Freemasonry may be traced
by history and tradition back through the centuries to the remotest ages
of the World. At one time or other through the years, many theories
have been advanced to explain the beginning of the Craft. Some of the
early historians of our Fraternity have cited numerous fanciful stories
and weird legends in an attempt to reveal a source of Freemasonry almost
as far back as the beginning of time.
Somewhat later, Masonic
historians seemed to go to the other extreme and were inclined to accept
nothing, which could not be undeniably proven. In more recent years, a
third group of investigators is willing to suggest that some of the gaps
in the irrefutable written testimony might be filled satisfactorily by the
proper use of theories based on definite circumstantial
Man is by nature a social
creature, and has a very definite tendency toward mysticism in his
make-up. These and other traits doubtless had their influence in the
formation of secret and mystical societies at a very early date. The
oldest association of men of which we have any knowledge, was the
so-called "Men's House" that, in one form or other, existed in practically
all tribes of early civilizations. It is still present among most
primitive peoples. The building used for this purpose by a tribal group
was the largest in the village and was the center of activities. The
leaders of the tribe met here, held court, meted out punishments, enacted
laws, governed the people and made such decisions as were required for the
welfare of the tribe.
Here, sooner or later,
each boy became a man and a full member of the tribe by being initiated in
the Men's House. Here, he was taught the secret traditions, the religion,
and the legends of his people and his duties upon coming to man's estate.
Some of the tests were severe and included physical torture and
frightening experiences. Almost invariably, the death and subsequent
resurrection of the candidate were depicted to impress upon him the
necessity of forsaking a life of irresponsible living and assuming a more
Possibly as early as 2,000
B.C., the rites of the Men's House evolved into the Solar Mysteries of the
Egyptians. Composed of some of the finest minds of the time, the
organization known as the "Greater Mysteries" in Egypt became the
repository of the knowledge of the ages.
Plato wrote: "The
Mysteries were established by men of great genius who, in the early days,
strove to teach purity, to ameliorate the cruelty of the race, to refine
its morals and manners, and to restrain society by stronger bonds than
those which human laws impose. "
Joseph Fort Newton,
renowned Masonic scholar, described the Mysteries as being tolerant of all
faiths, forming an all-embracing moral and spiritual fellowship which rose
above barriers of nation, race and creed, and satisfying the craving of
men for unity, while evoking in them a sense of that eternal mysticism out
of which all religions are born.
Many members of the
Egyptian Mysteries were natives of other countries who took back to their
homelands the knowledge that they had gained in the land of the Pharaohs.
In several instances upon their return, they established similar secret
societies, such as the Phythagorean Mysteries of Greece, the Mithraic of
Persia, the Adoniac of Syria and the Dyonisian Artificers of Phoenicia.
These organizations were similar to the Egyptian Mysteries in most
respects, except that in the dramas that they portrayed, local or national
characters were used instead of those of the Egyptians.
processes and the passing of time, the Roman Collegia emerged. These were
small local groups, not nation-wide as were the, Mysteries, composed of
men engaged in a particular trade, craft, art or profession within a
specific community. Plutarch mentions nine collegia, such as goldsmiths,
dyers, builders, potters and others. No doubt many others were organized
as the need arose. The builders, Collegium Faborum or Collegium Artificum,
doubtless included members of a number of separate crafts necessary in the
erection of permanent structures. The Collegia:
acted on petitions for membership;
members through initiation;
(3) had rooms similar
to those of various present-day fraternities;
divided the membership into grades;
(5) had a
(6) possessed a charity fund from
which they assisted their poor and buried their
(7) used passwords, grips, tokens and
Some were quite religious
in nature, while others were more socially inclined. Some concentrated on
their business activities. Some became politically minded and this,
eventually, led to the proscription of the entire collegia system by
Emperor Diocletian. However, the Collegia had traveled with the Roman
legions in their conquest of most of the then-known world; and in many
parts of the Empire the Collegia continued to operate as
About the third century,
there began a series of incursions of warlike tribes from east of Europe,
which finally overran the Roman Empire and destroyed the then-existing
civilization. Schools, culture, the fine arts, religion and craftsmanship
of all kinds suffered and, to a large extent, disappeared under these
For more than seven
hundred years the Dark Ages, as this period is called, continued. Then
gradually Europe began to rebuild its civilization. One of the first
features of this rebuilding process was the development and training of
craftsmen of all kinds. Later, in order to assist in developing the skills
of various craftsmen, men in a particular locality, who performed a
definite and specific type of work or service, formed organizations called
There were guilds, which
consisted of merchants and tradesmen of various kinds as well as those,
which were composed of various types of artisans. It is this latter sort
of guild with which we are concerned. Their usual purpose was to regulate
the prices and hours of labor, to govern the conduct of their members,
collect funds for the relief of the unfortunates among them and
especially, to improve the standard of technical skill. Most of the crafts
of that period had carefully guarded trade secrets, which members were
bound by oath not to reveal to those who did not belong to the
The membership consisted
of apprentices, fellows and masters. The apprentices were lads in their
teens that were indentured to skilled workmen to be trained in the arts
and secrets of the trade.
After a period of years,
more commonly seven, if they showed sufficient aptitude and skill in their
work and had conducted themselves properly, they were advanced to full
membership in the guild and were designated as "fellows." If they later
exhibited exceptional ability and skill and possessed administrative
ability and qualities of leadership, they became "masters, " which
qualified them to superintend the work of other members of the craft or
The guilds were usually
organized under the authority of the municipality and were composed of
local artisans, most of whom seldom, if ever, went more than a day's
journey from home. In the stone building crafts, however, a different
condition prevailed. Most of their work consisted of the erection of
cathedrals, castles and other more or less public buildings. These were
huge structures requiring many years to complete. Local guilds were not
equipped in numbers or in skill to perform this type of work. Therefore,
the workers in stone, of necessity, became migratory.
The employer, usually the
Church or the Crown, would select a Master of the Work who would arrange
for the traveling of one or more groups of workmen from a previous job to
the site of the new work. There, after making provisions for their homes
or barracks, they would construct a workshop, which would be used also for
rest, refreshment and relaxation. This building, often a lean-to on the
side of the main structure, was called a lodge and the word "Lodge" was
also used to designate the body of workmen who used this
During these early days,
any type of builder was designated as a mason and the craft as a whole was
called masonry, which included quarrymen, wallers, hewers, slaters,
tilers, rough masons, cutters, plasterers and all others who contributed
their share to the erection of the structure upon which they
At the head of the project
were those who nowadays would be called architects or engineers. They were
often designated as freemasons, although frequently the terms "mason" and
"freemason" were used to mean exactly the same thing. These men understood
engineering and geometry as the result of long and arduous training. They
were proficient in a number of the arts connected with the building trade,
such as carving and sculpturing, design and construction, manufacture of
stained glass windows, mosaic work and other highly specialized
The origin of the word
"freemason" is uncertain. There are a number of theories, such as:
(1) They worked in free stone, which could be
carved, and hence were called "freestone masons," later shortened to
(2) They were free men, not
(3) They were free to move from place to
place as they might desire.
(4) They were given the
freedom of the towns or localities in which they
(5) They were free of the rules and
regulations that were usually imposed upon members of
The migratory character of
the masons' activities precluded, to a large extent, they're being members
of local guilds. The outstanding exception was the Masons' Company of
London founded in 1376 as a regular city guild. A few other cities may
have had similar guilds, but presumably, for the most part, control of
members of the building industry rested almost exclusively in the lodges,
which were established where work was progressing. Some of these existed
during the operations and were then abandoned, while other lodges
continued after the actual work had ceased.
During the period
immediately following the Reformation, the economic situation in England
changed. Work on a large scale, such as huge cathedrals and castles,
diminished while the building of less pretentious structures increased
somewhat. Likewise, the use of the direct-labor system under which the
great cathedrals had been reared was gradually supplanted by operations
conducted under contract. These altered circumstances had the effect of
reducing the membership of lodges and of increasing the number of lodges
due to the scattering of masons over more territory. As the years passed
many of the small lodges gradually became weaker and inactive, and, by the
1600's, the number of active, more or less permanent lodges, had been
During the same period, a
significant change was taking place in the type of membership in the
lodges. During the cathedra I- building era, practically all lodge members
were operative masons, engaged in some phase of the construction industry.
Beginning about 1600, non-operatives were admitted as members of lodges
previously composed entirely of working or trade masons. The earliest of
these references to non-operative masons pertains to John Boswell, of the
famous Boswell family of Auchinleck, who is recorded as having been
present at a meeting of the Lodge of Edinburgh, Mary's Chapel, on June 8,
1600. This marked the beginning of a trend, which eventually led to our
present Lodges of "Free and Accepted Masons."
The most noteworthy and
significant connecting link of a written nature between present-day
Freemasonry and the Operative Masonry of some centuries ago is
unquestionably what are called "The Old Charges, sometimes named "Gothic
Constitutions." These are handwritten manuscripts differing in age, size,
shape and material. They all follow a similar pattern in context. About
one hundred of these old manuscripts have been found. No two of them are
identical, but all obviously came from a common source. A few others have
come to light from time to time and, after being printed or copied, were
These ancient Masonic
writings vary in age from an estimated 600 years to about two centuries.
The oldest, the Regius Poem, dating from about 1390, is a small manuscript
book about 5 inches by 4 inches written on vellum and bound in Russian
leather. The next oldest, the Cooke Manuscript of the first half of the
fifteenth century, is even smaller. On the other hand, the Lansdowne
Manuscript, of the sixteenth century, is written on stout sheets of paper
11 inches by 15 inches in size, while the so-called Grand Lodge
Manuscript, of about 1583, is a roll of parchment 9 feet long and 5 inches
A number of theories have
been advanced concerning the reasons for these Old Charges having been
copied. In 1388 the English Parliament enacted "The Writ of Returns" which
provided that every organized society, fraternity, guild or club was
compelled to submit a written statement indicating its origin, purpose,
rules, regulations, names of officers and other pertinent data. It is
possible that The Old Charges came into existence as the result of the
requirements laid down in this law. It is also quite possible that The Old
Charges were the combined constitution, by-laws and ritual of the oldest
Masonic operative organizations and continued to be used as such until,
and even after, the formation of the Grand Lodge of England in 1717. It is
known, for example, that two copies, the Alnwich of 1701 and the Thistle
of 1756, are included in the minute books of their respective Lodges. Both
of these copies were signed by the Lodge Members, thereby signifying their
acquiescence to their contents.
The supposition is that
The Old Charges were somewhat equivalent to the present-day Book of
Constitutions, called the "Ahiman Rezon" in Pennsylvania.
original Constitutions of the Grand Lodge of England were compiled in
1723, George Payne, then Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of England, asked
that all known copies of The Old Charges be sent in to Grand Lodge. A
number of these documents were turned over to Dr. James Anderson and used
by him, in part at least, as a model for the Constitutions of 1723. It is
assumed that each Lodge of operative Masons had a copy of The Old Charges
and that it was used as a book of rules and as a ritual.
The oldest of The Old
Charges, the Regius Poem mentioned above, is different from all the others
in that it is written in a sort of rude verse or doggerel. It probably had
a common ancestor with the other copies that are extant. It is quite
possible that in making a copy five or six centuries ago, some poetically-
inclined monk used his talents in transcribing the thoughts in rhyme
rather than in the prose of the original. The Regius version has less of
the traditional or legendary background of Masonry than the others, and
refers to a somewhat greater extent to trade usages and customs. It also
includes some rules of etiquette and conduct with the usual Masonic
Except for the Regius
Poem, all the Gothic Constitutions follow an almost identical pattern. The
minor differences are probably the result of errors in copying or
occasionally an intentional change which the copyist felt would improve
the document. By means of these changes, whether due to carelessness,
ignorance, whim or deliberate design, all known copies of The Old Charges,
about 100 in number, have been classified to show the process by which
they have reached their present form from an unknown
Of the approximately 100
existing copies of The Old Charges only three are located in the United
States. Two are in Boston and one in Philadelphia. The latter is the
so-called Carmick Manuscript of 1727 and is owned by the Grand Lodge of
manuscript was thought to be the Constitution of St. John's Lodge of
Philadelphia, the earliest known Lodge in America of which any records are
extant. It was published as such, but the manuscript could have been used
for any St. John's Lodge of which there were many in the early days of the
Fraternity. The identity of Thomas Carmick is unknown and there is nothing
to associate him with Philadelphia or Pennsylvania.
The Carmick Manuscript is
typical of all of "The Old Charges, " and since it is the prized
possession of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania it will be outlined to
indicate the contents of all of these interesting old
The Carmick Manuscript, in
common with the others, starts with a Trinitarian invocation as follows:
"Draw near unto me, ye unlearned and dwell in the house of Learning and
the Almighty God of heaven, with wisdom of his Glorious Son through The
Grace and goodness of the Holly Ghost, that be Three Persons and one God,
be with us at our Beginning and he Will Give us Grace here hopeing wee may
Come to his Etternal Kingdom that shall never have an End:
The imaginary history
begins by citing and defining the seven liberal sciences - Grammar,
Rhetoric, Logic, Arithmetic, Geometry, Music and Astronomy - with the
statement that all are founded upon Geometry. Lamech's four children are
then named Jabal, Jubal, Tubal Cain and Namah, who first developed all
crafts and sciences.
It was believed that the
world would be swept by fire or flood. Hence to preserve all knowledge for
future generations it was written on two pillars, one which could not
burn, the other which would not be damaged by water. Hermes discovered one
of these pillars after the flood.
The first Craft of Masonry
was founded at the building of the Tower of Babylon. Then through the
teaching of Euclid, knowledge of Geometry (Masonry) came to the Egyptians
and afterwards to Judea where Solomon built his Temple with aid of the
Tyrians. Each of these leaders gave Masons a charge indicating that they
must be loyal and faithful, loving and true.
Eventually, Masonry came
to France under Charles Martel, thence to England through St. Alban. Later
King Athelstan became the patron of Masonry and granted a charter to
Prince Edwin with a commission to hold an assembly of Masons once a year,
the first being convened at York in 926.
Prince Edwin ordered all
the charges of his predecessors to be brought together and examined.
Prince Edwin then confirmed the previous charges and ordered that a book
be made which would tell how the sciences were found, and in which all the
charges would be recorded. It was ordained that, at the making of a Mason,
the book should be read to him. He would then take an oath with his hand
on the book, promising to comply with the charges and never divulge any of
the secrets entrusted to him.
The following is a summary
of The Old Charges with the wording and spelling changed to comply with
1. You shall be true
to man, to God and to Holy Church, and to countenance no heresy in the
2. You shall be true to the King.
3. You shall
be true to every Mason and you shall do unto them as you would they should
do unto you.
4. You shall call Masons brothers.
shall not take your brother's wife in villainy.
6. You shall not
take in hand anything to do your fellow harm.
7. You shall not
for any allowance, reward or other consideration of yourself, or any fewer
number than seven (which number is termed a lodge) admit any person to be
made Freemason; he must be free born, of good kindred, no bondman, "and
his limbs as a man ought to have. "
8. Strange Freemasons are to
be received, cherished and relieved and set to work.
9. You shall
not make a mould or square for one who hath not served his
10. Quarrels are to be referred to the judgment and
directions of the assembly and if they cannot decide, then you are to
obtain leave from the assembly that the law may decide "and not put the
brotherhood between them."
11. You are not to absent yourself from the
assembly if it be within fifty miles, excepting sickness or disability of
12. You shall at all times disburse charity to the relief of the
sick, if you are able.
13. You shall not profane the holy name of
14. You shall not give evil counsel to another.
15. You shall
not abuse another.
16. You shall not be a whoremonger.
17. You shall
not be a common player at cards, or dice, or any unlawful game.
Mason shall go into any town where there is a lodge of Masons unless there
be a fellow with him.
19. Every member shall reverence his elder and
tutor. He shall not take a Lord's work unless he knows himself to be of
sufficient skill to perform it.
20. He shall not take any work in hand
but at a rate that he may afford to do justice to the person he works for
and to pay his fellows their wages as the manner and custom is.
Master or Fellow shall supplant another in his work.
22. He that is
Master of the work shall be called Master.
23. No Mason shall take an
apprentice unless he has sufficient work to employ him.
24. Every Mason
shall be ready to give pay to his fellows as he or they shall
25. No Mason shall take an apprentice to serve any less than
26. Every man shall be true to the Lord they serve to his
best profit and advantage.
27. No Mason shall be a thief.
Mason shall do any villainy in the place where he lodgeth, but he shall
pay for his meat, drink and all his charges.
29. Every Mason shall
truly make and mend his work, be it task work or journey work, if he hath
what he covenants for.
Then follows the
"Apprentice's Charge" which is quite similar in its obligations to the
terms of indenture used in the early days, whereby persons were bound to
learn -any trade or occupation. The Apprentice's Charge does not appear in
the majority of The Old Charges.
As in all the other
manuscripts, the Carmick Manuscript closes with an admonition to keep the
charges prescribed by Prince Edwin, ending with a quotation from
Corinthians 1:10. To this Thomas Carmick added: "Whatsomever Meason or
fellow Craft that shall meet with this books I Charge him upon the tenor
of his Oath to take great Care of it and Retturn it to
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