Masonic Symbols: The Shoe

Bro. Chalmers I. Patton, P.M., No. 393, England

The Shoe, as a masonic symbol, is employed to remind us of the duty of constancy and fidelity in our engagements, that whatever contract we make we must honestly fulfil; whatever work we undertake we must perform to the utmost of our power, not undertaking any work which we do not believe ourselves to be well capable of performing, nor promising its completion within a time which we cannot reasonably regard as sufficient for it. It is thus a symbol having reference to conduct in the common affairs of life: but the duties of which it reminds us are nevertheless duties, the obligation of which must be referred to the highest principles, to those of justice and truth. The use of this symbol is derived from an ancient custom of the Jews, of which we read in the Book of Ruth, in the account of the transaction between Boaz and his kinsman who was nearer in relationship to Ruth than himself, concerning the redemption of the land that had been Elimelech's, and concerning the marriage, in accordance with the Jewish law, of Ruth the Moabitess, the widowed daughter-in-law of Elimelech. The transaction took place in the gate of their city, in presence of ten men of the elders of the city, and when the kinsman refused to redeem the land and to marry the youthful widow, saying, "I cannot redeem it, lest I mar mine own inheritance: redeem thou my right to thyself; for I cannot redeem it" he drew off his shoe and gave it to Boaz; and this formality is thus spoken of by the narrator: "Now this was the manner in former time in Israel, concerning redeeming, and concerning changing, for to confirm all things; a man drew off his shoe, and gave it to his neighbour: and this was a testimony in Israel. Therefore the kinsman said unto Boaz, Buy it for thee; so he drew off his shoe" (Ruth iv. 6-8). This was done in accordance with a law which we read in the book of Deuteronomy, and in which probably an ancient custom was sanctioned (see Deut. xxv. 5-10). It was a custom somewhat similar to that long enforced by the law of Scotland in the completion of sales of land or of mortgages on land, of the handing of earth and stone from the one party to the other, the transference of the handful of earth and stone being in token of the transference of the right of property. So the kinsman who relinquished his right may be understood as saying to Boaz, I give over to thee all my right in this matter as fully as I now give thee this shoe; I divest myself of it as completely as I do of this shoe. And the elders of the city having witnessed this transaction, the bargain was completed and could not be resiled from. The shoe as a symbol, reminds the Freemason that his contracts are never to be resiled from, but faithfully implemented, even if he should find them less profitable than he expected. This principle or rule, however, is only applicable to contracts fairly made. If a man has been entrapped into a contract by false representations on the part of another, he may honestly and honourably renounce it as soon as he discovers the imposition which has been practised upon him. If, however, after discovering this, he still proceeds for a time as if he had made no such discovery, he must be regarded as having condoned the offence, and is then bound by the contract. It is as if, in full knowledge of the facts, he entered into it anew.