Vol. XXXVI No. 7 — July 1958

Masonic Vocabulary

Freemasonry makes an especial use of many words in English that in the lodge may mean something quite different from the common definition. Two Short Talk Bulletins — “One Hundred Lost Words” (February 1947) and "Some Curious Masonic Words” (August 1953) — led to the publication of the Digest Masonic Vocabulary (December 1955).

All three documents have been so much in demand that this Bulletin, explaining some more words that have different meanings in Masonry than in everyday use, is published. It is abstracted from the Digest of the same name, which, of course, is much larger and more complete than these necessarily shortened pages.

Abif/Abiff. Part of the name Hiram Abif, principal character in the Masonic legend. The word Abif, an anglicization of a Hebrew word, does not appear in English translations of the Bible. In 2 Chronicles 4:16, the expression is “Huram, his father,” and in 2 Chronicles 2:13, it is “Huram, my father.” The Hebrew that the Great Light translates as “my father” or “his father” is a word indicating respect, veneration, admiration; priests of both the Catholic and Episcopal Churches are referred to as “father,” a term of respect. "Hiram Abif” is thus “Hiram, my father,” or “Hiram, his father,” meaning a Hiram greatly respected and venerated.

All-Seeing Eye. The eye was a symbol of God before Old Testament days, in Egypt and India. The words do not appear in the Great Light. The eye upon United States paper money, while a symbol of the Great Architect, was not selected by Masons; Masonry has no claim upon this symbol as used in dollar bills. The Psalmist expresses the thought without the words (Psalms 121:4): “Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.”

Apron. Temporary covering of clothing to protect it, or its wearer. Badge of honor of ancient Israelitish priests. Masonically, it was originally an animal skin worn to protect the person. For Speculative Masons it is a small square or oblong, officially of “white lambskin” (often of white cloth), the “badge of a Mason.” In presenting his personal apron to a candidate, reference is made to the Golden Fleece, the Roman Eagle, the Star and Garter. The Golden Fleece mythologically was of gold, guarded by a dragon, taken by Jason with the aid of Medea. Masonic reference is to the Order of the Golden Fleece founded by Philip, Duke of Burgundy, in 1429. The Roman Eagle was Rome’s symbol and ensign of power a hundred years before Christ. The Order of the Star was created by John II of France in the middle of the Fourteenth Century. The Order of the Garter was founded by Edward III of England in 1349 for himself and twenty-five Knights of the Garter.

Blue. Having the color of clear sky, the sapphire, the turquoise. There is nothing of this hue about a “Blue Lodge” except the colors on aprons, collars, etc., of officers. Blue was adopted as the official color of the Symbolic Lodge by the Mother Grand Lodge, which first proclaimed white as the color and then changed to blue. Various theories account for the color as that descriptive of a Symbolic Lodge; it came from the blue vault of heaven; blue was the color of the steel points of compasses, contrasting with the yellow brass of the hinged part of the instrument; blue was the official color of the Order of the Garter and was adopted for lodges in an attempt to add the dignity of that decoration to the Fraternity. Blue Lodge and Blue Masonry are other names for Symbolic Lodge and Symbolic Masonry.

Clothing. Coverings of the body in general, dress; raiment; apparel; when specific clothing is to be described, it is spoken of as ecclesiastical, formal, informal, athletic, etc. In Freemasonry it refers to apron, gloves, hat, sometimes cuffs and collars. A Mason is properly clothed when he wears the prescribed articles for any Masonic body he attends. No Mason without an apron is considered properly clothed in a Symbolic Lodge. He is probably properly clothed in a Symbolic Lodge without gloves, but gloves are usually required at funerals and cornerstone layings. At funerals in one grand lodge all brethren wear silk hats; a master may, but not necessarily must, wear a hat in a Symbolic Lodge. For him, and for no one else, it is their proper Masonic clothing.

Constitution. The act of bringing into existence a body or organization; a system of related parts; the fundamental or organic law of a state or organization. From Latin cum, with, and statuere, to place. In Freemasonry the “Warrant of Constitution” is the document by which a Symbolic Lodge comes into existence. The word is also used in its common English form to denote the organic law of a grand lodge. It is applied as part of the title to Anderson’s Constitutions of 1723, the governing laws of the Mother Grand Lodge that quote the “Old Charges,” taken and/or written from some of the old manuscript rolls of Freemasonry. These are sometimes, but loosely, termed “Ancient Constitutions” or “Manuscript Constitutions.” Masonically the word denotes only Masonic documents and not the Constitution of the United States, although that document is to this nation what a grand lodge’s constitution is to it.

Craft, Crafted. Craft; skill; a trade or art; those who follow it. Anglo-Saxon craeft; German Kraft. Means Freemasonry; the craft of building. Crafted has come to mean the same as make; made and raising.

Cube. Solid bounded by six equal faces, all squares; all angles, right angles. Black cube is used in balloting, the cube being preferred to the ball, as providing touch as well as sight to indicate a negative ballot. The “cubical stone” is found in some of the degrees of other Masonic rites than in those of the Symbolic Lodge, notably the eighteenth degree of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite.

Dotage, Nonage, Fool, Dotage, feebleness of mind due to advanced years; senility. Old English doten, dotien, silly. Nonage, of “no age” meaning not yet a man, still a boy, without legal years. Dotage means no particular age; men live to the century mark with full possession of their minds and reasoning faculties; mental deterioration and senility may come in early years. Dotage thus refers to a state of mind and not to a year of mind. Nonage is any age less than that of manhood, universally in this country, the age of twenty-one years.[1] A man in his dotage is not to be confused with a fool; the fool is he whose mind has never developed with his body; who is still a child mentally although a man physically. The man in dotage has been sensible and his sense has now deserted him; the fool has never had good or common sense.

Hoodwink. To cover, conceal, blindfold. Hood from Anglo-Saxon, hod; German but, both meaning hat or head covering; wink, Anglo-Saxon wincian; English wink, to dodge a blow. Hoodwink, therefore, is a covering or eye blinder that prevents the wearer from dodging a blow. Later came to mean any intentional and temporary blinding. The hoodwink or eye bandage has formed a part of initiation since the memory of man runneth not to the contrary; a symbol that as self-protection and knowledge come from sight, the hoodwinked candidate is unprotected and without knowledge. When the hoodwink is removed, the initiate is brought to a new light.

Just. Righteous; upright; honest; consistent with what is proper, reasonable. From the Latin justus, lawful, and jus, law. A Masonic lodge is “just” when it possesses and has in use the three Great Lights, a charter or warrant, and the required number of brethren to open and conduct a lodge. Masonically, “just” in this connection has nothing to do with the “just” or “justice” of a judge or law court.

Lesser. Smaller in capacity; not so large or so much; inferior; of slighter consequence. Anglo-Saxon laessa gives us English less and lesser. In Masonry a term ritualistically descriptive of three lights near or about the altar. These lights in Masonry are "lesser” only in that they are of less consequence than the Great Lights, but the phrase is perhaps unfortunate in seeming to minimize the importance of these representations of the original trinity, Sun, Moon, and Venus. These were the heavenly father, mother, and child, representing, at one stage of religious evolution, the idea of the complete family in one godhead. The “child,” Venus, has given way to the “master of the lodge” as the third lesser light, but neither sun nor moon nor master is really “lesser” in Masonic thought.

Mother. Title universally given to woman who bears a child. Middle English, moder, meant womb. In Freemasonry, “Mother Lodge” is a common expression. Craftsmen know that it is “Freemasonry, her doctrine,” “Masonic lodges and their sister lodges,” and find other relationships impossible to understand, just as those who go down to the sea in ships know that all vessels are feminine; it is “the ship, her prow,” “the ship, her rudder,” “she is a good ship,” etc. Connection between “mother” lodge and her sons (members) is enhanced in Masonic minds by thinking of the cabletow, earliest physical connection, as the umbilical cord of Freemasonry, which is removed when the “child is born” — in other words, when a man is “made a Mason.”

Obligation. Binding or constraining power of some mandate; that which enjoins obedience; promise. Latin obligare, to bind. In Freemasonry, the obligations are those solemn agreements, covenants and promises made by Entered Apprentices, Fellowcrafts, and Master Masons in the reception of these several ranks. Must not be confused with oath, which is the binding clause at the end of any formal, legal or Masonic promise. In a law court a witness takes an obligation to “tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth"; he ends, "So help me, God” which is the oath.

Perfect. Without defect; form that cannot be improved. Latin per, thoroughly, factus, made. Masonically there is the “perfect ashlar,” the stone that has been finished by the workman and is square on all faces; “state of perfection,” hoped for in the hereafter; “perfect youth” the young man without maim or blemish in his body. The Old Charges specified an unmaimed man for an apprentice. The “doctrine of the perfect youth” has plagued American Freemasonry for many years. But now it is more honored in the breach than in the observance; men with glasses, filled teeth, lacking one or more fingers, lame, with only one eye, are usually admitted, and, in some Grand Lodges of the United States, either by determination of the master of a lodge or dispensation from a grand master, men with artificial hands, arms, feet or legs are admitted as candidates.

Recognition. Friendly salutation after the act of recognizing. Old French reconnoitre and Latin recognoscere, to know. In Freemasonry the word has a special meaning when applied to the attitude of one grand lodge to another. Grand lodge recognition is not a salutation or recalling to mind, but a declaration of faith in the legitimacy of the grand lodge “recognized.” Members of lodges of recognized grand lodges are permitted to visit lodges of other recognized grand lodges. No Mason may visit the lodges of a grand lodge unrecognized by his grand lodge.

Rite. Solemn or religious ceremony; ceremonious act or observance; system of activities formalized by agreement or authority. Latin ritus, ceremony. Masonic rites are American, Scottish, York. American and York are names more or less interchangeable; York comes from the city of York, England, in which, according to the Regius Poem, King Athelstan ordered an assemblage of Masons in the year A.D. 926. The Scottish Rite, like the York or American Rite, requires candidates from the ranks of Master Masons. The York Rite, composed of grand lodges, grand councils, grand chapters, and grand commanderies, is also to some extent governed by the Grand Encampment, General Grand Chapter, and General Grand Council. Symbolic Lodges are all under grand lodges; there is no “General Grand Lodge.” In the United States there are two Supreme Councils of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite; one, the Southern Jurisdiction, is “Mother Council of the World,” with headquarters in the House of the Temple in Washington, D.C. The other is the Northern Jurisdiction with headquarters in Lexington, Massachusetts.

Sight. Faculty of seeing; of receiving sense impressions by the eye. Used symbolically in Freemasonry in the expression “making a Mason at sight,” which alludes to the power of a grand master to convene an occasional or emergent lodge, select a candidate without compelling him to pass a lodge ballot, and in that occasional lodge to confer on him, usually in shortened form, the three degrees of Symbolic Masonry. “Sight” here has no reference to any act in connection with these ceremonies; probably the expression came into use in Freemasonry as the shortest way in which to express quick action in the making of a Mason.

Table lodge. Table means both a structure, a piece of furniture, and to put upon such a structure, lay aside for the future. Latin tabula, a plank. In Freemasonry there is no motion to “table a resolution” since, if permitted, it would detract from the power of the master of a lodge to control debate. The “table lodge” includes an ancient ceremony in which, with prescribed rituals that are still occasionally revived, a lodge meets (usually on the Entered Apprentice Degree) for a communication around a table at which food and drink are served.

Tiler. A craftsman who sets tiles, either in a floor or on a roof. In 1738, the word, spelled tyler, first appears in print (Anderson’s Constitutions of that year). Up to then the keeper of the door of grand lodge was Garder; later Guardian; hence the English “inner guard” (similar in functions to the American junior deacon). Generally the tiler is supposed to get his name from the fact that a building, the roof of which is covered with tiles, is safe from intrusion. As a roof cannot constantly be unroofed and reroofed, some think the idea is far-fetched; the tiler does open and close the door to admit or keep out those who would enter. Another theory is that Freemasonry crossed the English Channel into France and returned again with new words and phrases. The French Mason made much of the officer at the door; he was termed tailleur de Pierre, a stone cutter or stone mason. English pronunciation had a hard time with tailleur, and it came out tiler, according to the theory. Modern dictionaries credit the word entirely to Freemasonry, it is one of the few the Craft has given to the general vocabulary.

Tracing Board; Trestleboard. Tracing is to sketch; to map out; to make a copy; Trestle is a beam, bar or board supported on four divergent legs. Tracing comes from the Latin, trahere, to draw; tractus, a drawing. Through Italian tracciare and French tracer we get the English trace. Early operative building plans were drawn on the floor or earth and soon erased. Early speculative lodges drew the emblems and symbols on the floor or earth. Later they were painted or drawn upon a carpet or floor cloth; these continue today in the familiar charts in lodges. Still later these floor cloths, carpets, charts, were placed on easels and became the tracing boards of Speculative Masonry. The trestleboard is that on which the master builder drew designs for the Temple. Mackey puts it: “The trestleboard is a symbol; the tracing board is a piece of furniture, or picture containing the representation of many symbols.” A tracing board is not used to make tracings or copies, and a trestleboard does not have to be supported on legs or trestles! Both words are now symbols, the tracing board being that which shows emblems and symbols by graphic art; the trestleboard that which is required in order to make plans, either for a building or for life and living.

Usage and Custom. Usage, customary or habitual practice; custom, common organized usage. Dictionaries define one word in terms of the other. Latin uti, to use; Latin consuetudo, one’s own custom or habit. Together the Latin means “use of one’s own.” Masonically, “ancient usage and custom” covers all the common practices of brethren in lodges and in grand lodges, which are hoary with age and common consent but not covered specifically by Masonic law; raps on a door, sound of the gavel, salute at altar, methods of wearing an apron, specific form of candidates costume, etc.

Waterford, Waterfall. Either word in the Fellowcraft Degree denotes plenty. A waterford has much water spread out to such shallows that it can be walked through; a waterfall is a cascade, a cataract of much water. It is the amount, not the fluid, which is symbolic of plenty. Mackey believed fall and not ford was the ancient word of which he thought the latter to be a corruption.

Women Freemasons. A contradiction in terms; no woman can be made a Freemason, any more than a man can be a mother. History records two authentic instances of ceremonies in which women were initiated and obligated; a dozen or more similar stories do not stand critical examination and cannot be proved. But the initiations of Elizabeth St. Ledger and Countess Barkoczy did not make them Freemasons since what was done was illegal and any person "made a Mason” illegally is no Mason. Women cannot become Freemasons because the Craft is formed upon the Old Charges that prohibit the admission of women to the order. Every master and grand master, prior to installation, takes an obligation agreeing that “no man, or body of men, can make innovations in the body of Masonry.”

Word, Lost; Word, Substitute. Lost, misplaced, not recovered; not to be found. Masonically, “lost word” is used in the same sense in which religions think of a soul that is “lost,” not out of existence, but denied a future of happiness and progress. The “lost word” is not a sound, but a doctrine, a consciousness of a beautiful and satisfactory knowledge or condition, or wisdom, or thought that has been “lost” to mankind, and to search for which is the principal object of the spiritual life. Many theories have been advanced by many thinkers as to the exact meaning of the “lost word” which include mastership, consciousness of God; the tetragrammaton; heaven; wisdom; relationship with a mystical future, etc. In Masonry the “substitute word” is, like “that which was lost,” a symbol, not a syllable, a symbol, not a syllable.

Question Box

This column will attempt to answer questions about Freemasonry.

What are the Cedars of Lebanon?

Lebanon is the name of a mountainous country lying at the east end of the Mediterranean Sea, the “Great Sea” of the Old Testament, and north of Israel. In ancient times it was celebrated for its large and old cedars, valuable building material. There are but few left today. Solomons Temple used many of them and, as most rituals explain, “the trees (were) felled and prepared in the forests of Lebanon, conveyed by sea on floats to Joppa, thence by land to Jerusalem where they were set up with wooden mauls prepared for that purpose.”

Where is Joppa?

Joppa, or Jaffa, a city of fifty thousand or more, is a port on the Mediterranean Sea. In ancient times it was the port of nearest access to Jerusalem. Originally it marked the boundary of the Tribe of Dan; after the captivity it became Hebrew territory. It was from this port that Jonah set forth for Tarshish and here St. Peter restored Tabitha to life.

Why is Acacia a Masonic symbol?

In putting acacia at the master’s temporary grave, Freemasonry follows beliefs that go back to the captivity of the Jews in Egypt. Here acacia was supposed to have grown about and protected the chest into which Osiris had been tricked by his jealous brother, Typhon. Searching for her husband, Osiris, Isis discovered the tree in the home of a Phoenician king; for service she rendered the king, he gave her the tree and thus the body of her husband.

Like the evergreens of this country, acacia is hardy. Sprouts come often from beams and columns made of acacia, the shittah wood of the Old Testament. The Jews planted it on graves as a symbol of life, and to mark the resting place of the dead that footsteps profane it not.

As myrtle was to the Greeks, mistletoe to the Scandinavians, and lotus to the Egyptians, symbols of immortality, so is acacia to Freemasonry.

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  1. In 2015, 11 U.S. grand lodges require applicants to be age 21; 2 require age 19; 36 require age 18; 2 did not respond to the survey. (List of Lodges Masonic)

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