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the working tools of the craft


part II - Symbolism and the Teachings of Freemasonry

W. M. Don Falconer PM, PDGDC

From time immemorial the working tools of an operative freemason have been used as symbols for moral instruction.

The craft


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, which originally meant strength and skill. Its adjective craeftig meant crafty and 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 that were not in vogue when the crafts flourished in medieval times. This change in the usage of cunning is reflected in different versions of I Kings 7:14 of the Bible, which records that Hiram King of Tyre sent Hiram Abif to Jerusalem to assist King Solomon in the construction of the temple. In the Authorised Version issued by King James VI in 1611, Hiram Abif is described as filled with wisdom and understanding and cunning to work all works in brass”. In the New English Bible issued in 1970 Hiram Abif 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 by about the middle of the tenth century. The first merchant guild is believed to have originated in Dover in about the middle of the eleventh century, when it seems that the first weaver guilds also were established. In medieval times the workers in many crafts established fraternal associations for the mutual assistance of their members, which they called gilds and later guilds, derived from the Old English gield that was a synonym of the Old Norman gildi signifying a company self supported by subscriptions. There is ample evidence that the craft guilds were well established in Britain by about 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 frequently and also on a regular basis. Under the protection of their guild and with the assistance of its members, many families rose from serfdom to become employers within a few generations. The operative masons who erected ecclesiastical structures in medieval times became the largest and most effectively organised of all the craft guilds and were soon called “the 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, all of whom worked closely with the freemasons on the more important building works, often formed their own craft guilds in the larger centres.


Lodges of operative freemasons


Although the members of most crafts could find work in the vicinity of their homes, many members of the craft of freemasonry 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. The English word was derived from the Old French loge meaning an arbour, which was adopted into Middle English to mean a stall as in modern theatres. 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 was an Old French verb and mansiones a Middle Latin noun, which respectively signify to lodge and a household, reflecting the influence of French and Latin on the English language. In England old operative documents often refer to lodges as places of residence, but sometimes they also were repositories for tools and implements, as at the York Minster in 1399. A body of masons also became known as a lodge by association, almost certainly in medieval times. Perhaps unexpectedly 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 also in the Schaw Statutes of 1598 and 1599.


In medieval times 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, which were the gatherings that Henry VI sought to prohibit by the Statutes of 1436 and 1437. The guild system proved to be highly successful until it was devastated by the Reformation of 1530-1560, when Henry VIII confiscated most of the guilds’ possessions. Henry VIII’s son, Edward VI, completed the disendowment of the guilds by an Act of 1547 under which any remaining guild funds that had been dedicated for religious purposes were confiscated, as also were the funds of all other religious fraternities. The guilds that survived the Reformation became the Livery Companies of the City of London, of which the Fellowship of Masons” probably is the best known. It came into existence very early in the 1300s and was called The Worshipful Company of Ffree Masons of the City of London” from the grant of its arms in 1471 until some time in the 1500s. In 1655, during the aftermath of the Reformation, it was renamed "The Company of Masons".


In operative lodges the supervisory officers included foremen, intendents, superintendents, wardens and deacons, who were responsible for control of the various sections of work. All were fully qualified craftsmen who had been promoted through the ranks when they were sufficiently experienced and had demonstrated the skill and ability required to undertake progressively higher levels of responsibility. The titles and duties of the supervisory officers were not standardised. Medieval guilds in England had wardens of the craft and wardens of the mystery. In medieval lodges in Scotland the chief officers frequently were deacons, often supported by wardens, although the two offices sometimes merged into one or the warden was the chief officer. In some assemblages the freemasons worked under the control of deacons, although wardens were responsible for overall supervision of the lodges. By the second half of the seventeenth century, Master Masons began to rule operative lodges in Scotland and had 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.


Training in operative lodges


In medieval times in England, apprentices in freemasonry were recruited from suitable boys, usually aged between twelve and fifteen years. A youngster learning the mason trade was indentured as an apprentice in an operative lodge. His training nominally was 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. Almost a century had passed before apprenticeship was in general use, at about the time the Fellowship of Masons was formed in London. A boy seeking engagement and considered to be acceptable by the members of the lodge was required to swear that he would be obedient and learn the craft. He was then bound over as an Indentured Apprentice to a senior freemason, often the Master Mason himself, who was the apprentice’s master for his period of 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 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 had not yet gained sufficient experience to take charge of construction, he would be required to work under the guidance of expert craftsmen for as long as 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. The title of 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. Entered Apprentices in Scottish lodges were put in charge of small groups of junior apprentices, although they were still required to work for a few more years under the overall guidance of experienced masons to develop their 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. When found to be proficient he became a Fellow of the Craft and was entitled to all the privileges of the membership of his lodge. In operative lodges Fellows of the Craft were fully qualified masters of their craft in all its aspects. They were allowed to engage labour and to take charge of building work. In operative freemasonry the title of Master Mason usually referred to the master tradesman who was in charge of a building project, often the proprietor of the lodge engaged to carry out the work.


It is of interest to know that the word fellow is related to 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 placing together of property and hence a partnership. From this usage 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 consequence of which he accepted the duties of his position and enjoyed the privileges of membership. Nowadays the title Fellow usually applies to the highest grade of membership in a scientific or technical institution, but it also is used in universities to designate the holder of a Fellowship.


Speculative lodges


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. However, this custom does not seem to have begun in England for another hundred years, when the "Fellowship 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! The Company's records show 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 freemasons that were established were only set up 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 freemasons 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, many of which become speculative lodges almost as a matter of course.


The titles Entered Apprentice and Fellowcraft were not used in English lodges until the 1700s, when both of these speculative grades were adopted from operative freemasonry in Scotland. They became firmly established in English speculative freemasonry when they appeared in Dr James Anderson's Constitutions of 1723. The first known use of these titles in England was by the very old operative Assembly of Masons at York, called the York Grand Lodge, which was independent from the Grand Lodges formed in London. Unfortunately 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 in 1725 on the Festival of St John, which record that "E.P. (Entered 'Prentice), F.C. and M.M. attended", clearly indicating that these three degrees were being worked at that time. Prior to that meeting the Master was usually referred to as the President, but at that meeting he became the Grand Master, when 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. In speculative craft freemasonry the  degree of Master Mason is similar to the ceremonial of the Ancient Drama in operative freemasonry that has been enacted annually from time immemorial.


Religious influence


Because so much of its work was carried out in an ecclesiastical environment, the craft of freemasons was subject to a stronger religious influence than any of the other 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 a learned monk, who was well acquainted with the usages and customs of the mason's trade, probably prepared the Old Charges. Those researchers are of the opinion that the subject matter of the Old Charges is much older than the earliest manuscript presently known, which is the Regius MS dating from about 1390. It is possible that much of the original material relating to the conduct of a freemason may have been derived from the earliest trade ordinances that are known to have come into effect near the end of the eleventh century, although no copies have yet been discovered. No other medieval craft guild or religious fraternity is known to have possessed a document similar to the Old Charges.


Although the traditional history and charges were not identical everywhere, they had a consistent theme and were regarded by the medieval operative freemasons in England as the foundation of their craft in all ages and in all places. Authentic copies of those Old Charges constituted the authority under which operative lodges held their meetings, centuries before warrants were issued by the early Grand Lodges. An interesting aspect of the traditional history is the allegorical account that Charles Martel (688-741), known as Charles the Hammer in France, established freemasonry in England. This account might have a factual basis. Masonic legends in France include the anomalous assertion that Charles Martel learnt the craft of freemasonry 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, which began when the Irish apostle and Benedictine monk St Columba (521-597) established the first 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 freemasons from France to Scotland, it perhaps is surprising that Scottish operative lodges did not have their own traditional histories. The few Old Charges possessed by Scottish lodges of operative freemasons obviously were copied from English sources and date from about the time when the Seal of Cause was issued in Edinburgh in 1475. Likewise there is no evidence of Irish operative lodges having a traditional history similar to that of their English counterparts, but there is ample evidence that they used 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, to he replies “when the sun was at its meridian”. Operative masons were obligated under oath and were subject to penalties that were customary for the period. In operative lodges the candidate in each of the several degrees was told that he represented a particular stone required in the construction of Solomon's temple. The ceremonial and its inherent religious components were 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 speculative degree.


Operative working tools


The Fabric Rolls of York Minster of 1360 list a kevel, sometimes incorrectly called a keevil, which was similar to a very large gavel and was the stone-axe 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, though probably deriving from the Old Norman French keville, which means a key, from which a clavicle also is descended. 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; various hammer-axes, brick-axes, pickaxes and mattocks; chisels, puncheons and augers; crowbars, levers and wedges; and mallets, mauls and trowels. The principal wooden tools used  by operative freemasons 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 6:5 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 apprentice's working tools


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. The tools presented to an Indentured Apprentice in an operative lodge 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 when dressing a stone, 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, callipers 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 twenty-four inch gauge that is presented to a speculative Entered Apprentice nowadays was introduced to impress upon the candidate the importance of allocating his time properly, so that it would be well spent. In operative freemasonry this aspect of an apprentice's duties were 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 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 known as 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 beetle derives its name from two of the Old English words meaning to beat, respectively bietl and beatan. A heavy wooden truncheon is also called a beetle. The speculative ritualists replaced the maul with a common gavel, which in fact is never used with a chisel. Moreover, as the gavel is an emblem of power in the sense of government, it is not a very appropriate symbol with respect to the duties of an apprentice. The similarly shaped implements used in operative masonry was the much larger kevel and the stone-axe which had 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 the beetle a gavel, which is a name of American origin from 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 authority and 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 of speculative craft freemasonry the operative custom of using the maul as an emblem of the master's authority is still in practice. In Scottish lodges the senior deacon's jewel is a maul and the junior deacon's jewel is a trowel, which indicate that the respective responsibilities of the senior and junior deacons are to exercise control in the work and to maintain harmony.


The fellow's working tools


Of the several wooden working tools used in operative lodges, the square, the level and the plumb rule were appropriated to the Fellowcraft in speculative craft 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 operative masons used three different squares, 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, although they are not differentiated in the ritual so that the subtle differences of meaning that are explained in the charges might be missed by anyone who is not familiar with operative practice. 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 they are made of metal as a matter of convenience, so that it may be difficult to envisage how they would have been used in building construction.


The levels and plumb rules used by operative freemasons 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 freemasonry 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 two cubits or a little over a metre long, with the line and plumb bob suspended from one apex. When the plumb line hung vertically and the point of the plumb bisected 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, the expression "setting to a dead level" is derived. The plumb rule usually was a stave about two cubits long, with its long edges dressed parallel to each other. A line and plumb bob were suspended from the upper extremity of the stave on its centre line to determine its verticality. Either long edge of the stave could be used to set verticals, or to try and if necessary to adjust upright members 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 in the ratios of 3:4:5. String lines and skirrets are used to set out lines, but the wooden straight edge is the implement used to test a course of stones for straightness along a line or a vertical series of courses for the uniformity of its surface. A plumb line or plummet is used to plumb a point in a vertical plane and three plumb lines are used together 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 when setting out a building, but not when checking right angles during erection, for which purpose the gallows square is the correct implement. The working tools of a fellow thus fall into two distinct groups, one for use when setting out a building and the other for use during its erection.


The master's working tools


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 Pole Star can be sighted to determine the north-south axis. This is done by sighting the Pole Star through a plumb line set up over the required centre point, then lining in two other plumb lines at or beyond each of the required northern and southern extremities. In both hemispheres the north-south axis can be established by the bisecting 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. When the north-south axis has been established it is marked with a string line, so that the east-west axis and the required diagonals can then be established using a Pythagorean square in conjunction with string lines drawn from a skirret at the centre. There are paintings at Thebes in Egypt, dating from 3000 BCE or earlier, which show masons using a stretched cord to draw a line in this fashion.

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 the Master Mason would prepare detailed designs and working drawings. The Master Mason would also prepare detailed drawings for the most 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.


In Zechariah 2:2 in the New English Bible, when Zechariah saw a man carrying a measuring line he asked where the man was going and was told:


"To measure Jerusalem and see what should be its breadth and length".


The symbolical use of the measuring line in Biblical times is confirmed by a passage in Jeremiah 31:39 in the New English Bible, which tells us that:


"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."


The symbolism of the square


The three types of square used by operative freemasons 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 a 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 a small square in the ratio of 2:3 and having 12" x 18" arms; a general purpose square in the ratio of 3:4 called a Pythagorean square and having 18" x 24" arms; and a large square in the ratio of 2:3 and having 24" x 36" arms, which was used to check corners and other wall intersections both internally and externally.

When admitted for advancement as a Fellowcraft in a speculative craft lodge the candidate is told that, having been 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 that was 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 when reconciliation between the Antients and the Moderns was achieved. The traditional "Square and Compasses" emblem should incorporate a try square that has not been calibrated and a similar square should also be used to form the emblem representing the three great emblematic lights of freemasonry. Because the try square is used to test the angles of a perfect ashlar stone, it is a universal emblem of morality and justice that inculcates truthfulness, honesty and a strict obedience to the law of God's Word. It therefore is rightfully included in the three great emblematic lights by which we shall be tried as "living stones". In Isaiah 28:16 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 118:22 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 freemasons 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 during the 1830s after Euclid's 47th Proposition was introduced as the basis of the speculative Past Master's jewel in England, the speculative Master's emblem was changed to a try square. Perhaps this was a result of the early speculative ritualists' passion for symmetry.


The Master's jewel is a symbolic reminder that he is required to rule his lodge justly and properly, that his conduct must be exemplary and his decisions impartial. In English speculative freemasonry the Immediate Past Master's jewel is a miniature illustration of Euclid's 47th Proposition, suspended from a gallows square with sides 3 units and 4 units long and a hypotenuse 5 units long. About two thousand years before Euclid developed his 47th Proposition, which is one of general application, some skilful craftsman in ancient Egypt had discovered the usefulness of a right angled triangle with sides in the ratios of 3:4:5. Nevertheless the discovery is traditionally attributed to Pythagoras of Greece, who had studied and worked in Egypt and learnt about the use of the triangle there. The 3:4:5 ratios are the basis of the operative freemason's Pythagorean triangle of rods that are used to set out a structure.


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, which combines the foregoing symbolism with the following. 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 the same shape as Gamma in Greek. The gallows square, as well as the Greek Gamma that is equivalent to G in the Roman alphabet, all stand for God and represent His great attribute of "Justice". In medieval paintings of the Christian disciples, the gallows square is often found embroidered on their vestments, as it is on some priestly robes even 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 showing that the square is one of the most important moral instruments of the craft of freemasonry, while at the same time representing God in His capacity as the Grand Geometrician of the Universe.


The symbolism of the level


As a working tool of an operative freemason, 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, but such equality is not expressed in relation to wealth or to poverty in the fiscal sense. The symbolism of the level is not applied in the secular sense concerning social distinction, civic responsibility or service to mankind, but is applied in the moral sphere with reference to the internal rather than the external qualifications of a human being. The level alludes 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 it also denies that any differences of that nature should preclude anyone from aspiring to any height, however great. The level reminds us that we have all sprung from the same stock and are all partakers of the same nature, so therefore we all share the same hopes. Thus the level is an appropriate emblem of the Senior Warden, because when the lodge is at labour all symbolically are under his immediate supervision and therefore are on a common level of subordination.


The symbolism of the plumb rule


Plumb lines and plumb rules are implements used to determine a vertical plane and are 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. These devices are among the oldest emblems and all have similar symbolic interpretations. The plumb is a symbol of truth and rectitude of conduct. It inculcates the integrity of life and that undeviating course of moral uprightness that alone can distinguish a good and just man. When erecting earthly structures the operative mason pays strict attention to the vertical, as determined by the plumb, because any deviation from the upright contributes to instability. In like manner the speculative freemason should be guided by the unerring principles of right and truth that are symbolised by the plumb, neither succumbing to the pressures of adversity nor yielding to the seductions of prosperity. We read in Isaiah 28:17 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".


Also, in Amos 7:7-8 we read that the Lord said to Amos:

"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 that is related to their 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 the moral sense right denotes something that is just, fair or equitable, while in the physical sense it indicates that something is straight, or perpendicular. Likewise, when referring to the angle that is produced when a line or a plane is placed in a position perpendicular to another line or plane, like a vertical wall standing on a horizontal floor, which interrelates the use of the plumb and the level, the angle of 90° thus formed is called a right angle. The plumb rule is appropriate as the jewel of the Junior Warden, because it is emblematic of the upright conduct that should always distinguish the brethren during their periods of refreshment, when symbolically they are under the Junior Warden’s control.


The symbolism of the pencil


The pencil, like the quill in olden times and the pen in modern times, is a symbol of learning and knowledge. Writing is a visible expression of the human intellect that is used to convey our thoughts and inner feelings. By association, the pencil is a symbol of the law of God that is laid down for us in the sacred writings. As the pencil is used by the skilful architect to delineate the intended structure faithfully and accurately, so it should remind us of our responsibilities as individuals, always bearing in mind that our thoughts, words and actions are all recorded by the Most High who, having left us free to choose our own course of action will assuredly hold us responsible for our behaviour. The symbolism of the pencil is not restricted to freemasonry. From ancient times the pen and the tablet have been symbols of the Holy Spirit and writing has represented the divinely inspired scriptures. For example, hieroglyphs originally were the sacred language of ancient Egypt. This symbolism is typified in the records of the Sufis, the mystics of Islam, who say of the writing of the Koran:

"God created under the Arsh (Throne) and of its light a great 'Tablet' in colour as a green beryl and a great 'Pen' in colour as an emerald and filled with ink which was of white light. God cried 'Write O Pen!', whereupon it moved over the Tablet and wrote thereon everything that should happen till the Last Day and the Tablet was covered over with the writing. And thereon was then inscribed the Divine original of the Glorious Koran."

In this dissertation the Tablet is the "table of the heart" on which the Pen, which represents "Divine Expression", inscribes the "Law of Wisdom" that expounds the involution and evolution of the human soul, from its descent into the human being, its liberation from earthly restraints and its ascent to reunite with God at the end of this earthly existence.


The symbolism of the skirret


The Oxford English Dictionary describes the skirret as an instrument for measuring land and aligning trenches, working on a revolving centre pin. The origin of the word is said to be unknown and the first recorded usage is shown as 1853. As the skirret was a species of water turnip that was commonly cultivated in Europe in those days, it seems likely that the name of the instrument was derived from the vegetable during the measurement of farming lands. The large roll of line held on the rotating spool at the upper end of the handle would appear very much like the vegetable. The skirrets usually displayed in lodges of speculative craft freemasons are only miniature representations of the operative freemason's implement. In operative freemasonry the skirret is commonly used to mark out the ground for the intended structure. In so doing the line is unreeled from the spool then chalked and tautly stretched out, so that when it is pulled up off the ground at about mid-length and released under tension, a straight chalk line is marked on the ground. The skirret is also used with a fixed length of line to set out equal distances from a centre or other given point on the foundation plan, which is the way it is used when setting out the ground plan of a building from its centre that has been established on the ground. The use of the measuring line in ancient times has already been mentioned. Symbolically, the skirret represents the sacred writings in which a straight and undeviating line of conduct is clearly laid down for our guidance. Thus the symbolism of the skirret is closely related to that of the pencil, which represents the sacred writings themselves.


The symbolism of the compasses


The compasses are used to describe a circle about a given centre point. The name of the instrument comes from the Old French compasser, thence through the Middle English compas, both meaning to measure and also proper proportion. This also is the derivation of the old expression to compass about, which means to encircle or to circumscribe an area. The compasses represent a circle, which is a symbol of the all-embracing principle of Divine manifestation that is perfect and entire, including everything and wanting nothing, having neither beginning nor ending, timeless and absolute. Thus they are applied in Proverbs 8:27-29:


"When he established the heavens I was there,

when he set a compass on the face of the deep,

when he made firm the skies above,

when he established the fountains of the deep,

when he assigned the sea to its limit,

so that the waters might not transgress his command,

when he marked out the foundations of the earth . . . ."


In freemasonry the compasses or dividers are used to determine with accuracy and precision the limits and proportions of the intended structure being designed and the dimensions of the stones being shaped. The compasses symbolise the unerring justice and impartiality of God, who has accurately defined for our guidance the limits of good and evil and has prescribed our obedience thereto, but has left us free to choose, in the certain knowledge that we will be rewarded or punished accordingly as we have obeyed or disobeyed his Divine commands. The compasses also remind us that we must keep our passions and prejudices within due bounds.

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