Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Speculative Foundations

by W.M.Don Falconer
Lodge Endeavor No 429
The United Grand Lodge of New South Wales, Australia

Speculative freemasonry is a natural extension of man's spiritual and mental attempts to unravel his origins, to comprehend the meaning of life and to perceive his ultimate destiny, as well as to communicate his thoughts on these matters to others. Although purely speculative lodges are of recent origin, speculative freemasonry is as old as the operative art itself. Moreover, the speculative rituals were not invented by those who established the first purely speculative lodges, which led to the formation of the early Grand Lodges in the eighteenth century. These early speculative freemasons were intellectual men who saw great value in existing rituals, which they culled, collated and codified into the form used speculative ceremonials. In so doing they were careful to ensure that every passage of ritual was expressed appropriately in the best language of the day. The resulting rituals neither did nor could include all the available material, but they do provide a sound and effective basis for the speculative ceremonials.

It must be emphasised that those who established the early speculative lodges did not see the ritual work as an end in itself, but rather as a foundation for philosophical discussion. The ceremonials used in the lodge room should provide only an unobtrusive vehicle, subsidiary to the primary function of communicating one's thoughts to others. These ceremonials have been standardised to relieve the participants' minds of extraneous matters, that otherwise might impede clear thought and hinder the delivery of the charges. Furthermore, word perfect delivery of ritual has no value unless communicated to the recipient in such a manner as to engage his mind, arouse his interest and incite his comprehension. Nor are the words of the ritual intended to be the sole instruction, but rather to provide a sound basis on which to establish discussion on a subject of relevance and interest. Unlike other animals, man has an insatiable curiosity concerning his origins and the environment in which he lives. Since recorded history began some 6,000 years ago, there is continuing evidence of mythologies and religions being developed in an attempt to provide answers to these concerns, as does speculative freemasonry also. To appreciate better how masonry assists man to contemplate his existence, it will first be helpful to consider the origins and evolution of mankind.


It is presently considered that the physical universe as we now know it has existed for about 20,000 million years, but that our solar system was formed only about 4,600 million years ago. Although the first living organisms on earth probably came into existence about 3,500 million ago, they appear to have remained unchanged for several thousand million years. Life first flourished in the seas, but dry land was not successfully colonised until about 400 million years ago, while all the present continents were still intact, forming a single continent called Pangaea. It was about 100 million years ago when the present continents began to split apart, reaching their present configuration around 40 million years ago at the height of the last Ice Age, when so much water was locked up in the polar ice caps that the sea level fell, exposing most of the continental shelf areas. The ice caps and glaciers had retreated to roughly their present positions by about 8,000BC.

The most recent investigations of archaeologists and palaeontologists suggest that the ramapithecines, which lived between fourteen million and eight million years ago and flourished across Africa, Asia and Europe, might be our earliest hominid ancestors, distinguishing us from all other primates. But this is by no means certain, because the ramapithecines are followed by a gap of some four million years in the fossil record, after which several hominid species begin to appear. A more recent and more certain ancestor, called Homo habilis which signifies "skilful man", lived in the East African Rift Valley around two million years ago and survived for almost a million years. Our most recent forebear, Homo erectus which signifies "upright man", seems to have lasted for about one-and-a-half million years. Finally, Homo sapiens which signifies "wise man", has existed for a mere 100,000 years or so. When compared with the age of the universe, our occupation of the earth has been short indeed.

The first 50,000 years of Homo sapiens existence was almost at the end of the Old Stone Age, which had lasted for nearly 250,000 years. This was the period of the Early Hunters, during which cultural advance was very slow. Nevertheless, they made a wide range of stone implements and weapons and also achieved the control of fire, although they could not kindle it. They could cut and stitch fur clothing, approaching the standard of modern Eskimos, whilst both men and women ornamented themselves with necklaces and bracelets of shells, teeth, ivory beads, mother of pearl and stone. However, their most significant cultural advance towards the end of this period, probably was that they buried at least some of their dead with ceremony. It was not uncommon for graves to be marked with stones or horns and for food and implements to be placed beside the bodies. Thus, for the first time, man was manifesting a belief in some form of after-life, heralding the "age of wisdom" signified by his name. Henceforth man's development would accelerate at an ever increasing rate.

The Early Hunters usually lived in limestone and sandstone caves where these were prevalent. In other areas they gradually learnt to use locally available materials such as grass, reeds, mud and even mammoth bones to construct huts, as well as to make tents from the skins of animals. Around the Mediterranean the Early Hunters developed into Advanced Hunters between 35,000BC and 30,000BC, at the height of the last Ice Age, then into the Late Hunters who preceded the Agricultural Revolution which began between 10,000BC and 8,000BC from region to region. The advanced Hunters developed a remarkable artistic genius and were the originators of representational art. The Gravettians of eastern and central Europe used ivory, bone, clay and even stone, to make small figurines of women and also some lively animal carvings.

But the greatest achievement of the advanced Hunters was to develop painting, principally in the south-west of France and in Spain. This was achieved by the Magdalenians, who most probably were descendants of the Gravettians. These paintings were made between 15,000BC and 10,000BC, mostly deep inside caves and far from the hearth and living area. Many of the cave roofs are crowded with paintings of bison and other animals in the polychrome style, using powdered ochre, haematite and manganese applied moist with brush, pad or blowpipe. This period also is noted for being the first when stone was used in construction, albeit in the simplest form. Although natural caves are quite common in the eastern Mediterranean, huts with circular stone footings were built in Palestine and Syria, probably with light domed coverings made from twigs and daub. There is evidence that at about the same time on the plains of Mesopotamia, where there are no caves, shelters with stone footings were also used, probably with superstructures of reeds. These people, the advanced Hunters of around 10,000BC, therefore were the unlikely progenitors of architecture and masonry.

(continued at The Earliest Masons)

No comments: