Ever wondered where our festive board fire originated from? This is the explanation of the origins of the festive board and how the ‘masonic fire’ came about.
In 1760 there was a manuscript published ‘a master key to freemasonry’. it is difficult to read as it is in old english. but with patients it is very informative.
when they sit down to the table, the master is seated in the first place on the east side. the first and second assistants are seated opposite him on the west side.
if ‘tis the day of a reception, the candidates have the honourable place, that is to say they are seated on the left and right of the master.
the two assistants wear about their necks a blue ribbon on a triangular figure. by the masters ribbon hang a rule and a compass which should be made of gold, or at least gilt. the assistants and other officers carry the compass alone.
the candles that are placed upon the tables must always be placed in the form of a triangle. nay there are many lodges in which the candlesticks are of a triangular figure. they are usually made of wood and carved with allegorical figures alluding to freemasonry. however this is not universally observed.
upon the table are always placed three, five, seven or nine dishes, when the whole company are seated, everybody is at liberty to call for his bottle. (all the terms that they make use of in drinking are borrowed from the artillery).
the bottle they call barrel, water and wine they call powder, with this difference, they call the former white and latter red, the exercise is observed in drinking does not allow them to make use of glasses.
their glasses would be broke whenever they drink. they make use of bowls which they call cannons. when they drink in ceremony they use this expression ‘give us powder’, everybody rises and the grand master says ‘ charge’.
they here upon fill their bowls and the grand master says, ‘handle your arms – present – fire’. thus are the three different actions which they observe in drinking are distinguished. in the first they lay their hands on their bowls, in the second they hold them out, as it were, to present arms, and in the third, they all drink.
in drinking they all keep their eyes upon the grand master in order to perform the exercise together. and when they have drank, they hold bowls out before them, point, then lay them on the left breast, and afterwards upon the right, and this is done three times. (indicated by the modern point, left, right, three times).
they then lay their bowls three times upon the table, strike their hands together three times and each member cries out three times ‘vivat’. (symbolised now by three x three handclaps).
their drinking in this manner makes the prettiest sight imaginable, and it may be said to the praise of freemasons, that there is no military school in which the exercise is performed with greater exactness.
let the assembly be ever so numerous, the motion of one is always the motion of all the rest. no one is ever seen to be behind hand, and as soon as the word of command is given, the exercise is performed with a uniformity that resembles enchantment.
the noise that is heard, when they lay their bowls upon the table is very considerable, but not confused, ‘tis but one single stroke, but it is strong enough to break any vessel not made of solid metal. if anyone failed in the exercise they would begin again, but they would not fill their bowls a-new.
this happens but seldom, but it happens sometimes, such blunders are generally committed by members newly received, who are not accustomed to the exercise.
so when the Worshipful Master states, ‘brother wardens how do you report your respective columns?’ This refers to columns of artillery and not table sprigs. when replying ‘fully charged in the west and south’ the wardens are referring to the powder charge and preparedness for battle, then comes the ‘fire’!