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Question Box

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

“When you stop learning, stop listening, stop looking and asking Questions, always new questions, then it is time to die.” Lillian Smith

“How do you know so much about everything?” was asked of a very wise and intelligent man; and the answer was “By never being afraid or ashamed to ask questions as to anything of which I was ignorant.” John Abbott

“Information can tell us everything. It has all the answers. But they are answers to questions we have not asked, and which doubtless don’t even arise.  Jean Baudrillard

Dear Masonic Student,

One of the programs our Grand Lodge Education Committee has is the ‘Question Box.’ It’s a great program and we get a wide variety of questions. Today I’d like to comment of a couple of them.

Some questions are hard to answer: one such question was about Masons in a Lodge not getting along, and thinking the worst of each other. Sometimes it’s a mutual dislike that occurs among Masons in a Lodge, and sometimes it’s simply where one Mason just doesn’t seem to like another. It’s very hard to change another person, but it is easier for an individual Mason to change from one behavior to another, if he would like to, and if he has the right kind of information: One teacher of the right kind of information is Rabbi Zelig Pliskin, he is one of my favorite authors, and I think something he wrote would be helpful to a person if that person wanted to change his attitude towards another person. Life is hard, and it seems to be even harder if we easily get upset with other people.

Rabbi Pliskin mentions[i] and explains Leviticus 19:15 – if you’re not familiar with it you may want to look it up in your copy of The Great Light of Masonry. Rabbi Pliskin sums it up as ‘Judge People Fairly;’ he then adds when we do this properly ‘we will not get angry with others.’ I’m not sure which translation he is using, but I like the Jewish Study Bible for this scripture; the NJPS translation. I would include verses 16-18. Leviticus 19:15-18 says: “[15] You shall not render an unfair decision; do not favor the poor or show deference to the rich; judge your kinsman fairly. [16] Do not deal basely with your countrymen. Do not profit by the blood of your fellow: I am the Lord. [17] You shall not hate your kinsfolk in your heart. Reprove your kinsman but incur no guilt because of him. [18] You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your countryman. Love your fellows as yourself; I am the Lord.” – I think that the words of Kinsman and countrymen can be applied to the initiated and the uninitiated very well.

The Commentary from the Jewish Study Bible says about verses 17 & 18: “Verse 17 prohibits one whose fellow has wronged him from keeping his resentment inside instead of informing the wrongdoer of his action, lest the bottled-up hatred result in incurring guilt. Verse 18 explains; such bearing of grudges results ultimately in vengeance, while by refraining from this course one treats his fellow with the same ‘love,’ i.e. understanding and forgiveness, one normally extends towards one’s own shortcomings.”

Rabbi Pliskin comments; “Whenever you get angry with someone, it is because you are blaming him for doing or not doing something. If you realize that it’s not his fault, you won’t be angry with him.” “By making it your habit to judge people favorably, you will be able to assume that perhaps the person made an honest mistake, and had different intentions than you assumed.

“While we should be on guard to protect ourselves from possible harm, when nothing practical can be done about a situation, we should not assume guilt. Keep asking yourself, ‘How can I judge this person favorably?”

“I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by conscious endeavor.” Henry David Thoreau

Another question we received was also a great one, because it deals with symbolism of the Gauntlets and Gloves. I say it was a great question because there is symbolism to learn on Masonic regalia even if that regalia is not used in every jurisdiction: The same holds true for all of the working tools of an operative Mason; there are more working tools than some jurisdictions refer to in their degrees, and there are worthwhile lessons to be learned from the tools that are not included.

Gauntlets serve a practical purpose. Today gloves with gauntlets attached are worn by people in all sorts of occupations; the leather gloves protect the hands, and the gauntlets protect the wrists. Farmers and Ranchers wear them a lot; anywhere you might be working with something that is unwieldy you might enjoy having gauntlets on your gloves to help protect your wrists.

Gauntlets for the Mediaeval Knight were made of steel as a protection of the hands and wrists in battle. Today you’ll find them made use of as part of formal dress in some Masonic Jurisdictions. Mackey tells us that they are a part of the costume of the Knights Templar, whose grand encampment directs that their gloves ‘be made of ‘buff’ leather the flap [the gauntlet] to extend four inches upwards from the wrist.’ In the days of Knights if a Knight threw down his gauntlet it was his challenge to another and the challenge was certain to be accepted. In later times a slap in the face by the glove from one man to another was a challenge to a duel.

Gauntlets and gloves today serve a more gentlemanly purpose, in fact, gloves and gauntlets are a part of the vestments for Bishops in the Catholic Church.[ii] And they are a part of the formal dress in Freemasonry in some jurisdictions.

Today, Gloves and Gauntlets serve as a symbol of high station, clean hands, and turning away from everyday reality.[iii] Turning away from everyday reality is another important message of Freemasonry. Freemasons are wise if they leave the everyday reality outside of the Lodge Room – this is symbolic of leaving it away from our dealings with our brethren wherever we might interact with them. And since each of us are a representation of Freemasonry with everyone we meet every day it is a good idea to be kind, forthright, honest, fair, and pure in all our actions. Freemasons are in the world, but they don’t need to act as if they are of the world, they can be above the world.

Years ago it was the custom in the Lodges in Europe to present the new Mason with a pair of white leather gloves. I t was a good custom, and it might still be the custom in some individual Lodges, but for the most part the custom has been abandoned. Today the white gloves worn by Masons are for the most part are made of cloth, but the symbolism is still intact whether leather or cloth.

The custom of presenting white gloves to the new Mason dates back to at least 1686. The custom was to present the new Mason with two pair, and sometimes three; if presented with two pair one pair would be for a woman; these were to be presented by him to his wife, or his betrothed, or the female he most esteems. An interesting item regarding this was that Brother Goethe sent the women’s gloves he received to ‘the chaste’ Charlotte von Stein.[iv]  If the new Mason is presented with a third pair; one is for the work of the Lodge, and the other pair is intended to teach him that the acts of a Freemason should be as pure and spotless as the gloves now given to him.[v] This is a very good lesson for Masons to remember and apply to his own life, whether he wears white gloves in his jurisdiction or not: The lesson and symbolism of a Freemason keeping his acts pure and spotless is an important step in helping us to become the better men we want to be.

Mackey’s Encyclopedia of Freemasonry mentions Dr. Robert Plot who, described as no friend of Freemasonry but an historian of much research, wrote in 1686 about the custom of gloves being ‘presented to the candidate for himself and his wife.’ The encyclopedia then adds, “The symbolism of the gloves, it will be admitted, is in fact but a modification of that of the apron. They both signify the same thing; both are allusive to a purification of life.”  After quoting Psalm 24 it then continues, “The apron may be said to refer to a ‘pure heart’; the gloves to the ‘clean hands. Both are significant of purification – of that purification which was always symbolized by the ablution[vi] which preceded the initiations into the sacred mysteries. But while our American and English Freemasons have adhered to the apron, and as a rule rejected the gloves as a Masonic symbol, the latter appear to be far more important in symbolic science, because the allusions to pure or clean hands are abundant in ancient writers.”[vii]

Regarding Psalm 24 quoted in Mackey’s – Psalm 24:3-4[viii] is the scripture of The Great Light where the symbolism of the white gloves and apron are linked to the Great Light of Masonry.

“Hands are the symbols of human actions – pure hands are pure actions; unjust hands are deeds of injustice.”[ix] “I shall wash my hands in innocence, and I will go about Your altar, O LORD.”[x]

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Last modified: March 22, 2014