Because Freemasonry in its modern form emerged in the seventeenth century, the language of its rituals and ceremonies often seems archaic and some words may be misunderstood, even by initiated brothers. Some words and phrases have special meanings specific to the Craft, and many have multiple layers of meaning. So, here is a list of some of the obscure words and special usages you will find in Freemasonry arranged alphabetically.
Approval, commendation, or praise; a formal or official act of approval.
Another name for the Symbolic Lodge, the basic organization of Freemasons. A blue lodge is a local group of Masons chartered by a Grand Lodge. Each lodge is given a number by its Grand Lodge which is a unique identifier. The reason for this name is obscure, although blue is a color often associated with the symbolic lodge. (See also Symbolic Lodge.)
Animal, literally, and figuratively the "animal" nature in human beings.
A secret vote by means of balls and cubes placed into a ballot box, or in writing.
An irregular lodge or group claiming to be masonic but not recognized as "regular" by a Grand Lodge. Each grand lodge may determine which groups it considers clandestine.
To come apart from; separate into distinct parts. Biblically the word is also used to mean its opposite, that is, to cling together.
A lodge chartered by or under dispensation from a Grand Lodge. All the lodges of Minnesota are, for example, constituent lodges of the Grand Lodge of Minnesota.
The expression "the Craft" refers to Freemasonry itself and is one of the many points at which Freemasonry uses terms from the old stonemason's craft. In the Middle Ages, crafts were organized into guilds and Freemasonry, to an extent, borrows this idea of a Craft in a symbolic sense. As the stonemasons built churches and temples of stone and metal and glass, the Freemason builds philosophically his own soul, "that house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens." (See also Temple). "The craft" may also refer to the assembled body of masons in a lodge meeting.
There are two deacons in a lodge, senior and junior. They are appointed officers not elected ones and their duties are to relay messages and escort candidates and guests between the Master and his Wardens (See Master and Wardens). The word "deacon" comes from the Latin decanus, meaning ten and signified a military rank of a platoon of ten soldiers. "Deacon" is also a term used in some Christian churches for a lay official who assists the ministers, and in that case also descends from the Latin title. Deacons carry black rods of office.
1. v. To terminate one's membership in a lodge formally. 2. n. A document, bearing the seal of a lodge and attested to by the Secretary, terminating a brother's membership in that lodge.
It is said that no "old man in dotage" can become a Mason. This means not simply old age, but a decline of mental faculties, senile decay that would interfere with a candidate's free judgment and thereby make his candidacy questionable. Once a man is raised a master mason he can become as dotty as he wants. (see also "nonage" and "fool")
1. n. Friendly rivalry, a desire to equal or excel others in achievement without jealousy or envy. 2. In the British Masonic tradition, the word emulation refers to the ritual itself.
Of a hidden nature, private. Masonic secrets are best understood not as information to be kept from the public, but as mysteries. These are the truly esoteric aspects of Freemasonry - the mystery of moral self-transformation. The term "esoteric" should not be take to mean either "occult" or "hard to understand." (See "Occult")
An authoritative decree, sanction, or order; a command or act of will that creates something without, or as if without, further effort; a decree or order.
It is said that a fool cannot become a mason. The old usage of "fool" means someone mentally incompetent, someone whose free choice to become a mason, and ability to keep the obligations to secrecy are in question.
Activities that promote fraternalism in constituent lodges or Masonic youth orders and which do not include esoteric content, or are otherwise prohibited by the Masonic Code. (See Masonic Law.)
100 oxen or cattle. In ancient Greece a public sacrifice of 100 oxen to the gods was given in thanks for a great discovery, event, or victory. The term is mentioned in masonic degree work but no actual hecatombs are involved in the ritual.
A title used for the presiding officer of a Royal Arch Chapter. As Masonry is not a religion, it has no actual priesthood and in fact any sort of priesthood in the ordinary sense would be in contradiction to the philosophy of Freemasonry which is strictly anti-authoritarian and egalitarian and which leaves each man's relationship to the Deity to his own conscience. The reason such terms as "priest" are used are the same as titles such as King, Prince, or Knight -- taking titles from the old order of feudal nobility and using them symbolically. The intention is not to pretend to be a titled nobleman or priest, but to locate the essential nobility and authority of those roles in each Mason himself, intrinsically. All Masonic offices are both practical and symbolic.
In Good Standing
A member whose dues are current is "in good standing" within his lodge.
A warning, order, direction, or instruction.
Masonic Light is a phrase referring to the spiritual and moral illumination that is the goal of the craft's rituals and degrees. Each master mason, having received the three degrees, must then pursue that Light in his own way. One purpose of masons' gathering in the lodge is to share knowledge and ideas and to encourge each other to persevere in that search for further light, further understanding of oneself, life, and the universe. Masonic degrees are dramas exemplifying the reception of Divine inspiration and illumination.
White aprons. Some lodges maintain a formal dress code, often including the wearing of tuxedos and white gloves for officers.
"Intercourse" used to mean simply "communication" before it became a euphemism. It means any communication of the esoteric or secret portions of the ritual. When a brother is admonished not to engage in "masonic intercourse" with a member of a clandestine lodge that means he is not to reveal any of the secret signs, tokens, or words, or other secret arts, parts, or points of regular masonic rituals.
Each Grand Lodge has a code of conduct and this Masonic Code stipulates how degrees are to be conferred and how Masons are to conduct themselves inside and outside the lodge. Masons who act "unmasonically" may be admonished, suspended, or expelled from the fraternity altogether, depending upon the severity of the behavior. Behavior which reflects badly upon the reputation of the Craft and its members is the most serious matter. In accordance with the traditions of the medieval craft guilds, brothers are admonished not to engage in civil legal action against each other, but to seek a solution as Masons through the mediation of their lodge's Master or the Grand Lodge. Criminal offences are, obviously, grounds for expulsion.
Apart from the basic symbolic lodge, there are many other organizations and groups any that require Masonic affiliation as a prerequisite to membership. That is, to be a member, one has to first be a master mason. For example, to become a member of the Scottish Rite, one must first receive the three blue lodge degrees.
aprons, jewels, implements, and hats appropriate to one's station or office.
The word "master" is used in two ways within Freemasonry. The Master of a lodge is the presiding officer, usually serving a one-year term in that office, and referred to as the Worshipful Master. The term is also found in the degree of "Master Mason." All Masons who have been raised to the third degree are Master Masons and may be referred to as masters in that sense.
A call issued by the Secretary, by order of the lodge or Master, or by other competent authority to attend or perform as specified (see also Summons).
A mason makes solemn vows upon a Volume of Sacred Law as part of his initiation into each degree. These promises are called his "obligation." The word might be thought of as synonymous with "vow" or "promise" but it is chosen because it points to the verb "oblige." To be obliged to do something is to be bound to do it. The word comes to English from Latin ob+ligere, meaning "to bind." In English the word also carries the meaning of "to do someone a favor." The mason obliges himself to keep his promises to his brothers and most especially to devote himself to the work of becoming a better man and helping others.
The obligations of Freemasonry are comparable to the vow taken by a head of state to uphold the constitution and honor the office with which he has been entrusted. Masonic oaths center upon keeping the content of the rituals, and especially the recognition signs and passwords secret, since these are used to gain admission to a lodge meeting. Because masons may travel and attend lodges worldwide, it is sometimes necessary to resort to these secret signs and words in order to demonstrate that one is a regular mason and entitled to enter the lodge. This is why they are kept secret.
This word originally meant simply "hidden." However, it has been associated with certain movements and organizations engaged in the study of mystical and magical practices. Certain persons of an excitable nature confuse "occultism" with "Satanism." I suspect that this confusion comes from reading fiction of in either the genre of "horror" or the genre of "pseudo-religious codswollop." If you, for examaple, imagine that the writings of H. P. Lovecraft are true, then occultism definitely seems like a rum occupation. It is not all Necromancy and consorting with devils and was not even in the Middle Ages, much less today.
Masonry has sometimes been tarred with the same brush as Occultism by people who neither understand its methods nor have any real desire to understand them. Needless to say, regular Freemasonry has nothing whatsoever to do with the Christian Prince of Darkness or any part of his mythology. Acceptance of other people's religious beliefs requires that a Mason's beliefs about God and other religious matters be left to each man's own conscience. This does not imply that the pursuit of evil or the "dark arts" is tolerated, much less a part of Freemasonry. The Craft is designed to inculcate virtue and morality, honesty, gentleness, and love. While a tiny minority of Freemasons have also dabbled in various "occult" magical traditions, such activities are not by any means sanctioned by the Craft and are completely outside the sphere of Freemasonry as such.
The confusion comes, in part, because Freemasonry, like some magical and mystical orders, draws inspiration from the Jewish mystical tradition or Kabbalah (also spelt Cabala, and Qabbala, etc.). It also has been connected symbolically to Hermeticism and Alchemy. These are ancient mystic arts that are highly symbolic. Some of the Scottish Rite degrees draw upon alchemical and astrological symbols, adapting them to the moral lessons of Freemasonry -- that is to the art of personal moral transformation and awareness. But none of these references to other ancient philosophies and religions are to be taken as the practice of those traditions. They are only symbolic references to them in the general conception of Freemasonry as allied with Universal principles of wisdom and morality.
Opening a Lodge
The ceremony of opening and closing a lodge is elaborate and formal. It is an important part of the ritual work of any symbolic lodge in that it permits the brethren to make the transition from ordinary consciousness in one's daily affairs, and the sacred consciousness of work on moral reflection and self-transformation. The ritual consists in large part of explanations of the symbolism of the officers of a lodge and of each degree.
This term is used to distinguish Masons engaged in spiritual pursuits and allegorical rituals from stonemasons who actually build stone buildings. There is some evidence that elements of "speculative" Freemasonry originated with the operative stonemasons, so it should not be thought that the distinction has always been clear cut. Today, if a Freemason is also a stonemason or builder that is a coincidence of vocation and philosophy. It is no doubt true, however, that any Freemason will benefit from actually working with straightedge, plumb, level, trowel, or setting maul, to gain a deeper understanding of how the working tools of the operative masons serve as metaphors for philosophy.
Any brother mason who has served as Worshipful Master of a lodge. Past Masters are honored within their own lodge and in any lodge they visit with special respect. Similarly, one who has served as Grand Master is a Past Grand Master.
The Penalties associated with each vow of obligation in the degrees of Masonry are symbolic. They refer to the rituals themselves, but are not intended to be taken as literal punishments for divulging the secrets of Masonry. Anyone who has undergone all three of the blue lodge degrees will understand to what they refer. Opponents of Masonry have made a great deal out of the lurid and medieval character of these symbolic penalties, to such an extent that the word have been removed from the text of the obligation itself in some jurisdictions, which is too bad. Critics who take anything in Freemasonry literally are missing the point of the craft entirely.
The word "secret" originally meant simply "private" and there was a time when even "secret societies" did not conjure up the bogey man of conspiracies and sedition. The word secretary retains this earlier benign sense of the word, referring to a person charged with the private papers of a business executive or head of state -- the Secretary of State, for example. The attribution of sinister motives to "secret societies" and especially to Freemasonry originated in the period of the French Revolution, when European monarchs were suspicious of any group meeting in secret because seditious groups were so common. The revolutionaries of Colonial America were among these groups, bent on overthrowing the Old Regime of feudal tyranny and priviledge. Freemasonry was no doubt instrumental in promoting the ideals of freedom and equality and the personal search for religious truth free from the threat of punishment by the state. The involvement of masonic lodges with the leaders of various freedom movements has caused Masonry to be persecuted by dictators and others and accused of all the usual abominations leveled at every private group throughout history. It seems to be a universal fact of human nature that societies who keep to themselves become the objects of ridicule, suspicion, and persecution, which is in turn why societies keep their business secret if it is likely to be misunderstood. The tendency of the rulers and priesthood of the Old Regime to burn heretics was one of the reasons Freemasonry was founded -- that is, to counter such irrational and cruel practices.
One of an order of angels who stand in the presence of God.
The legendary wises man and king of Israel. Son of King David founder of the Jewish royal lineage. Solomon reappears throughout Western wisdom literature a the archetypal wise king, judge, and wizard. In Freemasonry he is the archetypal man, the symbol of personal sovereignty and integrity.
adj. Theoretical rather than practical; involving, or based on, intellectual questioning and curiosity; marked by meditating or pondering on a subject.
A term used of Freemasonry in modern times to distinguish the work of the symbolic lodge from the "operative" work of the medieval stonemasons' lodges constructed for the building of cathedrals or ancient temples.
Junior officers of the lodge, the two stewards (junior and senior) carry white rods of office, are stationed by the Junior Warden and charged to oversee the lodge brothers when they are "at refreshment" which is to say eating, drinking, or taking a break from ritual. In some lodges, especially in the early days of modern Freemasonry, the stewards actually helped serve a formal meal. Today, their main job is to conduct and prepare candidates for initiation.
Lofty, grand, or exalted in thought, expression, or manner; of outstanding spiritual, intellectual, or moral worth; tending to inspire awe. Used in, for example, the expression, "the sublime degree of master mason," the word implies that this third degree is the highest degree of the Craft.
An imperative order issued by the Master of a lodge and attested to by the Secretary or by other competent authority, which calls upon a member of the lodge to appear as specified. A trial summons is one issued for the purpose of answering Masonic charges.
The basic unit of Freemasonry, a gathering of masons under a charter issued by a Grand Lodge and usually granted the right to confer the first three degrees of Masonry, the degrees of Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft, and Master Mason. The lodge is symbolic in two senses. First, because it is not an actual lodging of stonemasons on a work site in the literal sense used of the operative craft in the Middle Ages. Second, because its tools are symbols, the language of the spirit and the mind, which finds in material things allegories and analogies to spiritual things.
A building dedicated to a god and a place of Jewish or pagan worship. In Masonry, the Temple is Solomon's Temple, but the reference is symbolic as well as legendary. The Temple of Solomon is believed to have been built by Solomon King of Israel 2,989 years after the creation of the world related in the Biblical Book of Genesis, and 1,015 years before the birth of Jesus Christ. These are Biblical facts. Historians have other ideas and some even question whether Solomon's marvelous temple was ever anything more than myth. In Masonry, it is the legend and its allegorical meaning that counts. The "temple" is a spiritual endeavor -- something we are building together and each master mason considers himself a stone in that great edifice of spirit. The temple is an extended metaphor for this "fitting together" and being "square" and "plumb" in a moral sense. (See also Solomon)
The tyler is the officer of the lodge (or sometimes a member of another lodge) who guards the lodge room door when the lodge is open for business. The verb "to tyle" is unique to Freemasonry and signifies "to guard." The tyler carries a sword as the symbol of his office.
There are two officers called wardens in a lodge, the Junior Warden and the Senior Warden. The symbolic duties of these positions are to assist the Master in governing his lodge. The Senior Warden presides in the absense of the Master, and sometimes takes the Master's place while the Master acts as Senior Warden, according to the tradition of individual lodges. The Junior Warden is nominally in charge of the brethren when they are "at refreshment" -- that is, when not engaged in ritual work. Like the Master, each of the Wardens has a podium in front of his chair on which he stands a wooden column when he is in charge of the craft. The Junior Warden's column is upright when the lodge is at refreshment or has been closed formally. The Senior Warden's column is upright (and the Junior Warden's lying down) when the lodge is open.
adj. Honored and respected. Used in Masonry in terms such as "Worshipful Master" (the head of a lodge), or "Most Worshipful Grand Master" (the head of a Grand Lodge). Masons who have served their lodge as the Worshipful Master are given, when they retire to the rank of Past Master, the honorific "Worshipful Brother" as a form of address. This is to distinguish that other brothers of the lodge respect and appreciate their past service. The word "worship" has fallen out of use in American English almost entirely except as a religious term for one's attitude towards the Deity. That was not its meaning in the seventeenth century, as one can see in older forms of address such as "Your worship" or "Your excellency." High-sounding forms of address and titles (King, Prince, Knight, High Priest) are ubiquitous in Freemasonry, but it should not be imagined that they are more than simple courtesies on the one hand, and symbolic titles on the other.
n. Enthusiasm; diligence; eagerness and great interest in pursuit of a goal. This should not be confused with zealotry in the negative sense of performing acts of violence in a religious cause.