Dispatches from Maine

Just another person of little note writing about ordinary things. That I reside in Maine is icing on the cake.

11 December 2005

History of Masonic Ritual

It seems that almost every lodge meeting I attend has someone come up and ask me when my class is being offered at the Maine Masonic College. I understand it is scheduled for the Autumn of 2006, which feels like a long time. Of course, a six hour class on the history and development of Masonic ritual is going to take months of painstaking research to build up the core information, then likely an equal amount of time to cull out the inessential material. To help get me started and keep me focused, I plan to start posting my outline as it develops here.

A first pass for an outline is:
  • The three styles of ritual: gothic constitutions, catechism, and lecture.
  • The transition from bigradal (E.A. and F.C.) to trigradal (E.A., F.C. and M.M.).
  • The ways in which the old ritual is exposed to us: minutes, aides-memoire, and exposures.
  • The Antients/Moderns split and its causation/impact with regard to the ritual.
  • Ritual in the United States (Webb working) with a special emphasis on the Baltimore Convention.
You can picture the development of Masonic ritual as a collection of related elements. At its most basic, there is the shift from catechetical system to a lecture system. Even brethren who are not aware of this shift can still discern the very different styles of ritual. The catechetical system is a question and answer style of ritual where the structure or wording of the question helps you to remember the correct answer. For example, in exchanging the pass and the word in Maine ritual, the order "Gi it me." always precedes the pass since it can be simply given, whereas the request "Wi yo gi it me?" always precedes the lettering and dividing of the word since it cannot be exchanged by mere statement. Even though each jurisdiction is slightly different the hallmarks of the catechetical system is still present somewhere. In modern times, these hints are quite helpful to the new Freemason learning their proficiency. In ancient times, these textual hints were the very essence of catechesis and essential to the learning process.

The lecture system is one we are all familiar with. Many of the lectures are the work of a single man, Bro. William Preston, who wrote his famous work "Illustrations on Masonry" at the end of the 18th century. The work of Bro. Preston is stamped all over the face of Maine Ritual. This section of Book 2, Section 4 should be strikingly familiar to any Maine Mason:

Masonry passes under two denominations, operative and speculative. By the former, we allude to a proper application of the useful rules of architecture, whence a structure derives figure, strength, and beauty, and whence result a due proportion and a just correspondence in all its parts. By the latter we learn to subdue patterns, act upon the square, keep a tongue of good report, maintain secrecy, and practice charity.

Then we have the most obvious shift from bigradal (Entered Apprentice and Fellowcraft) to triggered (Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft and Master Mason), which had been building for some time finally taking root in the period from 1700-1730. The evolution of the Hiramic Legend is a particularly interesting element, which I look forward to covering in great detail.

Labels: , ,


At 22 June, 2008 15:49 , Blogger Chris said...

Hi Brother Ratliff:

I am an English Mason (but of US birth) who is interested in this topic. Did you give this lecture and, if so, are the notes published somewhere? It sounds like this would be a perfect submission to a Quatuor Coronati book of proceedings somewhere.

Bro. Chris Hansen, Goliath Lodge #5595 UGLE/Philanthropic Lodge F&AM, Marblehead, Mass.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home