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Ashmole's Lodge

Elias Ashmole was made a Mason in the Lodge at Warrington, in Lancashire, England, October 16, 1646. This event was for some decades given prominent space in Masonic histories, partly because of the great eminence of Ashmole himself (see page 107), more largely because in records then known Ashmole was the first of non-Operatives to be admitted to a Masonic Lodge. It is odd that those who attributed this seniority to Ashmole did not see that the very document which proved Ashmole's acceptance proved also, and in the act, that others had been accepted before Ashmole! For in his Diary he writes that Col. Henry Mainwaring was accepted at the same time (thereby making him coeval) and also that other non-operatives already were in the Lodge and had been so from the beginning of it, among them Sankey, Littler, Ellam, etc., each one "a gentleman."

Ashmole's Diary therefore did not prove him to be the first, but proved the latter men to have been before him. (Richard Ellam described himself in his will as "Freemason.")

Whence came this Lodge? A reasonable answer is given on page 10 of The Time Immemorial Lodge at Chester, by John Armstrong (Chester; 1900) : "From the magnitude of the buildings in Chester we may safely assume that the Old Chester Lodge was of such strength, that like the Old Scotch Lodges, it threw off branches, and in this way the Old Warrington Lodge of Elias Ashmole would originate about the time the old church was built in that town. A number of Masons proceeding from Chester to Warrington, and as was the custom in those days would meet as a Lodge, looking up to Chester as the mother Lodge; here also when building operations ceased, non- Operatives were admitted and ultimately in 1646 we find it purely speculative and presided over by the gentry of the district.

The Warrington Lodge with its 7 members in 1646 as against 26 in the Chester Lodge points to Chester as being then the great seat of Masonry, as it had been from Roman times, the chief town and only borough in the North Western Provinces of England." The 26 members of the Lodge at Chester struck Bro. Armstrong as a show of "great strength" ; at the present remove in time it strikes a Mason by its smallness; for either there were few Masons in the county, or else only a small number belonged to the Lodge. If the latter was the case, perhaps the Lodge at Chester was itself "Speculative,'' or at least partly so? Of one fact it is reasonable to feel certain : the old Lodge at Chester would have neither approved nor countenanced a Speculative daughter Lodge at Warrington had it been an innovation ; which would mean that (a reasonable guess) at least as early as 1625 Speculative Freemasonry was nothing new in that area.

Why did Ashmole join the Lodge? It is known that he was interested in Rosicrucianism; Bro. Arthur Edward Waite argued from this that the Lodge itself must therefore have been a Rosicrucian center, and sought thereby to bolster his thesis that it had been an infiltration of Rosicrucianism and other forms of mysticism and occultism which had transformed the Craft from within from an Operative into a Speculative Fraternity. But why should he thus arbitrarily select Ashmole's interest in Rosicrucianism? Ashmole was also an encyclopedist, a natural museum maker, who had a long chain of interests ; any one of them as dear to him as what was the then (miscalled) Rosicrucianism, such as heraldry, rare books, Medieval manuscripts, alchemy;. astrology, Kabbalism, medals, ruins, folk-lore, old sciences, botany, old customs, architecture, and so on through half a hundred.

Perhaps, and remembering that he was both an intelligent and a sincere man, he joined the Lodge solely because he believed in Freemasonry itself as it already was; the fact would be consonant with his known plan to write a history of the Fraternity. Ashmole neither made nor changed the Lodge at Warrington ; and there were other members there and at Chester who were not Rosicrucians. It can be argued that Ashmole's own interest in Rosicrucianism was academic, and not for practice, like his interest in other subjects, and purstied in the spirit of the aritiquarian, the lover of erudition, the seeker for curiosa,'moreover he was a Christian, and was not likely to take up with heresies.

Against the notion that he was credulous, occultistic, superstitious in practice is a description of him when a student in Oxford: he "applied himself vigorously to the sciences, but more particularly to natural philosophy [physics and chemistry], mathematics and astronomy." The entry in the Diary begins: "1646. Oct. 16, 4 :30 P.M." (In his brochure, Elias Ashmole, Bro. Dudley Wright twice makes the error of giving the year as 1645.) The practices found in Lodges a half century later suggest that the ceremonies were followed by a dinner, or feast ; that the Brethren remained at table until late at night; and that portions of the ceremonies were given while seated. In their books and treatises Bros. Knoop and Jones have advanced the theory that in the Seventeenth Century the Ritual was a brief and bare ceremony, consisting of an oath and the giving of the Mason Word ; if that had been true it is difficult to understand why, as at Warrington, the "making" took so much time (that is but one of many difficulties in their theory). It is not likely that a group of seven men would meet together for six or seven hours as a Lodge merely to eat, drink, and talk together, because "gentlemen" of the times had large houses staffed with servants and were much given to entertainment where a mere social gathering would have been more convenient. It is more reasonable to believe that there were more ceremonies in 1646 than in 1746, not fewer ; the old Lodges kept no minutes or other records or else made them so brief that they are almost cryptic, but it does not follow that because the records were brief and bare, therefore the ceremonies had been brief and bare. The entry also shows that Ashmole "was made a Free Mason" during this one meeting, and there is nothing to indicate that the ceremonies were shortened especially for him ; in the language of a later period he was Entered, Passed, and Raised at one time.

From this record, and from others like it, Hughan argued that the pre-1717 Lodges had only one Degree; Gould argued that there had been two Degrees but that they had been conferred one after the other at the same Communication, and that the names Fellowcraft and Master Mason were used interchangeably for the second step; and they both repeated at different places in their books the since-familiar phrases about how the pre-1717 ceremonies must have been bure, simple, brief, etc. It is a curious quirk of the historical fancy to assume that what came first always must have been rudimentary. In history it is often the other way about- the first Gothic building was extraordinarily large and rich and complex; the first printed books were better works of printing than any since, etc., etc. ; and it is certain that in the sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries men were much more given to elaborateness of ceremony than they ever have been since. (Read a detailed description of the ceremonies of receiving the Spanish Ambassador in which Shakespeare had a part ; it lasted four days.) It is more reasonable to believe that the Warrington Lodge met for five or six hours because the Masonic ceremonies were so full and rich than to believe that they consisted of nothing more than a password and an oath. When the post-1717 Lodges divided their ceremonies into three Degrees, the last was of itself so long that it contained what later was separated off into the Royal Arch Degree ; any student who is familiar with the workings of the Masonic mind in the earliest Lodges. knows that Masons did not manufacture hours of new ceremonies within eight or ten years of time, for one of their most powerful instincts was to preserve and to perpetuate the old.

The Hughan-Gould debate as between the ''one Degree " theory and the " two Degree " theory continues to be argued. As against both of those theories may be presented a third which shifts the argument to another ground, and for which (in these pages) the writer is solely responsible; it is more reasonable to think that until the approach of the 1717 period the Lodges did not have any Degrees-that is, separately organized and complete units of ceremonies, each with its own name; but that they had a large and indeterminate number of ceremonies, rites, symbols, among them being an oath for Apprentices, an oath for Fellowcrafts, etc. . that these ceremonies were used very flexibly so that a Lodge might use twice as many in one meeting as at another; and that they differed from one Lodge to another in many details, so that one Lodge might employ a ceremony (such as Installation of the Master) which another would not. This last named supposition would explain why there were side degrees and intimations of "higher" degrees (vide Dr. Stukeley; early records in Ireland, etc. ) before or at 1717. This theory would explain why it was that, soon after 1717, so many Lodges made Prentices and Fellows in one sitting, conducted Lodge business with Prentices present, had separate Masters' Lodges, and in the very early years of Speculative Lodges gave an immediate welcome to the formation of a separate Royal Arch Degree, to the Scotch Mason rites, etc. The probabilities are that on the day after his making Ashmole lid not think of himself as having passed through one Degree, or two Degrees, or even three, but as having been ''made a Free Mason " by the total (whatever it was) of the ceremonies used; it is also reasonable to believe that by " acceptance into Masonry " he would have thought not of architectural ceremonies but of his acceptance into a new circle of friends and associates. (It is not to be supposed that even in the earliest Operative periods, and when a Lodge was still a mere adjunct to a building enterprise, such ceremonies, etc., as were used therefore were solely utilitarian; every skilled Craft was organized as a gild, fraternity, company, and each had a rich array of ceremonies, symbols, rites, etc., even the blacksmiths; and it was a common practice for them to admit Honorary Members from outside their own " operative " ranks. Symbolical ceremonies and ''accepted'' members in Seventeenth Century Lodges were not innovations.)

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