The Rituals of Freemasonry Part 1
The ritual in England and Wales was brought into a standardized format after the union of 1813. A Lodge of Reconciliation was set up in the same year in an attempt to standardize the many varied rituals that had been worked throughout the country under the Antient and the Modern Grand Lodges and to deal with disputes that arose. This took some years to implement and had its difficulties, and an Emulation Lodge of Improvement was set up, first meeting in 1823 at Freemasons’ Hall in London, enabling the authentic ritual to be practiced and learned accurately, ‘without permitting alteration’. Some lodges sent delegations down to London to learn the new ritual, such as the Lodge of Probity in Halifax, Yorkshire, which sent a number of its brethren to learn the new working, which on their return, they assisted other lodges in Yorkshire to learn.[i]
There was rebellion in Lancashire against the new imposed system and other alterations in administration, and for 90 years there was an independent Grand Lodge of Wigan which continued to practice the ‘Antient’ ritual; their leading lodge – the Lodge of Sincerity – conducting their ritual in the lodge room around a 16 foot table.[ii] On the whole, the transition took place and most other lodges under the United Grand Lodge of England practiced the new ritual, though as a result of the Lancashire rebellion, a regulation change allowed each lodge to regulate their own proceedings, giving each lodge an element of freedom ‘…that the members present at any lodge have an undoubted right to regulate their own proceedings, provided they are consistent with the general laws and regulations of the Craft’, so during the mid-Victorian period onwards, variations of the ritual emerged such as Bottomley and the Humber Use, and a nostalgia developed where certain lodges harked back to the more individual stance that they had before the union, to add what they believed to be older elements to the existing Emulation Ritual creating a varied and inventive aspect to individual lodge working.[iii]
Many lodges began to work a ritual with a few words changed here and there or perhaps have roles changed during the ceremony. Examples of this can be seen in Liverpool, where some lodges work the Bottomley Ritual, other lodges work the Nigerian ritual, which was a ritual working that, as the name suggests, came from Nigeria during colonial times. Examples of older ritual working include the Humber, York and Bristol Workings. All of these rituals however, work the three-degree system, and though they have their differences, either in the wording or in the perambulation, familiarities can be recognised.
There are around 50 different Craft rituals or Workings in England, and if you include the working of individual lodges, there are countless variations. In the north of England, we have already mentioned the Bottomley Ritual which is worked by a number of lodges in Liverpool (of which there are variations in different lodges),[iv] there is the Humber Use which is worked by a number of lodges in Hull,[v] there is the Nigerian Ritual which is worked in a number of lodges up and down the country, and of course, the York Working, variations of which are used throughout Yorkshire.
In the south of England, different Craft Workings include the West End Ritual, Hill’s North London Working (also known as Taylor’s Working), the South London Working, the Oxford Ritual, the Sussex Working, and the Bristol Working (of which there are variations in Bristol lodges). There are many more Craft rituals (far too many to list), but the more common ones include Logic, Stability, Universal and Claret’s Working.[vi] There are also many individual lodge workings that are only associated with one particular lodge, such as the Merchants Lodge No. 241 in Liverpool, which has its own ritual.[vii]
From the outside these rituals look like variations of Emulation, with various roles being changed or the odd wording or phrase being added or taken out. In some cases, the perambulation is different, in others certain sections are missed out entirely. However, lodges that work their own ritual are fiercely independent and defensive of their unique ritual working, and it forms part of the particular lodge tradition. Many of these rituals began to be practiced in the mid-Victorian period, and in some cases, such as the Humber Use and Bottomley Ritual, there was a harking back to the older pre-union rituals, with the peppering of archaic language. In most cases, it does seem that local areas developed their own way of working the ritual during the Victorian era, and formed their own traditional practices.
During this time, it was forbidden to put the Emulation Ritual in print, so perhaps with no way of revising the Emulation Ritual other than word-of-mouth, subtle changes were made over a period of years and the wording in certain sections began to get changed slightly, and over time it became traditional to a certain lodge. When another lodge was founded in the same area, with Masons from the original lodge, then that same traditional way of working the ritual was passed on.[viii]
The Emulation Ritual was only officially published in 1969, so by that time there had been quite a few ritual books privately printed, and these books differed slightly from the Emulation Working. George Claret was the first to have an early ritual printed in the 1830s. Claret had attended the Lodge of Reconciliation and his ritual book was based on the Emulation teachings of Peter Gilkes. During the 1880s, the West End, Logic and Oxford rituals were published, and M.M. Taylor’s ritual book appeared in 1908. Taylor originally printed it for Henry Hill who was a member of Marylebone Lodge No. 1305, and this became known as Hill’s North London Working or Taylor’s Working. More recently, an Association was formed to represent the lodges that used Taylor’s Working in 1967, and a Taylor’s Lodge of Improvement was subsequently held, with a new edition of Taylor’s ritual being published. It is very interesting to see the variations of the ritual, and to see the ritual being performed in many different ways, which makes visiting different lodges an entertaining, worthwhile and educational experience.
In Scotland, the William Harvey Ritual is popular, a ritual that was born out of concern of the non-Scottish elements that were entering the Scottish ritual. Other Scottish rituals include the Standard Scottish Ritual, which is similar to Harvey’s Ritual with a few nuances, the Modern Scottish Ritual, and the MacBride Ritual. Andrew Sommerville MacBride wrote this particular ritual in 1870, and it varies significantly from the Harvey and Standard Rituals, only being used in a few lodges. As in England, there are individual Scottish lodges that have developed their own particular lodge Workings and own traditional practices. These many different rituals in English and Scottish lodges are however variations on the same theme, and even if the wording and presentation is different, they all tell the same story within the three degrees.[ix]
[i] T.W. Hanson, The Lodge of Probity No. 61 1738-1938, (Halifax: Lodge of Probity, 1939), pp.189-216.
[ii] This was certainly not uncommon; the Lodge of Probity in Halifax, Yorkshire, also has evidence that it conducted its ritual around a table during the later eighteenth century.
[iii] See Harrison, The Liverpool Masonic Rebellion and the Wigan Grand Lodge.
[iv] See Harrison, The Liverpool Masonic Rebellion and the Wigan Grand Lodge, pp.83-86.
[v] Llewellyn Kitchen, (ed.), A Ritual of Craft Masonry “Humber Use”, (Hull: Privately Published, 1988).
[vi] See Michael Barnes, ‘Spoilt for Choice’, MQ, Issue 10, (July, 2004), http://www.mqmagazine.co.uk/issue-10/p-62.php [accessed on the 16th of January, 2012]
[vii] The Merchant Lodge has its own privately printed ritual book, and has variations on the Emulation ritual.
[viii] Many of these rituals can still be obtained such as Taylor’s and Stability, and some are still privately printed such as the Bottomley and Humber rituals. See also Anon., West End Ritual of Craft Masonry, (Hersham: Lewis Masonic, 2011) and Anon., M.M. Taylor’s First Degree Handbook of Craft Freemasonry, (Hersham: Lewis Masonic, 2006).
[ix] All these rituals are still available from the Grand Lodge of Scotland.
For more information on the above topic see the following books: