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Some Ritual Origins

By: Wallace McLeod
Bro. Wallace McLeod is a member and Past Master of
Mizpah Lodge #572, Toronto, Canada, and of Quatuor
Coronati Lodge #2076, London, England he is the
Grand Historian of the Grand Lodge of Canada in the
Province of Ontario.
The ritual is, as has often been observed, fundamental to
Freemasonry, and it gives form to our proceedings. We
like to think of it as one of the landmarks, but it does
change, though only slowly. Let me remind you of how
far back in Masonry we can trace certain words and
We begin with the familiar phrase So mote it be, which
sometimes baffles new Masons. That is because it is
extremely old, and includes an obsolete form of the verb.
Actually these very words are found in the earliest extant
copy of the Old Charges of the operative masons, the
Regius Poem, which was written in England about the
year 1390. Almost as old, it turns out, is Masonic
emphasis on the seven liberal sciences, and on the
building of King Solomon's Temple both are essential
parts of the Cooke Manuscript, which goes back to about
1410. Indeed they continued to be a regular part of the
standard versions of the Old Charges that served to
govern the Craft for the next three hundred years.
There is a marvellous collection of early ritual documents
covering the years 1696-1730, called The Early Masonic
Catechisms. In this work we find that the phrases "hele
and conceal" and "Five points of fellowship" both occur
in the Edinburgh Register House Manuscript of 1696.
"The square, the compass, and the Bible" are mentioned
together in the Dumfries Manuscript
No. 4, of about 1710. A London newspaper of 1723
published what purported to be an exposure of the
Masonic ceremonies, and there we find the five orders of
architecture duly listed. The well-known trio "Brotherly
Love, Relief, and Truth," comes from another exposure,
a pamphlet printed in London in 1724.
Anderson's Book of Constitutions of 1723 mentions the
toast to "The King and the Craft." It also refers to God
as the Great Architect of the Universe (a phrase first used
by John Calvin), and alludes in passing to Hiram Abif (a
name which comes from 2 Chronicles 4:16, in
Coverdale's Bible of 1535).
The most popular of the early exposures was Samuel
Prichard's Masonry Dissected, first published in 1730.
And there we find such familiar phrases as "Neither
naked nor cloathed, bare-foot nor shod," "Wisdom,
Strength, and Beauty," "Square, Level, and
Plumb-Rule," and "a Sprig of Cassia at the Head of his
The earliest version of the Charge to the Newly Initiated
Candidate, the one with the words "Antient, as having
subsisted from Times immemorial," that outlines our
duty "to God, our Neighbours, and Ourselves," appears
in William Smith's Pocket Companion (Dublin, 1735).
The story of Ephraimites at the passage of the River
Jordan turns up in a French exposure of 1747. Whether
it had been borrowed from English sources is not clear
at any rate, it soon appears in printed English rituals.
The next great landmark in the evolution of our
ceremonies is the advent of the three great expounders of
the ritual, who were the first ones to provide more
substantial lectures. Wellins Calcott lived from 1726 until
after 1779 in his book A Candid Disquisition ( 1769), he
speaks of Pythagoras and the
Egyptian philosophers, who concealed their principles
under the cover of hieroglyphics. He also offers some
familiar words of advice:
"Right Worshipful Sir, BY the unanimous voice of the
members of this lodge, you are elected to the mastership
thereof for the ensuing half-year...You have been of too
long standing, and are too good a member of our
communi~y, to require now any information in the duty
of your office. What you have seen praiseworthy in
others, we doubt not you will imitate and what you have
seen defective, you will in yourself amend...For a pattern
of imitation, consider the great luminary of nature,
which, rising in the east, regularly diffuses light and
lustre to all within its circle. In like manner it is your
province, with due decorum, to spread and communicate
light and instruction to the brethren in the lodge."
To be sure, the sentiments expressed here have now been
assigned to two different charges. But their original
source is unmistakable.
William Hutchinson (1732-1814), in his Spirit of Masonry
(1775), offers a series of Moral Observations on the
Instruments of Masonry. They interpret the significance
of the working tools.
"The Level should advise us that...we are all descended
from the same common stock, partake of the like nature,
have. ..the same hope. .. and though distinctions
necessarily make a subordination among mankind, yet
eminence of station should not make us forget that we are
men, nor cause us to treat our brethren, because placed
on the lowest spoke of the wheel of fortune, with con-
tempt because a time will come, and the wisest of men
know not how soon, when
all distinctions, except in goodness, will cease, and when
deaththat grand leveller of all human greatnesswill
bring us to a level at the last."
Once again, beyond any question our present wording is
derived from this text.
And the great William Preston (1742-1818), in his
Illustrations of Masonry (2nd edition, 1775), offers a
familiar prayer:
"Vouchsafe thine aid, Almighty Father and supreme
Governor of the world, to this our present convention
and grant that this candidate for Masonry may dedicate
and devote his life to thy service, and become a true and
faithful brother among us. Endue him with a competence
of thy divine wisdom, that, by the secrets of this Art, he
may be better enabled to unfold the mysteries of
godliness, to the honour of thy holy name. Amen."
Virtually all of our present wording, we now see, is
derived from Britain. But, as we have noted on previous
occasions, there is one major piece of ritual that was
"made in Canada"the General Charge at the Ceremony
of Installation. The late M.W. Bro. William Kirk Bailey
(1904-1992) succeeded in tracing the various sources
from which Otto Klotz was able to put it together in
1876. One part, for example, comes from the Grand
Master's address delivered by M.W. Bro. William
Mercer Wilson at the Annual Communication in Ottawa
in 1860:
"It comforts the mourner it speaks peace and consolation
to the troubled spirit it carries relief and gladness to the
habitations of want and destitution it dries the tears of
the widow and orphan it opens the source of knowledge
it widens the sphere of human happiness it even seeks to
light up the darkness and gloom of the grave, by pointing
to the hopes and
promises of a better life to come. All this Masonry has
done and is still doing. Such is Masonry and such its
mission and we should never forget, while enjoying its
benefits and appreciating its value, the duties we owe to
the Order for there is no right without a parallel duty,
no liberty without the supremacy of the law, no high
destiny without earnest perseverance, and no real
greatness without self denial."
The General Charge is the latest major addition to our
work. Since that date various smaller adjustments have
been made under due authority. Let us just look at one.
Up until 1964, the traditional wording for the penalties of
the obligations in much of the English-speaking world
had been, "Under no less a penalty. . ." But in 1964, the
United Grand Lodge of England gave its lodges the
option of either retaining the traditional wording, or else
saying, "Ever bearing in mind the traditional penalty..."
Three years later, in 1967, our Grand Lodge prescribed
that this newer wording was to be used by all lodges.
Wisely, it permitted no deviation, and by this means it
avoided certain problems that subsequently developed in
Even on the basis of the evidence presented here, we can
see that the Masonic ritual is part of our precious
heritage from the past. It has stood the test of time, no
doubt because it expresses eternal verities. It is still
meaningful to the brethren of today!
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