Symbolical Masonry, by H.L. Haywood, , at sacred-texts.com
In Operative days the Apprentice was compelled to spend a series of years, sometimes five, usually seven, in mastering his trade. During this period he remained indentured, or bound, to some Master Mason; at its termination he was examined in an assembly of the lodge, usually on St. John's Day, and if found proficient was passed to the grade of Fellow Craft. In our Speculative system there is no necessity that so much time be spent between the two degrees, but many of our best experienced men believe we have gone to the opposite extreme. In at least three jurisdictions in the United States the candidate may be passed from the First to the Second in two weeks; in nine jurisdictions he may pass as soon as proficient; in a majority one month must intervene. Of course, the candidate may take longer than necessary in every case, but the point is that he is almost never required to spend more than one month in preparation for passing! Surely, no man can become fully prepared for advancement, which means that he has mastered the teachings of the preceding degree and is made ready for the next, in so brief an interval, especially if he be engaged in daily work! Surely one thing to explain the indifference of many members to the order is just this habit of hurrying through the degrees!
When the Apprentice passed to the Fellow Craft grade in Operative Masonry he was given a distinguishing
mark, which was usually a crude figure having something of the appearance of a letter of the alphabet, though some of these marks were pictures, and others were symbols or emblems. "It is very remarkable," writes Gould, in his "Concise History," (p. 239) "that these marks are to be found in all countries—in the chambers of the Great Pyramid at Gizeh, on the underground walls of Jerusalem, in Herculaneum and Pompeii, on Roman walls and Grecian temples, in Hindustan, Mexico, Peru, Asia Minor—as well as on the great ruins of England, France, Germany, Scotland, Italy, Portugal and Spain. Some of the foundation stones of the Haram Wall of Jerusalem are cut in the surface to a depth of three-quarters of an inch, but most of the characters are painted with a red colour like vermillion. . . . To use the words of the late Professor Hayter Lewis, they seem to give at least strong presumptive ground for the belief that in these splendid foundation stones we may see the actual work of the Phœnician Hiram for his great Master, Solomon." (Italics mine.) Similar marks were used by Mediæval guilds, among them the Masons. By the latter they were employed to identify each man with his own work in order that responsibility for ill-done tasks might be easily traced. In early days these marks were chiselled or painted in plain view and often, evidently, carried a symbolic significance; in later days they were placed on a side of the stone that was hidden from sight. Each mark was a worker's own private possession which another could copy only at his peril; consequently the receiving of an authorised mark by an Apprentice when passing to be a Fellow Craft was a token of his assumption of full responsibility for his work and must have been to him an occasion of pride and rejoicing. It would be easy to comment on this from our Speculative point of view, did space permit, for every Mason, even
to-day, is leaving his own mark on his work, whether it be a visible mark or not, and the All-Seeing Eye beholds it when men cannot.
In order to be passed the Operative Apprentice had also to produce an essay, or masterpiece, the latter word literally meaning, Master's piece. It was a proof of his ability to handle his tools and to understand his materials, and it was a token to the Craft of his mastery of its trade secrets. We have a parallel to this in the present custom of colleges in demanding of a student some treatise or book to prove his worthiness for a degree. A lodge of Masons might also take up a similar rule again; if a candidate were compelled to study the Craft and its history enough to enable him to write a paper about it, or if he were required to give some signal of genuine service in its behalf, his earnestness therein would enable him to get more out of Masonry, and Masonry to get more out of him.
One test we still employ in advancement that was used by Operatives of old—the memory test, a thing I am very sure you will remember as vividly as I do myself! Some radical critics are advocating that the letter-perfect learning of the lecture be abandoned, but this, I believe, would be a catastrophe, for this work is the only form of Masonic study demanded by the lodge, and that, surely, when we remember all that Masonry has to offer its votaries, is little enough.
It may be noted, in conclusion, that it was often the custom in old lodges to appoint an Intender, or instructor to have responsibility for teaching the candidate. Our present system of Custodians of the Work, or other similar standing committees, to instruct District Lecturers
and Masters in the proper methods of ritualism, is roughly analogous to the ancient custom, but it has only a remote influence on the candidate. It would be a wise thing as I have already more than once suggested, if every lodge maintained a permanent school in which to expound to the initiates the Mysteries of our Craft. The Masonic Study Club is a step in the right direction; may they multiply in number, and increase in power!
Up to this point I have been interpreting the passing in the light of Operative customs and you may be wishing to remind me that in our present Speculative system we have added a Third Degree, and that to-day the Fellow Craft is no longer a master of the trade. All this I admit, but is not this true, that if so much preparation was once required for passing to one higher degree, that we should require all the more preparation for advancing to two higher degrees? If our candidates are caused more thoroughly to master the Fellow Craft teaching all the more will they be ready for the sublime degree; besides, the Second Degree is so rich in material that it is many times worth a candidate's labour to make it his own; and furthermore, the better a man has prepared for the Fellow Craft work, the more completely will he have digested the teachings of the Apprentice Degree, and that is always a consummation devoutly to be wished!