Lecture 3: Symbolism

Brethren--Listen to these words of Past Grand Master Howard R. Cruse, of New Jersey: "The initial appeal of the Ancient Craft is as strong today as it has ever been. Freemasonry attracts good men now as in the past. But in the absence of a concerted effort to teach quickly what in a more leisurely age could be spread over many years, the institution often fails to hold the interest of the new brother against the many attractions of modern life. Moreover, every candidate has an inherent right to understand the reality of our rites, the meaning of our mysteries, the truth of our tenets and the significance of our symbols."

Brethren, these words were written on August 17, 1931.

Many detractors of Masonry will go out into far fetched fields of imagination and develop explanations and theories that are ridiculous. They often delve into the occult and see much more than is intended. But, as you progress in Masonic knowledge, you will become more aware of your fellow man, family, place of worship and country. Your whole philosophy of life will become wider. Freemasonry is a way of life--as an organization, its purpose is to make good men better.

Some define Freemasonry as a beautiful system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrat- ed by symbols. The morality is not veiled. It is described in many Masonic books. The allegory and symbols, on the other hand, are veiled, as you will come to understand through this lecture.

Symbols are things that represent something else. In Freemasonry, a symbol might be defined as a material object that represents a basic truth or lesson. Each symbolic Masonic cere- mony offers so much more than meets the eye at the time, that a study of the subject is intriguing as we find new meanings while following our search.

For example, consider the American flag, displayed in every Masonic lodge.

To many, it is a cloth of red, white and blue. The historian sees 13 original colonies in the stripes. The stars are the number of present states. The patriot sees a glorious past and the flag as a symbol of loyalty. The Freemason sees all these things and more. He sees the red as a symbol of blood shed to create and preserve our nation. He sees the white as a symbol of purity and freedom for all men. In the blue he sees a symbol of fidelity to the highest of principles. In the Entered Apprentice Degree there are four rites which we will weave into the description of the degree and its symbols. Those rites are:

1. The Rite of Discalceation (removing the shoes) 2. The Rite of Circumambulation 3. The Rite of Investiture 4. The Rite of Destitution

You learned that it was in your heart where you were first prepared to be made a Mason. Actually, it was in your brain, but the heart, throughout the centuries, has been a symbol of what a man is or becomes.

The Blue Lodge--Blue has always been associated with what is deemed beneficial: Charity, Fidelity, Immortality and Prudence. Also, the blue canopy of heaven is the covering of the universal lodge.

The symbol of Masonry is the Square and Compasses.

Your entrance into a lodge for initiation became, symbolically, your rebirth--what we begin in Masonry begins with our rebirth. What we get out of it depends entirely upon ourselves. Without question, we will receive more than we put in--not materially, but spiritually and mentally.

The cable tow symbolizes the tie to your new world, not unlike the umbilical cord to the mother. Just as the umbilical cord is cut, to be replaced by love and care, the Masonic cord is replaced by a stronger bond--the tie of brotherly love. Also, because the rope has two ends, the fraternity has placed itself under an obligation to you. It has promised to train, teach, guide and instruct you to be of more service to your fellow man. How long is the cable tow? It will reach as far as your moral principles reach. Each man should be his own judge as to the length of his cable tow.

The lodge is a symbol of the new world into which you have been reborn. The lodge is composed of its members, and a certain number are required for the lodge to be opened--seven in the Entered Apprentice Degree, five in the Fellow Craft and three in the Master Mason Degree.

The lodge must have a volume of the sacred law--a Holy Bible--the Square and Com- passes and a charter (warrant) from the Grand Lodge in order to be open.

Symbolically and literally, worldly wealth and honors are not required to join a lodge. All your material acquisitions are left in the preparation room and you enter, or are reborn, with nei- ther more nor less than those you have followed. Your entrance is accomplished by forms, cere- monies, actions and words to impress on your mind wise and serious truths. Most are based on truths found in the Holy Bible.

The spiritual promise becomes a reality--ask and it shall be given unto to; seek and you shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you.

A. You asked for membership because Masonry has not believed in coercive solicitation. B. You sought admission of your own free will. C. After you knocked, all that Freemasonry has to offer was opened to you.

Knocks are symbolic of the freedom of man that Freemasonry teaches and live--

A. Free to ask for membership, or not to ask. B. Free to stop at any point.

On your entrance, you were told that "no great or important undertaking should ever be taken without f rat invoking the blessing of Deity." This challenges Masonry's first tenet--brotherly love--exemplified in that greatest universal prayer that begins, "Our Father, who art in heaven. . ."

You were told not to bring anything metallic into the lodge, symbolizing that Masonry is law-abiding and peace loving. This does not mean "cowardly," as Masons have been among the bravest when the honor of their country or principles have been at stake. It also symbolizes man's dependence on his fellow man.


In Latin, unshod symbolizes humility (not humiliation); that we are about to trod on clean or holy ground. This rite is found in the Bible (Exodus: God said to Moses, "put off thy shoes from thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground." And in the Book of Ruth, "... A man plucked off his shoe and gave it to his neighbor and this was a testimony in Israel.")

You have trod the same path as millions before you throughout the centuries. They have been judged, as will you, not by worldly wealth and honors, but by humility, faith and sincerity.


Circumambulation, or walking around, was a part of ancient spiritual ceremonies. It symbolizes the homage Al of us owe to Cod. Also, it is one of the many symbols of dependence of man on man. The obstacles we meet and the guards we encounter are reminders that through- out our lives we will meet with obstructions--some minor, some major. Our sentinels must keep our consciences pure before God and man. The obstructions and guards are symbols of a pure mind, deeds and actions. The 133rd Psalm recited during our circumambulation symbolizes unity and Freemasonry's first tenet--brotherly love. The other two tenets--relief and truth--form a trio with brotherly love:

A. Brotherly love symbolizes the whole human species as one family. B. Relief symbolizes man's duty to aid, support and be charitable to All in need. C. Truth symbolizes dignity and everything just. When we say we are seeking light in Masonry, we actually mean we are seeking truth; therefore, light symbolizes truth.

The first degree symbolizes the truths of charity, law fullness, patriotism, reverence and unselfishness.

Your brethren demonstrated the importance of light when they assisted in bringing you to light. And you beheld the three great lights by the help of three lesser lights. The three great lights are the Holy Bible, Square and Compasses.

A. The Holy Bible is God's gift to man and within it can be found the truths that All Freemason's should seek. B. The Square symbolizes morality and righteousness, and keeps us in touch with God. C. The Compasses symbolize spirituality and are symbolically hidden by the Square when you are first brought to light. This signifies that man's senses blindfold or hoodwink the light of truth towards which we must grope. The Compasses should also circumscribe you, keeping your passions within due bounds.

Finally, the obstacles we met in our circumambulation give us the opportunity to analyze our strengths and our weaknesses. Obstacles then become the symbol of courage--courage to continue to work towards achieving our goals in life.

At the altar you took an obligation and an oath.

A. Obligation comes from the Latin word that means "to bind." In Freemasonry the obli- gation binds the members to be true to God and man. B. Oath means a vow taken on a sacred law to carry out the promises of the obligation,

"Hele" (pronounced "hail") is an old Anglo-Saxon word that means "to conceal." Thus, in Freemasonry you promise to conceal your oath and obligation. The penalty for violating your obligation is only symbolic.

A. It is never been enforced and never will be. B. In the Middle Ages, men feared dying with incomplete bodies or buried in ground not consecrated, as between high and low water mark. Such a body could not rise from the dead or reach heaven. We know this is not so. But, there are penalties if we do not fulfiI our obligation, and they are--

1. Reprimand in the lodge; suspension; expulsion. 2. The penalties come only after a fair trial in accordance with Grand Lodge regulations. 3. The greatest penalty will be your uneasy conscience.

Another old term of Masonry is "due guard. " It comes from the French "Dieu Garde" or God Guard Me. It symbolizes respect where you agreed to submit to the authority of the Worshipful Master and the Wardens.


This rite occurs when you are presented with the lambskin or white leather apron. Its value is compared to the Order of the Golden Fleece (founded in 1429) or that of the Order of the Roman Eagle--a full century before the time of Christ. It is more honorable than the Order of the Star, created in the mid-14th century, or the Order of the Garter from England in 1349.

The apron is the symbol of innocence, purity and honor.

We are told that there are six jewels in every regular and well-governed lodge. The jewels are not precious stones, but considered jewels because of their value to the operative builders and their symbolism of morality to speculative Masons.

The three immovable jewels are the square, level and plumb.

A. The square symbolizes morality and is worn by the Master. B. The level symbolizes equality and is worn by the Senior Warden. C. The plumb symbolizes an upright lifestyle and is worn by the Junior Warden.

They are considered immovable because they are assigned to specific officers. These jewels also should be fixed in the heart and never be removed.

The three movable jewels are the rough ashlar, perfect ashlar and the trestle board.

A. The rough ashlar is crude stone and symbolizes an uneducated man. B. The perfect ashlar is hewn stone and symbolizes man educated in Masonic principle. C. The trestle board is the tracing board and symbolizes perfection or the spiritual board on which man lays out his plans to build his "living stones" into a temple to the Supreme Architect of the Universe.

In 1598, lodges became dedicated to the Holy St. John. Why not St. Thomas, the patron saint of architecture and building? No one knows.

St. John the Baptist Day is June 24th. St. John the Evangelist Day is December 27th. A lodge of the Holy St. John symbolizes the starting point for your Masonic career. This means that you are dedicated to the principles those two men stood for--

One was educated, one was zealous. Both were Godly, both were virtuous.

The northeast corner is where the first stone of a public building is laid. This symbolizes a spiritual cornerstone, the beginning of your Masonic life.


Perhaps for the first time in your life you were truly destitute--Maybe bewildered, maybe embarrassed. This is a lesson all Freemasons will never forget. It symbolizes that those who seek your aid will willingly find it, if you have the power to give it. It is not necessarily money --maybe a kind word, a pat on the back or a smile when it is needed. The Rite of Destitution symbolizes compassion.

The 24-inch gauge is a symbol of time. A wasted minute cannot be retrieved. Use time productively, or nothing can be achieved.

The common gavel is a symbol of power. Power alone can be destructive. But when channeled toward good purposes it will result in constructive achievements in life. That is the manner in which Masons should use the power given to them by God.