SHORT TALK BULLETIN - Vol.IX April, 1931 No.4
The office of Warden is very old; older, probably, than any reference
we will ever find in documents relating to the Craft. All through
our organization the influence of the Guilds of the middle ages may
be traced; occasionally with ease, more often by the methods of a
"higher criticism" which reads analogies by inference and a logical
interpretation of the spirit of the document.
That Freemasonry derived its Wardens from the Guilds, however, needs
no very critical labor to suggest.
The Guilds of the Middle Ages acted under Royal Charters or Warrants,
or similar instruments given by more local authority. This legal
protection enabled them to work with more freedom, for the good of
all, and gave the chartering authority some semblance of control.
In the "libre Albus," or White Book of the City of London 1419, we
find the "Oath of the Masters and Wardens of the Mysteries," which
was applicable to any Guild - weavers, metal workers, Masons or
others. It Reads:
"You shall swear, that well and lawful you shall overlook the art or
mystery of_____of which you are Masters and Wardens of the Mysteries,
for the year elected. And the good rules and ordinances of the same
mystery. approved here by the Court, you shall keep and cause to be
kept. And all the defaults that you shall find therein, done
contrary there to, you shall present to the Chamberlain of the City,
from time to time, sparing no one for favour, and aggrieving no one
for hate. Extortion or wrong unto no one, by colour of your office,
you shall do; nor unto anything that shall be against the estate and
Peace of the King, or of the City, you shall consent. But for the
time that you shall be in office, in all things pertaining unto the
said mystery, according to the good laws and franchises of the said
City, well and lawfully you shall behave yourself. So God you help,
and the Saints."
The Harleian manuscript, the probable date of which is 1660, states
"For the future the Sayd Society, Company and Fraternity of Free
Masons shall be regulated and governed by one Master and Assembly and
Wardens as the said Company shall think to choose, at every yearly
It seems strange to modern ears, but it is a fact that the Wardens of
a lodge, prior to some date between 1723 and 1738 were always chosen
from the Fellows of the Craft.
In the first edition of "Anderson’s Constitution," published in 1723,
under the "Manner of Constituting a New Lodge, as practiced by his
Grace the Duke of Wharton, the present Right Worshipful Grand Master,
according to the ancient usages of Masons," we read: "The new Master
and Wardens being yet among the Fellow-Craft." After the newly
elected Master is installed he calls forth "two Fellow-Craft,
presents them to the Grand Master for his approbation," and when that
is secured they are duly installed as Wardens.
At that early date a Deputy Grand Master could be chosen from the
ranks of the Fellows. The 17th Regulation states: "If the Deputy
Grand Master be sick, or necessarily absent, the Grand Master may
choose any Fellow-Craft he pleases to be his Deputy "pro tempre."
In 1738, when the Book of Constitutions was published, the Wardens,
Tiler, Assistant Treasurer and Secretary had to be Master Masons.
Perhaps no ancient usage and custom of the Fraternity is more
universal than the government of lodges by a Master and two Wardens.
Mackey lists this requirement as his Tenth Landmark, and whether they
have adopted Mackey’s twenty-five Landmarks or not, all Grand Lodges
recognize the Wardens as essential in the formation, opening and
governing of a lodge.
The three principal officers of a lodge are universally recognized in
the ritual as the essential elements of which a lodge must consist.
Only the uninstructed Mason regards the stations of the Senior and
Junior Wardens as but stepping stones to the East; necessary waiting
posts to which the ambitious must stand hitched for a year before
proceeding on his triumphal journey to the Oriental Chair!
Not only are the wardens essential to every Entered Apprentices’,
Fellow Crafts’ or Master Masons’ Lodge, but they have certain
inherent powers, duties and responsibilities. Mackey sets these
forth substantially as follows:
"While the Master may use others than the Wardens in conferring of
the degrees, he cannot deprive the Wardens of their offices, or
absolve them of the responsibilities."
The government of a Masonic lodge is essentially tripartite, although
lodges may be legally opened, set to labor and closed by the Master
in the absence of the installed Wardens, the chairs being filled by
temporary appointees. The Senior Warden presides in the absence of
the Master, and the Junior Warden in the absence of both the Master
and Senior Warden.
No other brethren in the lodge have this power, privilege or
responsibility. The Warden who presides in the absence of his
superior officer may, if he desires, call a Past Master to the Chair
to preside for him; but, no Past Master, in the absence of the
Master, may legally congregate the lodge. That must be done by the
Master, the Senior Warden in the Absence of the Master, or the Junior
Warden in the absence of both.
Mackey further states that while the Senior Warden takes the East by
right in the absence of the Master, the Junior Warden does not take
the West by right in the absence of the Senior Warden. Each officer
is installed with a ceremony which gives him certain duties; a Warden
in the East is still a Warden, not a Master. It is the Master’s
privilege to appoint brethren to stations temporarily unfilled. The
Master, whether elected and installed, or Senior Warden acting as
Master in the real Master’s absence, may appoint the Junior Warden to
fill an empty West. But the Junior Warden cannot assume the West
without such ap-pointment. On the contrary, in the absence of the
Master, the Senior Warden, when present, is the only brother who can
assume the East and congregate the lodge.
Thus runs the general law, usually adhered to. As has been noted in
other Bulletins, Grand Lodges may, and not infrequently do, make
local regulations contrary to the Old Constitutions, the Old Charges,
even the Landmarks - the fundamental laws of Masonry.
If a Grand Lodge rules that in the absence of the Master and both
Wardens, the oldest Past Master present may congregate, open and
close the lodge; then that law is correct for that Grand Lodge only;
but it not in consonance with general Masonic practice, nor with the
fundamental laws of the Fraternity.
The Wardens are found in all bodies of Masonry, in all Rites and in
Both its derivations, and its translations give the meaning of the
word. It comes from the Saxon "weardian," to guard, to watch. In
France, the second and third officers are "Premier" and "Second
Surveillant;" in Germany, "Erste" and "zwite Aufseher;" in Spain,
"primer" and "segundo Vigilante;" in Italy, "primo" and "secondo
Sorvegliante," all the words meaning to overlook, to see, to watch,
to keep ward, to observe.
Whether the title came from the provision of the old rituals that the
Wardens sit beside the two columns in the porch of the Temple to
oversee or watch; the Senior Warden the Fellowcrafts and the Junior
Warden the Apprentices; or whether the old rituals were developed
from the custom of the middle ages Guilds having Wardens (watchers),
is a moot question.
In the French Rite and the Scottish Rite both Wardens sit in the
West, near the columns. In the Blue Lodge the symbolism is somewhat
impaired by the Junior Warden sitting in the South, but it is
strengthened by giving each Warden a replica of the column beneath
the shade of which he once sat. It is interesting to note that these
columns once went by another name. Oliver quotes an inventory of a
Lodge at Chester, in 1761, which includes "two truncheons for the
Truncheons or Columns, they are the Warden’s emblems of authority,
and their positions are of great interest. The column of the Senior
Warden is erect, that of the Junior Warden on its side when the lodge
it at labor. During refreshment, the Senior Warden’s column is laid
prostrate, while that of the Junior Warden is erected, so that the
craft may know, at all times, by a glance at either the South or the
West. whether the Lodge is at labor or refreshment.
The government of the Craft by a Master and two Wardens cannot be too
strongly emphasized to the initiate or too well observed by the
Craft. It is not only the right but the duty of the Senior Warden to
"assist the Worshipful Master in opening and governing his lodge."
When he uses it to enforce orders, his setting mall or gavel is to be
respected; he has a "proper officer" to carry his messages to the
Junior Warden or elsewhere; under the Master, he is responsible for
the conduct of the Lodge while at labor.
The Junior Warden’s duties are less important; he observes the time,
and calls the lodge from labor to refreshment, and from refreshment
back to labor in due season, at the orders of the Master. It is his
duty to see that "none of the Craft convert the purposes of
refreshment into intemperance and excess" which doubtless has a
bibulous derivation, coming from days when "refreshment" meant wine.
If we no longer drink wine at lodge, we still have reason for this
charge upon the Junior Warden, since it is his unpleasant duty,
because he supervises the conduct of the Craft at refreshment, to
prefer charges against those guilty of Masonic misconduct.
Only Wardens may succeed to the office of Master (not so in Nevada).
This requirement (which has certain exceptions, as in the formation
of a new lodge) is very old.
The fourth of the Old Charges reads:
"No brother can be a Warden until he has passed the part of a
Fellowcraft; nor a Master, until he has acted as Warden; nor Grand
Warden, until he been Master of a Lodge, nor Grand Master, unless he
has been a Fellowcraft before his election."
There is wisdom in the old law; there is wit in the modern practice
of electing the Junior Warden to be Senior Warden. No man learns to
be Master of a lodge by sitting upon the benches and observing. No
brother’s fitness to be Master can be observed by brethren unless he
is tested. Brethren learn, and are tested as to how they learn and
perform, by serving as Wardens, before they aspire to the Oriental
A privilege equally high is that of the Wardens in most
Jurisdictions; representing the lodge with the Master at all
communications of the Grand Lodge. Certain Grand Lodges
disenfranchise the Wardens, the Grand Lodge consisting only of the
Master of constituent lodges and the officers and past officers of
Prior to the formation of the M other Grand Lodge of England, in
1717, it was the prerogative of every Mason to be present at the
General Assembly and to have his voice in its affairs. When the
Grand Lodge was brought into being by the "four old lodges" of
London, the interests of all were entrusted to the Masters and
Preston states that "The Masters and Wardens of all regular
particular lodges upon record" form the Grand Lodge.
Of the action of Grand Lodges which deprive the Wardens of membership
in the Grand Lodge, Mackey states:
"I cannot hesitate to say that this is not only a violation of the
ancient regulations, but an infraction of the inherent rights of the
Wardens and the lodges."
This appears to many as going too far. If the brethren of the old
General Assembly could give up their rights to a voice in its
deliberations, and entrust their interests to Masters and Wardens in
a Grand Lodge, it seems not unreasonable that these Masters and
Wardens, as a Grand Lodge, have a right to deprive themselves of
membership when the good of the whole requires it.
The Warden’s is a high and exalted office; his duties are many, his
responsibilities great; his powers are only exceeded by those of the
Master. He is a good Warden who so acts in his South or West as to
command for himself the respect of the brethren, rather than
demanding it because of law and custom.