Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Building Free Men: Chapter III - Being Frank (About “Freemasonry”)


Good Day My Good Brothers and Friends!
This is an article I published on April 1, 2014, April Fool's Day. It eventually became a chapter in the book: Building Free Men - Uncommonly Freeing Masonic Education - Volume 8.  Its research, writing and subsequent publication also became the inspiration and foundation for The Craft Unmasked - The Uncommon Origin of Freemasonry and Its Practice

If you wish to know what was the catalyst for both of these books, here it is...

I was told by several critical members of the Fraternity that:

  1. There exists no clear evidence as to the origin of the phrase "Free & Accepted Masons" or that this phrase alluded to "Operative & Speculative Masons" -- these have since been proven wrong,
  2. "Freeborn; Free-Born; Free Born" meant "Born Free; that is, not born a slave" -- this has since been proven wrong,
  3. "Freemason" was from "Free Stone Mason" or "Free from the Guild" or "Free to Travel" -- this has since been proven wrong,
  4. There doesn't exist any clear and historical difference between Freemasonry and Free Masonry -- this has since been proven wrong,
  5. Drawing distinctions was an "innovation" on my part and these distinctions were unsupported by scholars -- these have since been proven wrong.
Obviously these Brothers were mistaken.  Had they done their Work and not merely memorized and repeated Societal Dogma, they would not have been compelled to share these things.

The date of its publication was no coincidence, however the article and the subsequent books were anything but foolish. 

Pleasantly enough, since their publication, critics have tempered their public criticism. 

-- Enjoy! 

Brother John S. Nagy


"Take this from this if this be otherwise.
   If circumstances lead me, I will find
    Where truth is hid, though it were hid indeed
      Within the center." Polonius[1]
It is of no small coincidence that the phrase, “hidden within plain sight” has dwelled so significantly within the hearts of those Craft members who have experienced one revelation after another.  They have lived it and hence this phrase specifically states with no reservation what they have experienced firsthand.  What is special about the phrase is what it most perfectly expresses to those who are Seeking: what is desired can and shall be found once you have trained yourself to See differently.  This phrase hits home.  It does so with those who zealously Seek to find and unravel the mysteries they desire most.  So it is with the mystery behind the word, “Freemason”.  This especially with those who ask themselves: What were this specific word’s origins and its originally intended meaning?
I’ve referred to what I do as Masonic Forensics, rather than Masonic Archeology, due to the fact that I am not digging up the past most of the time trying to figure it out.  Rather, the work I do is more geared toward solving puzzles, and sometimes this leads to solving some remarkable mysteries.  This is what I have made effort to do in evaluating the assorted sources of speculation as to the origins of the word, “Freemason”.  These speculations usually fall into a few narrow categories but every last one of them could be considered fraudulent once one considers the conjectures supporting their collective conclusions. 
Misleading Origins
As shared previously, “… it becomes clear that schisms exist in how the word [Freemasonry] was thought to have come about.  Some sources [2] claimed Free-Masons were Masons who worked freestones and the word eventually merged through common use.  Others claimed that these were merely free men who were also Masons.  Still others claimed that it was only through their association with a guild that these Masons were free to travel, work, earn and contribute.  And yet there are some who state just the opposite: that this applied to Masons who are free from the constraints of guilds and lords.”
To say authorities on the subject differ as to origins of the word, “Freemasonry”, would be grossly simplifying things.  However, this is nowhere near the intent of this writing.  The intent is to share a few clear connections that have been hidden in plain sight for over three centuries and that have yet to draw the attention of Craft members or those members who reconnoiter through its cloistered histories.
The quest to uncover this mystery started with Perpending the word “Freestone”.  There are authorities within the ranks of Freemasonry who have insisted that this specific word was the reason behind Masons of old eventually being called, “Freemasons”.  They have collectively claimed in one manner or another that, “the word appears to have contracted from Free-stone-mason to Free-Mason, to Freemason” and freemason “meant one who carved freestone.” 
Unfortunately, it is conjectures like these that have spread as highly contagious thought viruses throughout the un-inoculated Craft world and done so by eagerly trusting and well-meaning Brothers.  Moreover, the conjectures and their carriers actually do the Craft more harm than good by misleading generations into believing unfounded falsehoods.  Furthermore, Brothers are led in directions that do not serve to Cultivate them toward what Freemasonry was originally intended.  How can any such misleading Light be considered anything but counter-productive and unhealthy for the Craft as a whole?
Freestone” is commonly defined in modern usage as, “rock that can be cut easily in any direction without splitting or cracking, in particular a fine-grained sandstone or limestone of uniform texture.”  This description does not cut deep enough into the reason why such a stone is called, “free”.  Not going deep enough is understandable, since most Brothers depend upon others to provide to them the Light that they desire so much.  That Light is often provided incompletely and superficially, and usually without substantial backing.   But, just as applied Bastard Ashlars, the beautiful façade provided by them is backed by inferior workmanship.
The word, “Free” as used within the word, “Freestone”, actually takes its origins from the French word, “Franche[3]”, and is misunderstood to be describing stones that are free from flaws and that are easily worked in any direction.  It is an assumption that the words “Freemason” and “Freestone” are indeed associated based upon the meaning assigned today to the word “Free”.  Unfortunately, associating the name of workers with the type of stone these workers worked upon is an erroneous conjecture. 
It is also not a sound assumption.
Unless you actually investigate the root of the word, “Franche[4]”, you shall never see the significance of its use, especially when it is used in conjunction with words like, “mason”, “stone” or “court”.  Minimal research efforts reveal that the words, “Franche” and “Franc” originally signified, “excellence” and “superiority”.   One can easily see this in other related words like “Frankincense” that contain the “Franc” root.  This example comes from the Old French words, “franc encens”, meaning, “Superior Incences[5].  It was in this vein that “Freestone”, originally “franche pierre[6]” or “superior/excellent stone” was so named. 
Likewise, workers called, “free masons”, were “superior/excellent builders”, no matter what materials with which they used to build.  It is clear that the word “Freemason” did not originally refer to a specific type of stoneworker.  It referred to a specific skill level of a special type of worker overall and especially one who worked with stone in general, not just freestone.  
Direct evidence as to this connection can be seen in literature.  Many Brothers have read phrases like, “mestre mason de franche peer[7]  {as in: pierre or stone}” [master mason of free stone] is the most significant and probable origin of the term “freemason”.[8] They might not realize that both the authors and reporters of such statements have placed their conjecture forth into the world and unfortunately in doing so, they are putting into motion opinions that shall eventually be taken as accepted dogma by Brothers who shall never investigate their opinions any further.  They shall accept their opinions as their own. 
All that needs to occur to prevent this is doing proper work.  When the phrase “mestre mason de franche pierre” is properly translated, it reads, “master mason [as in “masterful builder”] of superior/excellent stone”.  In this case, it is not just about the material the worker works; it is about the skill of the worker doing the work and the superiority of the materials being worked! 
This information is supported by many sources, but one that shall be shared herein is the writing of one Reverend Walter William Skeat[9].  In his book on English Etymology, the author writes quite frankly:

Freestone. This word occurs in Shakespeare, in the compound freestone-coloured, As You Like It, iv. 3. 25. And much earlier, spelt frestane, in Weber's Met. Rom. iii. 118. I have had some difficulty in tracing its etymology. The dis correct or corrupt; and again, in finding out what is the meaning of free, if it be correct. This difficulty existed long ago, for I remember meeting with the spelling frieze-stone, though I forget where, as if the derivation were from stone suitable for making a frieze. In Johnson's Dictionary, two contradictory reasons for the name are given. The former is, because it can be dug up freely in any direction, which makes no good sense; and the latter, because it can be cut or wrought freely in any direction, which is practically right. The difficulty is entirely solved by observing that the word is a mere translation from the French franche pierre. Cotgrave, as usual, gives us the correct answer. He gives: 'Pierre franche, the (soft white) freestone'; and further explains the F. franc by 'without any fault or ill quality.' Littre" has: 'Pierre franche, pierre parfaite dans son espece, qui n'a ni la mollesse du moellon, ni la durete" du caillou,' i.e. a stone perfect in its kind, having neither the softness of a soft stone, nor the hardness of flint. We may thus understand free to mean of excellent quality, without flaw, easily wrought in any direction.   I may add that the expression fraunche piers [10], meaning 'stones of excellent quality,' occurs in the English Allit. Romance of Alexander, l. 4356: and the expression precious piers, i.e. precious stones, in i.5270 of the same. [85-7; 20.]”[11]
It is clear that the word, “Franche”, that is translated to “Free” and used within conjoined words such as “Freemason” and “Freestonedescribes both the stone and the worker.  What is not clear to most Brothers is that how the word free” as used and understood within these words today is not how it was used and meant originally.  The word “Free” as it was originally understood and used years ago referred solely to the superiority or excellence of both. 
Just as the stone was labeled “Franche” or “Free”, because it was “superior” or “excellent” in its nature, the stone worker obtained his associated label “free” by virtue of the “superior” and “excellent” work that he produced, no matter what materials he worked.  The stone worker did not get his associated name from the fact that he worked upon a specific type of stone or for that matter that he was somehow “free” to do his work, as the word “free” is currently understood by most people today. He was referred to as “free” because the word meant “superior” or “excellent”.  A “Superior Builder”, or “Free Mason”, is called such because that is exactly what he was!
Furthermore, what made possible this excellent worker’s ability to freely travel, work any stone, be free to work and to do so with or without a guild was the simple fact that his work and, more specifically, his skills overall, were “Masterful!”[12]

The ramifications of this Light are enormous.  It means that most every guild name and trade in the past that was prefaced with “Franche” or “Freecan no longer be considered referring to anything but “Excellent” or “Superior” workers.  This also indicates that the phrase, “Free & Accepted” Masons could not possibly mean, “Operative & Speculative” Masons.  In this Light, the phrase can only mean “Superior-Excellent & Apprentice[13] Masons.  And that’s fodder for another article.

Points to Perpend
1)   How often do you accept what Light Brothers offer you without doing your due diligence on what is shared?
2)  When you do accept what is offered and then find the Light shared was inferior work, how do you feel about your choices or decisions?
3)  What actions can you take into the future to assure that the Light you are offered is accepted in the Light in which it is given?

[1] Hamlet Act 2, Scene 2, Shakespeare
[2] The exact origin of the free- is a subject of dispute. Some [e.g. Klein] see a corruption of French frère "brother," from frèremaçon "brother mason;" others say it was because the masons worked on "free-standing" stones; still others see them as "free" from the control of local guilds or lords. (http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=freemason)
[3] And the root, “Franc”.
[4] Sometimes written, “Fraunche”.
[5] Unlike the modern day meaning of the word, “Frank”, which has migrated semantically in meaning toward “candid”.
[6] Sometimes written, “pierre franche” or “pierre fraunche” depending on the era or region.
[7] Act 25 Edw. III. ST. II. C. 3. C.E. 1350
[8] Origin of the Word "Freemason";  The Royal Arch Mason Winter 1964; Bird H. Dolby, PGHP (Maryland) commenting upon statements within a paperback edition of a book by G.G. Coupon of St. Johns College, Cambridge, England, entitled, “Medieval Faith and Symbolism” (published by Harper and Brothers, New York).
[9] Litt.D., D.C.L., LL.D., Ph.D.; Elrington and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon and Fellow of Christ's College, Cambridge
[10] Piers – common Old French form of masc. proper name “Peter”, from Latin Petrus, from Greek Petros, literally "stone, rock,", Old French Pierres, French Pierre, Peer, etc.
[11] Notes on English Etymology – Chiefly Reprinted From The Transactions Of The Philological Society”; published in 1901; Author: Reverend Walter William Skeat, Litt.D., D.C.L., LL.D., Ph.D.
[12] The closest that I have been able to so far ascertain that any scholar, writer, historian or researcher has come to the conclusion that “free” meant “superior” or “excellent” were two  brilliant submissions made to Volume X of the “Transactions of the Ars Quatuor Coronatorum Lodge” by Bro. G. W. Speth, P.A.G.D.C., F.R.Hist.S. in his “Free And Freemasonry; A Tentative Enquiry (pages 10 through 33)  and Dr. W. Begemann in his response to Bro. Speth, “On The Meaning Of Free In Freemason” (pages 155 – 157).  Both writers indicate that they believed from provided documented evidence that “free” workers were special workers endowed with special freedoms, but neither indicated in their writings that the word “free” actually meant “superior” or “excellent”.  If they truly were on the verge of making the historical connection as to the source of the word “Freemason” that is discussed herein, they never reported its connection to the archaic meaning of the words, “frank”, “franc” or “franche”.  Their writings consistently show that they assumed the word “free” was associated only with certain “freedoms” alone rather than the quality of the “skills” required to obtain such freedoms, as do all those who have made reference to their works and the works to which many historians and related authors refer.  Their two submissions are worth reading, especially in Light of this recent revealed connection to the archaic meaning of the word “Franche”.
[13] See “accepted”; Mackey’s Encyclopedia of Freemasonry (1917)


Kijoma Marsh said...

Well researched , you have shed light brother. Does the sphinx and the "lions paw" dream stellar hold any significance? Since we are told thw craft is from time immemorial?

Coach John S Nagy said...

Thanks! You'll find that information in chapter XI The Lion's Pause in BUILDING JANUS - Volume 4 found here: http://www.coach.net/BuildingJanus.htm