The language of Freemasonry reveals a rich and divers history. The amount of space here will not do it justice. Nevertheless it is worth sharing. There is little doubt that much of it is archaic, but fitting it in to any particular timeframe in history is almost impossible. The words fit into an era well before the current generation. Several generations may still find it difficult. To many it is gibberish. But it would be unwise to think we are mindless zombies who walk around mumbling seemingly endless but incoherent passages in a language which we recognise as our own but barely understand the content. Chaucer or Shakespeare would be happy to use parts of the ritual while some might be more at home with Byron or Keats.
There is a phrase which every Mason knows well. “So mote it be.” These four words are used together more often than any other phrase. What does it mean? The dictionary is vague but gives a similar derivation to the word, moot. A moot or mote was a meeting. Clearly we are at a meeting when we utter the phrase but it doesn’t see to be used in the context of a meeting. Most Masons use it in the same sense as the word “Amen.” For these Masons it would mean “It is so” or “So be it.”
Consider these words. “To your neighbour, by always acting with him on the square,by rendering him every kind office that Justice and Mercy may require…” These are spoken to the candidate towards the end of the initiation ceremony. They are imploring him to be aware of his duties towards his fellow man. The language is quaint, no doubt, but is also full of the symbolism which becomes second nature to Freemasons.
We see the clear reference to the square, that implement of architecture which adorns every lodge room. Indeed it is on the wall outside the building. Acting on the square would be a familiar phrase in almost any English speaking country. One then wonders whether it has crept from Freemasonry into popular language or whether it was the reverse. Certainly Freemasons see it in a similar way, although the explanation in the ceremonies is somewhat more flowery.
Justice and Mercy are used here in both their practical as well as there metaphorical sense. Justice is the sense of moral rightness but is also the blind figure we see outside most legal buildings. Mercy refers to compassionate behaviour especially by those in authority. In the language of Freemasonry she is also personified.
Consider also the term “kind office”. The sense of it can be clearly seen in the passage but highlights the quaintness of the language.