A Puzzle in Maine Ritual
Now that I am actively working on the Autumn class on the history of Masonic ritual, it brings to mind a core question: "Why does this even matter?" That is to say, why should a person bother to learn the history of Masonic ritual. To answer that, let me tell you a little story. At the 17th District Master Mason School of Instruction, held in November of 2005, the Grand Lecturer, R.W. Bro. Stephen Nichols, brought up a section fo the Entered Apprentice obligation which we all repeat, but few understand:
...that I will always hail, forever conceal, and never reveal...
As Maine Masons we read this in our books as "...th I wi al ha, fo co, an ne re...". The word in the Grand Lecturer's book is "hail" which has a variety of meanings including "ice...falling from the sky" and "a shout of welcome" as well as others filling an entire page in the OED. This clearly makes no sense in context as the set of words is "hail", "conceal" and "reveal". The only other spelling we can substitute would be "hale," which means "free from defect". It is into this vacuum that the history of Masonic ritual rushes with the Cooke Manuscript. This is the second oldest source of information on Freemasonry and was written around 1440. It is named for Matthew Cooke who translated it around 1861. More skilled Masonic researchers than I believe it to be one of the "Gothic Constitutions" used by Bro. James Anderson in writing "Anderson's Constitutions". The Cooke Manuscript helps us to understand "always hale" as it contains this regulation: 
The third [point]. He shall hele the counsel of his fellows in lodge and in chamber, and wherever masons meet.
You can see that the word being used is "hele," which turns out to put us on the right track. The word means "to hide; to cover; to roof" , a defininition which is also substantiated by the OED. The line in the obligation now makes sense: "...that I will alwawys hide, forever conceal, and never reveal...". Not only have we learned the meaning of an unusual construction in our ritual, we can also conjecture whether the cipher should have "he" rather than "ha" for that word. Imagine that discussion at your next School of Instruction, lucky for me R.W. Bro. Steve Nichols is a wise brother with a good sense of humor.
As you can see from this tiny issue, knowing the history of the ritual gives us access to the materials and knowledge we require to really break open the ritual and understand it. Now I am off to the Grand Lodge Library to pick up some materials to read over break. I will post another entry soon with my developing bibliography.
- 1. Official Cipher for Maine 1982, pg. 16
- 2. Oxford English Dictionary Vol. V 1961, pg. 22
- 3. Merriam-Webster's Dictionary ( http://www.m-w.com/cgi-bin/dictionary?va=hale )
- 4. Cooke Manuscript, ln. 840-84 ( http://freemasonry.bcy.ca/aqc/cooke.html )
- 5. Free Online Dictionary ( http://dict.die.net/hele/ )
- 6. Oxford English Dictionary Vol. V 1961, pg. 199