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You and Your Masonry

A Non-Mason prays for the privileges and honors of membership by signing a Petition; from the moment of signing until he has received a favorable ballot he is a Petitioner. From the passing of the ballot until he has been raised he is a Candidate.

Initiation means "to be born into" and therefore the Three Degrees taken together are an Initiation because they are the means by which a Candidate is born into the world of Freemasonry, but it is more correctly used of the Rite by which he is made a member of a Lodge of Entered Apprentices (perhaps because of the verbal association of initiate with "initial" or first). A Candidate is said to be Initiated as Entered Apprentice, Passed to a Fellowcraft, and Raised a Master Mason.

Sanskrit was the ancient language from which both Greek and Latin originated, and since they are the mothers of modern European languages (with only two or three exceptions) Sanskrit is the mother of the majority of Occidental languages, including English. At least a hundred terms in Freemasonry are nothing but Sanskrit words, modified by usage (mother, father, brother, sister are Sanskrit words). Ritual is one of these. In the Sanskrit it was "rip and meant "to flow repetitively," hence it came to be the root of both "river" and Rite. A Rite is an enacted ceremony which moves forward in a series of waves (we may refer to them as "steps"), and the same ceremony is used over and over - the words "rhythm" and "rhyme" had a similar origin, and it is easy to see why. A ritual is a system of rites. The Ritual of a Lodge of Ancient Craft Masonry is the system of the Three Degrees.  

A symbol signifies or represents some truth, idea, fact, or teaching, but is not itself the thing it represents; it may be not even similar to it. An emblem also represents or signifies something but is itself an instance of it, as for example a pen is an emblem of writing, or a sword is an emblem of war. An allegory is a rite which tells a story. 

A Lodge uses for each of the stages of Initiation, Passing, and Raising a single unit of rites and ceremonies; it is called a Degree. The Opening and Closing of a Lodge are called Ceremonies. That in the Ceremonies and Ritual of the Lodge which it is unlawful to write or publish is called the Esoteric Work; that which is published in official monitors is called the Exoteric Work.

The word lodge is of Anglo-Saxon origin, and in general use has had at least fifteen separate meanings, of which some five or six are used in Freemasonry; of these latter the most important is Lodge as a chartered body of Masons, and also as the Room in which they meet. A local Lodge is called constituent, sometimes particular; the sovereign Body under which it holds its Charter is called a Grand Lodge, the "grand" signifying "head, or chief." The territory over which a Lodge exercises authority is called its Jurisdiction; a Grand Jurisdiction is the jurisdiction of a Grand Lodge. Any meeting of Masons presided over by Masonic officers is an Assembly; Assemblies fixed at regular times by the By-Laws for the transaction of Lodge business are Stated, or Regular Communications. If called by the Worshipful Master they are Special, or Emergent Communications.  

The official written record of a Communication is called its Minutes.

 In so far as Freemasonry consists of a body of men engaged in the same work it is a Lodge. As this work brings them into personal association it is a Brotherhood; because its work is in order and its Officers have fixed positions and functions in this orderly work it is an Order.

Because they have a special friendliness for each other, and necessarily so, it is a Fraternity; since it includes the relatives and friends of its members in its activities it is a Society; and in respect of the fact that this society has its center in a building and therefore is in a neighborhood of its own it is a Masonic Community.

The officers of a Lodge which are chosen by ballot are said to be Elective; when named by the Worshipful Master or other Lodge Officers they are Appointive. Such Committees as are provided for by Grand Lodge law or the Lodge By-Laws and are mandatory are said to be Standing Committees; such as are appointed temporarily for special purposes are Special Committees. Elective Officers have Stations; Appointive Officers have Places.

In no other Masonic field or subject is it as important to use terms with so much technical correctness as in Masonic Jurisprudence; it includes the laws, rules, and regulations according to which Masons govern themselves, and since these rules are unlike rules in other societies or fraternities the terms used have specific Masonic definitions.

The Ancient Landmarks are the fundamental laws, principles, and teachings which constitute Freemasonry, and which no Mason, Lodge, or Grand Lodge can alter; they may be written or printed but need not be and neither gain nor lose when they are or are not; for that reason they are all designated as Unwritten Laws - it would be even more correct to say that they are unwritable. A violation of a Landmark is called an Innovation.

A written instrument authorizing a group of Master Masons to constitute a Lodge is usually called a Dispensation - sometimes a Warrant, and a Lodge Under Dispensation is said to be inchoate, which means incomplete; the permanent written instrument under which a Lodge works is called a Charter; such a Lodge is said to be Duly Constituted. A Regular Grand Lodge is one acknowledged, accepted, and recognized as a lawful Grand Body; a Regular Lodge is a Lodge on the Chartered List of a Regular Grand Lodge; a Master Mason is said to be Regular if he is a member in good standing, that is, not suspended or expelled from his Lodge.

The Constitution consists of those laws according to which Masons act when they set up (or erect, or constitute) a Lodge or a Grand Lodge, and once they are constituted it is the body of laws under which Lodges and Grand Lodges are governed in so far as "governed" means for them to continue to exist. A Lodge's rules for its own self-regulation are called By-Laws. A book containing Grand Lodge laws is usually called its Code. There are many kinds of Masonic laws; Landmarks, Constitutions, Statutes, General Laws, Edicts, Decisions. Rules, Regulations, Customs, and Usages.

If a number of men form a society, write its laws and ceremonies to suit their own purposes, and then call it (or miscall it) a "Masonic Lodge" it is said to be spurious. If it is in work and ceremony similar to a Masonic Lodge but is not on the List of a Grand Lodge it is said to be clandestine. If a Lodge is defective in its laws or practices it is called irregular; when these defects are remedied by a Grand Lodge it is said to be heated. When a Candidate gives his promises to obey the laws, rules, and regulations it is called his Obligation, a word meaning "to tie together;" that part of his Obligation in which he pledges himself and thereby submits himself to Masonic discipline is called his Oath.

A Worshipful Master may censure a member for un-Masonic acts; may reprimand him for un-Masonic conduct; may admonish him against the future dangers inherent in his conduct; may publicly or privately rebuke him for indecorous behavior; if his offenses merit condign punishment a recalcitrant member may be ordered to stand trial; if found guilty the only penalty may be suspension, or expulsion or other punishment (never a fine). The scope of a Lodge's authority over Masonic discipline is called its Penal Jurisdiction. The word Penalties is also used for passages in the Ritual which have been symbolic throughout the whole of Masonic history. The rules of order according to which a Lodge conforms to the requirements of both civil and Masonic law, when operating as a body, are called Parliamentary Law. Such rules as have order, decorum, and correct behavior as their purpose are called Etiquette.  

The word ancient is used in Freemasonry to mean "very old" or, "time immemorial." The period from about 800 A.D. to the Reformation in the Sixteenth Century is called by historians The Middle Ages; Medieval is the adjective describing that period, therefore Masonic historians say that our Fraternity had a Medieval origin. If a Twentieth Century Mason only realizes it he steps into the Middle Ages when he steps into his Lodge because in its nomenclature, its form of organization, and its rules and regulations, it has remained unchanged from Medieval times.

The words Mason and Freemason are themselves Medieval words. By Operative is meant a builder who practiced Masonry, that is building and architecture, as a means of livelihood. Speculative is a Medieval word which means that the work is done by the mind rather than by the hands - geometry, designing, etc. Symbolic Masonry means the use of the ancient Craft for non-Operative purposes. Transition is the name of the period when non-Operative Petitioners began to be admitted, or accepted, into the Lodges in great and increasing numbers. The Operative Period was that in which its membership was wholly Operative; it lasted from the end of the Dark Ages to about 1350 A.D.; the Transition Period ran from about 1350 to about 1717 A.D.; the Speculative Period (also called Modern) lasted from about 1717 A.D. to the present time.

At the end of the Eighteenth Century new Masonic Bodies were organized around Degrees additional to the Three Degrees; those together are sometimes known as The High Grades, and also have been called variously "Concordant Orders," "Appendant Orders," "Further Degrees," etc. Ancient Craft Masonry included only the first Three Degrees. Capitular Freemasonry comprises the Royal Arch Degrees; Cryptic Freemasonry is composed of the Cryptic Degrees; Knight Templarism comprises the Templar Degrees; Scottish Rite Freemasonry covers all of the Scottish Rite Degrees. Each of these separate sets of degrees is called a Rite. The Rites taken together as a unit are called the Masonic System; that System as it is organized in the United States is called The American System. At one time it was called York Masonry, but the name was a misnomer and is no longer used. "Blue Lodge" is Masonic slang and should never be used. Masonry and Freemasonry are used interchangeably for convenience, but in the Operative Period Masonry was the name for the whole Craft of builders, whereas Freemasons comprised only one branch of it: all Freemasons were Masons but not all Masons were Freemasons. 

There are in Masonic nomenclature a number of terms and phrases not found elsewhere, which are in some instances very rare, and in a few instances are a puzzle to etymologists. Due Guard is such a puzzle; it may have come from the Old French, if so it meant "May God guard you." Cowan is believed to be an old Scottish name for any workman not in a gild - what in present-day trade union slang is called a "scab." The word in the Esoteric Work which usually is pronounced "hail" but is spelled hele is an old Anglo-Saxon term which meant "to hide by burying." An oblong square would be a self-contradiction in mathematics; it is an old colloquial name for a rectangle. The word heal means "to make whole." Inchoate is defined as meaning "not yet complete." A tracing board is a board on which Masons draw plans. Recognition does not mean only "to identify, to know" but includes "official approbation."

A Masonic Glossary is a list of the names and terms used in Freemasonry. A Masonic Dictionary is a dictionary consisting exclusively of words used in the Fraternity. A Masonic Encyclopedia is like any other encyclopedia except that its subjects and articles are confined to Freemasonry. 

Freemasonry has no language of its own (as the Roman Catholic Church has a Latin of its own) but uses the language of the people among whom its Lodges are at work. Its nomenclature consists of the names and words used in it with emphasis on the fact that in the Fraternity they have definitions or usages peculiarly Masonic. A Mason's vocabulary are those names and words in the nomenclature which he himself knows and uses - among the many requirements for efficiency in Lodge office an adequate Masonic vocabulary is the most important. 

The English language as used in the Ritual of the Three Degrees is of great beauty; much of it is very old, among it are phrases white with age, over it is that patina which no words and phrases can have until they have been in use for generations; it is golden and eloquent, and often rises to the levels of the highest poetry; to come into possession of such a vocabulary so that it becomes a part of his own mind and passes into his own daily use, is one of the rewards a present-day Masonic workman receives for his labors. This is so true that in spite of the secrecy of the Lodge a number of words and phrases have escaped out of it and have entered into the daily speech of the people. The word Freemasonry itself has become a common noun. "Meet on the level," "to act on the square," a "square deal," "who comes here," "the Grand Architect," these are familiar phrases everywhere. There are others not so obvious but equally numerous and a man who is equally well-read in Freemasonry and in general literature often encounters in poetry, essays, dramas, or novels - phrases, words and expressions, and intimations which he recognizes to be echoes out of the great and noble language of the Craft.

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Last modified: March 22, 2014