Under No Less a Penalty

Jerry Marsengill

Each time the detractors and enemies of Freemasonry endeavor to ridicule the order, they use as one of their strongest arguments that Freemasons are bound to their obligations or oaths by fear of having the penalties of these obligations enacted upon their persons. Not only they, but many of our own members who have never taken the time or trouble to study Freemasonry, believe that these symbolic Masonic penalties were, at some time in the distant past, actually perpetrated upon supposed traitors to the order. The case of William Morgan, supposedly murdered by Freemasons, which fact has never been proved, is given as an illustration of Masonic vengeance.

Nothing could be further from the truth. These penalties, far from being used, were never intended to be actual punishment for Masonic offenses. If Morgan were murdered by members of the fraternity, which few Masons can believe, these Masons, far from acting in accord with Masonic principles, were themselves guilty of a far greater offense than was Morgan. The order can stand many of these supposed exposes, but it cannot endure the misguided zeal of any who would take the law into their own hands regardless of the gravity of the Masonic offense which the victim of their vengeance has committed.

The penalties, like any other thing in Freemasonry, are symbols and symbols only. They were taken, without any credit being given the author, directly from the criminal code of England during the middle ages. We read with horror, of the inhuman tortures perpetrated upon the white invaders by the American Indians, but gentlemen were mutilating one another, and inventing the most barbaric tortures, long before the discovery of the American continents.

Offenses against the law in England, for example, before the break of Henry VIII with the Roman church, were divided into two classes, treason and heresy. The punishment for treason was hanging in one of its various forms, while that for heresy was burning at the stake, either alive or after being strangled. The form which these two types of execution might take depended solely upon the vindictiveness of the judges and the inventiveness of the hangman.

Casanova, in his memoirs, gives us a vivid description of the execution of a criminal who had attempted the assassination of the king. Though the man was of low mentality, and had little idea of what he had tried to do, Charles Samson, later to become infamous through his use of the guillotine, in the French Revolution, known as Samson the Barber, executed him in a savage way. Under the direction of the court, which fixed the punishment and the means of execution, he was branded, his right hand was burned off, the flesh was torn from his bones by red hot pincers, and finally he was torn apart by wild horses, one being attached to each limb, Casanova informs us that the man's hair turned white during this ordeal, which was prolonged over a number of hours.

The usual penalty for treason in England, and until fairly modern times, was for the guilty person to be hanged, drawn, and quartered. Brother H. L. Haywood and Brother James Craig when writing upon this subject, both state that the meaning of drawn is that the criminal was dragged, either over the ground or in some vehicle, to the place of execution. I can't question the Masonic knowledge of these two brethren, but apparently they have never worked in a poultry house. Drawing with a man means exactly the same thing that it does with a chicken, having the bowels taken from the body cavity. The criminal was usually dragged to the place of execution first at the tail of a horse, later on an ox hide, and in much later years in a cart. On arriving at the place of execution, the accused was given opportunity to make a final speech, sing a song, or even sometimes to do a dance. These were often printed and sold to spectators, at a price. The proceeds were given to the executioner. Vendors of lemonade, pies, cakes, and candies hawked their wares among the crowd and the whole execution was given a carnival air.

The criminal was first hanged by the neck, but was cut down while he was still alive. His body was then severed in twain, (but not completely), his bowels taken from the body cavity, sometimes being thrown in his face, but more often burned to ashes and the ashes scattered by the four winds. The body was then chopped in quarters and these quarters were exposed at various points in the country by order of the king.

Punishment for piracy was normally fixed by having the pirates hanged by the neck on the seashore during the ebb of the tide. The body was therefore left in this place, neither sea nor shore until it had completely disintegrated. Normally these bodies were refused burial in the belief that the souls of the criminals would also suffer in the next world.

Many times criminals were hanged, for the crime of stealing goods valued over a shilling, and even eight- or nine-year-old children were hanged for the crime of stealing a loaf of bread. These bodies were normally left on the gibbet as a warning to other potential criminals. They were supposed to be devoured by the wild beasts of the field and the fowls of the air. The fallacy of this reasoning can be seen in the simple fact that, at executions, pickpockets plied their trade without thought of the consequences.

Tongues were pulled out with hot pincers for speaking either treason or heresy. Many times men were mutilated for the slightest offense, having their tongues torn out for making a jest, either about the king or about some other noble. Cutting throats was done as act of mercy in many of the ancient empires. We read in Caesar's commentaries that, when he crucified the pirates who had captured him and held him for ransom. he cut their throats after nailing them to the crosses in order to spare them further suffering.

Hearts were torn from still living bodies for various offenses and, many times, were thrown to the dogs or left lying on the ground to be devoured by the vultures.

After this brief look at the criminal code of medieval times, we can assume that the founders of the Masonic institution were aware of these punishments and incorporated some of them in the ritualistic work of the institution. They were not, however, intended to be thought of as actual punishment, but were, and are, merely symbols of the punishment of which a violator of his obligations would be deserving.

When a man testifies and says, "May God strike me dead if I am not speaking the truth," he does not expect God to actually do this. When a small boy says, "By Golly," he does not do this in knowledge that, among the Cornish, the oath "By Goll" was considered strong testimony and that the one speaking placed his right hand (or "goll") in jeopardy for the truth of his oath. Freemasonry enacts only three penalties on its members, expulsion, suspension, or reprimand. When a man takes an obligation he does so not under the penalty of, but "under no less a penalty than that" meaning that he knows, should he violate these solemn obligations, he would be worthy of no better fate than that expressed in the wording, but under no fear that the institution would ever actually perform these symbolic penalties upon his body. A man's own knowledge of his perjury, and his faithlessness, are stronger punishments than any tortures which can ever be devised by another. If a man is expelled from all the rights and privileges of Freemasonry, the knowledge that he is cast out and despised by those who had lately called him brother, is a fearsome punishment.

The Grand bodies which have expunged the penalties from Ancient Craft Masonry have yielded to the pressures of the anti-Masonic groups. Probably these men, who have changed and altered their rituals, believe that, at one time, Freemasons were bound to the order by fear of some strange and outlandish punishment.

If this is true, they have missed the point of the teachings of the "Royal Art." Freemasonry is, and always must be, "the gentle craft." A man who comes into the order and who, having once joined, keeps the light obligations of the craft, does so, not for fear of physical punishment, but for love of the institution and of his fellow man. No stronger punishment could be devised for any man than that of ejecting him from the fellowship and love which have been given him by the fraternity. Under no less a penalty than that of, is a phrase to dwell upon. Many of us think that were we to be expelled from the fraternity, we would have received a much greater penalty than those expressed in the obligation.