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Operative V. Speculative

Today in Masonic History we discuss Operative V. Speculative.

In Freemasonry we discuss two kinds of masonry Operative and Speculative.

By definition the term Operative means "functioning; having effect". Operative masons were those who actually worked with stone. In the operative lodges or guild lodges, they were not only labor unions, they were educational platforms. There a young man who had little or no opportunity outside the lodge for education in the various arts and sciences found it within its walls. Geometry, techniques for refining stones to fit them for the building were skills given to the young operative apprentice. He'd also be taught how to read and write, two skills critical for making a plan for a building and following it.

Speculative by definition means "engaged in, expressing, or based on conjecture rather than knowledge." Speculative masonry, individuals who do not work with stone and who instead work in the more philosophical realms, use the tools and skills of operative masons as metaphors for living a good life. One of the more common uses appears in popular language, "on the level". Someone who is on the level in a speculative sense is being straight forward and honest. In masonic ideas it also means we are all equal.

Operative masonry, with little question, is the origin of the speculative masonry we now enjoy. Many will claim Speculative masonry began in 1717 with the forming of the Grand Lodge of England, also known as the Premier Grand Lodge. This is actually not the case. Little is known about how or why speculative masonry came out of operative masonry. Some of the earliest documentation shows a speculative mason being part of an operative lodge in the late 1500's. It is unknown whether this is the first speculative mason or if they existed long before.

As far as the precise moment when speculative masonry began, which by the way was not the end of operative masonic lodges another misconception some people hold, is unknown. There are probably more theories put forward then there are living speculative masons in the world today.

What I offer here, is my opinion on how speculative masonry came to be, it is just an opinion which happens to fit various facts and should only be taken as what it is, an opinion. In the late 1500's the world was in the midst of the renaissance. Knowledge was beginning to flow more freely in the world. The first printed books were in existence, the Gutenberg Bible was first printed in the 1450's. The operative lodges were in danger of loosing their livelihood. People were learning about mathematics and other skills outside of the lodges. Not to make our ancient operative brothers sound like they were only in it for the money, they actually probably were, they probably began to become concerned with the fact soon anyone could figure out the knowledge needed to build a cathedral. They needed a way to keep themselves tied to their benefactors, the people who paid to have the cathedrals and other edifices built, the aristocrats. By now the aristocrats were hungry for knowledge as well, the age of enlightenment was on it's way in. There were benefits all around. Operative masons brought wealthy influential men into their organization, the speculative initiates got the opportunity to learn some of the skills taught in the lodges.

Eventually the individuals who called themselves speculative masons wanted to apply the knowledge they were receiving, what better way than through tools for their everyday life.

As I stated, this is purely opinion on my part and happens to fit the events of the time.


This article provided by Brother Eric C. Steele.