Giving the Mason Word

Everett R. Turnbull & Ray V. Denslow

Our ancient brethren laid much stress on the "giving the Mason Word," which in their minds must have been the ne plus ultra of Masonic ceremonies as then known. Philip Crossle, the late well-known Irish historian is generally regarded as an authority on early day Craft Masonry, and the article is taken from several notes which Brother Crossle had written at various times.

"The form of giveing the mason word," as it was known and worked by the Operative Mason, honorary as well as practical, of the seventeenth century, has suffered much at the hand of the subsequent Speculative Mason — the Innovator. From time to time has the latter encroached upon that "forme," and to it has been added much ceremonial never dreampt of by our Operative Forefathers of the Craft.

The best detailed description of the original Making of a Mason, can be found in a Scottish manuscript of the seventeenth century (the exact year is 1696), known as "the forme of giveing the mason word." Upon reading this manuscript it is evident that "the word" was more than "a" word-for the "forme" as exemplified by the Operative of old contained the essential tenets which we today teach in our degrees collectively known as Entered Apprentice and Fellow Craft. At one time in the history of the Speculative Craft, the initiation ceremony "Entered and Crafted" was not separated. Furthermore, from this old manuscript, we learn that the Apprentice of old, having served his time and become a Journeyman (that is a Fellow of the Craft), he was instructed in the five points — which instruction has been preserved to this day — in the degree which we call Master Mason. It is important to note that neither this manuscript, nor any document of before the time of Prichard, contain any reference to the Hiramic legend. This legend, now exemplified as a dramatic performance, is the handiwork of the Speculative innovator.

Scattered throughout Scotland we find evidence, committed to writing, so early as the fifth decade of the seventeenth century, concerning the "Mason Word."

Let us quote a Scottish Divine, the Revd. Robert Kirk, of Aberfoyle, who writing in the year 1691:

The Mason Word, which tho' some make a Misterie of it, I will not conceale a little of what I know. It is lyke a Rabbinical Tradition in way of Comment on Jachin and Boaz the two pillars erected in Solomon's Temple (I Kings vii, 21) with the Addition of some secret Signs delyvered from Hand to Hand by which they know and become familiar with one another." (Miscellanea Latomorum xix,31)

At the present time our first two steps of the Craft are so much alike in their terminology and procedure, they accord with the original Operative Making of a Brother. They exemplify the philosophy as it was of old propounded-always bearing in mind that nowadays our two initial steps represent the actual initiation ceremony. When the Speculative innovator separated the J. from the B. he obscured the ancient philosophy. It is upon his reception that a Brother receives his first impression of the sublime knowledge of the Ancient Craft-hence every care should be exercised in his initiation.

The "forme of giveing the mason word," as worked by the Operative Mason of the seventeenth century is confirmed by a publication known as "The Grand Mystery of Free-Masons discover'd," London, 1724. With variations "The Grand Mystery" is confirmed by other English documents of about the same period. So far as we are aware that was the working known as Ashmole and his Confreres in 1646, and to certain Freemasons of London when they established a Grand Lodge in the year 1717.

In the "Constitutions of the Free Masons," London, 1723, edited by Reverend James Anderson, we find little as to how a man was "made a Mason," or as he also expressed it, "enter'd a Brother." In due time the said Brother was not made but, as Anderson has it, "may become" a Fellow-Craft, or be "pass'd the part of a Fellow-Craft." Subsequently he may become a Master Mason, that is, Master of a Lodge. To become a Fellow-Craft did not require anything new by way of ceremonial. "The forme of giveing the Mason Word," "only leaving out the common judge," or "gudge," was repeated with additional instruction on the f.p.o.f. and the giving of "the word." What "the word" was, we do not know.

To become a Master-Mason, or as elsewhere quaintly named "a Right and Perfect Mason," he, too, did not undergo anything new by way of ceremonial. To attain to the part of a Master it behooved the Fellow of the Craft to cultivate the sublime knowledge of the Royal Art, for a Master was chosen for his "personal merit only." Alluding to the part of Master (Master Mason), Anderson informs us "it is impossible to describe these things in writing." "These things" which apparently appertain to the sublime knowledge (divested of its ceremonial as it is worked by the Royal Arch Masons and so forth of today) are hinted at in Anderson's version of the traditional History (Constitutions, 1723).

Thus, at the erection of the Tabernacle in the Wilderness, Moses, the Master Mason was "divinely inspired with more sublime knowledge in Masonry." "But no more of the premises must be mention'd." (2) At the building of King Solomon's Temple, Hiram Abif the "Chief Master-Mason was filled with Wisdom and Understanding. . . . But leaving what must not, and indeed cannot be communicated by writing, we may warrantably affirm . . . in cultivating the Royal Art, it was never perfected" until after the Temple had been completed. (3) At Babylon many learned Priests, known as Culdees "encouraged the Royal Art. But "it is not expedient to speak more plain of the Premises, except in a formed Lodge." Subsequently, at Babylon, "the Jewish Captives . . . retained their great skill in Masonry" as encouraged by the Babylonians and returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple under direction of Zerubbabel the Prince and General Master Mason of the Jews." (4) In a passage "about the Laws, Forms, and Usages" of the ancient Lodges, Anderson observes: "But neither what was convey'd, nor the Manner how, can be communicated by writing; as no Man indeed can understand it without the Key of a Fellow Craft," If Anderson had said "Key to a Fellow Craft" we could not argue that his "Key of a Fellow Craft" was the probationary Key with which to open the door to "the profound and sublime Things" of a Master, that is a Master-Mason.

Lawrence Dermott, writing in 1778, about the Master-Masons of his time, has it that

They were called fellow-crafts, because the Masons of old times, never gave any man the title of Master-Mason, until he had first "passed the Chair."

And what means this phrase "passed the Chair"? It cannot mean anything more than that the Mason had to pass a personal examination as to his knowledge of the Royal Art. It cannot mean the conferring of a degree.

Such was the condition of affairs in 1723. Firstly, as an Apprentice, a man was made a Mason, that is our present collective Entered Apprentice and Fellow Craft. Secondly, he may become a Fellow 'Craft by acquiring the * * *, that is a portion only of the working of our present Master Mason. Thirdly, he may become a Master (Master Mason) by cultivating "these things," the sublime knowledge of the Royal Art that cannot be communicated by writing, that is the essence of what we today know as the Royal Arch.

History of Royal Arch Masonry Vol. 1