Monday, August 10, 2009

How it was done in ‘Antient’ times

Peninsula Lodge, No. 99 in Bayonne, New Jersey will exemplify an Entered Apprentice Degree in Antients ritual c. 1760 next month.

At its Regular Communication of September 24, Peninsula Lodge, No. 99 – the Magpie Mason’s mother lodge – will host a special event that mixes Masonic education with a great meal, plenty of toasts, and perhaps even more mirth than the lodge usually enjoys... and that’s saying something!

On that evening, W. Bro. Ben Hoff, Master of New Jersey Lodge of Masonic Research and Education, No. 1786 in Trenton, will visit the lodge to quarterback Peninsula’s officers through an exemplification of a ritual that otherwise exists only in rarely seen texts.

This very singular occurrence is an EA° compiled from primary 18th century sources, namely the ritual exposures known as Three Distinct Knocks, and Jachin and Boaz, as well as other texts. This is the ritual of the Antients, the branch of Freemasonry that solidified following the public debut of the Premier Grand Lodge of England in 1717. The Antients began as Irish Masons in London whose lodges welcomed working class men, soldiers, and merchants, in contrast to the nobility, middle and upper class, and academic elites found in the Grand Lodge’s lodges. (Freemasonry in the United States descends almost entirely from the Antients, who formed their own grand lodge in 1751 called Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of England, according to the Old Constitutions. In 1813, the two grand lodges merged, forming the United Grand Lodge of England.)

Anyway, about this ritual.

“Eighteenth century degrees took place in taverns or hotel function rooms rather than in the formally arranged and decorated lodge rooms we use today,” Ben explains. “All lodge arrangements were temporary and symbolic. Officers stood in their places, and decorations were either small and portable, or were temporary. While the ‘Moderns’ represented the lodge with floor cloths or elaborate floor drawings, the representations in ‘Antients’ lodges were almost entirely symbolic.”

“This symbolic lodge should be at least six feet tall and four feet wide to allow for the placement of the candidate and three tall candlesticks within the diagram, while officers stand around the outside,” Ben added. “Ideally, it should be positioned within the open area of the U-shape table typically used at table lodges. Notice the X-shape cross should be extended below the rectangle proper to create the three ‘steps.’ Leave enough room around the outside of the diagram for the officers to stand while still allowing the candidate and his conductor to move around the outside of the diagram for the circumambulation.

“The VSL should be on a small table or pedestal (a chair will do) in front the WM’s station, the square and compasses arranged as EA. Place three candles in tall holders in the East, West and South of the diagram. The East candle should be slightly to the north to allow the candidate to approach the pedestal/chair for the OB.

“The officers for this degree are the Master, Wardens, Deacons, Secretary (Treasurer is optional) and an Immediate Past Master, who would take the place of a Chaplain or Marshal. The officers should stand in their accustomed places OUTSIDE the diagram, except for the Secretary and Treasurer, who stand together in the North. The Wardens should carry their columns held vertical in their right hands. The Deacons would have their long rods, grounded unless otherwise in use.”

And the rest? You’ll just have to see it yourself. There is food and drink, call and response – a true multi-sensory experience worthy of the Middle Chamber Lecture’s instruction! – and even singing. (Or, more accurately, there is Bro. Matthew Birkhead’s Enter’d ’prentices Song. It remains to be seen if the brethren can sing.)

The Magpie Mason had the good fortune to witness this exemplification at Ben’s mother lodge – Highland Park, No. 240 – several years ago, and it was one of the greatest evenings I’ve enjoyed in 12 years in Masonry. At the end of the night, everyone present was glowing, and not only from the wine. Even if they didn’t intend it, they learned something very important about the history and culture of Freemasonry – the primary goal, of course, of this blog.

Brethren, seating will be at a premium that night. I expect a huge turn-out from the lodge and the surrounding district, so if you would like to attend, let me know by e-mailing me at ____ as soon as possible.

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