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the interior of the lodge


part II - Symbolism and the Teachings of Freemasonry

W. M. Don Falconer PM, PDGDC

The interior of the lodge is the symbolic heart of speculative craft freemasonry.


In most jurisdictions, the work of speculative craft lodges includes lectures on the tracing boards, which are the modern equivalents of the trestle boards used in operative lodges and of the floor drawings and later the floor cloths used in early speculative lodges. In the usual lecture on the First Tracing Board, the interior of the lodge is described as being composed of ornaments, furniture and jewels. The ornaments of the lodge are the mosaic pavement, the blazing star and the indented or tessellated border. The furniture of the lodge comprises the sacred writings, the compasses and the square. The jewels of the lodge are in two groups, one group of three that are said to be movable and another group of three that are said to be immovable. In the rituals used in most English and Scottish lodges the three movable jewels usually are the square, the level and the plumb rule. They are called movable jewels because they are the insignia of office of the master and his wardens, which are transferred to their successors when installed in their stead. On the other hand, in American lodges these three jewels are said to be immovable, because they invariably are the insignia of office of the master and his wardens. In English and Scottish lodges the tracing board, the rough ashlar and the perfect ashlar are called immovable jewels, because they always lie open in the lodge for the brethren to moralise upon. Conversely in American lodges, these three jewels are called movable because they can be placed anywhere in the lodge room that is convenient.

At first sight the description of the various objects as ornaments, furniture and jewels might seem a little strange, especially as some of the objects are included in two different categories and some of them are also called working tools. Moreover, the reasons why an object has been assigned to a particular category might not be immediately evident. In this context, one must not overlook how the English language has evolved since the rituals were written. Some freemasons might be inclined to say that the rituals should be rewritten in modern English, but that would be a self-defeating exercise because much of the rich symbolism would be lost. The language used in the rituals provides an avenue of constructive thought, which if followed to its logical conclusion can only enhance one’s knowledge of the principles expounded. Another avenue of confusion arises from the fact that in every lodge room there are many more objects that might be called ornaments, furniture or jewels in today’s language, but which have not been included in the rituals under those descriptions. Most of those additional objects and their respective symbolisms are described in other sections of the lecture on the First Tracing Board. Of the objects discussed in relation to the interior of the lodge, the jewels of the lodge and the tracing boards are of such importance that explanations of their symbolisms are given under their own headings in other chapters of this book, so they will only be examined briefly in this chapter. Those implements that operative freemasons used as working tools, which are also included in the items of furniture or as jewels, also are discussed in their primary capacity in the chapter on the working tools of the craft.

The mosaic pavement, the blazing star depicted in the centre of the pavement and the indented or tessellated border surrounding the pavement would not be called ornaments nowadays, although they are ornamental and might be thought of as furnishings. The Latin ordinare, meaning to set in order, has a closely related word ornare meaning to equip or to arrange, whence its predominant sense was to embellish. Ornare had a derivative ornamentum, which became ornement in Old French and was adopted into Middle English as ornament. All three derivatives of ornare mean to embellish, in which sense ornament is used in the lecture. The English verb to furnish derives through the Middle French from the Old French fornir meaning to furnish, especially in the sense to do completely. One of the Middle French derivatives of fornir was forneture, which later became forniture and was adopted as furniture in English. In the lecture furniture is used in the sense of doing something completely, because a lodge is not complete and cannot be opened unless the sacred writings, the square and the compasses are open on the pedestal. The ultimate derivation of jewel is from the Latin iocus, which became jocus in Medieval Latin, both words meaning a joke or a jest. A Medieval Latin derivative was jocalis, which in Old French became joel, its variant jeul being adopted into Middle English and becoming jewel in English, all of which meant a plaything, hence a trinket or small ornament and ultimately a jewel. In the context of the lecture the jewels are small ornaments.

The Ornaments

The mosaic pavement in the centre of the lodge room floor invariably attracts attention, drawing together the physical elements described as the ornaments of the lodge. The physical interconnection of these three elements is highlighted by the fact that, in most lodge rooms, the blazing star is in the centre of the mosaic pavement, which itself is completely surrounded by the indented or tessellated border. This close physical relationship reflects how the symbolisms of the three ornaments are integrated. Taking them in their logical sequence, the mosaic pavement is called the beautiful floor of the lodge; the indented or tessellated border is called the skirt-work around the pavement; and the blazing star is called the glory in the centre. The mosaic pavement is a fundamental element of the composition, representing in particular the terrestrial aspects of mankind’s existence and the vicissitudes of everyday life. The mosaic pavement is called beautiful because it is variegated in colour and chequered in design, reminding us of the eternal sequence of day and night, as well as the diversity of objects that decorate and adorn the whole of the creation, both the animate and the inanimate parts thereof.

The indented or tessellated border alludes to the celestial sphere of our existence. In its lesser aspect, the indented or tessellated border refers to the planets in their several orbits around the sun, thus forming a beautiful corona or border around that grand luminary, as the indented or tessellated border does around the mosaic pavement of a mason’s lodge. In its more important aspect, the indented or tessellated border refers to the radiant canopy of stars surrounding our universe, pointing out to us the inherent insignificance of mankind except with the guidance, assistance and strength of Almighty God. The blazing star or glory in the centre has a twofold symbolism, although the more important of these is often overlooked. Lectures of or deriving from the English system usually say that the blazing star refers to that grand luminary, the sun, which illumines the earth and by its benign influence dispenses its blessings to mankind in general. However, this is only a secondary symbolism that is closely related to the symbolism of the indented or tessellated border. The old Prestonian lecture defines the primary symbolism of the blazing star in the following words:

“The Blazing Star, or glory in the centre, reminds us of that awful period when the Almighty delivered the two tables of stone, containing the ten commandments, to his faithful servant Moses on Mount Sinai, when the rays of His divine glory shone so bright that none could behold it without fear and trembling. It also reminds us of the omnipresence of the Almighty, overshadowing us with His divine love, and dispensing His blessings amongst us; and by its being placed in the centre, it further reminds us, that wherever we may be assembled together, God is in the midst of us, seeing our actions and observing the secret intents and movements of our hearts.”

In most lectures used in the Scottish system, the Blazing Star is simply defined as the Glory in the Centre. It is an ancient symbol of the Supreme Being like the All-Seeing Eye, which is widely used in Scottish and American freemasonry. The Revised Ritual of Craft Freemasonry that is used in some English lodges, adopts a similar approach and also puts the three ornaments in their logical symbolical sequence, saying “The Ornaments are the Mosaic Pavement, the Indented or Tessellated Border and the Blazing Star or Glory in the Centre.” Some Scottish lectures do not include the Blazing Star as an ornament, as for example in the A.S.MacBride Ritual, which says, “Its Ornaments are the Mosaic Pavement of chequered human existence and the four Golden Tassels of Prudence, Fortitude, Temperance and Justice.” These four tassels are those described as pendent to the corners of the lodge in the concluding paragraph of the Emulation and most other English lectures on the First Tracing Board. In American freemasonry the Blazing Star is usually said to be commemorative of the star that guided the wise men of the east to Bethlehem, whence it is said to represent Divine Providence. The Blazing Star is a symbol of the greatest antiquity and is used in a wide range of religious systems to represent the Supreme Being, which has always been its primary symbolism in freemasonry.

The Furniture

No lodge is complete, nor can a lodge be opened to carry out work, unless the three elements that comprise the furniture of the lodge are open on the pedestal, these being the sacred writings, the square and the compasses. The sacred writings are derived from God to mankind in general, because in them are laid down the divine laws that God has revealed to mankind to regulate the life and actions of each and every person. We live in the sure knowledge that every person will be rewarded or punished, accordingly as those laws have been obeyed or disobeyed. As the sacred writings are intended to rule our actions and govern our faith, so every candidate in freemasonry must be obligated upon the holy book of his faith. A corollary to this requirement is the stipulation that no man can be admitted into freemasonry unless he believes in God.  

The square and compasses are placed upon the sacred writings opened at a passage suitable to the occasion, which signifies that the divine laws laid down therein must be the spiritual foundation and moral basis on which every action is undertaken. In this context the square is said to belong to the whole craft of freemasonry, because every freemason is obligated within the square, when he is told that he must square his life and actions according to God’s divine laws. Likewise the compasses, which are an important instrument in the preparation of all architectural plans and designs, are said to belong to the Grand Master in particular as an emblem of his dignity. As he is the chief head and ruler of the craft, the Grand Master must be circumspect in his actions, must diligently uphold the divine laws and must skilfully delineate how the members of the craft should apply those laws.  

The sacred writings, the square and the compasses that comprise the furniture of the lodge, are also designated as the Three Great Lights in freemasonry or the Lights of Revelation, to which the apprentice’s attention is drawn immediately after he has taken the obligation. The Scottish A.S.MacBride Ritual gives the following succinct but beautiful explanation of the Three Great Lights:  

“In the Compasses we have an emblem of the Supreme Will, that encircles and over-rules the Universe. In the Square we have an emblem of the perfect Justice that governs all things. In the Holy Book we have that Will and Justice revealed in the character of the Great Creator of all; and by it we are taught how to circumscribe our desires to His Supreme Will and how to accord our actions with His Perfect Justice.”

In most Irish lodges the Three Great Lights are explained to the newly obligated apprentice in the following words:  

“The Volume of the Sacred Law is recommended to your consideration and study without comment, believing that if you follow its teachings and precept, you will find them a ‘Light to your Path’ and a ‘Lamp to your Feet’. The Square is an emblem of Morality and teaches us that all our actions towards our fellow men should stand the test of the Moral Square. The Compasses, which form that perfect figure, the circle, remind us that we should endeavour to surround our conduct by a line, to keep in check unruly passions and unlawful desires. Thus the Three Great Lights teach the Freemason his duty to his God, his neighbour and himself.”

The explanation of the Three Great Lights that is widely used in English and Scottish lodges and their descendents around the world, which therefore probably is the best-known definition, is given in the following or similar words:

“Let me direct your attention to the three great though emblematical Lights of Freemasonry, namely the Volume of the Sacred Law, the Square and the Compasses. The Sacred Writings are to govern our faith, the Square to regulate our actions and the Compasses to keep us within due bounds with all mankind, more particularly our brethren in freemasonry.”

In the foregoing discussions the Sacred Writings, the Square and the Compasses have been reviewed as the three elements of the Furniture of the lodge and also as the Three Great Lights in freemasonry. The inclusion of these three elements in what undoubtedly must be their most important capacity in speculative craft freemasonry, which is as the Three Great Lights, would appear to have been sufficient. At first sight their additional inclusion as the Furniture of the lodge might appear to be a redundancy, were it not for the fact that in medieval times and until at least the end of the seventeenth century, furniture had an important connotation, perhaps even a primary meaning, of doing something completely. It seems most likely that the early compilers of our speculative rituals had this sense uppermost in their minds. In any event the explanations that are given for the symbolisms of these three elements, as the Three Great Lights in freemasonry and also as items of the Furniture of the lodge, are sufficiently different to offset any suggestion of redundancy.

The Movable Jewels

The Square, the Level and the Plumb Rule are called movable jewels in English, Irish and Scottish lodges, but immovable jewels in American lodges. In respect of the jewels, the early ritualists seem to have faced a dichotomy similar to that relating to the Furniture and the Three Great Lights discussed above, because the primary roles of the Square, the Level and the Plumb Rule are in their functions as important working tools of the craft. Nevertheless they have also been adopted quite logically as insignia of office, in which capacity they are considered to be jewels of the lodge. The use of replicas of these three implements as jewels of office derives directly from the practices of operative freemasons. In the context of the present discussion, it will suffice only to outline their symbolism. The Square is an implement that enables an operative mason to determine precisely the angles of the exterior faces of a stone, thus enabling him to bring rude matter into due form. The Square is an emblem of Morality and Justice. It therefore is appropriate as the jewel of a Master whose duty it is to ensure that the members of his lodge conduct themselves morally and justly. The Level is an implement that enables an operative mason to set the work to a true level on a given plane. The Level is an emblem of Equality and therefore is appropriate as the jewel of the Senior Warden, who is in charge of the work and must see that all of the men are treated fairly. The Plumb Rule is an implement that enables an operative mason to erect walls and columns truly perpendicular. The Plumb Rule is an emblem of Uprightness and Integrity and therefore is appropriate as the jewel of the Junior Warden, whose duty it is to see that all of the men conduct themselves with uprightness and integrity.

The Immovable Jewels

In English and Scottish lodges, the Tracing Board, the Rough Ashlar and the Perfect Ashlar are called the Immovable Jewels, because they lie open in the lodge for the brethren to moralise upon. The lecture on the First Tracing Board says that the Tracing Board is for the Master to lay lines and draw designs upon, so that the operative mason can erect the intended structure with order, regularity and precision. A parallel is drawn to the Sacred Writings, which are designated as the Spiritual Tracing Board in which are laid down the divine lines and moral designs that should govern our lives and actions. The Rough Ashlar is for the Apprentice to work, mark and indent on. Symbolically it represents the mind of man in its untrained state, as rough and unpolished as that stone, but which a liberal and enlightened education can transform into a Perfect Ashlar, smooth, squared and polished. Symbolically the Perfect Ashlar represents the mind of a man who has rendered himself fit to be a member of a properly organised and civilised society. In most lodges there is a Perfect Ashlar fitted with a Lewis and suspended from a tripod, which is placed at a point of vantage visible to everyone in the lodge. When the lodge has been opened the Perfect Ashlar is raised by means of a winch that symbolises labour. This is intended to remind everyone present that they are engaged in labour and that, as freemasons, they should always work diligently to improve their minds and must regulate their actions according to the divine edicts laid down in the Spiritual Tracing Board.

Concluding Remarks

The explanations given in the foregoing discussion are by no means complete, because the primary concern of this chapter is to bring all of the relevant features together in a cohesive arrangement. Most of the important features are examined in greater detail in other chapters under appropriate headings.

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