"There is scarcely a case of difficulty can occur in the Lodge in which
that book 'will not set you right" - so says the Installing Master to his
successor on handing over a copy of the Book of Constitutions. But
human nature remains quite unpredictable and refuses to be confined
within a given set of Regulations and, as any Past Master will tell you,
the case of difficulty not covered by that book was the one that
happened during his year of office! Many cases of difficulty exist
outside the scope of official Regulations, and some are likely to remain
unresolved throughout a Masonic career, not only through lack of
guidance but very often because of misdirection from those who,
perhaps, should have known better.
In this technological, computerised era of ours today, the search for
spiritual values and to make some sort of daily advancement in
Masonic knowledge must surely create the earliest case of difficulty for
the new entrant. With daily pressures from business, reasonable family
demands on time, unremitting repetition of ritual and procedure at
Lodge meetings (which become just demonstrations of varying feats of
memory or proficiency from Brethren so engaged), it is quite
understandable if the new entrant's natural thirst for knowledge is stifled
from the outset.
It is quite usual for the history of Freemasonry to be brought into
question. What is the source? Does it have its roots in Mithraism? Is
there a connection with the Essenes? Has it anything to do with the
building of the Pyramids of ancient Egypt? Did it really begin with the
building of Solomon's Temple? These are typical questions; and the
early 'writers on the background of Masonry have certainly not helped
the literal minds of today; they have traced the path of Freemasonry
through all stages of history, real, legendary and imaginary, and we
can look with amazement at the sheer invention displayed in the list of
Grand Masters credited to it - starting with Adam!
Folk lore, creation legends, instruction by catechism, ethical standards,
these things have not been the special property of any one country or
any one civilisation; parallels, in whole or in part, may be found in all
An examination of a few facts is probably the quickest and most
effective way of focusing Freemasonry of today, and for this purpose I
have listed seven facts:-
1. That stone masons practised a skilled trade requiring a
standard of literacy and communication that would enable them to
execute the designs of architects.
2. That castles, cathedrals and ornate structures resulted from
their combined efforts.
3. That the stone masons took their meals and held meetings in
huts on sites where they worked.
4. That by the mid-fourteenth century the working masons had
formulated a code of Regulations and produced a system among
themselves to protect their interests.
5. That in the mid-fifteenth century two Livery Companies of
Masons were listed among the London Guilds.
6. That the working masons-or Operative masons-later accepted
among themselves others who were not working masons but were
known as Accepted or Speculative Masons. Possession of a copy of
the Old Regulations or Charges was justification and a kind of self-
bestowed authority for such a group to meet together.
7. That organised Freemasonry, as we understand it, had its
modest beginning with the formation of the premier Grand Lodge by
members of four Lodges, in London, in 1717.
This may be an over-simplification-but these are all basic facts and will
clear the path for a better understanding of the development of our
present system and to recognise the elements it contains.
Many manuscripts of the Old Charges, originals and copies, are still
extant, amongst which are the Regius dated in the fourteenth century;
Cooke, fifteenth century. Common to the majority of the Old Charges
is the linking of Biblical characters with the Craft of the masons; the
recording of Old Testament legends and Biblical tradition; the Christian
invocations - and in this sense literacy and liturgy were close
companions. Much of the basic ritual used in Freemasonry has been
built up from elements in these Gothic MS Constitutions. What better
vehicle, and what better setting for the Mason craft could have been
called into use than the Temple erected by Solornon "for the Glory of
the Holy Name"? Echoes of which have continued no less sophisticated
to the present day.
Masonic historians of the eighteenth century were certainly not
disturbed by anachronisms; decades, even centuries could be
discarded quite freely if it suited their purpose to make Biblical
characters contemporaries, and what was good enough to record in
the old MSS was later quite acceptable for ritual compilers and writers
on Masonic history.
THE WIDER MEMBERSHIP
If Christianity had such a strong influence in those early days, how
then did Freemasonry grow to such world-wide proportions, opening its
doors to men of other religions?
Students claim that this really springs from the erection of the premier
Grand Lodge in London, the originators of which were quite
unconcerned with Freemasons meeting together in other Lodges in
England, or for that matter in any other part of London. They elected
an overall Grand Master to control the inaugural four Lodges and, with
definite leanings towards the convivial, expressed the intention of
having an Annual Feast and the hope that they would be able to attract
the patronage of a nobleman as their Grand Master. We have no
record of their Proceedings until the first minute book which
commences with the meeting of 25th November 1723 -six years after
they banded together! The only record of the inauguration of Grand
Lodge in 1717 is given to us in an account by Anderson in the second
edition of the Book of Constitutions dated 1738 - twenty-one years
The first edition, dated 1723, gives a clear statement of the attitude
"A Mason is Oblig'd, by his Tenure, to obey the moral Law; and if he
rightly understands the Art, he will never be a stupid ATHEIST, nor an
irreligious LIBERTINE. But, though in ancient Times Masons were
charg'd in every Country to be of the Religion of that Country or
Nation, whatever it was, yet 'tis now thought more expedient only to
oblige them to that Religion in which all Men agree, leaving their
particular Opinions to themselves; that is to be good men and true, or
Men of Honour and Honesty, by whatever Denominations or
Persuasions they may be distinguished whereby Masonry becomes the
Centre of Union and the means of conciliating true Friendship among
Persons that must have remain'd at a perpetual distance."
This appears as one of the Charges, sub-titled "Concerning God and
Brother Rev. James Anderson, Junior Grand Warden, 1722, and
Brother Dr. Desaguliers, Grand Master, 1719, have been credited with
the development of greater religious tolerance and wider scope for
membership. Both played very important parts in the formative years.
It is reasonable to say that Anderson's Book of Constitutions influenced
the course taken by Ireland and Scotland. The Grand Lodge of Ireland
issued instructions that each Lodge under their jurisdiction was to
obtain a copy and, later, when they compiled their own, it was based
largely upon Anderson's work. Scotland was influenced by a visit of
Desaguliers in 1724 to a Lodge at Dunblane, where he presented a
copy of the English Constitutions.
The course taken by the three Sister Grand Lodges was mainly
determined by the same publication. The first Masonic book published
in U.S.A. in 1734 was Benjamin Franklin's reprint of the same work.
The rapid spread of Freemasonry must have created its own form of
difficulty in management for their premier Grand Lodge. Military
Lodges and Colonists carried Freemasonry into other lands, and the
second and third quarters of the eighteenth century became a fertile
period for irregularities. New degrees, pseudo degrees and new Orders
emerged, and in this wider field a lucrative market arose for the sale of
broadsheets against the Craft and for so-called exposures, some of
which have greatly added to our knowledge of the pattern of
development of parts of the ritual. Among the early exposures we have
A Mason's Examination, 1723; the following year The Grand Mystery,
and in 1730 the important Masonry Dissected: I say important because
it is the first printed account of the Hiramic legend. A spate of
exposures appeared on the continent between the years 1730 and
1760, but little if any in this country between Pritchard's Masonry
Dissected in 1730 until Three Distinct Knocks in l760 and Jachin &
Boaz in 1762. J&B ran into many editions and was often used by
Freemasons as a manual; we have many examples of this in our
libraries all over the country.
It was in an atmosphere of the earlier exposures that Grand Lodge took
steps to protect its members and its funds from imposition. Many
clandestine Lodges sprang into existence
- access to ritual was no problem for the making of irregular Masons.
Later on came the charges that Grand Lodge had departed from
certain landmarks; that they had made a changeover of certain words;
had discontinued the ceremonial for the Installation of Master in private
Lodges; and, later still, their persistent refusal to recognise the Royal
Prominent among the objectors was Laurence Dermott, an Irish
immigrant who had been initiated in Dublin in 1741, reached the Chair
of his Lodge in 1746 and then exalted in the Royal Arch, all prior to his
arrival in London in 1748. A rival controlling body-at first a Committee
which paved the way for another Grand Lodge - was set up for the
purpose of preserving "Antient forms" of Freemasonry. So we have the
anomalous terms of "Antients" to describe a Grand Lodge set up thirty-
four years after the original which they dubbed the "Moderns". The
progress of Freemasonry under each jurisdiction, however, was strong
indeed, but the contradiction in terms persisted until 1813, when the
two Grand Lodges joined amicably and became the United Grand
Lodge of England as we know it today.
Recognisable elements of the ritual can be seen in most exposures, but
the settled form that has come down to us is undoubtedly due to the
influence of William Preston. He was initiated in 1762-the period of the
Three Distinct Knocks and Jachin & Boaz exposures-and ten years
later published Illustrations of Masonry after an exhaustive search and
study of all phases of Ritual. We owe much of our present ritual to his
syllabus of Lectures which followed a co-ordination of the material that
In 1787, Preston instituted the Grand Chapter of Harodim which had
the dissemination of knowledge as its main purpose. Its title is not to be
confused with the Royal Arch use of the word Chapter: in effect it was
what we call a prominent Lodge of Instruction. In the Freemasons'
Vade-Mecum dated 1797, it is listed as follows:-"Chapter of the Order
of Harodim, Free-masons' Tavern, Great Queen Street, Lincolns-Inn
Fields, 3d Monday from January to April and from October to
December. Dine at Five exactly Chapter opens at seven. Visitors
admitted by Tickets, which may be had by applying to any Member of
the Chapter. See Preston's illustrations of Masonry. 1796 Edn. p.342
It is interesting to note that this entry is followed by a list of Lodges of
Instruction which are classified under days of meeting, and that
Sunday is divided into afternoon and evening meetings.
Preston's Lectures had many Christian references, but most were
deleted when the Lectures were revised in 1813 by Dr Hemming. This
work forms the basis of the Craft Lectures that are taught in Emulation
Lodge of Improvement and sometimes "worked" as demonstrations in
Lodges or Lodges of Instruction. Their value is in the explanation of
much of the ritual, and it is from the reasons supplied we can
understand the thinking of the compilers.
A ready example of association may be seen in the following snippet of
catechism which has this to say of knocks:
Q. How did you gain admission?
A. By three distinct knocks.
Q. To what do these three distinct knocks allude?
A. An ancient and venerable exhortation Seek, and ye shall find;
Ask, And ye shall have; Knock, and it shall be opened unto you.
This explanation is based upon St Matthew vi', v.7, although there has
been a small amendment.
Knocks are referred to in the Sloane MS C. 695:
"Another sign is knocking at the door two little knocks and the third a
Knocks are also quoted in A Mason's Examination (1723):
"When you enter a Lodge you must knock three times at the door, and
they'll challenge you."
An interesting variation occurs in the Wilkinson MS (1727):
"Coming to a house where masons maybe, he is to knock three knocks
on the door; a lesser, a more and a more."
Recognisable differences in rhythms existed before the development of
a three Degree system, but all are quoted within a Masonic context;
they were there waiting for adaptation.
The staggered rhythm of the knocks and the rhythmic clapping in
Masonic "Fire", however, have only rhythm as a common basis. The
"Fire" is attributed to a military or regimental source and was adopted
as a form of applause for after-dinner toasting. A lucid account of
Masonic "Fire" is given in the French ritual exposure, Trahi, 1745:
"They first strike two blows close together but they leave a slightly
longer interval between the second and third, the latter being somewhat
louder too. All this is repeated three times. The same graduations of
force and speed are observed at table, when they clap their hands after
Another case of difficulty for many Brethren is the placing of the Royal
Arch in the Masonic system. As the Third Degree grew out of a two-
Degree system, so the Royal Arch emerged as a logical development
from that and should be viewed as an integral part. It was practised by
the Antients under the authority of their Craft Warrants as it was, to
them, literally, a Fourth Degree. The premier Grand Lodge, however,
doggedly adhered to a stand of non-recognition of the Royal Arch,
although most of their senior Grand Officers were members of it and
set up a Grand Chapter to control it: they were able to enjoy the best
of both worlds.
The Royal Arch was just another point of official difference between
the Antients' and Moderns' Grand Lodges and, even though it was
described in the Articles of Union when the two became the United
Grand Lodge of England in 1813 as "part of pure and Antient Masonry",
it was nearly four years before its place could be resolved and a union
effected between two Grand Chapters.
Many a Masonic career has been marred, or limited unnecessarily, by
misdirection on the question of entry to this Supreme Degree. "Don't
bother about that until you have been through the Chair of your Lodge"
is probably the worst but by no means uncommon advice. I take an
entirely different view and say that the time to enter is when a Brother
has a sound view of the construction of the three Craft Degrees and, in
retrospect, can estimate for himself what the Masonic exercise set out
to do. He may well question why certain substituted "secrets" were
adopted: he will then have reached another stage of being "properly
prepared" and thus be ready to appreciate the part that is played by
the Royal Arch- that of completing the Master Mason's quest; seeking
for that which was lost.
The difficulty of putting the Royal Arch in its proper perspective is not
new; it has been happening since its development. But just as the Third
Degree grew out of a two-Degree system, so the Royal Arch emerged
to complement the whole, and it must be viewed as an integral part of
the construction of the Freemasonry of today.
(Reproduced with permission London Grand Rank Association.)