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Masonic essays (1998)


A craft originally was an organisation of workers who had a range of skills in a particular trade or vocation. Craft comes from the Old English craeft, derived from the Old Saxon and Old German kraft. The word originally meant "strength" and "skill" and its adjective craeftig, meaning "crafty", signified "dexterous" or "expert". The sinister aspects of "crafty", which include "cunning" from the Old English cunnan meaning "to know", are modern usages of the word. This change in usage is reflected in the Bible in different versions of I Kings 7, verse 14, which records that Hiram Abif was sent by Hiram King of Tyre to assist King Solomon at the construction of the temple at Jerusalem. In the Authorised Version of King James, Hiram Abif is described as "filled with wisdom and understanding and cunning to work all works in brass", whereas in the New English Bible he is called "a man of great skill and ingenuity, versed in every kind of craftsmanship in bronze".

Family peace guilds, called frith, existed in London about the middle of the tenth century. The first merchant guild is believed to have originated in Dover about the middle of the eleventh century, when the first weaver guilds also seem to have been established. In medieval times the workers in many crafts established fraternal associations for the mutual assistance of their members, which they called guilds from the Old English gield and the Old Norman gildi. There is ample evidence that the craft guilds were well established in Britain around 1135, during the reign of Henry I. Although the craft guilds came into existence to safeguard the interests of skilled workers in the various trades, they also were religious fraternities whose members were required to attend church on a regular basis and frequently. Under the protection of the guilds, many families rose from serfdom to become employers within a few generations. The operative masons who erected medieval ecclesiastical structures formed the largest and most effectively organised of the craft guilds and became known as free masons, or more familiarly as "the craft". The rough masons, wallers, slaters, paviors, plaisterers, bricklayers, carpenters, bronze founders, iron workers, gold smiths and white smiths, who worked closely with the free masons on all important building works, often formed their own craft guilds in the larger centres.


Although the members of most crafts could find work in the vicinity of their homes, many members of the craft of free masonry frequently had to travel long distances to find work and establish new project sites. This undoubtedly was a significant factor leading to the establishment of lodges. In operative practice the "lodge" originally signified the place of work, especially the stone yard, being derived from the Old French loge meaning an arbour, which was adopted into Middle English to mean a stall as in a modern theatre. The earliest known reference to a "lodge" as a building occurs in the accounts of the Vale Royal Abbey in 1277, when logias and mansiones were erected for the workers because the site of the abbey was some distance from habitation. Logias derives from Old French and mansiones from Middle Latin, respectively signifying "to lodge" and "a household", reflecting the influence of French and Latin on English. In England, operative documents often refer to "lodges" as places of residence and sometimes also as repositories for tools and implements, as at York in 1399. By association a body of masons also became known as a "lodge", almost certainly in medieval times, although the first known references in this context are to be found in relation to operative practice in Scotland, in the minutes of the Aitchison's Haven Lodge in 1598 and in the Schaw Statutes of 1598 and 1599.

In the earliest days many of the lodges must have worked independently, because travel was very difficult and time consuming. Even so, there is evidence that annual assemblages of free masons were taking place during the 1300s and that these were the gatherings sought to be prohibited in 1436-1437 by the Statutes of Henry VI. The guild system was highly successful until devastated by the Reformation of 1530-1560, when Henry VIII confiscated most of their possessions. The process of disendowment was completed by his son, Edward VI, under the Act of 1547 by which any remaining guild funds that had been dedicated for religious purposes were confiscated, as were the funds of all other religious fraternities. The guilds that survived the Reformation became the Livery Companies of the City of London, among the best known of which is the "Fellowship of Masons". Until some time in the 1500s it was formally entitled "The Worshipful Company of Ffree Masons of the City of London", but in 1655 in the aftermath of the Reformation it was renamed "The Company of Masons".

Within the operative lodges there also were officers such as foremen, intendents, superintendents, wardens and deacons, who were responsible for control of the various sections of the work. All were fully qualified craftsmen who were promoted through the ranks as they gained experience and demonstrated sufficient skill and ability to undertake progressively higher levels of responsibility. Medieval guilds in England had wardens of the craft and wardens of the mystery. In medieval lodges in Scotland the chief officer frequently was a deacon who was often supported by wardens, although the two offices sometimes merged into one or a warden alone was the chief officer. In some assemblages the masons were under deacons and the lodges were under wardens. By the second half of the seventeenth century Master Masons began to rule operative lodges in Scotland, with Wardens as their deputies. Evidence suggests that English speculative lodges had Wardens in the seventeenth century and that Deacons were later introduced following the practice in Scotland.


In medieval times in England, a youngster learning the mason trade was indentured as an apprentice in a lodge of operative masons. He received training nominally for a period of seven years. The earliest known regulation relating to apprenticeships in London dates from about 1230, but it was not enforced strictly for many years and almost a century had passed before apprenticeship was in general use. In operative masonry apprentices were recruited from suitable boys, usually aged between twelve and fifteen years. A boy seeking engagement and acceptable to the members of the lodge was required to swear that he would be obedient and learn the craft. He would then be bound over as an Indentured Apprentice to a senior mason, who was his master for the period of his indentureship. Whilst in training, the apprentice lived with his master and gave him implicit obedience in all things, with little recompense other than food, clothing and lodging. His place in lodge life was equally subordinate.

In England, an apprentice who had a good record was tested in the stoneyard for practical proficiency at the end of period of his indentureship. If he proved himself to be capable and passed an examination in the lodge, the members voted on his admission into full membership. When accepted, he was regarded as a fully qualified tradesman. However, as he did not then have sufficient experience to take charge of construction, he would be required to work under the guidance of expert craftsmen for up to seven more years, although the time varied considerably. When he had proved his ability to take charge of building work, he was accepted as a Fellow and was free to engage subordinate labour and to carry out work in his own right. As a title, Fellow is first found in English documents towards the end of the fourteenth century, when it clearly signified membership of a fraternity, but did not appear to indicate a specific grade of proficiency.

Records in Scotland, dating from the fifteenth century, show that youths were apprenticed to monasteries for periods varying from five to nine years. When an apprentice mason had satisfactorily completed his training in the stoneyard, he was "entered" in the books of his lodge. This feature of Scottish operative practice dates from 1598 and probably earlier. In Scottish lodges an Entered Apprentice was put in charge of a small group of junior apprentices, but he was still required to work for a few more years under the guidance of experienced masons to develop his proficiency and leadership. In Edinburgh the Trade Regulations incorporated in the Seal of Cause of 1475 provided for an apprentice to serve a term of seven years, after which he was to be examined by four searchers. If proficient he became a Fellow of the Craft, when he was entitled to all the privileges of membership of his lodge. Fellows of the Craft in operative lodges were fully qualified masters of their craft in all its aspects, being allowed to engage labour and take charge of building work. In operative times the title of "Master Mason" usually referred to the master tradesman in charge of a building project, often the proprietor of the lodge engaged to carry out the work.

It is of interest to note that the word "fellow" is associated with the Middle English word fee, which signified a fief or payment, derived from the Old High German fihu or fehu. It has an important cognate in the Scandinavian group of Germanic languages, the Old Norman felag, which signified a laying together of property and hence a partnership. From this came the Old English feolaga, then the Middle English felaghe which later became felawe, whence the English fellow, signifying an associate, a companion and an equal. Thus a Fellow of the Craft was someone who held membership in his craft, for which a fee usually was payable, in respect of which he accepted the duties and enjoyed the privileges. The title of Fellow is now most commonly used to signify the highest grade of membership in a scientific or technical institution; it also is used in universities to designate the holder of a Fellowship.


Records from the beginning of the 1500s indicate that Scottish and Irish operative lodges accepted persons of stature as honorary members, even though they were neither operative masons nor craftsmen in any other trade. This does not seem to have occurred in England until "The Company of Masons" in London established an inner fraternity known as the Acception, whose members were not necessarily members of the Company. Although seven members of the Company were enrolled in the Acception during 1620 and 1621, the King's Master Mason, who also was the Master of the Company in 1633, was not enrolled in the Acception until 1639! It is on record that several "non-operatives" were enrolled in the Acception from 1663 onwards. The English craft guilds were decimated by the Reformation of 1530-1560, after which period any lodges of operative masons that were established were set up only for the duration of specific projects. With the exception of an Assemblage at York, there are no records of English lodges transforming from operative to speculative practice as they did in Scotland, although many operative masons in England were involved in the establishment of speculative lodges. By contrast with England and Ireland, most operative lodges in Scotland continued well into the 1750s, some of them much longer and many becoming speculative lodges almost as a matter of course.

The titles "Entered Apprentice" and "Fellow Craft" were not used in English lodges until the 1700s, when both of these speculative grades were adopted from operative practice in Scotland and were firmly established in English speculative freemasonry by appearing in Dr James Anderson's Constitutions of 1723. The first known use of these titles in England was in that very old operative Assembly of Masons at York known as the York Grand Lodge, which was independent from the Grand Lodges formed in London. The earliest surviving minutes of the York Grand Lodge date from 1712, when it already was in the process of becoming speculative. Of particular interest are the minutes of its meeting held on the Festival of St John in 1725, because they refer to the attendance of E.P. (Entered 'Prentice), F.C. and M.M., clearly indicating that these three degrees were being worked at that time. Prior to this meeting the Master was usually referred to as the President, but from that meeting he was called the Grand Master and a Deputy Grand Master and Grand Wardens also were elected. It has been established beyond doubt that admissions to the grades of Apprentice and Fellow were of an esoteric nature at least as early as 1598. The speculative degree of Master Mason follows the ceremonial of the Ancient Drama in operative masonry that has been enacted annually from time immemorial.


Because so much of its work was carried out in an ecclesiastical environment, the craft of free masons was subject to a stronger religious influence than any other of the craft guilds. This no doubt explains why the old operative ceremonies were based on stories from the scriptures and included extensive moral instruction. In this respect the "Old Charges" were a key element in the induction of candidates into English operative lodges, providing a foundation for the ethical teaching carried out in the weekly meetings. An essential part of the "Old Charges" was the traditional history, in which the concurrent development of civilisation and masonry was recounted on the basis of legends derived from biblical history, supplemented by allegorical anecdotes of contemporaneous events. Erudite researchers have expressed the opinion that the "Old Charges" probably were prepared by a learned monk who was well acquainted with the usages and customs of the mason trade and that the subject matter is much older than the earliest known manuscript, the Regius MS that dates from around 1390. It is possible that much of the original matter relating to the conduct of a mason may have been derived from the earliest trade ordinances around the end of the eleventh century, of which no copies have yet been discovered. No other medieval craft guild or religious fraternity is known to have possessed a similar document.

Although the traditional history and charges were not identical everywhere, they had a consistent theme and were regarded by the medieval operative masons in England as the foundation of their craft in all ages and in all places. Authentic copies constituted the authority under which operative lodges held their meetings before warrants were issued. An interesting aspect of the traditional history is the allegorical account of the establishment of masonry in England by Charles Martel (688-741), who was known as Charles the Hammer in France. Masonic legends in France include the anomalous assertion that Charles Martel learnt the craft of masonry from a curious mason named Naymus Graecus, who had been present at the erection of Solomon's temple. Scotland had a close association with France that began when the Irish apostle and Benedictine monk St Columba (521-597) established a monastery at Iona. St Columba converted the northern Picts to Christianity and also worked in Brittany and the Vosges district of France where he founded the great abbey at Luxeuil. Having regard to this religious association, which was supported by a significant inflow of operative masons from France to Scotland, it is surprising that Scottish operative lodges did not have their own traditional histories. The few "Old Charges" associated with Scottish operative masonry date from around the time of the Edinburgh Seal of Cause of 1475 and obviously were copied from English sources. Nor is there any evidence that Irish operative lodges had a traditional history similar to that of their English counterparts, although there is ample evidence that they were using their working tools as symbols for moral instruction early in the sixteenth century.

Operative lodges traditionally met at noon on the sixth day of each week, when they conducted their business, inducted their candidates and imparted moral instruction. That time of meeting is the basis of the paradoxical answer to one of the questions put to a speculative Entered Apprentice during his examination. Operative masons were obligated under oath, subject to penalties that were customary for the period. In operative lodges the candidate in each of the several degrees represented a particular stone required in the construction of Solomon's temple. The ceremonial and its inherent religious component was woven around the preparation, testing and placement of that stone in the temple, symbolising the erection of a spiritual temple. The perambulations of the candidate around the lodge room also related to the erection of the temple. Candidates were taught by charge and catechism and were required to learn much by rote. From the earliest times, one of the most important components of the ritual was a moral interpretation of the many working tools of a mason. This is not surprising, because the names of so many of the tools express a moral quality without requiring any further definition. The working tools presented in the speculative degrees were not the only ones used by the Apprentice, Fellow and Master in operative lodges, but were chosen to illustrate the teachings of the degree.


The Fabric Rolls of York Minster provide a detailed inventory of the tools stored in the masons' lodge at the end of the year 1399, including stone-axes, iron chisels, mallets, tracing boards, a hatchet, a big gavel, a compass and a host of other tools. Some of the less familiar tools listed in early inventories include stone-hammers and stone-axes in a large variety of shapes and weights; setting-hammers with hollow heads for the hard stone hewers; scabbling hammers for the rough layers; hammer-axes, brick-axes, pickaxes and mattocks; chisels, puncheons and augers; crowbars, levers and wedges; and mallets, mauls and trowels. The Fabric Rolls of York Minster of 1360 list a kevel, sometimes incorrectly called a keevil, which was similar to a very large gavel or stone-axe and was used to break and roughly shape stones in the quarry. The name was used in Scotland and northern England until the early 1800s, but its origin is obscure, possibly deriving from the Old Norman French keville which means a key and from which "clavicle" is descended. The principal wooden tools used by operative masons were the straight-edges, rules, squares, levels, plumb-rules and heavy setting mauls required to ensure that the stones were placed and set to the correct lines and levels during the erection of the structure. They were wooden to avoid marking the dressed and polished stones. Thus we read in I Kings 6, v 5 of the New English Bible that "no hammer or axe or any iron tool whatever was heard in the house while it was being built".


The three symbolic working tools of an Entered Apprentice in a speculative lodge are not the same as those presented to his operative counterpart when first indentured. They were the metal straight edge, the maul or mallet and the chisel, which were the first tools he would learn to use. As the metal straight edge is used as a guide for the chisel, so it constantly reminds the apprentice that he is required to maintain a straight and undeviating course of action in his work and in his dealings with others. As the maul or mallet applies the driving force to the chisel, so it reminds the apprentice that it is his duty to work hard and diligently in the stoneyard and also in his private life. As the keen edge of the chisel is accurately shaped to cut the stone, it impresses upon the apprentice's mind that knowledge is essential in all activities. The three tools in combination remind the apprentice that all difficulties can be overcome if the correct approach is used with knowledge, hard work and perseverance. During the course of his indentureship, the apprentice mason learned to use many more working tools, including such implements as axes, bevels and squares, calipers and compasses, gauges of various shapes, hammers, rasps and scrapers - the range was limited only by the sizes and shapes of the stones he was required to cut and dress. The 24 inch gauge of the speculative apprentice was introduced to impress upon the candidate the importance of allocating his time properly, so that it would be well spent. The operative apprentice had this aspect of his duties impressed upon him throughout his training by the strictest adherence to his daily schedule of practical instruction, his weekly attendance in lodge and his regular participation in the religious services of the institution for or under which his lodge was working.

The maul or mallet, which is also called a mell in northern England and Scotland, must not be confused with the heavy setting maul, which is also called a beetle or sledge hammer. The beetle is a very heavy wooden mallet with a long handle used for driving wedges, crushing broken stone for a macadam road surface, or beating down paving stones. The speculative ritualists replaced the maul with a common gavel, which in fact is not used with a chisel. Moreover, as the gavel is an emblem of power, it is not a very appropriate symbol in relation to the duties of an apprentice. The similarly shaped implements used in operative masonry was the much larger kevel and the stone-axe with a steel cutting edge, with which the quarrymen broke and roughly shaped the stones. As the stone-axe symbolises the force of conscience, the early speculative ritualists might have intended the wooden gavel to be a miniature representation of it. It is possible that later ritualists may have inadvertently called it a gavel, a name of American origin in the nineteenth century that refers to its gable-like shape. Unlike their speculative counterparts the master and wardens in an operative lodge did not use gavels, but carried truncheons which have been staffs of authority since early medieval times; the master also had a maul as a symbol of his driving force in the lodge. In some Irish lodges the master's emblem of authority was a stone-axe or hammer and the wardens carried truncheons. In some Scottish and American lodges the master's emblem of authority is a maul. In Scottish lodges the senior deacon's jewel is a maul and the junior deacon's jewel is a trowel, indicating that the respective responsibilities of the senior and junior deacons are to exercise control in the work and to maintain harmony.


Of the several wooden working tools used in operative lodges, the square, level and plumb-rule were appropriated to the Fellowcraft in speculative freemasonry. This is logical because his operative counterpart was a mason of superior status who was directly responsible for ensuring that the building was erected in strict conformity with the working plans. It should be noted that three different squares were used by operative masons, each for a specific purpose and each having an important though somewhat different symbolical meaning. Each of these squares has an important place in the speculative ritual, but as they are not differentiated in the ritual the subtle differences of meaning in a charge might be missed by anyone who is not familiar with the operative art. Attention will be drawn to these differences when discussing the symbolism of the square. The working tools of a Fellowcraft freemason in a speculative lodge are only miniature representations of the operative tools and are made of metal as a matter of convenience, so that it may be difficult to envisage the way they are applied in building construction.

The levels and plumb rules used by operative masons were closely related, because each utilised a line and plumb bob to determine the vertical plane and hence the correct attitude of the implement. In their simplest form, as used continuously in operative masonry at least from the times of ancient Egypt, the frames of both implements were constructed from stout wooden staves that could be dressed perfectly and would not warp or twist. The level generally was in the shape of an equilateral triangle constructed from staves about 2 cubits, or a little over a metre long, with the line and plumb bob suspended from one apex. When the plumb line hung vertically so as to bisect the base, the base was horizontal and could be used either to lay levels, or to try and if necessary to adjust horizontals. From the use of the level, in conjunction with the beetle or heavy setting maul, is derived the expression "setting to a dead level". The plumb rule usually was a stave about 2 cubits with its edges dressed parallel. A line and plumb bob were suspended from the upper extremity of the stave on its centre line to determine its verticality. Thus either edge of the stave could be used either to set verticals, or to try and if necessary adjust to uprights to the vertical plane.

As the apprentice in operative lodges learnt to use a wide range of tools during his period of training, so also did the fellow during his first few years whilst under the supervision of more expert craftsmen. In addition to the square, level and plumb-rule, he learnt to use the wooden straight-edge, plumb lines or plummets, string lines and skirrets, trowels and the Pythagorean square composed of three graduated rods. String lines and skirrets are for setting out lines, but the wooden straight edge is the implement used to test a course of stones for straightness along a line. Plumb lines or plummets are used for plumbing points in a vertical plane and also to line up intermediate points in straight lines over long distances, but the plumb-rule is the implement used to check the stones for verticality in successive courses. The Pythagorean square is used for setting out a building, but not for checking right angles during erection, for which purpose the gallows square is more appropriate. The working tools of a fellow thus fall into two distinct groups, one for use during the erection of a building and the other for use when setting out the building.


Most fellows could set out a building if given the location of a corner of the building and one of the building lines commencing from that corner. However, most stately edifices were required to be set out from a given centre point, which only the most capable craftsmen were competent to perform. Thus it usually was only the master of the lodge, the master mason himself, who set out the building with the assistance of some of his most experienced craftsmen. For this purpose he utilised plumb lines, string lines, skirrets and the Pythagorean square. In the northern hemisphere the north-south axis could be determined by sighting the Pole Star through a plumb line set up over the required centre point, then lining in another plumb line at or beyond each of the required northern and southern extremities. With a string line on the north-south axis, the east-west axis and the required diagonals could then be established using the Pythagorean square in conjunction with string lines drawn from a skirret at the centre. The north-south axis can be established in both hemispheres by the bisection of an equidistant transition of the sun from the eastern quarter to the western quarter, sighted through a plumb line set up over the required centre point. There are paintings at Thebes in Egypt, dating from 3000 BC or earlier, that show masons using a stretched cord to draw a line.

In medieval times the master mason usually would be provided with only a description of the required sizes and layout of a building he was required to construct. More often than not the details would be developed progressively with input from the owner over many years of construction. Thus another very important duty of the master mason was to prepare layout plans of the building for the owner's approval, from which he would prepare detailed designs and working drawings. Usually he would also be required to provide detailed drawings for all important components of the structure, even to the extent of detailing the designs of the windows and the symbolic decorations incorporated in most ecclesiastical buildings. As the pencil and compasses were essential implements used by the master mason of an operative lodge when preparing designs and drawings, it was appropriate to include them with the skirret and line as the working tools of a Master Mason in a speculative lodge. The ancient use of the measuring line is recorded in Jeremiah 31, v 39 of the New English Bible: "The time is coming, says the Lord, when the city shall be rebuilt in the Lord's honour, from the Tower of Hananel to the Corner Gate. The measuring line shall then be laid straight out over the hill of Gareb and around Goath." Then in Zechariah 2, v 1-2, when Zechariah saw a man carrying a measuring line and asked where he was going he was told "To measure Jerusalem and see what should be its breadth and length".


The three types of square used by operative masons were the square gauge, the try square and the gallows square. The square gauge is an enclosed square of the required inside dimensions to test a cubic ashlar or the cross section of the running stone. The try square has two arms of equal length that include an angle of 90. It is not calibrated to measure lengths along the arms, because it is only used to test the angle between the two faces of a stone along the arris where they meet, to ensure that they subtend a right angle. The gallows square is used to set out right angles and has two arms of unequal length that include an angle of 90. Both arms are calibrated on the inside and outside edges to facilitate the measurement of dimensions when scribing stones for cutting. It is also used to set out column bases, wall recesses and other details in the ground plans of structures. The usual sizes of gallows squares used in operative lodges were the small 2:3 ratio square having 12" x 18" arms; a general purposes 3:4 ratio Pythagorean square having 18" x 24" arms; and a large 2:3 ratio square having 24" x 36" arms that was useful for checking corners and other wall intersections internally and externally.

When admitted for advancement as a Fellowcraft in a speculative lodge the candidate is told that, being obligated within the square, he is bound to act on the square to all mankind. This exhortation derives from the operative practice of requiring the candidate to kneel with both knees bare on an ashlar stone placed within the square gauge. The reason for the change is not recorded, but the present method of supporting the candidate's elbow within the angle of a small Pythagorean square was substituted for the operative practice at about the time of the reconciliation between the Antients and the Moderns. The try square is used in the traditional "Square and Compasses" emblem and is one of the three great emblematic lights of Freemasonry. Because the try square is used to test the angles of a perfect ashlar stone and is a universal emblem of morality and justice that inculcates truthfulness, honesty and a strict obedience to the law of God's Word, it is rightfully included in the three great emblematic lights by which we shall be tried as "living stones". In Isaiah 28, v 16 of the New English Bible we read "These then are the words of the Lord God: look, I am laying a stone in Zion, a block of granite, a precious corner-stone for a firm foundation; he who has faith shall not waver". In Psalm 118, v 22 we also read that "The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief corner-stone".

The gallows square, with arms in the 3:4 or Pythagorean ratio, is the traditional emblem of the Master that has been used by operative masons from time immemorial. It is still used as the Master's emblem by them and by most Continental freemasons. As the gallows square is used to set out the work, which is the Master's duty, so it is the most appropriate square to use as the emblem of the Master's office. For some reason that has not been recorded, but apparently in the 1830s after the introduction of Euclid's 47th Proposition as the basis of an English speculative Past Master's jewel, the speculative Master's emblem was changed to a try square. Perhaps it better suited the early speculative ritualists' passion for symmetry. The Master's jewel is a symbolic reminder that his lodge should be justly and properly ruled by his square conduct and impartial decisions. The Immediate Past Master's jewel in English speculative freemasonry is a miniature illustration of Euclid's 47th Proposition suspended from a gallows square with sides of 3 units and 4 units and therefore a hypotenuse of 5 units. Euclid's Proposition is general, but long before him some skilful craftsman in ancient Egypt discovered the convenient right angled triangle with sides of 3:4:5 ratios, although the discovery is traditionally attributed to Pythagoras of Greece, who studied and worked in Egypt. These ratios are the basis of the operative mason's Pythagorean triangle of rods that is used when setting out a structure.

It is of interest to note that the jewels of Scottish Masters and Irish Past Masters, as well as of many American Past Masters, incorporate the try square and compasses combined. This is a symbolic reminder that, in addition to conducting themselves squarely and taking impartial decisions, Masters must keep all their actions within due bounds. The letter G within the square and compasses is a common decoration on the flap of freemasons' aprons in Scotland and America, combining the symbolism outlined above with the following symbolism. In medieval Europe the shape of the gallows square with arms in the ratio of 3:4 was used in ecclesiastical script to represent the capital letter G, because it was exactly the same shape as the Greek letter Gamma and equivalent to G in the Roman alphabet, standing alike for God and His great attribute "Justice". In medieval paintings of the disciples, the gallows square is often found embroidered on their vestments, as it is on some priestly robes to this day. Eminent researchers have stated that the gallows square was also used in early speculative lodges where the letter G is used nowadays, thus at the same time representing God the Grand Geometrician of the Universe and also showing that the square is the most important moral instrument of the Craft.


As a working tool of an operative mason, the level is used to set all required points to the same level on a construction site. From this is derived its symbolic interpretation, which is equality. Such equality does not refer to wealth or poverty in the financial sense, nor to social distinction, civic responsibility or service to mankind. The symbolism of the level relates to humanity in its broadest sense, that is to the internal rather than the external qualifications of a human being. It refers to that fraternal quality which, in recognising the Fatherhood of God, also accepts as a necessary corollary the Brotherhood of Man.. The level reminds us that we are infinitesimal creatures in God's grand scheme of the universe. It naturally follows that all human beings must appear the same in His sight, in which sense we are all equal and subject to the same infirmities and vicissitudes of life, seeking the same immortal mansion and preparing to be judged by the same immutable laws. The equality of brethren in the lodge is that of the dignity and worth of the human soul, which is the same for everyone regardless of man-made distinctions. Masonic equality also recognises that one man may have greater potentialities for service, for life or for reward than another, but also it denies that any such differences should preclude any man from aspiring to any height, no matter how great. The level demonstrates that, as we have all sprung from the same stock and are all partakers of the same nature, so we are all sharers of the same hope. The level is an appropriate emblem of the Senior Warden, because when the lodge is at labour all are under his immediate supervision and therefore are on a common level of subordination.


Plumb lines and plumb rules are implements used to determine a vertical plane, often called plummets in the scriptures. Each depends upon a line from which a heavy plumb bob is suspended, so that when hanging freely the line is perpendicular. They are one of the oldest emblems and have the same symbolic interpretation. The plumb is a symbol of truth and rectitude of conduct. It inculcates that integrity of life and undeviating course of moral uprightness which alone can distinguish a good and just man. When erecting temporal structures the operative mason pays strict attention to the vertical, as determined by the plumb, because any deviation from the upright contributes to instability. So the speculative freemason should be guided by the unerring principles of right and truth symbolised by the plumb, neither succumbing to the pressures of adversity nor yielding to the seductions of prosperity. We read in Isaiah 28, v 17 of the New English Bible that the Lord said "I will use justice as a plumb-line and righteousness as a plummet; hail shall sweep away your refuge of lies and flood-waters carry away your shelter". In Amos 7, v 7-8 we also read that the Lord said "I am setting a plumb line to the heart of my people Israel; never again will I pass them by."

It is interesting to note that, from the most ancient times, many common words used in everyday speech have had a symbolic meaning related to the practical usage. Thus the Hebrew word "tsedek" denotes rightness and straightness in a physical sense, whilst signifying what is right and just in a moral sense. The Greek word "orthos" in the physical sense means straight, erect or standing upright, whilst in the ethical sense it signifies right, correct, proper and equitable. In Latin the word "rectum" denotes something straight or upright and also someone of honesty and integrity. In English the word "right" has a similar duality, in one sense denoting something that is just, fair or equitable, whilst in another sense indicating that something is straight, or perpendicular, or with reference to an angle that it is formed by a right line or plane perpendicular to another right line or plane thus forming an angle of 90, a right angle. All of these interpretations are represented in the symbolism of the plumb rule, which therefore is appropriate as the jewel of the Junior Warden, because it is emblematic of the upright conduct which should always distinguish the brethren during refreshment when symbolically they are under his control.

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