What do we mean when we say what we say

by MasterMason
Save to PDFPrint to Paper

presented by V.W. Bro. Norman McEvoy Victoria Columbia Lodge No 1

Grand Lodge of BC & Yukon (Canada)



As I continue on my “Personal Spiritual Journey” and extend my readings and research of Masonry in general, I have, and continue to be confused, by what many authors mean or intend when they use such words as Mason ; Operative Mason ; Non-Operative Mason ; Guild ; Association; Society ; Fraternity ; Accepted Mason ; Freemason  & Speculative Freemason.


With that thought in mind, and with the assistance of “The Lexicon of Freemasonry” by Albert G. Mackey & Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, I have decided to attempt to share my current understanding of these words, and in doing so, learn and grow from the experience.


As with everything I share, feedback it not only welcome but greatly appreciated.


Mason.  Derivation of   (Lexicon)   (Missing the actual  Greek and Hebrew Words)

The etymology (derivation) of the words mason & masonry have afforded masonic writers an ample opportunity of exhibiting their research and ingenuity. Some have derived then from the Persian Magi, or disciples of Zoroaster; while William Hutchinson offers the conjecture; that they are corrupted from Greek words meaning; a mystery and another; one initiated into the ancient mysteries. He seems too, to think that Mason could also have come from other Greek words meaning “I am in the midst of heaven” or from the Hebrew Greek words for One of the constellations of the Zodiac.


A writer in the European Magazine, for February 1792, who signs himself George Drake, attributing to masonry a Druidical origin, derives Mason from what he calls may’s on, being the men of May thus referring to the Druids whose principal celebrations were in the month of May.


Lastly, we may add, as a curious coincidence, at least, that the Hebrew word massang or mason signifies a stone quarry.


All these suggestions, however, seem to me to be more fanciful than true; it is more probable that the word must be taken in its ordinary signification of a worker in stone, and thus it indicates the origin from as society of practical artificers.



My personal opinion is that the first mason probably lived in what is referred to as the “Stone Age” when for one reason or another he stacked on stone upon another.


I have no idea what he may have been called at that time, however, his legacy continues to this very day.

Operative Mason

One who works with stone or brick, in any way shape or form, as a means of earning a living. (see Mason)



Use your imagination.  Would a sculptor be considered a Mason?


Non-Operative Mason

One who works within the Mason’s trade in support of an Operative mason.

For example those in a labouring function.


Lodge  (for Operative Masons)

It is generally accepted that Operative Masons moving from one worksite to the other used shelters or lean-tos either separate from or attached to the actual structure under construction. This would also be the building where planning and supervision of the workings would take place.


Guild  (Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary

guild = 1. an association of men with similar interests or pursuits ; 2. a mediaeval association of merchants or craftsmen.



History informs us that these Guilds provided; trade qualifications; quality standards ;  employment protection & benevolence for their members. We also note that, in order to secure benefits for members only, an initiation was required during which recognition signs & tokens were communicated.


A review of  “The Schaw Statutes” clearly points out there were also very specific responsibilities set out for employee and employer alike.


It is my personal opinion  these Guilds probably formed the basic underpinning for the Trade Union movement as we know it today.


Accepted Mason  (as it could apply to membership in the Guild)  (Lexicon)

A title which, as applied to Freemasons, is equivalent to the designation “Initiated”.

It alludes to the acceptance into their Guild/Society, by operative masons, of those who were NOT operatives.



This particular classification is one that has & continues to created much confusion for me in my research, as I am of the opinion that the word “Freemason” when used in context with historical events up to circa 1650 is very misleading to modern students, as it could taken to mean that “Speculative Masonry” consisting of Three Degrees, was then in existence.


Again, in my opinion, I believe that those admitted/accepted prior to that date were in fact “Accepted Masons” and were given membership in recognition of their value to the Guild. i.e. economically &/or political.


Free-mason  (Lexicon)

The word ” free” in connection with “Mason” originally signified that the person so called was “free” of the Company or Guild of incorporated masons.


For those Operative Masons who were not thus “free” of the Guild, were not permitted to work with those who were.


A similar regulation still exists in many parts of Europe, although it is not known to this County (USA 1845).


Looking at the word “free” in connection with “Mason” I have asked myself the question as to what that status could have looked like in circa1650 and have come up with the following thoughts.


1.         Independent of any employer (Lord or Master)

2.         Of “free” birth and not enslaved.           

3.         Not indentured, and thus “free” from financial obligation.

4.         Not subservient in any way or manner.

5.         Independent of any Guild or Society.

6.         “Free” to voice personal opinion without fear of reprisal.


Speculative Masonry   (Lexicon)

Freemasonry is called speculative masonry, to distinguish it from Operative Masonry, which is engaged in the construction of edifices of stone.


Speculative masonry is a science, which, borrowing from the operative art its working tools and implements, sanctifies them, by symbolic instruction, to the holiest of purposes, the veneration of God, and the purification of the Soul.


The operative mason constructs his edifice of material substances; the speculative mason is taught to erect a spiritual building, pure, and spotless, and fit for the residence of him who dwelleth only with the good.


The operative mason works according to the designs laid down for him on the trestle board by the architect; the speculative is guided by the great trestle board, on which is inscribed the revealed will of God, The Supreme Architect of Heaven and Earth; the operative mason tries each stone and part of the building by the square; level and plumb; the speculative mason examines every action of his life by the square of Morality. seeing that no presumption nor vain glory has caused him to transcend the level of his allotted destiny, and no vicious propensity has led him to swerve from the plumb line of rectitude.


And lastly, as it is the business of the Operative Mason, when his work is done, to prove everything ” True and trusty” so is it the object of the Speculative Mason, by a uniform tenor of virtuous conduct, to receive, when his allotted course of life has passed, the inappreciable reward, from the Celestial Grand Master, of ” Well Done, thou Good and Faithful Servant”



We owe a debt of gratitude to Albert. G. Mackey for these exquisite words to aptly describe who we as “Freemasons” must attempt to achieve.



This paper has been written with the thought of sharing and being shared with in return. Should it be a little provocative, then that is good thing, as it gets our minds working.

You may also enjoy

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read More