With the exception of the Craft and Royal Arch, the governing
bodies of all recognised Masonic Orders exercise central
control under their jurisdiction over the ritual practiced
by the Lodges, councils, conclaves or whatever the unit may
How did various Masonic
ritual books come about?
Michael Barnes of the
Association of Taylor's Working
gives an insight
Spoilt for choice
Library & Museum of Freemasonry
Peter Gilkes - a prominent teacher of Emulation
Because of the way that the Craft developed from very
early times, there was considerable diversity of practice from
one part of the country to another, and particularly between
the Lodges under the two rival Grand Lodges, the Premier
and the Ancient Grand Lodges.
To pave the way for the union of these two Grand Lodges,
a Lodge of Promulgation was formed in 1809 under the
Premier Grand Lodge (or Moderns) to examine the ritual and
Following the union in 1813, a Lodge of Reconciliation
was established to complete the rationalisation of the ritual
into a form acceptable to both parties forming the newly
constituted United Grand Lodge.
Its other main function was to demonstrate the unified ritual.
Representatives of Lodges in London and the Provinces
were invited to attend special demonstrations organised by the
experts from the Lodge of Reconciliation, which completed
its work in 1816.
However, because it was forbidden to print the ritual or
even produce written manuscripts, so the communication of
the work to the various Lodges relied heavily on the ability,
not to mention the memory, of those attending the demonstrations.
Their task was then to instruct their own members
in the approved practices. In addition to the difficulty of interpretation,
doubtless there would also have been the desire to
improvise Ė a trait, dare one say, recognised in some present
In view of these hazards, it is surprising how much uniformity
was achieved. All present rituals are derived from the
Lodge of Reconciliation ritual and, apart from a few Lodges
in Bristol and the North of England, which retains more of
the earlier practices, the degree of variation is quite small.
Ironically, most of our knowledge of ritual before the union
comes from the early anti-Masonic exposure in England and
France. The first ritual was probably a simple ceremony of
admission, which developed into two degrees and, at about
the time when the first Grand Lodge was formed in 1717, into
a system of three degrees. These early ceremonies were mainly
delivered in catechetical form and were evidently briefer and
less well structured than the later ceremonies.
Early ritual was also Christian in content Ė indeed the
Premier Grand Lodge met on St. Johnís Day (24th June).
The work of the Lodge of Reconciliation between 1813 and
1816 included demonstrations of the opening and closing ceremonies,
the obligations and the perambulations. It was probably
also when most of the Christian references were removed
(although some remain in the present ritual).
Since that time, and until recent years, Grand Lodge has
kept clear of involvement in ritual and has never officially
recognised any particular working. Lodges were then, and
are to this day, free to teach and practice whatever ritual they
wish, provided the landmarks are not breached.
Private Lodges of Instruction were already in existence in
the 18th century. However, the earliest one still in existence
was that founded by the Lodge of Stability in 1817. This was
followed by the Emulation Lodge of Improvement in 1823.
Soon after this, two very important figures in the
development of Craft ritual emerged, namely Peter Gilkes,
who joined Emulation in 1825, and George Claret, both
of whom had attended the Lodge of Reconciliation on a
number of occasions.
Gilkes was a prominent teacher of Emulation, and two
years after his death in 1833 Claret published a book of ritual
that included Gilkesí teaching. In 1838 he published another
ritual book which included the three degrees questions
before Passing and Raising, and the Installation of the Master
These books were probably the first regular ritual books to
be published. This is somewhat surprising because at this time
the printing of ritual was still strictly frowned upon by Grand
Lodge, and several later authors were firmly admonished for
After Claretís death in 1850 his widow continued to sell
the book until 1870. Further editions were published, the last
in 1873, but it was effectively superseded in 1871 by a book
entitled The Perfect Ceremonies, which purported to be the
current Emulation teaching. In view of these developments
it seems surprising that the earliest known teaching body,
Stability, did not publish its ritual until 1902 and the Emulation
Lodge of Improvement first published its approved ritual as
recently as 1969.
Towards the latter part of the 19th century, and into the
20th century, an increased number of rituals emerged. Today
there are some 40 published rituals and several hundred smaller
workings, some unique to particular Lodges. Emulation
is the most widely used. Some rituals are practiced within
certain Provinces, such as the Oxford Working and the
Sussex Working, and many others are popular in particular
For Taylorís Working, the first edition of the ritual book
under its present title M. M. Taylorís Handbook of Craft
Freemasonry was published in 1908, the second edition in
1975, the third in 1991 and the fourth in 2000. Prior to 1908
the work was called the Manual of Craft Freemasonry and was
first published by M. M. Taylor in 1900, the copyright being
held by Henry Hill, who was initiated in St. Marylebone
Lodge No.1305 in 1874 and was Master in 1885.