- A member of the Free and Accepted Masons, an international fraternal and philosophical organization.
- A middle aged man who likes to eat a full course meal after 10 O' clock at night.
- Source: MasonicDictionary.com
Character of a Freemason
"The real Freemason is distinguished from the rest of mankind by the uniform unrestrained rectitude of his conduct. Other men are honest in the fear of the punishment which the law might inflict; they are religious in expectation of being rewarded, or in dread of the devil, in the next world. A Freemason would be just if there were no laws, human or divine, except those which are written in his heart by the finger of his Creator. In every climate, under every system of religion, he is the same. He kneels before the universal throne of God, in gratitude for the blessings he has received, and in humble solicitation for his future protection. He venerates the good men of all religions. He disturbs not the religion of others. He restrains his passions, because they cannot be indulged without injuring his neighbor or himself. He gives no offense, because he does not choose to be offended. He contracts no debts which he is not certain that he can discharge, because he is honest upon principle."
- Source: Farmer's almanac 1823
Articles On Freemason On This Page
The word "free mason" first came into use in the Fourteenth Century; from then until the Eighteenth Century it appears in many forms, and oftentimes as a synonym for other names and in more than one form: mason, builder, architect, free mason, freemason, free stone mason, etc. In the first period of Masonic scholarship it was assumed that Operative Masons had used the word in one form, with one meaning; many investigators at tempted to discover that original meaning. It was also assumed that the origin of the word would throw light on the origin of the Fraternity. At the present time scholars have abandoned the first assumption, and they rely very little on the origin of the word to explain the origin of Freemasonry. The data collected from many periods and places indicate that the word must have had a number of origins, and that a Crafts man who might be called a Freemason in one place would not be called one in another. The following are only a partial list of the origins, or possible origins, of the word:
- A worker in free-stone. Much quarry stone used in walls, foundations, and single buildings was unequal in hardness, coarse grained, and had either a crooked grain or a grain which ran one way, like the grain in a pine board. The stone used for carving had no grain, or a very fine grain, and could be cut in any direction without splitting or chipping, and would take a flat surface and a polish. It was called free-stone.
- Local masons were by gild custom and civil law confined to their own parishes-at least, under usual and normal circumstances. The cathedral and church building Masons were not thus restricted, but were free to move about. (An ordinary workman coming into a parish from outside, even from the next parish, was a "foreigner" and in the towns more than one street riot broke out over these outsiders.)
- An apprentice was bonded to his master for a period of years. This was called his indenture, at the end of his term he was examined, and then set free. Any master Mason was in this sense a free Mason.
- Once a town received a Charter of its own it virtually became an independent government; and in the course of time each resident of such a town became a citizen Outside the walls was serfdom, inside was freedom from serfdom. This freedom belonged to the "liberties" of the town. The member of a Mason Company in such a town would be a citizen and therefore free, whereas a mason outside the walls would not be free. (In many cities strangers coming in to reside in a town might receive this freedom at the end of one year and a day.)
- It was once supposed that the Popes had granted the Mason Fraternity a charter to travel about at will unrestricted by local parish rules. Since no record of any such charter has ever been found the theory is abandoned yet from the Fabric Rolls (or day-by-day book-keeping records) of a number of cathedrals and abbeys it is evident that the Freemasons working on the building kept themselves separate from the local workmen who worked with them, and did so under an ecclesiastical authority of some sort.
- There is no proof for the existence of a separate fraternity of traveling, or (in one sense of the word) journeymen Masons (unless the Compagnonage was one) but it is certain that Masons, singly or in groups, often went about from one country to another. They were free to travel in search of work.
- Civil and ecclesiastical authorities both, and for centuries, used the method of impressment ("the press gang") not only to recruit sailors and soldiers but also to recruit workmen. There are a few instances of the impressment of Masons, but not many; the over-all impression of the data is that the Freemasons were considered a special class of craftsmen, and free from many of the restrictions and indignities which often drove other working men to desperation and revolt.
- There is a psychological and ethical (or the two combined) type of free man-one who is free from ignorance, free from superstition, free from servility, and therefore a free man, meeting others as equals, even when belonging technically to one of the so-called lower orders It is likely that it was this freedom which the Freemasons felt and prized more deeply than any other.
It may be that it was some one of these meanings of the word "Freemason" which found its way into those Old Constitutions, called the Old Charges, which possessed warranting authority for the Lodges which set up the present Fraternity of Speculative Freemasonry; it may be that a confluence of a number of different meanings found their way into usage; in any event the word had then, as it continues to have, a multi-ordinal, or many-sided, meaning.
It is possible that future research will be able to define the original meaning of "Freemason" with rigorous correctness; if it does, Masons can then know who were Freemasons among Medieval builders and who were not. But even if that discovery were made, it would not solve the problem of the origin of Speculative Freemasonry. The Speculative Fraternity did not grow up everywhere as an inevitable outcome of the "evolution" of Medieval architecture; had that been true there would have come into existence a general Speculative Fraternity in Britain and in every European country as well, whereas it is of record that the Speculative Fraternity came into existence in England only, and very probably in one place, and very likely in the Fourteenth Century; not from Freemasons at large, but from one group of Freemasons in particular. The founders of the Fraternity were Freemasons; but not all Freemasons were founders of the Fraternity. (See page 378.)
- Source: Mackey's Encyclopedia of Freemasonry
One who has been initiated into the mysteries of the Fraternity of Freemasonry.
Freemasons are so called to distinguish them from the Operative or Stone-Masons, who constituted an inferior class of workmen, and out of whom they sprang (see Stonemasons and Traveling Freemasons). The meaning of the epithet free, as applied to Mason, is given under the word Free. In the old lectures of the eighteenth century a Freemason was described as being "a freeman, born of a freewoman, brother to a king, fellow to a prince, or companion to a beggar, if a Mason," and by this was meant to indicate the universality of the Brotherhood.
The word Freemason was until recently divided into two words, sometimes with and sometimes without a hyphen; and we find in all the old books and manuscripts Free Mason or Free-Mason. But this usage has generally been abandoned by writers, and Freemason is usually spelled as one word. The old Constitutions constantly used the word Mason. E et the word was employed at a very early period in the parish registers of England, and by some writers. Thus, in the register of the parish of Astbury we find these items:
1685. Smallwood, Jos., fils Jos. Henshaw, Freemason bapt 3 die Nov. 1697. Jos. fil Jos. Henshaw, Freemason, buried 7 April.
But the most singular passage is one found in Cawdray's Treasurie of Similies, published in 1609, and which he copied from Bishop Coverdale's translation of Werdmuller's A Spiritual and most Precious Perle, which was published in 1550. It is as follows:
As the freemason heweth-the hard stones . . . even so God the Heavenly Free-Mason buildeth a Christian church.
But, in fact, the word was used at a much earlier period, and occurs, Steinbrenner says in his Origin and Early History of Masonry (page 110), for the first time in a statute passed in 1350, in the twenty-fifth year of Edward I, where the wages of a Master Freemason are fixed at 4 pence, and of other Masons at 3 pence. The original French text of the statute is "Mestre de franche-peer." "Here," says Steinbrenner, "the word Freemason evidently signifies a free-stone mason-one who works in free-stone, the French franche-peer, meaning franche-pierre, as distinguished from the rough masons who merely built walls of rough, unhown stone." This latter sort of workmen was that class called by the Scotch Masons cowans whom the Freemasons were forbidden to work with, whence we get the modern use of that word.
Ten years after, in 1360, we have a statute of Edward III, in which it is ordained that "every Mason shall finish his work, be it of free-stone or of rough-stone," where the French text of the statute is file franche-pere ou de grosse-pere." Thus it seems evident that the word free-mason was originally used in contradistinction to rough-mason. The old Constitutions sometimes call these latter masons rough layers.
Doctor Murray's New English Dictionary has the following information under Freemason: The precise import with which the adjective was originally used in this designation has been much disputed. Three views have been propounded.
- The suggestion that free mason stands for free stone mason would appear unworthy of attention, but for the curious fact that the earliest known instances of any similar appellation are mestre mason de France peer, master mason of free stone. Act 25, Edward III, st. II, e. 3, A.D. 1350, and sculptores lapidum liberorum "carvers of free stones," alleged to occur in a document of 1217, Finders History of freemasonry (51), citing Wyatt Papworth; the coincidence, however, seems to be merely accidental.
- The view most generally held is that free masons were those who were free of the masons' gild. Against this explanation many forcible objections have been brought by Mr. G. W. Speth, who suggests:
- That the itinerant masons were called free because they claimed exemption from the control of the local gilds of the towns in which they temporarily settled.
- Perhaps the best hypothesis is that the term refers to the mediaeval practice of emancipating skilled artisans, in order that they might be able to travel and render their services wherever any great building was in process of construction.
- And then the following meanings are given:
1. A member of a certain class of skilled workers in stone, in the fourteenth and following centuries often mentioned in contradistinction to rough masons, ligiers, etc. They traveled from place to place, finding employment wherever important buildings were being erected, and had a system of secret signs and passwords by which a craftsman who had been admitted on giving evidence of competent skill could be recognized. In later use, sixteenth to eighteenth centuries, the term seems often to be used merely as a more complimentary synonym of mason, implying that the workman so designated belonged to a superior grade.
The earliest instance quoted of the word in this sense is in a list of the London City Companies of 1376.
2. A member of the Fraternity, called more fully Free and Accepted Masons. Early in the seventeenth century, the Societies of Freemasons, in sense 1, began to admit honorary members, not connected with the building trades, but supposed to be eminent for architectural w or antiquarian learning. These were caned Accepted Masons, though the term Free Masons was often loosely applied to them; and they were admitted to a knowledge of the secret signs, and instructed in the legendary history of the Craft, which had already begun to be developed. The distinction of being an Accepted Mason became a fashionable object of ambition, and before the end of the seventeenth century, the object of the Societies of Freemasons seems to have been chiefly social and convivial. In 1717, under the guidance of the physicist J. T. Desaguliers, four of these Societies or Lodges in London united to form a Grand Lodge, with a new constitution and ritual, and a system of secret signs, the object of the Society as reconstituted being mutual help and the promotion of brotherly feeling among its members.
Brother E. L. Hawkins observes that the earliest instance quoted of the word in this sense is in Ashmole's Diary under date of 1646.
Gould in his Concise History has this to say upon the subject:
Two curious coincidences have been connected with the above year, 1375.
The first, that the earliest copy of the manuscript constitutions, Regius Manuscript, refers to the customs of that period; the second, that the formation p of a wonderful society, occasioned by a combination of masons undertaking not to work without an advance of wages, when summoned from several counties by writs of Edward III, to rebuild and enlarge Windsor Castle, under the direction of William of Wykeham, has been plated at the same date. It is said also that these masons agreed on certain signs and tokens by which they might know one another, and render mutual assistance against impressment- and further agreed not to work unless free and on their own terms. Hence they called themselves Free-Masons.
A child's book, Dives Pragmaticus, printed in the year 1563, and reproduced in 1910 by the owner, the John Rylands Library at Manchester, England, contains a list of occupations and line 97 is Al Free masons, Brike layers and dawbers of walled.
- Source: Mackey's Encyclopedia of Freemasonry
Some Notes on the Meaning of the Word "Freemason"
By Bro. H. L. Haywood
THE ORIGIN OF THE WORD "MASON" has supplied amateur etymologists with endless opportunity for pursuing their favourite pastime of word catching, and with what results one may learn in the article on the question published in Mackey's Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, Volume II, page 471, where the most ingenious accounts are recorded of how the word came into existence, and what it meant when it did come into existence. Some of these are as fanciful as a piece of embroidery, and about as substantial.
Dr. Murray's New English Dictionary, which is published by the English Philological Society, the court of last appeal on the etymology of English words, sets us all a good example by refusing to commit itself to any derivation. "The ulterior etymology is obscure," it says, "possibly the word is from the root of Latin 'maceria' (a wall)." The same authority gives the every day modern use of the word "mason" as follows: "A builder and worker in stone; a workman who dresses and lays stone in building." A quotation I given of the date of 1205. It is doubtful if in this country, and at the present time, very many persons think of a mason as a "builder in stone": most of them think of him as one who cuts stone to shape and who fits it into place with mortar, or who does the same thing with brick: the idea of a mason being a builder has about gone out of the popular mind. The owner or architect is spoken of as the "builder."
But there was a time, it would appear from what meager records we possess, when a "mason" was all this and very much more beside; he was (or might be) one who could design a structure, superintend its erection, organize the workmen and manage them in their labours, and also carve, engrave, etc., etc. In short, he was a "builder," the very best possible definition of the word "mason," from our own point of view. "Of the term 'architect,'" says Gould in his Concise History (Revised) page 71, "there was apparently no use (in the Middle Ages) and it seems to have been only introduced into English books about the end of the reign of Queen Elizabeth."
"Builder" must be understood here in its most literal sense. In the Middle Ages these men were doubtless organized into a fraternity, and had their secrets, their initiations, and their symbology, but all that was more or less secondary, and the principal thing was that churches, cathedrals, and similar structures should be erected. All the symbolical, speculative, spiritualizing uses of the term came later: "'Mason' may be German or Latin," writes Lionel Vibert in his Freemasonry Before the Existence of Grand Lodge, page 12, "but the ulterior etymology is obscure. At all events, when we first find it, it is purely and simply a trade name, and has no esoteric meaning of a brother or son of anything, or of anyone."
If an obscurity may be said to hang about the meaning of the word "mason" what shall we say of the cloud-banks that conceal the origins of the word freemason"! Of this term Gould writes, in his Essays on Freemasonry, page 180: "The earliest use of the English word 'freemason' (at present known to us) is associated with the freedom of a London Company (1376), and it is from a similar, (or in part identical) class of persons, and not from the persons who worked free stone, that I imagine the existing term freemason to have been inherited." Findel, in his famous Geschichte der Freimaurerei, gives the word as used in 1212. Steinbrenner, in his origin, and Early History of Masonry, page 110, says the word occurs for the first time in a statute passed in 1350, which was in the twenty-fifth year of the reign of Edward I. Leader Scott (see her Cathedral Builders) applies the term to the Magistri Comacini, but I haven't noted where she makes them ever use the word itself. It is not safe to make any definite assertions, as writers sometimes mistakingly do, about the earliest uses of the word: for one thing, because at any time somebody may discover a new manuscript or record; for another, because, as one follows back the stream of etymological change toward the sources of the language, he can't tell whether or not certain long dead words may or may not have meant "freemason," and there is no telling when new light may be thrown on the matter. Also, it is wise to be very careful about the "authorities" one makes use of; a number of Masonic writers have made assertions about the word born of nothing but a profound ignorance of philology.
About the meaning, or meanings, which may be more or less justly attached to this word there has been a vast deal of controversy and discussion. It is difficult to find more than two or three writers to agree at any one time. I shall give a list, in arbitrary order, of some five or six of the interpretations which have proved more or less satisfactory.
A LIST OF MEANINGS IS GIVEN
1. The Freemason was a superior kind of Mason.
"When we first meet with the word," writes Vibert in his Freemasonry Before the Existence of Grand Lodges, page 13, "it clearly means a superior workman: and he draws higher pay." On page 12 of the same work Vibert quotes Speth as follows: "There is abundant evidence that in the course of time the Freemasons came to be looked upon as a special class of men endowed with superior skill, executing a well-defined class of work, and that this class of work became known as Freemasonry." I don't know of any of the first-class writers who have accepted this as a satisfactory account of the matter. The possible exception would be Conder, the author of The Hole Craft and Fellowship of Masonry, one of the source-books of very much modern Masonic literature, and a work that gives a complete history of the Masons' Company of London. To this work he added a brief chapter to show that the Masons came to be called "free" because the most skilled among them worked without plans: they were so adept in their art that they could dispense with mechanical aids, a "free-hand" artist does not need a set of tools as the ordinary draughtsman does.
2. Freemasons were Masons who had been made "free" in the ordinary medieval sense of that word.
There was little liberty in the Middle Ages the individual or for corporations: most of them were bound in some fashion or other to a lord or master, or a community, or to the church; those who were relieved from such obligations were "free." Stieglitz's History of Architecture is authority for the statement that the Byzantine builders of about the seventh century formed themselves into guilds and that on account of having received from the popes bulls giving them the privileges of living according to their own laws and ordinances they were called "free." Of the Magistri Comacini, Leader Scott writes: "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." For this view Gould believes there is no evidence: "In Germany, as in England, a tradition prevailed from early times that the Masons were granted very exceptional privileges by the Popes; but whether in either instance it rested on any foundation of fact, must be left undecided." This is from page 36 of the 1903 edition of his Concise History.
3. A worker in "free stone."
Free stone was stone that had been brought from the quarry and made ready for the skilled workman: according to the theory here given Freemasons came to be thus called because they were skilled workmen who worked in free stone, in contradistinction to the "rough masons," (in Scotland they were called "cowans") who worked in the quarry. The statute of Edward I mentioned above, seems to bear out this definition. It was once in almost universal acceptance. Dr Begemann, one of the most erudite of all Masonic scholars, seems, unless I mistake his meaning, to accept this interpretation. Another learned scholar, Chetwode Crawley, says that, "The word 'Free' which we first meet with, [was] employed to designate worker in freestone." He adds, however, that the term gradually assumes the significance of "free of the guild." These references are to the fifteenth century.
4. Free in the sense of being free OF the guild.
A workman still under his indentures was not to go and come as he pleased: he was compelled to and work under the closest restrictions, and do what was laid before him, and when, and where he was told. After becoming a master, however, he became free of the guild in the sense that he enjoyed in it all its privileges. This definition accords well with the fact that among other groups of workmen were those called "free"; in a fifteenth century document certain tailors in Exeter are spoken of as "free tailors"; in a reference of 1666, carpenters are similarly designated; and there are many other records to the same effect in the histories of other guilds. Also, this definition fits in with the original meaning of the word "cowan." A member of the guild had to be made free by formal action of the company; he who refused to recognize the authority of the guild, and who set himself up to work as he chose, was called a cowan, and bitter was the feeling of the regular Mason toward such a "scab."
THE EMANCIPATED WORKMAN CALLED "FREE"
5. The New English Dictionary seems to lend its authority to the theory that "free" in freemason came into use to describe those workmen who were emancipated and given liberty to go and come as they pleased, anywhere and at any time. When skilled workmen were scarce, and there was not a man in the town who could do a certain bit of work, it was necessary to import one from an adjacent city. In the course of time more and more skilled workmen were thus passed about until at last the custom arose of giving such men their "freedom" that they might work wherever opportunity offered. This ingenious theory has plausibility in its favour but no facts, and it is a singular thing that all our Masonic scholars, after years of research, have never given countenance to such a notion: it goes to prove what Gould was always asserting, that speculation on things Masonic by men outside the craft are almost always worthless, be they scholars or not. Here is the definition as given in the Dictionary: "Perhaps the best hypothesis is that the term refers to the medieval practice of emancipating skilled artisans in order that they might be able to travel and render their services wherever any great building was in process of construction."
6. Perhaps the most brilliant hypothesis of all is that presented by William Speth in his now famous essay which was printed in Ars Quatuor Coronatorum, Volume X, page 10. He contends that in medieval England there were two kinds of masons' guilds - stationary and travelling. The former were circumscribed by the limits of the city in which they were incorporated; they could do any kind of architectural work inside those bounds, but none outside. They were not free to go about, as a true trade union in our day would be free to do. But alongside these were guilds of masons who made a speciality of cathedral and similar building: owing to the difficulties of such work, to the special skill and experience demanded by it, these guilds differed in very many ways from the ordinary town guilds: their members were more expert, they had traditions and customs of their own, and they were free to move about from town to town as building needs might require. It was owing to the last named circumstance, so Speth asserts, that they were called "free," and he argues that modern Freemasonry descends from these itinerant guilds rather than from the better known and more numerous stationary, or town guilds. Speth offered this as "a tentative inquiry" and to date it remains as such, but many incline toward it and believe that it perhaps comes nearer than most hypotheses to solving the mystery. The reader who may care to go mole thoroughly into the matter may be referred to Gould's careful examination published in his Collected Essays on Freemasonry, page 171. The conclusion to which he arrived is clearly indicated by the last sentence of his essay: "To those of my fellow students, therefore, who are interested in the problem of 'Free' and 'Freemason,' let me conclude by saying - in the words of the Genius to the Hermit of Bassora - 'If you wish for the solution, be patient, and wait.'"
MACKEY'S ARTICLE IS GIVEN
To those who have not access to Mackey's Encyclopedia it may be a service to reprint the article on the word "Mason" as contained on page 471, Volume II:-
"The search for the etymology or derivation of the word Mason has given rise to numerous theories, some of them ingenious, but many of them very absurd. Thus, a writer in the European Magazine for February, 1792, who signs his name as 'George Drake,' lieutenant of marines, attempts to trace the Masons to the Druids, and derives Mason from 'May's on,' 'May's' being in reference to May-day, the great festival of the Druids, and 'on' meaning men, as in the French 'on dit,' for 'Homme dit.' According to this, 'May's on' therefore means the 'Men of May.' This idea is not original with Drake, since the same derivation was urged in 1766 by Cleland, in his essay on 'The Way to Things in Words, and on The Real Secret of Freemasons:
"Hutchinson, in his search for a derivation, seems to have been perplexed with the variety of roots that presented themselves, and, being inclined to believe that the name of Mason 'has its derivation from a language in which it implies some strong indication or distinction of the nature of the society, and that it has no relation to architects,' looks for the root in the Greek tongue. Thus he thinks that Mason may come from 'Mao Soon,' 'I seek salvation,' or from 'Mystes,' 'an omotoate'; and that Masonry is only a corruption of 'Mesouraneo,' 'I am in the midst of heaven'; or from 'Mazourouth,' a constellation mentioned by Job, or from 'Mysterion,' 'a mystery.'
"Lessing says, in his Ernst and Falk, that 'Masa' in the Anglo-Saxon, signifies a table, and that Masonry, consequently, is a 'society of the table.'
"Nicolai thinks he finds the root in the Low Latin word of the Middle Ages 'Massonya,' or 'Masonia,' which signifies an exclusive society or club, such as that of the round table.
"Coming down to later times, we find Bro. C.W. Moore, in his Boston Magazine, of May, 1844, deriving Mason from 'Lithotomos,' 'a Stone-cutter.' But although fully aware of the elasticity of etymological rules, it surpasses our ingenuity to get Mason etymologically out of Lithotomos.
"Bro. Giles F. Yates sought for the derivation of Mason in the Greek word 'Mazones,' a festival of Dionysus, and he thought that this was another proof of the lineal descent of the Masonic order from the Dionysiae Artificers.
"The late William S. Rockwell, who was accustomed to find all his Masonry in the Egyptian mysteries, and who was a thorough student of the Egyptian hieroglyphic system, derives the word Mason from a combination of the two phonetic signs, the one being MAI and signifying 'to love', and the other being SON, which means 'a brother.' Hence, he says, 'this combination, MAISON, expresses exactly in sound our word MASON, and signifies literally loving brother, that is, philadelphus, brother of an association, and thus corresponds also in sense:
"But all of these fanciful etymologies, which would have terrified Bopp, Grimm, or Muller, or any other student of linguistic relations, forcibly remind us of the French epigrammatist, who admitted that alphina came from equas, but that, in so coming, it had very considerably changed its route.
"What, then, is the true derivation of the word Mason? Let us see what the orthoepists, who had no Masonic theories, have said upon the subject.
"Webster, seeing that in Spanish 'Masa' means 'mortar,' is inclined to derive Mason, as denoting one that works in mortar from the root of "mass,' which of course gave birth to the Spanish word.
"In Low or Medieval Latin, Mason was 'machio' or 'macio,' and this Du Cangee derives from the Latin maceria,' 'a long wall.' Others find a derivation in 'machines,' because the builders stood upon machines to raise their walls. But Richardson takes a commonsense view of the subject. He says, It appears to be obviously the same word as maison, a house or mansion, applied to the person who builds, instead of the thing built. The French 'Maisoner' is to build houses; 'Masonrier,' to build of stone. The word Mason is applied by usage to a builder in stone, and Masonry to work in stone.'
"Carpenter gives 'Massom,' used in 1225, for a building of stone and 'Massonus,' used in 1304 for a Mason; and the Benedictine editors of Du Cange define 'Massoneria' 'a building, the French Maconnene, and Massonerius,' as 'Latomus' or a Mason, both words in manuscripts of 1385.
"As a practical question, we are compelled to reject all those fanciful derivations which connect the Masons etymologically and historically with the Greeks, the Egyptians, or the Druids, and to take to word Mason in its ordinary signification of a worker in stone, and thus indicate the origin of the order from a society or association of practical and operative builders. We need no better root than the Medieval Latin 'Macconer,' to build, or 'Maconetus,' 'a builder."'
BROWN GIVES A VERY FANCIFUL DEFINITION
To all this may be added a paragraph from Stellar Theology, by Robert Brown: "Masonic tradition is but one of the numerous ancient allegories of the yearly passage of the personified sun among the twelve constellations of the zodiac, being founded on a system of astronomical symbols and emblems, employed to teach the great truths of omnipotent God and immortality." The writer goes on to explain that the names of the Masonic degrees and officers all refer to the sun or moon.
William Tyler Olcott offers the following in his Sun Lore of All Ages, an interesting but uncritical book, where, on page 304, we may read: "The word 'Masonry is said to be derived from a Greek word which signifies 'I am in the midst of heaven,' alluding to the sun. Others derive it from the ancient Egyptian 'Phre,' the sun, and 'Mas,' a child, Phre-mas, i.e., children of the sun, or sons of light. From this we get our word 'Freemason."'
The excellent Cyclopedia of Fraternities, compiled and edited by Albert C. Stevens, prefers to define the term by means of a description, a wise method. Freemasonry, so we read, "is a secret fraternity, founded upon man's religious aspirations, which, by forms, ceremonies, and elaborate symbolism, seeks to create a universal brotherhood, to relieve suffering, cultivate the virtues, and join in the endless search for truth." (Page 17.)
It is manifest that we can never agree on a definition of "freemason" until we have agreed on some theory as to the origin of the Craft, and it is this fact that attaches so much importance to the word itself, and lifts the search for an adequate definition above levels of a mere learned pedantry. In the article on Freemasonry which appears in the opening pages of the Cyclopedia quoted above we find this paragraph:
"Among various theories as to the origin of modern Freemasonry, the following have had many advocates: (1) That which carries it back through the medieval stone masons to the Ancient Mysteries, or to King Solomon's Temple; (2) not satisfied with the foregoing, that which traces it to Noah, to Enoch, and to Adam; (3) the theory that the cradle of Freemasonry is to be found in the Roman Colleges or Artificers of the earlier centuries of the Christian era; (4) that it was brought into Europe by the returning Crusaders; (5) that it was an emanation from the Templars after the suppression of the Order in 1312; (6) that it formed a virtual continuation of the Rosicrucians; (7) that it grew out of the secret society creations of the partisans of the Stuarts in their efforts to regain the throne of England; (8) that it was derived from the Essenes, and (9) from the Culdees."
Alas and alack! when the doctors so disagree what are we poor laymen to do! Speaking for myself I may say that I am not a partisan of any one of these theories because I do not believe that we now know, and I am in doubt if we can ever know, the real facts about the origin of "freemasonry": know them, that is, with such certainty and definiteness as will enable us to be sure of a definition of the word. As things now stand I am more inclined towards Speth's theory than any other, but I feel that it is very possible that some two or three of the theories (among those that I have numbered) may be true at the same time.
- Source: The Builder - August 1923