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Notes on early workings of the first degree
By W. Bro. A. L. Blank, M.A., I.P.M.; 24 March 1955
The origins of masonic ceremonies are fully discussed by Knoop and Jones in Chapter X of The Genesis of Freemasonry. The authors deduce the origins of eighteenth-century Masonic ceremonies from two main sources. Firstly, the Invocation; the legend or "history" of the Craft; and the Masons' regulations, as commonly contained in the Ms. Constitutions of Masonry, these being the respective prototypes of the Opening Prayer, the Traditional History, and the Charges of later Masonic ritual. Secondly, "the form of giving the Masonic Word," and the Test Questions and Answers associated with the Mason Word. Two Mss. of this character have so far been traced, the Edinburgh Register House Ms. of 1696 and the Chetwode Crawley Ms. of circa 1700. These are the earliest-known versions of what are generally called Masonic catechisms, and depict a ceremony of a different character from that suggested in the Ms. Constitutions of Masonry. The Edinburgh Register House Ms. of 1698 states that "the person to take the Word" had first had to take an oath of secrecy, in which he swore not to reveal by word or writing any part of what he should see or hear, or to draw it with the point of a sword, or other instrument, upon the snow or sand. He then went out with the youngest Mason, who taught him the sign, postures, and words of his entry. He then returned and said the words of his entry, ending with the words ". . . under no less pain than having my tongue cut out under my chin and of being buried within the flood mark where no man shall know." It appears that he was then given the word by the Master. The Ms. states that the foregoing belongs to the Entered Apprentice and that other signs and words belong to a Master Mason or Fellow Craft. The Chetwode Crawley Ms. confirms that there were two different ceremonies, one applying to Entered Apprentices and one to Fellow Crafts or Masters. The authors consider that "both types of operative ceremony, the one depicted in the Ms. Catechisms, have undoubtedly contributed to the development of present-day workings . . . " and that "the evidence seems to point to operative and non-operative members of Scottish Lodges, and to Accepted Mason in England, using a combined type of ceremony in the second half of the Seventeenth Century."
The Charges of a Freemason were "digested" by Anderson for his Constitutions of 1723, and directed "to be read at the Making of New Brethren, or when the Master shall order it." They are embodied in the N.Z. Book of Constitution (1974 Edition) pp 9-20. Knoop and Jones (op. cit p. 235) think that the Charges of 1723 did not supersede the Old Charges, and that the latter may have continued in use until well into the Eighteenth Century.
In 1734 or 1735 "A Short Charge to be given to newly admitted Brethren" appears in Smith's "Pocket Companion for Free-Masons." It works in some of the material of the 1723 Charges with a good deal of fresh material—Read (op. cit. pp. 236 f.)— The Brethren will notice that much of the substance of the Charge appears in the Charge after Initiation at p. 84 of the N. Z. Ritual; and other parts of it also find places in our Ritual. The Irish Edition of the following May contains an Approbation by the Grand Lodge of Ireland immediately following the Charge. The Charge is reproduced almost verbatim in Ahiman Rezon (1756 end.) pp. 35-38. The Charge now used in the Irish working corresponds rather closely to the first four paragraphs of the N. Z. Charge, but altogether omits the remaining three paragraphs.
The Opening Prayer, or Prayer of Admission, embodied an invocation to the Trinity in the Aberdeen Ms. of 1670 and similarly worded invocations to the Trinity are said to occur in all the Scottish versions of the Ms. Constitutions.
In Penell's "Constitutions," published in Dublin in 1730, the "Prayer to be said at the opening of a Lodge, or making of a Brother" is also Trinitarian in character. This was the Book of Constitutions of the Grand Lodge of Ireland; the prayer was probably in use in Ireland, and contains the substance of the prayer for the candidate in the First Degree, at p. 41, of the N.Z. Ritual.
Three alternative forms of prayer survive in the Rawlinson collection. None of them contain a specific reference to the Trinity. They are provisionally dated circa 1730, and must have been in existence before 1755, the year of Dr. Rawlinson's death. One of them is printed at p. 41 of the N. Z. Ritual.
The Transactions of the Lodge of Research, No. CC., Ireland, for 1934-38 contain at p. 137 a paper by V.W. Bro. Philip Crossly entitled "The Making of a Brother, circa 1740." He states inter alia that the early catechisms do not represent a fixed ceremony or ritual; that the classification of the Fraternity into Apprentices, Fellow Crafts and Masters found in "The Book of Constitutions, one published in London in 1723, and another in Dublin in 1730," are grades rather than degrees, and are not to be confused with our present-day practice; that "any Initiation Ceremony in 1730 only took place when the apprentice was 'made a Brother,' and given the Mason word, which meant that our faith in God is established in strength"; that the brother was passed the part of a Fellow Craft on giving proof of his proficiency in the Catechism, apparently without ceremonial; and that he attained to the Master's part, i.e., Master of the Lodge, upon personal merit only—"that Part must have been entirely philosophical."
After noting that Samuel Prichard's "Masonry Dissected" of 1730 was frequently re-printed and was translated into French and German, in spite of the denunciation of the Grand Lodge of England in December, 1730, our brother remarks that "Continental Freemasons seem to have accepted it as representing orthodox English working." The working of the Lodge is next described: after the Apprentice had taken his obligation "he was presented with a white lambskin apron with the fall tucked inside, a pair of white gloves for himself and another pair for the lady he most esteemed." The fall of the apron is still tucked in in Irish working.
A.Q.C. LXVI, p. 107 ff., gives a contemporary account of Masonic working which appears to have recently come to light. Original documents from the archives of the Inquisition at Lisbon, discovered and translated by a member of the Lisbon Branch of the Historical Association, and reproduced by courtesy of that Association, deal with the trial of John Coustos by the Inquisition. The documents show clearly that the tribunal was at pains to make a comprehensive and accurate record of its proceedings.
John Coustos was born about 1700, and was before 1732 a member of a London Lodge, No. 75, now the Britannic Lodge, No. 33; he became a Founder of another London Lodge, No. 98, constituted on 17th August, 1732, and existing until 1753. On the 6th October, 1742, a named Attorney formally deposed before an Inquisitor "that about one and a half months ago there appeared several teachers and adherents in this city of the new sect called 'Free Masons' condemned by the Apostolic See a few years past"— this no doubt refers to the Bull of Pope Clement XII in 1738"—"and that the chief of these is an Englishman called Monsieur Coustos, Master Diamond Cutter . . . who is a heretic . . . " He gives the names of six others as "companions and followers of the aforesaid sect . . . all Frenchmen and Catholics," and proceeds to give further information. Another informant deposed on 11th February, 1743, and the original informant, again on the next day. On the 21st and 26th March, 1743, the Confession of John Coustos was recorded, occupying six pages of A.Q.C., and the Examination following the Confession, on 30th March, 1743, occupies another four pages. He gives a very full account of the doings of the Freemasons, truthful as far as one can tell. References to the First Degree are here extracted—description at pp. 112 and 113 read:—
It seems that the ceremonies, while less elaborate than those now in use, embody much of the substance of our present First and Second Degrees. Deacons are not mentioned, nor (with one possible exception) are Inner Guard. The record speaks of further instruction (apparently visual) after refreshment, and appears to convey that the period of refreshment counted as part of the time during which the Lodge was open.
The formation of the Lodge is also described: " . . . therein is . . . placed a table, lengthwise with three large wax candles on the top thereof in the form of a triangle, viz., two on the two corners of the top of the table and the other in the middle of the bottom part . . . At the head of the table is the principal Master of all, and next at the sides are the other Brothers according to their rank up to the last place where sit those called wardens." This arrangement of candles and chairs (allowing for the different shape of the table) appears in Plate IV at p. 112 of B. C. Jones' "Freemasons' Guide and Compendium."
In British Masonic Miscellany, Vol. IV, pp. 79-131, Bro. the Rev. H. G. Rosedale considers the Evolution of our Ritual before the Union (First Degree). He regards the "Exposures" as more or less correct versions of what actually took place in the lodges, and is satisfied that by 1724 all three ceremonies, in some form, were in existence. Further, that the Eighteen Century "Exposures" indicated that the ritual was a gradual development, and he finds the differences between Jachin and Boaz, Mahhabone (published 1766), and Hiram unimportant as far as the ritual is concerned. He transcribed eleven pages of cipher from Browne's "Master Key" (1789) and found them to be the question part of the three Lectures; he notes his disappointment at finding "how much was missing towards the discovery of anything like the full ritual." He later obtained the Second Edition (1802), containing the answers, partly in cipher and partly in clear, and considers the work a "really reliable record." Unfortunately for the present purpose the three Lectures occupy pp. 1-80, and "Initiation of a Candidate" only pp. 81-82. On the little material available he pictures "with at least some general approach to truth" the setting of a Masonic Lodge about the period 1800 to 1813. The Master was placed in the East, the Brethren being ranged in two lines, on the North and South, and the Wardens at the Western end of these two lines, and representing the two pillars at the porchway or entrance, the Senior on the right and the Junior on the left of the Master, the Junior Warden thus being in the South "in relation to the Senior Warden and the Lodge." Our Brother proceeds to rehearse the ceremony of Initiation "taking Browne's version and improving on it by hint . . . from earlier forms and not least from the Ritual published by . . . Finch," upon whom our Brother is prepared to rely ad hoc. The Candidate is admitted on the point of a s — — p i — — — t etc. At his entrance the J.W. came to his assistance and demanded of the Tyler whom he had there. The answer is given much as now, the J. W. reports to the Master, and the Candidate is admitted. After prayer, etc., he is conducted round the Lodge by the J. W. and delivered to the S. W. in the W. The S. W. asks "who comes there" and the J. W. answers in the terms used previously by the Tyler. The ceremony proceeds with little variation from present-day usage, except that the S.W. advances the Candidate to the East at the Master's direction. The "Ancients" appear to have used a form of Ob. shorter than the present, but embodying most of the substance. The "Moderns" Ob. was shorter still, and appears to embody the penalties of more than one degree, as now used. After the Ob. the S. W., at the Master's order, "shows the Candidate the light," much as the J. D. does now. The sources vary in detail as to the Greater and Lesser Lights and as to the manner of investiture. The secrets were then communicated, and the address in the N. E. corner followed.
Browne ends the ceremony here, but later versions of Jachin and Boaz and Mahhabone continue with the Working Tools, "the drawing on the floor" and its subsequent washing out by the initiate "if it is done with chalk and charcoal," followed by the Apprentice's Lecture, mostly a dialogue between the Master and the S. W., intended to explain to the initiate step by step the esoteric meaning of what he had taken part in.
The foregoing glimpses of the ritual suggest, to my mind, a fairly strong thread of continuity from the Ms. Constitutions and Catechisms to the time of the Union.

By W. Bro. A. L. Blank; 24 March 1955; Published in United Masters Lodge, No. 167 SELECTED PAPERS, Vol. II; Auckland, New Zealand; 1961.


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