The Noble But Slightly Dishonourable Degree of Cork Masonry
This Degree is produced for the amusement of the brethren of Royal Naval
College Lodge of Mark Master Masons and dated 1936, when the degree was 'worked'
at the festive board. During the discussion which followed, in open lodge, it
transpired that whilst most had never heard of the degree, one member (WBro
Grace) had received it in a Lancashire lodge. It was believed that there was a
working Cork lodge in Hertfordshire under Scottish auspices and Oxfordshire were
considering restoring it to raise money for charity. It is, however, not
formally recognised by Craft or Mark Grand lodges. Whether it had been
officially proscribed or had just fallen into obscurity was not clear.
A.: Noble Corks, assist me to open this Cork Lodge.
All shuffle about, strike matches, lightpipes etc., fill their glasses, and seat themselves comfortably.
A.: Purser, what is the first object or care and attention in a Cork Lodge?
P.: To preserve the Lodge from the observation of others.
A.: Then kindly make the observation yourself.
P.: Tiler, you will see that the door is kept shut, and that there is no one loafing about outside on the chance of a free drink at a Brother's expense.
T.: There are no barnacles hanging about outside, Sir.
A.: Matey, what is the next point of care and solicitude?
M.: To see that there are no dry rotters inside.
A.: Has this been attended to?
M.: It has (giving the sign of doubt).
A.: Then, to order, Noble Corks.
The Brethren here stand with their hands on their hips, a pipe or cigar or cigarette in the left hand, and a piece of cork in the right hand.
A.: Brother ... addresses lookout by name, you being on the Look out, what is your duty at the door of a Cork Lodge?
L. O.: To guard that door and hold it fast, and also to look out for and be aware of, and to screw out all fees and fines due by the Brethren, when so directed.
A.: Doctor, what have you to do?
D.: To look after all "phys" ical gases, odours, and emanations while at sea, and to prescribe when the Brethren are half-seas over.
A.: Cook, what is your duty?
C.: To prevent sickness by keeping water on the bile and food in a stew, so that the Brethren may be always ready to go to the juice (deuce).
A.: Bosun, what is your duty?
B.: To repeatedly wet my whistle with a view to the better discharge of my masonic duty.
A.: Purser, what is your duty?
P.: To collect all fees and fines, and to transmit them, without deduction, at my own expense, to whatever charity this Lodge may direct A.: Matey, what is your duty?
M.: To assist you in boxing the compass with a sheet in the wind, and to steer a straight course when homeward bound.
A.: What is my duty?
M.: To preserve the bond of fellowship, that being the principal duty levied on the spirits of a Cork Lodge.
A.: Then, Noble Corks, before I declare this Cork Lodge opened, I shall proceed to take a solemn libation. You can also do so if you choose. does so Feeling better for that, I now declare this Cork Lodge duly opened. The other officers repeat a few knocks more or less at pleasure. One may go on knocking till he is stopped by some jocular remark.
The whole may join at the Admiral 's request in a verse or two of some jovial song.
A.: Resume your seats, my Noble Brethren.
NOTE - During any part of the ceremonies a member may request the others to join him in a libation, but this should be done with discretion, so as not to become a nuisance.
The foregoing opening may be elaborated or curtailed, or other harmless jests used.
A list of the candidates having been made beforehand and passed by the presiding officer, who is responsible for seeing that they are duly qualified and acceptable Brethren, the order in which they are to appear is settled by lot, or by choice of the presiding officer.
A.: Doctor, I understand that a number of candidates are here this evening. Kindly examine them and report. You may take the Cook with you.
The Doctor goes out with the Cook, and makes any jocular examination of pulses or tongues, etc., which may occur to him. The candidates are marshalled and brought into the Lodge Room. They are ranged in a row of the furthest end of the room. The Cook and Doctor resume seats. The candidates have their hats with them, but not on their heads.
A.: Bosun, do your duty,
The Bosun blows his whistle, and then all the members seated at the table solemnly rise and take a libation. This command may be repeated ad lib. At the Admiral 's discretion:
B.: I present to you, Sir, these Brethren, who have been regularly admitted as Free Masons and are in good standing, and who now hope to have their bodies refreshed and their minds illuminated by the benefits of this noble and social degree.
A.: Your presentation shall be attended to. For which purpose I must address a few words to those noble Brethren assembled here, and then call the attention of the candidates to the essential qualifications required from every candidate for the illumination of the Cork Degree.
Noble Brethren, the origin of this, one of the side degrees in Freemasonry, is so ancient, that its origin has been entirely lost in obscurity. But it is well know that it flourished at the time of the Flood, and the Degree may be still more ancient, for tradition, which is not in itself to be despised, relates that the word Cork itself is derived from the first letters of each word of the sentence which Eve used to Adam when they retired through the intricate windings of the bushes (Quercus suber) (the sober cork) which served to secure their privacy to perform their mystic rites in the Garden of Eden. Its connection with Jewish custom is evident from the fact that it is the only degree in Freemasonry in which hats are worn, and it is supposed that some of our ancient Brethren, notably among the Jews, wore two or three hats at a time to mark the progress they had made in the craft. Most if not all, of the greatest ancient historical characters in Freemasonry have been Members of this Degree. Gideon, who was a sporting gentleman and accustomed to fleecing, and with a partiality for the contents of Pitchers, was a Past Master, and received his name from the irregularity of his walk, which looked as if he were a giddy un. King Solomon, again, is well known to have been in possession of a numerous fleet, which was engaged in bringing over spices, etc., from the East to Joppa, and which, no doubt, rendered the loving cup of the period more fragrant; the merchantmen of this fleet were protected by Barques, so that the illustrious monarch's potations were protected by a bark, i.e., by a Cork. King David is equally well known to have used Cork soles to keep his feet out of hot water when going to the bath, and it was to the temporary loss of these that may be attributed the trouble that arose about bathsheds. While the good old Commander Noah, after having built the Ark, occupied himself for a long time in caulking its seams, a point which is romantically alluded to in the Historical Lecture or Tracing Board of this Degree.
Candidates, are you willing to take an obligation, and to consider it binding upon you in honour to keep the secret of the Degree inviolate, and to abide by its rules?
CANDIDATES: We are.
B.: blows whistle, libation. Candidates' hats are collected,
A.: Then I must inform you that in this, as in all the other Masonic Degrees, there are certain signs and works of a highly mysterious character by which Cork Masons can always recognise one another in the presence of the outer world, without the latter's knowledge, and gjve or claim and receive assistance, but before you can take the obligation and receive those secrets, certain fees must be paid, which not only permit you to gain advanced Masonic rank, but also enable you to exercise the distinguishing characteristic of Freemasonry, viz., charity, as these fees must all be devoted to that purpose.
A.: Bosun, take these Candidates to the Purser, who will make an important application to them.
B., blows his whistle: I shall do it with pleasure.
The officers rise and take a libation at the sound of the whistle.
B.: Candidates, attend to the Purser. He can neither sing nor speak; in fact hè is speechless, but he can take a collection.
P.: Brethren, I have to ask you to pay no attention to the senseless observations of the Bosun, but to hand to me the dues of this Degree, which I shall have pleasure in handing to the ... name charity or a charity to be afterwards decided upon. The fees are collected.
P.: Brother on the Look Out, you will satisfy yourself that all dues are paid, and report.
L.O. to A.: Sir, These Brethren have all paid to the Purser the dues required in this sublime Degree.
Their hats are returned and placed on their heads, preferably the wrong hats.
A.: Brethren, having now paid your dues, you will now raise your right hands, each of you having been supplied with two corks. You will hold these corks both resting on the thumb and the other ends held by the tips of the first and second fingers, the corks being thus arranged in the form of an open compass or triangle, with the apex from you downwards, and repeating your several names at full length, say after me.
NOTE - This is the preferable form referring distantly to the E.A obligation in England. In Scotland it is frequently given with one cork between the forefinger and thumb.
I, ..., all state names simultaneously and rather chaotically In the presence of the High (Priest) Admiral, and of this sober and social Lodge of Ancient and Honourable Corks irregularly held, occasionally assembled, but very properly decorated, do hereby of my own free will and accord solemnly promise on my word of honour that I will never reveal any or either of the secrets or mysteries or parts of points thereof belonging to the order in Freemasonry known as the Cork Degree, directly or indirectly to any one except a noble Brother Cork, or an approved Companion about to become such, and then only in a duly constituted Lodge of Brother Corks, and after due trial, strict examination, and a full conviction that the Companion is worthy of my confidence. I further promise that I will never consent to or allow the admission of anyone who is not qualified by the Rules of the Order by which I agree to strictly abide, and specially that I will always act up to and maintain the principles of the Cork pure and unsullied, and never refuse or relinquish my claim to the penalty incurred by a neglectful Cork or any excuse whatever, and should I myself be the delinquent, I will cheerfully abide by the consequence of my forgetfulness. To all these points I solemnly swear fidelity under no less a penalty that that of being stranded in a land flowing with milk and honey, and being unable to get a drop to drink, or the more tantalising - if less horrible - punishment of being shut up in a well-stocked cellar, and not being able to draw a cork myself or to get one drawn for me, and being branded as a mere worthless bottle-stopper instead of a noble Cork.
A.: You will ratify this obligation by raising the corks in your hands and kissing them once. You will then raise your hats from your heads three times, each time bending forward and bowing to the Brethren assembled, and then once more to myself.
The Candidates now retire from the Lodge into the other room, and are brought into the Lodge Room individually for passing. Care must be taken to tile the door after each has entered.
Brother ..., as a newly obligated Cork, you have now the right to demand of me the great and indrvidual secrets of the Order, but before I can communicate them, a trial must be made of your intelligence and dexterity. I shall also call upon all Corks present to join in the ordeal, so that they may not become mouldy for want of practice in the art, You will place a cork in front of you. Put your right hand upon the table six inches from the cork. The back must be flat downwards on the table, and the thumb extended in the form of a square. At the word three you will turn the hand over, and rapidly, with a sweeping motion, seize and raise the cork between the thumb and forefinger, and hold it out to show that you have it firmly held
NOTE - This methodis somewhat difficult, and the most usual is to grasp the cork with the hand and bring it up smartly to the left shoulder.
You must note that the most unskilful is the one who is last to touch and raise nis cork, and hè will be fined half-a-crown. But as I am anxious that all should have an opportunity of refreshing their memories and none be taken unawares, I direct that one trial be made first for practice. Now you are ready.
Here a few ridiculous questions or suggestions may be made, and the Bosun may blow his whistle for a libation.
A.: Now. One ! Two ! ! Three ! ! ! The corks are lifted as directed, all brethren participating.
A.: That was fairly well done, though I noticed one or two rather behind the rest, This time we shall make it a test. You to the Candidate, of course are free, for you have paid already, but by smartness you may assist me to catch some of the others.
A.: One ! Two ! ! Three ! ! ! Ah ! burnt! A burnt cork is one who fails the test.
A dispute here arises as to which was the last, which is settled by the suggestion that it was understood to be a test only.
A.: Well, we shall try again. The real thing. One ! Two ! ! Three ! ! !
This time no one lifts but the Candidate, unless hè is seen to have got an inkling, and leaves his cork on the table too, in which case all the others at once lift, taking their cue from the Admiral.
A., to the Candidate: You were clearly the last, but as we are inclined to put this down to nervousness rather than to want of ability, we shall pass you on this occasion.
The Rule is explained to the Candidate, who then takes his seat at the table and shares in thefun,
white the same process is gone through with the others.
Other tests may be added if there is time and opportunity, e.g, when there are few candidates.
A.: You having now passed your trials with satisfaction to yourselves and advantage to our charities, I take a libation. You can do so also if you wish.
The Candidates are now ranged in a row before the A, for Raising.
A.: There were at the time of the Deluge so many spurious Degrees of Freemasonry, all having their own distinctive signs, that some difficulty was experienced in agreeing upon a sign which should enable Brother Corks to recognise each other, and yet not be noticeable to the ordinary passer-by.
I shall now entrust you with the secrets of the Degree. These consist of a sign, a token, a word, and a grip.
The Sign is of a two-fold nature. The first part is called the sign of doubt, and is given by passing two fingers of the right hand upwards from the left side of the chin across the mouth as if testing whether one requires shaving, and wiping the mouth. The second part or sign of the distress is given by placing both hands on the back a few inches below the waist in the region of the coat tails, and assuming an expression of pain, as if that part of the body had been recently burnt.
The Token is given thus. Advance to me as a Mason, and now raise your hat from your head and bowing, say "Most Noble Cork". Replace hat on head. Advance another pace, take my hat as I take yours, bow again, and repeat the words "Most Noble Cork", and put on the haT.: Advance once more, raise the hat again on my head, as I put it on yours.
The Grip is then given by interlocking the little finger of the right hand and saying "How are you?" to which the reply is "Corky".
The challenge is then given, "Show me your Cork", when it must be produced, under pain of fine. In place of the challenge a word is variously used, and is lettered from right to left, and not spoken. Sometimes the word is "Bung" is reversed, "Gnub". Abroad, "Tobacco" is used.
I would now counsel you to treasure up in your minds these most solemn lessons which I have endeavoured to group together, and bring before you out of history, tradition, and fiction of the past. I am sure that your hearts will be full of gratitude that such circumstances should have occurred as to lead to the institution of the Degree, a Degree which, in later years, and in your own case this evening, has been not only the means of affording an opportunity of maintaining in the fullest splendours the truly Masonic qualities of benevolence and charity, but also of bringing you into direct relationship with the greatest Financier ever known, for I need not remind you that Noah was successful in floating a limited company when the whole world was in liquidation.
Let us finally and in a word deduce from the whole the moral that knowledge grounded on accuracy, aided by labour, and prompted by perseverance, will finally overcome all difficulties, and raise ignorance from its native darkness into light.
A.: Brother Steward, will you now present the working tools of this Degree.
B., whistles, libation.
S.: Brethren, by order of the High (Priest) Admiral, I present to you the working tools of this Degree.
They are the steam hammer, the gas bracket, and the saucepan lid. They have no connection with the Degree whatever, and hence their importance. If you are in difficulties, you can always get a pound from the hammer, bronze or copper out of the bracket, and tin from the saucepan lid. If, however, you can deduce any moral from these things, I advise you to do it for yourself.
Some such nonsense as the above may be introduced ad lib, or omitted altogether.
A.: I have now much pleasure in welcoming you as a Brother Cork, and in handling to you this, the Badge of the Degree, and I trust that you may live long to wear it with pleasure to yourself, usefulness to the order, and honour to the Lodge in which you have been admitted, and let me assure you that if you never disgrace it, it will never disgrace you.
The Cork Jewels are presented, and the Candidates instructed as to
challenging with i t, and with the word. They are warned never to forego the
penalty, and to send the receipt from the charity to the defaulter.
A.: Brother Corks, assist me to close this Cork Lodge.
Everyone gathers up his matches, tobacco pouch, arranges glasses on the table, fmishes his glass, etc.
A.: Brother Purser, what is the last and constant care in a Cork Lodge?
P.: To see that all refreshment has been duly paid for, and the fund in a place of safety.
A.: Has this been done?
P.: Yes, I have them myself.
A.: Matey, what is the next care?
M.: To see that the Brethren give no more orders while the Lodge is being closed.
A.: Will you see that this is done?
M.: Cook, the galley is closed. Brethren, there is no more shot in the locker.
A.: I hereby declare this Cork Lodge closed Uncork and untile.
I have now to ask you to solemnize your minds and hearts while I address you in an attempt to blend history, tradition, and fiction into one harmonious whole. I have already told you that the Cork Degree is of the greatest antiquity. The legendary lore of it dates from the time when the Patriarch Noah, with his wife and their three sons and families, dwelt for a time in the Ark, as a means of preservation from the great Deluge. You will no doubt remember that Noah was directed to look very carefully to the Ark being well provisioned before he set sail. Still he resolved to trust to providence for many things. Thus, he argued that they would find plenty of Chops in the channel, and a large quantity of ocean Currents when they got to sea. He arranged for his children to amuse themselves by fishing with artificial fly, because he could not spare any of the two worms on board.: He felt sure they would have good Spirits on board, with which they would Beer the journey well and finish it 'Ale and 'earty. He counted on having Leeks on board, whether he wanted them or not. As for cleanliness, he knew that not withstanding the surrounding desolation, where there's life there's 'oap.
He laid down a large quantity of wine for medicinal use on board, for the voyage, and stored it away on the left side of the ship, which since then has always been known as the Port Side.
There were no clocks on board, though most of the crew kept watches. Hens, in order to calculate the time to a nicety, an extra cock was provided, which acted as Crawnometer. Now permit me a few words relative to our ancestors in this Degree. The three sons of Noah who accompanied him into the Ark were Ham, Shem, and Japhet.
The elder, who from his great fondness for tobacco earned the sobriquet of Smoked Ham, is well known to history as the first instance of salted provisions being admitted into the Navy. The tobacco was grown on the slopes of Mount Ararat, down which Noah and his sons were wont to descend to the brink of the lake on which the Ark was built, by means of a small machine still used in Canada and Switzerland, hence named a toboggan.
Ham was somewhat careless of his personal appearance, whereas Shem and Japhet were more particular about their clothing. Shem was even more particular at sea than on land, and was known among the passengers as the Swell of the Ocean. He always appeared at breakfast in a garment which was adopted by his daughter, and afterwards by the fair sex generally, viz., the Shemise. Japhet, on the other hand, who was more particular when on shore, was known as the Ground Swell.
The Jay fit has now become proverbial. In latter years we learn from fiction that he made a name for himself by going in search of his father, whom hè found on the pier (beer) at Jaffa or Joppa, the old man being a very good customer for the produce of his own vineyard.
Beyond the gross measurement of the Ark, very little is known as to the dimensions of the several parts. We know, however, that it possessed, as the largest man-of-war does to this day, seven ropes only, viz: - l, the Man Rope; 2, the Buoy Rope; 3, the Head Rope; 4, the Foot Rope; 5, the Tiller Rope; 6, the Bucket Rope; and 7, the Rope's End. But those of you who wish to know more about this remarkable ship I must refer to any Arkaelogical Dictionary of the period.
So much room was taken up in the Ark by cargo and by animals, that the passenger accommodation was incommodious. Noah and his sons, however, had their separate cabins, two on the hurricane and two on the main deck. Some of the ladies were allowed on board, as the Ark was not exclusively a Mail steamer. Owls were sometimes heard on board, but no music, as they had no P.: & O. in these days.
In this Degree, four form a Lodge, and six or more make it perfect. One rules a Lodge, because Noah was the sole Grand Master when the Order was founded. Four form a Lodge in allusion to Noah and his three sons, while six make it perfect, owing to the Legend that when Noah was feeling very drowsy one day on the quarter-deck after dinner, his wife jestingly remarked that he was as good as half-a-dozin'.
And now allow me a few words as to what gave rise to the actual founding of this very beautiful Degree.
It had been noticed for some days that the water in the bilge increased so rapidly, that the sailors were worn out working at the pumps. As the Ark went sailing round, and the sun - the light of the glory of the universe - shone upon it, when the waters abated, the heat being powerful, had melted away a portion of the Oakum (Corticeim piece admorebit Horace), with which Noah had caulked the Ark.
After many days of fruitless search, the leak was discovered in the following strange but providential manner. Noah's grandchildren, during the 150 days that the water prevailed, occasionally beguiled the time by hunting the rats which infested the Ark, with the fox terriers they had on board. These rats were of a very hairy kind (sorex hirsuta), and it was from them that the mountain on which the Ark rested was called the Hairy Rat, afterwards corrupted into Ararat.
On a certain day in one of these hunts, a rat was so hard pressed, that it was found to have rushed through a hole in the bottom of the ship into the water, so closely followed by a terrier, that the dog's nose stuck fast in the hole. This led to the discovery of the leak by Shem, whose dog it was. The terrier, having pushed its nose with great force into the hole, had increased it, in its eagerness to catch the rat. When the dog's nose was withdrawn, the leak increased. Some of the pitch stuck to the nose and side of the dog's face. From this is derived the black patch so often found on the nose or over one eye or ear of terriers otherwise than white.
Japhet, being young and innocent, came next to the front, and baring his right knee, knelt down on the same place. This also proved a failure in the emergency, and Japhet, rising more hastily than he knelt down, took away still more of the caulking, and made the leak worse. Nothing now remained than for Ham to make a trial. He, seeing the failure of his brother's efforts, and being of a stronger and more determined character than the rest, politely, but forcibly, sat his wife down on the leak. The caulking having been already partially cooled by the former attempts, under the increased pressure of MTS Ham's weight became, in spite of her struggles, sufficiently solid to stop the leak effectually.
From that day to this the three coldest things in nature known to our ancient Brethren and to ourselves are accordingly a dog's nose, a man's knee, and that part of a woman that so effectually stopped the leak, and these have been accepted as the symbols of the Degree.
His fears for the safety of the Chief Architect, that is himself, being thus allayed, Noah directed his sons, Shem and Japhet, to raise their sister-in-law. They each in turn gallantly extended a hand to her to rise. In both cases it proved a slip, and Mrs Ham exclaimed in her own dialect, Aikan Tmaib Umist Uktait.
The others, then clapping their hands in sympathy to the region of their coat tails, sorrowfully responded, Shikan Therb Umist Uktait.
When Ham saw their efforts to be useless, he took a firm hold with his left hand of her back hair, and raised her on the point of his right toe, an early instance of the use of the leave her (Lever), which derived its name from the occurrence. He at the same time exclaimed, Raizu Poladi Yerb Umisnast Uktait.
Those ancient and untranslateable words have ever since been designated as the Grand Mystic or Royal words of the Cork Degree, but the further occasions on which these powerful and terrible syllables have been made use of by Cork Masons are not divulged to any but those at the head of the Order, being, in fact, entirely unknown even to them through the obscurity of countless ages.