Vol. XIX No. 11 — November 1941

Well Informed Brethren

In the Charge of the first degree of Freemasonry as printed in the manual in many Grand Jurisdictions is the phrase “At your leisure hours, that you may improve in Masonic knowledge, you are to converse with well-informed brethren, who will always be as ready to give, as you will be ready to receive, instruction.”

Taking this seriously a candidate requested information after receiving his third degree; “What is a cable tow, and how long is it? What is the difference between a cowan and an eavesdropper? Tell me what a hecatomb is. What is the difference between ample form and due form, and what is a pilaster?’

Not a brother in Lodge could answer all the questions!

Here are the answers to forty common questions. Perhaps they will be of use to others than initiates:

Allegory. “Freemasonry is a system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols. “Allegory” is an extended simile; metaphors is an abbreviated simile. Allegory is a parable, fable, fiction. It tells its story as if true, leaving the hearer to discover that it is fiction and from the discovery, learn the lesson. The fictitious character of the allegory is not deceptive; the fiction is used to teach just as the Great Teacher used parables to instruct.

Ample form; due form; form; designate the particular variety of ritual used. Ample form refers to what is done by a Grand Master or the Grand Lodge. Due form, or form as “The Lodge opened in due form” refers to a correct manner, all that is necessary, appropriate, usual, required by law or ancient usage. Due and ancient form; due form; form; used in different Jurisdictions, means the same.

Artificer. Differs from mechanic, workman, craftsman, in that the artificer uses skill and art combined; the sculptor is an artificer, the bricklayer an artisan. Tubal Cain, worker in brass and iron, was an artisan; Hiram was an artificer.

Ashlar. A building stone. They are “rough” and”perfect” in a Masonic Lodge. the “rough” stone being but partially cut, while the “perfect ashlar” is truly squared.

Cable tow. Probably from the German “Kable tau.” Originally the term was “cable rope.” Symbolically, like the umbilical cord which attaches infant to mother, it attaches the initiate to his Lodge. It is removed as soon as the spiritual bond of the obligation takes the place of physical restraint. The Baltimore Masonic Convention of 1843 defined the length of the cable tow as “the scope of a brother’s reasonable ability.” Half a mile might be beyond the length of a cable tow for a lame man and a hundred miles within its length for one with a car and a good road.

Calendar. Masonic Calendars differ from civil calendars. Four thousand years are added to civil dates to get Masonic dates; thus, this is the year 5941, A.L. — standing for Anno Lucis. (After Light). Each Rite of Freemasonry — Royal Arch, Royal and Select Masters, Knights Templar, Scottish Rite, has its own Calendar.

Caviling. Frivolous argument; raising hypercritical objections; asserting untruths to gain an end. Those who cavil attempt to persuade by means they know are not true; those who argue may present what they believe to be facts. The man who argues may be wholly sincere. He who cavils is not.

Chapiter. Often confused with Chapter. Chapiter is the capital of a pillar. Chapter is a division, usually of a book or treatise. In the church the Chapter is the body of the clergy connected with a cathedral. In Freemasonry the Chapter is a body of Masons, usually of the Royal Arch or the Scottish Rite.

Circumambulation. Walking around a central object, as an Altar. The Rite of Circumambulation was practiced by the most ancient sun worshipers. Masonic circumambulation is from East to West by way of the South, an imitation of the apparent course of the sun in this hemisphere. Anciently circumambulation from East to West by way of the North was symbolic of death. Originally such reversed circumambulation was used in Freemasonry but “ritual tinkers” and well intentioned but ignorant Custodians of the, Work have here and there sanctioned reverse circumambulation in Masonic degrees with no significance beyond that of convenience.

Clandestine. That Mason or Masonry who or which is not recognized, without authority. Often used carelessly as a synonym for irregular. A clandestine Mason is one made in a clandestine Lodge; one not holden under a regular Grand Lodge. An irregular Mason may be one raised in a regular Lodge without compliance with Masonic law; as on a Sunday, without due notice, without waiting statutory time between degrees and lacking a dispensation, etc. Irregularity can be “, healed”. The only way a clandestine Mason can become a real Mason is by application, investigation, ballot and initiation, passing and raising in a regular Lodge.

Clothed. A Mason is properly clothed when wearing a white apron and gloves. By common consent, gloves are usually omitted except at funerals and corner-stone layings. A candidate is properly clothed when prepared according to ritual and law.

Confer. Used advisedly for the giving of degrees. The dictionary definition is “to grant a gift or benefit-bestow powers or honors.” A degree is a gift, a benefit, a power, an honor. Degrees cannot be bought. Initiation fees help pay the overhead costs which all must share of Temple, Grand Lodge, necessary Masonic expenses. A man receives the degrees as a bestowal; he does not purchase or receive them as a right.

Congregate. Primarily, to congregate is to bring together in a crowd, to assemble. Secondarily, to congregate is to focus, to concentrate. Brethren waiting for Lodge to open in the primary sense are actually congregated. In the Masonic sense the Master “congregates the Lodge” when he raps brethren to attention, when the officers are clothed and seated, the door closed and the ceremony of opening begins.

Cowan. Is not synonymous with eavesdropper (see below.) The Cowan, (old Scotch term, obsolete except in Freemasonry) is an uninstructed Mason; a Mason without the word; a self taught workman who builds walls without mortar; an amateur stonecutter and setter. In modern times a Cowan is an Apprentice or Fellowcraft who attempts to sit in a Masters’ Lodge.

Dimit. (also spelled demit). Paper which gives permission to leave the Lodge as a member and seek a new Masonic home; writ certifying that all dues and assessments are paid, no charges preferred or about to be preferred, that the holder is in good standing. The dimit is a Masonic right of any Mason in good standing who complies with the laws (differing in different Jurisdictions) regarding the holding or deposit of the dimit. In some jurisdictions a ‘letter of transfer” is issued in place of a dimit, which keeps the holder a member of his Lodge until he is elected a member of another Lodge; such letters are usually for a three month period.

Discalceation. The Rite of Discalceation is very old; plucking off the shoe was testimony in ancient Israel. Apparently it came from the thought that when making a covenant, a man who removed his shoe could not easily run away. When “a man plucked off his shoe and gave it to his neighbor” (see Ruth) he put in his neighbor’s hands his method of escape, thus assuring that he was honest in his testimony or covenant.

Dotage. Does not refer to any specified number of years, as does nonage (see below) but to mental condition. A man may be in his dotage at fifty and in full possession of his faculties at ninety. Dotage is that age at which a man is senile, regardless of his years.

Due examination. The word “due” here refers to the manner, not the matter of the examination. The necessary preliminaries, proper caution, the regulations of the Grand Lodge being properly observed, all enter into “due examination.” (See Strict trial, below).

Due form. (see Ample form, above).

Due guard. Mackey states: “A mode of recognition, which derives its name from its object, which is to duly guard the person using it.” Some students believe it comes from the French expression “Dieu Garde” God guard. Its proper use in a Lodge is a constant reminder of the obligation, the penalties for infraction, the necessity of Masonic duty.

Edict. A proclamation of authority. Between meetings of Grand Lodge, the Grand Master has all the authority of that body. A Grand Master’s edict has the force of the law until Grand Lodge passes upon it; in some Grand Jurisdictions the Grand Lodge does not pass upon the edict and it stands until repealed by Grand Master or Grand Iodge.

Eavesdropper. Not to be confused with cowan, although the two are usually mentioned together. The eavesdropper tries to hear what is private; he is the man who listens at keyholes or conceals himself in a room where Masonic work is being done. The word comes from a time in England when the eaves of thatched roofs were raised above the walls for ventilation. Climbing up the wall to listen through the opening the spy on privacy received the droppings from the eaves-hence “eavesdropper”. In modern times the Masonic eavesdropper is the imposter,. the profane who attempts to pass himself off as a Mason when he is not.

Freeborn. Masonically used in the old Roman sense of being born without slave ancestry. Probably no human being alive has not some slave ancestor. In twenty generations, five hundred years, every man has had nearly two million, two hundred thousand ancestors; carry it back a thousand, two thousand years and the ancestors exceed the population of the earth. In the Masonic sense, Freeborn means without traceable slave ancestry.

Hecatomb. A hundred head of cattle. Used in the lecture regarding Pythagoras; as he was a vegetarian and poor it seems unlikely that he would possess cattle; certainly not a hundred head. As his philosophy reverenced life, it is less likely that he would have killed a hundred cattle. The expression is intended to emphasize his pleasure in the “erection” of the Forty-Seventh problem of Euclid.

Holden. Ancient form of the word “held.” It is good Masonic language to speak of a Lodge as “holden” under its Grand Lodge, or of the Feast of St. John as “holden” on St. john’s Day in winter.

Hoodwink. Commonly used to denote deception, to delude. Masonically it denotes covering, concealing. Supposedly it comes from the days of falconry, when the birds were hooded to keep them quiet until let loose after prey. On being brought into the daylight, the birds winked-as indeed a man does after taking off a bandage long over the eyes. From this, the expression came to mean a covering for the eyes. Indicating deception is an obvious analogy to the ease with which a blind person may be fooled.

Jurisdiction. The territory and the Craft within it over which a Grand Lodge is sovereign. The Jurisdiction of Massachusetts, the Jurisdiction of Washington, means not only those States but all the Masons of Massachusetts in China, Chile, the Canal Zone, the Masons of Washington and Alaska. The word also means the territorial boundaries from within which a Lodge may accept petitions.

Just and legally or lawfully. Just — complete in all its parts — refers to a Lodge having the necessary furniture and the required number of brethren to open and transact business. Legally or lawfully constituted is a Lodge opened and at work under the laws of its Grand Lodge and its own by-laws. A Master who assembled the constitutional number of brethren — and opened a Lodge without notifying all local members of a special meeting would not have a “legally or lawfully constituted Lodge.”

Libertine. In modern usage a sexually profligate man. Masonically it goes back to the days when the word meant a free thinker in matters of religion; hence the Masonic expression “irreligious libertine”. The Libertines were also a sect of the sixteenth century who held that as all men came from God, man could not sin; therefore, profligacy was not sin. Doubtless from this use of the word came the modern definition “rake”. Masonically it connotes non-conformity to religious beliefs.

Nonage. Under the age of manhood; universally in this country, twenty-one years for a male. No boy can be made a Mason; in almost all Jurisdictions he must have passed his nonage before he can apply for Freemasonry, on the theory that a boy is yet under the control of his parents; only a man can ask for Freemasonry “of his own free will and accord.”

Pilaster. A right-angled columnar projection; a square engaged pillar. Is not a synonym for column.

Profane. Masonically does not refer to blasphemy, but to non-membership. A profane is one without the Temple, not initiated; from the Latin pro, without, and fanum, Temple. The “profane world” then, is the non-Masonic world.

Purge. Means neither destruction of life or results of strong medicine. Masonically, to “purge the Lodge” means only to ascertain by proper Masonic means if all present are Masons and entitled to sit within the tiled doors.

Rite. A solemn ceremony performed in a prescribed manner. Masonically it means not only the form of degrees, but in a larger sense, the whole system; as the York, Rite, the Scottish Rite. The word also refers to small parts of larger ceremonies, as the Rite of Discalceation (see above) the Rite of Destitution; in the Scottish Rite, the Rite of Lustration.

Strict trial. Refers to the matter, not the manner of an examination. A trial is strict when it satisfies a committee that the one being examined is what he purports to be.

Summonses. Commands issued by a Master to his members to appear at a special meeting, or as a witness in a Masonic trial; commands issued by the Grand Master to appear before him or Grand Lodge.

Tenet. Any truth held to be self-evident; differs from doctrine as truth differs from theory. Truth demonstrates that the circle cannot be squared. According to theory it should be possible. The tenet is believed without proof; theories demand proof.

Tesselated. Mosaic, composed of small cubes of varicolored stone, marble or other hard material, inlaid to form designs. Not to be confused with Tressel or Tarsel, old names for tracing board.

Vouching, Avouching. The process of informing another that a third is a Master Mason. Cannot legally be done except in the presence of three; the avoucher, the one vouched to, the person vouched for. No avouchment by telephone, letter or messenger is Masonically legal. Properly to vouch for any one, the avoucher must have legal Masonic knowledge, i. e., either have sat in Lodge with the person vouched for, have had him vouched for by one who has, or be present at a properly appointed Masonic committee for examination.

Zodiac. Not to be confused with all the heavens. An imaginary belt of about eight degrees on either side of the ecliptic, containing the larger plants and the “signs of the zodiac” or principal constellations.

The Masonic Service Association of North America