FREE AND ACCEPTED
The origin of these terms, descriptive of Speculative Freemasons,
goes back into the very beginnings of the history of the Order;
indeed, behind the history of the building Craft in Europe.
But it is only in keeping with the antiquity of the teachings of
Freemasonry. Many of our symbols and their meanings go back to the
very childhood of the race. Through these a direct relationship may
be traced in mind, heart and ideal; if not in written document, to
such diverse ages and places as China four thousand years ago, the
priesthood of ancient Egypt and the Jews of the Captivity. For
purposes of understanding the genesis of the word “Free” as coupled
with Mason, it will suffice to begin with the Roman “Collegia”,
orders or associations of men engaged in similar pursuits. Doubtless
their formation was caused partly by the universal desire for
fellowship and association, particularly strong in Rome, in which the
individual was so largely submerged for the good of the Empire, and
partly by economic necessity, just as labor unions are formed today.
These “Collegia” speedily became so prominent and powerful that Roman
Emperors attempted to abolish the right of free association. In
spite of edicts and persecutions, however, the “Collegia” continued
The Colleges of Architects, however, for a time were sanctioned even
after others were forbidden. They were too valuable to the State to
be abolished, or made to work and meet in secret. They were not at
this time “called” Freemasons, but they were “free” - and it is the
fact and not the name which is here important. Without architects
and builders, Rome could not expand, so the colleges of Architects
were permitted to regulate their own affairs and work under their own
constitutions, free of restrictions which attempted to destroy the
Then, as now, “three” were necessary to form a College (no Masonic
lodge can meet with less than three); the College had a “Magister” or
Master, and two Wardens. There were three orders or degrees in the
College which to a large extent used emblems which are a part of
Freemasonry. Roman sarcophagi show carvings of square, compasses,
plumb. level and sometimes columns.
Of the ceremonies of the “Collegia” we know little or nothing. Of
their work we know much, and of their history enough to trace their
decline and fall. The Emperor Diocletian attempted to destroy the
new religion, Christianity, which threatened so much which seemed to
the Romans to make Rome, Rome. Many members of the Colleges of
Architects were Christians - a very natural result, since these
associations had taught and believed in brotherhood because of a
common Father, the members of the College or Architects took for
their own his doctrine, so strangely familiar.
Persecution, vengeance, cruelty followed; this is not the place to go
deeply into the story of the four Masons and the Apprentice who were
tortured to death, only to become the Four Crowned Martyrs and Patron
Saints of later builders and the Masons of the Middle Ages. Suffice
it that the College of Architects were broken up and fled from Rome.
Comes a gap which is not yet bridged. Between the downfall of Rome
and the rise of Gothic architecture in Europe we know little of what
happened to the builders’ “Collegia.” It is here that we come to the
fascinating theory of the Comancines - that some of the expelled
builders found refuge on the Island of Comacina in Lake Como, and,
through generation after generation, kept alive the traditions and
secrets of the art until such time as the world was again ready for
the Master Builders. All this is fascinatingly set forth in several
books, best known of which is Leader Scott’s “Cathedral Builders, the
Story of a Great Masonic Guild.” The author says that the Comancine
Masters “were the link between the classic “Collegia” and all other
art and trade guilds of the middle ages. They were Freemasons
because they were builders of a privileged class, absolved from taxes
and servitude, and free to travel about in times of feudal bondage.
During the Middle Ages and the rise of Gothic Architecture, we find
two distinct classes of Masons; the Guild Masons who, like the Guild
Carpenters, Weavers or Merchants were local in character and strictly
regulated by law, and the Freemasons, who traveled about from city to
city as their services were needed to design and erect those
marvelous churches and cathedrals which stand today inimitable in
It may not be affirmed as a proved fact that the Freemasons of the
Middle Ages were the direct descendants through the Comacine Masters
of the Colleges of Architects of Rome, but there is too much evidence
of a similar structure, ideal and purpose and too many similarities
of symbol, tool and custom to dismiss the idea merely because we
have no written record covering the period between the expulsion from
Rome and the beginning of the Cathedral building age.
However this may be, the operative builders and designers of the
Cathedrals of Europe were an older order than the Guild Masons; it is
from these Freemasons - free of the Guild and free of the local laws
- that the Masonry of today has come. Incidentally, it may be noted
that the historian Findel finds the name Freemason as early as 1212
and the name occurs in 1375 in the history of the Company of Masons
of the City of London.
The history of the Freemasons through the Cathedral Building Ages up
to the Reformation and the gradual decline of the building arts,
needs volumes where here are but pages. But it must be emphasized
that the Freemasons were far more than architects and builders; they
were the artists, the leaders, the teachers, the mathematicians and
the poets of their time.
In their lodges Speculative Masonry grew side by side with their
operative art. They were jealous of their Order and strict in their
acceptance of Apprentices; strict too, in admitting Apprenticed to be
Fellows of the Craft, requiring seven years of labor before an
Apprentice might make his Mater’s Piece” to submit to the Master and
Wardens of his lodge, when happily, he might become a Fellow and
receive “the Mason Word.”
No fools built the great Cathedrals of Europe.
Mathematics. architecture, strength of materials, the principle of
the arch, proportion, unity, beauty - all had to practiced by experts
to produce these tremendous structures, on which the most modern
science and art cannot improve.
It was only natural then, that the Masters desired a high quality of
Craftsmanship. Only Apprentices of character and willingness to
learn were accepted. Only those who could make a perfect Master’s
Piece were accepted as Fellows. Doubtless only the most expert and
learned of the Fellows could ever hope to be Masters.
Then, as now, to secure fine workmen they began early and trained
them long. As a workman who was immoral, a drunkard, a gambler, a
loose liver could not hope to learn to do good work, or to be trusted
with the operative secrets; it was essential that moral precepts and
philosophical lessons be incorporated into operative lodge life.
Unquestionably the building crafts from the earliest ages - ate, even
back of the Roman Collegia - incorporated speculative teachings with
operative instructions given to Apprentices. This practice grew and
expanded during what may be termed the formative period of the
Fraternity. The Cathedral Builders of the Middle Ages must have been
a little world unto themselves in the towns in which they worked.
They would employ the local Guild Masons for the rough work, but
strictly excluded them from their lodge when meetings were held.
Doubtless these meetings were frequent, perhaps nightly, to discuss
the great work being done.
Young Apprentices, like young men the world over, would skylark and
want to have a good time. Their elders would reprove and read them a
lesson in a simple parable of the building art. The square, the
compasses, the trowel, the chisel, the mallet, the gavel and the
setting maul would all be brought into such lessons.
And so, through year after year and age after age, the teachings of
Speculative Masonry grew. And as is invariably the case the thing
which was used as an example to teach, gradually came to symbolize
the lesson taught. To be “square” was at first but an essential of a
tool and an ashlar. Universally now, a “square man” is an honest
one. Trowel and gavel took upon themselves significancies far beyond
their operative use. Master after Master would add from his store of
learning; lesson after lesson would be incorporated with an operative
practice, until the Speculative Art and the Operative Craft were,
apparently, dependent upon each other.
It is world history that knowledge cannot be kept from those who seek
it. By hook or crook, in one way or another, the student will find
that which he seeks.
In an age when learning was difficult to get, and association with
the educated was hardly to be had outside the church, it was but
natural that thoughtful and scholarly men should desire membership
Other men, thoughtful but not scholarly, would see in the Speculative
teachings of the Masons that road to knowledge which was otherwise
hard to find. Neither, however, would want to practice operative
Masonry, serve seven years apprenticeship or make a Master’s Piece.
Just how such men accomplished their desire and became “accepted”
members of the Order we do not know. Doubtless they had something to
bring to, as well as something to get from their operative brethren.
But we do know the fact; a place was made for such seekers after the
light. Distinguished by the title “accepted” that they might not be
confused with “free” Masons, these non-building members encouraged
and expanded the speculative side of Masonry.
It is not possible to say when this practice began.
The Regius Poem, the oldest document of Freemasonry (1390) speaks of
Prince Edward (twentieth century) as:
“Of Speculatyfe he was a Master.”
Ecclesiasts, desiring to become architects and builders, joined the
Order. Lovers of liberty were naturally attracted to a fellowship in
which members enjoyed unusual freedom among their fellows.
Gradually the “accepted” or Speculative Freemasons equaled, then
outnumbered the operative craftsmen and slowly but surely the Craft
came to be what it is today, and has been for more than two
centuries, wholly Speculative in character.
Through the years, particularly those which saw the decline of great
building and coming of the Reformation, more and more became the
Accepted Masons and less and less the operative building Freemasons.
Of forty-nine names on the roll of the Lodge of Aberdeen in the year
1670, thirty-nine were those of Accepted Masons.
Hence our title - Free and Accepted Masons - abbreviated F & A.M.
United States Grand Lodges style themselves under several different
abbreviations: F.& A.M., F. and A.; A.F. & A.M.; and other variations
using the Ampersand (&) in place of the word “and.” The District of
Columbia still uses F.A.A.M., meaning Free and Accepted Masons, in
spite of the possible confusion as to whether the first “A” stands
for “and” or “ancient.” The variations are accounted for both by
difference on origins, some Grand Lodges coming into being with
lodges held under the “Ancie-nts” and some from the “Moderns” and by
variations due to the errors which are seemingly ineradicable in
“mouth to ear” instruction.
But of all of us, regardless of what order we choose for “Ancient,”
“Accepted,” “Free” and “Masons,” all are “Free and Accepted.”
It is one of the glories of the Craft that her historians can trace
such derivations into such a long gone past. That Mason is dead of
soul, indeed, who cannot thrill to the thought that as a Free and
accepted Mason he is kin not only to those ancient brethren of Old
England who first began the practice of “accepting” good men because
they “were” good men, not because they were builders, but also to the
builders of ancient Rome and all the generations which sprang from
them, who were “Free” of the bonds which bound less skillful and