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Recognition, Modes Of

Smith says Use and Abuse of Masonry, page 46) that at the institution of the Order, to each of the Degrees "a particular distinguished test was adapted, which test, together with the explication, was accordingly settled and communicated to the Fraternity previous to their dispersion, under a necessary and solemn injunction to secrecy; and they have been most cautiously preserved and transmitted down to posterity by faithful Brethren ever since their emigration." Hence, of all the landmarks, the modes of recognition are the most legitimate and unquestioned. They should admit of no variation, for in their universality consist their excellence and advantage.

Yet such variations have unfortunately been admitted, the principal of which originated about the middle of the eighteenth century, and were intimately connected with the division of the Fraternity in England into the t vo conflicting societies of the Ancient and the Moderns; and although by the reconciliation in 1813 uniformity was restored in the United Grand Lodge which was then formed, that uniformity did not extend to the subordinate Bodies in other countries which had derived their existence and their different modes of recognition from the two separated Grand Lodges; and this was, of course, equally applicable to the higher degrees which sprang out of them.

Thus, while the modes of recognition in the York and Scottish Rites are substantially the same, those of the French or Modern Rite differ in almost everything. In this there is a Password in the First Degree unrecognized by the two other Rites, and all afterwards are different.

Again, there are important differences in the York and American Rites, although there is sufficient similarity to relieve American and English Freemasons from any embarrassment in mutual recognition. Although nearly all the Lodges in the United States, before the Revolution of 1776, derived their existence from the Grand Lodges of England, the American Freemasons do not use the multitude of signs that prevail in the English system, while they have introduced, in the opinion of Brother Mackey, through the teachings of Webb, the Due Guard, which is totally unknown to English Freemasonry. Looking to these differences, the Masonic Congress of Paris, held in 1856, recommended, in the seventh proposition, that "Masters of Lodges, in conferring the degree of Master Mason, should invest the candidate with the words, signs, and grips of the Scottish and Modern Rites." This proposition, if it had been adopted, would have mitigated, if it did not abolish, the evil; but, unfortunately, it did not receive the general concurrence of the Craft.

As to the antiquity of modes of recognition in general, it may be said that, from the very nature of things, there was always a necessity for the members of every secret society to have some means for recognizing a Brother that should escape the detection of the uninitiated. We find evidence in several of the classic writings showing that such a custom prevailed among the initiated in the pagan mysteries. Livy tells us (xxxi, 14) of two Acarnanian youths who accidentally entered the temple of Ceres during the celebration of the mysteries, and, not having been initiated, were speedily detected as intruders, and put to death by the managers of the temple. They must, of course, have owed their detection to the fact that they were not in possession of those modes of recognition which were known only to the initiated.

That they existed in the Dionysiac rites of Bacchus we learn from Plautus, who, in his Miles Gloriosus (act iv, scene ii), makes Misphidippa say to Pyrgopolonices, Cedo signum si harunc Baccharum es, that is, Give the sign, if you are one of these Bacchae. Jamblichus (On the Pythagorean Life) tells the story of a disciple of Pythagoras, who, having been taken sick, on a long journey, at an inn, and having exhausted his funds, gave, before he died, to the landlord, who had been very kind to him, a paper, on which he had written the account of his distress, and signed it with a symbol of Pythagoras. This the landlord affixed to the gate of a neighboring temple. Months afterward another Pythagorean, passing that way, recognized the secret symbol, and, inquiring into the tale, reimbursed the landlord for all his trouble and expense.

Apuleius, who was initiated into the Osirian and Isiac Mysteries, says, in his Defenno, "if any one is present who has been initiated into the same secret rites as myself, if he will give me the sign, he shall then be at liberty to hear what it is that I keep with such care." But in another place he is less cautious, and even gives an inkling of what was one of the signs of the Osirian Initiation. For in his Golden Ass (book xi) he says that in a dream he beheld one of the disciples of Osiris, "who walked gently, with a hesitating step, the ankle of his left foot being slightly bent, in order, no doubt, that he might afford me some sign by which I could recognize him." The Osirian Initiates had then, it seems, like the Freemasons, mystical steps.

That the Gnostics had modes of recognition we learn from Saint Epiphanius, himself at one time in early life a Gnostic, who says in his Pananum, written against the Gnostics and other heretics, that "on the arrival of any stranger belonging to the same belief, they have a sign given by one to another. In holding out the hand, under pretense of saluting each other, they feel and tickle it in a peculiar manner underneath the palm, and so discover if the newcomer belongs to the same sect. Thereupon, however poor they may be, they serve up to him a sumptuous feast, with abundance of meats and wine."

We do not refer to the fanciful theories of Doctor Oliver--the first one is most probably a joke, and therefore out of place in his Symbolical Dictionary founded on passages of Homer and Quintus Curtius, that Achilles and Alexander of Macedon recognized the one Priam and the other the High Priest by a sign. But there are abundant evidences of an authentic nature that a system of recognition by signs, and words, and grips has existed in the earliest times, and, therefore, that they were not invented by the Freemasons, who borrowed them, as they did much more of their mystical system, from antiquity.

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