Part of the Arms of The Worshipful Society of Free Masons.

The Operatives

Keith Jackson describes the Worshipful Society of Free Masons, Rough Masons, Wallers, Slaters, Pavoirs, Plaisterers and Bricklayers

It is not generally appreciated, that prior to the formation of the Grand Lodge of England in 1717, there were operative lodges which had been functioning well before that date, and were subsequently warranted by the new grand body.
    In 1912 the Transactions of the Leicester Lodge of Research No.2429 featured a paper by Dr. Thomas Carr explaining that a legitimate Guild of Operative Masons still existed, which also had members who were speculative masons. A short time after in May 1913 at Bedford House (just off the Strand), Dr. Carr who held the office - equivalent to a Grand Warden in Craft Freemasonry - of the Third Master Mason of Leicester Operative Lodge No.91, being empowered by special letter of authority, officiated as Enthroning Master and reconstituted the Channel Row Assemblage of the Society, initially, the ruling body of the Society.
    From these modest beginnings, the Worshipful Society with its unusual observances and customs, ruled by the Three Grand Master-Masons, has gradually extended its influence across the realms of international Freemasonry, and today administers over sixty Assemblages in eight different countries (including France, Spain, Belgium, Australia, New Zealand and Canada), and such is its nature, there is little doubt that it will continue to appeal to a growing number of Freemasons who possess a genuine interest in the operative practices of their ancient Brethren. The qualification for membership of the Society is that of being a Master Mason, a Mark Master Mason and a Royal Arch Mason in good standing.

The Structure of the Society

The Three Grand Master Masons jointly possess the supreme superintending and constituting authority over the Society and its seven constituent Degrees. An Assemblage of Lodges consists of one Lodge each from the Fourth to the First Degree (IVº - Iº), and theoretically each lodge is a separate entity working under a qualified Deputy Master of VIº, deputed by the Grand Master Masons, who is assisted by a Deputy Jachin (Chaplain) and a Deputy Boaz (Doctor), together with a full complement of officers who are appointed annually. A Vº Lodge of Menatzchim is ruled by a Deputy Master Mason Vº appointed by the Grand Master Masons who is also assisted by several officers, while a VIº Lodge of Harodim is administered by a Senior Passed Master who has similar assistants, and is designated a Deputy Grand Master Mason, being responsible for the Assemblages in his Region. The VIIº Lodge is composed of the three Grand Master Masons who are the only members of the Lodge, although other officials of the Society supplement their number, designated VIIº Honoris Causa.

Iº Indentured Apprentice

The candidate is led into the Lodge by the Deacons, and after prayer, is investigated prior to taking the initiatory oath called the ‘Oath of Nimrod’. Nimrod, of course, the grandson of Noah, is mentioned in the ‘Old Charges’ as a teacher of the masonic craft and the architect of many great cities in Mesopotamia. The working tools are explained, the Ancient Charges (c.1663) and modes of recognition are communicated, and a pale blue cord is placed around his neck. The ceremony of closing the Assemblage is completed with prayer and a ‘seven-fold salute’ to The Most High.

IIº Fellow of the Craft

The aspirant, wearing the apron of an apprentice, is admitted and ceremonially made ‘Free of his Bonds’ and his indentures are cancelled. The passing grip and word are communicated, and after perambulation, he is duly obligated; the Traditional History, the ‘Charge of Nimrod’ and the Ancient Charges are then read, these being the Foundation Stone of the Worshipful Society in all parts of the world. Having passed the test of the Ashlar square as a ‘living stone’ he is invested with the full length apron bearing the painted symbols of a squareman and invested with the jewel comprising a “square gauge” in bronze, which is affixed to the cord.

IIIº Fitter & Marker

The Fellow, received bearing a perfect ashlar, is admitted ‘on the chisel’ to undergo the requisite journey, and after prayer, is obligated. He is invested with an apron bearing symbols of the Degree, while a ‘running stone gauge’ in bronze replaces that already affixed to the cord. A detailed lecture explaining methods of construction, fitting and marking of stones is then delivered. IVº Setter Erector
    Having served his time as a Fitter & Marker, and passed the ‘running stone gauge’, the brother presents himself to be obligated, after which he is ritually ‘erected’. Prayers are invoked and he is invested with the apron and bronze jewel depicting the ‘footing corner stone gauge’. The relevant secrets are communicated and a further lecture on building techniques is delivered.

Vº Intendent, Overseer, Super Intendent and Warden

The Setter Erector is admitted into the Lodge of Menatzchim and after giving proof of his proficiency he is obligated in the centre and is pledged to oversee members of the Fellowship with justice and moderation, and mark with great care all work submitted for approval. Following a detailed Charge, the new Super Intendent is invested with a pale blue collarette bearing an ‘Elbow Square Gauge’ in silver. Advancement to this Degree is a prerequisite qualification for the office of Superintendent of Work - the equivalent of a Director of Ceremonies - Senior, or Junior Warden of an Assemblage.

VIº Passed Master

Admission to a Lodge of Harodim VIº is the sole method by which a member can qualify to receive a Patent as Deputy Boaz, Deputy Jachin, or Deputy Master Mason of an Assemblage, and is only granted to those who are Installed Masters of the Craft and Mark Degree. A Senior Passed Master - usually the Deputy Grand Master Mason VIIº - with two assisting officers who form a triad and convene a Lodge, the Super Intendent, having proved his competence in all the degrees, is then obligated within the square. The signs and secrets are communicated, and in dramatic manner he is symbolically ‘raised’ to the Degree of a Passed Master, being duly marked as such. A dissertation on the intricate aspects of Temple Building is then delivered and he is invested with a pale blue collarette from which is suspended a Silver Square.

VIIº Master Mason

The essence of this degree is graphically portrayed in the Geodetic Lecture within which lies the Great Secret of the Grand Master Mason’s square: the knowledge of how to use it. As the pinnacle of the Society, this Degree is sparingly conferred, and only upon those who have rendered outstanding service.
    Understandably, the ceremonies of the Society are very practical, with the religious aspect firmly based upon Old Testament traditions. The square, being one of the prime symbols of Masonry, is extensively featured throughout. Arranged together, the squares form a gammadion, a symbol interpreted by medieval operatives to represent the pole whose zenith coincided with the mystic centre, and in the ancient initiatory Rites was regarded as an object of great veneration; this was affirmed in the eternal belief that ‘God is our Guide’.

  Issue 36, Spring 2006
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