The history of Freemasonry in Scotland followed a path of its own due to the different political and economical conditions. In England, at the time when speculative Masonry emerged, there were few operative lodges whereas in Scotland there were many, and the whole mason trade was organised around them. Recent research has shown that symbolic Masonry initiated also in Scotland, and was not imported from England in the eighteenth century as many people thought.
Irish churchmen started building churches in Scotland in the sixth century, but this stopped in the tenth. Stone workers from England started again to build churches in the twelfth century and this explains why the churches built at that time in both countries are so similar. The English influence lasted until the early fourteenth century and was replaced the French style in the fifteenth century.
In England the medieval Freemasons working soft stones had a higher status than all other masons did. This was not the case in Scotland where all classes of masons enjoyed more or less the same status. Acceptation or recognition by the lodges, trade incorporation, and other fraternities were more important factors. These mason trade bodies introduced some kind of sign of recognition, the lack of which led the mason who did not know them to be regarded as semi-skilled, independently of his skill. The term “frie mesone” in Scotland is not equivalent to the term “Freemason” in the operative or early speculative period in England. It simply meant “freeman mason”, that is a member of the mason trade accepted as a freeman of his incorporation. The word “Freemason” was not used in Scotland until after 1717.
It is not known if the city incorporation or the lodge came first. In Edinburg the Incorporation of Masons started in 1475 and the first lodges are from 1491; in Aberdeen they date from 1483. The Shaw Statutes of 1598 and 1599 mention the word “Lodges”, referring obviously to a well-known organisation of masons controlling the building activities in a town. Head lodges in the main cities controlled the country lodges. In England there was the Mason Company in London and in a few other cities, but there was no such organised operative lodges as they had in Scotland. Twenty operative lodges were known to exist in Scotland before 1700, but none had any symbolic activities. When the Scottish Grand Lodge was formed in 1736, about one hundred lodges were asked to join, but only thirty-three responded.
As far back as the Reformation some Scottish lodges welcomed aristocratic neighbours as honorary members. They were charged a higher entrance fee than the operative Masons, and this went on until 1740 when the speculative Masonry was already quite strong.
William Shaw, the Master of Works to the Crown of Scotland and General Warden of the Masons, promulgated two ordinances in 1598 and 1599. The first regulated the Mason Craft in Scotland and the second confirmed that the Edinburg Lodge was being the principal lodge in Scotland, Kilwinning the second, and Stirling the third. It also gave the Lodge of Kilwinning supervisory powers over lodges in Western Scotland. There is nothing speculative in these two sets of rules.
The Mason Word, and the ceremonies that took place when it was conferred, came into existence when the Scot mason trade organisation of the towns and cities became strong enough to limit the number of apprentices, and to protect themselves from the competition of country masons wanting to come to work in their towns and cities. They probably were used first in the fourteenth or fifteenth centuries. In the seventeenth century the mason Word was thought to be unholy and to have magic powers linked to the Devil.
Two problems come immediately to light when one tries to inquire into the early history of the Scottish Esoteric Masonry. During the period of two centuries prior to 1700, when the apprentice masons were told the “Mason Word” after their training was over, did they also receive any esoteric message that could be regarded as a primitive form of the present day Entered Apprentice’s Degree? Were there two distinct Scots ceremonies, one for the Entered Apprentice and one for the Fellowcraft, each with the communication of secrets, and having some relationship to the ceremonies in use in English Lodges around 1717? Unfortunately there is no clear and definite answers to these two questions. The Mason Word has never been revealed to the public at large. If it is true that it was introduced into the English lodges, we may assume that it is still in use to day. The experts are not even certain if it was one or two words. According to some, it could have originated earlier in England; Scottish Craftsmen, after receiving it in the sixteenth century, found it useful when the trade incorporation decided that they had to protect their members from undue competition.