Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Coaches Coach: Drawing Distinctions – Freemasonry and Masonry

Good Day My Fellow Travelers,

Here's an article that I wrote last month that might be of interest to you.

Fraternally and Sincerely,

Bro. John S. Nagy
Building Better Builders Series Author

For more information related to this and other articles, please visit my website.


The Coaches Coach: Drawing Distinctions – Freemasonry and Masonry

 Your Pass-ability is determined by your capacity to Linguistically Discriminate.  Don’t prove your Brothers wrong in their Passing assessment of you by acting otherwise.

As with the word “Cowan[i]”, which has changed in its application within the Craft far from its original meaning[ii], “Masonry” and “Freemasonry” are defined within the Craft with decidedly specific meanings that simply do not reveal the entire semantic picture to those with closed eyes.  There is no doubt whatsoever that the two words are used interchangeably by many Brothers and even by those who are held to be Craft Scholars.  And just as with the word, “Cowan”, one must not suckle solely from the Freemasonic teat if one wants to be a well-nourished Brother.


There have been some interesting reactions from Brothers around the globe as to my use of the words “Freemason”, “Freemasonry”, “Freemasonic”, “Mason”, “Masonry” and “Masonic”.  Some Brothers emphatically agree with the distinctions and applications that I’ve put forth when using these words.  On the other hand, I’ve also been accused of a variety of things that run the gamut from making things up and inventing definitions to novel use and blatant misuse.  Trying to glean more insight, some have also asked if I am referring to Operative[iii],[iv] and Speculative[v],[vi] Masonry when I draw distinctions; I am not.  These are totally different directions.

In engaging in these conversations, I’ve shared that I have not done any of these things of which I am accused and have simply read the available materials both inside and outside the Craft, and have concluded that the distinctions exist and can be easily seen, if one looks for them and therefore what I offer only appears to be made up, invented, novel and misused by those who have not taken the time to think beyond the pale, as I and others have. 

I was eventually asked what academic scholars I have drawn my conclusions from and if they support my conclusions.  My only steadfast response to this and other questions that relate to this query is that I see the differences and distinctions throughout the literature I’ve reviewed and, what’s more, I am not alone in my observations and conclusions.  All one has to do is ask oneself a simple question: What does each word point toward consistently and only sometimes inconsistently?  Once this is done, the picture begins to come into focus.


As for me, the distinction between the two started quickening when I realized that innovations to Freemasonry occurred all the time, even though it was clearly stated that no man or body of men could make any innovations[vii] to Masonry whatsoever.  This puzzled me to no end since the two statements appeared to contradict each other. After much contemplation, it was clear that for the two to be reconciled, the writers were obviously not assigning the same meaning to the words “Freemasonry” and “Masonry”.  This had me thinking: how could this difference be further researched?  There must be a reason!


In my quest, one of the rabbit holes I crawled down was the etymology of “Masonry”. It became very clear that the root of the word, “Masonry[viii]” is “Mason”.  And furthermore, the root of the word, “Mason[ix],[x]” is “to make”.  With a little bit of well thought out Speculation[xi] and even well founded reasoning, it’s easy to conclude that Masonry is about “making things”. In essence, Masons are Builders. 

Coincidently, this conclusion dovetails perfectly with the Freemasonic slogan, “Masonry Makes Good Men Better” that has been in circulation for quite some time.   Please note though that it is not “Freemasonry” and “Freemasons” that do this.  It is the “Purposeful Practice of Masonry” that men apply toward themselves that “makes” them Better.  This also echoes the sentiments voiced by many men* who joined the Fraternity and they specifically state their intention: To Improve myself in Masonry (not Freemasonry.)

But, I digress. 


Applying the same methodology toward the word, “Freemasonry[xii],[xiii]” and related words such as, “Freemason[xiv],[xv]” and “Freemasonic”, it becomes clear that schisms exist in how the word was thought to have come about.  Some sources[xvi] 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.  It’s all very confusing!

One thing stands out though.  No matter what the conjecture is to its origins, the one thing that remains clearly obvious is that the current day use of the word is specific:  To be called a “Freemason”, one must belong to a duly Recognized Organization and, furthermore, one does not require anything more from oneself than this legitimate association to wear this label.  A Freemason does not have to Build anything whatsoever, he does not have to Speculate in any way and he does not even have to do anything other than pay his dues on time and be moral in his actions; he only has to be an accepted member.   In essence, Freemasons are Members. 

The Delivery

To engage in Masonry, one must both Speculate[xvii] and Operate, and in that order if one desires to have any modicum of success.  To engage in Freemasonry, only Operation is required; although engaging in Speculation would certainly make one’s efforts more beneficial.

Furthermore, to Improve oneself in Masonry, one must engage in activities associated with Improvement; this means engaging in both Speculation and Operation; it is not enough for one to just think about it, one must actually apply oneself toward improving ends! 

This does not mean involving oneself in mindlessly memorization and regurgitation of things to which one has no understanding whatsoever or to accept that one has no truly informed person to ask if one had an interest in understanding in what one was engaged.  This also does not mean adhering without question to an Organizational Digest of Law to which, by law, only one person has any authority to interpret and provide rulings and decisions based upon his sole interpretation. These have very little to do with Building or Improvements.

 To Improve oneself requires a steadfast development plan that starts with one’s heart, works toward one’s head and eventually ends up cultivating one’s spirit.  This is Building; this is Masonry. 

None of this is required to be labeled “a Freemason” or to participate in Freemasonry.  But should you actually decode Freemasonic Ritual, it shall become clear as to what you must do to Improve, and it involves Building! 
Future Hopes

Yes, it is very clear that there are overlaps in the word use by both scholar and non-scholar, especially within the Craft by Brothers who view Masonry and Freemasonry to be synonymous.  However, there exists a select few who look at their use of these words as separate and distinct with sincere hopes that some day it shall be truly very difficult to see any difference between them whatsoever, inside and outside the Craft.
  • Freemasons hear & see Solomon; Masons hear & see Wisdom.
  • Freemasons hear & see King Hiram; Masons hear & see Strength.
  • Freemasons hear & see Hiram Abiff; Masons... hear & see Beauty.
  • Freemasons hear & see Working Tools; Masons hear & see Transformation.
  • Freemasons hear & see Obligation; Masons hear & see Opportunity.
  • Freemasons hear & see Ritual; Masons hear & see Direction.
  • Freemasons hear & see Members; Masons hear & see Brothers.
  • Freemasons hear & see Lodge; Masons hear & see Family.
What pairs do you hear & see?

Points to Perpend
1)      What distinctions do your see between the words in question?
2)     What Ritual, Lecture and Historic examples support your conclusions?
3)     What nurturing difference do these conclusions make for you?
4)     Does your involvement in the Craft lean more toward Masonry or Freemasonry?

Dr. John S. Nagy is a Master Mason, Lodge Musician and Masonic Education provider for multiple Lodges and for others who support his sharing.  He is author of the “Building Series” of Uncommon Masonic Education books.  His seven books: Building Hiram, Building Boaz, Building Athens, Building Janus, Building Perpends, Building Ruffish, and Building Cement, his videos: “The Coaches Coach: Building Builders” Parts 1 & 2 and his Uncommon Masonic Education Workshops cover aspects of Masonry designed to Build Better Builders.  His materials are used to instruct Blue Lodge, Scottish Rite and York Rite Candidates in Symbol Recognition, Understanding and Application.   You can find out more about him, his books, his videos and his workshops through his webpage at:

[i] From the Gaelic root word for “hollow; indent”; Chapter XII, The Hole Story, from Building Ruffish; Chapter XII, The Dry-Dykers, from Building Cement; Dr. John S. Nagy
[ii] Freemen and Cowan, Ars Quatuor Coronatorum Volume XXI (1908)
[iii] operative (n.) [etymology] "worker, operator," 1809, from operative (adj.); sense of "secret agent, spy" is first attested 1930, probably from its use by the Pinkerton Detective Agency as a title for their private detectives (1905).  operative (adj.) [etymology] "producing the intended effect," early 15c., from Old French operatif (14c.) or directly from Late Latin operativus "creative, formative," from operat-, past participle stem of operari (see operation). Weakened sense of "significant, important" is from 1955.
[iv] operative (n.)/1. a person engaged, employed, or skilled in some branch of work, especially productive or industrial work; worker. 2. a detective. 3. a secret agent; spy. (adj.) 4. operating, or exerting force, power, or influence. 5. having force; being in effect or operation: laws operative in this city. 6. effective or efficacious. 7. engaged in, concerned with, or pertaining to work or productive activity. 8. significant; key: The operative word in that sentence is “sometimes.” Origin: 1590–1600;  < Middle French operatif  < Latin operāt ( us ) (see operate) + Middle French -if -ive  synonyms: 1. workman, factory hand. 2. investigator, agent. 6. effectual, serviceable. (adj.)1.  in force, effect, or operation 2. exerting force or influence  3. producing a desired effect; significant: the operative word 4. of or relating to a surgical procedure (n.) 5. a worker, esp one with a special skill 6. ( US ) a private detective 
[v] speculative (adj.) [etymology] late 14c., "contemplative," also "purely scientific, in theory only" (opposed to practical), from Old French speculatif "worth great attention; theoretical," or directly from Late Latin speculativus, from past participle stem of speculari (see speculation). Meaning "given to (financial) speculation" is from 1763. Related: Speculatively.
[vi] speculative (adj.) 1. pertaining to, of the nature of, or characterized by speculation, contemplation, conjecture, or abstract reasoning: a speculative approach. 2. theoretical, rather than practical: speculative conclusions. 3. given to speculation, as persons, the mind, etc. 4. of the nature of or involving commercial or financial speculation: speculative ventures. 5. engaging in or given to such speculation.
[vii] Landmark 25: That the landmarks of Masonry can never be changed.  These constitute the landmarks, or as they have sometimes been called, "the body of Masonry," in which it is not in the power of man or a body of men to make the least innovation.
[viii] masonry (n.) [etymology] "stonework," mid-14c., from Old French maçonerie (14c.), from maçon (see mason).
[ix] mason (n.) [etymology] c.1200, "stoneworker" (as a surname, early 12c.), from Old French masson, maçon "stone mason" (Old North French machun), probaby from Frankish *makjo or some other Germanic source (cf. Old High German steinmezzo "stone mason," Modern German Steinmetz, second element related to mahhon "to make;" see make (v.)). But it also might be from, or influenced by, Medieval Latin machio, matio (7c.) which is said by Isidore to be derived from machina (see machine). The medieval word also might be from the root of Latin maceria "wall." Meaning "a Freemason" is attested from early 15c. in Anglo-French.
[x] mason (n.) 1. a person whose trade is building with units of various natural or artificial mineral products, as stones, bricks, cinder blocks, or tiles, usually with the use of mortar or cement as a bonding agent; a builder.  2. a person who dresses stones or bricks. 3. ( initial capital letter as in Mason) a Freemason. verb (used with object) 4. to construct of or strengthen with masonry. Origin: 1175–1225; Middle English machun, mason  < Old French machun, masson  < Frankish *makjon  maker, derivative of *makōn  to make1
[xi] speculation (n.) late 14c., "intelligent contemplation, consideration; act of looking," from Old French speculacion "close observation, rapt attention," and directly from Late Latin speculationem (nominative speculatio) "contemplation, observation," noun of action from Latin speculatus, past participle of speculari "observe," from specere "to look at, view".  Meaning "pursuit of the truth by means of thinking" is from mid-15c. Disparaging sense of "mere conjecture" is recorded from 1570s. Meaning "buying and selling in search of profit from rise and fall of market value" is recorded from 1774; short form spec is attested from 1794.
[xii] freemasonry (n.) [etymology] mid-15c., from freemason + -ry. 
[xiii] freemasonry (n.)/ 1. secret or tacit brotherhood; fellowship; fundamental bond or rapport: the freemasonry of those who hunger for knowledge. 2. ( initial capital letter ) the principles, practices, and institutions of Freemasons. Origin: 1400–50; late Middle English fremasonry.  See Freemason, -ry
[xiv] freemason (n.) [etymology] late 14c., originally a traveling guild of masons with a secret code; in the early 17c. they began accepting honorary members and teaching them the secrets and lore, which by 1717 had developed into the fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons.
[xv] freemason (n.) 1. a member of a widely distributed secret order (Free and Accepted Masons)  having for its object mutual assistance and the promotion of brotherly love among its members. 2. ( lowercase ) History/Historical . a. one of a class of skilled stoneworkers of the Middle Ages, possessing secret signs and passwords. b. a member of a society composed of such workers, which also included honorary members (accepted masons) not connected with the building trades.  Origin: 1350–1400; Middle English fremason.  See free, mason Related forms: freemasonic /
[xvi] 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 [OED].
[xvii] speculate (v) [etymology] 1590s, "view mentally, contemplate" (transitive), back-formation from speculation. Also formerly "view as from a watchtower" (1610s). Intransitive sense of "pursue truth by conjecture or thinking" is from 1670s. Meaning "to invest money upon risk for the sake of profit" is from 1785.

* originally this read "each and every man" instead of "many men" but, as has already been pointed out, innovation to Ritual has changed this too.