History of Blue Lodge Masonry

A Symbolic Lodge, in which the first three degrees of Freemasonry are conferred, the Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft and Master Mason, is so called from the color of its decorations.  Freemasonry is an oath-bound fraternal and benevolent association of men whose purpose is to nurture sound moral and social virtues among its members and mankind.  Its origins go back to 17th-century England when guilds of working stonemasons began accepting honorary members, many of whom were gentlemen architects or amateur scholars interested in the new rational philosophy of science and the Enlightenment.  A separate "speculative" fraternity of Freemasons, using the guild system of degrees and secret passwords, and the stonemason's tools as symbols, was officially organized as the Grand Lodge of England in 1717.  A Masonic Lodge in America is first mentioned in Benjamin Franklin's Pennsylvania Gazette in 1731.  By the mid-18th century Freemasonry had gained wide acceptance in America. 

Although much of Freemasonry's ritual symbolism is drawn from Biblical references, it has no religious affiliation or requirement except in a belief in a Supreme Being.  For 18th century Americans, removed from the European center of learning, Freemasonry served as a vehicle for the popularization and spread of new ideas.  Enlightenment concepts of equality, religious tolerance, and natural laws were incorporated into Freemasonry's moral system.  These radical ideas helped form American arguments for independence and democracy; many of the leaders of the American Revolution were Freemasons.  

Today, additional information has surfaced that links early Freemasonry to Templarism and the Crusades of the Middle Ages.  The thesis for this even earlier origin of Freemasonry can be found in (here) in John Robinson's book "Born in Blood".

Freemasonry today remains the oldest and most successful of all fraternal organizations and has served as a model for many subsequent groups.

Entered Apprentice Degree

Let us begin by defining the term "Entered Apprentice."  As an Entered Apprentice Mason, the first step in your journey to the Sublime Degree of Master Mason has been taken.  We are sure that you found your initiation an experience you will never forget.  A degree in Masonry is not an isolated experience once had and then done with, but is an ever enduring privilege.  You can sit in an Entered Apprentice Lodge to observe, to participate in, and to study its ceremonies.

Your possession of the degree is a life-long possession which you can continue to enjoy and to enter into as long as you live.  As an Entered Apprentice Mason you therefore are a learner, or beginner, in Speculative Masonry.  You have taken the first step in the mastery of our art.  Certain things are expected of you.

First , you are expected to show a certain humility. As a learner, you must have guides and teachers, and you must be willing to have them lead you.

Second, you must learn the catechism of the Degree, so as to prove your proficiency in open Lodge.  The purpose of learning the lecture is for you to master it so thoroughly that its lesson will remain with you for life.

Third , you must study and improve yourself in Masonry in all other possible ways.  Your Lodge will not be content merely to receive your dues; it requires that you become a real and active member.

Fourth, you will learn the rules and regulations that govern an Entered Apprentice Mason.

As you stood in the northeast corner of the Lodge, you were taught a certain lesson concerning a cornerstone.  From that lesson, you should know that you are a cornerstone of the Craft.  It is our hope and prayer that you will prove to be a solid foundation as you proceed to the Fellow Craft Degree and then to the Master Mason Degree.  Our great Fraternity depends on new members like you to conduct its work in the years to come.

Fellow Craft Degree

You are now a Fellow Craft Mason.

This means that you passed through its ceremonies, assumed its obligations, are registered as such in the books of the Lodge, and can sit in either a Lodge of Entered Apprentices or of Fellow Crafts, but not in a Lodge of Master Masons.

Doubtless you recognized in the Fellow Craft Degree a call for learning, an urge to study. Truly, here is a great Degree -- one to muse upon and to study; one to see many, many times and still not come to the end of its stirring teachings.

There are two great ideas embodied in the Fellow Craft Degree. They are not the only two ideas in it, to be sure; but if you understand these, they will lead you into an understanding of the others.  But before we turn to these two main ideas, exactly what is a Fellow Craft?

Fellow Craft is one of a large number of terms which have a technical meaning peculiar to Freemasonry and is seldom or never found elsewhere.  In the dictionary sense it is not difficult to define. A "craft" was an organization of the skilled workmen in some trade or calling, for example, masons, carpenters, painters, sculptors, barbers, etc.  A "fellow" meant one who held full membership in such a craft, was obligated to the same duties, and allowed the same privileges.  Since the skilled crafts are no longer organized as they once were, the term is no longer in use with its original sense.  It is more difficult to give it the larger meaning as it is found in Freemasonry, but we may be assisted to that end by noting that with us it possesses two quite separate and distinct meanings, one of which we may call the Operative meaning, the other the Speculative.  

 We can first consider the OPERATIVE meaning.

In its operative period, Freemasons were skilled workmen engaged in some branch of the building trade, or art of architecture; as such, like all other skilled workmen, they had an organized craft of their own.  The general form in which this craft was organized was called a "guild." A Lodge was a local, and usually temporary organization within the guild.  This guild had officers, laws, rules, regulations, and customs of its own, rigorously binding on all members equally.  It divided its membership into two grades, the lower of which was composed of apprentices. The Operative Freemasons recruited their membership from qualified lads of twelve to fifteen years of age.  When such a boy proved acceptable to the members, he was required to swear to be obedient, upon which he was bound over to some Master Mason; after a time, if he proved worthy, his name was formally entered in the books of the Lodge, thereby giving him his title of Entered Apprentice.  For about seven years this boy lived with his master, gave his master implicit obedience in all things, and toiled much but received no pay except his board, lodging, and clothing.

In the Lodge life, he held a place equally subordinate because he could not attend a Lodge of Master Masons, had no voice or vote, and could not hold office.  All this means that during his long apprenticeship, he was really a bond servant with many duties, few rights, and very little freedom.  At the end of his apprenticeship, he was once more examined in Lodge. If his record was good, if he could prove his proficiency under test and the members voted in his favor, he was released from his bonds and made a full member of the Craft, with the same duties, rights, and privileges as all others.  In the sense that he had thus become a full member, he was called a "Fellow of the Craft".  In the sense that he had mastered the art and no longer needed a teacher, he was called a "Master Mason."

So far as his grade was concerned, these two terms meant the same thing. Such was the Operative meaning of the Fellow Craft.

We come next to the meaning of the term Speculative Masonry.

Operative Freemasonry began to decline about the time of the Reformation when Lodges became few in number and small in membership.

After a time, a few of the Lodges in England began to admit into membership men with no intention of practicing the trade of Operative Masonry, but were attracted by the Craft's antiquity and for social reasons.

These were called SPECULATIVE Masons.

At the beginning of the 18th century, the Speculatives had so increased their numbers that at last they gained control, and during the 1st quarter of that century, they completely transformed the Craft into the SPECULATIVE Fraternity as we know it today.  Although they adhered as closely as possible to the old customs, they were compelled to make some radical changes in order to fit the Society for its new purposes.

One of the most important of these changes was to abandon the old rule of dividing the members into two grades or degrees, and to adopt the new rule of dividing it into three grades or degrees.

It was necessary to find a name for the new degree. Therefore, the degrees of symbolic Masonry became known as the Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft and Master Mason.

Master Mason Degree

You have just been raised to the Sublime Degree of Master Mason. It is indeed a "sublime" degree, which a man may study for years without exhausting.  In the First and Second Degrees you were surrounded by the symbols and emblems of architecture.  In the Third Degree you found a different order of symbolism, cast in the language of the soul --- its life, its tragedy, and its triumph.  To recognize this is the first step in interpretation of this sublime and historic step on so-called "Blue Lodge" Masonry.  

The second point is to recognize that the Third Degree has many meanings. It is not intended to be a lesson complete, finished, or closed.  There are many interpretations of the Degrees.   But most essentially, it is a drama of the immortality of the soul, setting forth the truth that, while a man withers away and perishes, there is that in him which perishes not.  That this is the meaning most generally accepted by the Craft is shown by our habits of language. We say that a man is initiated an Entered Apprentice, passed to the degree of Fellow Craft, and "raised" a Master Mason.  By this it appears that it is the "raising" that most Masons have found to be the center of the Master Mason Degree.

  Evil in the form of tragedy is set forth in the drama of the Third Degree.   Here is a good and wise man, a builder, working for others and giving others work, the highest we know, as it is dedicated wholly to God.  Through no fault of his own he experiences tragedy from friends and fellow Masons.  Here is evil pure and simple, a complete picture of human tragedy.  How did the Craft meet this tragedy?  The first step was to impose the supreme penalty on those who had possessed the will of destruction and therefore had to be destroyed lest another tragedy follow.  The greatest enemy man has makes war upon the good; to it no quarter can be given.  The next step was to discipline and to pardon those who acted not out of an evil will, but one of weakness.  Forgiveness is possible if a man condemns the evil he has done, since in spite of his weakness he retains faith in good.   

The next step was to recover from the wreckage caused by the tragedy whatever value it had left undestroyed.  Confusion had come upon the Craft; order was restored.  Loyal Craftsmen took up the burdens left by traitors.  It is in the nature of such tragedy that the good suffer for evil and it is one of the prime duties of life that a man shall toil to undo the harm wrought by sin and crime, else in time the world would be destroyed by the evils that are done in it.

But what of the victim of the tragedy? Here is the most profound and difficult lesson of the drama.   It is difficult to understand, difficult to believe if one has not been truly initiated into the realities of the spiritual life.  Because the victim was a good man, his goodness rooted in an unvarying faith in God, that which destroyed him in one sense could not destroy him in another.  The spirit in him rose above the evil; by virtue of it he was "raised" from a dead level to a living perpendicular.

A number of additional degrees and related organizations have developed beyond the degree of Master Mason,  Scottish Rite Freemasonry, developed in France and the West Indies, was first installed in Albany, New York, in 1767.  The first Supreme Council was established in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1801, followed by the Supreme Council of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction founded in New York City in 1813.  The Knight Templar degree was conferred in Boston in 1769 and developed as a part of York Rite Freemasonry.  The Order of the Eastern Star is an adoptive order open to Master Masons and their female relatives.  It was founded by Robert Morris, a Mason who felt it was important to share the teachings of Masonry with the entire family.  He began organizing groups called Families of the Eastern Star in the 1850's and the General Grand Chapter was established in 1876.  The Ancient Arabic Order Nobles of the Mystic Shrine was established in 1872.  The idea by its founders was to establish a fun fraternal order with an Arabic theme for men who had completed their requirements in the Scottish or York rite Masonic organizations.  (Recently the Imperial Council amended its charter to allow Master Masons in good standing to join.)

Prince Hall, a free black clergyman serving a congregation in Cambridge, Massachusetts, was one of 15 black men initiated into Freemasonry on March 6, 1775 in a British Army Lodge whose members were stationed in Boston.  Prince Hall then formed a Masonic Lodge of black men, subsequently receiving a charter from the Grand Lodge of England when he was unable to obtain one from the Provincial Grand Lodge of Massachusetts.  Hall went on to fight in the American Revolution at the Battle of Bunker Hill.  Prince Hall Masonry proceeded to form its own Grand Lodges and higher degrees.

 

         

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