Discussion in 'Masonic Education' started by iainmason, Aug 5, 2009.

  1. iainmason

    iainmason Registered User

    From the Library of the UGLNSW & ACT;
    Sydney South, NSW, Australia; March, 2005.

    Few wholly Masonic words have been so much talked about and so little understood by the average Mason as "cowan".

    Every one understands that it is a term of contempt; that it denotes some one wholly without the Masonic circle; but just what its real meaning may be, where the word came from, how it came into our system, is disputed to this day by Masonic scholars.

    It is generally - not wholly - agreed that it has a Scotch ancestry. Certain old Scottish books lend color to the theory. According to these tomes, a cowan is a man who builds walls without mortar - as any farm hand in Old Europe may do, piling into a wall the stones from nearby streams or turned up in ploughing. From this, the term came to be used as meaning an uninstructed Mason, a self-taught builder, one not of the trade.

    Apparently its earliest appearance is in the Schaw Manuscript, dated 1598. It appears in the second or 1738 edition of Anderson's Constitutions.

    Whence came the word? A Greek word 'kuon' means dog, and in early church days infidels were called dogs, probably because of such passages as Matthew 7:6 - "Give not that which is holy unto the dogs." Old wedish 'kujon' means a silly fellow. The French word 'coyon' means a coward. Mackey had a different theory; that cowan was either a derivation of, or the ancestry of the English word 'common.' Old English spelling the word both 'coen' and 'comon.' If this is correct, cowan, meaning common, is still a term meaning "common people". Also note the English "House of Commons" as distinguished from the House of Lords.

    However derived, the word is now wholly the property of the Fraternity, not otherwise used, 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.

    Cowans pt. 2
    Barry D. Thom P.M. Lodge MacKay #1129 S.C.
    Bay Roberts, NL

    In most localities there would also be men who had learned to build walls or dikes without being apprenticed to the trade or being admitted to a lodge. In Scotland a "dry-diker†was known as a “cowan,²†which is defined as a mason without the word." William Schaw was the King¹s Master Mason and Warden General to the craft. He drew up a code of trade regulations, customs and a code of conduct that the Scottish masons must follow. These were known as the Schaw Statutes.

    The Schaw Statutes of l598 ordered that no Master nor Fellow of the Craft receive any Cowans to work in his society or company, nor send none of his servants to work with cowans". Cowans could be employed by Master Masons for any kind of work, provided that no regular craftsman could be found within fifteen miles. Originally the word was not derogatory, however, the Masonic order degraded it to mean an impostor or eavesdropper or one who has not been regularly admitted into a lodge.

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