Masonic Fire Origins and Meaning Hospitaliers Lodge September 2009
What is Masonic Fire • Many of us were introduced to Masonic Fire on their Initiation Night • During the Festive Board that normally follows most regular meetings, Toasts are drunk and these are followed by a choreographed routine of finger pointing and hand clapping • But what does it really mean?
Meanings • There are very few references to Masonic Fire in the literature • One particular scholar, Bro. Yoshio Washizu , may have written what can be termed a seminal text on the subject • Masonic Fire is not part of the regular ritual, but as we will see further on, it is an attempt by Freemasons to regularise a popular occurrence
Parallels • Bro. Washizu describes Masonic Fire as “an old custom which may be derived from that of firing after toasts” • Although he dates the custom of letting off shots during or after toasts to the mid fifteenth century, we may be forgiven for noting that the Chinese were letting off celebratory firecrackers invented by the priest Li Tian over 1000 years ago
Celebrations and Fire • Since then, many societies and cultures have included ‘Fire’ in their celebrations • 21 gun salutes • Feu de joie • Middle Eastern use of small arms fire • Fireworks during celebrations
Masonic Interpretation • There is no real Masonic interpretation • Used in Freemasonry since early sixteenth century with the first recorded description in France on 1730 and in England in 1760 • These writings clearly associate Masonic Fire with the actions of loading and firing a weapon with powder • There is evidence that at some time certain movements were used further strengthening this association
New Brother’s Health • Each has his Bottle before him; when they want to drink, they say, give the Powder, everyone rises, the Grand Master says, ‘charge’ • The Powder, which is the Wine, is poured into the glass; • The Grand Master says, ‘lay your hands to your firelocks’ [armes], and they drink to the health of the Brother • They carried the glass to the mouth in three movements; after which and before replacing the glass on the Table, it is carried to the left breast, then to the right and then forwards, all in three movements and in three other movements it is set down perpendicularly on the Table • They than clap their hands three times and each of them cries three times Vivat Reception d'un Frey-Maçon (1737)
Toasting in the 15th Century • Then the Master takes up his Glass, and gives a Toast to the King and the Craft, with Three Times Three in the Prentice’s; and they all say Ditto, and drink all together, minding the Master’s Motion: • They do the same with the empty Glass that he doth; that is, • He draws it across his Throat Three Times ..., and then makes Three Offers to put it down; • At the third, they all set their Glasses down together, which they call ‘firing’: • Then they hold the Left-hand Breast-high, and clap Nine Times with the Right, their Foot going at the same Time • When this is done, they all sit down Jackson, A. C. F.: English Exposures (1986), p. 61.
Implements • Actual firearms or similar weapons do not appear to have ever been used during Masonic Fire! • The implements most commonly mentioned are wine and beer glasses, special Masonic Firing Glasses, small gavels and of course the hands as used in clapping • Firing Glasses had unusually robust bottoms to withstand the shock of being slammed down on the table producing the desired sound emphasising that the ‘guns’ had not misfired
Differences • After a non Masonic toast, applause is sometimes polite and even expected • Such applause is often irregular with all free to start and stop whenever, employing gusto or none • Of course this would be considered most unseemly in a Masonic context, wherein regularity and harmony are prized
Inferences • 3 times 3 • because there were antiently but Three Words, Three Signs and Three Gripes; but there have been Three added, viz. The Grand Sign of a Master, the Pass-Gripe of a Fellow-Craft, and Pass-Word, which is Twelve in all for you to remember. • The Word, Sign and Gripe of an entered Apprentice is Three: The Word, Sign, Gripe, Pass-Gripe and Pass-Word of a Fellow-Craft is Five; And the Master hath Four, viz. The Sign, the Grand Sign, the Gripe and Word, which is Twelve
Changes • With the use of proper ‘firing glasses’ much less common, hand clapping is now employed • The most popular variation is the PLR followed by the 3 x 3 hand clapping • A typical ‘fire’ procedure being PLR, PLR, PLR, one (point to the left), two (point to the right), one clap, short pause and three short claps followed by another set of three short claps. • Running fire is employed by some Lodges
Allegory • Freemasons have sought to imbue this custom with meanings other than a simple choreographed toast: • The Sign of the Cross made by a clergyman in benediction over food or drink • The ‘Hammer of Thor’ sign used in Scandinavia in olden times to appease the great God • The motions made by a bricklayer when lifting cement with his trowel • A royal salute of 21 guns
Silent Fire • Controversial • Given without clapping and usually on the cuff • Possibly devised as a counter to eavesdroppers when meetings were held in public places • Conveys sorrow when coupled with the toast for Absent Brethren • Often referred to as the ‘Tylers Toast’
Non Brethren • In 1986 the Board of General Purposes (UGLE) made the following recommendation about the presence of non-masons at ‘after proceedings’ and it was adopted formally by the Grand Lodge: • “whilst it is desirable to exclude all non-masons from the dining room before the commencement of the toast list, it is not strictly necessary but ‘fire’ should not be given in their presence”
Conclusion • The lack of literature on the subject is telling! This does not however reduce the significance of the practice and has indeed elicited a ruling by the UGLE as recently as 1986. The origins of Masonic Fire remain unclear with several theories vying for the honor. One aspect is however clear, the practice permits all the brethren to participate.
Acknowledgements Bro. Yoshio Washizu ARS QUATUOR CORONATORUM