Covenant of Freemasonry
As a covenant is defined to be a contract or agreement between two or more parties on certain terms, there can be no doubt that when a man is made a Freemason he enters into a covenant with the Institution. On his part he promises to fulfil certain promises, and to discharge certain duties, for which, on the other part, the Fraternity bind themselves by an equivalent covenant of friendship, protection, and support. This covenant must of course be repeated and modified with every extension of the terms of agreement on both sides.
The covenant of an Entered Apprentice is different from that of a Fellow Craft, and the covenant of the latter from that of a Master Mason. As we advance in Freemasonry our obligations increase, but the covenant of each Degree is not the less permanent or binding because that of a succeeding one has been super-added. The second covenant does not impair the sanctity of the first.
This covenant of Freemasonry is symbolized and sanctioned by the most important and essential of all the ceremonies of the Institution. It is the very foundation-stone which supports the whole edifice, and, unless it be properly laid, no superstructure can with any safety be erected. It is indeed the covenant that makes the Freemason.
A master so important as this, in establishing the relationship of a Freemason with the Craft- this baptism, so to speak, by which a member is inaugurated into the Institution-must of course be attended with the most solemn and binding ceremonies. Such has been the case in all countries. Covenants have always been solemnized with certain solemn forms and religious observances which gave them a sacred sanction in the minds of the contracting parties. The Hebrews, especially, invested their covenants with the most imposing ceremonies.
The first mention of a covenant in form that is met with in Scripture is that recorded in the fifteenth chapter of Genesis, where, to confirm it, Abraham, in obedience to the Divine command, took a heifer, a she-goat, and a ram, "and divided them in the midst, and laid each piece one against another" (see Genesis v, 10). This dividing a victim into two parts, that the covenanting parties might pass between them, was a custom not confined to the Hebrews, but borrowed from them by all the heathen nations. In the Book of Jeremiah it is again alluded to , and the penalty for the violation of the covenant is also expressed.
And I will give the men that have transgressed my covenant, which have not performed the words of the covenant which they had made before me, when they cut the calf in twain, and passed between the parts thereof.
The princes of Judah, and the princes of Jerusalem, the eunuchs, and the priests, and all the people of the land which passed between the parts of the calf.
I will even give them into the hand of their enemies, and into the hand of them that seek their live; and their dead bodies shall be for meat unto the fowls of the heaven, and to the beasts of the earth" (Jeremiah xxxiv, 18, 19, 20).
These ceremonies, thus briefly alluded to in the passages which have been quoted, were performed in full, as follows. The attentive Masonic student will observe the analogies to those of his own Order.
The parties entering into a covenant first selected a proper animal, such as a calf or a kid among the Jews, a sheep among the Greeks, or a pig among the Romans. The throat was then cut across, with a single blow, so as to completely divide the windpipe and arteries, without to touching the bone. This was the first ceremony of the covenant. The second was, to tear open the breast, to take from thence the heart and vitals, and if on inspection the least imperfection was discovered, the body was considered unclean, and thrown aside for another. The third ceremony was to divide the body in twain, and to place the two parts to the north and south, so that the parties to the covenant might pass between them, coming from the east and going to the west. The carcass was then left as a prey to the wild beasts of the field and the vultures of the air, and thus the covenant was ratified (see Hand, also Oath and Penalty).
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