WHAT MAKES YOU A MASON
-by- Wallace M. Gage Grand Historian, Grand Lodge of Maine
Every Mason has heard that question - "What makes you a Mason"
- and had to answer it. It is, of course a part of the catechism he has
to learn, in some jurisdictions, for the Entered Apprentice degree and
others for the Master Mason Degree.
The answer of course, is "My Obligation!" This being the case,
the Obligation is the thing that
separates the men from the boys, the wheat from the chaff, and the Mason
from the non-Mason. This being the case, the Obligation has to be the
most important part of the conferral of the degrees, but unfortunately
once it has been given, all too often no more attention is given to it.
The purpose of this paper is to look at this Obligation of ours that makes
us Masons, and see where it came from, trace its development, discover
its meaning and its application in present day society.
Some of our jurisdictions refer to our subject as an "Obligation"
while others call it an "Oath." Some use the expression "Oath
or Obligation." Is it one or the other, or neither or both?
The Dictionary defines an "Oath" as a " solemn affirmation
or declaration made with an appeal to God...." An "Obligation"
is "a duty imposed, something one is bound to do as a result of a
contract, moral responsibility, promise, etc."
All rituals use the expression "promise and swear." A promise
means to "engage in a pledge." To swear means to "declare
solemnly in the name of God." Using these guidelines, we have to
conclude that we have an "Obligation" up to the point where
"So help me, God" is invoked.
Properly, therefore, our "Obligation" is really an "Oath."
Many of the critics of Masonry base their objections on the "horrible
oaths" they claim we require.
A secondary meaning of the word "oath" is "the irreverent
or profane use of the name of
God, a swear word, a curse." Therefore the word has something of
a negative inference, and Freemasonry has generally chosen to refer to
its vows as "Obligation," whether correctly or not.
The root of the word "Obligation" is the same as that of our
word "ligament," meaning a cord or tendon by which one thing
is tied to another. Our Obligation is therefore a pledge which ties a
Mason to the Craft and ties himself to the duties and responsibilities
imposed by it.
Before looking into the background of the "Obligation," we
have to touch briefly on various theories as to the origins of the Craft.
The idea of descent of present day Freemasonry from the operative builders
of King Solomon's Temple, on which our ritual is largely based, has long
been discarded as pure
legend. The theory of evolutionary descent from the operative stonemasons
and cathedral builders of the middle ages is the one generally accepted
today, but it remains largely unproven except in Scotland where there
is evidence to support it.
In recent years, other hypotheses have been advanced by some Masonic
scholars. One of these is that operative masonry in England had little
or no connection with the speculative, and that the latter appeared as
an entirely new organization in the 17th century, formed by a group opposed
to the intolerance in the state politics and religion in England, and
who wanted to provide a common ground
where those of differing views might come together.
Another theory has it that our Speculative Craft is an outgrowth of an
organization created for charitable purposes, to provide aid to sick and
distressed members. The adoption of operative builders' trappings only
served as camouflage to protect against interference by the State.
We have to emphasize that these are only theories, and that we may never
know which, if any, is the correct one. The subject of this paper, "the
Obligation," will be best understood in relation to the operative/transition/speculative
theory, and we will therefore stick to this as the basis for discussion.
With the formation of the first Grand Lodge in London in 1717, it became
necessary to establish a constitution and to draft regulations for the
government of the Craft, taking into account the relationships between
individual Masons and their lodges, and the newly established Grand Lodge.
Up to this time, lodges had operated under the authority of documents
various1y called "Old Charges" "Manuscript Constitutions"
or "Gothic Constitutions." (Some 113 of these are still in existence.)
These manuscripts served as a sort of Constitution/Charter/Ritual, evidently
coming from a common original document of unknown origin, although all
differ slightly from each other.
In order to establish guidelines for operation of a centralized Craft,
in 1721 Dr. James Anderson was directed by the Grand Master to review
these available copies of the Charges and develop a common method of operation.
The result is "The Charges of A Freemason" found in Anderson's
Constitutions of 1723, the first and without doubt the most influential
Masonic book ever published.
As to the content of these Old Charges, they all begin with a prayer,
Christian in character, followed by a legendary history of Masonry (and
some of these were pretty far out), then charges for moral conduct and
trade practices to be followed by Masters and Apprentices, and finally
the oath to keep them.
The oldest of these Old Charges is the Regius Manuscript written about
1390. In it we find reference to an oath which says:
And all these points here before To them those must need be sworn, And
all shall swear the same oath
Of the Mason, be they leif, be they loath. The basic laws of Freemasonry
are the "Ancient Landmarks", those fundamental principles which
make masonry what it is.
They are not subject to change, but are very difficult to codify. As
Bro. Robert Freke Gould wrote facetiously, "Nobody knows what they
comprise or omit; They are of no earthly authority, because everything
is a Landmark when an opponent desires to silence you, but nothing is
a Landmark that stands in his own way."
Back in 1858, Bro, Albert G. Mackey undertook to draw up a list of 25
Landmarks. Some Grand Lodges have adopted Mackey's list, others have drawn
up their own, and others have steered clear of the matter altogether.
A definition of "Landmarks" which seems to be as satisfactory
as any, states that they are "Those time honored customs of Freemasonry
which have been the fundamental law of the
Fraternity from a period so remote that their origin cannot be traced,
and so essential that they cannot be modified without changing the character
of the Fraternity.
Most of the generally accepted "Landmarks" are included in the
Old Charges, either directly or indirectly, and the ~obligations in our
rituals are taken almost entirely from them as we'll see.
Speculative Masonry came to America from England, Ireland and Scotland
by way of settlers emigrating to this country. When a number of these
transplanted Masons got together and decided to form a lodge, they had
to rely on their memories for the ritual used in their home lodges which
they might not have visited in many years.
Nothing of a ritualistic nature was ever written down in those days.
It isn't surprising that the rituals they came up with often bore little
resemblance to any of those used in the "Old Country." The eventual
result was that each of our 51 American Grand Lodges now has its own standard
ritual, nearly all
differing from each other.
Each of these Grand Lodges had a hard time standardizing the ritual even
in their own jurisdictions. At
one time a serious effort was made to develop and adopt a common ritual
to be used throughout the United States. The so-called "Baltimore
Convention" held in 1843 for this and other purposes eventually broke
up in bickering and disagreement, although many of its recommendations
on other matters were eventually adopted by individual Grand Lodges. Bro.
Allen Roberts is the author of an interesting Short Talk Bulletin published
by the Masonic Service Association in October 1986, describing the work
of the Convention.
We should note in passing that the obsession with letter perfect delivery
of a standard ritual is mainly found in America. In England and Scotland
there are many approved workings, and each lodge is free to chose whichever
one it prefers to use.
For the purposes of this paper, we've chosen to use as a base for consideration
the ritual Obligation used in Maine, a part of the "Norton"
ritual adopted by the Grand Lodge in 1894. For comparison, we have taken
the rituals of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Scottish
"Standard" and English "Emulation" rituals. The review
has been restricted to the Master Mason's Obligation, as it is the most
important and comprehensive of the three.
This Obligation to be examined consists of ten sections - an opening clause
which we've called the "Preamble," eight "Furthermores,"
of which four are positive and four negative, and ending up with a concluding
clause containing the penalties and the oath. Let's look at the "Preamble."
The first thing we find is the expression "free will and accord."
Just when this first came into use isn't known, but it is obviously a
product of Speculative rather than operative masonry. In it we discover
the origin of the practice followed in varying degrees, of prohibiting
solicitation of candidates.
The reference to "Almighty God" reflects the requirement for
a belief in a Supreme Being on the part of
the candidate. The Regius Manuscript of 1390 says: "That who will
know this craft and come to estate, He must love well God and Holy Church
There are a good many thoughts as to the place of the Saints John in Masonic
ritual. The Saints are, of course, Saint John the Baptist and Saint John
the Evangelist. The old operative gilds customarily adopted patron saints,
and Masons chose the Sts. John. This incidentally, is one of the few Christian
aspects remaining in our ritual after the transition to a nondenominational
basis was made in 1723.
The balance of the Preamble is a somewhat wordy promise by the candidate
not to reveal any of the secrets of the degree to any one not entitled
to them. Just what these secrets are is subject to a wide variety of interpretations.
Secrecy was much overdone in earlier times. Today it's generally considered
to be the means of recognition, parts of the ritualistic work, and matters
that are just no one's business but our own.
It seems to be human nature in our present day to assume that anything
kept secret must be sinister and that it poses some kind of threat to
those not in the know. Because of it, Masonry has been accused of plotting
world domination, seeking to overthrow the church, of trying to gain political
or business advantages for its members and all sorts of evil designs against
the welfare of society.
In any family, business and other organization there are private matters
of no one else's concern. It's ironic that the Roman Catholic Church,
one of Masonry's severest critics, has many secrets which are not divulged
to the outside world, including those of its many Orders and the Knights
One of the crosses we have to bear today is the term "secret society"
formerly accepted as describing the Craft.
In earlier times it was a fairly innocuous expression seldom arousing
the suspicions we encounter today. Today's proper term would be "a
society with secrets" which better describes the Craft.
It's interesting to recall the detailed prohibitions in the Entered Apprentice
degree - not to "write, print, paint, cut, etc." The earliest
reference to this is found in the Edinburgh Manuscript of 1696 in which
it says: "...you shall not reveal any pairt of what you shall hear
or see at this time whether by word or write nor put it in write at any
time nor draw it with the point of a sword, or any other instrument upon
the snow or sand...."
We now come to the first of the "Furthermores" as it appears
in the Maine and Massachusetts rituals. [Portions were not written, but
were covered verbally briefly.]
The sources of Masonic laws are:
1. The Ancient Landmarks
2. The Old Charges
6. Customs and Usages.....
And of course, the by-laws of individual lodges which are a part of Masonic
law to its own members. These are the "laws, rules and regulations"
referred to in the Obligation. Some other Grand Lodges have chosen to
elaborate a bit by adding references to Grand Lodge Constitutions, Laws
and Regulations, and one specifically mentions the by-laws of any lodge
of which the candidate may hereafter become a member.
With regard to lodge by-laws, we might suggest in passing that it wouldn't
be a bad idea to remind our newly raised Brethren to observe that part
of the by-laws that specify the dues and time of payment. This might possibly
reduce the number of suspensions for non-payment of dues. All of the rituals
consulted end with the spoiler "so far as the same shall come to
In our system of civil law, ignorance of the law is no excuse for its
violation. Try explaining to the traffic officer that you didn't know
the speed limit in the location where you were pulled over and see how
far you get.
This particular escape clause certainly takes away a good deal of the
incentive for learning anything much about Masonic law, and serves as
a ready excuse for violation of almost any of them. At his installation
in office, the Master of a lodge is presented with the Book of Constitutions
and told to "cause it to be read in your lodge that none may pretend
ignorance if its requirements."
In practice, however, this is seldom done. The result is that very few
Masons know much about Masonic law, and fewer put it into practice. Bro.
Wallace McLeod in his Prestonian Lecture for 1986,
"The Old Charges," has reconstructed and homogenized the many
existing variations of these Old Charges and arrived at a reconstructed
"Standard Original" with an assumed date somewhere between 1470
In it we see the origin of this "Furthermore" appearing in
our present day ritual. With the candidate's hand on the "Book"
(Bible) the charges are then read to him: "These be the charges in
every Mason should hold, both Masters and Fellows..."
(Some 19 charges are then read to him, some having to do with operative
working conditions and others with morals and conduct.)
And after this, the Oath:
These charges that we have rehearsed, and all other that belong to Masonry
keep, so help you God and Haledom [Holy doom] and by this Book to your
The second "Furthermore" has to do with the definition of "signs
and summonses" and the meaning of "cabletow." The trestleboard
or newsletter is a good example of a "sign" in the present day
meaning of the term - a notice or report of lodge meetings and programs
sent out for the information of its members. Presumably it also includes
the so-called Grand Hailing Sign of Distress.
On the other hand, a "summons" is of more importance than the
lodge bulletin, and is used where matters of urgency are involved. The
Grand Lodge of Maine defines a "summons" as "An imperative
injunction to appear at a communication of the lodge or to attend the
Grand Lodge or Grand Master." It is a request for your presence issued
only on occasions of great importance.
This emphasis on attendance goes back to the Regius Manuscript of 1390,
...that every Master that is a mason Must be the general congregation,
So that he it reasonably be told
Where that the assembly shall be held, And to that assembly he must needs
go, Unless he have a reasonable excuse. In present day use, the wording
in the Scottish ritual is more descriptive, reading:--
to answer and obey all lawful signs and summonses sent to me from a MMs
lodge if within the length of my c...t... and to plead no excuse save
that of sickness or the pressing emergency of my own public or
The word "cable" is a marine term referring to a ship's hawser.
It is also a measure of length, being 100 fathoms (600 feet). A hawser
being often used for towing, evidently coined the phrase "Cabletow."
An expos‚ published in England in 1762 carries a footnote which says:
"A cabletow is three miles in length, so that if a Fellowcraft is
that distance from his lodge, he is not culpable on account of non-attendance."
In other Old Charges the distance is given as 50 miles. The present day
meaning of the term is given by Coil in his Masonic Encyclopedia: "In
Masonry it is purely symbolic and means the scope of a man's reasonable
ability, as decided by the Baltimore Convention of 1843."
And now for "Furthermore" Number three:- Help, aid and assist
are references to "Relief," one of the tenets of Freemasonry
along with Brotherly Love and Truth, which go back to the earliest records,
the Regius Manuscript, where we find an admonition to the operative mason
to help a Brother who is doing his work improperly:-
A mason if he this craft well know That seeth his fellow hew-on a stone
And is in point to spoil that stone Amend it soon if that thou can And
teach him it to amend That the lord's work be not spoiled.~
In many places in the Old Charges we find references to extending help
to the needy operative Brother. In McLeod's reconstructed Standard Original,
...every mason shall receive and cherish strange fellows when they come
over the country, and set them to work.;.and give him his pay, and if
he have no stone (work for him, he shall refresh him with money to the
An additional reference to relief to a distressed Brother is found in
Three Distinct Knocks an expos‚ published in 1769. The obligation of a
Master Mason stating:- "I will also serve a Brother as far as lies
in my power without being detrimental to myself and family.
What about the present day interpretation of this section? One of the
main criticisms directed at Freemasonry is that it supposedly teaches
that Masons are to favor each other over non-Masons in business, politics
and other situations.
Stephen Knight in his book The Brotherhood, which recently stirred up
some latent hostility toward
Masonry in England, makes a great to-do about favoritism in the British
police, especially Scotland Yard. He infers, as do many of those opposed
to Masonry, that whenever management includes Masons, promotions from
below are almost invariably made because of Masonic membership rather
than by reason of ability. It can't be denied that favoritism does occur
occasionally, but it isn't the intention that it be so.
It is intended to apply to those in distress, whether Masons or not.
This is emphasized in the Charge at the closing of a lodge (not used often
enough today), which says:- "Every human being has a claim on your
kind offices. Do good unto all...." (Taken from Galatians 6:10)
Just a word before moving along. In earlier days, there used to be frequent
reports of "mendicants" claiming to be Masons without funds
or otherwise in distress and seeking money. Once again in the last several
months we've received notices from our Grand Lodge warning that this is
happening again and cautioning Masons to be on guard lest they be taken
in - hence the need for "finding them worthy"
before giving aid.
Now the last of the positive "Furthermores," and one poorly
worded and often misunderstood. This brief section does not mean what
it says, nor did it ever, although similar wording is found as far back
as 1760 where it appears in Three Distinct Knocks a British expos‚. It
has given rise to another criticism of Freemasonry, that Masons consider
themselves above the law, and are bound to protect each other under all
circumstances except in those specified. Again, going back to the 1390
He must steadfast be and true also To all this ordinances wheresoever
he go, And to his leige lord the king, To be true to him over all things.
The same idea is expressed in many of the Old Charges, and as Josiah H.
Drummond, a noted Masonic jurist put it:
"The laws of Masonry are subordinate to the civil law. Whenever one's
duties as a Mason conflict with his duties as a citizen, the-latter are
paramount and the former must yield."
The Scottish "Standard" and English "Emulation" rituals
are much clearer in presenting the point when they state "...murder,
treason, felony and all other offenses contrary to the laws of God and
the ordinances of the realm being at all times excepted..." And finally,
the Old Charges emphasize that "A Mason is to be a peaceable subject
to the civil powers wherever he resides or works, and is never to be concerned
in plots and conspiracies against the peace and welfare of the nation..."
This fifth of the "Furthermores" is the first of the negatives
- the "Thou shalt not's:" This is one of the most non-controversial
of the candidate's obligations. It goes back to the Regius Manuscript's
admonition: "There shall no master supplant another, and The Master
Mason must be full securely... and pay thy fellows.... And pay them truly
what they may deserve."
In another of the Old Charges we find a form of the Golden Rule: "And
also ye shall be true one to another, that is to say, to every Master
and Fellow of the Craft of Masonry that be Masons allowed, ye shall do
to them as ye would they should do to you."
Some Grand Lodges have today expanded the wording of their rituals to
include the duty of preventing harm to come to a Brother, if in the candidate's
power to prevent it, and to refrain from speaking evil behind his back.
This is also found in the Old Charges stated: "And also that no fellow
slander another behind his back to make him lose his good name or his
While the meaning of this "Furthermore" is straight forward
and clear, the next one has a number of obscurepoints. The sixth "Furthermore":
In the operative stages of the Craft we find a lack of references to women,
although we do hear of a few women being members of the London Company
of Freemasons as early as 1663, although this was a guild rather than
a working lodge.
We also find that a woman was apprenticed to a Master Mason from about
1713-14. In general though, this didn't present a problem in the operative
days as few had the desire or the upper body
strength to do the hard, physical labor of a stonemason. By the time speculative
masonry had taken over, however, we find in Anderson's Constitutions one
of the Charges stating that "The persons admitted members of a lodge
must be good and true, free born, and of mature and discreet age, no bondsmen,
no women, no immoral or scandelous men, but of good report."
The American courts have always upheld the right of private associations
to prescribe their own rules regarding membership as a fundamental Constitutional
right. In recent years, however, they have narrowed the type of Organization
given that right. Private clubs have been allowed to set these
qualifications, but for example, the Jaycees were recently ordered by
the courts to accept women members as the Jaycees didn't qualify as a
Other similar groups have recently received the same treatment. Masonry
has been permitted to follow its traditional laws and regulations in this
regard, but there is no assurance it won't have to defend itself in the
future against attacks from the radical wing of the women's rights movement.
In addition to membership questions, those organizations excluding women
could possibly lose tax exemptions.
Obviously should the courts ever require Freemasonry to admit women, it
would require Masons to either violate their solemn obligations or terminate
their membership, thus bringing an end to Freemasonry. Others disqualified
are those who from age or mental condition or lack of good morals would
neither benefit from nor contribute to the Craft, and, of course an atheist.
Seldom heard today but formerly emphasized when the craft was in its
operative phase, was the attention placed on physical fitness and the
ban on those with deformities or disabilities.
The Regius Manuscript notes:
...to the Craft it were great shame To make a halt man and a lame, For
an imperfect man of much blood Should do the Craft but little good A maimed
man he hath no might.
Up until fairly recent times, one having lost an arm or leg or otherwise
disabled would have been barred from membership under what was then called
the "Doctrine of the Perfect Youth." One Grand Lodge at least
has even now a ban in its Obligation on those who are "unable to
earn a livelihood or do the work of a Mason." This is now generally
interpreted to mean the work of a Speculative Mason where the necessary
qualifications are mental and moral, rather than physical, as was the
case with the operative.
Another subject not even covered specifically in the Obligation is the
matter of race. This is apparently under control at present, and many
American Grand Lodges have declared that race is not a bar to membership.
It is possible, however, that action by individuals could cause trouble
in the future.
We understand that the Grand Master of Virginia recently overruled a ballot
involving racial discrimination. And the Grand Lodge of New Jersey and
a Shrine Temple there are involved in counter law Suits over the refusal
of the Shrine Temple to accept black members of a New Jersey lodge to
membership or accept their petitions.
The recent recognition of Prince Hall Grand Lodge by the Grand Lodge
of Connecticut is also a case which bears watching. The Grand Lodge of
Louisiana has severed relations with Connecticut because of it. The next-to-last
"Furthermore" is one that seems to be bucking a head tide in
our American society. To show the antiquity of this subject, the following
is quoted from the Regius Manuscript:
Thou shalt not by thy Master's wife lie, Nor by thy fellow's in no manner
wise, Lest the Craft would thee despise Nor by thy fellow's concubine
No more thou wouldst he did by thine. Of course this first part of this
section of the Obligation is an adaptation of one of the Ten Commandments,
"Thou shalt not commit Adultery," which is about as basic as
we can get for authority.
The Old Charges generally contain a clause on this general subject, with
the wording varying somewhat. For example: the Harleian Manuscript puts
it as noted:
You shall not take your neighbor's wife villainously, Nor his daughter
nor his maid to use ungodly, and you shall not carnally lie with any woman
belonging to the house wherein you are at table.
This latter evidently refers to the custom where the apprentices often
boarded at the house of their master and lived in close proximity with
his family. The addition of "Mother" seems to have been of more
recent origin as it doesn't appear in any of the Old Charges nor in the
English or Scottish present day rituals. Looking down the road, we expect
our Obligations to be taken seriously by the candidate, and for him to
consider it to be binding on him. Yet aside from the reference to the
first of those listed, this "Furthermore" is coming more and
more in conflict with the direction our society is traveling.
Since the advent of the "pill" and the resultant sexual revolution,
the rules of the game have changed radically. Most of us grew up in times
when the male was supposed to be the aggressor and the female the passive
party. Studies published in recent years have indicated that this was
pretty much what society expected, but that actually the female drive
is likely to be as strong as the male's.
In present day encounters she is often the aggressor. It's quite common
today for men and women to live together without benefit of clergy, pre-marital
sex seems to be the norm, illegitimate births to teen-age mothers are
increasing; single parent families are common, and public figures seem
to have little regard for the examples they set for the young. These,
together with television's obsession with sexual themes, the young candidate
for Masonry will have acquired entirely different values than the older
It seems quite likely even today, that anyone trying to exercise his
"power to prevent" would be told in no uncertain terms by both
parties involved to "butt out and mind your own business." Freemasonry
already shows the effects of these changing values. Checking over the
list of trials conducted for un-
Masonic conduct in one Grand Lodge jurisdiction there was one expulsion
in 1981 for drug trafficking. In 1982 there was one for a sexual offense,
and by 1987 there were thirteen expulsions, nine for sexual crimes.
The situation is obviously beyond our ability to do much about, but it's
not going away soon, and we have to face up to the Obligations we impose
if they aren't going to be ignored altogether.
The final "Furthermore" is another in which the origin is somewhat
obscure, but references to it are quite common in the later versions of
the Old Charges. The earliest mention of the "Mason's Word"
indicates a Scottish origin, and goes back to 1638. It was obviously connected
with operative masonry. A letter written from Scotland describes it as
"A secret signal masons have throughout the world to know one another
The Edinburgh House Register Manuscript of 1696 tells how the "Word"
is communicated and describes the five points as "foot to foot, knee
to knee, heart to heart, hand to hand and ear to ear."
The Sloane Manuscript of about 1700 is an English copy of the Old Charges
has another version of the mason's oath, giving the word which goes with
the Five Points of Fellowship. Harry Carr in his Six Hundred Years of
Craft Ritual gives it as quite similar to the one we're familiar with
It's interesting to find that in the Scottish and English rituals reviewed
the FPOF have a major part in the Obligation. They include: "I furthermore
solemnly pledge myself to maintain and uphold the FPOF in act as well
as in word, etc, etc."
And now we come to the wrap-up, the concluding paragraph in which the
candidate binds himself to uphold everything preceding it, under penalties
which have become a principal target of Freemasonry's critics. So much
has been said on the subject in recent years that it's not necessary to
go into any great detail here.
In the earliest of the Old Charges there were no physical penalties for
violation of the oath, but one of 1696 has a theme of secrecy "By
God Himself and you shall answer to God when you shall stand naked before
Him at the great day, you shall not reveal any part,... and ends with
"So help me God."
The first of the physical penalties appearing in the Old Charges will
be familiar, "Under no less pain than having my tongue cut out under
my chin and of being buried within the flood mark where no man shall know...."
The penalties and the Obligations were increased over the years as the
second and third degrees were added to the ceremonies of the Craft, and
the ritual expanded accordingly.
The penalties as they exist now are actually meaningless for all practical
purposes. Bro. Henry Coil in his Masonic Encyclopedia expresses it quite
well when he writes:
The penalties enacted by any Masonic body or authority or under Masonic
law are reprimand, suspension or expulsion. Why then do Grand Lodges continue
to use the forms which have given the enemies of Freemasonry such excellent
grounds for denunciation? The excuse is generally given
that the penalties have always existed and no change can be made to them.
There appeared in the 1964 Ars Quatuor Coronatum a paper by Bro. J.R.Rylands
entitled "The Masonic Penalties," in which he propounded the
theory that the physical penalties were a product of Speculative Masonry,
and that they were made especially severe to protect the charity funds.
His point was that one who could prove himself a Mason had a claim on
the charity of private lodges and on
the Grand Lodge.
The problem was with the large number of impostors draining the resources
of the lodges and Grand
Lodge. It's an interesting theory! Bro. Harry Mendoza writes in the 1987
AQC a review of the subject of penalties. In 1964, the matter was brought
before the United Grand Lodge of England, and it was
pointed out that the candidate was assured before taking the Obligation,
that there was nothing incompatible with his civil, moral or religious
He is then asked to repeat an Obligation which contains statements about
physical penalties which would seem to be incompatible with those duties.
All this while his hand is on the Volume of Sacred
Law. He has no prior knowledge of what he would be asked to say, phrases
that never have been and which never could be enforced, and to make matters
worse, he is asked to invoke the help of God!
After much discussion, an amended section to the ritual involving the
penalties was drafted, to be used at the option of the individual lodges.
It seems to be natural for Masons to be averse to any change in anything,
and there was widespread reluctance on the part of many Lodges to adopt
the optional clause, so in 1986 it was made mandatory.
The change involved removing the penalties from the Obligation and placing
them elsewhere in the ritual. Retention of the penalties was, of course,
necessary due to their relation to the signs. Scotland,
Ireland and the Supreme Royal Arch Chapter have made similar moves, and
a number of American Grand Lodges are reviewing the matter and are considering
removing the penalties from the Obligation or adding explanatory wording
to indicate they are symbolic only. Maine is to vote on an explanatory
section to be given by the Junior Deacon in the Preparation Room before
the candidate is received into the Lodge.
Bro. Mendoza in his article summarizes the objections raised to any change.
They are, briefly:
ANTIQUITY: The "We've always done it this way - what was good enough
for my grandfather is good enough for me!"
CONSTITUTIONALITY: Innovations can't be made. (See Charge to the Master
at his installation.)
GENERAL: Not many find the penalties objectionable - Once we start, there'll
be no end to changes - Why should we make changes simply because of outsiders?
As commentary, we'd like to add our own thoughts to the foregoing:
ANTIQUITY: We hope this paper has disproved that "we've always done
it this way." There were no penalties at all up until fairly recently.
The changes do not do away with anything, but merely move the penalties
from the Obligation to another section of the ritual.
CONSTITUTIONALITY: To the statement that innovations can't be made in
the ritual, changes have been made frequently. The ritual for Maine wasn't
adopted until 1894, and several changes have been made since that time.
GENERAL: To answer those who say that not many find them objectionable,
we might ask how many of the numerous EAs who never advance may be doing
so for this reason. Changes are considered only for good and sufficient
reasons. Changes are not considered just because someone else does something
differently, or because outsiders criticize us for something or other.
Masonry doesn't claim to have a monopoly on wisdom. It's possible that
our critics just might have a valid point. It's certainly worth examining.
If it isn't well taken, then we reject it. As a final thought, we should
care what outsiders think of Freemasonry! Every one of our future candidates
is now an outsider. If the Craft acquires a bad name in society, these
potential candidates will stay away in droves and it will be only a matter
of time until we go the way of the many fraternal organizations that are
now long forgotten.
So, I hope this will help a bit to add some insight into the background,
application and importance of the answer to that question -
What Makes You a Mason? - Your Obligation, that's what!
VIBERT, Lionel; DEVELOPMENT OF THE
TRIGRADAL SYSTEM, Prestonian Lecture - 1925
POOLE, Rev. H.; THE OLD CHARGES - 18th
CENTURY MASONRY, Prestonian Lecture - 1933
KNOOP, Douglas; THE MASON WORD, Prestonian
HAUNCH, T. 0.; IT IS NOT IN THE POWER OF ANY
MASON, Prestonian Lecture - 1972
UYER, C.F.W.; IN SEARCH OF RITUAL UNIFORMITY,
Prestonian Lecture - 1973
McLEOD, WALLACE; THE OLD CHARGES, Prestonian
Lecture - 1986
JACKSON, A.C.F.; OUR PREDECESSORS, THE
MEDIEVAL MASONS OF THE REGIUS MANUSCRIPT,
AQC - 1975
JACKSON, A.C.F.; OUR PREDECESSORS, THE
ENGLISH NON-OPERATIVE MASONS OF THE MID
17th CENTURY, AQC - 1976
RYLANDS, J, R.; THE MASONIC PENALTIES, AQC -
CARR, HARRY; THE OBLIGATION AND ITS PLACE
IN THE RITUAL, AQC - 1961
MENDOZA, HARRY; THE TRANSFER OF THE
PHYSICAL PENALTIES FROM THE OBLIGATION,
AQC - 1987
DRAFFEN, GEORGE; OUR RITUAL, A STUDY IN ITS
DEVELOPMENT, "MASONS AND MASONRY"
CARR, HARRY; HARRY CARR'S WORLD OF
CONDER, EDWARD; RECORDS OF THE HOLE
CRAFT AND FELLOWSHIP OF MASONS, Masonic Book
Club No. 19
WELLS, ROY; THE RISE AND DEVELOPMENT OF
ORGANIZED FREEMASONRY, Masonic Book Club No.
ANDERSON, JAMES; ANDERSON'S CONSTlTUTIONS,
1723 and 1738, Facsimile Edition, Quatuor Coronati Lodge
PRITCHARD, SAMUEL; MASONRY DISSECTED,
Masonic Book Club, No. 8
CARR, HARRY; 600 YEARS OF CRAFT RITUAL,
Grand Lodge of Missouri
ROBERTS, ALLEN E.; THE CONVENTION THAT
CHANGED THE FACE OF FREEMASONRY, Masonic
Service Assoc., STB
ALDRIDGE K.W.; ANCIENT SYMBOLIC PENALTIES,
Masonic Service Association, Short Talk Bulletin
PICK AND KNIGHT; THE POCKET HISTORY OF
KNOOP AND JONES; AN INTRODUCTION TO
CLAUDY, CARL H.; INTRODUCTION TO
MacBRIDE, A.S.; SPECULATIVE FREEMASONRY
KNOOP AND JONES; A SHORT HISTORY OF
FREEMASONRY TO 1730
HIGHAM, M.B.S.; FREEMASONRY - FROM CRAFT
TO TOLERANCE, Grand Lodge of Scotland Year Book
DRAFFEN, GEORGE; THE MAKING OF A MASON
CERZA, ALPHONSE; THE COURTS AND
HAMILL, JOHN; THE CRAFT - A HISTORY OF
CARR, HARRY; THE FREEMASON AT WORK
JONES, BERNARD E.; FREEMASON'S GUIDE AND
SHEPARD, SILAS H.; THE LANDMARKS OF
FREEMASONRY, Little Masonic Library Vol. 1
DRUMMOND, JOSIAH H.; SOURCES OF MASONIC
LAW, Maine Masonic Text Book
CARR, HARRY; THE EARLY FRENCH EXPOSURES
JACKSON, A.C.F.; EARLY ENGLISH EXBOSURES
KNOOP AND JONES; THE GENESIS OF
KNOOP, JONES AND HAMER; THE EARLY MASONIC
COIL, HENRY W.; COIL'S MASONIC ENCYCLOPEDIA
HARRIS, RAY B.; THE WILLIAM L. BOYDEN
MANUSCRIPT, Masonic Service Association
LOCKWOOD, LUKE A.; MASONIC LAW AND
KNIGHT, STEPHEN; THE BROTHERHOOD
CARTWRIGHT, E.H.; A COMMENTARY ON THE
COIL, HENRY W.; FREEMASONRY THROUGH SIX
CENTURIES Vol. 1
BATHAM, CYRIL H.; THE BIRTH OF SPECULATIVE
FREEMASONRY, The Maine Lodge of Research 1986-7
GOULD, ROBERT F.; THE OLD CHARGES OF
BRITISH FREEMASONS, Gould's History Of Freemasonry
GOULD, ROBERT F.; THE STATUTES RELATING TO
THE FREEMASONS, Gould's History of Freemasonry Vol.
MACKEY, ALBERT G.; JURISPRUDENCE OF
THE REGIUS POEM, Masonic Book Club Vol. 1
TRESTLEBOARD Masonic Book Club Vol. 8
THREE DISTINCT KNOCKS AND JACHIN AND
BOAZ Masonic Book Club Vol. 12
DUNCAN's RITUAL OF FREEMASONRY
OFFICIAL CYPHER Grand Lodge of Maine
ANCIENT CRAFT MASONRY, Grand Lodge of New
York Standard Work and Lectures
MNEMONICS, Grand Lodge of Connecticut
RITUAL CIPHER, Grand Lodge of New Jersey
THE STANDARD RITUAL OF SCOTTISH
FREEMASONRY, Grand Lodge of Scotland
OFFICIAL CIPHER, Grand Lodge of Masons in
THO. CARMICK MANUSCRIPT Masonic Service