The Minutes of the oldest Speculative Lodges consist of very brief memoranda, often of little more than a note to the effect that the Lodge had met on 3 certain date, and with the names of the Master and officers. There are three general reasons for these sketchy brevities: first, the Lodge made little use of its records; second, Secretaries were always afraid of violating the rule of secrecy; third, the Secretaries who took their Minutes hon. we were afraid lest outsiders might see them; and if they left them in the Lodge Room (records were kept in a bag in the base of a pedestal;) they were afraid that employees of the tavern might get at them. It is only by a great amount of auxiliary research in tow n histories, local papers, and biographies that an historian can make the dry bones live.
This meagerness of records is always tantalizing; it is tantalizing in the extreme on the subject of Masters' Lodges, for while such Lodges are often mentioned in Minutes almost nothing is ever told about them; the paradoxical result is that we know with certainty that Masters' Lodges were at work, and yet know very little about them--not even from their own Minutes, of which a scant amount are in existence.
It appears that after about 1725 there were a number of them, in and around London at least. They were separately organized, had their on n warrant, and their own officers, at least as a general rule, for in some cases the Masters' Lodge appears to have been an adjunct to some Lodge on the Grand Lodge List.
A typical Masters' Lodge would meet on Sunday; to it would go a few members of each of a number of Lodges. For the rest, the data are confusing. In some instances they appear to have had no function except to confer the Master Mason Degree. In others they appear to have been composed of Past Masters only (in days when a Master served only six months, ten Lodges would have 200 Past Masters in ten years). In still others it appears that any Lodge member (a Fellowcraft) was eligible, but that he had "to pass the chair"--in the Minutes are such titles as Pass Master, Passed Master, Past Master. Also, there are hints that what became the Royal Arch Degree may leave been a portion of the ceremonies used in a Masters' Lodge.
It is certain that in the majority of Lodges members were made Apprentice and Fellowcraft only; that a Worshipful Master was usually a Fellowcraft (in at least one Lodge he was an Apprentice); and that very often the two "Degrees" were conferred in one evening (called "emergency"); it may be, though at present it is impossible to be sure, that the tri-gradal system was set up when these Masters' Lodges were discontinued, "raising" was turned back to the Lodges, and the Royal Arch was separately organized to confer some of the ceremonies which before had been conferred in Masters' Lodges. It is almost certain that the Royal Arch (at least as old as 1744) and the Mark Degrees always were considered to belong to Ancient Craft Masonry; even as late as 1813 at the time of the Union, Ancient Craft Masonry was proclaimed to consist of the Degrees of Apprentice, Fellowcraft, Master Mason and the Holy Royal Arch. See An Old Masters' Lodge, by William James Hughan; Kenning; London; 1897; it incorporates Minutes from 1720 to 1734. Some light on Masters' Lodges is in Antiquity of the Holy Royal Arch; Lewis; London; 1927; Historical Analysis of the Holy R. A. Ritual; Lewis; London; 1929; and Organization of the Royal Arch Chapters Two Centuries Ago; Lewis; London; 1930; the three books are by the Rev. F. de. P. Castells. See also, and especially for documents, History of the Origin and Development of the Royal Arch Degrees, by Charles A. Conover; Coldwater, Mich.; 1923.
In a paper on "Masters' Lodges" read by John Lane at a meeting of the Quatuor Coronati Lodge, N o. 2076, June 25, 1888, he gives a brief sketch of each of 36 Masters' Lodges which appeared on the Grand Lodge Engraved List from 1723 to 0813.
One of the most valuable sources of information is Chapter VIII, Olel Dundee Lodges by Arthur Heiron. Between 1754 and 1769 the Masters' Lodge which was connected with Old Dundee held about 400 meetings. Bro. Heiron describes it in terms of seven "chief characteristics":
1. The meetings were held in six winter months only, at first on Sunday, then on Monday, and finally on alternate Thursdays. but never on a stated Lodge night. 2. "An Express Vote" or "Indulgence" had to be passed by the Lodge before a Masters' Lodge could be held; Brethren attending paid one shilling for each meeting. 3. .A second "Indulgence" was needed to grant them privilege of using jewels and furniture. 4. The purpose was to "Raise Masters," but in occasional emergencies the Lodge itself conferred three Degrees in one night, though Old Dundee did not approve such practices. 5. Only members of the Masters' Lodges were permitted to attend. The Work was conferred by Past Masters in a "Uniform with Purple Colored Ribbons"--a suggestion of the colors of the Royal Arch. 6. The Masters' Lodges' funds were kept by the Lodge Treasurer in a separate account. 7. In 1769 the Grand Chapter R.A.M. for the first time granted Warrants to 'private Chapters"--i.e., bodies separate from a Lodge.
In that same year the Lodge discontinued its Masters' Lodge, and voted that "They should have a Master's Lecture on the Public Nights from Micas to Ladyday."
Bro. Heiron was of the opinion that the Masters' Lodge performed the ceremony of "Passing the Chair." To "Raise a Master," the ceremony being more elaborate than one used in "Modern" Lodges at the time. During the period of the "Masters' Lodge" the regular Old Dundee continued to confer the Third Degree on any "ordinary Lodge Night." Why then a Masters' Lodge? It conferred a dram4ttzed, or acted out, fond, Bro. Eeiron believed, whereas the Lodge itself used only a Floor Cloth and a Lecture; also, the Masters' Lodge ceremony probably contained the Royal Arch ceremonies, for which reason the "Passing the Chair" ceremony was required. Lodges under the Ancient Grand Lodge had no Masters' Lodges; they did have a separate Royal Arch Degree; the fact suggests that conferring the Royal Arch was one of the principal purposes of the Moderns' Masters' Lodges. (The whole of Bro. Heiron's Chapter VIII is worth careful study.)
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