Many of you may have at some point in your life found yourself in a similar situation to one I had recovered from recently. On November 27, 2018, I had to have my tonsils removed. I'm a 45 year old man. When I wrote this, I was twelve days post-surgery and my throat was still hoarse and sore. As is often the case with me during times in my life where I need guidance, I turn to the lessons taught to us during our degrees. In the first degree, we are taught, “to be able to make yourself known among other Masons by certain signs, a token, a word and the points of your entrance which are four: the guttural, the pectoral, the manual and the pedal. These four points allude to the four cardinal virtues: Temperance, Fortitude, Prudence and Justice. “
We are further taught that “Temperance is that due restraint upon affections and passions which renders the body tame and governable, and frees the mind from the allurements of vice.” It is stressed to us that this virtue, “should be the constant practice of every Mason, as he is thereby taught to avoid excess, or the contracting of any licentious or vicious habit, the indulgence in which might lead him to disclose some of those valuable secrets which he has promised to conceal and never reveal, and which would consequently subject him to the contempt and detestation of all good Masons, if not to the penalty of our obligation, which alludes to the guttural.”
What is the guttural? From the Latin: “guttur”, meaning throat, literally meaning,“of the throat”. It’s a term usually reserved for sounds which are particularly harsh or grating. Because the throat is the entrance way through which vice, (alcohol, tobacco, food) enters the body, that this would be why temperance is associated with the guttural. Allowing such vice to influence a Mason’s behavior would inevitably lead to the possibility of giving up the secrets of the Craft via a loose tongue. The old saying, "Loose lips sink ships." comes to mind. However, In this day and age, it would be as easy to write down the secrets (using the manual) on a form of Social Media, and press enter. To complicate matters, the attachment of the four cardinal virtues to the “perfect” points of entrance didn’t occur in the ritual until the mid-1800’s. So why then is the guttural so important to our Craft?
While thinking about it and beginning to research why temperance would be associated with the guttural, I came across something that I never thought about. Operative Masons (at least in Ireland), had their own secret language (https://www.jstor.org/stable/534860?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents).
In any case, the knowledge of this secret mason’s talk was known by many throughout Ireland. Like our degree system, apprentices obtained “papers” from the master-mason, and an increase of wages with each paper. The third paper (or third degree as we might think of it), was called an indenture. No apprentice would be entitled to this until he was able to speak the Bearla lagair. They were forbidden to teach it any one not a mason, even to the members of their own family. They also had secret signs, methods of handling their working tools, ways of pointing, smoothing and laying mortar which would also identify them, but only the other member of their craft would pick up on these things. To the non-mason, it would have been their cryptic language which identified them as free-masons.
This being said, the points of one entrance can be thought of the precise moment that a candidate for initiation enters the lodge, or the entire ceremony of initiation. The first thing a candidate does after knocking three times on the door from the preparation room to the lodge room is to use his voice to answer a question. Without the guttural, he would never be able to enter to lodge room. As only a man who affirms that he is entering of his own free will and accord can become a Freemason. Yes, a candidate needs to use his voice to repeat his obligation, and the penalty of the obligation of the Entered Apprentice impacts the guttural, but at this point, the candidate has already vocally affirmed four times that he is entering the lodge and wanting to receive the rights and benefits of Freemasonry. It is at the point of entry, where they affirm that they are joining without being asked, invited, solicited or pressured to join.
This is also one of the most powerful arguments that one can use when Freemasonry is accused of being a religion. The custom of most religious groups is to urge people to join their religion. They proselytize actively, and during certain points in history, have persecuted people who are not of their religion. Freemasonry does no such thing. Albert Mackey when commenting on a man coming to Freemasonry of his own free-will and accord said: "This is a settled landmark of the Order," but, he did not include this ‘settled landmark’ among his list of Landmarks for some reason. In his article on Proselytism, He states; “Freemasonry is rigorously opposed to proselytism.” And follows: “Nay, it boasts as a peculiar beauty of its system, that it is a voluntary institution.” We accept men of all religious backgrounds, and allow them a forum to meet and enjoy fellowship with other men who might believe in a God that is not their own. But they must seek out us out.
Furthermore, if a Man was to join due to pressure from his father, brother, uncle, friend; and left it might result in a family argument, or a lost friendship. Mackey states that coming of our own free-will and accord means that Freemasonry is truly a voluntary association of men, and that this is where the saying ‘Once a Freemason always a Freemason’ comes from, and has meaning. This is what in my humble opinion ultimately unites us as a Fraternity. Each of us, who have stood at the door of the preparation room have answered affirmatively that we are joining of our own free will and accord by using the guttural.
WB Darin A. Lahners is the Worshipful Master of St. Joseph Lodge No.970 in St. Joseph and a plural member of Ogden Lodge No. 754 (IL), and Homer Lodge No. 199 (IL). He’s a member of the Scottish Rite Valley of Danville, a charter member of the new Illinois Royal Arch Chapter, Admiration Chapter No. 282, and is the current Secretary of the Illini High Twelve Club No. 768 in Champaign – Urbana (IL). He is also a member of the Eastern Illinois Council No. 356 Allied Masonic Degrees. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.