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It has often been asserted that masons' marks were somehow connected with Freemasonry, and therefore have, or had originally, a mystical meaning. It is perfectly true that on looking over a number of marks it becomes evident that some of them resemble the symbols of many faiths and fancies. An almost equal number appear, however, to be simply alphabetic or monogramatic, and if so, possibly often nothing more than the initial letter of the workman's name, perhaps cut in a fantastic shape. Some of those, however, which assume an alphabetic form, have perhaps quite a different origin. Considering the many sources from which marks have been obtained, this is not surprising. In fact it is clear to me that, although a few general ideas of an origin have been repeatedly asserted, no single' origin or source of the symbols will apply perfectly, because the marks have been, to all appearance, drawn from almost every source and every system. For many reasons I must decline to accept the very unsatisfactory theory that the origin may be found in the Runes. It is true that some masons' marks to a certain extent, and others perhaps exactly, appear to resemble Runic letters; but this is not sufficient evidence to prove an universal origin for mediaeval marks, which, so far as I am able to judge, were not simply marks of identity of person or work.
The Runic theory is as unlikely and as untenable as that which places their origin in the absurd alphabets given by Cornelius Agrippa, who died early in the sixteenth century. His alphabets must, I fear, be classed with the similar productions published by Von Hammer Purgstall "from "an ancient manuscript."
It is perhaps only a natural supposition that a mason would, in very early times, if allowed, select some sacred symbol belonging to the religion of his native country, just as the quarry marks found in Egypt, as mentioned above, take in some instances such forms, although in others they may have been alphabetic. It must, however, not be forgotten, when considering the question from a symbolical point of view, that although the forms of some marks did originally carry certain special and particular mystical meanings in the system to which they belonged, we as little know that the masons used them with such meanings as that their symbolism formed any portion of the inner teaching of the craft. Also that with so many different forms it is not surprising to find that marks were by no means confined to any particular craft, but that very similar characters, to some extent at least used for the same purpose, were employed as swan marks, and by different trades, although not at so early a date.'
That certain peculiar marks have been handed down cannot be denied, but to explain, I will select for instance an Indian Sect mark, or an Arab Tribe mark, which had a special meaning and symbolism. The form may be found in use up to modern times as a mason's or other mark, but unless it be supposed that almost every system of symbolism became centred in the mason craft, not to mention others—which I am not prepared to allow—it is impossible to believe that the English, French, German, or other christian masons, would use either on a christian, or in fact on any building, intending the mark to carry its original symbolism.
Another singular theory is thus expressed :— "Other signs upon these curious talismans [Mith"raic or Gnostic gems] are derived from the "Demotic Alphabet, and are evidently the originals "of many of the Freemasons' signs, such as are "seen in Roslyn Abbey and other mediaeval build"ings all over Europe. This connection of Free"masonry and Mithraism receives further confir"mation from the fact that in the old faith there "were ten mysteries, as there are ten grades in the "masons' craft." (Archceologia, vol. 48, p. 243, 11 New points in the History of Roman Britain," by Alfred Tylor, F.G.S.) I need hardly say that the connexion between Mithraism and Masonry is as correct as the statement that there are ten grades in the craft.
'Cf. Homeyer, Die llaus-imd Hofmarken, Berlin, 1890. (Many plates.) K
In some instances, at least, in recent times, workmen chose their own marks, and to me it seems much more reasonable to suppose, if the same system prevailed from early times, that with the natural wish to possess something unlike what was used by others, a mason would not take some fantastic form from his " inner consciousness," but simply reproduce a sign he had before seen, knowing, it may be, though I think this doubtful, nothing whatever of its meaning. In other instances, marks may have had and indeed probably had quite a different origin. It has been suggested that in some cases the selection was influenced by the secret societies; I have seen nothing in proof of this, and very much doubt it.
I may, however, quote an instance of modern custom, the explanation of which seems quite clear. Passing along the streets of London, I noticed a large waggon laden with two or three stones. On examination, I found on two of them different modern masons' marks; one, a cross with eight rays, and the other, a letter M, with the uppermost points joined by a line. Side by side with each mark was the well-known emblem in Freemasonry of the Royal Arch, within a right-angled lozenge. Evidently they had been prepared by two masons associated together by certain ties, having no connexion with their trade.
In the book of the Lodge of Masons at Aberdeen there is a very interesting series of the marks belonging to the members from the year 1670. As the name of the owner is in every case attached to the mark, with the profession or trade, the list forms a very valuable item in the history of modern masons' marks. Some of the members of the lodge are simply described as "measson"; but there are also included in the list, an advocate, a professor of mathematics, an armourer, a glassier, a chyrurgeon, a merchant, and others, including also the Earl of Errolle, who were certainly not operatives. There are also several marks of "entered prenteises," showing that in that town in 1670, as at Edinburgh in 1599, Kilwinning in 1642 and later, at Melrose in 1719-1744, at Brechin 1714-1847, at Peebles 1717-1720, and at other places in Scotland, the system in use required the apprentice to take his mark at the time his name was entered in the book of the lodge. Many references will be found to Scotch marks in Murray Lyon's History of the Lodge of Edinburgh.
From the Schaw statutes of 1598 (Lyon, p. 10), it is evident that the admission by the lodge of a "maister or fallow of craft" was a formal proceeding; he was to be "ordrlie buikit, and his name and mark insert in the said buik." This record might be assumed to refer to a special kind of mark being given to a master or fellow-craft on his admission. Murray Lyon states that " it only "means that the fellow craft or master shall [must] "have a mark, which he may have adopted on his "being made an entered apprentice ; for the ancient "records of Mary's Chapel, and of the Lodge of "Kilwinning show that the possession of these "devices was common alike to all apprentices and "fellows or masters who chose to pay for them." Again (p. 71), it is stated that in the entries in the minute books of Mary's Chapel (Edinburgh) and Kilwinning Lodges the words used for the registration of marks are—"given," "given out," "chosen," "taken," "taken out," "received," "booked," and "paid for." In some instances at Peebles (lb. p. 419) in 1718, 1723, &c., it is mentioned that several non-operatives on being admitted to the lodge, " chose " their marks.
The rules of the lodge St. John's, Kilwinning (Freemasonry in Inverness, Alexr. Ross, p. 43), 25th March, 1745, provide "yl each entred apprentice "may sign the same [the book of bye-laws] in "testimony of his adherence to them, and yl his "mark then taken out may show the members of "this as well oyr. lodges the time of his admission, "&c., ye lodge he belongs to, as well as his "age."
In the regulations of the 2nd of June, 1687, from the books of the Old Lodge of Dumfries (History, by James Smith, i892, p. 6), it is enacted " That no "entered aprentiss be entered till first he pay to "y6 master and warden a merk Scots money for "his assignt merk [mark] upon his entry, and to "ye clerk half a merk Scots money also for his "booking."
In the minutes of the same Lodge reference is made in 1739 [lb. p. 20] to brethren at their admission " taking out their mark," and brethren not masons by trade, did this, "and paid for the same." The minute book No. 1 of the same lodge (lb. pp. 66-7) contains a register of marks. A few of them are dated, and none, Mr. Smith states, appear to be earlier than 1716. "Among them are "representations of a crown, a violin, an anchor, a "shovel, weighing scales, an axe, a top-boot, a wig, "a pair of scissors, a coffin, a face, a key, an hour