The Ancient Charges
This paper has been created by consolidating presentations made in 2005 Editions of “The Educator” when shared in email form. Now that sharing is possible by way of the Internet, larger presentations are now possible & need not be broken down into bits and pieces. Sharing in this format should make reading and holding a chain of though much easier to maintain. Hopefully you will ENJOY Norm
THE ANCIENT CHARGES
The Charges of a Freemason from The Ancient Records of Lodges beyond the sea, and those in England, Scotland and Ireland, for the use of Lodges in London:
To be read at the Making of New Brethren, of when the Worshipful Master shall order it:
Comment I am in possession of 1722 & 1751 Versions of these charges, however, for the purpose of this paper, I have chosen to utilize the most recent version available to me. Thus, for the purpose of this paper I am utilizing those included in the Constitution and Regulations of the Grand Lodge of British Columbia & Yukon of which I am a member:
The Charges referred to are presented in a structured form with the following headings:
1. Of God and Religion
2. Of the Civil Magistrate, supreme and Subordinate
3. Of Lodges
4. Of Worshipful Masters, Warden, Fellows and Apprentices
5. Of the management of the Craft in working
6. Of Behaviour viz.
a. In the Lodge while constituted
b. After the Lodge is over and t he Brethren NOT gone.
c. When the Brethren meet without strangers, but not in a Lodge.
d. In the presence of strangers NOT Freemasons
e. At home and in the neighbourhood
f. Toward a strange Brother
Comment (written in 2005)
During my years as a Mason I do recall, on many occasions, (installations etc.) reference being made to the “Antient Charges” and the obligation being taken to abide by them, however, it has not been until lately that I actually knew what they were and where to find them.
Of God & Religion (BC&Yukon 1964)
“A Freemason is obligated, by his tenure, to obey the moral law; and if he rightly understands the Art, he will never be an Atheist nor an irreligious libertine. He, of all men, should best understand that God seeth not as man seeth; for all man looketh at the outward appearance and not at the heart. A Freemason is, therefore particularly bound never to act against the dictates of his conscience. Let a man’s religion or mode of worship be what it may, he is not excluded from the Order, provided he believe in the Glorious Architect of heaven and earth, and practice the sacred duties of morality.
Freemasons unites with the virtuous of every persuasion in the firm and pleasing bond of fraternal love; they are taught to view the errors of mankind with compassion and to strive, by the purity of their own conduct, to demonstrate the superior excellence of the faith they may profess”
As can be clearly seen from the position stated above the matter of a Brother’s religion is personal unto himself and is beyond debate within the Fraternity.
With all the conflict the World has seen in the name of Religion, surely the position adopted by Freemasonry has the attributes to allow men to come together in the spirit of “Brotherly Love”
Of the Civil Magistrate, supreme and subordinate. And reads as follows:-
“A Freemason is a peaceful subject of the Civil Powers, wherever he resides or works, and is never concerned in plots or conspiracies against the peace and welfare of the nation, nor to behave himself undutifully to inferior Magistrates; for as Freemasonry has always been injured by war, bloodshed and confusion, so Ancient Kings and princes have been men disposed to encourage the Craftsmen, because of their peaceableness and loyalty, whereby they practically answered the cavils of their adversaries and promoted the honour of the Fraternity, who ever flourished in times of peace.
So that if a Brother should be a rebel against the State, he is not to be countenanced in his rebellion, however, he may be pitied as an unhappy man; and, if convicted of no other crime, though the loyal Brotherhood must and ought to disown his rebellion and give no umbrage or ground of political jealousy to the Government for the time being; they cannot expel him from the Lodge, and his relation to it remains indefeasible.”
You will note that I have highlighted TWO words in the above quotation as I do believe that their true meaning must be understood in order to appreciate the total statement.
I have used Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary as my reference
Cavil to raise trivial and frivolous objection OR to jest.
Umbrage a feeling of resentment at some fancied slight or insult.
With these words clarified, it would appear that the Freemason is admonished to be a peaceful citizen and, as our ceremonies tell us,
“ As a citizen of the World, to discharge our civil duties and pay due obedience to the Laws of the State in which we reside” (Partial quote only).
While recognizing that Politics may not, under any circumstances, be discussed in the General Business of the Lodge, this does not preclude the individual Freemason from having and sharing his own personal political views and opinions. What Freemasonry does expect is that he, with no exceptions, will NOT express those views and opinions under the banner of Freemasonry. Having made the ground rules clear, Freemasonry now declares that, should he find himself with CIVIL problems arising from the expression of his views and opinions, that circumstance would be of a personal nature and not directly affect his membership.
In looking at this ANCIENT CHARGE in this manner I believe I can now see how numerous of our Brethren have found themselves involved in social unrest all over the globe, without it affecting Freemasonry or their membership in same.
Of Lodges. reads as follows;
“A Lodge is a place where Freemasons assemble and work; hence that assembly or duly organized Society of Freemasons is called a Lodge, and every Brother ought to belong to one, and to be subject to its By-Laws and the General Regulations. It is either particular or general, as will best be understood by attending it, and by Regulations of the General or Grand Lodge hereunto annexed.
In ancient times no Master or Fellow could be absent from it, especially when warned to appear at it, without incurring a severe censure, until it appeared to the Worshipful Master and Wardens that pure necessity hindered him. The persons admitted members of a Lodge must be good and true men, free-born, and of mature and discrete age, no bondsmen, no women, no immoral or scandalous men, but of good report.”
You will note that I have highlighted three words in the above quotation as I do believe that their true meaning, in this context, must be understood in order to appreciate the total statement.
Recorded history informs us that early Lodges forwarded a “Summons” to all its Members and failure to meet that summons, without an excellent reason was seriously frowned on.
In modern times Lodges forward a “Notice of Meeting” due to the fact that, due to our highly mobile society, a high percentage of their Members no longer live in their general area.
Much has been written and said about what our forefathers meant by this wording, however I believe it directly relates to the issue of a person being able to serve only one Master, and, if you were to be subject to the dictates of another, you would be unable to meet and express yourself free of your obligation to that other party.
In B.C.& Yukon, we consider this to be the age of 21, however in other Jurisdictions this can be as low as 18.
My only comment here is to note the admonition that each Freemason should attach himself to a Lodge and thereby not only support that Lodge but enjoy the benefit of Fellowship that can only be obtained by attendance.
It also reminds Freemasons, in a subtle manner, that they are bound by the By-Laws of that Lodge, and the Constitutions & Regulations of their Grand Lodge.
Of Worshipful Masters, Wardens, Fellows and Apprentices Lodges. reads s follows;
“All preferment among Freemasons is grounded upon real worth and personal merit only; that so the Lords may be well served, The Brethren not put to shame, nor the Craft despised. Therefore no Worshipful Master or Warden is chosen by seniority, but for his merit. It is impossible to describe these things in writing and every brother must attend in his place and learn them in a way peculiar to this Fraternity.
Only candidates may know that no Worshipful Master shall take an apprentice, unless he has sufficient employment for him, and unless he is a perfect youth, having no maim or defect in his body that may render him incapable of learning the Art, or serving the Master’s Lord, and of being made a Brother, and then a Fellow Craft in due time, even after he has served such a term of years as the custom of the country directs; and that he should be descended of honest parents; that so, when otherwise qualified, he may arrive at the honour of being the Warden, and then the Worshipful Master of the Lodge, The Grand Warden, and at length the Grand Master of all the Lodges, according to his merit.”
It is very obvious that this Charge refers to a time when Apprentices were “Indentured”
and often moved into the home of the Journeyman (Master) who agreed to teach him the “Tools of the Trade” seldom were they paid any hard currency, however, they were provided with food, clothing and shelter.
The apprentice had no rights, (as we know them), and was attached to that Journeyman (Master) until fully skilled, generally 7 years. It is also clear that this Charge refers to a time when Tradesmen , who lived on the lands of a Lord, owed allegiance to that Lord for the privilege of living on those lands.
The only connection to this thinking that I is can think of in our Rituals is in the Charge given by the Senior Warden in the Fellow Craft Degree and reads thus:-
“As a craftsman, in our private assemblies you may offer your opinions on such subjects as are introduced in the lecture, under the superintendence of an Experienced Master, who will guard the Landmarks from encroachment”
Of The Management of the Craft in Working reads as follows;
“All Freemasons shall work honestly on working days, that they may live creditably on holy days; and the time appointed by the law of the land, or confirmed by custom, shall be observed.
The most expert of the Fellow Craftsmen shall be chosen or appointed the Worshipful Master, or overseer of the Lord’s Work; who is to be called Worshipful Master by those who work under him.
The Craftsmen are to avoid all ill language, and to call each other by no disobliging name, but Brother or Fellow, and to behave themselves courteously within and without the Lodge.”
This certainly spells out a set of ethics that anyone could be proud of.
“The Worshipful Master, knowing himself to be of cunning skill shall undertake the Lord’s work as reasonably as possible, and truly dispense his goods as if they were his own; nor to give more wages to any Brother or Apprentice than they really may deserve.
Both the Worshipful Master and the Freemason receiving their wages justly; shall be faithful to the Lord, and honestly finish their work, whether task or journey, not put the work to task that hath been accustomed to journey.”
It is important here to read “Employer” for LORD as at the time these charges were written virtually all employers were indeed Lords of the Realm.
The last line is somewhat confusing, however, I read it to mean that if a Craftsman is asked to work away from home he should accept same without question or grievance. Again, I do not see how anyone could be upset with this set of standards.
Of The Management of the Craft in Working reads as follows;
“None shall discover envy at the prosperity of a Brother, or supplant him, or put him out of his work, if he is capable to finish same; for no man can finish another’s work so much to the Lord’s profit, unless he be thoroughly acquainted with the designs of him who began it.
When a Fellow Craftsman is chosen Warden of the Work under the Worshipful Master and Fellows, he shall be true to both Worshipful Master and Fellows ,and shall carefully over-see the work in the Worshipful Master’s absence to the Lord’s profit; and his Brethren shall obey him.
All Freemasons employed shall meekly receive their wages without murmuring or mutiny, and not desert the Worshipful Master till the work is finished.
A younger Brother shall be instructed in working, to prevent spoiling the materials for want of judgment, and for increasing and continuing Brotherly Love. All tools, used in the working, shall be approved by the Grand Lodge.
No labourer shall be employed in the proper work of Freemasonry; nor shall Freemasons work with those that are not free, without any urgent necessity; nor shall they teach labourers and unaccepted Freemasons as they would teach a Brother or Fellow.”
Again it is important here to read “Employer” for LORD as, at the time these charges were written, virtually all employers were indeed Lords of the Realm.
These particular sections deal specifically with how Freemason’s are to work together as a TEAM, respecting each other, accepting authority when well placed, using authorized tools and equipment and remembering to share their knowledge with their juniors.
The last paragraph indicates a degree of standing in being a Freemason, which is not to be shared lightly, except in the case of URGENT NEED. Fine attributes indeed, without which we could have no reason to refer to ourselves as a “FRATERNITY”
OF BEHAVIOUR, VIZ”. This general heading is divided into Six Sub-Headings and I intend to deal with each one separately.
The First sub heading is titled “In the Lodge while constituted” and reads as follows:-
“You are not to hold private committees, or separate conversations, without leave from the Worshipful Master, nor to talk of anything impertinent or unseemly, nor interrupt the Worshipful Master or Wardens, or any Brother speaking to the Worshipful Master. Nor behave yourself ludicrously or jestingly while the Lodge is engaged in what is serious or solemn; nor use any unbecoming language upon any pretext whatever; but to pay due reverence to your Worshipful Master, Wardens and Fellows and put them to worship.
If any complaint be brought, the Brother found guilty shall stand to the award and determination of the Lodge, who are proper and competent judges of all such controversies. (unless you carry it by appeal to the Grand Lodge) and to whom they ought to be referred, unless a Lord’s work would be hindered in the meanwhile, in which case a particular reference may be made; but you must never go to law about what concerneth Freemasonry, without an absolute necessity apparent to the Lodge.”
Here we are talking about “Good Manners and Behaviour” while the Lodge is at labour and immediately brings to mind the sometimes incessant chatting and whispering that is experienced at some Lodge meetings.
I believe this very old charge reminds us that such behaviour is not new, however, it is rude and out of place as much now as it was then. This can be stamped out by example, and it is up to each one of us to set that example.
I have highlighted “and put them to worship” in that I find it quite intriguing.
While I am uncertain as to it’s original context, I cannot help but feel that the admonition here is that if we treat our Senior Officers with the respect that they are entitled to, by rank, then they are bound and obligated to do the same to the Brethren and perform their duties to the very best of their ability.
(The two edged sword). Bluntly, respect earns respect.
The second paragraph deals with Masonic Law, which is generally well in place in all Jurisdictions.
It is also very apparent to me that a clear line is noted between Masonic & Civil Law.
While it is well known that Masonic trials have taken place over the years, it is also very well known that they are anything but a common experience and in my 50 years in Freemasonry I have only witnessed one such situation.
The Second sub heading is titled “Behaviour after the Lodge is over and the Brethren NOT gone” and reads as follows:-
“You may enjoy yourself with innocent mirth, treating one another according to ability, but avoiding all excess or forcing any Brother to eat or drink beyond his inclination, or hindering him from going when his occasions call him, or doing or saying anything offensive, or that may forbid an easy and free conversation; for that would blast our harmony, and defeat our laudable purposes.
Therefore no private piques or quarrels must be brought within the door of the Lodge, far less any quarrels about religion, or nations, or State Policy, we being only, as Freemasons of the Catholic Religion above mentioned; we are also of all nations, tongues, kindreds, and languages, and are resolved against all politics, as what never yet conduced to the welfare of the Lodge nor never will.
This Charge has always been strictly enjoined and observed; but especially ever since the Reformation in Britain, or the Dissent and Secession of these nations from the Communion of Rome.”
From my perspective, this is certainly one of the most important of all the Charges in that it addresses the Masonic position on
EXCESS, HARMONY, TOLERANCE, UNIVERSALITY and THE BROTHERHOOD OF MAN.
And all in only three paragraphs. Personally I believe that if each and everyone of us paid very close attention to this section of the Charge, and lived it to the letter, we would not only be much better persons but the example we would set would be of immense influence not only within the Craft but to those we meet and associate with in our personal lives.
The second paragraph introduces the word “Catholic” which, although commonly associated with the “Roman Catholic Church, is defined in Webster’s Dictionary as simply meaning, general or universal. For those of us who recite the Nicene Creed this should be very evident in that we state allegiance to the “Catholic & Apostolic Church” and not specifically the Church of Rome.
The last paragraph must certainly be a reflection on the times in which this charge was written and the religious upheaval experienced in those times and I would hope has little or no relevance in these times.
The Third sub heading is titled “Behaviour When Brethren Meet Without Strangers, but not in Lodge Formed “ and reads as follows:-
“You are to salute one another in a courteous manner, as you will be instructed, calling each other Brother, freely giving mutual instruction as shall be thought expedient, without being overseen or overheard, and without encroaching upon each other, or derogating from that respect which is due to any Brother, were he not a Freemason.
For although all Freemasons are as Brethren upon the same level, yet Freemasonry takes no honour from a man that he had before; nay, rather it adds to his honour, especially if he had deserved well of the Brotherhood, who must give honour to whom it is due, and avoid ill manners”.
I have read this several times and have come to the conclusion that this section is intended to cover situations where a Brother feels the need to offer advice to a fellow Brother.
One might suggest that it could be positive or negative, however, this section covers both types of situation
As I read it we are being admonished to always meet and greet in a friendly courteous manner, exchange constructive advice in private and above all totally avoid any situation where any Brother could be made to feel a loss of honour & respect and/or injury to his dignity.
On the contrary we are being informed that, rather than look for the negative, we are to give honour as and when due.
This reminds of the Commandment “Do unto others as you would, they should, do unto you” and is most certainly something that we MUST always remember in our dealings with others.
The Fourth sub heading is titled “Behaviour in Presence of Strangers not Freemasons” and reads as follows;
“You will be cautious in your words and carriage, that the most penetrating stranger shall not be able to discover or find out what is not proper to be intimated; and sometimes you shall divert a discourse and manage it prudently for the honour of the Worshipful Fraternity”
Again, I believe it is extremely important to remember that this charge was written at a time when literacy was for the privileged and the large majority of all communication was oral. For instance we do know that Ritual Books, as we know them now, were unheard of till the middle of the 19th Century with the earliest noted in Bernard Jones’s Freemasons Guide and Compendium to be in and around 1826.
With that thought in mind, it seems obvious to me that there would be a high degree of mystery in and about Freemasonry and therefore it was very necessary to admonish the Brethren to be very careful to whom they spoke and “should the subject come up” divert those conversations as delicately as possible.
What a difference from then to today when, if someone happens to be interested in Freemasonry all they need do is surf the Web or visit a Library, conduct their own research and form their own opinion.
Personally, over the past few years, I have experienced an up-swing in “Petitions for Initiation” from men who have done extensive reading and investigation prior to their request for membership. This to me is a good thing, in that their decision is most probably “Of their own Free Will and Accord”
This brings me to my last point, which is simply this. In my humble opinion “the secrets of Freemasonry are those Signs, Tokens & Words by which we can identify each other by day or by night.”
This does not infer that we are to go about willy nilly expounding on what we do in our Lodges, however, I believe we can, with pride and caution discuss who and what we are to the inquiring uninitiated in such venues as “Open Houses”,” Buddy Nights” etc.
The Fifth Sub Heading is titled “Behaviour at Home and in your Neighbourhood” and reads as follows;
“You are to act as becomes a moral and wise man, particularly not to let your family, friends, and neighbours know the concerns of the Lodge, etc., but wisely to consult your own honour and that of the Ancient Brotherhood, for reasons not to be mentioned here.
You must also consult your health, by not continuing together too late, or too long from home after Lodge hours are past; and by avoiding of gluttony or drunkenness, that your families be not neglected or injured, nor you be disabled from working”
As I read the first part of this section I think of the two primary parts of our Lodge structure, the one being Ritual and the other being Administration, and zero in on the word CONCERNS.
As to Ritual, I do believe we have already covered what may or may not be discussed outside of the Fraternity, so I will not attempt to deal with that any further.
As to the Administration of our Lodges, at all levels, I do believe that this Section is admonishing us to keep our concerns within the Fraternity, and find our resolutions within that framework. To do otherwise could indicate a lack of Harmony within our Lodges, which we are all obligated NOT to allow to happen.
The second part of this charge is, again in my opinion, while simply common sense, does need to be stated. I can comment however that through my over 50 years in the Fraternity I have seldom, if ever, seen examples of gluttony or drunkenness and can only hope any pray that families are never neglected or injured.
The Sixth and Last Sub- Heading is titled “Behaviour Towards a Strange Brother” and reads as follows:
“ You are cautiously to examine him, in such a method as prudence shall direct you, that you may not be imposed upon by an ignorant false pretender, whom you are to reject with contempt and derision, and beware of giving him any hints of knowledge.
But if you discover him to be a true and genuine Brother, you are to respect him accordingly; and if he is in want you must relieve him if you can, or else direct him how he may be relieved. You must employ him some days, or else recommend him to be employed. But you are not charged to do beyond your ability, only to prefer a poor Brother, that is a good man and true, before any other poor people in the same circumstances.
Finally, all the Charges you are to observe, and also those that shall be communicated to you in another way; cultivating Brotherly Love, the Foundation and Cope Stone, the Cement and the Glory of this Antient Fraternity, avoiding all wrangling and quarrelling, all slander and backbiting, nor permitting others to slander any honest Brother, but defending his character, and doing him all good offices, so far as is consistent with your honour and safety, and no further.
And if any of them do you injury, you must apply to your own or his Lodge; and from thence you may appeal to the Grand Lodge at it’s Quarterly Communication, and from thence to the Annual Grand Lodge, as has been the Ancient and laudable conduct of our forefathers in every nation; never taking the legal course, but when the case cannot be otherwise decided, and patiently listening to the friendly advice of the Worshipful Master and Fellows, when they would prevent you going to law with strangers or would excite you to put a speedy period to all lawsuits that so you may mind the affair of Freemasonry with the more alacrity and success; but with respect to Brothers of Fellow at Law, the Worshipful Master and Brethren should kindly offer their mediation, which ought to be thankfully submitted to by the contending Brethren; and if that submission is impracticable, they must however carry on their process, or lawsuit, without wrath or rancour (not in the common way) saying or doing nothing which may hinder Brotherly Love, and good offices to be renewed and continued; that all may see the benign influence of Freemasonry, as all true Freemasons have done from the beginning of the World, and will do to the end of time.”
Amen, so mote it be.”
This section starts off to make us aware, and be on our guard, for those who may misrepresent themselves as “Freemasons” with the intention of possibly doing harm to us &/or the Fraternity, and essentially, how to deal with them
It then moves to our relationship with a fellow Brother, in his time of need.
Interestingly enough, while it alludes to monetary assistance, it leaves the door widen open to all those other types of personal and social needs that so many of us experience from time to time, and the need for all Freemasons to be ready, willing and privileged to be of some assistance in all cases of need. This particular aspect of our Fraternity should always be front and foremost in our thoughts and minds as each one of us knows not when we may need a cheerful smile, comforting voice or simply a listening ear and experience that wonderful and beautiful “Thank you my Brother”
Lastly, and at great length, we are admonished to settle our personal, financial, business etc. differences WITHIN the fraternity itself and to explore all available mediation avenues prior to going to a Civil Court of Law. This seems to be a very smart thing to do, as so often we have seen Brethren involved in animosities and legal proceedings against one another, are frequently unable to forgive and forget, and thus cost them their ability to sit again as Brothers.
In summation, and putting all Protocol aside, we as Universal Brothers must constantly remind ourselves that we are obligated to treat all people, especially our Brothers in Freemasonry, with all the respect and caring that we ourselves would expect from them.
The implementation of that Obligation is for each of us to Live With
So mote it be.
Have a wonderful day & God Bless Norm