The Masonic Trowel

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beyond the northeast corner

Masonic Clothing And Other Symbols Not Mentioned In The Work


Richard h. sands

The Apron

THE FREEMASON'S APRON is a curtailed survival of the apron worn by operative masons to protect their clothing and their bodies from the abrasive surface of the stones (see above, page X-11). The triangular flap is all that remains of the bib, or upper portion. Instead of reaching upwards, it has been folded forward over the rope girdle. For the speculative Mason the apron has a twofold significance, it marks his rank, and also illustrates certain fundamental principles and basic symbols of the order.

The white lambskin apron, which is the emblem of a Mason, is completely undecorated, and serves as a reminder of the blameless purity which should be his constant aim. In shape it is an oblong square, an emblem of morality which represents the "good man, four-square, fashioned without reproach" who is mentioned by the ancient poet. As a Mason continues to progress in the noble art, he may be called upon to wear many other aprons; but they are all merely elaborations of this one simple eloquent form.

The various degrees are distinguished by the manner in which they wear their aprons.  The Entered Apprentice wears his apron with the flap turned up.  The Fellowcraft wears his apron with the right corner turned up (ostensibly as a container for his tools) and the flap turned down.  The Master Mason wears his apron with the right corner and flap turned down.

(In Ontario, for example, the aprons of the Fellowcraft and Master Mason are more ornate. The Fellowcraft apron has two rosettes to distinguish it as that of the second degree. The apron of the Master Mason is even more ornate. It is bordered by a ribbon of sky blue, in five separate segments—three on the apron and two on the flap. The color reminds us of the heavens, which declare the glory of God and show His handiwork. The triangular flap, with its border, reminds us of the mason's square, that other emblem of morality. The three rosettes indicate the Third Degree. The two free-hanging vertical ribbons, one on each side, depict the two great pillars which stood at the Porch of King Solomon’s Temple. To each ribbon are attached metallic tassels, of seven separate chains. We note that even on the apron the recurrent Masonic numbers are found: three (the rosettes), five (the segments of the border; the total of the applied decorations, that is, rosettes plus ribbons), and seven (the tassels). The rope girdle or cord which binds the apron to the Master Mason is like the fundamental principles of Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth, which bind together all Masons throughout the world.)

The Worshipful Master and the officers of the Lodge and Grand Lodge have aprons which bear other distinctive emblems. Those of the latter have gold fringes and trim of purple, as a reminder of the particular respect that is their just due. The Lodge officers have aprons bordered in blue.

Emblems and Jewels of Office

In addition to the apron, each officer of the Lodge and of Grand Lodge wears the jewel of his office. The emblems and the jewels of the various offices are set forth in the Book of Constitutions (Our Blue Book). In some instances the suitability of the symbol is immediately visible; in others it may require considerable thought to see the connection. Let us look at some of the more familiar badges.

The square and compasses are the well-known symbols of Masonry. They are counted among the three Great Lights, and as part of the furniture of the lodge. They serve as Working Tools of the Fellowcraft and the Master Mason, respectively. They are also the jewels worn by the Worshipful Master of the Lodge and the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge, respectively. The Worshipful Master, who rules the lodge, appropriately wears the jewel which belongs to the whole Craft; in a special sense he is obligated to act on the square, and to regulate the Masonic lives and actions of his brethren. The Grand Master, as the chief head and ruler of the Craft, wears the compasses, the chief instrument made use of in the formation of all architectural plans and designs. On his jewel is also a level, a trowel and an all-seeing eye plus a diamond set in the adjustment screw of the compasses. This pendant hangs below the emblem of the State of Michigan, which is two stags facing one another with the words “Tuebor” and “Si Quaeris Peninsulam Amoenam Circumspice.” The translation of the latter is “If you want to see a beautiful peninsula, look around you.” Above the emblem of the State of Michigan is a bar inscribed “GRAND” and below the emblem is a bar enscribed “MASTER.” All of this in solid gold. The square is the particular emblem of the Deputy Grand Master.

On his apron the Worshipful Master wears a square. It serves to remind him that in dealing with his brethren of the three degrees he is to be scrupulously fair and to hold the scales of justice with an equal poise. The Grand Master's apron bears a representation of the blazing sun because he is, beyond all others, the source of light to the Masons under his jurisdiction.

The Past Master's jewel of office consists of the square and compasses enclosing a blazing sun to which is appended an engraved quadrant. This emblem also appears on his apron.

The Senior Warden and the Grand Senior Warden are both marked by the level. As the emblem of equality it marks the equal measures they are bound to pursue in conjunction with the Worshipful Master and the Grand Master in the well ruling and governing of the Craft. The plumb on the other hand is the emblem of the Junior Warden and the Grand Junior Warden. It, being the emblem of uprightness, points out the integrity of the measures they are bound to pursue in conjunction with the senior rulers in the well ruling and governing of the Craft.The Chaplain and the Grand Chaplain are distinguished by an open Book. The Book is of course the Volume of the Sacred Law. The Treasurer and the Grand Treasurer have the crossed keys which emblematically secure the coffer or strong-box in which the resources of the Order are kept. The Secretary and the Grand Secretary wear the crossed goose quills (pens) with which in earlier days their predecessors would transcribe the proceedings.

The Lodge Education Officer is new to Freemasonry in Michigan, and his jewel will probably be the “Lamp of Knowledge,” although as of this writing the Bluebook does not recognize his office. Legislation is being drafted to correct this.

The duty of the Deacons and of the Grand Deacons is to carry the messages and commands of the chief officer to the other officers. Before 1813 only the Grand Lodge of the "Antients" regularly had deacons; at that time their emblem was Mercury, the ancient messenger of the gods. The emblem of our Senior Deacon is the square and compasses containing a blazing sun; that of the Junior Deacon is the square and compasses enclosing a half-moon.

The crossed batons of the Marshal (Director of Ceremonies) and the Grand Marshal (Director of Ceremonies) reflect the mediaeval marshal's baton. The marshal was originally the officer in charge of the well-being of the king's horses (as the steward was of his pigs), but he came to have certain ceremonial functions in the marshaling of processions. The rod, staff, verge, or scepter has always been the sign of authority; the wands now borne by the Deacons and Stewards of the lodge preserve vestiges of this function. In like manner the marshal always carried an abbreviated staff, or baton, as the badge of his office.

The cornucopia, or horn of plenty, is the sign of the Stewards. The emblem has allusion to the ancient Greek legend of Amalthea, a she-goat who nursed the god Zeus when he was a baby. Her horns were miraculous; from one of them flowed nectar, and from the other ambrosia. On one occasion she broke her horn off on a tree. Some one picked it up, filled it with fruit, and brought it to the baby god. According to some versions of the story it continued to replenish itself miraculously. The cornucopia is appropriated to the Steward as his emblem because of his function in ministering to the brethren at the hours of refreshment.

The Tyler and the Grand Tyler both have as their implement (and sometimes jewel) the sword, in evident allusion to the instruments of their office. In particular the sword of the Tyler, who is charged to keep off all cowans and intruders from Masonry, recalls the flaming sword placed after Adam's fall at the entrance to the Garden of Eden, to keep all intruders away from the tree of life (Genesis 3:24).

Most of the emblems of Grand Lodge Officers are enclosed within a wreath of wheat and acacia. Certain older rituals describe the plants as "corn and olive"; in formalized representations the olive is very similar to the acacia. The true acacia is the Egyptian thorn, a plant which grows abundantly in the near east, even in deserts where no other tree is able to find subsistence. From it the ancient Jews made the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 25:10). From it, according to tradition, was made the crown of thorns placed on the head of Jesus of Nazareth. It is very tenacious of life; for it is said that when planted as a door-post it will sometimes take root and shoot out budding boughs over the threshold. It is therefore recognized as an emblem of immortality, and it is worn at times of mourning in testimony to our faith in the survival of the soul. In this part of the world, where the true acacia does not grow, a sprig of evergreen is usually worn as a substitute. The spray of wheat in the wreath of Grand Lodge refers, as always, to the staff of life. Perhaps one might say that the wreath as a whole symbolizes the constancy of Masonic principles, both in this world and the next.

The Master’s Hat

Our Book of Constitutions (Blue Book) requires that the Worshipful Master (and the Grand Master) wear a hat appropriate to his dress. The Master is the only officer entitled to wear a hat while in Lodge. It is a privilege extended to him as a “badge of honor.” The custom derives from the courts of kings, where the only one entitled to a head covering or a crown was the king. Since the Worshipful Master is truly the master of the Lodge, it is also a convenience to the other officers and members in locating him quickly.

The Charter or Warrant of Constitution

Every constituent lodge in this Grand Jurisdiction has a Charter, or Warrant of Constitution, issued by Grand Lodge. It authorizes and empowers the lodge to meet in a specified community at a stated time, in order to discharge the duties of Masonry in a constitutional manner, according to the forms of the Order and the laws of Grand Lodge. It is thus the attestation of the lodge's legitimacy; and all members and visitors have the right to inspect the Warrant at a proper time, to assure themselves that the lodge is a legal body. At installation the Warrant is symbolically entrusted to the care of the Worshipful Master of the Lodge. It must always be present when the Lodge is open, as without it the meeting would be illegal. The Warrant may however be removed or declared forfeit by Grand Lodge, for reasons which are set forth in the Book of Constitution. If it is lost or destroyed, communications of the lodge must be suspended until it is recovered or replaced.

The Grand Honors

The Grand Honors are in essence a form of applause, given as a gesture of respect, appreciation, or congratulation. The noise caused by striking the hands together was a natural discovery of early man, but it has had different meanings in different places. In ancient Egypt clapping was done at religious processions, perhaps merely to keep time to the music. Among the Hebrew prophets of the Old Testament, it was a regular sign of derision; thus, for example, Lamentations 2:15: "All that pass by clap their hands at thee; they hiss and wag their head...." The classical Greeks used the gesture to signify approval, in both spontaneous joy and public applause. Soon afterwards organized applause became usual in theaters, games, and political assemblies.

The Romans at the height of their power and culture had developed the clap into an almost exact science, with the most precise rules and regulations governing its use. They specified the form of the hands in clapping (whether flat or cupped), the force of the blow, the length of the applause, and the occasions on which it was to be used. To applaud in public except in conformity to the custom was deemed the mark of an ignorant and uncouth person.

We may also see a connection between the Grand Honors and the military and naval custom of discharging cannon and small arms on suitable occasions as a salute to the Monarch and the Royal Family. In bygone times regiments or ships were frequently granted travelling warrants by the Grand Lodge of England and other Grand Jurisdictions, so that Masons in the service could hold lodges even when abroad. During the great days of the British Empire they would be abroad most of the time, and their warrants were carried all over the face of the globe. In due course some of these military and naval lodges were transformed into civilian ones. It seems likely that the old tradition of the royal salute persisted, but with the reports of the gunfire now replaced by the clapping of hands.

When the Grand Master visits a lodge, or when a Worshipful Master is installed, they are hailed with the Grand Honors, which are given as follows: First is a group with right hand over the left, the palms facing each other and the right palm strikes the left palm three times, then a second group with left hand over the right, and a third group, right hand over left. The hands are then dropped to the sides.

The Seal of the Grand Lodge

The Seal of Grand Lodge, which is reproduced on the title page of this book, is enclosed within a circular band bearing the words, "Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons Michigan." In the center is the sun at the top with “justice” blindfolded and holding the scales (of justice) in equal poise above a square and compasses enclosing a trowel above the open Volume of the Sacred Law.  All of this is on the three steps in the East above a checkered floor. Beside the three steps is an acacia tree crossed with a setting maul and a spade.

Once again we see, as we have seen so often before, that Masonry provides boundless scope for the imagination. Its symbols, some of them centuries old, are a stirring link with the past, and continue to provide moral instruction.

Selected References

Harry Carr, "The Royal Arch Banners. Their sources, designs, and variations' A.Q.C., volume 77, 1964, pages 290‑296.

The Book of Constitutions of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Michigan, 1998. (Available from the Grand Lodge Office).

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