Secret Societies of All Ages - Charles Heckethorn




IV. German Workmen's Unions

373. Huntsmans Phraseology.—In the woods infested by robbers we meet with the first germs of these corporations, with rough but characteristic customs. Charcoal-burners and hunters need means to recognise each other, so as not to shake hands with an enemy. Grimm has collected upwards of two hundred venatic terms and phrases. The questions and answers of the wandering journeymen have a great resemblance to those of hunters; the intonation is the same, and both make great use of the symbolic numbers three and seven. The formulaD necessarily have reference to the various incidents of the hunter's life.

"Q. Good huntsman, what have you seen to-day?

A. A noble stag and a wild boar; what can one desire better?

Q. Why do you call yourself a master huntsman?

A. A brave huntsman obtains from princes and lords the title of master in the seven liberal arts. From these sentiments which ennoble the dignity of an art or trade there arises often that chivalrous love which renders life gentle, and gives it an aim and a reward worthy of it.

Q. Tell me, good huntsman, where have you left the fair and gentle damsel?

A. I left her under a majestic tree, and am going to rejoin her. Long live the maid dressed in white that every morning brings me a day of good fortune. Every day I see her again at the same place; and when I am wounded she cures me, and says to me: 'I wish the huntsman safety and happiness; may he meet with a fine stag!'"

374. Initiation.—Artisans, more closely united than hunters, did not admit new members into their sodality except after long and solemn trials; their catechisms breathe throughout a spirit of brotherly affection and attention to moral and civil duties. They were divided into degrees, and it is remarkable that the German workmen have long been accustomed to the word, sign, and grip of the Freemasons. The operative masons were divided into Wort-Maurer (Word Masons) and Schrift-Maurer (Writing or Diploma Masons). The former had no other proof to give of their having been regularly brought up to the trade of builders but the word and signs; the latter had written indentures to show. There were laws enjoining master masons to give employment to journeymen who had the proper word and signs. Some cities in this respect possessed more extensive privileges than others. The word given at Wetzlar entitled the possessor to work over the whole empire. With the German journeyman also the three years' travel in search of improvement is an universal condition, and the usual time for setting out is the spring. The Handwerhsbursche is even now a German institution; though he is now not so frequently met with on the high-road, because railways enable him to travel more cheaply than he could on foot.

375. Initiation of a Cooper.—Every trade again has its particular mode of initiation; but as there necessarily is a great similarity of ritual and ceremonies, their details would become a tedious repetition. I therefore confine myself to one craft—that of the cooper. Permission is first asked to introduce to the assembly of companions or fellowcrafts the youth who is to be made one of them, and who is called the "Apron of Goatskin." The companion who introduces him says: "Some one, I know not who, follows me with a goatskin; a murderer of staves, a wood-spoiler, a traitor; he is on the threshold, and says he is not guilty; he enters, and promises, after having been ' rough-hewn ' by us, to become a good journeyman." Leave having been given, the apprentice seats himself on a stool placed on a table, and the companions try to upset him; but his guide keeps him up, whereupon he is repeatedly baptized and consecrated with beer. The patron then says: "What do you call yourself now? Choose a name, genteel, short, and that pleases the girls. He that has a short name pleases every one, and every one drinks a cup of wine or beer to his health. And now to pay the expenses of the baptism, give what every one else has given, and the masters and journeymen shall be content with you." The candidate also receives numerous instructions how to conduct himself on his wanderings. He is not to be deterred by the difficulties that encounter him at the outset After having passed through a forest full of dangers, he is supposed to arrive in a pleasant meadow, and to behold a pear-tree full of tempting fruit. Is he to lie down under it, and wait till the pears fall into his half-open mouth? Is he to mount the tree? No; the fartner or his men would see him, and give him a beating. He is to shake the tree, and some of the fruit will fall down, with which he is to regale himself, leaving some on the ground for some companion who may come after him, and perhaps not be strong enough to shake the tree. Pursuing his way, he comes to a torrent, over which the trunk of a large tree serves for a bridge. Then he encounters a young girl leading a goat. What shall he do? Push the girl and the goat into the water, and pass on? No; let him take the goat on his shoulder, the girl in his arms, and cross the bridge. He may afterwards marry the girl, because he needs a wife, and kill the goat for the nuptial feast, and the skin will make him a new apron. Arriving in a town, he is to go to the inn kept by a master; if his daughter shows him the way to his bedroom, he is to keep a guard over himself; and on the next day he is to go about looking out for work. Perhaps he will be offered it by three masters—the first is rich in wood and hoops; the second has three handsome daughters, and regales his workmen with plenty of wine and beer; the third is poor: with which one is he to accept work? With the first he would become a first-rate cooper; with the second he would be happy, having drink in plenty, and dancing with the charming girls; but with the third? He is to be as ready to work for the poor as for the rich master. This discourse, of which there is much more, being ended, the novice attempts to run into the street and cry fire! The companions restrain him, and copiously baptize him with cold water; and then, of course, follows a dinner.

376. Curious Works on the Subject.—There exist in Germany numerous works on the rites and customs of various traders; the following are some of them—"The Millers' Crown of Honour, or a Complete Description of the True Nature of the Circles of the Company of Millers. By a Miller's Apprentice, George Bohrmann." We here get into masonic symbolism. One woodcut represents a circle with mystic sentences, and the explanation says that everything was created from or by the circle. Then there follows the history of bakers according to the Scriptures; then a poetically described journey, with particulars of the most celebrated mills of Lusatia, Silesia, Moravia, Hungary, Bohemia, etc. The names of the three most famous millers that, according to the author, ever existed, are placed in the form of a triangle; and the book concludes with an invocation to the Architect of the Universe. A work of a similar nature is entitled, "Customs of the Worshipful Trade of Bakers; how every one is to conduct himself at the inn and at work. Printed for the use of those about to travel." Another is called, "Origin, Antiquity, and Glory of the Worshipful Company of Furriers; an accurate Description of all the Formalities observed from time immemorial in the Initiations of Masters, and the manner of examining the Journeymen. The whole faithfully described by Jacob Wahrmund (True Mouth)." All the companies boast of their ancient descent, but none more than that of the Furriers, who claim that God Himself was at first one of their fellow-workers, seeing that the Bible says that God made aprons of skins for Adam and Eve—an honour shared by no other company.

377. Raison d'etre of the Compagnonnage.—The compagnonnage may be called an operative knighthood. Its rites, symbols, and traditions are only its tangible form. The necessity for workmen to find, on their arrival in a new town, a nucleus of friends, a rendezvous, a mother, in the midst of the exclusion into which the constituted trades corporations would have thrown them, was the raison cCStre of these associations. The possibility of struggling by means of associative force and the passive resistance of numbers against the oppression of manufacturers, and of equalising forces otherwise disproportionate, was a further cause of the sodalities. In the Middle Ages, in which the central power was barely sufficient to oppress, but did not avail to protect, and when the individual was exposed to arbitrary treatment, and deprived of all means of defence, secret associations on behalf of justice necessarily arose in many countries. Holy Vehms providing for public security.

378. Guilds.—The Guilds had the same origin, but can scarcely be reckoned among secret societies, though their influence was often secretly exercised; and kings frequently turned them to account in their opposition to the aristocracy, as, for instance, Louis the Fat, who was himself the founder of an association called the "Popular Community," intended to put a stop to the brigandage of the feudal lords, whose castles were in many instances but dens of thieves. In England, the first guilds of which clear records have been preserved were established in the eleventh century. By the laws of guilds, no person could work at a trade who had not served a seven years' apprenticeship to it. But with the introduction of machinery this custom gradually fell into disuse, as the small or retail manufacturers of olden times became less and less, and the relations between employers and their workmen were changed—relations such as may even yet be found to exist in some places in Germany and Switzerland, where one master keeps an apprentice and from two to four workmen. This style of industry might be found not many years ago in Yorkshire among the small cloth-manufacturers.

This quiet industry was broken up by the rapid introduction of machinery. The small men, indeed, sought to defend themselves by insisting on old trade regulations, but without success; for in 1814 every vestige of the old trade regulations had disappeared from the English statute-books. The Coalition Act of 1800, not repealed till 1824, often compelled the workmen who thus combined to assume the character of members of Friendly Societies. Their main objects were to prevent the employment of women and children in the immense factories everywhere springing up, and to enforce the old law of apprenticeship. Failing in these objects, they next resorted to strikes, with the nature, operation, and effects of which every one is familiar.

379. Kalends Brethren.—These in the thirteenth century were diffused through all Central Europe (Germany, France, and Hungary); they practised charity, read masses for the dead gratuitously, but at their meetings indulged in social pleasures. They met on the first of the month, whence their name (the Romans it will be remembered called the first of the month Calendae, whence our word calendar). Men and women were admitted, religious and secular, but neither monks nor nuns. The brethren, though they read masses, were no ascetics, for their rhymed table-law ran—

"Our host shall spread

Good beer, good bread;

Four dishes from which to feed.

Which he may not exceed;

Cakes, cheese, nuts, and fruit

To follow. Wine does not suit

The Kalends, it would offend;

They its use strictly defend."

But it is doubtful whether this abstinence from wine was always observed, for eventually the Kalends were nicknamed "Wet Brethren," and "to kalend" meant to indulge freely in drink. After the Reformation the society gradually dwindled away. Of their customs and signs of recognition, etc., no record has come down to us. The civic prison at Berlin used to be called the Kalends Hall, because the building had originally been the place where the Kalends Brethren held their festive meetings.

38a Knights of Labour.—A formidable association in the United States. It was founded in 1869 by Uriah Stephens, a tailor of Philadelphia. It was a secret society, designed at first merely to supplement an existing garment-cutters' union. For a year or more none but garment-cutters were admitted, but after a time other members, known as "sojourners," were invited to join the Order. In 1873 a committee "on the good of the Order" was appointed to control its growing business. A ritual was devised, and every member took an oath of strictest secrecy with regard to its name, constitution, and aims. Officers were appointed under the titles of Master Workman, Worthy Foreman, Venerable Sage, Recording Secretary, Financial Secretary, Treasurer, Worthy Inspector, Almoner, Unknown Knight Inside Esquire, Outside Esquire, etc. Each industry had its own local assembly, and its own officers; the local assemblies and the district assemblies again sent delegates to the general assembly, which meets once a year, and whose authority is final. The strict secrecy observed at first was gradually relaxed under the influence of the Catholic Church, especially after the founder had resigned the office of Grand Master Workman in 1879. In 1881 the secret character of the Order was finally renounced. Its chief aims now are those of trade-unions and benefit societies.