Fellow of the Craft
The word "fellow" derived from early northern languages; the central meaning which persisted from one language or dialect to another was that of associate, one in full and equal membership. There are indications that the word first entered our nomenclature in Scotland, but the status or grade thus named was as old as Freemasonry.
In Medieval Freemasonry an Apprentice served a long period of years as a learner or student. He was under oath to the Lodge to obey its rules and regulations; and he was indentured or bonded to a Master. Data belonging to the Transition period suggest that formal papers of indenture were drawn under seal and signed by the youth's father or guardian--one Scottish Lodge admitted a lawyer for that express purpose. During the years of apprenticeship the youth acted as a servant to his master, lived in a dormitory or in his master's home (whence the old "oaths of chastity," etc.), received food and clothing; but worked without pay, and if an Apprentice's work was sold his master received the money.
At the end of his term, usually of seven years, he was "released from his indentures" and was made a fellow, or full member, of the Craft. As regards his art he was a master mason; as regards his status or grade he was a fellow. He could have an apprentice of his own; was paid wages; had a voice and a vote and could hold office; he could go to other communities or to other countries to work. He was "free of the gild." Such a man was called "journeyman" very frequently.
This word itself may have carried two meanings at once, as words often do: in its French usage it meant "worker by the day" it also probably meant "jour neying Masons," fellows who could travel; and in some periods newly-made fellows made it a rule to travel, working in one place after another in order to perfect their knowledge, during the first two years. The highest positions in the Craft, the best-paid and the most honored, were the officers, the Master of Masons in particular, supervisors, administrators, overseers, etc. Also, one experienced Mason might employ a number of Masons with their apprentices; he was the Master and they were journeymen. The word "master" therefore could mean a workman who had mastered the art, the chief officer of a Lodge, an employer, a supervisor, etc. As regards the art he was on a level with fellows; as regards official standing he was in a grade above them. There was in Medieval Freemasonry a wealth of ritualism, ceremony, symbolism--this could be said with safety even if there were no records, because in the Middle Ages, when almost every special form of work was separately organized, the gilds and fraternities were saturated with ritualism and symbolism even the gilds of yeomen, often consisting of farm laborers, and at the bottom of social classes, had their rites; but in the sense of the word as now used there were no Degrees in Medieval Freemasonry. There were, however, the germs or beginnings of what became Degrees in Speculative Freemasonry; the apprentice was examined, sworn, charged, etc. and it is almost certain that he was again sworn, charged, etc., before his raising to the status of fellow. In the Medieval period there were in the Lodges practices and customs both operative and speculative, with the major emphasis on the former; during the Transition Period the movement was away from the operative to the speculative; after 1717-1735 only the speculative remained. The work of the Lodge was no longer organized primarily for sake of the daily work of the members; it became organized around the teachings, rites, ceremonies, symbols, fellowship. In consequence there came into existence three separate Degrees--in reality they are Lodges, because each meets separately, has its own officers, and conducts its own business, and in the By-laws and Minutes is described as a Lodge.
The first Speculative Lodges went to extreme lengths to conceal their esoteric work; the Grand Lodge kept no Minutes for a number of years, and the Minutes of a local Lodge consisted of only one or two bare entries. Few facts are known about the Ritual of that period. There were, however, at least two parts, or sets of ceremonies, one fot Apprentices, one for Fellows; a Lodge sat first as a Lodge of Appren tices, and then as a Lodge of Fellows.
There could have been no proficiency tests because in thousands of known cases a Candidate received the two ceremonies in one evening. After some fifteen years or so, separate Master's Lodges were set up; apparently these were for Worshipful Masters, Past Masters, and "virtual" Past Masters who had received a ceremony called ''passing the Chair." There was no official, uniform Work. As time passed the "amount of Ritual material" increased, and this must have been especially true f the Ritual of the Masters' Lodges. In the next stage, so the meagre records suggest, this Masters' Ritual was divided in two; one part becoming a separate Master Mason Degree, the other the Royal Arch Degree. The Master Mason Degree, connected faith the first two, came under the jurisdiction of the Lodge; the Royal Arch was made over to the Chapter. It may be that this outline of events was not true of some particular Lodge (a number of them did not have the use of separate Masters' Lodges) but it is a reasonable summarization of the few data and hints which are available. In the seven or eight centuries of Masonic history the phrase "Fellow of the Craft" has thus had a number of separate meanings: a craftsman free from his indentures of apprenticeship; a full member of the Lodge; a Master of the Mason art; a journeyman Mason (in both senses); in the first period of Speeulative Masonry, a full-fledged Freemason (he had been 'made a Mason"); in the later period, a Mason with a half-way status between Apprentice and Master; and the name of the Second Degree (or, rather, Lodge).
NOTE. The Constitutions of 1723 provided that Apprentices could be made Fellows--and-- Masters only in Grand Lodge except by dispensation; this attempt to rob Lodges of their ancient right to make Masons was so vigorously protested that in 1725 Grand Lodge ordained that "particular Lodges" could "make Masters at discretion"; the Grand Lodge itself was then using "fellows" and masters" interchangeably. Scottish Lodges were a full generation behind England in adoptingatri-gradalsystem.
One of the possibilities is that what became the Masters' Degree had been a portion of the Felloweraft Work but that the latter had given it only as a lecture in interpretation of symbols on the Tracing Board, whereas in the Masters' Lodges it was enacted in full, and in costume. In 1764 Old Dundee Lodge Minutes have "made a Mason" and "raised a Master." They unquestionably distinguished between "Mason" and "Master."
Owned & Operated Exclusively by Members of the Masonic Family
Tradition, Integrity, Trust.
© 2018 The Ashlar Company
“the ring turned up yesterday. I cannot say how impressed I am with it. I don't have the words that can describe how happy I am with it.
thanks so much for your assistance.”
Brother Simon, London, England
You are currently visiting masonicencyclopedia.com