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masonic matters

Symbolism of Hands

by Ed Halpaus
Grand Lodge Education Officer
Grand Lodge of A. F. & A. M. of Minnesota

“Forsooth, brothers, fellowship is heaven, and lack of fellowship is hell: Fellowship is life, and lack of fellowship is death; and the deeds that ye do upon the earth, it is for fellowship’s sake that ye do them.” William Morris [1834-1896] from ‘The Dream of John Ball.’

“Why should your fellowship a trouble be, since man’s chief pleasure is society?
Sir John Davies [1569-1626] in Nosce Teipsum Chap 32

Have you ever thought about the hands and the symbolism attached to them in Freemasonry? One of the first uses of the hands comes just after the candidate is received in his First Degree, when the Senior Deacon takes him by the hand to be his guide in the degree. Later in the degree, during the second section of the lecture, it is explained to him that when he was taken by the right hand after his first prayer in Lodge he arose and feared nothing because he was in the hands of a trusty friend.

In the Bible, (The Great Light of Masonry,) there are many references of the hands, and if we were to want to find a Biblical reference to hands we could look at the book of Proverbs. In speaking of Wisdom, King Solomon said: “Blessed is the man who finds wisdom, the man who gains understanding, for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold. She is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her. Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honors.” Proverbs 3:13-16 NIV.

When we think of the hands, the right and left, the left is a symbol of equity and justice because unlike the right the left is impartial. This is illustrated in a filmstrip I use for the third section of the lecture for the first degree; in that filmstrip Justice is illustrated with the scales of Justice in her left hand and a sword in her right. This is because the left hand symbolizes the passive and the right active things.

The right hand is used to confirm and oath, as well as to give as a token of Brotherly Love and Friendship. The right had has in all ages and in many cultures been deemed to represent the virtue of fidelity. Among the people of Israel during the time of the ministry of the apostles of Jesus the right hand was considered as a token of friendship and fidelity. This can be seen in Galatians 2:9 where Paul wrote that James, Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to him and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship. [NASB]

I have a friend, a sterling example of a Mason and a Past Grand Master, who will reference that Bible passage at Masonic gatherings by putting out his right hand saying something like; “let me extend to you the right hand of fellowship,” Sometimes he will say; “right hand of Friendship.” Either way I like that phrase and gesture. Both examples are appropriate in a Masonic Lodge, and the word ‘friendship’ makes it appropriate everywhere; but when your mind is on all the troubles of the day it is hard to remember to use his example.

In general the hand is a symbol of power; the right hand of power skillfully directed.

It is said that among the ancient Egyptians that “the hand was a symbol of a builder, or one who is fond of building, because all labor proceeds from the hand.”

“Brother clasps the hand of brother, stepping fearlessly through the night.”
Sabine Baring-Gould [1834-1924]

In the second section of the lecture of the first degree; part of the explanation of the degree says that we enter upon the weaker part of Masonry. It is not the first degree that is weak. The first degree is the foundation of our Masonic instruction, just as the first grade in school provides the foundation for the second and following grades, it is called the lowest grade not because it is less important than those that follow, but because it deals with the things that must be learned first in order for any progress in knowledge to be made.

The information and the lessons of the First Degree are of the utmost importance to the new Mason who is a beginner in Masonry and is just beginning his quest for truth. He is a novice laying the foundation for his Masonic life; he has been prepared to become a Mason in his heart before he knocked at the door of the Lodge. The heart is on the left side of man, and the first degree deals with the things of the heart, which are the very fundamentals of Freemasonry.

Masonry is a progressive science, but the first degree must never be laid aside as we progress in Masonry. The first degree and the second degree remain with us as we attain the sublime degree, and then proceed with our Masonic studies to improve ourselves in Masonry.

From the Great Light of Masonry = “After he left there, he came upon Jehonadab son of Recab, who was on his way to meet him. Jehu greeted him and said, ‘are you in accord with me as I am with you?’ ‘I am’ Jehonadab answered. ‘If so,’ said Jehu, give me your hand.’ So he did, and Jehu helped him up into the chariot.” 2 Kings 10:15 NIV

References for this issue of Masonic Matters:

Masonic Concordance of the Holy Bible by Brother C.C. Hunt re-published in 1984 by the Masonic Book Club
The Lost Key by Brother Prentiss Tucker, published in 1927
Mackey’s Revised Encyclopedia Revised by Brother Robert Clegg 1929 edition

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