The Builders Part 2 Chapter 2


The Builders
CHAPTER II – Fellowcrafts


Previous: The Builders - Part 2 Chapter 1

Note to the reader doing research:
Many Masonic Texts make reference to Bro. Newton’s book. I have been fortunate to lay my hands on a hardcopy volume printed by ‘The Torch Press’, Cedar Rapids, Fifth Edition 1921. (31300 copies in print)
To facilitate the look-up of page references given in other texts, I have inserted the original page-breaks in the form of a page number in square brackets like this: [77]


Noe person (of what degree soever) shalbee accepted a Free Mason, unless hee shall have a lodge of five Free Masons at least; whereof one to be a master, or warden, of that limitt, or division, wherein such Lodge shalbee kept, and another of the trade of Free Masonry.

That noe person shalbee accepted a Free Mason, but such as are of able body, honest parentage, good reputation, and observers of the laws of the land.

That noe person shalbee accepted a Free Mason, or know the secrets of said Society, until hee bath first taken the oath of secrecy hereafter following: “I, A. B., doe in the presence of Almighty God, and my fellows, and brethren here present, promise and declare, that I will not at any time hereafter, by any act or circumstance whatsoever, directly or indirectly, publish, discover, reveal, or make known any of the secrets, privileges, or counsels, of the fraternity or fellowship of Free Masonry, which at this time, or any time hereafter, shalbee made known unto mee soe helpe mee God, and the holy contents of this booke.”

– Harleian MS, 1600-1650


CHAPTER II – Fellowcrafts

The operative builders organized into lodges for mutual education and advancement


Having followed the Free-masons over a long period of history, it is now in order to give some account of the ethics, organization, laws, emblems, and workings of their lodges. Such a study is at once easy and difficult by turns, owing to the mass of material, and to the further fact that in the nature of things much of the work of a secret order is not, and has never been, matter for record. By this necessity, not a little must remain obscure, but it is hoped that even those not of the order may derive a definite notion of the principles and practices of the old Craft-masonry, from which the Masonry of today is descended. At least, such a sketch will show that, from times of old, the order of Masons has been a teacher of morality, charity, and truth, unique in its genius, noble in its spirit, and benign in its influence.

Taking its ethical teaching first, we have only to turn to the Old Charges or Constitutions of the [128] order, with their quaint blending of high truth and homely craft-law, to find the moral basis of universal Masonry. These old documents were a part of the earliest ritual of the order, and were recited or read to every young man at the time of his initiation as an Entered Apprentice. As such, they rehearsed the legends, laws, and ethics of the craft for his information, and, as we have seen, they insisted upon the antiquity of the order, as well as its service to mankind – a fact peculiar to Masonry, for no other order has ever claimed such a legendary or traditional history. Having studied that legendary record and its value as history, it remains to examine the moral code laid before the candidate who, having taken a solemn oath of loyalty and secrecy, was instructed in his duties as an Apprentice and his conduct as a man. What that old code lacked in subtlety is more than made up in simplicity, and it might all be stated in the words of the Prophet: “To do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly before God,” – the old eternal moral law, founded in faith, tried by time, and approved as valid for men of every clime, creed, and condition.

Turning to the Regius MS, we find fifteen “points” or rules set forth for the guidance of Fellowcrafts, and as many for the rule of Master Masons.1 Later the number was reduced to nine, [129] but so far from being an abridgment, it was in fact an elaboration of the original code; and by the time we reach the Roberts and Watson MSS a similar set of requirements for Apprentices had been adopted – or rather recorded, for they had been in use long before. It will make for clearness if we reverse the order and take the Apprentice charge first, as it shows what manner of men were admitted to the order. No man was made a Mason save by his own free choice, and he had to prove himself a freeman of lawful age, of legitimate birth, of sound body, of clean habits, and of good repute, else he was not eligible. Also, he had to bind himself by solemn oath to serve under rigid rules for a period of seven years, vowing absolute obedience – for the old-time Lodge was a school in which young [130] men studied, not only the art of building and its symbolism, but the seven sciences as well. At first the Apprentice was little more than a servant, doing the most menial work, his period of indenture being at once a test of his character and a training for his work. If he proved himself trustworthy and proficient, his wages were increased, albeit his rules of conduct were never relaxed. How austere the discipline was may be seen from a summary of its rules:

“Confessing faith in God, an Apprentice vowed to honor the Church, the State, and the Master under whom he served, agreeing not to absent himself from the service of the order, by day or night, save with the license of the Master. He must be honest, truthful, upright, faithful in keeping the secrets of the craft, or the confidence of the Master, or of any Free-mason, when communicated to him as such. Above all he must be chaste, never committing adultery or fornication, and he must not marry, or contract himself to any woman, during his apprenticeship. He must be obedient to the Master without argument or murmuring, respectful to all Free-masons, courteous, avoiding obscene or uncivil speech, free from slander, dissension, or dispute. He must not haunt or frequent any tavern or ale-house, or so much as go into them except it be upon [131] an errand of the Master or with his consent, using neither cards, dice, nor any unlawful game, “Christmas time excepted.” He must not steal anything even to the value of a penny, or suffer it to be done, or shield anyone guilty of theft, but report the fact to the Master with all speed.

After seven long years the Apprentice brought his masterpiece to the Lodge – or, in earlier times, to the annual Assembly2 – and on strict trial and due examination was declared a Master. Thereupon he ceased to be a pupil and servant, passed into the ranks of Fellowcrafts, and became a free man capable, for the first time in his life, of earning his living and choosing his own employer. Having selected a Mark3 by which his work could be [132] identified, he could then take his kit of tools and travel as a Master of his art, receiving the wages of a Master – not, however, without first reaffirming his vows of honesty, truthfulness, fidelity, temperance, and chastity, and assuming added obligations to uphold the honor of the order. Again he was sworn not to lay bare, nor to tell to any man what he heard or saw done in the Lodge, and to keep the secrets of a fellow Mason as inviolably as his own – unless such a secret imperiled the good name of the craft. He furthermore promised to act as mediator between his Master and his Fellows, and to deal justly with both parties. If he saw a Fellow hewing a stone which he was in a fair way to spoil, he must help him without loss of time, if able to do so, that the whole work be not ruined. Or if he met a fellow Mason in distress, or sorrow, he must aid him so far as lay within his power. In short, he must live in justice and honor with all men, especially with the members of the order, “that the bond of mutual charity and love may augment and continue.”

Still more binding, if possible, were the vows of a Fellowcraft when he was elevated to the dignity of Master of the Lodge or of the Work. Once [133] more he took solemn oath to keep the secrets of the order unprofaned, and more than one old MS quotes the Golden Rule as the law of the Master’s office. He must be steadfast, trusty, and true; pay his Fellows truly; take no bribe; and as a judge stand upright. He must attend the annual Assembly, unless disabled by illness, if within fifty miles – the distance varying, however, in different MSS. He must be careful in admitting Apprentices, taking only such as are fit both physically and morally, and keeping none without assurance that he would stay seven years in order to learn his craft. He must be patient with his pupils, instruct them diligently, encourage them with increased pay, and not permit them to work at night, “unless in the pursuit of knowledge, which shall be a sufficient excuse.” He must be wise and discreet, and undertake no work he cannot both perform and complete equally to the profit of his employer and the craft. Should a Fellow be overtaken by error, he must be gentle, skilful, and forgiving, seeking rather to help than to hurt, abjuring scandal and bitter words. He must not attempt to supplant a Master of the Lodge or of the Work, or belittle his work, but recommend it and assist him in improving it. He must be liberal in charity to those in need, helping a Fellow who has fallen upon evil lot, giving him work and [134] wages for at least a fortnight, or if he has no work, “relieve him with money to defray his reasonable charges to the next Lodge.” For the rest, he must in all ways act in a manner befitting the nobility of his office and his order.

Such were some of the laws of the moral life by which the old Craft-masonry sought to train its members, not only to be good workmen, but to be good and true men, serving their Fellows; to which, as the Rawlinson MS tells us, “divers new articles have been added by the free choice and good consent and best advice of the Perfect and True Masons, Masters, and Brethren.” If, as an ethic of life, these laws seem simple and rudimentary, they are none the less fundamental, and they remain to this day the only gate and way by which those must enter who would go up to the House of the Lord. As such they are great and saving things to lay to heart and act upon, and if Masonry taught nothing else its title to the respect of mankind would be clear. They have a double aspect: first, the building of a spiritual man upon immutable moral foundations; and second, the great and simple religious faith in the Fatherhood of God, the Brotherhood of man, and the Life Eternal, taught by Masonry from its earliest history to this good day. Morality and theistic religion – upon these two rocks Masonry [135] has always stood, and they are the only basis upon which man may ever hope to rear the spiritual edifice of his life, even to the capstone thereof.


Imagine, now, a band of these builders, bound together by solemn vows and mutual interests, journeying over the most abominable roads toward the site selected for an abbey or cathedral. Traveling was attended with many dangers, and the company was therefore always well armed, the disturbed state of the country rendering such a precaution necessary. Tools and provisions belonging to the party were carried on pack-horses or mules, placed in the center of the convoy, in charge of keepers. The company consisted of a Master Mason directing the work, Fellows of the craft, and Apprentices serving their time. Besides these we find subordinate laborers, not of the Lodge though in it, termed layers, setters, tilers, and so forth. Masters and Fellows wore a distinctive costume, which remained almost unchanged in its fashion for no less than three centuries.4 Withal, it was a serious [136] company, but in nowise solemn, and the tedium of the journey was no doubt beguiled by song, story, and the humor incident to travel.

“Wherever they came,” writes Mr. Hope in his Essay on Architecture, “in the suite of missionaries, or were called by the natives, or arrived of their own accord, to seek employment, they appeared headed by a chief surveyor, who governed the whole troop, and named one man out of every ten, under the name of warden, to overlook the other nine, set themselves to building temporary huts for their habitation around the spot where the work was to be carried on, regularly organized their different departments, fell to work, sent for fresh supplies of their brethren as the object demanded, and, when all was finished, again they raised their encampment, and went elsewhere to undertake other work.”

Here we have a glimpse of the methods of the Free-masons, of their organization, almost military in its order and dispatch, and of their migratory life; although they had a more settled life than this ungainly sentence allows, for long time was [137] required for the building of a great cathedral. Sometimes, it would seem, they made special contracts with the inhabitants of a town where they were to erect a church, containing such stipulations as, that a Lodge covered with tiles should be built for their accommodation, and that every laborer should be provided with a white apron of a peculiar kind of leather and gloves to shield the hands from stone and slime.5 At all events, the picture we have is that of a little community or village of workmen, living in rude dwellings, with a Lodge room at the center adjoining a slowly rising cathedral – the Master busy with his plans and the care of his craft; Fellows shaping stones for walls, arches, or spires; Apprentices fetching tools or mortar, and when necessary, tending the sick, and performing [138] all offices of a similar nature. Always the Lodge was the center of interest and activity, a place of labor, of study, of devotion, as well as the common room for the social life of the order. Every morning, as we learn from the Fabric Rolls of York Minster, began with devotion, followed by the directions of the Master for the work of the day, which no doubt included study of the laws of the art, plans of construction, and the mystical meaning of ornaments and emblems. Only Masons were in attendance at such times, the Lodge being closed to all others, and guarded by a Tiler6 against “the approach of cowans7 and eavesdroppers.” Thus the [139] work of each day was begun, moving forward amidst the din and litter of the hours, until the craft was called from labor to rest and refreshment; and thus a cathedral was uplifted as a monument to the Order, albeit the names of the builders are faded and lost. Employed for years on the same building, and living together in the Lodge, it is not strange that Free-masons came to know and love one another, and to have a feeling of loyalty to their craft, unique, peculiar, and enduring. Traditions of fun and frolic, of song and feast and gala-day, have floated down to us, telling of a comradeship as joyous as it was genuine. If their life had hardship and vicissitude, it had also its grace and charm of friendship, of sympathy, service, and community of interest, and the joy that comes of devotion to a high and noble art.

When a Mason wished to leave one Lodge and go elsewhere to work, as he was free to do when he desired, he had no difficulty in making himself known [140] to the men of his craft by certain signs, grips, and words.8 Such tokens of recognition were necessary to men who traveled afar in those uncertain days, especially when references or other means of identification were ofttimes impossible. All that many people knew about the order was that its members had a code of secret signs, and that no Mason need be friendless or alone when other Masons were within sight or hearing; so that the very name of the craft came to stand for any mode of hidden recognition. Steele, in the Tatler, speaks of a class of people who have “their signs and tokens like Free-masons.”
There were more than one of these signs and tokens, as we are more than once told in the Harleian MS, for example, which speaks of “words and signs.” What they were may not be here discussed, but it is safe to say that a Master Mason of the Middle Ages, were he to return from the land of shadows, could perhaps make himself known as such in a Fellowcraft Lodge of today. No doubt some things would puzzle him at first, but he would recognize the officers of the Lodge, its form, its emblems, its great altar Light, and its moral truth taught in symbols. Besides, he could tell us, if so minded, much that we should like to learn about the craft in the olden times, its hidden mysteries, the details of its rites, and the meaning of its symbols when the poetry of building was yet alive.


This brings us to one of the most hotly debated questions in Masonic history – the question as to the number and nature of the degrees made use of in the old craft lodges. Hardly any other subject has so deeply engaged the veteran archaeologists of the order, and while it ill becomes any one glibly to decide such an issue, it is at least permitted us, after studying all of value that has been written on both sides, to sum up what seems to be the truth arrived [142] at.9 While such a thing as a written record of an ancient degree – aside from the Old Charges, which formed a part of the earliest rituals – is unthinkable, we are not left altogether to the mercy of conjecture in a matter so important. Cesare Cantu tells us that the Comacine Masters “were called together in the Loggie by a grand-master to treat of affairs common to the order, to receive novices, and confer superior degrees on others.”10 Evidence of a sort similar is abundant, but not a little confusion will be avoided if the following considerations be kept in mind:

First, that during its purely operative period the ritual of Masonry was naturally less formal and ornate than it afterwards became, from the fact that its very life was a kind of ritual and its symbols were always visibly present in its labor. By the same token, as it ceased to be purely operative, and others not actually architects were admitted to its fellowship, of necessity its rites became more [143] formal – “very formall,” as Dugdale said in 1686,11 – portraying in ceremony what had long been present in its symbolism and practice.

Second, that with the decline of the old religious art of building – for such it was in very truth – some of its symbolism lost its luster, its form surviving but its meaning obscured, if not entirely faded. Who knows, for example – even with the Klein essay on The Great Symbol12 in hand – what Pythagoras meant by his lesser and greater Tetractys? That they were more than mathematical theorems is plain, yet even Plutarch missed their meaning. In the same way, some of the emblems in our Lodges are veiled, or else wear meanings invented after the fact, in lieu of deeper meanings hidden, or but dimly discerned. Albeit, the great emblems still speak in truths simple and eloquent, and remain to refine, instruct, and exalt.

Third, that when Masonry finally became a purely speculative or symbolical fraternity, no longer an order of practical builders, its ceremonial inevitably became more elaborate and imposing – its old habit and custom, as well as its symbols and teachings, being enshrined in its ritual. More than this, knowing how “Time the white god makes all things [144] holy, and what is old becomes religion,” it is no wonder that its tradition became every year more authoritative; so that the tendency was not, as many have imagined, to add to its teaching, but to preserve and develop its rich deposit of symbolism, and to avoid any break with what had come down from the past.

Keeping in mind this order of evolution in the history of Masonry, we may now state the facts, so far as they are known, as to its early degrees; dividing it into two periods, the Operative and the Speculative.13 An Apprentice in the olden days was “entered” as a novice of the craft, first, as a purely business proceeding, not unlike our modern indentures, or articles. Then, or shortly afterwards – [145] probably at the annual Assembly – there was a ceremony of initiation making him a Mason – including an oath, the recital of the craft legend as recorded in the Old Charges, instruction in moral conduct and deportment as a Mason, and the imparting of certain secrets. At first this degree, although comprising secrets, does not seem to have been mystic at all, but a simple ceremony intended to impress upon the mind of the youth the high moral life required of him. Even Guild-masonry had such a rite of initiation, as Hallam remarks, and if we may trust the Findel version of the ceremony used among the German Stone-masons, it was very like the first degree as we now have it – though one has always the feeling that it was embellished in the light of later time.14

So far there is no dispute, but the question is whether any other degree was known in the early lodges. Both the probabilities of the case, together with such facts as we have, indicate that there was another and higher degree. For, if all the secrets of the order were divulged to an Apprentice, he could, after working four years, and just when he was becoming valuable, run away, give himself out as a Fellow, and receive work and wages as such. If there was only one set of secrets, this deception [146] might be practiced to his own profit and the injury of the craft – unless, indeed, we revise all our ideas held hitherto, and say that his initiation did not take place until he was out of his articles. This, however, would land us in worse difficulties later on. Knowing the fondness of the men of the Middle Ages for ceremony, it is hardly conceivable that the day of all days when an Apprentice, having worked for seven long years, acquired the status of a Fellow, was allowed to go unmarked, least of all in an order of men to whom building was at once an art and an allegory. So that, not only the exigencies of his occupation, but the importance of the day to a young man, and the spirit of the order, justify such a conclusion.

Have we any evidence tending to confirm this inference? Most certainly; so much so that it is not easy to interpret the hints given in the Old Charges upon any other theory. For one thing, in nearly all the MSS, from the Regius Poem down, we are told of two rooms or resorts, the Chamber and the Lodge – sometimes called the Bower and the Hall – and the Mason was charged to keep the “counsells” [147] proper to each place. This would seem to imply that an Apprentice had access to the Chamber or Bower, but not to the Lodge itself – at least not at all times. It may be argued that the “other counsells” referred to were merely technical secrets, but that is to give the case away, since they were secrets held and communicated as such. By natural process, as the order declined and actual building ceased, its technical secrets became ritual secrets, though they must always have had symbolical meanings. Further, while we have record of only one oath – which does not mean that there was only one – signs, tokens, and words are nearly always spoken of in the plural; and if the secrets of a Fellowcraft were purely technical – which some of us do not believe – they were at least accompanied and protected by certain signs, tokens, and passwords. From this it is clear that the advent of an Apprentice into the ranks of a Fellow was in fact a degree, or contained the essentials of a degree, including a separate set of signs and secrets.

When we pass to the second period, and men of wealth and learning who were not actual architects began to enter the order – whether as patrons of the art or as students and mystics attracted by its symbolism – other evidences of change appear. They, of course, were not required to serve a seven year apprenticeship, and they would naturally be Fellows, not Masters, because they were in no sense masters of the craft. Were these Fellows made acquainted with the secrets of an Apprentice? If [148] so, then the two degrees were either conferred in one evening, or else – what seems to have been the fact – they were welded into one; since we hear of men being made Masons in a single evening.15 Customs differed, no doubt, in different Lodges, some of which were chiefly operative, or made up of men who had been working Masons, with only a sprinkling of men not workmen who had been admitted; while others were purely symbolical Lodges as far back as 1645. Naturally in Lodges of the first kind the two degrees were kept separate, and in the second they were merged – the one degree becoming all the while more elaborate. Gradually the men who had been Operative Masons became fewer in the Lodges – chiefly those of higher position, such as master builders, architects, and so on – until the order became a purely speculative fraternity, having no longer any trade object in view.

Not only so, but throughout this period of transition, and even earlier, we hear intimations of “the Master’s Part,” and those hints increase in number as the office of Master of the Work lost its practical aspect after the cathedral-building period. What was the Master’s Part? Unfortunately, while the number of degrees may be indicated, their nature and details cannot be discussed without grave [149] indiscretion; but nothing is plainer than that we need not go outside Masonry itself to find the materials out of which all three degrees, as they now exist, were developed.16 Even the French Companionage, or Sons of Solomon, had the legend of the Third Degree long before 1717, when some imagine it to have been invented. If little or no mention of it is found among English Masons before that date, that is no reason for thinking that it was unknown. Not until 1841 was it known to have been a secret of the Companionage in France, so deeply and carefully was it hidden.17 Where so much is dim one may not be dogmatic, but what seems to have taken place in 1717 was, not the addition of a third [150] degree made out of whole cloth, but the conversion of two degrees into three.

That is to say, Masonry is too great an institution to have been made in a day, much less by a few men, but was a slow evolution through long time, unfolding its beauty as it grew. Indeed, it was like one of its own cathedrals upon which one generation of builders wrought and vanished, and another followed, until, amidst vicissitudes of time and change, of decline and revival, the order itself became a temple of Freedom and Fraternity – its history a disclosure of its innermost soul in the natural process of its transition from actual architecture to its “more noble and glorious purpose.” For, since what was evolved from Masonry must always have been involved in it – not something alien added to it from extraneous sources, as some never tire of trying to show – we need not go outside the order itself to learn what Masonry is, certainly not to discover its motif and its genius; its later and more elaborate form being only an expansion and exposition of its inherent nature and teaching. Upon this fact the present study insists with all emphasis, as over against those who go hunting in every odd nook and corner to find whence Masonry came, and where it got its symbols and degrees.


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