A Letter from the Grand Mistress of the Female Free Masons, to George Faulkner, Printer

(Attributed to Jonathan Swift)

Ixion, impious, lewd, profane,
Bright Juno woo’d, but woo’d in vain.
Long had he languish'd for the dame,
Till Jove, at length, to quench his flame;
Some say for fear, some say for pity,
Sent him a cloud, like Juno, pretty,
As like as if ’twere drawn by painters,
On which he got a race of Centaurs,
A bite quoth

A.B.C. Lib. 6. Pag. 107

Seeing it is of late become a fashion in town, in writing to all the world, to address to you, our Society of Female Free Masons has also chosen you for our printer; and so, without preface, art, or embellishment, (for truth and a short paper needs none of them) our female lodge has the whole mystery as well as any lodge in Europe, with proper instructions in writing; and, what will seem more strange to you, without the least taint of perjury. By this time any reader who is a mason, will, I know, laugh, and not without indignation. But that matters not much, our sex has long owed yours this good turn. You refused to admit Q. Elizabeth, and even Semiramis Queen of Babylon, though each of them (without punning) had a great deal of male flesh upon their bodies; but at last you will be forced to own we have it; and thus it was we came by it.

A gentleman who is a great friend to all our members, who hath since instructed and formed us into a lodge, and who we therefore call our guardian, fell in lately with a lodge of Free Masons at Omagh in Ulster. They pressed him hard to come into their society, and at length prevailed. They wanted an Old Testament to swear him by. The inn-keeper’s Bible having both Old and New bound up together, would not do: For the Free Masons oath being of a much older date than the New Testament, that is from the building of Solomon’s temple, (for until then it was but a protestation well larded over with curses and execrations) they are always sworn on the Old Testament only. They offer to buy the fellow’s Bible, he consents; but finding they were to cut away the New Testament from the Old, concluded them, at once, a pack of profane wretches, and very piously rescued his Bible. This custom of swearing on the Old Testament only, is what hath given birth to the vulgar error, That Free Masons renounce the New Testament. So they proceed on to the rest of the ceremony, deferring the oath until next morning, one of them having an Old Testament for the purpose at his house hard by. This, it is true, was a heinous blunder against the canons of Free Masonry. But the Gentlemen were far gone in punch and whisky. In short, our friend and present guardian is made a Free but unsworn Mason, and was three hours gone on his journey next morning, before the merry Free Masons awoke to send for their Old Testament; and what was worse, they had taught him the form of the oath, against he was to swear in the morning.

Now, as to the secret words and signals used among Free Masons, it is to be observed, that in the Hebrew alphabet, (as our guardian hath informed our lodge in writing) there are four pair of letters, of which each pair is so like, that, at first view, they seem to be the same, Beth and Caph, Gimel and Nun, Cheth and Thau, Daleth and Resch, and on these depend all their signals and grips.

Cheth and Thau are shaped like two standing gallowses, of two legs each; when two masons accost each other, the one cries Cheth and the other answers Thau; signifying that they would sooner be hanged on the gallows, than divulge the secret.

Then again, Beth and Caph are each like a gallows lying on one of the side-posts, and when used as above, imply this pious prayer: May all who reveal the secret, hang upon the gallows till it falls down. This is their master secret, generally called the great word.

Daleth and Resch are like two half-gallowses, or a gallows cut in two, at the cross stick on top; by which, when pronounced, they intimate to each other, that they would rather be half-hanged, than name either word or signal before any but a brother, so as to be understood.

When one says Gimel, the other answers Nun; then the first again joining both letters together, repeats three times together Gimel-Nun, Gimel-Nun, Gimel-Nun; by which they mean, that they are united as one in interests, secrecy, and affection. This last word has in time been depraved in the pronunciation from Gimel-Nun to Gimelun, and at last to Giblun, and sometimes Giblin; which word being by some accident discovered, they now-a-days pretend is but a mock-word.

Another of their words hath been maimed in the pronunciation by the illiterate, that is the letter Lamech, which was the hush word; for, when spoke by any brother in a lodge, it was a warning to the rest to have a care of listeners. It is now corruptly pronounced Lan, but the masons pretend this also is a mock-word, for the same reason as Giblin. This play with the Hebrew Alphabet is very antiently called the MANABOLETH.

When one brother orders another to walk like a mason, he must walk four steps backwards; four, because, of the four pair of letters already mentioned, and backwards, because the Hebrew is writ and read backwards.

As to their mysterious grips, they are as follows. If they be in company, where they cannot with safety speak the above words, they take each other by the hand; one draws one of the letters of the Manaboleth, with his finger on the other’s hand, which he returneth as in speaking.

It is worth observing, that a certain lodge in town published sometime ago, a sheet full of mock-masonry, purely to puzzle and banter the town, with several false signs and words, as Mada or Adam, writ backwards, Boas, Nimrod, Jakins, Pectoral, Guttural, &c. but not one word of the real ones, as you see by what hath been said of the MANABOLETH.

After King James VI’s accession to the throne of England, he revived masonry, of which he was grand master, both in Scotland and England: it had been entirely suppressed by Queen Elizabeth, because she could not get into the secret. All persons of quality, after the example of the King, got themselves admitted Free Masons; but they made a kind of MANABOLETH in English, in imitation of the true and antient One; as I. O. U. H. a gold key; that is, I owe you each a gold key, H. CCCC his ruin. Each foresees his ruin. I. C. U. B. YY. for me, I see you be too wise for me. And a great deal more of the same foolish stuff, which took its rise from a silly pun upon the word Bee; for you must know, that ———— A bee has, in all ages and nations, been the grand hieroglyphic of masonry, because it excels all other living creatures in the contrivance and commodiousness of its habitation or comb; as, among many other authors, Doctor MacGregor, now professor of mathematics in Cambridge, (as our guardian informs us), hath learnedly demonstrated; nay, masonry or building seems to be of the very essence or nature of the bee, for her building not the ordinary way of all other living creatures, is the generative cause which produces the young ones; (you know, I suppose, that bees are of neither sex.)

For this reason the Kings of France, both Pagans and Christians, always eminent Free Masons, carried three bees for their arms, but to avoid the imputation of the Egyptian idolatry of worshipping a bee, Clodovæus, their first Christian King, called them lilies, or flower-de-luces; in which, notwithstanding the small change made for disguise sake, there is still the exact figure of a bee. You have perhaps read of a great number of golden bees found in the coffin of a Pagan King of France near Brussels, many Ages after CHRIST, which he had ordered should be buried with him, in token of his having been a mason.

The Egyptians, always excellent and antient Free Masons, paid divine worship to a bee under the outward shape of a bull, the better to conceal the mystery, which bull by them called Apis, is the Latin word for a bee. The ænigma of representing the bee by a bull consists in this; that, according to the doctrine of the Pythagorean lodge of Free Masons, the souls of all the cow-kind transmigrate into bees, as one Virgil a Poet, much in favour with the Emperor Augustus, because of his profound skill in masonry, has described; and Mr. Dryden has thus showed.

Four altars raises, from his herd he culls
For slaughter, four the fairest of his bulls,
Four heifers from his female store he took,
All fair, and all unknowing of the yoke;
Nine mornings thence, with sacrifice and pray’rs,
The gods invok’d, he to the groves repairs.
Behold a prodigy! for from within
The broken bowels and the bloated skin;
A buzzing noise of bees his ears alarms,
Straight issue through the sides assembling swarms, &c.

What modern masons call a lodge was, for the above reasons, by antiquity called a HIVE of Free Masons. And, for the same reasons, when a dissention happens in a lodge, the going off and forming another lodge is to this day called SWARMING.

Our guardian is of opinion, that the present masonry is so tarnished by the ignorance of the working, and some other illiterate masons, that very many, even whole lodges, fall under the censure of the venerable Chinese brachman, whose history of the rise, progress, and decay of Free Masonry, writ in the Chinese tongue, is lately translated into a certain European language. This Chinese sage says, the greatest part of current masons judge of the mysteries and uses of that sacred art, just as a man perfectly illiterate, judges of an excellent book; in which, when opened to him, he findeth no other beauties than the regular uniformity in every page, the exactness of the lines in length, and equidistance, and blackness of the ink, and whiteness of the paper; or as the famous British Free Mason MERLIN sayeth of the stars in the firmament, when viewed by a child, &c. But I shall not trouble you with the length of the quotation at present, because Merlin and Friar Bacon on Free Masonry are soon to be dressed up in modern English, and sold by our printer Mr Faulkner, if duly encouraged by subscribers; and also a key to Raymundus Lullius, without whose help, our guardian says, it is impossible to come at the quintessence of Free Masonry.

But some will perhaps object, how came your unsworn guardian by this refined and uncommon knowledge in the great art? To which I answer, that

The branch of the lodge of Solomon’s Temple, afterwards called The Lodge of St. John of Jerusalem, on which our guardian fortunately hit, is, as I can easily prove, the antientest and purest now on earth; from whence came the famous old Scottish lodge of Kilwinning, of which all the kings of Scotland have been, from time to time grand masters, without interruption, down from the days of Fergus, who reigned there more than two thousand years ago, long before the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, or the Knights of Malta; to which two lodges I must nevertheless allow the honour of having adorned the antient Jewish and Pagan masonry, with many religious and Christian Rules.

Fergus being eldest son to the chief king of Ireland, was carefully instructed in all the arts and sciences, especially in the natural magic, and the cabalistical philosophy, (afterwards called the Rosicrucians) by the Pagan Druids of Ireland and Mona, the only true cabalists then extant in the western world. (For they had it immediately from the Phœnicians, Chaldeans, and Egyptians, which I, though but a woman, I can prove). The Egyptians probably had it immediately from Abraham, as the scripture plainly hints in the life of that patriarch; and it is allowed, I am told by men of learning, that the occult as well as moral philosophy of all the Pagans was well bespringled and enriched from the cabalistical school of the patriarchs, and afterwards by the Talmudists and other inferior rabbins, though the prevailing idolatry of those days much depraved and vitiated it.

Fergus, before his descent upon the Picts in Scotland, raised that famous structure, called to this day Carrick Fergus after his name, the most mysterious piece of architecture now on Earth, (not excepting the pyramids of the Egyptian Masons, and their hieroglyphics or Free Masons signs); as any skilful Free Mason may easily perceive, by examining it according to the rules of the art. He built it as a lodge for his college of Free Masons, in those days called Druids; which word, our guardian assures us, signifies an oak in the Greek language, because oak is one of the best timber trees for building, of which (especially the marine architecture) the Druids were the only masters, though your modern term of mason implies no more than a worker in stone; erroneously enough indeed, or at least far short of the true and antient term of Druid; since the marine architecture, the most useful branch of the sacred art, corresponds naturally and perfectly with the word Druid, or worker in oak, and had nothing at all to do with stones of any kind; till Jason, a famous Druid, or Free Mason, used the loadstone when he went in quest of the golden fleece, as is it called in the enigmatical terms of Free Masonry, or, more properly speaking, of the cabala, as Masonry was called in those days. The use of the loadstone was then, and long after, kept as secret as any of the other mysteries of the art, till, by the unanimous consent of all the great lodges, the use of it was made public, for the common benefit of mankind. Jason’s artificial frog had it fixed in his mouth, and having a free swing in an oaken bowl, half filled with water, always faced the north pole; which gave rise to the poetical fable, that Jason’s frog was a little familiar or sea-demon presiding over the navigation, like any other angel-guardian; for Free Masons in all ages, as well as now, have been looked upon to deal with spirits or demons. And hence came that imputation which they have in many nations lain under, of being conjurors or magicians; witness Merlin and Friar Bacon.

It is perhaps further worth remarking, that Jason took one of the two sacred vocal oaks of the grove of Dodona to make the keel of the Argos, for so his ship was called; mysteriously joining together architecture or masonry, and the Druidical priesthood, or power of explaining the oracles. For, our guardian will have it so, that the Pagan priesthood was always in the Druids or masons, and that there was a perceivable glimmering of the Jewish rites in it, although much corrupted, as I said; that the Pagan Worship was chiefly in groves of oak; that they always looked upon the oak as sacred to Jupiter; which notion is countenanced (making allowance for the Paganism) by the patriarchs; for you see in Genesis, that Abraham sacrificed under the oaks of Mamre. Joshua indeed took a great stone, and put it up under the oak, emblematically joining the two great elements of masonry to raise an altar for the LORD.

Our guardian also says, that Cæsar’s description of the Druids of Gaul,is as exact a picture of a lodge of Free Masons as can possibly be drawn.

His reasons for the Manaboleth are the better worth discovering, for that I believe there are even some masons who know nothing of it, viz. that it hath been an antient practice among the cabalistic philosophers to make every Hebrew Letter an hieroglyphic, mysterious in its figure above all other letters, as being thus shaped and formed by the immediate directions of the Almighty, whereas all other LETTERS are of human invention.

Secondly, that the Manaboleth hath a very close and unconstrained analogy with masonry or architecture; for that every letter of the Hebrew alphabet, as also of the Syriac, Chaldaic, and Irish alphabets, derived from it, have their names from timber-trees, except some few which have their names from stones; and I think it is pretty plain, that timber and stone are as much the elements of masonry as the alphabet is of books, which is a near relation enough between architecture and learning of all kinds, and naturally shews why the Druids, who took their title from a tree, kept learning and architecture jointly within themselves.

Next week shall be published the Free Masons oath, with the remarks upon it of a young clergyman, who has petitioned to be admitted chaplain to our lodge, which is to be kept at Mrs Prater’s female coffeehouse, every Tuesday from nine in the morning to twelve, and the tenth day of every month in the year; where all ladies of true hearts and sound morals, shall be admitted without swearing.

I think it proper to insert the Free Masons SONG commonly sung at their Meetings, though by the by, it is of as little signification as the rest of their secrets. It was writ by one Anderson, as our guardian informeth me, just to put a good gloss on the mystery, as you may see by the words.



Come let us prepare
We brothers that are
Assembled on merry occasion;
Let’s drink, laugh, and sing,
Our wine has a spring;
Here’s a health to an accepted MASON.


The world is in pain
Our secrets to gain,
And still let them wonder and gaze on,
They ne’er can divine
The word or the sign,
Of a free and an accepted MASON.


’Tis this and ’tis that,
They cannot tell what,
Why so many great men of the nation,
Should aprons put on,
To make themselves one,
With a free and an accepted MASON.


Great kings, dukes and lords,
Have laid by their swords,
Our myst’ry to put a good grace on;
And ne’er been asham’d,
To hear themselves nam’d,
With a free and an accepted MASON.


Antiquity’s pride
We have on our side,
And it maketh men just in their station:
There’s nought but what’s good,
To be understood
By a free and an accepted MASON.


Then join hand in hand,
To each other firm stand,
Let’s be merry and put a bright face on:
What mortal can boast
So noble a toast,
As a free and an accepted MASON?


Mr Faulkner,

Our lodge unanimously desire you will give their sincere respects to your ingenious DRAPER, to whose pen we, as well as the rest of the nation, own ourselves obliged. If he be not already a Free Mason, he shall be welcome to be our deputy-guardian.

Your humble servant,


Tsrif eht Tsugua Nilbud.

Source: Swift, Jonathan. The works of Dr Jonathan Swift, Dean of St Patrick's, Dublin. Accurately corrected by the best editions. With the author's Life and character; Notes historical, critical, and explanatory; Tables of contents, and indexes. More complete than any preceding edition. In eight volumes. Vol. 8. Edinburgh: printed for A. Donaldson, at Pope's Head, MDCCLXI. [1761].