The reference to “Free Masons” occurs in the earliest documents. There are several suggested explanations for the meaning of this term. One is that they were workers in free stone and had the ability to shape it as they desired. The more logical meaning is that the workmen were free to move from one building project to another as they wished.

Upon completion of a particular building, each fellow of the craft would seek employment wherever it could be found. An apprentice was bound to a particular Fellow or Master and accompanied him to the new location. Prior to securing new employment, the Fellow would be examined on his knowledge, and have to exhibit specimens of his skill. It is very probable that he also would have to impart some sign or token of a secret nature to prove the Master that he had secured his knowledge and ability in a lawful manner, and was a worthy brother of the craft.

Excerpted from: A History and Handbook, The York Rite of Freemasonry, by Frederick G. Speidel

Legendary Foundations for the Craft

Through the centuries, working lodges in Germany, France, and England developed traditions explaining the origins of their particular trade.

The medical profession traces its ethical standards from Aesculapius, the mythological Greek God of Healing, and Hippocrates (died 377 B.C.), the father of modern medicine. The legal profession claims descent from Hammurabi, king of Babylon (circa 2000 B.C.), who developed an early traditional example of excellence in their field of endeavor.

There are two reasons for this practice; first, to establish a level of proficiency from which they will attempt to advance, and second, to establish a fixed time from which all knowledge of the art should be preserved, thereby insuring that all pertinent discoveries are retained for future use by the craft.

Freemasonry, in the middle ages, had a dual concern. They were attempting to build the highest, lightest, most magnificent cathedrals within their capabilities, for the Glory of God. In addition, they were concerned for the moral and spiritual development of their members as expressed in the ancient documents.

In a search for an early tradition to exemplify their dual concern, they acquired the account from the Holy Bible of the building of King Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem as a foundation for the future development of the craft.

The stones for Solomon’s Temple, after being shaped in the quaries, fitted together so perfectly at the building site, “so that, there was neither hammer, nor axe, nor any tool of iron heard in the house, while it was building”. (I Kings 6:7) This account of perfect wormanship, together with the proven excelence of Solomon’s organization, has been selected by the fraternity as a fitting example to follow for future generations.

A number of legends or traditions have been superimposed upon the Biblical account of building the Great Temple. The stories explain additional events of value, or interest, to the various grades or classes of workmen employed in the construction of the temple. Many of those legends have been selected by modern Masonic organizations to exemplify additional moral or spiritual values.

In addition to events surrounding the building of the Temple in Jerusalem, other occurrencies in religious history have found their place in Masonic ritual and teaching.

Excerpted from: A History and Handbook, The York Rite of Freemansonry, by Frederic G. Speidel

The Charitable Objectives of Symbolic Freemasonry

From “time immemorial” it has been the custom and practice of Masonic Lodges to relieve human distress wherever it existed. The principle tenets of Freemasonry are: Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth.

Some may consider that Relief means to extend Charity. However, when Relief is extended to a worthy individual it is an act of Brotherly Love, rather than Charity. Freemasonry endeavors to impress this fact upon the members. There are many ways to extend Relief rather than financial… a friendly word in time of distress, a visit, a sounding board for problems, etc. Many Lodges and Grand Lodges have permanent programs for extending aid to those in need.

The Symbolic Lodges maintain a Charity Committee which oversees local needs. Their activity would include alleviating short term distress. For example, a particular Master Mason died of cancer while quite young. His daughter had one semester of college to complete for her degree. His widow has little money. His lodge took up a collection and in two weeks had secured the means for the girl to complete her education. Hundreds of similar acts of Masonic Charity are extended by the Symbolic Lodges weekly. In addition, the Lodges maintain permanent committees to sponsor the Charitable Objectives of their Grand Lodges.

A great number of Grand Lodges maintain homes for the elderly. They also operate and support homes for orphan children. In our world today, social orphans far outnumber biological orphans and the Masonic fraternity is dedicated to improving the future of the next generation. Additionally, many Grand Lodges are supporting medical research programs and medical centers.

The national youth organizations of The Order of DeMolay for Boys, The Order of Rainbow and The Order of Job’s Daughters for Girls, are sponsored and/or supported by the Masonic Fraternity.

Excerpted from: A History and Handbook, The York Rite of Freemasonry, by Frederic G. Speidel

The Ancient Craftsmen

When the period of cathedral building commenced in the late 10th century, lodges of Masons were formed to provide an orderly establishment for the erection of a particular building. In addition to the lodges of stonemasons, there were similar organizations for carpenters, workers in glass, sculptors, artists, etc. A number of the cathedrals were under construction for periods exceeding 100 years. It is therefore apparent that many workmen spent their lifetime at one location. They worked from sunrise to sunset, six days a week and this obviously became their “way of life”.

While Guilds existed in many other crafts at this early period, employment for skilled stone masons was isolated and sporatic in any given locality. At a much later date than our story, The London Company of Freemasons was organized, the only group of its type in England. However, it has never operated on the Guild system.

The Church, King or Nobleman desiring to erect a cathedral, castle, or palace, a project that could conceivably take several generations, would employ a Master of the Freemasons who would establish his own organization, and usually serve as Chief Architect for the building.

This group of Freemasons first built a temporary structure for a headquarters and storage house. In the early stages of construction, the craftsmen also had their meals and slept in this building which was called a “lodge”. After a time, the organization itself acquired the title od “a lodge”.

From the earliest period, the lodge organization provided for apprentices, who were learning the craft; fellows of the craft, who were journeyman workmen; and a Master.
The basic laws, rules and regulations for the government of each lodge were carefully written down. In many respects these were the laws that governed the life of the individual workman. The Cook Ms, from the early 15th century, relates charges for the Master and charges for the craftsman that affected their personal conduct.

In addition to the laws, there were many “trade secrets” which were held by each rank of the craft. Only a Master knew and understood all of these secrets, which were primarily a knowledge of Geometric formulae and the ability to apply it to the work at hand.

Excerpted from: A History and Hanbook, The York Rite of Freemasonry, by Frederick G, Speidel

The Regius Poem

The oldest document which refers to ancient Freemasonry is the Regius Poem, or Halliwell Manuscript. James O. Halliwell discovered an ancient manuscript in the archives of the British Museum in 1838. Scientists have concluded from the type of parchment, language, and lettering that this document was written in approximately 1390 A.D. The poem consists of 794 lines of Old English verse and covers several subjects, mostly directly applicable to Freemasonry. While this manuscript was probably written in the 14th century, it refers to a period of Masonic history in England in the late 10th century. It relates the Legend of York and is the basis for the prominence the city of York has occupied in Masonic lore since the first millenium. Regulations for the government of the craft are included in the poem, as are fifteen articles and fifteen points dealing with ethical, moral and spiritual responsibilities of the ancient craftsmen. These are as applicable to us today as they were 1000 years ago.

Excerpted from: A History and Handbook, The York Rite of Freemasonry, by Frederick G. Speidel