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part II - Symbolism and the Teachings of Freemasonry

W. M. Don Falconer PM, PDGDC

Ceremonial preparation is an ancient rite that has its origins shrouded in the mists of time.


Ceremonial preparation is an ancient rite that has its origins shrouded in the mists of time. In every period, from the primeval ages of the most primitive races to this modern era of diverse and sophisticated peoples, some form of preparation has been required and continues to be required of candidates for acceptance into many of the broad spectrum of our religious organisations, sects and societies. Lengthy and arduous preparation, which usually involved fasting and frequently involved danger, was a prerequisite for admission into the ancient Mysteries. Severe personal trials also must be completed for initiation into many African, Australian, South American and other aboriginal tribes. Ceremonial preparation frequently includes washing, or an equivalent symbolic purification, followed by the wearing of a special garment such as a white robe to signify that the candidate has completed the purification process. Ceremonial preparation is an integral part of many religious ceremonies as diverse as the Jewish bar mitzvah, Christian baptism and the Islamic hadj.

In the Mysteries of Osiris in Egypt, Mithras in Persia, Eleusis in Greece, the Druids of Britain and Gaul and many others, as much care was taken with the preparation of the candidate as with the initiation ceremonies that followed. It is recorded in the Scriptures that great care also was taken in respect of the personal condition of every Israelite who entered the tabernacle or temple for Divine worship. In a similar manner, Muslims are required to wash their hands and remove their shoes before entering the mosque for prayers. The traditional preparation of a candidate for initiation into speculative craft freemasonry obviously has been influenced by these ancient practices, although it was derived more directly from the usages and customs in operative lodges, which have been modified and extended. The mode of preparation is entirely symbolic, with every part conveying an important message. It is an essential part of a candidate's initiation and is one of the most delicate duties t o be performed, because of the lasting impression it will create in the candidate's mind.


The rituals in lodges of operative freemasons were based on Biblical events. Nimrod, the renowned hunter who also was the first great builder mentioned in the Scriptures, plays an important role in the ancient traditions. The floor work in the several operative degrees is based symbolically on the procedures used during the erection of the temple at Jerusalem for King Solomon. In each degree the candidate personifies a particular stone used in the construction of the temple, on the basis of which he receives moral instruction, is gauged and must pass the test. Whilst being conducted around the candidate's track, from which the perambulations in speculative lodges were derived, the candidate is required to take steps that symbolise either the placement of the stones in a particular course or the measurement of the relevant dimensions. The steps used in a speculative lodge to approach the altar for obligation were not used in operative lodges.

In operative lodges the initiate was "neither naked nor clad" and wore a special white garment or toga candida to give effect to that description. Candidate derives from the Latin and originally meant clothed in white, from the Roman custom of requiring candidates for office to wear a toga candida in the form of a white robe. In the old operative lodges, the lodge's physician examined the candidates to ensure that they were "perfect in all their parts". If found to be whole and physically fit and they were accepted by the brethren and fellows of the lodge, the candidate was required to bathe symbolically seven times and to be clothed in the toga candida. He was then conducted around the lodge to prove to the brethren and fellows that he had been "properly prepared" and that he was "fit and proper" to be admitted to the Fraternity. In operative lodges candidates were specially prepared for their initiation, but wore their working clothes and the apron of their degree for later a dvancements.


In operative lodges the candidate for initiation usually was a young teenager seeking his first employment, who therefore was poor and penniless. Towards the end of the initiation ceremony the new apprentice would be asked how he would subsist until he drew his first wages. On receiving the inevitable response, the master would have a collection taken on behalf of the new apprentice, relieving him of his embarrassment and illustrating the generosity of the Fraternity. The apprentice then received a brief homily on the importance of service and charity in the Fraternity. As candidates for initiation in speculative lodges cannot be in a similar situation to those initiated into operative lodges, they are divested of all metals so that a similar moral can be imparted. The fundamental lesson is that a man should not be esteemed on account of his worldly possessions, but that when he is in need he should be assisted to the extent that prudence and the capacity of the person assisting will allow.


In all of the ancient Mysteries the aspirant was shrouded in darkness for long periods, most commonly deep within a cave, when he was required to fast and undergo a series of trials and afflictions. In the rites of Mithras around 5000 BCE the aspirants had to endure fifty days in darkness and in the Eleusinian rites around 1800 BCE they had to endure twenty-seven days. These long periods in darkness were to remind them of their inherently wicked nature and to prepare them by solitary contemplation for the full light of knowledge. The blindfold is applied to represent the darkness of wickedness and ignorance. It is a mystical reminder to the candidate that he is lost without the light that comes from above. We are told in the New English Bible in John 1, verse 5, that: "The light shines on in the dark and the darkness has never mastered it". This is symbolised by the removal of the blindfold, signifying that the candidate has acquired the right attitude of mind and soul to lead him fr om darkness to everlasting light. The blindfold also is a symbol of silence and secrecy.


In operative lodges the candidate was fully restrained and guided by pairs of ropes held by four of the members, who thus conducted him into and around the lodge. One of the ropes was a cable tow, which seems to have been used the same way in the ancient Mysteries. This symbolism is very old and has been found around the world. In some temples in Egypt, the bas-reliefs show candidates being led into the Mysteries by a cable tow. A vase found in Mexico depicts several candidates going through a similar ceremony, each having a cable tow with a running noose round his neck A cable tow was also used by the ancient Israelites when leading their victims for the burnt sacrifice to and around the altar, whence it became known as an emblem of death. The cable tow obviously provides a means of restraint until the candidate has taken his obligation. As an emblem of death the cable tow also signifies that the candidate is prepared to sacrifice his old life to gain a new and higher one, which is the spiritual rebirth achieved in his search for Light and symbolised by his initiation.

After admission into the Fraternity, the cable tow should be a continuing reminder to every freemason that he is bound to serve his Lodge and to attend its meetings, if it is "within the length of his cable tow", a requirement that is derived from operative freemasonry. In operative practice the cable tow was removed and replaced by a blue cord after the candidate had been obligated and had signed his indenture. An indentured apprentice was required to wear the blue cord for the full seven years of his apprenticeship, as a constant reminder of his bond to the Fraternity. The blue colour of the cord was a token of the universal friendship an apprentice would always find within the Fraternity. In Irish lodges of speculative craft freemasonry the candidate wears the cable tow as an emblem of servitude until he is about to take his obligation. It is then removed by the conductor and thrown contemptuously onto the floor behind the candidate, who is then told that none but a free man may b e made a freemason. In some old Scottish rituals and others deriving from them, the cable tow is wound three times round the neck in the first degree, twice in the second degree and once in the third degree, symbolising a progressive increase in Light and hence a reduction in the "bondage of ignorance".


The use of the right hand as a token of sincerity and as a pledge of fidelity is ancient and universal. For example, in Central and North America the members of many Indian tribes when preparing for their sacred dances will apply the mark of the right hand to their naked bodies by smearing them with white or coloured clay, to demonstrate their sincerity and allegiance to their Deity. We also know from the Scriptures that the Israelites, from the time of Abraham to the days of Saint Paul, considered the right hand to be an emblem of truth and fidelity. Among the Hebrews iamin signified the right hand, which was derived from aman meaning to be faithful. Among the Romans jungere dextras signified the joining of the right hands to ratify a mutual pledge. Among the Persians and the Parthians also, those entering into a pact joined their right hands, which signified that they had taken an inviolable obligation of fidelity. In ancient days, before printed books were available, operative fre emasons took their obligations with their right hands placed on a cubic stone on the altar. This was the custom in Biblical days, when it was deemed essential that nothing should be interposed between the flesh and the stone. When printed books became available, an operative freemason who was being obligated was required to support a copy of the Scriptures on the left hand and to place his right hand upon it, which is the basis of this practice in Scottish speculative craft lodges.

When preparing a candidate for initiation in freemasonry, the right arm is made bare as a token of sincerity and also to remind the candidate that an obligation of fidelity is being taken. The right arm is used for the reasons already mentioned and also because, from time immemorial, the right side has been regarded as the stronger or masculine side. The Greek philosopher Plato (c 428-348 BCE) was the first who rationalised this belief, when he expressed his opinion that the right side is the stronger because it is used more than the left. In fact this opinion is supported by statistics, which indicate that at least ninety percent of the members of the human race use their right hand when working, so that it naturally becomes the stronger hand. The bare right arm also is a symbolic demonstration that the person is not carrying any weapon of offence or defence, because an offensive weapon must not be used inside a lodge, so that a defensive weapon is not required. When a sword is carr ied, the usual convention is for it to be worn on the left side so that it is readily available for use in the stronger right hand, which is in contrast with the traditional belief that small weapons are usually concealed in the right sleeve.


The ancient belief that the right side is the stronger has a natural corollary, which is the belief that the left side is the weaker. In the symbolism of freemasonry, the candidate is taking his first or weakest step when he is being initiated, for which reason he steps off with his left foot. It logically follows that the left side is considered to typify an apprentice. This also is the reason why the initiate kneels on his bare left knee when taking his obligation in a speculative lodge. The progressive kneeling postures adopted in speculative lodges were not derived from operative practice, but they probably are intended to reflect the symmetry of nature and also to symbolise the progressive character of freemasonry. The bare left knee should also remind the candidate of the posture of his daily supplications that are due to the Creator. In operative lodges the candidate was required to kneel with both knees bare on the rough ashlar stone, so that nothing was interposed between hi s flesh and the stone. This perpetuated the ancient concept that the strength and stability of the stone would thereby be transmitted to the candidate, so that an oath taken on a stone would be inviolable.


From the most ancient times it has been customary, as a token of respect, to remove the shoes before stepping onto holy ground. The practice is mentioned many times in the Bible, on the first occasion in Exodus 3:5, when Moses saw the angel of the Lord in the burning bush. When Moses noticed that the bush was not burning away he went closer to see the wonderful sight, but it is recorded in the New English Bible that the Lord then said to him:

"Come no nearer; take off your sandals; the place where you are standing is holy ground."

This token of respect for holy ground is observed in most Eastern countries, where it is customary to remove the shoes before entering a temple, as Muslims do before they enter a mosque. The Druids also practised the same custom when celebrating their sacred rites. The ancient Peruvians are said always to have removed their shoes before they entered their magnificent temple consecrated to the worship of the sun. In lodges of operative freemasons, after a candidate for indentureship was conducted into the assemblage he was required to kneel in prayer prior to his obligation and to "slip his shoes from off his feet", symbolically acknowledging that he was on holy ground.

It was a custom among the Hebrews in ancient times, when sealing a contract or bargain, to hand over a shoe as a pledge of good faith. We read about a pledge being given in this fashion in Ruth 4:7 of the New English Bible. That was when, in the presence of ten elders of the town, the next-of-kin of the Moabitess widow Naomi said that he could not carry out his duty as next-of-kin and therefore that Boaz must do it for him, on which account Boaz acquired from Naomi all that belonged to Elimelech, to Mahlon and to Chilion. It also was the occasion when Boaz acquired Ruth to be his wife. We are told:

"Now in those old days, when property was redeemed or exchanged, it was the custom for a man to pull off his sandal and give it to the other party. This was the form of attestation in Israel."

These events were the culmination of Boaz's kindness to Ruth, he previously having allowed her to glean barley from the sheaves prepared by the reapers in his fields. Concerning Boaz's kindness to Ruth we also read in Ruth 4:19-20 that Ruth's mother-in-law had asked Ruth "Where did you glean today?" to which Ruth had replied "The man with whom I worked today is called Boaz."

In lodges of operative freemasons, at an appropriate time in the ceremony, the newly indentured apprentice was required to remove and hand over his left shoe to confirm his obligation. A question concerning the handing over of the shoe was also used as a test question to a stranger, as it still is often used in Scottish speculative craft freemasonry. In modern freemasonry, the candidate's slipshod heel is also regarded symbolically as equivalent to removing the shoes on holy ground and by association as a ratification of a solemn obligation being taken. The removal of the shoes before entering a holy place or standing on holy ground is a requirement common to many religions from ancient times until the present day. For example, while the Israelites were still in slavery long after the Egyptian had died, we are told that the angel of the Lord appeared to Moses in the flame of a burning bush. In Exodus 3:4-6 of the New English Bible we are told that when Moses approached to see the won derful sight, the Lord called out to him "Come no nearer; take off your sandals; the place where you are standing is holy ground." The Lord then said he would send Moses to the Pharaoh and that Moses would lead the Israelites out of Egypt. That was when the Lord gave Moses several signs by which he could convince the Israelites that he was indeed their leader sent by God.

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