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Operative Masonry

Note: I was given this lecture to review, as a source for my paper on architecture for the Pennsylvania Academy of Knowledge and I thought it was an interesting read on its own - I would of like to have seen the complete lecture since it starts off as "condensed" and I would also of like to have to know who the author was as well- Bro. Andrew BeauChamp

WM and brethren this talk has been condensed to almost a bare outline and omits a lot of detail, but there is still enough for us to see where quite a deal of our ritual originated. There were many grips, signs, and words, some of which will be given. When a big undertaking such as the building of a cathedral was in preparation, a select company of masons was formed to undertake the job. All necessary tradesmen such as blacksmiths and carpenters etc. were included in the company, but not in the Masons Lodge and work-yards. A unique company password was settled on to differentiate the company from other companies in the area and to keep out cowans and eavesdroppers. Despite this constant intermingling of various trades, the Masons kept their own identity, but speculative masonry has brought in a password that belonged to those artificers in metal, the blacksmiths guild. The first charter granted to a Masons Company was in 926 A.D., by Athelstane. The present Masons Company of London was incorporated in 1411 in the reign of Henry IV. They were given a heraldic coat of arms through the influence of Sir Christopher Wren. The supporters of the weapons are two Masons, the one on one side having blue facings and holding a square, the one on the other having red facings, and carrying compasses. The blue masons were known as square masons and the red masons as round masons. We will hear more about these puzzling differentiations later. Operative Masonry consisted of seven degrees, the first four being operative and the last three supervisory and administrative and requiring special qualifications. The first four degrees were divided into blue and red masons each division having separate signs, tokens, and words and meeting in different lodges. The seven degrees were:

  1. Apprentices to the Craft of Freemasons – square and round.

  2. Fellows of the Craft of Freemasons - square and round.

  3. Super Fellows who have their Mark – square and round.

  4. Super Fellows also Erectors on the Site – square and round.

  5. Intendents, Superintendents or Menatzchin.

  6. Those who have passed technical instruction for Master, Certified Master, or Passed Master, also called Hardin.

  7. The Grandmasters, two were elected for life or until retirement, and the third elected annually, collectively known as the Sanhedrin.

In the old days, most workers were bondsmen working under bond to the town or city or to some big landlord. These men were common laborers or apprentices learning a trade. After an apprentice had attained proficiency, he became a freeman and could travel in search of work, something that we take very much for granted. Only the sons of freemen could become Masons. A lad to become a Mason (not a Freemason) had to be 14-15 years of age and make an application for permission to become an apprentice to the Society. If granted permission, he then signed the following petition – which happens to be to the Masons Company of London. “Application to the Superintendent of the Works of the Worshipful Society of Freemasons-Roughmasons-Wallers-Slaters-Paviers-Plasterers and Bricklayers. I John Smith being the son of a Freeman and 14 years of age humbly crave to be made an apprentice to the Ancient and Honourable Craft. I am prompted by a favorable opinion preconceived of the Fraternity and the desire for knowledge to enable me to work at the trade. I further promise and swear that I will conform to all the ancient usages and customs of the Order. Witness my hand this day of .”

This was followed by the signature of the applicant and that of a witness. This petition was posted at the entrance of the quarry or work yard for 14 days, and the applicant had to stand by his application on three occasions when men were coming to or leaving, work. If anything adverse was known of the applicant, it was reported at the office and an investigation made. If the petition was accepted the lad had to be proposed by a Mason, seconded by another, and supported by five more. Note the number seven, as seven Masons are necessary to make a speculative lodge perfect or to initiate a candidate. After this, the applicant goes to the workshop or quarry at high twelve on Friday, the sixth day of the week High-twelve because, according to operative tradition, something extraordinary happened at that hour and that tradition has been followed by and incorporated into, speculative Freemasonry. Friday was the last day of the week in the time of King Solomon, and on that day workmen received their pay, which carries through into the Mark ceremony today. The candidate is now admitted to the ante-chamber of the Lodge by his conductor who gives the password "free and of good report." The candidate then takes an oath never to reveal anything in the event of his rejection during the ceremony. This is done by reading out his application and kissing the book when he says "promise and swears". He also takes another oath that avoiding fear, on the one hand, rashness on the other, he will persevere through the ceremony of his initiation. The candidate then puts his feet on the lower area of a footing stone, which is checked by the Treasurer, but left until the candidate is obligated. An Operative Lodge is not set out in the same way as ours as there are three Masters. Grand Lodge, Royal Arch, and the Scottish Lodges have three Masters, but with one exception, it is not necessary for all three to be present together. The floor of the Lodge is three squares in the area. The Masters sit in the west to mark the rising sun, the S.W. in the east to mark the setting sun, and the J.W. in the north to mark high twelve! We will discuss this apparent anomaly, later. The altar is in the center of the Lodge, under the letter G and a perpendicular line is suspended over the center of the platform. The rough ashlar is near, and to the east, of the altar. The candidate in the ante-room is divested of all money and metals and hoodwinked. Three men come from the Lodge to strip him naked and splash him with mud. The surgeon removes the hoodwink and says "wash and be clean." A bath is ready, and the candidate bathes. He has to dip himself seven times. The surgeon examines him and reports to the Lodge that "John Smith is perfect in all his parts." The Master then asks the Lodge if they will accept him as an apprentice to the Craft. He is received by the "clean hard" sign. The candidate is then hoodwinked again, clothed in a white robe, has a blue or red cord looped around his neck held by a man in front and another behind. A shorter red or blue cord is then tied around his waist and held by a man on each side. The four men make a diamond with the candidate in the center. This diamond has reference to a method of checking the correctness of work by operatives, being four right-angled triangles. The candidate and his attendants make five points. This is known as the five-point system. Annually the third Master of the Lodge underwent a ceremony similar to our third degree, and this probably, is where the five points of fellowship were derived. The candidate now applies for admission to the Lodge at the inner door, and is asked "how do you hope to obtain admission?" giving the answer "by the help of God and being free and of good report." The sword is held to his naked left breast to draw blood. He is then admitted and led to the northeast corner where he is questioned while kneeling. "What is your age?" What is your character?" What is your knowledge?" "Have you ever been a member of any company or guild before?" "do you swear you have never been expelled, discharged, or run away from any work?" In all cases of difficulty or danger, in whom do you put your trust?" "In God is all my trust," the candidate answers. Right, rise. The brothers in the E. S. W. and N. will take notice that John Smith is about to pass before them. He is then led around the Lodge. After the first perambulation, he is asked if he can see anything to which he replies "no." The hoodwink is then raised sufficiently for him to see his feet and about a yard in front of them. He is warned to keep strictly to the path, or tessellated border, the next time around he puts one foot in front of the other, heel to toe, this called "end-on-work" or, ‘work-in-line," and he must make one perambulation correctly without fail. He starts at the N.E. then to the S.E. and on the way to N.W. and on his way back to the N.E. he is barred by the J.W. who allows him to pass on an excellent report. He then proceeds until blocked by the S.W. who will enable him to pass on a good report. A strip of carpet is laid down leading to the rough ashlar so that the candidate does not tread on the Mosaic Pavement as he is directed to the ashlar. The candidate kneels with both knees on the rough ashlar, right hand resting on V.S.L. and left hand holding compasses. I had heard that before the V.S.L. was available, the candidate rested his hand on the perfect ashlar, it is a symbol of perfection. The obligation was practically the same as ours and the penalty, "your heart shall be taken out while alive, your head cut off and your body buried in the sea and not in any place where Christians are buried. After taking the obligation, the candidate is told to seal it with his lips. As his lips approach the book, a sheet of soft wax is placed on the book, and his head forced down so that his lips make an impression on the wax. Thus his obligation is literally sealed with his lips. The Master then says ”Give light that he may place his hand to the bond." A pen is then given to him, and he signs the bond. The candidate then says "I deliver this as my act and deed." The candidate is then assisted to rise with the words "rise apprentice to the Craft of Free Masons." He is then given the grip which is the same as ours, but it must be covered. The charge is then given. The obligation in Speculative Masonry covers a lot of the operative charge, except for that part relating to the Dame of the House. All operative lodges had a housekeeper who was protected, and she had to swear to be of good character. The candidate is now given his actual working tools, chisel, maul, and straight-edge with compasses besides in the red, given his apprentice's apron, and taken back to the N.E. corner. There he is asked how he is going to live to his first pay. If he has the money or is living with his father, nothing further is done. If, however, he says he is poor and has no money, the Master craves charity for him, and a collection is made. For seven years he is an apprentice and wears a blue or red cord around his neck to show that he is bound. The initiation is complete, and for seven years the candidate works as an indentured apprentice. After he has completed his time, he again makes an application to the Superintendent to be passed to the necessary degree of Fellow of the Craft of Free Mason, after swearing to conform to the Ancient charges, established customs, etc. The applicant has to go and kneel on the same ashlar stone as when he was bound seven years previously. The bond is torn up, and the blue or red cord is removed from his neck. Rise Free Brother, you are now superior to an apprentice but inferior to a Fellow of the Craft of Free Masons. He is then given the password and pass grip which is the same as ours, but again covered. Before the Free Brother can be passed to the second degree, he has to prepare a rough-dressed ashlar or cylinder. This stone is prepared in the apprentice's yard and is a fraction of an inch too large all over and must be passed by the Inspector of the Works. The candidate for the second degree must take his prepared stone to Lodge with him and swear that it is all his own work and that no man has used a tool upon it. Again on a Friday at high twelve after giving the pass-grip and word and with no special preparation, the Master calls the attention of the Fellows that the candidate is about to pass before them. This time he is led around the Lodge twice with his right foot across the Lodge and his left at right angles to it. This is called header and stretcher work or, one and one. He is then led to the altar as before, kneels on both bare knees, and takes his obligation which practically covers our second and third, but remember the five points of fellowship as such is unknown to the operatives. The sign is rather like our second, and the word means builder. The new Fellow of the Craft is invested with the fellow's apron and presented with his actual working tools which are the plumb, the level, the square and the straight edge, the two-foot rule, and the ashlar square, a royal cubit having faced 21 7/8 inch square. He starts work in the N.E. corner of the fellow's yard. There he is taught to square up and true his rough ashlar. Now that he is a Fellow, he is a FreeMason and becomes a freeman of his town or city. When he has dressed and polished his rough ashlar, and after it has passed trial and inspection, he is given the word and a sign representing plumb, level, and square. Having the word and sign and his polished stone as proof of craftsmanship a Fellow has the password and sign to the third degree or Super-fellow who has his Mark. This degree and the fourth degree Super-fellow who is an Erector are so very similar to the MMM degree that they cannot be given here. In the third degree, the Super-fellow is given his own mark and taught the building marks so that the Erectors know where every stone goes. He is also taught to use the tracing board to fit the stones and mark them correctly. In the blue degree the headstone of the corner, and in the red degree, the keystone is lost. In both cases “the stone which the builders rejected and etc.” brings the work to a halt. But these details you will have to find out for yourselves in another degree. After working for a year in the third yard, the Super-fellow becomes an Erector and works on the actual building and knows from the marks on the stones their exact location in work. So after at least eight years, he is actually a hands-on worker. This is usually as far as the working Mason goes as the higher degrees demand much more technical knowledge. The red Masons were always in close contact with the Bow-makers, Bowmen, or Centre-Makers whose headquarters were at Bow in London. These men made the wooden arch frames or false-work called centers, necessary when building arches. When the arch was finished in stone, this timber work was dismantled and used to cook the feast to celebrate the completion of the work. We also come across the expression Accepted Mason. The Accepted Mason was a man received into the Masons Guild for reasons of finance or for exceptional work in some craft necessary to the Masons, or foreign masons. The Operative Masons were Freemasons after their apprenticeship was completed. In this way, we get the current title of Free and Accepted Masons.

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