When emphatically used, the expression, the Word, is in Freemasonry always referred to the Third Degree, although there must be a word in each Degree. In this latter and general sense, the Word is called by French Freemasons la parole, and by the Germans ein Wrterzeichen. The use of a Word is of great antiquity. We find it in the ancient Mysteries. In those of Egypt it is said to have been the Tetragrammaton. The German Stone-Masons of the Middle Ages had one, which, however, was probably only a password by which the traveling Companion might make himself known in his professional wanderings.
Lyon (History of the Lodge of Edinburgh, page 22) shows that it existed, in the sixteenth and subsequent centuries, in the Scotch Lodges, and he says that "the Word is the only secret that is ever alluded to in the Minutes of Mary's Chapel, or in those of Kilwinning, Aitcheson's Haven, or Dunblane, or any other that we have examined of a date prior to the erection of the Strand Lodge." Indeed, he thinks that the communication of this Word constituted the only ceremony of initiation practiced in the Operative Lodges. At that time there was evidently but one Word for all the ranks of Apprentices, Craftsmen, and Masters. He thinks that this communication of the Mason Word to the Apprentices under oath constituted the germ whence has sprung the Symbolical Freemasonry.
But it must be remembered that the learned and laborious investigations of Brother Lyon refer only to the Lodges of Scotland. There is no sufficient evidence that a more extensive system of initiation did not prevail at the same time, or even earlier, in England and Germany. Indeed, Findel has shown that it did in the latter country; and it is difficult to believe that the system, which we know was in existence in 1717, was a sudden development out of a single Word, for which we are indebted to the inventive genius of those who were engaged in the revival at that period. Be this as it may, the evidence is conclusive that everywhere, and from the earliest times, there was a Word. This at least is no modern usage.
But it must be admitted that this Word, whatever it was, was at first a mere mark of recognition. Yet it probably had a mythical signification, and was not arbitrarily adopted. The word in the Sloane Manuscript No. 3329, which Brother Hughan places at a date not posterior to 1700, is undoubtedly a corrupted form of that now in use. Hence we may conclude that the legend, and its symbolism also existed at the same time, but only in an incomplete form. The modern development of Speculative Freemasonry into a philosophy has given a perfected form to the symbolism of the Word no longer confined to use as a means of recognition, but elevated, in its connection with the legend of the Third Degree, to the rank of a symbol.
So viewed, and by the scientific Freemason it is now only so viewed, the Word becomes the symbol of Divine Truth, the loss of which and the search for it constitute the whole system of Speculative Freemasonry. So important is this Word, that it lies at the very foundation of the Masonic edifice. The Word might be changed, as might a grip or a sign, if it were possible to obtain the universal consent of the Craft, and Freemasonry would still remain unimpaired. But were the Word abolished, or released from its intimate connection with the Hiramic legend, and with that of the Royal Arch, the whole symbolism of Speculative Freemasonry would be obliterated. The Institution might withstand such an innovation, but its history, its character, its design, would belong to a newer and a totally different society. The Word is what Dermott called the Royal Arch, "the marrow of Masonry."
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Brother Steve, Naples, FL