April 18, 2011

The Early History of Masonry

Posted in Freemasonry tagged , , , , at 8:28 am by GeneGoldman

The History of Masonry before the Establishment Of The Most Worshipful Grand Lodge, Free And Accepted Masons Of California

Tradition vs. History
In each of our post-Degree lectures, two terms are commonly used. “Masonic Tradition” and “History”. They are specifically used because it is important to distinguish between what we know have recorded and what we believe.

A sharp demarcation occurs On St. John the Baptist’s Day, June 24, 1717. Remember that date. From then forward, what we have is History. Before it, we have Masonic Tradition.

Whence Came We?
There are scant few historical facts regarding our earliest beginnings. There are, however, many popular romantic notions, some with bigger followings than others. So-called “Secret Societies” and fraternal Brotherhoods have existed from the first formation of society. These organizations used ceremonies, symbols, emblems, private modes of recognition, promises or obligations and the concept of fraternalism or Brotherhood. Whenever and however Freemasonry was born, it employed these same, already-tested means of imparting its teachings and forming its bonds.

It is an undeniable fact that about 1390, an unknown Brother in England wrote a beautiful and lengthy manuscript, which described in some detail a fraternal society that we today know as Freemasonry. Even at that time, more than 600 years past, our Noble Craft was older than anyone could remember.
Freemasonry (or rather that philosophy that is at the heart of Freemasonry) has really existed from Time Immemorial.

When the Regis Manuscript was written, what existed was Operative Masonry. Our ancient Brethren worked with stone and mortar, building great buildings. They were called “Masons”, and those who were most proficient in their craft were called “Freemasons”, being free to work their craft withersoever they might travel. These “Freemasons” designed, coordinated and built the great Cathedrals and other stately edifices throughout Europe.
These massive undertakings often required years to complete, and the Freemasons that were employed in the construction organized Lodges to facilitate the every-day business necessary to allow them to do their Great Work. These Lodges normally met in rooms within the building. Each Lodge was governed by a Master and his Wardens, a Secretary maintained the books and records, a Treasurer oversaw the funds, a charity fund assisted the members provided relief for Freemasons and their families when in need. The Lodge met regularly, initiated members, and conducted its business.
Sound familiar?

The great artists of the Middle Ages did not work in oils, or pastels. They worked in marble, stone, and mortar. Their canvasses were not made of parchment, but of hillsides and valleys. The beauty of, and in, their work stands to this day as testimony to their skill, their genius and their knowledge of the arts and sciences, particularly Architecture, Mechanics and Geometry. They did not come by this expertise easily, or quickly.

From as early as the age of ten, young boys were selected for their physical, mental and moral attributes, and Apprenticed to a Master of the Work. They would begin learning the skills and philosophies of the Craft, and if they showed sufficient promise, their names were entered in the records of the Lodge, making them Entered Apprentices. For seven years or more, the Master was Teacher, Mentor, Father, Taskmaster, Supporter, Guide and Friend to the young apprentice. The apprentice learned, at the hands of the Master, how to select stones for form and beauty, work the stone into an Ashler and place it strategically in the edifice to become wall, arch, pillar, column, floor, roof, window, sculpture or decoration. At the end of their apprenticeship, once the skills had been mastered, the youth would be tested. His proficiency would be proven by presenting a “Master’s piece” to other Masters. If judged worthy, he would be accepted as a Fellow of the Craft.

When a building was finally completed, most Masons had to find other employment, or another building to build within the community. They were not permitted to move about. Freemasons were free to relocate, and would set up a new Lodge to facilitate building a new building.

This was Operative Masonry, and it existed for generations until Euclid’s Geometry was rediscovered and published, thereby revealing many of the Freemasons’ secret methods. The Reformation came, the Gothic style of Architecture went, laws changed, society underwent upheaval, and the Craft dwindled in number. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the Craft had shrunk so, that only a few, widely scattered, lightly populated, Lodges remained.

Until the sixteenth century, in order to become a Freemason, a man had to be a worker in the building trades, an Operative Mason. In an effort to protect the guild, these Freemasons began to accept members who had other reasons to join their Lodges – curiosity, interest in customs, symbolism, or just wanted to associate with these Freemasons. Because these nonOperative Freemasons had never proven themselves with a Master’s piece, but had just been accepted as members without actually working as a Mason, they were called Accepted Masons. Because their work was more with the moral and symbolic teachings than the physical ones, they were alternatively called Speculative Masons. Gradually, by the end of the eighteenth century, there were more Speculative or Accepted Masons than Operative ones in Freemasons’ Lodges.

History begins
History takes over from Masonic Tradition on St. John the Baptist’s Day, June 24, 1717. In the back of a tavern in London, four or more old Lodges of London and Westminster met. They organized a Grand Lodge, and on the same day selected their first Grand Master, Anthony Sayer. Within a few short years, what had once been an Operative trade guild had become a Speculative fraternity. The two Degrees of Operative Masonry became the three Degrees of Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft and Master Mason. Old manuscripts and writings were collected and collated and the first Book of Constitutions was written. This newly formed Grand Lodge began issuing Charters to constituent Lodges all over the world, including the thirteen colonies here. This is the beginning of Speculative Freemasonry, as it exists today.

Other Grand Lodges were formed in Scotland and Ireland and in 1751 a second Grand Lodge was organized in England

In 1730, a Lodge was issued a Charter in Philadelphia. Others in the Americas followed. Provincial Grand Masters were appointed by these Grand Lodges in order to oversee these Lodges so far from home.

In 1776, a war was fought in the Americas, as a result of which all controls from England, and elsewhere, were severed. The several American Grand Lodges had become Sovereign and Independent, beholden to no one. There was much discussion of forming a single National Grand Lodge, with Brother George Washington as Grand Master. Brother Washington’s recommendations and the collective wisdom of the Craft prevailed, and the plan was abandoned. As a result, at present, there are 51 Sovereign and Independent mainstream Grand Lodges in the USA.

In March of 1775, Prince Hall and fourteen other free Black men were initiated into Lodge No. 441, Irish Constitution. On September 29, 1784, a Warrant was issued to form African Lodge No. 1 in Boston, which eventually gave birth to Prince Hall Masonry. Today there are 39 Prince Hall Grand Lodges in the USA, and 32 of them have formed fraternal Amity with the mainstream Grand Lodges in their areas.

We know that the Masonry we belong to today did not just explode into existence in 1717. We also know that Adam and Eve were not members of our fraternity. Just as a man must go through several stages before he is a man, and just as a building must do the same, our fraternity learned, grew, developed, changed and evolved, adapting itself to the changing world around it, from before anyone can remember to the Grand and Noble Craft we have today. It was built by good men who sincerely wanted to belong to something greater than themselves. We, as the Speculative Freemasons of today, owe it to them to be aware of our humble beginnings, that our future will be even more glorious. We owe it to the principles upon which our superstructure is erected, Brotherly Love, Relief, Truth, Faith, Hope, Charity, Tolerance, Temperance, Fortitude, Prudence and Justice, to learn, grow, develop, change and evolve – like our beloved Craft.


Women Freemasons
THE BUILDER, August 1920
Although the Antient Charges forbid the admission or initiation of women into the Order of Free and Accepted Masons, there are known instances where as the result of accident or sometimes design the rule has been broken and women have been duly initiated. The most prominent instance is that of the Hon. Elizabeth St. Leger, or, as she afterwards became, on marriage, the Hon. Mrs. Aldworth, who is referred to sometimes, though erroneously, as the “only woman who over obtained the honour of initiation into the sublime mysteries of Freemasonry.”
The Hon. Elizabeth St. Leger was a daughter of the first Viscount Doneraile, a resident of Cork. Her father was a very zealous Freemason and, as was the custom in his time — the early part of the eighteenth century – held an occasional lodge in his own house, when he was assisted by members of his own family and any brethren in the immediate neighbourhood and visitors to Doneraile House. This lodge was duly warranted and held the number 150 on the Register of the Grand Lodge of Ireland.
The story runs that one evening previous to the initiation of a gentleman named Coppinger, Miss St. Leger hid herself in the room adjoining the one used as a lodgeroom. This room was at that time undergoing some alterations and Miss St. Leger is said to have removed a brick from the partition with her scissors and through the aperture thus created witnessed the ceremony of initiation. What she saw appears to have disturbed her so thoroughly that she at once determined upon making her escape, but failed to elude the vigilance of the tyler, who, armed with a sword stood barring her exit. Her shrieks alarmed the members of the lodge, who came rushing to the spot, when they learned that she had witnessed the whole of the ceremony which had just been enacted. After a considerable discussion and yielding to the entreaties of her brother it was decided to admit her into the Order and she was duly initiated, and, in course of time, became the Master of the lodge.
According to Milliken, the Irish Masonic historian, she was initiated in Lodge No. 95, which still meets at Cork, but there is no record extant of her reception into the Order. It is, however, on record that she was a subscriber to the Irish Book of Constitutions, which appeared in 1744 and that she frequently attended, wearing her Masonic regalia, entertainments that were given under Masonic auspices for the benefit of the poor and distressed. She afterwards married Mr. Richard Aldworth of Newmarket and when she died she was accorded the honour of a Masonic burial. She was cousin to General Antony St. Leger, of Park Hill, near Doncaster, who, in 1776, instituted the celebrated Doncaster St. Leger races and stakes.

The Papal Bulls against Freemasonry
Although the Roman Catholic opposition to freemasonry is common knowledge, it should be known also that there were originally a great many Roman Catholic freemasons in all the countries where freemasonry flourished, among them being priests and high dignitaries of the Church, a condition which held good for many years (indeed, all through the eighteenth century in some countries), even after Pope Clement XII in 1738 and Benedict XIV in 1751 had issued their Bulls denouncing freemasonry.

In Liége, Belgium (to cite an instance given by Count Goblet d’Alviella), the Roman Catholic Bishop Velbrück, who ruled his ecclesiastical Principality from 1772 to 1784, was a devoted freemason, as were many of his canons and officials. One of these, the Rev. Canon de Geloes, was founder and first Master of La Parfaite Intelligence, at Liége, which was first a French and later a Belgian lodge, while another, the Rev. Canon Nicolas Devaux, was Master of another Liége lodge, La Parfaite Égalité; other instances could be given. It is to be assumed that it was the comparative inattention paid to the Bulls in some quarters that led to a whole series of Papal edicts, beginning in 1821, confirming and renewing them.

The Roman Catholic objections to freemasonry are not difficult to understand, even though we, as freemasons, do not acknowledge their soundness. A pamphlet, Freemasonry (revised edition, 1935), published by the Catholic Truth Society, after describing Anglo-Saxon freemasons as “inoffensive and well-meaning people” and admitting that freemasonry is “beneficial to the country, or at any rate quite harmless,” then makes quite clear that the solemn oath of secrecy is one of the “two main grounds of objection,” the other and apparently more serious one being that freemasonry ” tends to undermine belief in Catholic Christianity by substituting for it what is practically a rival religion based on deistic or naturalistic principles.”

In reply it should be said that Freemasonry is not claimed to be a religion. It is a system of morality, of philosophy. A candidate for its privileges is entitled to hold what religious principles and beliefs he pleases; the Craft will not belittle them and will respect their holder as long as he brings into freemasonry just one all-essential part of his code-a belief in the “Glorious Architect of heaven and earth.” Freemasonry calls upon its members to practise the sacred duties of morality, and offers itself, as the Ancient Charges tell us, as “the centre of union between good men and true, and the happy means of conciliating friendship amongst those who must otherwise have remained at a perpetual distance.”
Aims and Relationships of the Craft
In this connection we may well give extracts from (but cannot reproduce entire) The Aims and Relations of the Craft, first issued by the English Grand Lodge in 1938 and since fully subscribed to by the Grand Lodges of Ireland and Scotland: The first condition of admission into, and membership of, the Order is a belief in the Supreme Being; The Bible, the Volume of the Sacred Law, is always open in the Lodges.

Every Candidate is required to take his Obligation on that book or on the Volume that is held by his particular creed to impart sanctity to an oath or promise taken upon it; While the individual freemason has the right to hold his own opinion with regard to public affairs, neither in any lodge nor in his capacity as a freemason, may he discuss or advance his views on theological or political questions; The Grand Lodge has always consistently refused to express any opinion on questions of foreign or domestic State policy either at home or abroad, and it will not allow its name to be associated with any action, however humanitarian it may appear to be, which infringes this policy; The Grand Lodge refuses to have any relations with, or to regard as freemasons, any Bodies, styling themselves Freemasons, which do not adhere to these principles. In 1929 the Grand Lodge of England issued Basic principles for Grand Lodge Recognition; this foreshadowed the greater part of the above declaration and laid down that any Grand Lodge asking to be recognized by the English jurisdiction shall strictly observe the principles of the Ancient Landmarks, customs, and usages of the Craft; its membership and that of its individual Lodges shall be composed exclusively of men; there shall be no masonic intercourse with mixed Lodges or with bodies that admit women to membership; the three Great Lights of Freemasonry (the V.S.L., the Square, and the Compasses) shall always be exhibited when it or its subordinate Lodges are at work.


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