We are told, in the ceremony of investiture in the first degree, that our order is “more ancient than the G-F- or R-E-“. In actual fact, Freemasonry dates back to time immemorial, and still draws men to it by its fundamental truths.
But when we call ourselves “Ancient, Free and Accepted”, we do not necessarily mean that our order is “old”. Much of our ritual is legendary and the Hiramic legend is not based on historical fact. Actually, it has very little value as a story, since it merely tells of a tragedy which has been repeated in various forms in the long history of mankind. Its true value is derived from the lessons which are taught and the moral precepts it contains.
“Ancient”, however, has a very special meaning when we say “Ancient, Free and Accepted”. In 1751, some Irish Masons in London established a body which they called the “Grand Lodge of England According to the Old Institutions”, and styled themselves “Ancients”, and the members of the regular Grand Lodge, established in 1717, “Moderns”. Thus, there were two Grand Lodges operating simultaneously – the Ancients under the name of Free and Accepted Masons according to the Old Institutions and the Moderns under the name of Freemasons of England. Although they bore similar names, yet they differed exceedingly in ceremonies, knowledge, language and installations. The “Ancients” maintained that they alone preserved the ancients tenets and practices of Masonry,” and that the regular Lodges had altered the landmarks and had made many innovations, which they undoubtedly had done.
The dissention between the two Grand bodies in England lasted until 1813, when the two bodies united under the name and title of “The United Grand Lodge of Ancient Freemasons in England”, Today, all distinction between the Ancients and Moderns has ceased and it lives only in the memory of the Masonic student.
One of the primary differences seen in the ritual of the moderns (as is practised in some American jurisdictions today) is the transposition of the words in the first and second degrees. The second degree word is used in the first degree and the first degree word is used in the second degree.
An interesting fact relating to the Ancients and Moderns is still evident in Canada. A Lodge was formed in Saint John, New Brunswick, in 1784, under warrant from the authority in Halifax, which in turn had been set up by the Provincial Grand Lodge of Massachussetts under Lord CornwalIis. This Provincial Grand Lodge held its authority from the “Moderns” in England, and the Saint John Lodge was known as a Free and Accepted Lodge of Masons.
Later, when New Brunswick set up its own provincial Grand Lodge, it turned to the ritual of the Ancients, but still maintained the traditional title of Free and Accepted rather than Ancient, Free and Accepted. It is thus the only Grand Lodge in Canada which does not call itself Ancient.
There is considerable difference of opinion as to whether the prefix “Free” originally referred to the status of birth of the Mason or the material with which he worked. Some authorities hold that “Free” applies to those Masons who were free of the Company or Guild of incorporated Masons.
There is much support for this latter theory, because the operative Mason who was not free of the guild was not free to work with those who were free.
As to the other aspects of “Free”, we are led to the thought that Freemasonry was very intimately bound up with the early church. This is easily accounted for as, generally, cathedrals were usually the only buildings constructed of stone most towns and cities being built of wood or clay.
When a bishop or abbott wished to have a cathedral or church built, he engaged a group of masons to do the work, which was often of such dimensions that several generations of masons might be required to complete the structure. The civil authorities did not hesitate to impress masons, carpenters, and other artisans for whatever work they had in mind. The tactics of impressment were extremely unpopular then as now, and some operative Masons broke away from the guild and became “free”.
But we like to think of “Free” in our modern ritual as referring to the status of the (?). In the first degree, we are told that a (?) must be “free by birth”. No serf, whether due to physical or intellectual deficiencies can be accepted as a (?) and initiated into our mysteries. Men of S-J- and S-M- are required to build the Temple of our lives, and here is symbolism in its more apparent form.
“The Worshipful Company of Masons of the City of London” even today one of the most flourishing guilds – has an account book dated 1620, in which certain entries appear, showing that, besides the ordinary members, there were other members who are termed in the books as “Accepted Masons”.
This Worshipful Company never accepted its members. They were always admitted to the freedom, either by apprenticeship, patrimony or redemption.
Thus, the entries suggest that persons who were neither connected with the trade nor otherwise qualified were required, before becoming eligible for election on the livery of the Company, to become “Accepted Masons”, i.e., to join the Lodge of Speculative Masonry that was held for that purpose.
From 1701 onward, the term “Accepted Mason” becomes common, usually united with “Free”. Thus, the term “Free and Accepted” signifies both the operative members who were free of the guild and the speculative members who have been accepted as outsiders.
~ Published in Masonic Bulletin – B.C.&Y. – February 1956