Inseparable from the masterly hand and the trade itself, the spirit of the guild system is expressed through values, the determination to do ever better, the journey or “Tour of France”, customs, symbols, rituals and legends – everything that the Companions referred to as “Duty”.
Trade guild stamps,
The word “Guild” in fact connotes a number of associations and movements. Referring to the total body of regulations and traditions of which it is comprised (the Devoir or “Duty”), members of such associations and movements are known as Compagnons du Devoir (Companions of Duty), Compagnons du Devoir de Liberté (Companions of the Duty of Liberty), Compagnons des Devoirs (Companions of the Duties) and Compagnons des Devoirs Unis (Companions of United Duties).
Ensuring professional improvement of its members is not the only goal of the guilds; it also seeks to educate them. In the past, the “Règles” and “Devoirs” – the regulations posted in the inns and taverns where journeymen met – were composed of numerous articles designed to ensure the cohesion of the group and promote moral values among its members.
Travel is a primary feature of guild membership. Young workers are required to journey to the various cities where the above-mentioned centres are located; once settled in, he is to find employment at workshops and worksites with which agreements have been arranged. The young worker is a trainee during his tour of France. He discovers different techniques by moving from one enterprise to another for his six-months-to-a-year period of employment. Depending on the individual trainee, the Tour de France lasts from five to eight years, though it may last for longer or shorter periods.
As defined by ethnologists, an “initiatory society” is one which integrates its members by stages, each stage marked by a particular type of test. It also distinguishes between a “lay” state and an “initiated” state. The passage from one to the other occurs during an initiation ceremony which, specifically among guilds, is referred to as “reception” or “passage”.
The word “companion” derives etymologically from two Latin words: “cum” (with) and “panis” (bread). A companion is someone with whom one shares bread; it is therefore similar to the informal French word for “friend”, “copain”, which has the same Latin origin. Companions are therefore duty-bound to provide mutual aid, support and assistance. This obligation is rooted in the notion of brotherhood.
From the dawn of time, all societies have had their rites and symbols. They are inseparable from civilisation: funeral rites, religious rites, military rites, marriage rites, judicial oaths, greetings, etc. Symbols are no less numerous. Both are shared by great numbers of people who regard them as self-evident. As is the case with all initiatory societies, the guilds have their own sets of rites and symbols; because they are less apparent to the public at large and are practised by only small numbers of people, they naturally enough incite curiosity.
Throughout most of their history, the guilds consisted only of trades performed by men. The physical strength required (in such trades as construction work, tanning, and baking), the risk factors involved in the Tour de France, and the overall socio-cultural environment made the admission of young women inconceivable.
A trade guild is not simply a professional training association, a mutual aid society or a union. It is not a religion, sect or secret society. It is similar in some ways to Freemasonry, but there are major differences between the two.