Symbolical Masonry, by H.L. Haywood, , at sacred-texts.com
The candidate is now a member of an Entered Apprentice Lodge; accordingly he is given the words, grips and tokens whereby he may prove himself to his fellows, whether in the day or in the night. "These signs and tokens are of no small value," wrote Brother Benjamin Franklin: "they speak a universal language and act as a passport to the attention and support of the initiated in all parts of the world. They cannot be lost so long as memory retains its power. Let the possessor of them be expatriated, shipwrecked, or imprisoned; let him be stripped of everything he has in the world; still these credentials remain and are available for use as circumstances require.
"The great effects which they have produced are established by the most incontestable facts of history. They have stayed the uplifted hands of the destroyer; they have softened the asperities of the tyrant; they have mitigated the horrors of captivity; they have subdued the rancour of malevolence; and broken down the barriers of political animosity and sectarian alienation.
"On the field of battle, in the solitude of the uncultivated forests, or in the busy haunts of the crowded city, they have made men of the most hostile feeling, and most distant religions, and the most diversified conditions, rush to the aid of each other, and feel a social joy and satisfaction that they have been able to afford relief to a Brother Mason!"
Some historians believe this sign language to have existed before oral speech; its use is so ancient that we find men thus communicating when they first appear in history. The laconic Spartans preferred a gesture to a word; there is no doubt that the initiates of the Mysteries possessed a system of passwords and grips; indeed, the custom is referred to in the Bible, as in the instance where Ben-Hadad saved his life by making a sign. The Pythagoreans recognised each other by signs and tokens and so did the Essenes. In Rome the art of gesturing was once so cultivated that groups of players, the Pantomimus, were able to arouse any and every emotion without recourse to speech. In Mediæval monasteries, the monks were taught a sign language, "like the alphabet." Even among the American Indians, it has been shown (see Wright's "Indian Masonry") "the sign language is so well understood that tribes who have no common verbal medium of communication invariably and effectively use it." In the Orient, at this day, the language of the sign remains in use, and the Chinese employ a written language almost wholly composed of pictures or signs.
Of many other secret societies not mentioned above the same may be said, albeit there is little evidence to show that the Steinmetzen made much use of signs and words, though they were probably in possession of a grip. Brother Gould, in his essay on "The Voice of the Sign," writes that "signs and passwords, I think we may confidently assume, were common features [italics mine] of all or nearly all secret societies from the earliest times down to our own." The same authority further states, "That 'signs and tokens' were used by the Mediæval builders, nay, I think, be reasonably deduced as the result of legitimate inference or conjecture."
Brother Gould is careful to make it plain that his conclusion is a matter of inference because, strangely enough, our actual historical evidence of the Operative Mason's use of signs goes no further back than the seventeenth century. Randle Holme, in 1665, wrote of "several words and signs of a Freemason." Dr. Robert Plot, in his "Natural History of Staffordshire," published in 1686, describes the manner of admission into the "Masonic Society," "which chiefly consists in the communication of certain secret signs, whereby they are known to one another all over the Nation, by which means they have maintenance whither ever they travel; for if any man appear though altogether unknown that can show any of these signs to a Fellow of the Society, whom they otherwise call an accepted Mason, he is obliged presently to come to him, from what company or place soever he be in, nay, though from the top of a steeple (what hazard or inconvenience soever he run) to know his pleasure and assist him," etc. (Spelling modernised.) John Aubrey, in certain rough memoranda made in 1691 also says of the Masons that "they are known to one another by certain signs and watch words." Robert Kirk, in 1691, speaks of a grip and a word as being in use in Scotland, and Sir Richard Steele, writing in the Tatler, mentions "signs and tokens like Freemason's." If signs were thus in general use by Freemasons in the seventeenth century it is a fair inference that the practice was in vogue much earlier; just how early, or from what source derived, is still a mystery, though it may be mentioned that so high an authority as Dr. Krause traced the use of signs back to the Mediæval monasteries, in co-operation with which the early Builders so often worked.
Being members of a secret society, and often obliged to travel in strange places, it would seem that the Operative Masons were obliged to invent some form of recognition known to all their fellows. This conjecture is supported by Mr. Fergusson, "an architectural historian of the first rank"; for we find in his "History of Architecture," the following significant paragraph:
"At a time when writing was unknown among the laity, and not one Mason in a thousand could either read or write, it was evidently essential that some expedient should be hit upon, by which a Mason travelling to his work might claim the assistance and hospitality of his brother Masons on the road, and by means of which he might take his rank at once, on reaching the lodge, without going through tedious examinations or giving practical proof of his skill. For this purpose a set of secret signs was invented, which enabled all Masons to recognise one another as such, and by which also each man could make known his grade to those of similar rank, without further trouble than a manual sign, or the utterance of some recognised password. Other trades had something of the same sort."
As Operative passed into Speculative Masonry many of the old usages became lost, but secret modes of recognition were retained, and that because Speculative Masonry is always a secret society. Being modes of secret recognition it is manifestly impossible to discuss them in print, but a few hints, easily interpreted by the initiated, may safely be given.
"Due Guard." This, it is probable, was not used in early English Masonry, but came into practice in this country. Mackey calls it "an Americanism." It is a perpetual
reminder to the member of his OB., and it is always given in entering or retiring from the lodge.
"Words." In eighteenth century Scotland "the only degree known . . . was that in which the Legend of the Craft was read, and the benefit of the Mason Word conferred." This seems to indicate that the Word meant more than a "pass," but it is in this latter sense that it seems to have been used by Operative Lodges, and other secret societies, generally. With us, however, it has become a symbol, and that of a high character, as will be learned in the study of the Third Degree, but at the same time it retains, it may be added, something of its original usage as a password.
"Grips." It is probable that the earliest form of a secret mode of recognition among Operative Masons was the grip, but what it was we may not know, the nature of the secret having made written descriptions impossible. Robert Kirk, a Scotch minister, who published a book called "Secret Commonwealth" in 1691, wrote that the Masons of his day "had some signe delyvered from Hand to Hand"; an entry in the minutes of the Haughfoot Lodge for 1702 gives a brief description of an initiation, in which it is noted that "they then whisper the word as before, and the Master grips his (the candidate's) hand in the ordinary way"; but in neither case are we told what the grip was.
"Tokens." This word, long in vogue among English and American Lodges, is used to describe a sign or grip when given as a brotherly recognition. It signifies an outward act as evidencing an inward pledge. When one Mason grips another by the hand it is as if he said, "This physical act is the outward sign, or token, of the union of our minds and hearts." In popular use it has the same meaning, as when we speak of a little gift as "a token of our regard."
This custom of having a secret mode of recognition among Masons has often been misunderstood, and sometimes derided, as when a friend remarked to me that "Masons act like children, with their signs and grips, and such nonsense." Had my friend known something of the Fraternity he would have spoken differently, for signs and grips are as necessary as secrecy, and for the same reasons. Masonry is a world within itself; Masons are as a hidden race among men; and there is nothing more natural than that they should have a language of their own. Besides, secret recognitions are on the side of gentle charity, for they often enable one brother to help another without undue injury to self-respect.