THE STORY OF AULD LANG SYNE
Undoubtedly, millions of people throughout the world will sing Auld Lang Syne to see out 1995. Few will know all the words and fewer still what they mean.
They are attributed to Robert Burns who apparently picked up the tune and some of the words from an old man singing in the dialect of southwest Scotland. Auld Lang Syne has become the international song of departure, and is sung by more people than any other.
The possibility is that Burns only wrote two of the five verses. But, as he did with numerous other Scottish songs, he modified them and, in some cases, purified them.
It seems likely that the song was first sung either in Poosie Nancy's Tavern in Mauchline, or the Bachelors Club in Tarbolton located a few miles away.
The song was initially centred on two young men who drifted apart after their early schooling, and who, after re-uniting, reminisced about their earlier times together, the happy experiences they had together and the kindly folk they met.
When Burns became a Freemason at the age of 23 he quickly absorbed the superb symbolism of the Craft.
Conviviality was, for Burns, one of the most important virtues. For him, Auld Lang Syne is a concrete expression of his love of mankind and his ideal of International Brotherhood.
The Masonic routine is to from a circle in which everyone is equidistant from the centre, demonstrating they are all equal. In this regard, the practice adopted in some lodges by placing the masters or other distinguished brethren in the centre defeats the purpose of the ceremony associated with the song.
At the beginning of the song the brethren stand with hands by their sides, symbolising they are relative strangers.
The early verses should be sung (or hummed) very softly as brethren reflect both on cherished memories of earlier times together and on those brethren who have since passed to the Grand Lodge Above.
When they come to the last verse, "And there's a hand, my trusty frier (friend)...", each brother then extends his right hand of fellowship to the brother on his left, then the left hand to the brother on his right.
This symbolises two things: firstly, that they are crossing their hearts; secondly, that they automatically form a smaller and more intimate circle of friendship. Now they have an unbroken chain of brethren who are close friends.
The tempo should then rise and, to the tapping of feet, all enthusiastically sing the final chorus.
At non-Masonic functions the foregoing routine should be followed as far as is practicable. If necessary, small circles can be fommed around tables.
At Scottish functions they usually wind up by singing "O we're no' awa' tae bide awa'," form a "snake" and move round the hall in increasingly smaller circles. Then the leader reverses the movement and all participants revert to a large circle.
The preceding is excerpted from an article that appeared in the Autumn, 1995 issue of the VICTORIAN FREEMASON, written by T. G. Patterson. It was reprinted as a Short Talk Bulletin in the Pietre-Stones Review of Freemasonry by Brother Bruno Gazzo
R. W. Bro. Patterson, the founder of Victoria's Rhetoric Lodge of Communication #831, is a noted authority on Robert Burns. He was born in Mauchline, Ayrshire, where "Auld Lang Syne" had its genesis.
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