What Makes You a Mason?

Wallace M. Gage

Grand Historian, Grand Lodge of Maine

Every Mason has heard that question — "What makes you a Mason" — and had to answer it. It is, of course a part of the catechism he has to learn, in some jurisdictions, for the Entered Apprentice degree and others for the Master Mason Degree.

The answer of course, is "My Obligation!"

This being the case, the Obligation is the thing that separates the men from the boys, the wheat from the chaff, and the Mason from the non-Mason. This being the case, the Obligation has to be the most important part of the conferral of the degrees, but unfortunately once it has been given, all too often no more attention is given to it.

The purpose of this paper is to look at this Obligation of ours that makes us Masons, and see where it came from, trace its development, discover its meaning and its application in present day society.

Some of our jurisdictions refer to our subject as an "Obligation" while others call it an "Oath." Some use the expression "Oath or Obligation." Is it one or the other, or neither or both?

The Dictionary defines an "Oath" as a " solemn affirmation or declaration made with an appeal to God...." An "Obligation" is "a duty imposed, something one is bound to do as a result of a contract, moral responsibility, promise, etc."

All rituals use the expression "promise and swear." A promise means to "engage in a pledge." To swear means to "declare solemnly in the name of God."

Using these guidelines, we have to conclude that we have an "Obligation" up to the point where "So help me, God" is invoked.

Properly, therefore, our "Obligation" is really an "Oath."

Many of the critics of Masonry base their objections on the "horrible oaths" they claim we require. A secondary meaning of the word "oath" is "the irreverent or profane use of the name of God, a swear word, a curse." Therefore the word has something of a negative inference, and Freemasonry has generally chosen to refer to its vows as "Obligation," whether correctly or not.

The root of the word "Obligation" is the same as that of our word "ligament," meaning a cord or tendon by which one thing is tied to another. Our Obligation is therefore a pledge which ties a Mason to the Craft and ties himself to the duties and responsibilities imposed by it.

Before looking into the background of the "Obligation," we have to touch briefly on various theories as to the origins of the Craft.

The idea of descent of present day Freemasonry from the operative builders of King Solomon's Temple, on which our ritual is largely based, has long been discarded as pure legend. The theory of evolutionary descent from the operative stonemasons and cathedral builders of the middle ages is the one generally accepted today, but it remains largely unproven except in Scotland where there is evidence to support it.

In recent years, other hypotheses have been advanced by some Masonic scholars. One of these is that operative masonry in England had little or no connection with the speculative, and that the latter appeared as an entirely new organization in the 17th century, formed by a group opposed to the intolerance in the state politics and religion in England, and who wanted to provide a common ground where those of differing views might come together.

Another theory has it that our Speculative Craft is an outgrowth of an organization created for charitable purposes, to provide aid to sick and distressed members. The adoption of operative builders' trappings only served as camouflage to protect against interference by the State.

We have to emphasize that these are only theories, and that we may never know which, if any, is the correct one.

The subject of this paper, "the Obligation," will be best understood in relation to the operative/transition/speculative theory, and we will therefore stick to this as the basis for discussion.

With the formation of the first Grand Lodge in London in 1717, it became necessary to establish a constitution and to draft regulations for the government of the Craft, taking into account the relationships between individual Masons and their lodges, and the newly established Grand Lodge.

Up to this time, lodges had operated under the authority of documents various1y called "Old Charges" "Manuscript Constitutions" or "Gothic Constitutions." (Some 113 of these are still in existence.) These manuscripts served as a sort of Constitution/Charter/Ritual, evidently coming from a common original document of unknown origin, although all differ slightly from each other.

In order to establish guidelines for operation of a centralized Craft, in 1721 Dr. James Anderson was directed by the Grand Master to review these available copies of the Charges and develop a common method of operation. The result is "The Charges of A Freemason" found in Anderson's Constitutions of 1723, the first and without doubt the most influential Masonic book ever published.

As to the content of these Old Charges, they all begin with a prayer, Christian in character, followed by a legendary history of Masonry (and some of these were pretty far out), then charges for moral conduct and trade practices to be followed by Masters and Apprentices, and finally the oath to keep them.

The oldest of these Old Charges is the Regius Manuscript written about 1390. In it we find reference to an oath which says:

And all these points here before
To them those must need be sworn,
And all shall swear the same oath
Of the Mason, be they leif, be they loath.

The basic laws of Freemasonry are the "Ancient Landmarks", those fundamental principles which make Masonry what it is. They are not subject to change, but are very difficult to codify. As Bro. Robert Freke Gould wrote facetiously, "Nobody knows what they comprise or omit; They are of no earthly authority, because everything is a Landmark when an opponent desires to silence you, but nothing is a Landmark that stands in his own way."

Back in 1858, Bro, Albert G. Mackey undertook to draw up a list of 25 Landmarks. Some Grand Lodges have adopted Mackey's list, others have drawn up their own, and others have steered clear of the matter altogether. A definition of "Landmarks" which seems to be as satisfactory as any, states that they are "Those time honored customs of Freemasonry which have been the fundamental law of the Fraternity from a period so remote that their origin cannot be traced, and so essential that they cannot be modified without changing the character of the Fraternity.

Most of the generally accepted "Landmarks" are included in the Old Charges, either directly or indirectly, and the ~obligations in our rituals are taken almost entirely from them as we'll see.

Speculative Masonry came to America from England, Ireland and Scotland by way of settlers emigrating to this country. When a number of these transplanted Masons got together and decided to form a lodge, they had to rely on their memories for the ritual used in their home lodges which they might not have visited in many years. Nothing of a ritualistic nature was ever written down in those days. It isn't surprising that the rituals they came up with often bore little resemblance to any of those used in the "Old Country." The eventual result was that each of our 51 American Grand Lodges now has its own standard ritual, nearly all differing from each other.

Each of these Grand Lodges had a hard time standardizing the ritual even in their own jurisdictions. At one time a serious effort was made to develop and adopt a common ritual to be used throughout the United States. The so-called "Baltimore Convention" held in 1843 for this and other purposes eventually broke up in bickering and disagreement, although many of its recommendations on other matters were eventually adopted by individual Grand Lodges. Bro. Allen Roberts is the author of an interesting Short Talk Bulletin published by the Masonic Service Association in October 1986, describing the work of the Convention.

We should note in passing that the obsession with letter perfect delivery of a standard ritual is mainly found in America. In England and Scotland there are many approved workings, and each lodge is free to chose whichever one it prefers to use.

For the purposes of this paper, we've chosen to use as a base for consideration the ritual Obligation used in Maine, a part of the "Norton" ritual adopted by the Grand Lodge in 1894. For comparison, we have taken the rituals of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Scottish "Standard" and English "Emulation" rituals. The review has been restricted to the Master Mason's Obligation, as it is the most important and comprehensive of the three.

This Obligation to be examined consists of ten sections - an opening clause which we've called the "Preamble," eight "Furthermores," of which four are positive and four negative, and ending up with a concluding clause containing the penalties and the oath.

Let's look at the "Preamble."

The first thing we find is the expression "free will and accord." Just when this first came into use isn't known, but it is obviously a product of Speculative rather than operative masonry. In it we discover the origin of the practice followed in varying degrees, of prohibiting solicitation of candidates.

The reference to "Almighty God" reflects the requirement for a belief in a Supreme Being on the part of the candidate. The Regius Manuscript of 1390 says: "That who will know this craft and come to estate / He must love well God and Holy Church always."

There are a good many thoughts as to the place of the Saints John in Masonic ritual. The Saints are, of course, Saint John the Baptist and Saint John the Evangelist. The old operative gilds customarily adopted patron saints, and Masons chose the Sts. John. This incidentally, is one of the few Christian aspects remaining in our ritual after the transition to a nondenominational basis was made in 1723.

The balance of the Preamble is a somewhat wordy promise by the candidate not to reveal any of the secrets of the degree to any one not entitled to them. Just what these secrets are is subject to a wide variety of interpretations. Secrecy was much overdone in earlier times. Today it's generally considered to be the means of recognition, parts of the ritualistic work, and matters that are just no one's business but our own.

It seems to be human nature in our present day to assume that anything kept secret must be sinister and that it poses some kind of threat to those not in the know. Because of it, Masonry has been accused of plotting world domination, seeking to overthrow the church, of trying to gain political or business advantages for its members and all sorts of evil designs against the welfare of society.

In any family, business and other organization there are private matters of no one else's concern. It's ironic that the Roman Catholic Church, one of Masonry's severest critics, has many secrets which are not divulged to the outside world, including those of its many Orders and the Knights of Columbus.

One of the crosses we have to bear today is the term "secret society" formerly accepted as describing the Craft. In earlier times it was a fairly innocuous expression seldom arousing the suspicions we encounter today. Today's proper term would be "a society with secrets" which better describes the Craft.

It's interesting to recall the detailed prohibitions in the Entered Apprentice degree — not to "write, print, paint, cut, etc." The earliest reference to this is found in the Edinburgh Manuscript of 1696 in which it says: "...you shall not reveal any pairt of what you shall hear or see at this time whether by word or write nor put it in write at any time nor draw it with the point of a sword, or any other instrument upon the snow or sand...."

We now come to the first of the "Furthermores" as it appears in the Maine and Massachusetts rituals. [Portions were not written, but were covered verbally briefly.]

The sources of Masonic laws are:

  1. The Ancient Landmarks
  2. The Old Charges
  3. Constitutions
  4. Regulations
  5. Edicts
  6. Customs and Usages

and of course, the by-laws of individual lodges which are a part of Masonic law to its own members. These are the "laws, rules and regulations" referred to in the Obligation.

Some other Grand Lodges have chosen to elaborate a bit by adding references to Grand Lodge Constitutions, Laws and Regulations, and one specifically mentions the by-laws of any lodge of which the candidate may hereafter become a member.

With regard to lodge by-laws, we might suggest in passing that it wouldn't be a bad idea to remind our newly raised Brethren to observe that part of the by-laws that specify the dues and time of payment. This might possibly reduce the number of suspensions for non-payment of dues.

All of the rituals consulted end with the spoiler "so far as the same shall come to my knowledge." In our system of civil law, ignorance of the law is no excuse for its violation. Try explaining to the traffic officer that you didn't know the speed limit in the location where you were pulled over and see how far you get.

This particular escape clause certainly takes away a good deal of the incentive for learning anything much about Masonic law, and serves as a ready excuse for violation of almost any of them. At his installation in office, the Master of a lodge is presented with the Book of Constitutions and told to "cause it to be read in your lodge that none may pretend ignorance if its requirements." In practice, however, this is seldom done. The result is that very few Masons know much about Masonic law, and fewer put it into practice.

Bro. Wallace McLeod in his Prestonian Lecture for 1986, "The Old Charges," has reconstructed and homogenized the many existing variations of these Old Charges and arrived at a reconstructed "Standard Original" with an assumed date somewhere between 1470 and 1560. In it we see the origin of this "Furthermore" appearing in our present day ritual. With the candidate's hand on the "Book" (Bible) the charges are then read to him: "These be the charges in general that every Mason should hold, both Masters and Fellows..."

(Some 19 charges are then read to him, some having to do with operative working conditions and others with morals and conduct.)

And after this, the Oath:

These charges that we have rehearsed, and all other that belong to Masonry ye shall keep, so help you God and Haledom [Holy doom] and by this Book to your power. Amen

The second "Furthermore" has to do with the definition of "signs and summonses" and the meaning of "cabletow."

The trestleboard or newsletter is a good example of a "sign" in the present day meaning of the term — a notice or report of lodge meetings and programs sent out for the information of its members. Presumably it also includes the so-called Grand Hailing Sign of Distress.

On the other hand, a "summons" is of more importance than the lodge bulletin, and is used where matters of urgency are involved. The Grand Lodge of Maine defines a "summons" as "An imperative injunction to appear at a communication of the lodge or to attend the Grand Lodge or Grand Master." It is a request for your presence issued only on occasions of great importance.

This emphasis on attendance goes back to the Regius Manuscript of 1390, which says:

...that every Master that is a mason
Must be the general congregation,
So that he it reasonably be told
Where that the assembly shall be held,
And to that assembly he must needs go,
Unless he have a reasonable excuse.

In present day use, the wording in the Scottish ritual is more descriptive, reading:--

to answer and obey all lawful signs and summonses sent to me from a MMs lodge if within the length of my c...t... and to plead no excuse save that of sickness or the pressing emergency of my own public or private avocations.

The word "cable" is a marine term referring to a ship's hawser. It is also a measure of length, being 100 fathoms (600 feet). A hawser being often used for towing, evidently coined the phrase "Cabletow." An expos• published in England in 1762 carries a footnote which says: "A cabletow is three miles in length, so that if a Fellowcraft is that distance from his lodge, he is not culpable on account of non-attendance." In other Old Charges the distance is given as 50 miles.

The present day meaning of the term is given by Coil in his Masonic Encyclopedia: "In Masonry it is purely symbolic and means the scope of a man's reasonable ability, as decided by the Baltimore Convention of 1843."

And now for "Furthermore" Number three:- Help, aid and assist are references to "Relief," one of the tenets of Freemasonry along with Brotherly Love and Truth, which go back to the earliest records, the Regius Manuscript, where we find an admonition to the operative mason to help a Brother who is doing his work improperly:-

A mason if he this craft well know
That seeth his fellow hew-on a stone
And is in point to spoil that stone
Amend it soon if that thou can
And teach him it to amend
That the lord's work be not spoiled.

In many places in the Old Charges we find references to extending help to the needy operative Brother. In McLeod's reconstructed Standard Original, it notes:-

...every mason shall receive and cherish strange fellows when they come over the country, and set them to work.;.and give him his pay, and if he have no stone (work for him, he shall refresh him with money to the next lodge.

An additional reference to relief to a distressed Brother is found in Three Distinct Knocks an exposé published in 1769. The obligation of a Master Mason stating:- "I will also serve a Brother as far as lies in my power without being detrimental to myself and family."

What about the present day interpretation of this section? One of the main criticisms directed at Freemasonry is that it supposedly teaches that Masons are to favor each other over non-Masons in business, politics and other situations. Stephen Knight in his book The Brotherhood, which recently stirred up some latent hostility toward Masonry in England, makes a great to-do about favoritism in the British police, especially Scotland Yard. He infers, as do many of those opposed to Masonry, that whenever management includes Masons, promotions from below are almost invariably made because of Masonic membership rather than by reason of ability.

It can't be denied that favoritism does occur occasionally, but it isn't the intention that it be so. It is intended to apply to those in distress, whether Masons or not. This is emphasized in the Charge at the closing of a lodge (not used often enough today), which says:- "Every human being has a claim on your kind offices. Do good unto all...." (Taken from Galatians 6:10)

Just a word before moving along. In earlier days, there used to be frequent reports of "mendicants" claiming to be Masons without funds or otherwise in distress and seeking money. Once again in the last several months we've received notices from our Grand Lodge warning that this is happening again and cautioning Masons to be on guard lest they be taken in — hence the need for "finding them worthy" before giving aid.

Now the last of the positive "Furthermores," and one poorly worded and often misunderstood. This brief section does not mean what it says, nor did it ever, although similar wording is found as far back as 1760 where it appears in Three Distinct Knocks a British exposé.

It has given rise to another criticism of Freemasonry, that Masons consider themselves above the law, and are bound to protect each other under all circumstances except in those specified. Again, going back to the 1390 Regius Manuscript:-

He must steadfast be and true also
To all this ordinances wheresoever he go,
And to his leige lord the king,
To be true to him over all things.

The same idea is expressed in many of the Old Charges, and as Josiah H. Drummond, a noted Masonic jurist put it: "The laws of Masonry are subordinate to the civil law. Whenever one's duties as a Mason conflict with his duties as a citizen, the latter are paramount and the former must yield."

The Scottish "Standard" and English "Emulation" rituals are much clearer in presenting the point when they state "...murder, treason, felony and all other offenses contrary to the laws of God and the ordinances of the realm being at all times excepted..." And finally, the Old Charges emphasize that "A Mason is to be a peaceable subject to the civil powers wherever he resides or works, and is never to be concerned in plots and conspiracies against the peace and welfare of the nation..."

This fifth of the "Furthermores" is the first of the negatives — the "Thou shalt not's:" This is one of the most non-controversial of the candidate's obligations. It goes back to the Regius Manuscript's admonition: "There shall no master supplant another, and The Master Mason must be full securely... and pay thy fellows.... And pay them truly what they may deserve."

In another of the Old Charges we find a form of the Golden Rule: "And also ye shall be true one to another, that is to say, to every Master and Fellow of the Craft of Masonry that be Masons allowed, ye shall do to them as ye would they should do to you."

Some Grand Lodges have today expanded the wording of their rituals to include the duty of preventing harm to come to a Brother, if in the candidate's power to prevent it, and to refrain from speaking evil behind his back. This is also found in the Old Charges stated: "And also that no fellow slander another behind his back to make him lose his good name or his worldly goods."

While the meaning of this "Furthermore" is straight forward and clear, the next one has a number of obscure points.

The sixth "Furthermore": In the operative stages of the Craft we find a lack of references to women, although we do hear of a few women being members of the London Company of Freemasons as early as 1663, although this was a guild rather than a working lodge. We also find that a woman was apprenticed to a Master Mason from about 1713-14. In general though, this didn't present a problem in the operative days as few had the desire or the upper body strength to do the hard, physical labor of a stonemason.

By the time speculative masonry had taken over, however, we find in Anderson's Constitutions one of the Charges stating that "The persons admitted members of a lodge must be good and true, free born, and of mature and discreet age, no bondsmen, no women, no immoral or scandelous men, but of good report."

The American courts have always upheld the right of private associations to prescribe their own rules regarding membership as a fundamental Constitutional right. In recent years, however, they have narrowed the type of Organization given that right. Private clubs have been allowed to set these qualifications, but for example, the Jaycees were recently ordered by the courts to accept women members as the Jaycees didn't qualify as a private club. Other similar groups have recently received the same treatment.

Masonry has been permitted to follow its traditional laws and regulations in this regard, but there is no assurance it won't have to defend itself in the future against attacks from the radical wing of the women's rights movement. In addition to membership questions, those organizations excluding women could possibly lose tax exemptions. Obviously should the courts ever require Freemasonry to admit women, it would require Masons to either violate their solemn obligations or terminate their membership, thus bringing an end to Freemasonry.

Others disqualified are those who from age or mental condition or lack of good morals would neither benefit from nor contribute to the Craft, and, of course an atheist. Seldom heard today but formerly emphasized when the craft was in its operative phase, was the attention placed on physical fitness and the ban on those with deformities or disabilities.

The Regius Manuscript notes:

...to the Craft it were great shame
To make a halt man and a lame,
For an imperfect man of much blood
Should do the Craft but little good
A maimed man he hath no might.

Up until fairly recent times, one having lost an arm or leg or otherwise disabled would have been barred from membership under what was then called the "Doctrine of the Perfect Youth." One Grand Lodge at least has even now a ban in its Obligation on those who are "unable to earn a livelihood or do the work of a Mason." This is now generally interpreted to mean the work of a Speculative Mason where the necessary qualifications are mental and moral, rather than physical, as was the case with the operative.

Another subject not even covered specifically in the Obligation is the matter of race. This is apparently under control at present, and many American Grand Lodges have declared that race is not a bar to membership. It is possible, however, that action by individuals could cause trouble in the future.

We understand that the Grand Master of Virginia recently overruled a ballot involving racial discrimination. And the Grand Lodge of New Jersey and a Shrine Temple there are involved in counter law Suits over the refusal of the Shrine Temple to accept black members of a New Jersey lodge to membership or accept their petitions. The recent recognition of Prince Hall Grand Lodge by the Grand Lodge of Connecticut is also a case which bears watching. The Grand Lodge of Louisiana has severed relations with Connecticut because of it.

The next-to-last "Furthermore" is one that seems to be bucking a head tide in our American society. To show the antiquity of this subject, the following is quoted from the Regius Manuscript:

Thou shalt not by thy Master's wife lie,
Nor by thy fellow's in no manner wise,
Lest the Craft would thee despise
Nor by thy fellow's concubine
No more thou wouldst he did by thine.

Of course this first part of this section of the Obligation is an adaptation of one of the Ten Commandments, "Thou shalt not commit Adultery," which is about as basic as we can get for authority. The Old Charges generally contain a clause on this general subject, with the wording varying somewhat. For example: the Harleian Manuscript puts it as noted:

You shall not take your neighbor's wife
villainously, Nor his daughter nor his maid
to use ungodly, and you shall not carnally lie
with any woman belonging to the house
wherein you are at table.

This latter evidently refers to the custom where the apprentices often boarded at the house of their master and lived in close proximity with his family.

The addition of "Mother" seems to have been of more recent origin as it doesn't appear in any of the Old Charges nor in the English or Scottish present day rituals.

Looking down the road, we expect our Obligations to be taken seriously by the candidate, and for him to consider it to be binding on him. Yet aside from the reference to the first of those listed, this "Furthermore" is coming more and more in conflict with the direction our society is traveling.

Since the advent of the "pill" and the resultant sexual revolution, the rules of the game have changed radically. Most of us grew up in times when the male was supposed to be the aggressor and the female the passive party. Studies published in recent years have indicated that this was pretty much what society expected, but that actually the female drive is likely to be as strong as the male's. In present day encounters she is often the aggressor.

It's quite common today for men and women to live together without benefit of clergy, pre-marital sex seems to be the norm, illegitimate births to teen-age mothers are increasing; single parent families are common, and public figures seem to have little regard for the examples they set for the young. These, together with television's obsession with sexual themes, the young candidate for Masonry will have acquired entirely different values than the older generation.

It seems quite likely even today, that anyone trying to exercise his "power to prevent" would be told in no uncertain terms by both parties involved to "butt out and mind your own business."

Freemasonry already shows the effects of these changing values. Checking over the list of trials conducted for un- Masonic conduct in one Grand Lodge jurisdiction there was one expulsion in 1981 for drug trafficking. In 1982 there was one for a sexual offense, and by 1987 there were thirteen expulsions, nine for sexual crimes.

The situation is obviously beyond our ability to do much about, but it's not going away soon, and we have to face up to the Obligations we impose if they aren't going to be ignored altogether.

The final "Furthermore" is another in which the origin is somewhat obscure, but references to it are quite common in the later versions of the Old Charges.

The earliest mention of the "Mason's Word" indicates a Scottish origin, and goes back to 1638. It was obviously connected with operative masonry. A letter written from Scotland describes it as "A secret signal masons have throughout the world to know one another by."

The Edinburgh House Register Manuscript of 1696 tells how the "Word" is communicated and describes the five points as "foot to foot, knee to knee, heart to heart, hand to hand and ear to ear."

The Sloane Manuscript of about 1700 is an English copy of the Old Charges has another version of the mason's oath, giving the word which goes with the Five Points of Fellowship. Harry Carr in his Six Hundred Years of Craft Ritual gives it as quite similar to the one we're familiar with today.

It's interesting to find that in the Scottish and English rituals reviewed the FPOF have a major part in the Obligation. They include: "I furthermore solemnly pledge myself to maintain and uphold the FPOF in act as well as in word, etc, etc."

And now we come to the wrap-up, the concluding paragraph in which the candidate binds himself to uphold everything preceding it, under penalties which have become a principal target of Freemasonry's critics. So much has been said on the subject in recent years that it's not necessary to go into any great detail here.


In the earliest of the Old Charges there were no physical penalties for violation of the oath, but one of 1696 has a theme of secrecy "By God Himself and you shall answer to God when you shall stand naked before Him at the great day, you shall not reveal any part,... and ends with "So help me God."

The first of the physical penalties appearing in the Old Charges will be familiar, "Under no less pain than having my tongue cut out under my chin and of being buried within the flood mark where no man shall know...."

The penalties and the Obligations were increased over the years as the second and third degrees were added to the ceremonies of the Craft, and the ritual expanded accordingly.

The penalties as they exist now are actually meaningless for all practical purposes. Bro. Henry Coil in his Masonic Encyclopedia expresses it quite well when he writes: The penalties enacted by any Masonic body or authority or under Masonic law are reprimand, suspension or expulsion. Why then do Grand Lodges continue to use the forms which have given the enemies of Freemasonry such excellent grounds for denunciation? The excuse is generally given that the penalties have always existed and no change can be made to them.

There appeared in the 1964 Ars Quatuor Coronatum a paper by Bro. J. R. Rylands entitled "The Masonic Penalties," in which he propounded the theory that the physical penalties were a product of Speculative Masonry, and that they were made especially severe to protect the charity funds. His point was that one who could prove himself a Mason had a claim on the charity of private lodges and on the Grand Lodge. The problem was with the large number of impostors draining the resources of the lodges and Grand Lodge. It's an interesting theory!

Bro. Harry Mendoza writes in the 1987 AQC a review of the subject of penalties. In 1964, the matter was brought before the United Grand Lodge of England, and it was pointed out that the candidate was assured before taking the Obligation, that there was nothing incompatible with his civil, moral or religious duties. He is then asked to repeat an Obligation which contains statements about physical penalties which would seem to be incompatible with those duties. All this while his hand is on the Volume of Sacred Law. He has no prior knowledge of what he would be asked to say, phrases that never have been and which never could be enforced, and to make matters worse, he is asked to invoke the help of God!

After much discussion, an amended section to the ritual involving the penalties was drafted, to be used at the option of the individual lodges.

It seems to be natural for Masons to be averse to any change in anything, and there was widespread reluctance on the part of many Lodges to adopt the optional clause, so in 1986 it was made mandatory. The change involved removing the penalties from the Obligation and placing them elsewhere in the ritual. Retention of the penalties was, of course, necessary due to their relation to the signs. Scotland, Ireland and the Supreme Royal Arch Chapter have made similar moves, and a number of American Grand Lodges are reviewing the matter and are considering removing the penalties from the Obligation or adding explanatory wording to indicate they are symbolic only. Maine is to vote on an explanatory section to be given by the Junior Deacon in the Preparation Room before the candidate is received into the Lodge.

Bro. Mendoza in his article summarizes the objections raised to any change. They are, briefly:

ANTIQUITY: The "We've always done it this way — what was good enough for my grandfather is good enough for me!"

CONSTITUTIONALITY: Innovations can't be made. (See Charge to the Master at his installation.)

GENERAL: Not many find the penalties objectionable - Once we start, there'll be no end to changes — Why should we make changes simply because of outsiders?

As commentary, we'd like to add our own thoughts to the foregoing:

ANTIQUITY: We hope this paper has disproved that "we've always done it this way." There were no penalties at all up until fairly recently.

The changes do not do away with anything, but merely move the penalties from the Obligation to another section of the ritual.

CONSTITUTIONALITY: To the statement that innovations can't be made in the ritual, changes have been made frequently. The ritual for Maine wasn't adopted until 1894, and several changes have been made since that time.

GENERAL: To answer those who say that not many find them objectionable, we might ask how many of the numerous EAs who never advance may be doing so for this reason.

Changes are considered only for good and sufficient reasons.

Changes are not considered just because someone else does something differently, or because outsiders criticize us for something or other.

Masonry doesn't claim to have a monopoly on wisdom. It's possible that our critics just might have a valid point. It's certainly worth examining. If it isn't well taken, then we reject it.

As a final thought, we should care what outsiders think of Freemasonry! Every one of our future candidates is now an outsider. If the Craft acquires a bad name in society, these potential candidates will stay away in droves and it will be only a matter of time until we go the way of the many fraternal organizations that are now long forgotten.

So, I hope this will help a bit to add some insight into the background, application and importance of the answer to that question -

What Makes You a Mason? — Your Obligation, that's what!


Vibert, Lionel; Development Of The Trigradal System, Prestonian Lecture &Mdash; 1925

Poole, Rev. H.; The Old Charges &Mdash; 18Th Century Masonry, Prestonian Lecture &Mdash; 1933 Knoop, Douglas; The Mason Word, Prestonian Lecture -1938

Haunch, T. 0.; It Is Not In The Power Of Any Mason, Prestonian Lecture &Mdash; 1972

Uyer, C.F.W.; In Search Of Ritual Uniformity, Prestonian Lecture &Mdash; 1973

Mcleod, Wallace; The Old Charges, Prestonian Lecture &Mdash; 1986

Jackson, A.C.F.; Our Predecessors, The Medieval Masons Of The Regius Manuscript, Aqc &Mdash; 1975

Jackson, A.C.F.; Our Predecessors, The English Non-Operative Masons Of The Mid 17Th Century, Aqc &Mdash; 1976

Rylands, J, R.; The Masonic Penalties, Aqc - 1964

Carr, Harry; The Obligation And Its Place In The Ritual, Aqc &Mdash; 1961

Mendoza, Harry; The Transfer Of The Physical Penalties From The Obligation, Aqc &Mdash; 1987

Draffen, George; Our Ritual, A Study In Its Development, "Masons And Masonry"

Carr, Harry; Harry Carr's World Of Freemasonry

Conder, Edward; Records Of The Hole Craft And Fellowship Of Masons, Masonic Book Club No. 19

Wells, Roy; The Rise And Development Of Organized Freemasonry, Masonic Book Club No. 17

Anderson, James; Anderson's Constltutions, 1723 And 1738, Facsimile Edition, Quatuor Coronati Lodge

Pritchard, Samuel; Masonry Dissected, Masonic Book Club, No. 8

Carr, Harry; 600 Years Of Craft Ritual, Grand Lodge Of Missouri

Roberts, Allen E.; The Convention That Changed The Face Of Freemasonry, Masonic Service Assoc., Stb

Aldridge K.W.; Ancient Symbolic Penalties, Masonic Service Association, Short Talk Bulletin

Pick And Knight; The Pocket History Of Freemasonry

Knoop And Jones; An Introduction To Freemasonry

Claudy, Carl H.; Introduction To Freemasonry

Macbride, A.S.; Speculative Freemasonry

Knoop And Jones; A Short History Of Freemasonry To 1730

Higham, M.B.S.; Freemasonry &Mdash; From Craft To Tolerance, Grand Lodge Of Scotland Year Book 1987

Draffen, George; The Making Of A Mason

Cerza, Alphonse; The Courts And Freemasokry

Hamill, John; The Craft &Mdash; A History Of English Freemasonry

Carr, Harry; The Freemason At Work

Jones, Bernard E.; Freemason's Guide And Compendium

Shepard, Silas H.; The Landmarks Of Freemasonry, Little Masonic Library Vol. 1

Drummond, Josiah H.; Sources Of Masonic Law, Maine Masonic Text Book

Carr, Harry; The Early French Exposures

Jackson, A.C.F.; Early English Exbosures 1760-1769

Knoop And Jones; The Genesis Of Freemasonry

Knoop, Jones And Hamer; The Early Masonic Catechisms

Coil, Henry W.; Coil's Masonic Encyclopedia

Harris, Ray B.; The William L. Boyden Manuscript, Masonic Service Association

Lockwood, Luke A.; Masonic Law And Practice

Knight, Stephen; The Brotherhood

Cartwright, E.H.; A Commentary On The Freemasonic Ritual

Coil, Henry W.; Freemasonry Through Six Centuries Vol. 1

Batham, Cyril H.; The Birth Of Speculative Freemasonry, The Maine Lodge Of Research 1986-7

Gould, Robert F.; The Old Charges Of British Freemasons, Gould's History Of Freemasonry Vol. I

Gould, Robert F.; The Statutes Relating To The Freemasons, Gould's History Of Freemasonry Vol. I

Mackey, Albert G.; Jurisprudence Of Freemasonry

The Regius Poem, Masonic Book Club Vol. 1

Trestleboard Masonic Book Club Vol. 8

Three Distinct Knocks And Jachin And Boaz Masonic Book Club Vol. 12

Duncan's Ritual Of Freemasonry

Official Cypher Grand Lodge Of Maine

Ancient Craft Masonry, Grand Lodge Of New York Standard Work And Lectures

Mnemonics, Grand Lodge Of Connecticut

Ritual Cipher, Grand Lodge Of New Jersey

The Standard Ritual Of Scottish Freemasonry, Grand Lodge Of Scotland

Official Cipher, Grand Lodge Of Masons In Massachusetts

Tho. Carmick Manuscript Masonic Service Association Digest