THE forms of present day Freemasonic rituals were in the main the invention of 18th century Speculative Freemasons. These are based on primitive rituals practised by the early craft stonemasons and refined with the addition of esoteric knowledge of ancient mystery religions ‑ esoteric knowledge that was transmitted through a number of sources.

The early craft mason had neither the time nor inclination for an abstract system of morality. There is no doubt that, in common with other craft workers, he would have his own secret signs and words of recognition ‑ to distinguish a qualified craftsmen from outsiders. His main concern was his conditions of employment.

For the medieval mason these conditions were harsh. Without benefit of modern day safety standards or tools or equipment to make the complex task of building in stone easier, their main employers were the ruling monarch of the day and the Church. Unlike the rest of Europe, building in stone came late to Britain, with the Church introducing skilled craftsmen to work on the great cathedrals and abbeys and training the native workforce.

The employer, be it Crown or Church, would employ a master mason to be in charge of the technical side of a particular building operation, while a Clerk of Works would be employed to administer the financial side. Records show that the master masons not only acted as building 'foremen', but also as architects, responsible for drawing up the detailed building plans. If employed by the King, they were members of the royal household.

'Lodge' organisations of masons existed in Scotland before such organisations existed in England, with Scotland able to boast the earliest official minute books for such lodges. Twenty-five Masonic lodges, predating 1710, have been identified as existing in Scotland. Although the earliest reference to one of these lodges is 1599, the nature of the reference makes it clear that the lodge had been in operation for some time previous to this date. These lodges, with the date of their earliest reference, include Aitchison’s Haven (1599), Kilwinning (1599), Glasgow (1613), Scone (1658), and Kilmolymock (Elgin), in 1704.

The main secrets with which the medieval stonemason would have been concerned would have related to the skills of his craft ‑ in particular secrets of geometry. But these secrets had an esoteric aspect.

In common with other crafts, the medieval stonemason would have been at pains to boast of his craft's uniqueness ‑ of legendary origins that, he could claim, had Biblical roots.

The legendary material relating to the origins of Freemasonry are contained in what are known as the Old Charges. The oldest of these one hundred or so manuscripts detailing the legendary history of the Craft is the Regius Poem, of circa 1390, and the Cook Manuscript of circa 1425. Although in the main apocryphal, versions of the Old Charges contain some material, which finds an echo in the traditional history of the Craft imparted to candidates for the three Craft degrees.

Although there are variations in the content of the various surviving copies of the Old Charges ‑ which contain not only a legendary history of the Craft but rules of conduct laid down for a mason's observance, the basic legend is as follows:

Masonry, the narrative section of the Old Charges states, is one of the seven liberal sciences ‑ of grammar, rhetoric, logic, arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy. Geometry is equated with masonry.

According to the narrative, Lamach, mentioned in the fourth chapter of Genesis, had three sons and a daughter. One of the sons, Jabell, founded geometry. Fearing the wrath of God for mankind's sins and anxious to preserve the scientific knowledge, they carved this knowledge on two pillars ‑ one of which survived the Flood, and was discovered by Hermes Trismegitus.

Hermes then taught this knowledge to the world, and it was utilised by masons in the construction of the Tower of Babel, by Nimrod, King of Babylon, who gave masons the firs charges', or rules, to govern their craft. Abraham then taught the seven liberal sciences in Egypt while his pupil, Euclid, taught the science of geometry to the sons of Egyptian lords and issued new charges for the conduct of the mason craft.

At the building of Solomon's Temple, the Old Charges state, further charges were given to the masons by Solomon. One of these masons brought knowledge of the Craft to France and to the attention of the future king of that country, Charles Martell. Martell, a patron of the Craft, gave it new charges.

From France, the Craft spread to England through the agency of St Alban. Wars, however, and the resultant internal disruption they caused, led to the destruction of the good rule of masonry, until it was restored by King Athelstan and its status further enhanced later by Athelstan's son, Edwin.

The Kilwinning version of the Old Charges states that Edwin "...loved massons much more than his father did, and he was a great practiser of Geometrie; and he drew him much to commune and talk with massons to learn of them the craft, and afterwards for love that he had to massons and to the craft he was made a Masson. And he got of the king his father a Charter of Commission to hold ane Assembly where they would within the realm once a year, and to correct within themselves faults and trespasses that within the Craft were done".

The narrative section of the Old Charges concludes that at this assembly of masons Edwin made a plea for all masons, both at home and abroad, to give their knowledge of masonry and its origins to him. From this, he compiled a book on how the craft was founded, "and he himselfe bade and commanded that it should be read and told when any Masson should be made, and for to give him his Charges".

With reference to the Hiramic legend that forms the basis of the three Craft degrees of Freemasonry, it is interesting to note an Old Charges reference to the building of Solomon's Temple:

"And furthermore, there was a king of another region that men called Iram, and he loved weel King Solomon, and he gave him timber to his worke. And he had a son what heght Aynon, and he was a Master of Geometrie; and he was Chief Master of all his Massons, and was master of his Gravery and Carving, and all other manner of Masonrie that belonged to the Temple. And this is witnessed in the Bible in the fourth of Kings and third chapter after this same Solomon confirmed both Charges and Manners that his father had given to Massons; and thus was that Craft of Massonrie confirmed in the County of Jerusalem and many other kingdoms". This son of King Iram ‑ identified as Hiram ‑ is referred to in some versions of the Old Charges as Amon, Aynone, or Anon. It is the same Hiram who is central to the legend of the three Craft degrees of Freemasonry.

Also tracing an origin back to the Temple of Solomon was the French institution of journeymen known as La Compagnonnage. These associations, formed for mutual support and aid during the journeyman's travels throughout France, were comprised of three divisions ‑ the Sons of Solomon, the Sons of Maitre Jacques, and the Sons of Maitre Soubise.

The Sons of Solomon, whose ranks included stonemasons, joiners, and locksmiths, claimed their predecessors had built the Temple of Solomon, while the Sons of Maitre Soubise, whose ranks comprised carpenters, and the sons of Maitre Jacques also claimed a descent from the Temple. The Sons of Maitre Jacques asserted their founder had been one of King Solomon's overseers.

From Germany comes another legend for the origins of Freemasonry ‑ that it was derived from the Steinmetzen (stone‑cutters) of that country. The claim was first advanced as late as 1848, but no convincing parallels between the organisation and customs of the Steinmetzen and the lodges of Freemasonry have yet been demonstrated.

The work of the early craft masons, particularly their work on the Temple of Solomon, forms the basis of what is known as Mark Masonry. Minutes from a Banff lodge in 1778 refer to the degree of "Mark Man" being conferred on Fellow Crafts, and "Mark Master" on Master Masons. Craft masons would utilise a 'mark' in two ways ‑ to identify their own tools, and to identify a particular piece of work as their own. It was these early masons, Freemasons claim, who devised the secret Masonic alphabet, based on the square.


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