Extracts from a Dictionary of Masonry

by Malcolm C. Duncan

Preface | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5
Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Appendix

Extracts from a Dictionary of Masonry


ACHILLES.–Perhaps some worthy people may stare when we point out Achilles as a Freemason. What! we hear them exclaim, is it possible that that fierce and ferocious man-slayer, nay, man-eater at heart, for he exhibited a strong propensity to cannibalism in longing to have devoured the dead body of Hector–is it possible that he could have been one of our philanthropic society? Yes, we reply, such is the actual fact, and Bonaparte was one, too, in the highest degree. But, if you will not believe Homer, or us, believe your own eyes, if, indeed, you are a Mason. Ecce signum! Behold Achilles giving Priam THE HAND, when the latter is supplicating for the body of his slain son:

Thus having spoken, the old man’s right hand at the wrist,
He grasped, that he might not in any respect be alarmed in mind.

Such is the Masonic and literal translation of the text by that illustrious Grecian and brother, Christopher North; and who will say, now, that Achilles was not a Mason?–Freemasons’ Quarterly Review.

[According to this, Brother Achilles gave Brother Priam the Master Mason’s Grip, but there is no evidence to show whether they used the word MAH-HAH-BONE, and the Five Points of Fellowship.]

ESSENTIAL SECRETS.–The essential secrets of Masonry consist of nothing more than the signs, grips, passwords, and tokens, essential to the preservation of the society from the inroads of impostors; together with certain symbolical emblems, the technical terms appertaining to which served as a sort of universal language, by which the members of the fraternity could distinguish -each other, in all places and countries where Lodges were instituted.–Stone.

EYESIGHT.–He who has been temporarily deprived of his sight is reduced to the condition of a new-born babe, or of one of those unfortunate individuals whose natural infirmity renders the presence of a conductor indispensably necessary; but when there are no outward objects to distract his attention, it is then that with the eye of reflection he probes into the deepest and darkest recesses of his own heart, and discovers his natural imperfections and impurities much more readily than he could possibly have done had he not been deprived of his sight. This short deprivation of sight has kindled in his heart a spark of the brightest and purest flame. . . We must further admit, that those who have been deprived of their sight, and who have hopes of being restored to it, strive most industriously and diligently to obtain it; that they have no greater desire, and that they will most readily pledge themselves to do all that can be required of them, in order to obtain that inestimable blessing.

A man who has been deprived of his sight may be introduced into places where he is surrounded by the strangest and the rarest objects, without a possibility of his becoming a traitor. At the same time, those who are in possession of their sight cannot feel the care of their guides so much as those who are hoodwinked, and who feel that without the constant attention of their conductors they would be much more helpless than they now are; but, however many proofs of attention and care they may receive, there is still something left to wish for; and to the question, What is your chief desire? the answer will ever assuredly be, “Light.”–Gadicke.

FIVE POINTS OF FELLOWSHIP.–The five points of fellowship were thus illustrated in the lectures used by the Athol Masons of the last century:

1. When the necessities of a brother call for my support, I will be ever ready to lend him a helping hand to save him from sinking, if I find him worthy thereof.

2. Indolence shall not cause my footsteps to halt, nor wrath to turn them aside; but, forgetting every selfish consideration, I will be ever swift of foot to save, help, and execute benevolence to a fellow-creature in distress, but more particularly to a brother Mason.

3. When I offer up my ejaculations to Almighty God, I will remember my brother’s welfare, even as my own; for as the voice of babes and sucklings ascends to the throne of grace, so, most assuredly, will the breathings of a fervent heart ascend to the mansions of bliss.

4. A brother’s secret, delivered to me as such, I will keep as I would my own, because, if I betray the trust which has been reposed in me, I might do him an irreparable injury; it would be like the villainy of an assassin, who lurks in darkness to stab his adversary when unarmed and least prepared to meet an enemy.

5. A brother’s character I will support in his absence, as I would in his presence. I will not revile him myself, nor suffer it to be done by others, if it is in my power to prevent it.

Thus, by the five points of fellowship, we are linked together in one indivisible chain of sincere affection, brotherly love, relief, and truth.

GUTTERAL.–The gutteral sign alludes to temperance, which demands such a cautious habit of restraint, as may be necessary to preserve us from the risk of violating our obligation and incurring its penalty.–Hemming.

This alludes to the “Duegard of an Entered Apprentice.”

LANDMARKS.–What are the landmarks? is a question often asked, but never determinately answered. In ancient times, boundary-stones were used as landmarks, before title-deeds were known, the removal of which was strictly forbidden by law. With respect to the landmarks of Masonry, some restrict them to the O. B. signs, tokens, and words. Others include the ceremonies of initiation, passing, and raising; and the form, dimensions, and support; the ground, situation, and covering; the ornaments, furniture, and jewels of a Lodge, or their characteristic symbols. Some think that the Order has no landmarks beyond its peculiar secrets. It is quite clear, however, that the order against removing or altering the landmarks was universally observed in all ages of the Craft.

METAL.–Many men dote on the metals silver and gold with their whole souls, and know no other standard whereby to estimate their own worth, or the worth of their fellow-beings, but by the quantity of these metals they possess, thereby debasing and degrading those qualities of the mind or spirit by which alone mankind ought to be estimated. He who wishes to be initiated into Free Masonry must be willing to relinquish all descriptions of metal, and all the adventitious circumstances of rank and fortune, for it is the MAN that is received into Free Masonry, and not his rank or riches.–Gadicke.

ORIGINAL POINTS.–Ancient Masonry admitted twelve original points, which constitute the basis of the entire system, and without which no person ever did or can be legally received into the Order. Every candidate is obliged to pass through all these essential forms and ceremonies, otherwise his initiation would not be legal. They are–opening, preparing, reporting, entering, prayer, circumambulation, advancing, obligation, intrusted, invested, placed, closing.

PENAL.–The penal sign marks our obligation, and reminds us also of the fall of Adam, and the dreadful penalty entailed thereby on his sinful posterity, being no less than death. It intimates that the stiff neck of the disobedient shall be cut off from the land of the living by the judgment of God, even as the head is severed from the body by the sword of human justice.

[This applies as well to the Entered Apprentice’s as to the Royal Arch Mason’s “Duegard.”]

PHRASES OF ADMISSION.–When a candidate receives the first Degree he is said to be initiated, at the second step he is passed, at the third, raised; when he takes the Mark Degree, he is congratulated (advanced); having passed the chair, he is said to have presided; when he becomes a Most Excellent Master, he is acknowledged and received; and when a Royal Arch Mason, he is exalted.

SIGN OF DISTRESS.–In a society whose members ought fraternally to love and assist each other, it is to be expected that they should have a sign whereby they could make themselves known immediately to their brethren, in however distressed circumstances they might be placed, and thereby at the same time claim their assistance and protection. This is the sign of distress, in conjunction with a few words. He who falls into the greatest difficulty and danger, and supposes that there is a brother within sight or hearing, let him use this sign, and a true and faithful brother must spring to his assistance.–Gadicke.

UNIFORMITY.–It is almost unnecessary to argue the question in relation to Uniformity of Work, because such can never be; we say never, as long as we live up to the teachings of the Fathers and communicate, orally, the mysteries to candidates. To obtain uniformity, the work must be written, and that will never be done, so long as Freemasons regard their obligations. A Gen. G. Lodge should be, if the fraternity, at any time foolish enough to sanction such an organization, which they never will, might, in imitation of such bodies among modern associations, attempt for the sake of having uniformity, by its dicta authorize the work to be written, but under no other circumstances could or would such a thing be attempted; and even in that case there would be a general uprising of the craft to prevent such a violation of obligation. Uniformity in all things is not absolutely necessary, nor was it ever so considered. It cannot be expected that different persons will communicate the same ideas in precisely the same language; besides language changes in its import and ideas change with the progress of science and advance of philosophy. It was well enough for the ancients to advance that the sun rises in the East, that this earth is stationary as a tree or a house is stationary, and that the sun moves around this little globe of ours; but the day of these ideas is past. Now, by a change of verbiage, the ideas are expressed consistent with sound philosophical principles, as the sun in the east opens and adorns the day, etc., and thus it must necessarily be in relation to Masonic language and Masonic ideas. The language used to express an idea several thousand years ago, or even a few hundred years ago, would be unintelligible, and not understood. To expect uniformity of language for all time, is a vain expectation, and can never be attained.–Key Stone. 1

VAULT.–Vaults are found in every country of the world as well as in Judea, and were used for secret purposes. Thus Stephens, speaking of some ruins in Yucatan, says: “The only way of descending was to tie a rope around the body, and be lowered by the Indians. In this way I was let down, and almost before my head had passed through the hole, my feet touched the top of a heap of rubbish, high directly under the hole, and falling off at the sides. Clambering down it, I found myself in a round chamber, so filled with rubbish that I could not stand upright. With a candle in my hand, I crawled all round on my hands and knees. The chamber was in the shape of a dome, and had been coated with plaster, most of which had fallen, and now encumbered the ground. The depth could not be ascertained without clearing out the interior.”

WAGES.–The tradition respecting the payment of the work-men’s wages at the building of Solomon’s Temple, may or may not he accurate, as I am ignorant of the authority on which the calculations are founded. Indeed the probability is, that the tradition has been fabricated in a subsequent age, without the existence of any documents to attest its authenticity.



270:1 This is not taken from Dr. Oliver’s Dictionary, but is quoted from a popular Masonic journal, and embodies the sentiments of a great majority of the fraternity.

Original text scanned at sacred-texts . com, January, 2005. Proofed by John Bruno Hare. This text is in the public domain.

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