In Scotland, the operative Mason knew cowans to be ignorant builders who put stones together without mortar. They piled rough fieldstones into a wall without hewing them true, or squaring them. They masqueraded as Masters, but they did not have the Word.
Now and again, today - fortunately not too often - we find a modern equivalent of the operative imposter. One such is the Mason who manages a place in an officer's line with little or no effect of his own to deserve it. With only that exertion that is necessary to maintain his place, he continues to advance in line until he receives the jewels and honours that he prizes so highly. But he does not know the Constitution, and he does not understand the traditions and dignity of the Craft. As a presiding officer, his vocal ability is more noteworthy than his executive ability; and when his term is ended, he is seldom seen until another honour or prize appears to be within his grasp.
He is a contemporary builder who works without the benefit of the mortar of real enthusiasm or accomplishments. His structure is liken unto the rough stone wall, having little beauty of value. He is the cowans of modern speculative Masonry.
He is to be pitied, for he is a Masonic failure. His honours are shallow. Bringing no interest to his position, he received little of the satisfaction and respect that belong to the real Master.
Masonry has failed to reach him with a clear understanding of those marks of true devotion which she has to offer. He never knows the opportunities that the Craft makes available to those who diligently seek them. He misses the opportunities that the Craft makes available to strive for a just and worthy cause. He misses the opportunity for continuing fellowship and friendship. He misses the opportunity for loyalty and devotion. He misses the opportunity for development of his executive, intellectual and oratorical abilities. And most of all, he misses the opportunity for service - to God - to his community - and to his fellow man.
These are the jewels that Masonry has to offer, but in his quest for position and honours, the modern cowan misses them. Like the operative cowan, he does not have the Word.
-reprinted from the Masonic Shimbun in the GLBC Bulletin, Nov. '79
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