Wednesday, September 5, 2007
Do You Really Know What A Cowan Is?
Last night I was reading a book, and it described what a cowan was in terms of Operative Masonry. When going through the degrees you hear about cowans, but I never gave them much thought, a bunch of PGMs much more experienced than myself have written short definitions of what cowans were in terms of the craft, some just cite the dictionary still the best definition I have read was from Bro. Harry Carr, who first quotes the Oxford dictionary:
”One who builds dry stone walls (i.e., without mortar); a dry-stone-diker; applied derogatorily to one who does the work of a mason, but who has not been regularly apprenticed or bred to the trade.”
”Cowan is an essentially Scottish trade term, and it belongs to the time when lodges, as trade-controlling bodies, put restrictions against the employment of cowans, in order to protect the fully-trained men of the Craft from competition by unskilled labour. The earliest official ban against cowans appeared in the Schaw Statutes in 1598.”
On the Freemason Information website they quote a short talk bulletin from 1953 which reads:
“… and means to moderns an uninstructed and ignorant person, one not of the Fraternity, just as eavesdropper means to us one who attempts to gain the secrets of Masonry unlawfully.”
So I guess the bulletin is saying that cowan is just an ignorant person. But really, is that what a cowan is in modern 21st century Freemasonry? Or can the term be applied to clandestine members (yeah, I know I will get hate mail), conspiracy nuts, or fundlementalist that believe they know more about our work because they can quote Morals and Dogma? Do we really have men going around from lodge to lodge claiming to be a Mason but really isn’t in today’s society?
So I guess my question is to the Masons that read this, what is a cowan to you?