Compiled from works by:
W. Bro. Harry Carr "Six Hundred Years of Craft Ritual"
W.Bro. Ronald Paul Ng "Some Biblical Passages in Masonry"
The origin of the first ritual begins with the Old Charges, the Regius Manuscript of 1390 and the Cooke Manuscript of 1410. The ritual was to be very simple, consisting only of an Opening Prayer, a history of the Craft, then a recitation of the Charges which merely outlined rules of a purely moral character. That’s all. Nowhere do the documents state that there is only one degree; they do however indicate only one ceremony - Never more than one.
The first hint that there was a second degree came in 1550 in the Harleian Manuscript. In it there is one sentence which says, “There is several words and signs of a free mason to be revealed to you…” Actual recorded minutes exist from a very few years later that document the existence of two degrees.
The Edinburgh Register House Manuscript, (1696) which is housed in the Public Record Office of Edinburgh, documents a candidate going for a second degree where he was entrusted with the Five Points of Fellowship and a Word. He was made a fellow of the craft or, in other words, a mason. There was no Hiram legend at that time.
A document called the Trinity College, Dublin, Manuscript, dated 1711, for the first time presents undeniable evidence of the Craft having three degrees. It clearly described the sign of the Entered Apprentice and the B.. and J.. words, followed by the sign for the fellowcraft, and finally the Master's Word. It was some 50 years later that The Hailing Sign appeared.
The phrase “Entered, Passed, and Raised” appeared for the first time in 1726 in the Graham Manuscript. When Samuel Prichard published his expose “Masonry Dissected” in 1730 the Three degrees had definitely become well established.
The Hiramic Legend obviously grew out of the ceremony described in the Graham Manuscript. Here, however, instead of speaking of Hiram, it described how three sons went to their father’s grave. They opened the grave and found the body, which they raised on the five points of fellowship and one of the sons said, “There is yet marrow in his bone.” This story, in 1726, is the earliest raising within a Masonic context, but the person raised was not Hiram, but Noah. The changes which brought about the Hiramic legend did not come into the ritual until a few years later. Perhaps the substitute for the Lost Word could have evolved from the “marrow in his bone” graveside declaration?
From the proceeding it seems evident how the three degrees came about. The original first degree was divided into two parts followed by a later division of the second degree with its Five Points of Fellowship and a Word being moved into the third degree. Both the second and third degrees were fleshed out with additional material sometime between 1711 and 1725.
In 1756, Laurence Dermott published “AHIMAN REZON” which has been accepted and used throughout the world in one form or another even to this date. Numerous Grand Lodges have adopted this book in its original form as their ritual or as the basis of a proprietary edition. It was subtitled “The book of Constitutions of the Antient Grand Lodge of England”
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