Explanatory Notes on Craft Symbolism

W.Bro. R. A. L. Harland, P.M., Lodge No. 1679

President of the Circle

"The science of the prophets was experimental possession of the truth of the symbols. The highest degree for successive development to higher altitudes is the entire opening of our inner sensorium, by which the inner man attains the objective vision of real and metaphysical verities." (The Cloud upon the Sanctuary, Eckarthausen).

The purpose of these Explanatory Notes is to interpret the meaning of certain of the allegories and symbols which illustrate our Craft system. They have been compiled with the express object of supplementing the information contained in three similar Papers ("Some Preliminary Notes on Craft Symbolism," "Some Notes on Craft Symbolism" and "Some Further Notes on Craft Symbolism"), which together with this, form a series designed as an introduction to the more extensive study of Masonic theory and practice. It has been very rightly pointed out by Bro. F. V. Mataraly in his excellent Paper, "The Spiritual Significance of Some of Our Symbols," that the tendency of symbols is to petrify or evaporate, either process being fatal to the advancement of spiritual knowledge. In the former instance the mere recital of their explanation becomes meaningless through constant repetition; and in the latter, the explanations themselves are so divorced from traditional teaching that they cease to arrest the attention. Unfortunately, most members of the Craft conclude that the official instruction exhausts the interpretation of the symbols. We are, however, intentionally told little about them; only sufficient is said in the Lodge to set us off thinking and searching, until their true value is revealed as the fruit of our own exertion. There is imposed upon us the labour of seeking for what lies concealed within the structure of the Ritual itself, and our worthiness to possess the hidden truths it enshrines is made dependent upon our personal effort. With this thought in mind, we will now consider some of the profound and instructive features of Craft symbolism.

The Lodge: The Seven Primary and Seven Secondary Officers; and the Immediate Past Master: Emblems of Office and their Significance.

The numerous references to the Lodge, which occur in the Ritual and Instruction Lectures of the Craft, are not to the building in which we meet; neither is the Lodge merely an assembly of Brethren met for Masonic business. The real Lodge is our individual personalities; when "duly formed" and "opened," the Lodge is an emblematic figure of each member of the Craft composing it; and it is designed as an object lesson in "that most interesting of all human studies, the knowledge of yourself." To state things briefly, the individual man in virtue of his sevenfold constitution, which is symbolised by the seven primary Officers, in himself constitutes the "perfect Lodge," if he will but know and analyze his own nature. It follows, therefore, that the true work of the Craft, which is that of disciplining and perfecting oneself, cannot be entered upon without first perceiving of what the "self" consists.

Man, broadly speaking, is a threefold being. First, he has an outside personality, or body, with which he exists in the external world. In the Craft system this outer self, is personified by the TYLER, whose place is outside the Lodge, just as the visible personality is outside the man within. Secondly, he has an inside personality, and this is that large psychological field known as the soul, which animates and actuates the outside self, but is more subtle and complex than the body. It bears the same relation to the outside self as the interior of the Lodge does to the exterior, and it is to the mysteries of this inward man that the science of the Craft is principally directed. Accordingly, the Lodge is formed with the intention of serving as a model of that sphere of the psychical faculties called the soul; whilst, in the same manner as the outer body of man is opened for physiological investigation, so the Lodge also is opened in order that we may study the constitution of our inner self, and endeavour to understand the psychological mechanism. Thirdly, well beyond the outward person and the inward soul, there abides the supreme factor which distinguishes man from all sub- human life, and affiliates him to the Source of being. This is the divine immortal Spirit in man (the "Centre"), the only real self. It, too, has its mysteries; they are the Greater Mysteries, but they can never be known until the Lesser Mysteries, which are those of the Craft have been assimilated both in theory and personal experience.

The form of the Lodge, therefore, represents the intermediate psychological field, which is mid-way between the Spirit above and the Material below. To either of these poles the soul can diffuse energies, becoming illumined or darkened, by reason of the dominant tendencies. Moreover, the "open Lodge" exhibits the mind (in the various aspects of intuition, reason, and will), the emotions, and the senses, as comprising one community of "brethren," who must not only learn to dwell together in unity, but likewise to work in unison for their common good, the regeneration of the whole organism. These different parts, or components, are shown in the Lodge as separate entities, occupying appropriate places, and thereby denoting their corresponding functions in the human soul. Some, as Officers "rule and teach," others "learn to submit and obey"; some are active, others passive; some are fixed and stationary, others are mobile; thus illustrating the truth that in the constitution of the soul there are both permanent and transitory elements. The perfect Lodge has seven primary Officers, who personify the sevenfold Constitution of Man which, following the septenary principle in Nature is, like a ray of light or a musical sound, prismatically resolvable into a scale of seven sub- modes.

In the Lodge the Master, the apex of all within it, is emblematically the point at which the divine Spirit is in contact with the soul, and from which Light vibrations "from above" stream into the Lodge of the soul, permeating and illumining the inward man, and penetrating even to the external personality, of which the TYLER is the representative. The MASTER represents the Spiritual Principle in man; that inextinguishable Light in him which, being immortal and eternal, continues to shine when everything mortal and temporal has disappeared. The SENIOR WARDEN, whilst he is the chief executive Officer of the Master, is also his antithesis and opposite pole; he personifies the soul or psychic principle in man which has no inherent light, but reflects and transmits the greater Light from the East; wherefore his light is spoken of in the Craft as the Moon in the West. Midway between the Master in the East and the Senior Warden in the West is placed the JUNIOR WARDEN in the South, symbolising the Sun. Masonically, the Sun stands for the illuminated human intelligence and understanding, which results from the material brain-mind being enlightened by the Spiritual Principle; it denotes these two in a state of harmonious interaction, the Junior Warden personifying the meeting-place of man's natural reason and spiritual intuition.

The four subordinate Officers (Senior and Junior Deacons, Inner Guard, and Tyler), represent the energies of the three principal Officers transmitted into the lower faculties of man's organism. The SENIOR DEACON, the adjutant and emissary of the Master, forms the link between East and West; the JUNIOR DEACON, the adjutant and emissary of the Senior Warden, forms the link between West and South; while the INNER GUARD acts under the immediate control of the junior Warden, and in mutually reflex action with the TYLER. Thus the seven primary Officers of the Lodge typify the mechanism of human consciousness, as follows:-

In other words, they represent a series of discrete but coordinated parts connecting man's outer nature with his inmost divine Principle, and providing the necessary channels for reciprocal action between the spiritual and material poles of his organism.

In addition to the seven primary Officers of the Lodge, there are also seven secondary Officers, namely:- Chaplain, Treasurer, Secretary, Director of Ceremonies, Almoner, Organist, Steward.

These seven secondary Officers personify, not the structure, but the activities of the soul, and they are deemed to be in a state of perpetual watchfulness and obedience to their superiors. Indeed, all the Officers are the servants of the Master (signifying the Spiritual Principle of the soul), while the Master himself is the servant of the Spirit; it is written: "As the eyes of servants look unto the hand of their masters, and as the eyes of a maiden look unto the hand of her mistress, so our' eyes wait upon the Lord our God " (Psalm 123, verse 2). To each of the two groups of seven Officers must be added the Immediate Past Master; he is the culmination of each of them, and the octave in which they are summed up. The total of the constitutional Officers is (excluding Assistants) therefore fifteen, an important number that in the Craft teaching recurs many times. It should further be noted that every Office in the Lodge is duplicated, or complementary; there are two Wardens, two Deacons, two Doorkeepers; while the remainder of the Officers form pairs, or counterparts. The reason for this is that the soul, as it is figured in the Lodge, is a field of interplay between the spiritual and the material in man, and it exhibits dual powers, functioning upwards or downwards, actively and passively, as the Will directs.

The symbolic Lodge being a temporal House of the Mysteries is constructed after the design of Wisdom; as we may read in the Sacred Writings: "Wisdom hath builded her house, she hath hewn out her seven pillars" (Proverb, chapter 9, verse 1). Thus the "seven pillars of Wisdom" are represented in the Lodge by the seven primary Officers; and it is through them that the light of Wisdom (represented by the Master) is effectively mediated to the worldly body (symbolised by the Tyler). We are intended to learn thereby that without the Wisdom of the Spirit the soul of man is darkness, and his body of flesh a thing of nought; that without the soul and body as instruments, the Spirit abides in itself; but that the Great Architect has joined these three together, appointing the Spirit to rule over soul and body, that from these imperfect materials there may be erected an immortal House wherein God may tabernacle with man. The Master is therefore distinguished by the Square (turned downward), signifying that he, as the representative of the Great Architect, may shape into the Divine likeness all below him which is entrusted to his care, whether in the Lodge, or his own being, of which the Lodge is the symbol. By the symbolic use of this emblem of the Square, the Master employs and instructs his Brethren in the work of the Craft, so that by, their united labours they may be made "perfect in all their parts" of spirit, soul, and body.

In the Lodge the Master and Wardens use Gavels, not only as the emblem of power, but also to illustrate how the vibrations of the Spirit pulse into the soul and awaken and stimulate dormant faculties. Moreover, what the superior wisdom of the Spirit knows to be necessary, and decrees to be done, must then penetrate to and be obeyed by the lower nature; therefore, when the Master knocks, the command is repeated by the Wardens, and made to reverberate through the entire Lodge. The knocks, however, given by the Tyler are the converse of those given by the three Chairs; they represent the vibratory impulses of the lower nature beating upon the soul from without, whereas the knocks from the Chairs signify those of the higher self beating upon the soul from within. The soul is, indeed, a field of vibratory activity, and is subject to competing claims from above and below; at each pole there is something which "stands at the door and knocks," and each of us is free to determine what knocks we shall respond to, likewise what we shall admit into ourselves. The knocks given in the three Degrees of the Craft system denote three ascending grades of life.

The emblem of the Senior Warden is the Level, which proclaims that all souls stand upon an equality before God, and must all be adjusted to and tested by, the level of Divine perfection. It is in this sense that the Senior Warden, as the chief executive of the Master, presents to him for initiation candidates who are certified by the junior Officers as "properly prepared," that they may come to the knowledge of the Light of the East and, like the Senior Warden himself, become reflectors. At the bidding of the Master, the Senior Warden also invests the candidates with their symbolic clothing which marks their progress towards the Light; for, it is appointed to every soul, in emulation of the Great Architect, to build a temple for itself, so that when the body of mortality is dissolved it may wear a body of immortality, and stand clothed upon with Light as with a garment. The badge of Office denoting the Junior Warden is the Plumb-rule, the symbol not only of moral uprightness which must distinguish the soul, but also an emblem of the whole being of man. Thus the leaden weight of the Plumb-rule is an image of his corporeal nature which, at the lower pole of his being, hangs from and weighs down his soul, and yet is connected as by a thread of life to his immortal spirit at the upper pole. Accordingly, the Junior Warden represents the typical Mason, namely, he who keeps his understanding open to both what is above and what is below him, learning to adjust the balance of the temporal and eternal elements in himself, and finally to blend them into one.

To each of the Deacons is entrusted a Wand as an emblem of peace, even as to each Doorkeeper is committed a Sword as a token of war. Thereby is signified that the same Wisdom which is at enmity with the things of darkness descends as a dove of peace upon those who seek the Light; and no soul knows the kiss of peace save his who has first known war in itself. The Wand, originally the Thyrsus, was a hollow rod held over the head of candidates at important moments, thereby signifying the transmission of light and wisdom from above into the mind and lower nature. It was a symbolic conducting rod of the current of the Spirit into the bodily organism of the candidate, and had a physiological allusion to the human spinal column, through the cavity of which pass the currents of nerve energy between the lower parts of the body and the head. The golden rod of Hermes, for example, was an outward and visible sign of an inward and vital power, hidden in man, wherewith the Divine, still deeper hid in him, wakes his soul and raises him from the dead, so that he recovers a divine memory, in the great awakening to conscious spiritual life.

The Inner Guard and Tyler are armed with Swords these are emblems of the power of the Spirit to defend and to control the lower nature of man whilst he is striving in the task of self-perfecting. The working Masons engaged in rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem are described as labouring with "trowel in hand and sword by their side." Masonically, the trowel is a constructive tool symbolising the work of upbuilding the soul; and the sword, which is never sheathed, is a destructive weapon signifying the combat with the contrary tendencies of the flesh. The Inner Guard is the least of the Officers stationed within the Lodge, and his duties symbolise the lowest faculties of the soul; it is, however, written: "I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness" (Psalm 84, verse 10).

We are intended by the duties of the Treasurer in the Lodge, to be reminded of the axiom that: "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Matthew, chapter 6, verse 21 ). Accordingly, the place of the Treasurer is traditionally on the heart side (left side facing East) of the body of the Lodge, and his function, like that of the heart is to receive, conserve, and distribute for the well-being of the whole body. The emblem of the Treasurer is the Key, symbol of secrecy and silence. We are exhorted to receive into the treasury of the heart all experiences which the life of the outer world may contribute; profiting therefrom and then transforming them into desire for things which are not of this world; so shall we become the treasurers of spiritual riches, and keep our secrets locked up "in the safe and sacred repository of our hearts," as with a key. The same key which locks the heart to the riches of the world without, opens it to the knowledge of God and the wealth of the kingdom within; hence the old counsel: "Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life" (Proverbs, chapter 4, verse 23). Closely linked with the work and symbolism of the Treasurer is the Secretary. It is through the Secretary that the summonses from the Master are sent forth to the Brethren to attend the duties of the Lodge, even as to the heart of every man the Grand Master of the Universe has sent His call to labour in the greater Lodge of Life. Moreover, as our own thoughts, words, and actions are observed of God and recorded upon the secret tablets of our hearts, so also, as the Recorder of the Lodge, does the Secretary observe and inscribe in a book a just account of the Lodge proceedings. The badge of the Secretary consists of two winged Pens; one for utterance; one for silence; one for writing that which he is directed by the Master to publish forth; one for recording that which is done in the Lodge in private. This symbolism denotes that as the Sword of the Spirit is two-edged with justice and Mercy, so is the Pen (or Pencil) of the Most High two-plumed with speech and silence.

The duty of the Director of Ceremonies is to see that the Temple is properly furnished, and that the rites and ceremonies of the Craft are performed according to ancient usage. It is also his duty to marshal and escort the processions in and out of the Lodge; to proclaim to the Brethren the will of the Master upon those matters which concern the good of the Lodge; and to lead the salutations of honour to them in the Craft that bear rule over us. The badge worn by the Director of Ceremonies is two Rods or Wands, but we must look beyond these symbols to the grand original from which they are derived. In our earthly House of the Mysteries we lift our eyes to Him who has laid out the Temple of the Universe in symmetry and order; may the rod of His guidance ever go before and the staff of His comfort always follow after us in our temporal rites; and in our comings in and goings out of the Lodge may we discern an image of His larger purpose with us. Further, seeing this great work so truly reflected in the Craft system, may we at all times fear God, love the Brotherhood, honour the Queen, and salute the Elder Brethren set in authority over us. It is otherwise declared: "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff comfort me" (Psalm 23, verse 4).

Finally, the place of the Immediate Past Master is in the East of the Lodge, at the left hand of the Master, so that his knowledge and experience are available to the Master in case of need. In the Immediate Past Master the mysteries of the Craft are deemed to have been fulfilled. He has ruled in the Lodge and has finished his course; he has traversed the path from the beginning to the end; and now his function is to serve as a link in the endless chain that unites the Craft on earth with the sublime Hierarchies of the Grand Lodge in heaven. He represents, then, the just man made perfect who, ere he passes on to new labour in the upper chambers of the World Temple, must abide awhile in this lower House to succour and instruct his younger Brethren, that where he is and whither he goes they also may ascend. He therefore tarries by the side of the Master in the Lodge until the Master's work too is completed and a successor is elected and installed in his stead; for unto the ages of ages is the work of the Craft appointed to go on, and in each Lodge the sceptre of the Master shall not depart nor a lawgiver fail until all are gathered into the Light, and God is known of all. The jewel worn by the Immediate Past Master is: "The square and the diagram of the 47th proposition First Book of Euclid engraven on silver plate, pendant within it." Mathematically minded students will not fail to observe the allusion to the 3 : 4 : 5 ratio, and the profound implications which necessarily follow from a study of the progressive stages of the Craft system.


The sacramental signs of the three Degrees are all of great antiquity. They are gestures expressive of acts of worship. Each of them has also a physiological association which can only become intelligible for working purposes when they have assumed practical significance in the heart and mind of the aspirant. It is essential to know how to give the Signs correctly, and we would here draw attention to a common error. In no circumstances should a Sign be given without being accompanied by the Step; step and sign are two parts of a single action, and each is incomplete without the other. Accordingly, when the Master calls on the Brethren to stand to order, or the Junior Warden directs them to prove themselves in any Degree, he should require the Step to be given with the Sign, otherwise our work is imperfectly performed. Moreover, it is only incidentally that the Signs are used in the Lodge as complimentary salutes. When addressing the Master, it is, of course, quite fitting to accord him personal respect by saluting, but we should always remember that the gesture implies much more than a compliment to himself. Indeed, it is an act of mental as well as physical homage to the Divine Wisdom, of which the occupant of the Chair of King Solomon is the temporary representative.

FIRST DEGREE SIGN: This sign is related to the head and the left-hand pillar. It is obvious that manually the Sign indicates decapitation. The reason is because it is intended as an act of humility. We are so prone to accept without question that knowledge must be acquired through the head that it is novel to find that seekers after Wisdom are asked at the outset to dispense with the head. Nevertheless, we should reflect that in religious systems, the world over, humility is the first and last essential to the quest. In the East the novice prostrates himself, touching the ground with his forehead; in the prouder Occident he kneels and bows his head. The penal sign of the First Degree signifies that in the search for Light and Wisdom the natural reason, associated with the head, must be abnegated in favour of a higher faculty, the intuition, which is associated with the heart. Accordingly, as the movement in making the accompanying Step is from the heart side so, in contrast, the Sign is made with the ..... hand. This ancient Sign is likewise implied in the Scriptural reference "And I saw the souls of them that were beheaded (Revelation, chapter 20, verse 4).

SECOND DEGREE SIGN: This sign is related to the heart and the right-hand pillar. It is also traditionally linked with the story of Joshua, which in the Craft system of Initiation is intended to have a personal application. In other words, we are each identified with Joshua because we each have our battles to fight, and our enemies, in the form of imperfections, to overthrow. Within each of us there is an inner light, the conscience, by the aid of which we are enabled to discern our shortcomings; it is, indeed, that "blazing star," which in this Degree the Junior Warden declares that he has discovered "in the centre of the building," that is, shining within himself. The candidate for Passing therefore imitates Joshua with a t.... fold sign. First, he gives the - Sign of F......... with the..... hand, " emblematically to shield the repository" of his secrets from persistent attacks. Then, with his other hand, he gives the "H...... sign, or sign of p....... ance," which is actually a sign signifying invocation. Finally, he makes the gesture of laying open his heart. The complete sign may be described as drawing in and casting out; or attracting with the negative pole and repelling with the positive; thereby balancing the forces which are symbolised by the two pillars, and relating them to the signs. This is a devotional Sign and is traceable to the remotest antiquity.

THIRD DEGREE SIGNS: In the case of the Third Degree the Signs are f... in number. We must interpret these signs in the light of the Craft central legend which they serve to illustrate, although the simple explanation outlined here might be considerably amplified did space permit. First, we have the "Sign of H........ which is an expression of the profound dismay and sense of unworthiness experienced by humanity in all ages upon realising the extent of evil in the world. In giving this sign we become, as it were, suddenly conscious of the psychological phenomenon known as the "Dweller on the Threshold," and are "struck with h..... at the dreadful and afflicting sight." Secondly, the "Sign of S.......... is an act of personal contrition, in which each member of the Craft is identified with the tragic results of the "original sin" and cosmic calamity. Thirdly, the "P.... sign," which has a deep physiological meaning connected with "that last and greatest trial" dramatically and faithfully portrayed in the ceremony.

The fourth sign the "Sign of G.... and D.......... is traditionally associated with the ancient maxim "the gods sell their secret lore only to those who sweat for it," and is designed to teach that the difficult truths enshrined in the Third Degree involve great personal labour. Indeed, whosoever labours at the work of this Degree is called a "son of the Widow" in imitation of H.A., of whom it is written: "He was a widow's son of the tribe of Naphtali (1 Kings, chapter 7, verse 14). The name "Naphtali" means "the tribe of wrestlers," and for those who in the work of the Third Degree have to wrestle, as they assuredly will have, with times of spiritual aridity signified by the "dark night of the soul," there is provided a sign and a cry with which in direst need to call for the aid of other "sons of the Widow" from behind the veil. About these "just men made perfect" we cannot speak in this Paper, except to say that both they and we have one common Mother. In ancient Egypt she was called Isis, the universal Widow (do not be alarmed at our use of a so-called pagan name; names change, the reality endures). Later she came to be called the "Jerusalem above, which is the Mother of us all"; while the Hermetic texts refer to her as "the Virgin Mother of the world"; signifying the collective over-soul of humanity, out of which each of us has sprung as her individualised offspring, and to whose breast we shall all ultimately be gathered again. Meanwhile, she is described as "the Widow" because of that "fatal catastrophe" of the Craft central legend, which has left her in dereliction, and mourning for her children scattered into multiplicity and discord.

Lastly, the fifth in the Third Degree is the " G.... or R.... Sign," which may be otherwise designated as the salute to the dawn. It is a tradition that every real initiate has to undergo the supreme ordeal of passing through "the cloud and the sea," the dark unstable psychic region, before finding the Light of light. Speaking of the great illuminates, or "fathers" as they are called, St. Paul declares: "Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea" (1 Corinthians, chapter 10, verse 1). And so in the Craft, every candidate in the Third Degree still enters the darkened Lodge, and moves through a symbolic nebulous underworld guided only by the "glimmering ray" of his own intuitive spirit. He is exhorted to "lift his eyes" to that "bright morning star," which is distant from him at first as the dawn, but complete union with which is promised to him if he will endure to the end. In imagery also appropriate to this Degree, the acacia is said then to "bloom and blossom at the head of the grave," which means that the physical brain becomes suffused with Light immortal and enjoys a consciousness which transcends that of the natural mind as sunlight exceeds that of a candle. It is the consciousness which in works of art is denoted by an aureole or halo around the head. This will explain the method prescribed for giving the fifth sign. An ancient Hermetic oracle declares that to lift the veil of the Widow spells death; that nothing mortal can look upon her face and live. The death signified, however, was of the kind implied in the Third Degree; the old self, the old life, dies; and just as, in our ceremony, the candidate gazes upon the "emblems of mortality" which lie before him, so there comes a time when he looks back upon his former self as upon the memory of a dream that has vanished with the night. Thenceforward he enters upon a new life with the light of the "blazing star" given him as a guide; and in "joy and exaltation" he proclaims the dawn of his now enhanced consciousness.


We learn from the Instruction Lecture on the First Degree that the "rough and perfect Ashlars" are defined as "jewels" which "lie open and immovable in the Lodge for the Brethren to moralise on." This cryptic description of the two Ashlars serves to remind us that if we do "moralise on" them we shall, in the words of Shakespeare, "find sermons in stones." The study will disclose a standpoint from which the Ashlar stones, whether rough or finished, are emblematic of human life in the crude or advanced degree; and will further indicate the possibilities of our lives after having passed through the states represented by each grade of stone. It is, however, necessary to refer students to the Craft legend of the building of the Temple of King Solomon, wherein this process of our evolvement is explicitly taught. According to the Ritual, "the stones were hewn in the quarries, there squared, carved, marked and numbered; and thence conveyed to Jerusalem, where they were set up" (First Lecture, Second Section), in a building in which every stone was found to fit accurately. This apparently simple statement is in fact an allegory of the evolution of the human soul from inception to final destiny.

In the terminology of our Masonic system each human life, like the rough Ashlar, has issued from what is known as the psychological "quarry," that is, from the undifferentiated mass of proto-material or soul-stuff which, at physical birth, becomes then individualised into a separate "stone," an independent personality. It therefore passes from the unconditioned to the conditioned state; the state which is conditioned by heredity, environment, and a variety of other circumstances. Moreover, each such individual has to pass through the experience of physical existence as a detached unit, and in this phase he is, figuratively speaking, "squared, carved, marked and numbered." He is now at the "rough Ashlar" stage, in which life itself, friction with the world and with society, will "knock off all superfluities" and "further prepare the stone" until, having learned the lesson of the First Degree, he facilitates his own development by disciplining himself. He next enters upon the work represented by the Second Degree, the education, discipline and control of his mental faculties; the gradual discovery of the "hidden mysteries of Nature and Science"; and this brings him to the "perfect Ashlar" stage. At this point his individualisation is complete; the "stone of the true die, or square" represents man brought to perfection in the natural order; but this is not his final goal. It is only the mid-way "to his objective, the spiritual order as St. Paul writes: "Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual" (1 Corinthians, chapter 15, verse 46). When the "perfect Ashlar" stage has been reached there remains "that last and greatest trial," the ordeal prefigured by the Third Degree, in which all sense of the personal self must be surrendered.

Most of us appear at present to be in the "rough Ashlar" stage of evolution. We are still undergoing chipping and scaling, submitting to the hammering and chiselling by which our grosser "knobs and excrescences are removed, and our unruly wills and affections are wrought into due form." Nevertheless, although we have evolved in a physical sense to the status of individualised and civilised personalities, we should not conclude too hastily that we have yet emerged from the primitive "quarry" state. We observe all around us the struggle for physical life in Nature; we seldom pause to consider the far acute struggle to which every soul is, and must be subjected, in the effort to achieve mental independence. To every member of the Craft, then, the two Ashlars inculcate this very important truth; the necessity of detachment from the group-mind; the attainment of complete individualisation; and the power to stand mentally alone. The prescribed condition, however, is not achieved without time, or without the struggle and pain which are inevitable to all growth. Moreover, to become the highly individualised units signified by the "perfect Ashlar" involves experiences which might well dismay those who have taken only the "inferior degrees" in the world initiation process. The extant records show, and the uniform testimony of every aspirant confirms, that at this stage his normal life becomes not only acutely difficult, but also generally lonely. He is mentally divorced from the popular way of the world, and the conventional opinions of his fellows; he is liable to be frequently misunderstood by his friends, incapable of accommodating himself to their interests, or of elevating his associates to his own status; he may be subjected to derision, if not to mental persecution; he is the traditional "suffering servant." He finds, of course, that he is blessed with compensations from the spiritual side of his being; he makes inward progress that others know not of; and meanwhile he has excellent opportunities for cultivating humility, serenity, and charity of thought towards his less- developed brethren. But on the outward side his position is one that few of us have the courage to invite.

We are intended to learn from our study of the two Ashlars that human life and human consciousness involve a progression from the simple to the compound. In other words, it is like the progress of the geometrical point, to the line, to the superficies, and the solid. Thus the spiritual driving power within us, which we call the Centre, does not suffer us to rest at even the high state symbolised by the "perfect Ashlar"; it spurs us on to still higher perfection, to wider conscious expansion, and to increased capacity for usefulness in the cosmic purpose. Hitherto the human personality, the "stone" drawn from the "quarry" and hewn into "due form," has remained, as it were, but dead stone, relatively inert material wrought upon by forces outside itself, and possessing merely consciousness limited to the natural order. The time will eventually come, however, when that dead stone is quickened into living stone by the power within: "To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed by men, but chosen of God, and precious. Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house" (1 Peter, chapter 2, verses 4 and 5). These precious stones, it is written, likewise constitute the foundation of the Holy City, which itself is described as a Cube of which: "The length and the breadth and the height of it are equal" (Revelation, chapter 21, verse 16).

The route of human evolution is carefully charted by the Craft system, which exists to help us on our way. We begin our ceremonial progress in the "rough Ashlar" stage as "stones hewn from the quarry," to be "carved, marked and indented upon," and invested with self-consciousness. Thence, after the "dressing" and discipline entailed by experience in this sublunary stoneyard, in the Second Degree our "progress in the science" is marked by reaching the "perfect Ashlar" stage. Finally, in the Third Degree, surrendering our unreal egoistic selves, "by which means alone" we find our real selves, we are "raised" into "living stones" symmetrically set in the structure of an edifice "not built with hands, eternal and in the heavens." This is the chart or diagram, "veiled in allegory, and illustrated by symbols," which is furnished to members of the Craft for their "guidance and instruction." It remains with each of us to avail ourselves of the facilities offered, according to the measure of our perception, and translate the ceremonial advancement into actual spiritual reality.


No part of our Masonic Ritual is more ancient than the Rite used on the occasion of the Consecration of a Lodge, which has come down to us from the most remote antiquity. It is traditional that for the purpose of establishing spiritual contact with what we in the Craft know as the Grand Lodge Above, the four specially favourable times are at midwinter, midsummer, and at the vernal and autumnal equinoxes. Accordingly, these seasons of the year are significantly related to the ritual acts of Consecration, with the sacramental elements Corn, Wine, Oil and Salt, which in the Lodge take place at the spacial cardinal points. The tradition teaches that over each of the quarters of space there presides one of the four divisions of the Angelic Hosts who, under the guidance of the Great Overseer of the Universe, superintend the evolution of the solar system. We are further informed that the administrative functions of the solar Hosts have a direct relation to the fourfold nature (physical, etheric, emotional, mental) of the human organism. The four elements therefore are sacrificial, and are offered by the Consecrating Officer on behalf of the Founders of the Lodge, in token whereof they offer their human nature to be revitalised with spiritual power from above.

The interpretation of the meaning of the four elements used in the Consecration Ceremony may be summed up, as follows:-


Corn represents bodily substance. It is the basic food from which the human body is built up, and is the exoteric "staff of life." Traditionally, corn is a "sacred plant" and is not native to this our world; it is never found, like other cereals, in a wild state. This golden, graceful, prolific and needful plant, it is taught, was never a growth of this earth, but was transported in the dawn of time to our world from another planet, with the dual purpose of providing the staple food of humanity, and of giving man an emblem of his own soul. The human soul, like the corn, is not indigenous to this time-world, but is a native of eternity, whence it has become transported, and sown as bare grain in the individualised patch of earth constituting the human body. Esoterically, corn is the symbol of spiritual nourishment, the "bread from heaven," and is an emblem of spiritual germination and growth: "For the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear" (Mark, chapter 4, verse 28).


Wine is, so to speak, a fluidic emblem in contrast with Corn, which is solid. It refers to the human mind, which is fluidic, in contrast with the human body, which is static. Esoterically, wine is the symbol of the mind exalted and inebriated by the consciousness of Divine things, even as the juice of the grape is brought to ripeness by the rays of the sun.


Oil is a liquid fire, and is the symbol of Wisdom. It is a combination of fire and water brought into balance and forming a new substance displaying the properties of each. Oil is likewise a lubricant, an illuminant, and a healer. Esoterically, Corn and Wine are related to Body and Mind (the two lower principles of human nature), while Oil and Salt are related to Soul and Spirit (the two higher principles of human nature). Wisdom results when the purified Body and Mind become fused with the "fire" of the Spirit.


Salt is the symbol of the perfected, and spiritually "inflamed," human nature. Common earth, signifying unregenerate human nature, is dark and incombustible. Salt, signifying regenerated human nature, is white and burns. The synthesis of the three elements of Corn, Wine and Oil is a new "earth," of which Salt is the emblem. In this sense it is written: "Ye are the salt of the earth" (Matthew, chapter 5, verse 13).

At appropriate intervals during the Consecration Ceremony, when the four elements are offered, the assembled Brethren sing:-

"When once of old in Israel,
Our early Brethren wrought with toil,
Jehovah's blessing on them fell
In showers of Corn, and Wine, and Oil.

When there a shrine to Him alone, They built, with worship, sin to foil, On threshold and on Corner-stone, They poured out Corn, and Wine, and Oil.

And we have come, fraternal bands, With joy and pride, and prosperous spoil, To honour Him by votive hands, With streams of Corn, and Wine, and Oil.

Now o'er our work this salt we shower, Emblem of Thy conservant power; And may Thy presence, Lord we pray, Keep this our temple from decay."

Incense is then used to symbolise the ascent of the collective prayers and aspirations of all present for the Divine Blessing upon the new Lodge.


On the Tracing Board of the First Degree appear three Pillars (Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian), springing from the ground, rising into the heavens, supporting no visible structure, and yet forming conspicuous emblems. These are said to allude to Wisdom, Strength, and Beauty, which to the uninstructed are nothing more than sentimental abstractions. The three Pillars, however, here represent an indissociable trinity of Divine attributes. In the same way as the white light of the Sun is invisible until passed through a prism which decomposes it into seven constituent colours, of which three are primaries, so when "that Light which is from above" falls upon the prism of the human soul, the sevenfold properties then begin to manifest, and of these also three are primaries, called in the Craft system Wisdom, Strength, and Beauty. Moreover, like the Master and Wardens of the Lodge, who always act in concert, these triple attributes are inseparable; and if Wisdom from on high visits the soul, Strength comes likewise, whilst Beauty shapes the structure and irradiates it with spiritual graces.

The significance of the three Pillars has a further intimate relationship with members of the Craft, which is seldom recognised. When a candidate submits himself to the Masonic rites, professedly entering them "by the help of God" and to seek the Light as "the predominant wish" of his heart, by that act the Supernal Light is solemnly invoked upon him and he becomes brought into organic relationship with spiritual powers. Not only does he enter the Craft in his temporal Lodge; he is spiritually incorporated with the Grand Lodge above, and, through the invisible hierarchy, with the Great Architect over all. He, as it were, "signs on" as a Fellowcraftsman in the Scheme of Divine Building, and becomes sealed as such. In a literally true sense he is "made a Mason," for a subtle change is wrought in his soul which does in fact make him spiritually different from those who have not been initiated. It matters not whether he or those who perform our rites for his benefit are aware of this truth; he may be assured that our Ceremonies, even if performed with but an imperfect knowledge of their value, are not worked in vain. Indeed, a ray of that Supernal Light, whose rainbow elements are symbolised by the Pillars named Wisdom, Strength and Beauty, falls upon his soul; and it rests with himself to profit by the experience. Subsequently, should he examine the Certificate granted to every Brother on the completion of the three Degrees, he would observe thereon the identical three Pillars prominently displayed to remind him of having once, of his "own free will and accord," been drawn within that Celestial Glory whose indivisible attributes are Wisdom, Strength, and Beauty.

One other important point connected with the three Pillars will be of interest to students. The terms Wisdom, Strength, and Beauty, in their Hebrew originals, are the equivalents of what are otherwise translated from the Greek as "the Kingdom, the Power and the Glory." These words form the concluding phrase of the Gospel according to St. Matthew version of the Lord's Prayer, but are of much greater age, and will be found in the prayer of David: "Thine, O Lord, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory and the majesty; for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is Thine; Thine is the kingdom, O Lord, and Thou art exalted as Head above all." (1 Chronicles, chapter 29, verse II). The prominence given in the Craft to the triad of Wisdom, Strength, and Beauty, is one of the many links definitely associating modern Freemasonry with the stream of the traditional ancient doctrine. There is an old Masonic rhyme which declares cryptic language:-

"Who would a Master Mason be, Must always observe the Rule of Three."

This curious "rule of three," it need hardly be added, is not the one learned by schoolboys; nor does it refer only to the numerous triadic combinations found in Freemasonry and cognate systems. The real rule is concerned with the practical teaching embodied in the Craft system, which is intended to assist earnest Brethren to a conscious knowledge of the realisation of Wisdom, Strength, and Beauty, but this being a matter for personal reflection and observance it must be left to the student himself to interpret. Suffice it to say that the Hebrew words of the mystical tradition, or Kaballah, have technical meanings, which connote a wealth of significance to those studying our Masonic science. Of especial value are the chapters of the Book of Wisdom, where Solomon describes Wisdom and the conditions upon which it may be attained, and emphasises that it is the result of persistent effort in which every faculty must be disciplined and concentrated on the goal. Hence the insistence in the Craft system upon the necessity of candidates when advanced in each degree being "properly prepared," and in possession of the requisite qualifications.


The floor of the Lodge is represented by the "mosaic pavement," or chequer-work flooring, composed of black and white squares of equal size. This symbolic arrangement serves to illustrate what is otherwise known as the law of opposites. Light and darkness; good and evil; right and left; birth and death; male and female; pleasure and pain; adversity and prosperity; all these are dualisms inherent in the phenomenal world. Experience of this world of complementary opposites is essential to human growth; our existence consists in perpetual movement, like chessmen, from white square to black and from black to white; and "character" is formed by our responsiveness to both conditions.

We label our actions good and bad, but the distinction, although useful and necessary, is quite arbitrary and relative, and a temporary convention. The ideal of one age often becomes a fault in the next. Virtue pushed to extremes hardens into vice; whilst the fool who pursues his folly far enough at last learns wisdom. The facts of life need no qualifying epithet: "The web of our life is a mingled yarn, good and ill together," wrote Shakespeare; or, as the Scriptures declare, we are compelled to "eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil," so long as our consciousness is only adjusted to material existence. We naturally prefer agreeable facts and conditions, but the Great Law governing life pays no heed to our temporal comfort and personal preferences. It is, as St. Paul truly remarks, "a pedagogue," or schoolmaster, concerned only with leading us from temporal to eternal values.

The first task of the candidate for true Wisdom, therefore, is to learn to rise above dualism. He must strive to re-adjust his consciousness to a level of outlook which sees beyond them; learn to become master of his lower nature and bodily tendencies; endeavour to stand mentally detached from the inevitable fluctuations of fortune and emotion to which they are subject; and to regard all the ups and downs, the whites and blacks, of life as of equal educative and evolutionary value to him. In the words of the Ritual, "the square pavement is for the high priest to walk upon," meaning that each of us, as high priest of the temple of his own body, must "walk upon" the ever-changing occurrences of existence in the sense of remaining stable and serene amid events which elate or deject those who drift through life.

We may observe from the Tracing Board of the First Degree that the "square pavement," symbolising this world of dualism, is surrounded by a "skirtwork or border." This is the emblem of Deity encompassing existence in every phase, and building all that the chequer-work signifies into a single compact whole. However far we travel among the lights and shades of existence, not only can we never step off the prescribed way, but, as the symbolic Board is designed to illustrate, in whichever direction we move, North, South, East or West, our road must eventually bring us to the surrounding Unity in whom all opposites are resolved, and all dualism is transcended. By means of the chequered floor-work and indented skirt-work, the Board indicates that God is the warp and weft of all existence, enclosing and impinging upon us at every point of our being. It will be seen also that a rope or cable runs round the border, and breaks into diffused tassels at the four corners. The rope and tassels signify the current of Divine Energy circulating hiddenly through the Universe, and becoming differentiated into four subsidiary modes or elements. These represent the four primal elements called by the Ancients, Fire, Air, Water, Earth, or, in our modern terminology, Matter in progressively dense forms of Electric, Gaseous, Fluid, and Solid, which in their infinite permutations compose the phenomenal universe.

The foregoing concludes this series of Papers in which an attempt has been made to interpret the meaning of Craft symbolism for the guidance of serious students. What has been said might be amplified and abundantly corroborated by references to a vast range of literature, ancient and modern, covering various aspects of the subject. We freely acknowledge the great debt we owe to that great Masonic teacher and authority, the late Wor. Bro. W.L. Wilmshurst, whose pioneer work forms the basis of our transactions. As he so often affirmed, every Brother must test and learn the truths of Freemasonry for himself. Books, lectures, explanations, may serve to help, but can never be more than secondary evidence of things that can only be really proved by personal experience. We are all prone to overlook the old counsel: "Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom; and with all thy getting get understanding" (Proverbs, chapter 4, verse 7). May those who read these words remember that in the long run nothing better can be sought by students than understanding.