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#2 – What’s the story behind Masonic Fire?
Two points need to be mentioned straight away. First, in the early days of Freemasonry, toasts were often drunk from specially made ‘firing glasses’ with very heavy bases that produced a rousing crash when they were all slammed down on the table together. There are examples of such glasses in various parts of Freemasons’ Hall at London Road in Leicester, and some Lodges still have sets of special firing glasses for ceremonial use at their meetings. These glasses only hold a mouthful of drink, as the custom was to refill (or ‘recharge’) them before each toast. Second, these glasses cannot be used to produce ‘rapid fire’, but rather they require quite deliberate and formal movements.
One possible origin of firing is a naval twenty-one-gun salute, because our fire is given in a seven series of threes. A friendly ship entering a foreign port would fire its guns towards the sea to show it had no hostile intent. Over time, this practice changed into a ceremonial way of showing respect. It was not uncommon at 17th century feasts for toasts to be accompanied by gunfire, but not usually as many as 21 volleys.
An early French Masonic exposure of 1737 (i.e. a book intended to make public the secrets of Freemasonry) states that toasts were given in the following manner:
Each brother seated at the table would have a bottle of wine and glass before him
the Worshipful Master would command all to ‘charge their arms’ (i.e. pour wine into their glasses)
They would all then bring their glasses to their lips in three movements and drink the contents
Then they would move the empty glasses to their left breast, then their right breast and then
forwards in a second series of three movements
Then, in a third series of three movements the glass would be brought down on the table
Then all present would clap their hands in unison and shout ‘vivat!’
An English exposure of 1760 states that it was the duty of the Deacons to ensure all glasses were charged and that the drinking was accompanied by stamping on the floor nine times.
Nowadays, we often substitute, a modern version of ‘firing’ by using ‘point-left-right’ three times in the form of an equilateral triangle; an important Masonic symbol. These first ‘sets of threes’ form the start of the Fire and add up to nine. Each is followed by the command ‘One-Two’ to which we respond with a clap, so that is another set of three and we have reached a total of twelve. To that we then add three sets of three claps, a further nine, taking us to twenty-one in total.
Of course, twenty-one is also three times seven, another symbolic number. As in all our Ritual, we should always bear in mind the symbolism behind firing our toasts.
#1 – Why do we wear gloves?
Apart from their practical uses to protect the hands from cold and injury, gloves have symbolic connotations. The old illustrations of operative Masons at work do not show them wearing gloves. Their use must have been mostly ceremonial, and their adoption in speculative Masonic Ritual must be explained by their symbolism.
In the ancient Mysteries, the washing of the hands was always an introductory ceremony to the Initiation, and, of course, it was used symbolically to indicate the necessity of purity from crime as a qualification of those who sought admission into the sacred rites.
The Italian writer Vanni considers that the origin of the symbolism lies not in their use by certain craftsmen, or as protection against the cold, but rather in their military use.
Carrying heavy weapons, such as the spear, large sword, axe or mace, involved wearing gloves for protection and to improve the grip.
Gloves were at first made of leather, but eventually became protected with steel mail. Therefore, to present a glove represented giving up the means of protection, and granting power to the receiver.
The glove’s protection is not only material but also spiritual. For this reason, when touching the Holy Book, (in the obligation, for example) the hand must not be covered. Likewise, when forming the ‘fraternal chain’
customary in some Rituals, the hands must not wear gloves. This, to allow the subtle energy of the fraternal circle to circulate freely.
The custom of presenting a pair of white gloves to the Initiate at the conclusion of an Initiation ceremony has a long historical tradition, and is recorded in the 10th century. A chronicle relates that in the year 960,
the monks of Saint Alban’s Monastery in Germany, presented a pair of gloves to the bishop at his investiture. The prayer pronounced during the investiture ceremony included a phrase beseeching God to
cloth with purity the hands of His servant.
The symbolism of the gloves is a modification of that of the apron. They both signify the same thing; both are allusive to a purification of life. ‘Who shall ascend’, says the Psalmist, ‘into the hill of the Lord? Or who
shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands and a pure heart’.
In his book Clavis Symbolica the author states that hands, ‘are the symbols of human actions; pure hands are pure actions; unjust hands are deeds of injustice’.
There are numerous references in sacred and profane writers to this symbolism. The washing of the hands has the outward sign of an internal
purification. Because of this, in modern times, some Masonic jurisdictions actually forbid markings of any kind upon Masonic gloves.
A more modernistic belief is that gloves would also cover both imperfections and adornments of the hands. Therefore, hiding the injuries caused from labour, as well as gold and silver rings, thus making men
of all classes equal within our Temple.
In historic times, the new Mason had to provide gloves for the entire company as part of his entrance fees. The practice was known as ‘clothing the lodge’. Anderson’s Constitutions of 1723, in article VII stipulates
that ‘Every new Brother at his making is decently to clothe the Lodge, that is, all the Brethren present’.
The acts of a Mason should be as pure and spotless as the gloves he proudly wears.