Museum of Freemasonry - Masonic Library

Being an Address or Lecture suitable for presentation in a Craft Lodge and with the participation of a  Narrator and six Brethren.
Time required
:  Around 20 to 25  minutes

A Glossary of the Craft Ritual

Narrator : When we Masons

use the rituals of Freemasonry we are inclined to forget that we are not using  modern English but the language written and spoken well in excess of two hundred years ago.  It is the language of Queen Anne and the George’s, not that of Queen Elizabeth II.  Many of the words and phrases in the rituals when they were first promulgated have, by now, acquired a different meaning, become archaic  or passed out of use completely.  An additional point of interest  is that the rituals of the Craft and those of the Royal Arch differ noticeably in their style and working.  The earlier Craft ritual is more direct in style and uses words derived from  the Anglo-Saxon language.  The later Royal Arch ritual tends to be diffusive  and draws much on the many-syllabled words of the Romance languages based on Greek and Latin.

The vocabulary of modern English is approximately half of Germanic origin, that is Old English and Scandinavian, and half Italic or Romance, that is French or Latin;  the latter often being based on Greek.  There have naturally been many importation’s of words from other languages as well.  The languages spoken in England originated with the settlement of the Jutes, Angles and Saxons in the 5th. and 6th. centuries, but the arrival of St. Augustine and his followers introduced a form of ‘Low Latin’  to the educated classes.  The Scandinavian invaders, who settled in England during the 10th. and 11th. centuries, brought many Norse words into the language. Subsequently, with the Norman conquest of 1066 came French, based on Latin and Greek.  There were thus,  during the 12th. to the 14th. centuries, two sorts of tongues spoken - a type of Latin/French by the upper classes and various English dialects by the rest of the population.     English began to become the main method of speech with the Statute of Pleadings which ordered, in 1362, that court proceedings had to be conducted in that language.  The trend continued with the loss by the English Crown of it’s French possessions and was hastened by Caxton’s printing in 1476,  the Renaissance of the 16th. century and the king James’ Authorised Version of the Bible in 1611.  During this period many words came from the Low Countries, such as Flemish, Dutch and Low German.  The result was Middle English and it’s gradual development into the modern English which we use today.

As the development of English Craft ,and Royal Arch ritual virtually stopped soon after the Union of 1813,  the language used is some two hundred years out of date.  The words  selected for this exercise are those which may be regarded as ‘Archaic’, have passed out of fashion, have an interesting derivation or have developed a specific ‘Masonic Meaning’.

N. B. :   Reference to a modern English Dictionary may, for many of the these particular words,  give a biased or even a different meaning altogether from that intended by our ancient  compilers of Masonic rituals.

The Craft ritual used by the majority of lodges of the United Grand Lodge of

England is that arranged by the Lodge of Reconciliation formed for that purpose in 1813.  The material available for that lodge to use was wording developed over the centuries but principally after about 1700.       It is now possible to date, with reasonable accuracy,  the first appearance in Masonry of many of the words and phrases in this material from exposures of masonry, masonic books and manuscripts; written before 1775.  After this date, by which time there were two Grand Lodges and several hundred private lodges,  the multiplicity of sources makes such dating impossible.

Reader No.  1

Narrator : Bro.__________________ ,  would you please give the ritual meaning of the words ;  MASON,  LODGE,  and  GEOMETRY.

Mason, there have been many fanciful theories about this word,  but the etymology (origin and meaning)  is straightforward.  A Mason is a man who cuts stone.

There were varieties  of the word in England as early as the 11th. century.  By 1400, it was appearing in the ‘Romance of the Rose’ as Massoun and Caxton was printing it in it’s present form in 1489.  The extension to ‘freemason’  is much more complicated and has been studied on paper many times but there seems to be no firm answer.  A Templar origin is of as early a date as 11th. century has much support.  Artisans working for the Templars called themselves ‘Free’  and had an international status of freedom from local taxes wherever they worked.   Templar ‘freemasons’  built the Temple in Fleet Street, London, and other buildings in the 12th. century.  English Masons,  at the same time, did not belong to local Guilds but traveled to construction sites as they were needed.  Having no ‘domicile’ they,  like the Templar artisans, would not pay taxes.

Lodge,  the word has three meanings – a room or building where Freemasons meet;  the society of men who meet there;  and the meeting of that body.  The first mention of’ lodge’  seems to be in the Vale Abbey Records, 1278, but the word is certainly earlier.

Geometry, the link between geometry and architecture causes it’s association with masonry.  This is stressed in the Old Charges.  Until at one time a “Geometer” became an alternative  name for a Freemason.  The first masonic use  of the word ‘Geometry’ is in the Regius Manuscript 1390, which defines the Constitutions of the Art of Geometry according to Euclid.

Reader No. 2

Narrator : Bro. ____________________,  would you please explain the words ACHITECT,   IMMEMORIAL,  SPECULATIVE,  CHARGE,  and TYLER.

Architect, it is not possible to date the first use of the phrase G A O T U  but it’s place in the first lines of  the 1723 Constitutions assures it’s permanency for all Freemasons.

Immemorial, reaching back beyond memory.  Used Masonically to designate lodges etc.. existing before their parent bodies were formed.

Speculative, the Old English Dictionary ( OED) defines to ‘speculate’  as to ‘indulge in thought of a conjectural theoretical nature’.  The word was used by the writers Addison and Steele in their paper, The Spectator, as an adjective, possibly causing it to become common usage.  The earliest example of the word may be in Preston’s Second Degree Lecture but the word was certainly used much earlier by masons to describe themselves.  Only in Freemasonry is the word now used as a Noun; the modern form being speculator which usually has a financial implication.

Charge, an instruction detailing duties.  Used Masonically, the word dates from the operative period.  More than 130 manuscripts, starting with the Regius Ms. Of 1390, known as the Old Charges, exist in public and Masonic museums .  Charges to individuals, in the present rituals, date from the consecration of a new lodge in the 1723 and 1738 Constitutions.

Tyler  (Tiler ), the title first appears in Freemasonry about 1731;  previously the officer in Grand Lodge was called ‘porter’ ,  ‘doorkeeper’ or ‘garder’ .  ‘Tyler’ was probably adopted in masonry as a tiler, by his trade, covered a building and made it secure.  The word ‘tiler’ is in The Dialogue between Simon and Peter 1740,  and in Preston.  The word with a ‘Y’ is now only used in British masonry;  the US masons using ‘Tiler’ with an ‘I’ as do British tradesmen.  A famous Tyler in history was Wat Tyler who, in 1391, led the ‘Peasant’s Revolt’ against King Richard II’s Poll Tax.

Reader No.  3

Narrator : Bro.____________________,  please inform the Brethren about the words STEWARD,  DEACON,  WAND,  OLIVE  &  ALMONER.

Steward, in Freemasonry, stewards originated from brethren who helped to organise the annual  Grand Feast,  probably first in 1721.  Shortly after, there were stewards in private lodges.  As many lodges had no Deacons,  the steward’s duties, until 1813, included ceremonial work in lodge.

Deacon, the Deacon was the doorkeeper of the early Christian church.  In Scotland, he was a higher official,  often the master of a trade corporation or guild.  The first known masonic usage is in the Schaw Statutes,1599. Deacons were also floor officers or masters of Scottish lodges from before 1700 and,  in some English lodges,  soon after 1730.  The Deacon has been an obligatory officer of English lodges since about 1810.

Wand, a thin stick used for ceremonial purposes as a mark of authority.  Early wands may have been associated with the caduceus of the god Hermes ( Mercury )  in his herald or messenger role.  Wands were carried in masonry early in the 18th. century and are shown in illustrations dated about 1745.  There are complete references to Wands in 1760 in Jarchin and Boaz  1762. The word comes from the Old Norse wandur  and the Gothic  wandus.

Olive, symbolically an emblem of peace.  The present jewel of the DEACON, with the DOVE holding the olive branch,  dates from the Union of 1813.  Earlier it had been the compass  or the figures of Mercury holding a caduceus  ( Herald’s staff ).  English lodges of pre-union date may continue to use the Mercury but may not replace it.

Almoner,  the official distributor of alms to others.  Since 1910, an officer in an English lodge.  Since the appointment of lodge Charity stewards,  the Almoner is now chiefly responsible  for welfare.  Most other obedience’s have similar officers but not in America where the duties are normally carried out by committees.

Reader No. 4

Narrator : Bro. ____________________ ,you might like to enlighten the brethren about the words  WARDEN,  WARRANT,  CHARTER,  EMBLEM,  SYMBOL  AND  TENET.

Warden, the word came into masonry through early trade associations which had Wardens by Royal Charter.   The Scottish Schaw Statutes of 1598, refer to  presiding officers as Wardens.  English lodges had Wardens before 1646.  The word is an extension of  Ward  ( guard, in charge of   etc.. ).

Warrant, the word, in English,  dates from at least1450,  but was only used in masonry after 1717.  THE WORD, IN English, dates from at least 1450,  but was only used in Masonry after 1717.  A warrant gives authority to perform a specific act i.e. in Masonry to hold a lodge.   Very early lodges worked under ‘Time Immemorial’ powers or dispensations,  though warrants of confirmation were sometimes issued by Grand Lodge to regularize such lodges.

Charter, means a written grant of rights.  Appears in Freemasonry after 1717 in conjunction with warrant,  but implies continuing power while warrant covers a specific act.   From Greek chartes,  ( a leaf of papyrus  or palm).

Emblem ( -atic ), a drawing,  a figure,  sign or badge, often implying a moral tale or allegory.  The word is used in The Spirit of Freemasonry, 1775,  by William Hutchinson.  Early writers appear to have considered  an EMBLEM as more visible and concrete  than a SYMBOL.  This distinction seems to be dying out in modern idiom.

Symbol ( -ic ), the word means something that stands for or represents  something else.  It appears  frequently in Masonry, but early masonic writers seem to have considered a SYMBOL as more theoretical  than the possibly tangible EMBLEM.  Such differentiation is dying out and the words are more or less synonymous.

Tenet, from about 1600, the word applied to any opinion but it is now defined as  a doctrine , dogma, principle or opinion in religion, politics, philosophy or the like, held by a school, sect, party or person.  Preston refers to the ‘Grand Tenets of the Institution’,

c 1807.

Reader No.  5

Narrator : Bro. __________________ ,  please present your offering for the ritual meanings of the words,  PRINCIPLE,  RECTITUDE,  LANDMARK,  CUSTOM,  DEGREE,  ENTRUST  and  INSTALL (  -ATION ).

Principle, a Principle is stronger than a Tenet as it is a primary element, force or law which produces  or determines results.    It is thus the ultimate basis on which the existence of something depends.  The word is in the Sloan M. S. 1700,  as ‘from whom do you derive your principalls ?’  Preston refers to the Grand Principles  of the Order.

Rectitude, uprightness in Principles and Conduct.

Landmark, the importance of Landmarks dates from ‘Time Immemorial’ but Masonically no earlier than the 1723 Constitutions which lay down that Masonic Landmarks  are immutable.  Some Grand Lodges lay down lists of their Landmarks;  the British do not.  The subject has been much discussed.

Custom, means usage,  a habitual or normal practice.  In 1730, Hiram’s usual custom  was ‘to survey the work’ but this changed in 1760 to the current ‘return from mid - day  prayer.’

Degree, it means a stage in ascending or descending in rank or scale.  The word first appears in 1730,  as a Masonic degree and has been used in English - speaking obediences  ever since.  Craft masonry has only three degrees but some other rites have as many as ninety one.

Entrust, means to invest with a trust and masonically implies the communication of masonic secrets or confidential information.  Preston uses the word when handing the minutes of a lodge  to the secretary at an installation,  and for the new Master to be ‘installed and entrusted’.

Install (-ation ),  to invest with an office or dignity by placing the recipient into an official seat or stall.  First masonic use seems to be in the ceremony of consecration described in the 1723 Constitutions.  In this, the new master and wardens are installed.

Reader  No. 6

Narrator : Bro. ___________________ ,may we receive from you the explanations of the final group of  ritual words for our consideration this evening ? Including the following;  MERIDIAN,  LABOUR,  TEMPERANCE,  JEWEL  AND  MOTE.

Meridian, this is the point in the sky at which a star or planet reaches it’s highest altitude - in the case of the Sun, at noon.  In the northern hemisphere, this is in the south and represents the junior Warden in a lodge.  The word is first mentioned  masonically in 1725.

Labour, except when it is temporarily ‘called off’ , a lodge is ‘at labour’ from it’s opening to it’s closing.  ‘Labour’  as opposed to ‘refreshment’ appears in 1760.

Temperance, while the word  temper has retained it’s meaning of treating metals and calming the mind, ‘temperance’ has developed into the practice of restraint, usually in connection with eating and drinking. In it’s wider sense, as in masonry,  it retains it’s meaning as one of the Cardinal Virtues, with Prudence, Fortitude and Justice.

Jewel, building tools, first appearing in the Edinburgh Register House M. S. 1696,  are listed as ‘fixed or movable ‘  jewels.  Later catechisms vary considerably as to what were the jewels of a lodge.  Personal jewels worn by officers date from 1727, when the Grand Lodge ordered all masters and wardens to wear them.  The wearing of jewels by other officers is mentioned in 1760.  Further  jewels  have been authorized from time to time,  the latest being the Trowel worn by the  lodge Charity Steward.

Mote, there are three words ‘mote’, all with different meanings.  The masonic word ‘mote’ is the third person singular of the present subjunctive of the  verb ‘Motan’  ( to be allowed, to permit ) thus ‘so mote it be ‘ is an old form of ‘Amen’ which means  ‘so let it be’.  Masons have retained the first form which has died out elsewhere.  The two other meanings of ‘mote’ are an ‘assembly’,  now archaic, and a minute object.  (Matthew 7 v 3,  and Luke 6 v 41 ).

Narrator: after that last explanation,  I think that we should call it a day before you all start to suffer from information overload. My thanks to the brethren who assisted in  this evening’s presentation.

Ken White
Lodge Gosford No. 742
July  2000