings concerns the immortality of the soul and its ultimate return to the divine creator.

As did the neophyte in all ancient mysteries, so also in masonry does the apprentice enter the lodge in a state of indigence, being reminded of his defenceless condition and of his absolute dependence upon his creator. Symbolically he is reborn into freemasonry and is exhorted to lead a just and upright life henceforth. As a fellow of the craft, the freemason is taught that labour is the lot of man, but that every good and faithful servant in due course will receive his just reward. The master mason obtains a fleeting glimpse of the promised reward, but is told that he must continue his search for the ultimate truth. A closely related theme is the important concept that all men are equal in the sight of God. This fundamental tenet of freemasonry is illustrated in many of its degrees and is the main topic expounded in one of the Allied masonic degrees, the Knights of Constantinople.


The crucial importance of obeying God's commands is a central theme in the teachings of freemasonry, of such importance that it is introduced to the apprentice. The theme continues with the fellow of the craft and is expanded in the degree of mark master mason. Strict obedience, the exercise of skill and ability, careful attention to detail and the importance of being responsible for one's own actions are impressed on the mark master mason in a practical example of the operative free mason's work. The candidate is taught that he alone is responsible for his own actions, but that he will receive his just reward in the hereafter if he lives in strict accordance with the divine commands. Obedience to God's commands is of such vital importance and so closely allied to the belief in the immortality of the soul, that it merits being ranked as second among the precepts of freemasonry.


It will be evident from the foregoing discussions that the fundamental precepts of freemasonry are so closely interwoven that they cannot be subdivided into distinct and separable compartments. Nevertheless, brotherly love, relief and truth must be regarded as third among the important precepts of freemasonry, being closely interrelated with the principle that all men are equal in the sight of God. Indeed, we are taught that brotherly love, relief and truth are the grand principles on which freemasonry is founded. In this context the teachings are based on concepts established by the operative free masons, who were charged with the responsibility of caring for the members of their fraternity, especially if they were out of work or suffering indigent circumstances, as well as to respect and protect all members of the families of their brethren. They also were enjoined to regard their employers with due deference and to serve them well, in return for which they were promised regular employment and adequate recompense.

Brotherly love, relief and truth are described as the grand principles on which freemasonry is founded. They are said to shine with greater splendour than any other masonic emblems. The concept is introduced to the apprentice in his impoverished state, when his principles are in some measure put to the test. He is then admonished to practise brotherly love and relief cheerfully as a virtue, should a distressed brother fairly claim his assistance. However, it is not until he is a master mason that the full implications of the virtue are clarified in the old operative terms , partly in the obligation and partly under the five points of fellowship which, in operative days, were imparted to fellows of the craft. The importance of truth is taught in various degrees, but under the Red Cross of Babylon it is the central theme in the degree of Knight of the East, which is set in the Persian court as graphically portrayed in the Bible in the first book of Esdras.


Closely allied with truth is integrity, which depends upon truth for its fulfilment. Integrity and rectitude imply a rigorous compliance with a code of ethics, based on an undeviating honesty that ascribes virtue to the subject. Rectitude also signifies a strict adherence to the rules of right and justice that strongly suggests self-discipline. Both integrity and rectitude are distinctive features of goodness that also have a close affinity with morality, righteousness, purity and virtue. None of these attributes can be considered alone, because each influences the other. Even benevolence, generosity, good will and kindness, which relate more specifically to brotherly love and relief, have a bearing on integrity. Thus there can be no doubt that integrity merits its high standing among the precepts of freemasonry. It is an important theme in many of the degrees in freemasonry. In particular the degree of Select Master, in the Cryptic Rite, teaches that constant care and integrity are essential when carrying out one's duties, but at the same time it emphasises that integrity must always be tempered with justice and mercy.


Of the many moral virtues fostered by freemasonry, the three principle ones are said to be faith, hope and charity. Faith has been defined as the evidence of things not seen, the substance of things hoped for. Faith is the pillar of civilised society, being the bond of amity and the foundation of justice. Hope has been defined as an anchor for the soul, which enters into that which is within the veil, suggesting that we may look forward to a positive and favourable outcome to our lives and actions, if carried out in accordance with God's commands. Charity is described as the brightest ornament that can adorn masonry, because it is lovely in itself and also the best test and surest proof of sincerity. Charity, or brotherly love in its truest sense, is said to comprehend all of the virtues. The principles illustrated in these moral virtues are essential elements of brotherly love, relief, truth and integrity and are important precepts that should always activate a freemason's heart in his relations with others.


Temperance, fortitude, prudence and justice are described as the four cardinal virtues of freemasonry. Their close relationship with the three moral virtues would justify their inclusion among the important precepts of freemasonry, but some further comments are worth making. In its correct usage, temperance indicates a wise moderation in the indulgence of personal pleasures, though it is often used to signify their complete rejection. Temperance is the appropriate restraint of our passions and affections that will ensure proper self control and overcome immoderate temptation. This virtue ought to be the constant practice of every mason, enabling him to resist worldly temptation and to avoid excess. Temperance is an essential element in the exercise of true justice.

Fortitude signifies that firmness and strength of mind which will enable obstacles and ordeals to be faced courageously, with a brave and unswerving resourcefulness that is neither rash nor cowardly. Fortitude is closely allied with prudence, which suggests that any action that is taken has due regard to wisdom gained by experience. Prudence enables us to regulate our lives and actions with due regard to the dictates of reason. Fortitude and prudence are both essential elements in the exercise of justice, complementing that impartiality, rightness, integrity and mercy signified by "justice", all of which must be maintained when determining what is due in a particular set of circumstances. The principles of masonic behaviour are unmistakably reflected in the four cardinal virtues.


The three great pillars that symbolically support a freemason's lodge are called wisdom, strength and beauty. Wisdom denotes those mental qualities that enable us to understand situations, anticipate their consequences and make sound decisions. Wisdom implies the highest and noblest exercise of all the faculties of the moral nature and the intellect, suggesting a combination of discretion, maturity, keenness of intellect, broad experience, extensive learning, profound thought and compassionate understanding. Strength signifies power, might, force, solidity, toughness, fortitude, courage and many other things. Beauty signifies elegance, grace, symmetry, seemliness, fairness and a wide range of related attributes. The freemason is exhorted to apply wisdom in all his undertakings, to bring strength of character to bear when in difficulties and to adorn his inward self with beauty. These precepts provide a fitting conclusion to this study.

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