Vol. XXXIV No. 1 — January 1955

“Well Stricken In Age”

The veneration of that which is old because it is old seems ingrained in mankind. It is a part of the thinking of all who study Masonry seriously and even makes its appeal to the casual lodge member.

To have done "as all good brothers and fellows" makes us one of a long, long chain of men who have been Masons as we are Masons, who have lived and loved and died in Masonry as we live and love and will die.

In the busy lives of most Masons, where is to be found the time to make inquiry in libraries, to read old books, to consult the reprints of ancient manuscripts of the Craft? How many ever see the written constitutions of Freemasons of two, three, four hundred years ago? If we do find, here and there, in scarce Masonic literature, a reproduction of some old manuscript, how many of us have the time, the patience, even the knowledge, to translate the ancient English into the words of today?

Complaint is occasionally made by those who rush in where angels fear to tread that Masonic ritual has too many old phrases, too many words that are not modern language. Yet these remaining touches with a dim and distant past are the delight of the antiquarian, and might be a pleasure to all Masons did they know of their origin.

Our ritual, our teachings and our philosophy had beginnings in a long gone age. If one brother in a lodge realizes that what is heard in all three degrees night after night comes distantly, and changed in sound though not in sense, from brethren whose very tombstones have decayed from the storms of hundreds of years, that brother and that lodge has an asset to be cherished!

The oldest document of Freemasonry is the Regius Poem. It is sometimes called the Halliwell Manuscript, because resurrected from hundreds of years of miscataloging in the British Museum as “A Poem of Moral Duties” by Mr. James O. Halliwell who, in 1840, pointed out that it was a description of Freemasonry.

It ends with these words: "Amen, amen, so mote it be. So say we all for charity.”

Every Mason in a lodge utters “So mote it be” at one time or another during the meeting; it is a universal clinging to the oldest word, the most ancient phrase we have.

From the majority of the old manuscript constitutions come our organization, our teaching, our philosophy and — no matter how much changed in word — the spirit of our meetings and our ritual.

Few can or will see even reproductions of these. Here are a few quotations from some, arranged haphazardly (lest someone claim these words violate secrecy!) Every Mason who knows anything of ritual or the Masonic way of life will be able to trace a connection between these quotations and something old, something dear, something important he has heard in lodge.

East and West are important in lodge openings and closings. So they were when an old manuscript, now in the possession of Lodge Scoon and Perth No. 3, Scotland, was written:

that sae long as the Sun rysseth in the East and setteth in the West, we would wish the blessing of God to attend us in all our wayes and actions.

Authorities have speculated much on just when the Bible became one of the Great Lights. Still undecided, the question must not be confused with that which asks when the Bible was first used in lodges for the taking of an obligation. Here is evidence of the antiquity of that practice in the H. F. Beaumont Manuscript, 1690, where there appears:

The Mannor of taking an Oath att the Making of free Masons. Tunc unus ex senioribus tendat Librum utt illi ponant Manum Supra Librum tunc precepta Debeant Legi.

This may be translated: "Then one of the elders holds out a book and he or they that are to be sworn shall place his or their hands upon it and the following excerpts shall be read.” The Colne and the Clapham Manuscripts, state that it is the right hand that must be superimposed and that the book was the Volume of the Sacred Law. There can be no doubt, for the Clapham Manuscript refers to "the Bible,” the Dauntesey Manuscript to the “Holy Bible,” and the York Manuscript No. 2, to the “Holy Scripture.”

Interesting, too, are lines from the Dumfries-Kilwinning Manuscript No. 3, second half of the seventeenth century:

Then after the oath taken and the book kissed,

and from Harris Manuscript (about the same date as above):

After the Oath taken and the Book kist.”

Were there due guards and signs in those days? Apparently they were but not described in the old charges. But a sentence from the Dumfries-Kilwinning Manuscript No. 4, (first half of seventeenth century) is suggestive:

Nimrod . . . taught ym signs and tokens so that they could distinguish on another from all the rest of mankind on the earth.

In the never-ending discussion of what is and what is not a landmark in Freemasonry, of the six or seven disputed by none, is that of the secrecy of the institution. Here are quotations from ancient manuscripts to prove how old — even to “time immemorial” — is this essential in Freemasonry, for it is not to be supposed that it came into the fraternity at the time these manuscripts were written, but that it was already well known and universally practiced in those days:

In the Harleian Manuscript No. 2034, second half of the seventeenth century:

There is seurall words and signs of a free Mason to be revailed to yu wch as you will ans: before God at the great and terrible day of Judgmt yu keep secrett & not to revail the same to any in the hears of any pson to the Mrs and fellows of the said Society of free Masons so helpe me God.

In the Buchanan Manuscript (approximately the same date) is:

These charges that you have Received you shall well and truly keepe, not discloseing the Secrecy of our lodge to man, woman, nor child, Stick nor stone, thing moueable or immoueable: so God you helpe and his holy Doome, Amen.

In the Harris Manuscript No. 1 (about 1650) has:

These Charges wch wee now rehearse to you, and all other the Charges, Secrets and Mysteries belonging to Free-Masonry, you shall faithfully and truely keep together with the Councel of this lodge or Chamber. You shall not for any Gift, Bribe or Reward, favour or affection, directly or Indirectly for any Cause whatsoever divulge or disclose to either Father or Mother, Sister or Brother, Wife, Child, friend, Relation or Stranger or any other prson whatsoever. So help you God your Holy doom and the Contents of this Book.

In the Harleian Manuscript No.1942 (about the same date) is:

I; A: B: Doe in the presence of Almighty God & my fellowes & Brethren here present promise and declare that I will not at any time, hereafter, by any Act or Circumstance whatsoever, Directly or Indirectly, Publish, discover, reveale or make knowne any of the secrets, priviledges, or Counsells of the ffraternity or fellowship of free masonry, which at this time or any time hereafter shalbee made knowne unto mee, soe helpe me god & the holy contents of this booke.

The Dumfries-Kilwinning Manuscript No. 4 (first half eighteenth century) states:

The charges we now w Rehearse to you wt all other charges and secrets otherways belonging to free masons or any that enter their interest for curiocitie together wt the counsels of this holy ludge chamber or hall you shall not for any gift bribe or Reward favouer or affection directly or indirectly nor for any cause qt soever devulge disclose ye same to ether father or mother sister or brother or stranger or any person qt soever so help you god.” “. . . you that are under voues take hee yt you keep ye ath and promise you made in presence of Allmighty God think not yt a mental reservation or equivocation will serve for to be sure every word you speak the whole time of your Admission is ane oath.”

From Anderson’s Constitutions, 1723, and its record of “The Old Charges” and from Preston the Freemasonry of today gets its emphasis upon “that natural religion in which all men agree”; upon loyalty to government and country; upon the application of the Golden Rule by one brother to another; that brethren never wrong each other in matters of money; that brethren must be loyal to lodge, lodge government and officers; that Masons reverence womanhood; that un-Masonic conduct is never permitted.

In the H. F. Beaumont Manuscript, dated 1690, are these charges, demonstrating that the above mentioned Masonic teachings are old indeed:

1st The Charge is yt you shall be true men to God & his Holy Church yt you vse no Herecy nor Errors in ye Vnderstandinge to distract mens teachinge.

2ly That you be true men to ye King without treason or falsehood & yt you shall know no treason nor falshood but yu shall amend it, or else guiue notis or knowledge to ye King & his Councell or officers thereof.

31y And also yt you be true each to Another (vidz) to euery maistr & fellow of ye Craft of Masonry yt be Masons allowd, do you to ym, as you wold they shold do to you.

4ly That Euery Mason keepe Councell truly of Long (Lodg) & of ye Craft and all other Councell yt ought to be kept by way of Masonry.

5ly And Also yt no man be a theife, or accessary to a theife so farr forth As he shall know.

6ly And also yt you be true to ye Ld & maistr you serue & truly see to ye profit & Aduantage.

7ly Also you shall call Masons yor fellows or Brethren, nor no other foule name, Nor take yr fellows wife violently, nor desire his Daughter vngodly nor his Serutjin Villany.

8ly Also you shall truly pay for ye table and for yr meat Drinke wheryou go to Table.

9ly And Also yt you do no Vilanny in ye House where you go to table, whereby you may be Ashamed.

This is not the place to discuss the meaning of “free born” since the question is too complicated for a paragraph. But that the expression was known and valued to our ancient brethren may be seen in this quotation from the Haddon Manuscript (1723):

And he that shall be made Mason, be able in all manner of degrees, that is to say free-born, and to come of good kindred, &c.

This when read in conjunction with the clause from the “New Articles” in Grand Lodge No. 2 Manuscript, (about 1750):

That no p’son shall be accepted a ffree Mason except he be one and twenty years old or more,

indicates that our pre-application requirements of candidates also have a respectable antiquity.

A few instances of the age of some of our words, phrases and practices may round out this attempt to show the venerableness of our ceremonies. In the Melrose Manuscript No. 2 of 1674, appears:

and he ought not to let you know the priviledge of ye compass, Square, levell and ye plum-rule.

The “lewis” is known to us as the son of a Mason, still underage. Apparently he was not always so thought of, as instance the Harris Manuscript of the second half of the seventeenth century:

A Lewis is such an one as hath served an Apprenticeship to a Mason, but is not admitted afterwards according to the custom of makeing Masons.

The Dumfries-Kilwinning Manuscript No. 4 of the first half of the eighteenth century warns against cowans and also is curiously reminiscent of the Scottish Rite, as well as in a deliberate, unhasty making of a Mason:

No master mason shall make any mould square or Rule to any layer or cowin. . . no lodge or corum of massons shall give the Royal Secret suddenly but upon great deliberation first let him learn his questions by heart then his symbols then do as the lodge thinks fit.

In the Gateshead Manuscript, first part of the 18th century, is a hint of signs and an outright reference to “points of fellowship”:

If any be found not faithfully to keep and maintain the three ffraternal signs and all points of ffellowship, and principal matters relating to the secret Craft, &c.

From the Grand Lodge Manuscript No. 2, dated about the second half of the seventeenth century come two ancestries that are curiously interesting: the first, the number of Masons necessary to an initiation; the second, a sort of prophecy of the modem idea of territorial jurisdiction, although nothing of the sort was ever imagined at that early date:

No p’son of what degree Soever be accepted a ffree Mason vnless he shall have a lodge of five free Masons att ye least whereof one to be Master or Warden of that Limitt or division, wherein Such lodge shall be kept and another of the Trade of ffreemasonry.

A Mason who knows of a difficulty, a danger, an unhappiness that may afflict his brother will of course give him warning. This is not a modem idea; it is in the Gateshead Manuscript:

You are not to wrong them or see them wronged but timeously to apprise them of approaching danger.

To the general public, Freemasonry is a society in which men join in brotherhood for mutual helpfulness. To the lodge member, the teachings of the Craft are nowhere more emphatic than in emphasis upon mutual helpfulness and consideration, friendliness and charity. “To help, aid and assist” means much more than alms to the indigent, or charity to the unfortunate; to all Masons it means the right hand ofbrotherhood and of fellowship.

In closing this short reference to the antiquities of Masonic ideas, word, ritual, teachings, no better ending can be found than a rewriting in modern words of a verse from the old Chaucerian English of the oldest document (Regius Poem ):

The eleventh point is of good discretion,
As you must know by good reason;
A Mason if he this craft well know,
That seeth his fellow hew on a stone,
And is in point to spoil that stone,
Amend it soon if that thou can.
And teach him then it to mend,
That the lord’s work be not spoiled,
And teach him it wasily to men.

Question Box

This column will attempt to answer questions about Freemasonry

Why are lodges called “Blue Lodges?”

Schools of thought give different answers. Some authorities think that as blue has from ancient Biblical times been associated with truth, with Deity, with wisdom and hope; that, as Mackey taught, the blue of the Old Testament is a translation of the Hebrew tekelet, which is derived from a root meaning perfection, blue came into Masonry as its color by a natural association. Others believe that as our ancient brethren met on hills and in vales, over which the blue vault of heaven is a ceiling; that as Jacob in his vision saw the ladder ascending from earth to heaven; that the covering of a lodge is the clouded canopy or starry decked heaven, these allusions seem to connote that blue, the color of the sky, is that of all celestial attributes for which Masons strive.

Man’s earliest god was the sun. The sun rose, traveled, and set in a realm of blue; to associate the color with Deity was inevitable. Blue also is the color of the ocean, of mountain streams, of lakes of good drinking water — that blue should also become emblematic of purity is equally natural.

The grand lodge in England in 1731 changed from a previous determination that white was the Masonic color and denominated blue as that hue. A noted English Masonic student, Fred J. W. Crowe wrote:

(1) that the Order of the Garter was the most famous order of knighthood in existence; (2) that Freemasons, in adopting the color (Garter blue) attempted to add to their dignity and the growing prestige of Grand Lodge officers; (3) that two Grand Masters prior to the adoption of “Garter blue” were John, Duke of Montagu (Grand Master in 1721) and Charles, Duke of Richmond (Grand Master in 1724) both Knights of the Garter; (4) the Duke of St. Albans and the Earl of Chesterfield were both Craftsmen and Knights of the Garter and (5) Bro. John “Antis” (Anstis), member of University lodge, of which Dr. Desaguliers and other Masonic notables belonged, was Register of the Order of the Garter.

The two theories that find the most believers are (1) the adoption of the color by early operative Freemasons because of an age-old association of blue with those virtues that are peculiarly Masonic, (2) the adoption of the color by the early grand lodge in imitation of the nobility and the fame of the color of the most famous order of knighthood in the world.

The Masonic Service Association of North America