Masonic Topics

Ron Blue, PM

Normal Lodge, No. 673, AF & AM Normal, Illinois
Past Master and Secretary Illinois Lodge of Research

Edited and Indexed by
George S. Robinson, Jr., PM
Mt. Pickering Lodge, No. 446, F & AM
Upper Uwchland, Pennsylvania

Table of Contents


Speculative versus Operative Masons

To understand whence we came, one set of definitions is necessary. We call ourselves "speculative" Masons, but our ancient brethren were "operative" masons. The speculative Mason refers to Masons who do not work as masons. The operative mason was — and is — one who plies the trade of masonry. Today, we consider operative masons to be stonemasons, but in the Middle Ages the term was broader, covering carpenters and other tradesmen as well as stonemasons.

What are the Roots of Masonry?

The roots of what we know as modern Masonry are obscured. And the changes in the Masonic fraternity, which have occurred over the years make our origins even more indistinct. The root of Masonry can be traced back to antiquity through the histories of builders and their organizations. Generally speaking, there are five major theories suggested to answer the questions regarding Masonry's origins.

  1. The first theory is that the medieval building guilds were the descendants of the architectural brotherhood of antiquity. Through the centuries, the master builders used apprentices in the construction projects. These apprentices trained to be craftsmen and, ultimately, masters of their crafts. Further, it is suggested that the training was not limited to the craft, but included instruction in ethics and morality. This, according to theory, should come as no surprise since the major building efforts were sponsored by the Church, or by princes or political leaders closely associated with the Church.
  2. The second theory suggests that the origin of Masonry begins at the times of the various crusades. The Knights Templar Crusaders became aware of some of the esoteric traditions of antiquity of the Near East, and the history and mythology of Jerusalem's destroyed Temple of Solomon. This theory further suggests that the Knights Templar developed and adopted those traditions into their own ceremonies and, even after the suppression of their order in 1307, their rites and ceremonies continued and formed the basis of what subsequently became known as Masonry.
  3. The third theory says that Masonry originated in the 1300s by a group of philosophers and moralists, who adopted architectural allegories — including the tools of the building trades — as a method of expressing their concepts of the values and ethics of life. During this time in the development of the world new thought and the questioning of generally accepted explanations of ethics — and even the explanations regarding the workings of the world — were not viewed with universal enthusiasm. In 1633, the Inquisition forced Galileo to deny the theory that the earth moved around the sun — instead of the then accepted truth that the sun moved around the earth. Therefore, secrecy in such an organization could be explained.


  1. The fourth theory ascribes the origin of Masonry to the German philosopher Rosenkruetz (which means Red Cross). Rosenkruetz traveled to the Holy Land in the late 1300s. He returned to Germany in 1401 and is believed to have died there in 1484. The theory says he created a secret society known as the Rosicrucians (Rosy Cross), whose existence was not suspected for 120 years. But in 1605 it began to excite attention in Germany and, later, in France, The theory holds that the beliefs and ordinances of the Rosicrucian Society served as the basis for today's Masonic organizations.
  2. The theory usually accepted as the most reasonable suggests that modern day FreeMasonry had its roots in the Middle Age building guilds — with no direct extension back to antiquity.

Regardless of which theory of origin you accept, a combination of record and guess has to be used to show how present day FreeMasonry developed.

Behind the ceremonies of all Masonic degrees lies a fundamental conception of this world in which we live and man's place in it. It is based on the belief common to all religions and to almost all systems of philosophy that there exists, somewhere, a Supreme Being who created this world, and of whom all mankind are the instruments and servants. With the particular attributes of this Supreme Being, and the manner and form in which He should be worshiped, Masonry has no concern. It emphasizes three fundamental ideas:

  1. God exists (by whatever name)
  2. Men are put into this world to exercise their faculties and work as God's instruments,
  3. Their work is to be performed in accordance with certain principles of morality and justice which are indicated by the laws of Nature and by revelation contained in the Sacred Writings.

FreeMasonry has no sacred book of its own. The sacred book most often used is the Holy Bible but will always be the Volume of Sacred Law attributed to the candidate's faith. The Masonic ritual has to do with the building of a great Temple. In the erection of this Temple many workmen are engaged, divided into crafts according to their ability and skill, and directed by overseers who are called masters and wardens.

The work is proceeding according to the plan of the Great Architect. None of the masters or workmen know why the Temple is being built or what use is to be made of it after it is built. Nor do the master or the wardens or any of the workmen know the whole plan. The Architect furnishes only designs, drawn on a Trestle-Board, from which each craftsman is given the details he must know in order to carry out that part of the work which it is his duty to perform. The workmen merely know that each must work with all his heart and soul and strength and to the utmost of his ability and skill, because the Great Architect has ordered it so.

Each understands that the successful completion of the work depends not only on his individual effort but also on the united cooperation and harmony of the Craft. Each understands that there can be no cessation of the work until the Temple is completed, at which time the Great Architect has let it be known that the whole design will be disclosed as well as the object and purpose of its building. This is no fanciful picture designed for an evening's entertainment, but is intended to represent and does faithfully represent the life of man.

He finds that in this world he must work if he is to receive the wages of life, which consist not merely of a "living": food, clothing, and shelter; but those equally essential satisfactions: interest in life, happiness, and contentment. He finds that he cannot choose the work he would like to do, but must adapt himself to conditions and circumstances imposed by a power outside himself. He gets his direction for doing his work from study of forces and the laws that govern the natural world and from written words of wisdom embodied in what are known as Sacred Volumes, or Bibles. He finds that he cannot work alone, that his work is dependent on mankind, and they on him, wherefore are formed governments, societies, and other organizations for cooperative effort. He sees many things happen to himself and to others, the reason for which he cannot fathom. At some times the world seems good, at others bad. Sometimes the work he is doing appears without purpose and without result. He continues to put forth effort only because he must.

Admission to the Middle Chamber

The passage from the outer porch to the middle chamber represents man's journey from ignorance to enlightenment. His wages as a Fellowcraft are received in the Middle Chamber. These wages are a symbol of knowledge that can be gained by a closer relationship with his Creator.

The candidate must also find the doors to knowledge — the inner and outer entrances. To enter one of these, he needs a pass. To go through the other, he must have a word. Help is given to him in each instance, but such assistance is limited. This signifies that man must acquire knowledge through his own effort, though he is often dependent upon others for some help.

The ritual of Masonry harmonizes these discordant impressions. The Temple that is being built is the Temple of character; the great books of nature and revelation are the Trestle-Board; the voice of conscience is their interpreter; man is the workman; and the Supreme Architect is GOD.

Parts of the preceding text comes from the Manual for Lodges of Instruction from the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, A F & A M.


While there is considerable disagreement over the number of "official" landmarks of FreeMasonry, and each Grand Lodge accepts a different set, there are currently 7 that are universally accepted. This article will attempt to lay those seven out. First what is a Landmark? — Landmarks in FreeMasonry are certain universal, unalterable, and unrepealable fundamentals which have existed from time immemorial and are so thoroughly a part of Masonry that no Masonic authority may derogate from or do aught but maintain them.

Now the 7 Landmarks.

  1. Monotheism is the sole dogma of FreeMasonry. Belief in one God is required of every initiate, but his conception of the Supreme Being is left to his own interpretation. FreeMasonry is not concerned with theological distinctions. This is the basis of our universality.
  2. Belief in Immortality is the ultimate lesson of Masonic philosophy. "The soul of man is the highest product of God's creative handiwork. Now, after God has spent untold time in creating man and endowing him with a soul, which is the reflection of His image, is it reasonable to suppose that man lives here on earth for a brief span and then is extinguished by death?" (Michael Pupin)
  3. The Volume of Sacred Law is an indispensable part of the furniture of a Lodge. Usually in the United States this is the Holy Bible, but any candidate not a Christian may have substituted for it any other volume he considers sacred: e.g. the Old Testament, Koran, Vedas, or Laws of Confucius. In many parts of the world it is not unusual for a Lodge to have more than one Sacred Book on its altar. The candidate may then be obligated on the book of his choice.
  4. The Legend of the Third Degree. This is the most important and significant of the "legendary" symbols of FreeMasonry. It has descended from age to age by oral tradition, and has been preserved in every Masonic rite, practiced in any country or language, with no essential alteration.
  5. Masonic Secrecy includes only methods of recognition and of symbolic instruction. It does not extend to everything relating to the institution. A secret society is one whose members are not publicly known, and whose existence is concealed from the world. Masonic bodies, however, meet openly; there is no secrecy concerning membership or officers, and Masonic symbols and philosophy are discussed in thousands of books accessible to anyone. In fact there is much discussion about this on computer bulletin boards such as those on the Prodigy and CompuServe time-sharing networks. And I have posted much myself on those bulletin boards about this subject.
  6. Symbolism of the Operative Art means that Masonic Symbols are taken from architecture. Almost without exception they relate to the building art: Square, Level, Plumb. Ashlars, Pillars, Trestle-Board, etc. The grand idea of Masonry is that the development of character is like the Building of a Temple; the same rules apply to both. There must first be a plan, then a foundation and framework, and finally, proportion and harmony of line. There must be "wisdom to contrive, strength to support, and beauty to adorn all great and important undertakings". This is a practical truth of the universal application to all forms of achievement. The symbols of FreeMasonry are drawn from the experience of the ages.
  7. A Mason must be a freeborn adult male primarily because he must be master of his time, his resources, and himself. In Operative Masonry women and young men could not work at the mason's trade; so traditionally membership in the Craft has been confined to male adults, and from long usage this practice has become imbedded in the Fraternity as a Landmark.

The seven Landmarks laid out above are the 7 universally accepted by all Grand Lodges. They were first expounded by Brother Roscoe Pound for the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts in 1916.


How Old is Masonry?

The earliest references and records of the Masonic fraternity are fragmentary, and we are reduced to speculation in interpreting them. The Regius Manuscript — considered to have been written between 1380 and 1400, contains the elements of a Constitution of Masonry. This suggests that an organization was evolving which was more ornate than a mere grouping of tradesmen.

During the Middle Ages there were persecutions and edicts directed against both operative and speculative Masons. Thus it was prudent for Masons to keep their identity and their business secret. As late as 1824, a lodge of Masons was raided in Granada, Spain. Seven Master Masons who were present were hung, and a newly initiated Entered Apprentice was sentenced to five years of hard labor. There was adequate reason to keep their organization hidden.

Who Are FreeMasons?

FreeMasons are men who have joined together in order to improve themselves through the principles and ceremonies of the fraternity. They endeavor to extend Masonic lessons into their daily lives in order to become positive influences in their homes, communities, nation, and throughout the world. They base their efforts on morality, justice, charity, truth, and the laws of the Supreme Being. There are over 3,000,000 Masons in North America, and worldwide there are over 4,000,000 men who believe and support the same fundamental tenets.

What is a Masonic Building?

A lodge is a meeting place for Masons. This place may be used by Masons for regular business meetings, degree lessons, and social activities. They are also used by other Masonic groups or even for community activities. Lodge buildings or temples are often prominently marked and recognized as special landmarks in the cities and towns of North America.

What are Degrees?

Lessons in Masonry are taught in three separate stages by our symbolic lodges. The degrees, in order, are Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft, and Master Mason. Each blends Masonic moral philosophy in a unique lesson, which is intended to have serious impact and influence on the man who receives it.

What are Blue Lodges?

According to the writings of Masonic authorities, blue has from ancient times been associated with truth, Deity, wisdom, and hope. Its association is symbolic. Individual lodges are often called "Blue Lodges".

What is a Candidate's First Step?

After receiving the Entered Apprentice Degree, there are 3 qualities which every Entered Apprentice should possess if he is to attain the full benefit and enjoyment of FreeMasonry.

These are:

The Entered Apprentice should approach the experience of Masonry with a sense of learning so those who are appointed to teach him can be assured he wants to learn what is required of him before progressing further. He must have a sense of humility so that he will not develop a belief that he knows more than those who are assigned to teach him. Finally, he must develop a spirit of industry, because FreeMasonry desires candidates who want to know more about and improve themselves in Masonry, to spend time learning by reading available materials.

Where must a candidate first be prepared to be made a Mason?

Masonry is concerned with the building of your character in your life. Working toward this goal must begin within your heart, for if your heart is not ready, we cannot expect to make an exception on your mind. Therefore, each candidate who comes seeking light must first be prepared to be made a Mason in his heart.


As this is a Research Lodge, I thought I would give a little information about the ceremonies of conferring the degrees in an operative lodge. These ceremonies date back to before 926 A.D. and are for entered apprentices only.

The candidate was proposed by one Mason, seconded by another, and supported by 5 more. The application was posted at the entrance of the quarry for 14 days. On 3 occasions the applicant must stand by the posting so that all might see him. When accepted, he had to appear on the appointed day — the 6th day of the week — at high 12. He applies at the door and is admitted after giving the proper password, which was given to him. He is admitted onto a porch with double doors and takes an oath not to reveal any part of the proceedings. He kisses the book and puts his fee on the lower ledge of the foot stone. The Lodge room of the Operatives was different than what we know today. It consisted of 3 Masters who sit in the West so they face east and can see the rising sun. The Senior Warden sits in the East so he can see the setting sun, and the Junior Warden sits in the North so that he can see the sun at meridian height. The altar is in the center of the lodge with the letter G suspended over it, and the Rough Ashlar at the east side.

There are three Deacons present, one for the Masters and one for each Warden.

Inside the porch the candidate is divested of all money and is hoodwinked. Three men come out of the lodge, divest him of his clothes, and dirty him with mud. The doctor arrives and removes him of his hoodwink. He is told to "Wash and be clean". The bath is ready and the candidate bathes. 7 times does he dip. The doctor then examines him to see that he is sound in mind and limb and reports him "perfect in all his parts". He is then elected by the "clean-hand" sign. He is clothed in a white cloak (the origin of our symbolism of white), which signifies that the candidate is "pure". The candidate is again hoodwinked and has a blue cord looped around his neck, held by a man on either side. The neck cord being longer than the center cord, the four men make a diamond, with the candidate in the center. This diamond had a reference to Operative Masonry, and the candidate and his four attendants make "5 points", which has another reference to Operative methods. The candidate now makes application at the inner door where he is met by a man with a sword held to him.

He is then admitted and led to the North East corner, where he is questioned. (I will leave out the questions but they have to do with the ancient craft guilds). He must also profess a belief in God. He is then asked if he sees anything. He replies no and the hoodwink is slightly adjusted so that he can see his feet and the feet of the men around him so that he can see the track (or tessellated border). He walks around it by putting 1 foot in front of the other, toe to heel, and so on. This is called "end on work", or work in line. He must make a perambulation once without failing. He meets with some obstructions until he is finally at the rough ashlar where he kneels and takes his oath. His obligation is somewhat similar to those taken in lodges today. After taking the obligation the candidate is requested to seal it with his lips. As his lips are brought to the book, a large seal of soft wax is placed underneath them, his head is forcibly pushed downward so that an actual impression of his lips is taken by the wax, and his obligation is "sealed with his lips" both actually and literally. When the obligation is finished one Master says to the Deacons, "Give light that he may place his hand to the bond". A pen is put in his hand, and he signs the bond, "Given under my hand and sealed with my lips".

He is then assisted to rise and is then an apprentice to the Craft of FreeMasons. He is given a charge which consists of 11 points. He is then actually presented with his working tools which are his to work with. These tools are the chisel, the small maul, and the straight edge and he is then given the apprentice's apron. He is then taken to the northeast corner stone and asked how he is going to live until he draws his first weeks pay. If he says poor, then he is taken before the Masters in the West and reports that he has no means of living. The Masters carve charity for him and a collection is taken. (Might this be the origin of a certain part of our ritual — the deposit)? If he says he has money then no collection is made. For 7 years he remains an apprentice, being taught a trade. During this time he wears his blue neck cord as a sign that he is still bound as an apprentice. (In many jurisdictions we still wear a blue collar or neck cord from which we hang our jewels).

At the end of 7 years the apprentice applies to be made free of his bond and become a Fellow Craft.


  1. You shall truly honor El Shaddai, and his holy church, the King, your Master, and Wardens; you shall not absent yourself, but with license of one or both of them from their service, by day or by night.
  2. You shall not purloin or steal, or be privy or accessory to the purloining or stealing of the value of six pence from them or either of them.
  3. You shall not commit adultery or fornication in the house of your Master, with his wife, daughter, or maid.
  4. You shall not disclose your Master's or Warden's secrets or councils, which they have reported unto you, or what is to be concealed, spoken, or done within the privities of their own house, by them or either of them, or by any FreeMason.
  5. You shall not maintain any disobedient argument with your Master, Warden, or any FreeMason.
  6. You shall reverently behave yourself toward all FreeMasons, using neither cards, dice, or any other unlawful games, Christmas time excepted.
  7. You shall not haunt or frequent any taverns or alehouses, or so much as go inside any of them, except it be your Master's or your Warden's, with their or one of their consents.
  8. You shall not commit adultery or fornication in any man's house where you shall be at table or work.
  9. You shall not marry, or contract yourself to any woman during your apprenticeship.
  10. You shall not steal any man's goods, but especially your Master's or any of his fellow-Masons, nor suffer any to steal their goods, but shall hinder the felon if you can, and if you cannot, then you will acquaint the Master and his fellows presently.
  11. All these articles and charges, which I have now recited unto you, you shall well and truly observe, perform, and keep to the best of your power and knowledge.

So help you El Shaddai and the true and holy contents of this book.

The above held the Operative Apprentice Mason to a very strict life, but one that we can see would make a better man of him. I believe the Operative stonemason had a very harsh life and these kind of charges were necessary to keep order and hold strife to a minimum.


At the end of 7 years the entered apprentice applies to be made free of his bond. He makes an application which is placed at the entrance of the stoneyard quarry. Once accepted he is made to go and kneel on the same Ashlar where he was bound 7 years previous. The bond is torn up, the blue cord is removed from his neck.

The Master then says "Rise, free brother; you are now superior to an apprentice, but inferior to a Fellow of the Craft of FreeMasons.

He is then given the pass grip and pass word leading from the first to the second degree. Before the candidate is accepted as suitable to be passed to the 2nd degree he must prepare a rough dressed Ashlar as an example of his work. A rough dressed Ashlar is the Ashlar as it is prepared in the first degree or apprentice yard for the more expert workman. It is dressed 1/16th of an inch too large all over; this stone has to be prepared by the candidate and passed by the Inspector of Material before the free brother can be passed as a Fellow of the Craft.

When the candidate goes into the 2nd degree Lodge to be made a Fellow, he must have this specimen with him. He must swear it is his own work.

At the appointed time, 12 noon on a Friday, he goes to the door of the second degree yard and knocks. On giving the pass word and pass grip he is admitted. The Master gives notice, "The Fellows in the East, South, West, and North will take notice that Br. ____ is about to pass in view before them to show that he is a candidate properly prepared to be made a fellow of the Craft". He is then led around the candidate's track twice. This time his right foot is put transversely across the axis of the Lodge. This is "header and stretcher" work, or "one on one". He is then led to the altar, where, kneeling on a rough- dressed Ashlar stone, on both bare knees, he takes the obligation of that degree.

After the obligation is given and the Bible sealed as explained in the Entered Apprentice degree, it is said to him, "Rise, Accepted Fellow of the Craft of FreeMasons". Then the signs of a Fellow are given. He is given a word which proves him to be a Fellow of the Craft, and means builder. A traditional history of Masonry is then recited to him by the first or lead Master. (see a later note) After the history then a charge called "Charges of Nimrod" is recited to him by the second Master. Then a charge similar to the one given in the Apprentice degree is recited by the third Master. This charge consists of 26 points and really puts the fellowcraft under certain obligations to perform well. He is then given a Fellow's apron and is given his working tools which are the plumb, level, and the square, another straight edge, and the perfect Ashlar square, which is a wooden frame being the exact size of a royal cubit, or 21⅞ inches inside. He is now a free man and a FreeMason of the city or town in which he had been apprenticed, He begins his work in the Northeast corner with the other new Fellows where he is taught to make the stone true and polished.


Masonic Symbolism

The following are parts taken from several Masonic scholars and are intended to give an introduction to Masonic symbolism. While no person can claim to be a true spokesperson for FreeMasonry, some of these will give at least a beginning of an understanding of the craft. I will give credit to those authors I am quoting.


One of our Masonic scholars once said, "The symbolism of Masonry is the soul of Masonry. Every symbol of a lodge is a religious teacher, the mute teacher also of morals and philosophy. It is in its ancient symbol and in the knowledge of their true meanings that the preeminence of FreeMasonry over all other orders consists. In other respects, some of them may compete with it, rival it, perhaps even excel it; but by its symbols it will reign without a peer when it learns again what its symbols mean, and that each is the embodiment of some great, old, rare truth." (A. Pike)

"In our Masonic studies, the moment we forget that the whole and every part of FreeMasonry is symbolic or allegoric, the same instant we begin to grope in the dark. Its ceremonies, signs, tokens, words, and lectures at once become meaningless or trivial. The study of no other aspect of FreeMasonry is more important, yet the study of no aspect of it has been so much neglected." (Oliver Day Street)

"Take from FreeMasonry its symbols and but the husk remains, the kernel is gone. One who hears but the words of FreeMasonry misses their meaning entirely". (Carl Claudy)

These quotations firmly establish the vital role of symbolism in the Masonic system. It seems fitting, therefore, that every craftsman have a clear conception of what a symbol really is and why the study of Masonic symbolism is so essential to a comprehensive knowledge of our art.

Literally, a symbol is a comparison. The word symbol is derived from two Greek words meaning to throw together, to place side by side. Thus, a symbol is a visible representation of some object or thing, real or imagined, employed to convey a certain idea.

We have no other way to express ideas than by the use of symbols. When we say a man is "lion-hearted" we use symbolism. In ordinary usage, however, by symbol we mean an object which stands for an idea. The Flag is a symbol of our country; the Cross is a symbol of Christianity; the Square is a Masonic symbol of virtue.

Extending this conception further, ceremonies and actions may also be symbolic. The military salute is a symbol of obedience and discipline. A hearty handclasp may symbolize several ideas, friendship, faith, sympathy. Kneeling for prayer is a symbol of humility, submission, obeisance, reverence. It may be fairly asked why Masonic ritual should be so largely of objective and ceremonial symbols; why it would not be simpler to give a series of lectures. The answer, of course, lies in the well-established fact that it is not enough to merely state ideas; they must be driven home with emphasis which will not only impress but will also be retained by the recipient's mind.

"FreeMasonry is rehearsed to the candidate by the rendition of ritual, imparted to his mind by story, and impressed upon the memory by symbols. By drama, story, and symbol, the eye, the ear, and the recollection continually enrich the mind and quicken the conscience of the thinking members of the Craft". (Albert Mackey)

"Symbols are more vivid than words. They can express more than words can say. Who can explain a flower, or say what a melody means If in Masonry, we speak of a Temple, we do not mean one of stone and mortar. If we speak of a square, we do not mean one of steel or wood. If we speak of the Compass, we do not mean one of metal". (Oliver Day Street)

Symbols are more impressive than words. The person who sees the symbol makes his own interpretation. The thought, then, is his own. He has done more than see the symbol; he has created an idea. For a man holds to his own ideas, and remembers them; and a symbol can express in an instant a whole series of ideas; thus it does the work of many speeches.

The story of FreeMasonry, like other records told by the tongue, would become stale by repetition and fall upon the ear less vigorously each succeeding time we heard it, were it not that the facts historical and the philosophies social and individual are linked to words by pictures, an orderly system of spoken sounds and symbols illustrating and impressing the eye and ear simultaneously...For this reason FreeMasonry uses the simplest of symbols; the tools and materials of the Stonemason's trade are sufficient for this purpose and they are found everywhere...

Our symbols are truly the quarried treasures of the Fraternity, set forth to be applied by each of us in the building up of his character... And, after all, that is FreeMasonry. To morally square perfectly every contributing element that makes us what we are; to take each of these and apply them one to another uprightly to the formation of a praiseworthy life, and to build our personal structure so that we may stand upon our record securely before men with an integrity perpendicularly like unto the plumb, with a purpose absolutely level, as is the implement of that name, and, withal, as positively square as ever the most accurate of such tools would verify. That is the purpose of our Craft. (Albert Mackey)

"In the ceremonies of making a Mason, we do not attempt to do more than to indicate the pathway to Masonic knowledge, to lay the foundation for the Masonic edifice. The Brother must pursue the journey or complete the structure for himself by reading and reflection." (Oliver Day Street)

When our ritual ends, we have but given him a pattern, a blue- print, for the erection of his own, personal Temple. ".... the symbolism of Masonry, like Masonry itself, is multi- sided... Each view is of value and it is well that the subject should be approached from every direction, but as no man can comprehend it all, it is fitting and right that each student should concentrate his attention on that division of the subject in which he is most interested." (Charles Hunt)

True, the ritual does assign a definite meaning to a certain few of our emblems and symbols; and these interpretations must be considered as basic and official; and, in the main, universal. But this does not signify that the meanings thus assigned are restricted and cannot be expanded if their value to the individual is enhanced.

He whose soul is not stirred to the very depths by the knowledge that the principles of his beloved Order have inspired men in every age and clime, as well as he to whom the beautiful teachings of our progressive science are but moral platitudes, is an individualist interested only in his own narrow self, indifferent to the practical application of the useful rules of architecture whence his spiritual structure shall derive figure, strength, and beauty. The science is of no avail unless it leads to the practice of the art, and though we should possess all knowledge and be able in beautiful and sublime language to utter the thoughts that arise in us as we contemplate the glorious Order, it profiteth us nothing. It is not by intellectual attainment or oral expression that we become Masons, but by the way in which we acquire the science and couple it with the art of Temple building, and practice it in our everyday association with out fellow men. "No degree of Masonry is of any avail, unless it bears fruit in action". (Charles Hunt)

Literally, every word, every act, every forward step in our ritual has a definite purpose and can be properly interpreted as being applicable to some phase of human existence.

Hopefully this article will explain some of the symbolism of our Craft and will show, by using the quotes of some Masonic scholars, that we are an order that wants to make the entire world a better place to live. We have no other mission than that which has been clearly articulated by Masons from time immemorial.


  1. What are we trying to emphasize in the Fellowcraft Degree?
  2. The Fellowcraft Degree symbolizes man in what period of his life?
  3. Approximately when did we start to become speculative rather than operative Masons?
  4. When and where was the first Grand Lodge formed?
  5. What does the level symbolize?
  6. What does the plumb symbolize?
  7. What are the jewels of the Fellowcraft and what do they symbolize?
  8. What do corn, wine, and oil represent?
  9. What are the names of the two pillars at the beginning of the flight of winding stairs and what do they represent?
  10. What do the winding stairs as a whole represent?
  11. What do the first three steps represent?
  12. What do the next five steps represent?
  13. What do the final seven steps represent?
  14. Why is there an odd number of steps?
  15. What are we trying to teach on the journey to the Middle Chamber?
  16. What is the Middle Chamber?
  17. Why do we use the letter G?
  18. Why is the cable-tow placed on the right side?

What was the first Lodge in America?

While it is reasonable to assume Masonry was formally established in America prior to 1730, records are fragmentary at best. In 1776, the records of the Grand Lodge of England show that it had authorized the formation of 36 local lodges in America.

However, the first written records of a Masonic lodge in America are those of St. John's Lodge in Philadelphia and date back to 1731. Benjamin Franklin was made a Mason in 1734. It is certainly clear that Masonry and Masonic lodges were well established prior to that date, but written evidence is fragmentary.

What was the first truly American Lodge?

In 1733, a ceremony took place in the Bunch of Grapes Tavern in Boston. Acting under written authority from the Grand Lodge of England, the first American Masonic Lodge was founded by Henry Price, who was described as Provincial Grand Master of New England.

What was the most help in causing the expansion of Masonry in America during the early years?

During that early period, other European Masons — without dispensation from European Grand Lodges — met in the Americas, formed Lodges, and initiated candidates. Military lodges, formed by Masons who were members of a nation's armed forces, account for important expansions in the dissemination and growth of the Fraternity.

Who published the first Book of Constitutions in America?

Ben Franklin was a Master Mason in Philadelphia when he published the first Masonic publication in the New World, The Book of Constitutions, in 1734.

Did Masons participate in the Revolutionary War?

Masons played an important part in the formation of the United States and especially in the Revolutionary War and the events that led up to this war. It is commonly believed that the lodge rooms of a Boston Masonic Lodge served as the dressing room for the so-called Indians who threw the Boston Tea Party. Paul Revere, who later went on to be Grand Master of Massachusetts, was thought to be one of those Indians. What part did Masons play in the formation of the new government?

Because of incomplete records, authorities differ on such matters as:

How many Masons signed the Declaration of Independence? The Constitution? How many Presidents of the United States were Masons? Of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence, the number eight is usually accepted as the absolute minimum of Masons who signed the document. Though some evidence exists to show another 24 were Masons, It is not regularly accepted that they were Masons. Clearly, 13 of the 39 who signed the Constitution were members of Masonic lodges. Of the others, absolute proof has not been found.

How much influence did the Masonic fraternity have on the creation of our system of government?

In 1717, in England, local Masonic lodges created a system whereby they sent representatives to a body called the Grand Lodge, which governed them all. The Grand Lodge then elected its own Grand Master. The experiment, which began in this country in 1788, is one in which states send their representatives to a Congress. And if Brother Alexander Hamilton had prevailed, the Congress would be electing the President of the United States. Sound familiar? A number of authorities report that General George Washington's staff looked like a Masonic convention. The list of American Masons in Washington's service included many of his Generals. Other revolutionary heroes included Patrick Henry, Nathan Hale, and John Paul Jones, just to name a few. The record shows that by 1800 there were 347 lodges in the United States.

What was the Morgan Affair?

During the first half of the 19th century, there was a strong religious revival in the United States and Masonry became a convenient target for some (sound familiar?). In those days it was common to hear tales of Masonic occult orgies, plots to take over the government, and of our strange and terrible oaths. Although they are still strange and terrible, everyone knows they are entirely symbolic, historic, and ritualistic. Nevertheless, in those days some considered Masonry to be a rival of the church. Others considered it to be a separate church and still others thought it to be an atheistic society. In 1830 conditions looked grim for the Masonic fraternity. There was much anti-Masonic talk by politicians and in the newspapers. This may have been partially caused by the fact that Masons held key positions in the state and Federal government.

At this time, a Mason by the name of William Morgan was a member of a lodge in Batavia, New York. He was a printer, a drinker, a quarreler, and he didn't like to pay his debts. He wasn't too popular among his Masonic brethren. When that Batavia lodge petitioned to form a Royal Arch Society (an appendant body of Masonry) — the members of the lodge omitted Morgan's name from the roster. He became upset and threatened to publish the so-called Masonic secrets. Although there is no proof of who actually did it, his printing plant was destroyed by fire. He was arrested for debt and jailed. One evening a few men called on him and took him away. Morgan was never heard of again. The anti-Masons used this incident, blaming Masons and publishing the details far and wide. This "Morgan Affair" was probably one of the reasons for the growth of the political party known as the "Anti-Masonic Party".

What was the "Anti-Masonic Party"?

The feelings against Masonry in the early 1830s were so strong that a political party was formed. This political party was called the Anti-Masonic Party. In 1832, Brother Andrew Jackson (who also served as Grand Master of Tennessee) ran for a second term as president against Henry Clay (also a Mason). Also in the race was William Wirt, the only man ever to run for President on the Anti-Masonic ticket. Wirt had been Attorney General under John Quincy Adams and, among other things, was a biographer. One of his most famous biographies was that of Patrick Henry, a Mason. Wirt's running mate was a Mason. Wirt got only seven electoral votes, winning the state of Vermont. Brother Jackson won the election.

What happened at Nauvoo, Illinois with the Mormons?

There was considerable social ferment in the nation prior to the Civil War. Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon faith, was a Mason as was Brigham Young. In 1884, after Smith was found murdered in Illinois and because of the Mormon practice of polygamy (a practice since officially abandoned), among other things, Brigham Young and 1,500 Mormon Masons were expelled from the Craft. Since that time, some Mormons have not looked too kindly on FreeMasonry. But it is of interest to compare the symbols of the Mormon Church with those of the Masonic Order. The bee hive immediately comes to mind.

Who were/are some famous American Masons?

The history of Masonry and the history of this country are very clearly interwoven although there is no way in this short space to go into any great detail. The following is a short list of some well known Masons.

Masonic Presidents include George Washington, James Munroe, Andrew Jackson, James K. Polk, James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, James A. Garfield, William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Warren G. Harding, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, and Gerald Ford. Evidence exists to suggest that James Madison and Thomas Jefferson were also Masons.

It wasn't only the successful presidential candidates who were Masons, but some of those who lost as well. Men like Thomas E. Dewey, Alf Landon, Hubert H. Humphrey, Robert Dole, George McGovern, Barry Goldwater, Estes Kefauver, George Wallace, Earl Warren, and John Sparkman as well as Wendell Willkie and Adlai Stevenson (not the governor of Illinois, but his father, the Vice President in 1892 — and a native son from Bloomington, Illinois).

The themes of the Fellowcraft Degree are education and achievement, emphasizing the dignity and worth of the individual. The more a man learns through the pursuit of knowledge, the more he achieves.

This degree symbolizes man in his prime, ready to accept the responsibility of life, not only for himself, but for his family, and all of society. When a Mason assumes the duties and privileges of a Fellowcraft, he is taught that he is responsible for his own destiny.

What does the term "Fellowcraft" mean?

In operative Masonry, those just beginning to learn the craft were apprenticed to a master stonemason. They received no wages except for their food, clothing, and sleeping quarters. If they showed some skill, they were entered, usually after about three years. After seven more years they were made fellows of the craft, which meant they could do work on their own. In speculative Masonry, after the Entered Apprentice has shown proficiency (as exemplified by the Catechism), he will be passed to the Fellowcraft Degree.

What are the basic teachings of the Second Degree?

The Fellowcraft Degree symbolizes the years of manhood and his attendant responsibility during his life on earth. During these years, he obtains knowledge and applies this knowledge to the building of his character and improving the society in which he lives. In the ritual of the degree, a Fellowcraft is urged to advance his education in the liberal arts and sciences.

The Preparation

The changes in dress from an Entered Apprentice Mason to a Fellowcraft Mason are slight. Gaining admission is similar to the first degree, with the addition of a pass, which is given for him by his conductor. We are trying to teach that knowledge is freely given toward gaining the privileges of FreeMasonry, and that, with the aid of others, we are able to advance.

The Reception

The square is used in the reception. The Square is used to teach us that it should be a rule and guide in all our future transactions with all mankind.

The Cable-Tow

This is a symbol of control for the individual. To many, the cable-tow is symbolic of the umbilical cord, which is necessary to begin life, but is severed when love and care replace it and the individual grows on his own. Thus, in our ceremonies, the cable-tow is removed when the need for physical control no longer exists.

The length of the cable-tow is frequently referred to in the language of FreeMasonry, but many brethren do not understand its meaning. Formerly, a cable-tow was deemed to be the distance one could travel in an hour — which was assumed to be about three miles. Today this is any distance from which a summons may be answered, health and business permitting. Each Mason is bound to all other Masons by a tie as long and as strong as he himself determines his ability will permit.

The Obligation

The obligation is the heart of every degree and its solemnity must be impressed upon every candidate. In addition to the vow of secrecy in the First Degree, the obligation has other important points which bind each Brother.

Obedience, assistance, and the protection of one another are pledged by each Mason to all others, binding them by a tie which should last their Masonic lifetime. The penalties have the same significance as those invoked in the first degree, and are symbolic rather than physical.

The Emblems of a Fellowcraft

These include the plumb, square and level, corn, wine and oil, the pillars, the winding stairs, the liberal arts and sciences, and the letter "G". The Fellowcraft should become very familiar with them, for they epitomize the lessons of this degree.

The Working Tools

The Square is the symbol of morality, truthfulness, and honesty. The direction of the two sides of the square form an angle of 90 degrees or a right angle, so-called because this is the angle which stones must have if they are to be used to build a stable and upright wall.

When we part on the square, we go in different directions, but in full knowledge that our courses in life will be going according to the angle of the square (which means in the right direction) until we meet again.

The Level is a symbol of equality. We do not mean equality in wealth, social distinction, civic office, or service to mankind, but rather we refer to the internal and not the external qualifications. Each person is endowed with a worth and dignity which is spiritual, and should not be subject to man- made distinctions.

The quality practiced in Masonry recognizes that one man may have greater potential in life, service, or reward than another, but we also recognize that any man can aspire to any height, no matter how great. Thus, the Level dignifies labor and the man who performs it. It also acknowledges that all men are equal without regard to station.

The Plumb is a symbol of our uprightness of conduct. In FreeMasonry it is associated with the plumb line which the Lord promised Amos He would set in the midst of his people Israel, symbolizing the Supreme Being's standard of divine righteousness.

The plumb line in the midst of a people should mean that they will be judged by their own sense of right and wrong and not by the standards of others. By understanding the plumb, a Mason is to judge his Brothers by his own standards and not those of someone else. When the plumb line is thought of in this way, it becomes a symbol of an upright life and of the conscience by which each person must live.

The Jewels

The jewels of a Fellowcraft are not made of precious stones and metals. Rather they are attributes of character that all Masons hopefully have. The attentive ear, the instructive tongue, and the faithful breast remind the Craftsman that the time-honored method of instruction is by word-of-mouth. The secrets of FreeMasonry are always deposited in the hearts of faithful Brethren. These jewels should signify the necessity to learn to utilize good Masonic instruction and to develop a devotion to the teachings of our Craft.

The Wages

Corn, Wine, and Oil are symbolic wages which are earned by the Fellowcraft who completes his task and comes to the Middle Chamber. These symbolize wealth in mental and spiritual worlds.

Corn represents nourishment and the sustenance of life. It is also a symbol of plenty, and refers to the opportunity for doing good, to work for the community, and to perform service to mankind. Wine is symbolic of refreshment, health, spirituality, and peace. Oil represents joy, gladness, and happiness. Taken together, corn, wine, and oil represent the reward of living a good life.

The Pillars

There are two pillars placed before the entrance to King Solomon's Temple which are symbolically represented within every lodge of Fellowcrafts. These pillars bear names familiar to every Mason and symbolize strength and establishment.

The Globes of the Columns

These are the celestial and terrestrial globes and are symbols of universality. The shape of the globes lets us know that this is a modern addition to Masonic ritual since our forbears thought the earth was flat and the heavens were a sphere revolving around it.

The Winding Staircase

This represents the process of an inquiring mind toiling and labouring toward intellectual cultivation and study, This is the road to knowledge. The winding stairs, by their very design, are also symbols of courage and faith.

The Symbolism of Numbers

The symbolism of numbers is first presented to the new Mason in the Winding Stairs lecture. The total number of steps is fifteen which is symbolic because ancient builders would often build temples with an odd number of steps. If a worshipper began his ascent with his right foot, he found the same foot forward when entering the Temple. Entering on the right foot was thought to be a good omen.

The numbers mean:

The first three steps allude to the three degrees which every Master Mason's Lodge confers and to the three principal officers of the lodge.

The second group, five steps, teaches the use of the Order in architecture and that this order must be applied to our own spiritual temple.

The final seven steps symbolize the liberal arts and sciences, the crowning glory of man — the development of both mind and spirit, and the acquisition of courage and faith. These are the wages of a worthy Fellowcraft.

Admission to the Middle Chamber

The passage from the outer porch to the middle chamber represents man's journey from ignorance to enlightenment. His wages as a Fellowcraft are received in the Middle Chamber. These wages are a symbol of knowledge that can be gained by a closer relationship with his Creator.

The candidate must also find the doors to knowledge — the inner and outer entrances. To enter one of these, he needs a pass. To go through the other, he must have a word. Help is given to him in each instance, but such assistance is limited. This signifies that man must acquire knowledge through his own effort, though he is often dependent upon others for some help.

The Middle Chamber

In modern FreeMasonry, the Middle Chamber is the symbolic place of reward. Historically, this is thought of as the place where the Fellowcraft met to receive wages for their labours on the Temple of Solomon.

They assembled on the evening of the sixth day of the week and those who were entitled to the wages of a Fellowcraft were invested with certain mysterious signs, tokens, and a word which enabled them to pass the inner and outer guards and to enter the Middle Chamber. If they did not have the proper identification, they did not get into the Middle Chamber or receive wages.

King Solomon's Temple

FreeMasonry did not originate in the Temple of Jerusalem, but our rituals are enriched by reference to this magnificent structure. For a full description of the Temple, one should read the accounts found in the First Book of Kings, chapters 5 through 8, and the record of another writer found in the First Book of Kings, beginning in the 2nd chapter.

The Letter G

The letter G is a symbol of geometry and also of Deity. By the letter G, we are reminded that our every act is done in the sight of the Supreme Being and that Divine Providence is over all of our lives. To the operative craftsman, geometry portrayed the order and harmony of parts found in the universe. It also provided the principles of design and construction whereby he laboured.

The Responsibilities of a Fellowcraft

The Fellowcraft is reminded that he is to acquire knowledge and apply that knowledge to his duties in life so that he can fill his place in society with satisfaction and honour.


Masonic Visitation

Visitation at other Lodges is a right acquired when the visitor proves himself to be a Mason in good standing and if no member of the Lodge being visited objects. In order to gain admission to another Lodge one should carry documentary evidence (something with a Lodge seal on it) with one at all times.

Visitation rights to another Lodge can be gained in two ways. First, by undergoing "strict trial and due examination", or second, by being vouched for by a Brother of the Lodge being visited.

Undergoing examination usually consists of the visitor showing his dues card and being examined by a committee appointed by the Worshipful Master. The examination is made to satisfy the committee that the visitor is a Master Mason and able to partake in the meeting without embarrassment to himself. After the examination, the committee will vouch for the visitor in an open Lodge.

Masonic Burial

Masonic funeral rites are conducted only at the request of some member of a Mason's immediate family or the member. The choice belongs to the family and not to the Lodge. These rites can be held in the church, the funeral home, or at graveside.


Why do Candidates wear special garments?

The wearing of special garments during each of the degrees in Masonry is part of being "duly and truly prepared". These garments are furnished by the Lodge in order to emphasize our concern with a man's internal qualities rather than his worldly wealth and honors. By wearing the garments of humility the candidate signifies the sincerity of his intentions.

What are the Symbols of Masonry?

Most of the great lessons of FreeMasonry are imparted by symbols which were carefully selected by our Masonic forefathers. In this degree the candidate is introduced to the following symbols:

The Hoodwink The Rite of Perambulation
The Cable-tow The Altar
The Entrance The Worshipful Master
The Reception The Great Light of FreeMasonry
The Holy Saints-John The Obligation
Form of a Lodge The Apron
The Rite of Destitution The Charge
The Working Tools The Lectures
The Northeast Corner King Solomon's Temple

Why should Masons study the Emblems of Masonry?

The emblems express Masonic truths in ways that words alone cannot. By reflecting on the symbolic meaning it is hoped that the Entered Apprentice will apply their teachings to his daily life. The Entered Apprentice should study all of the emblems of the degree, for each is important and should be thoroughly understood by him. For example, the lambskin or white apron is often a symbol of innocence. The twenty-four inch gauge is a symbol for the twenty-four hours of the day. A wise use of time is suggested by this emblem.

What is the Tyler and why is he outside the Lodge room? The Tyler guards the avenues approaching the lodge. A lodge is said to be duly tyled when the necessary precautions have been taken to guard against intrusion by cowans, eavesdroppers, or other unauthorized persons. (A cowan is one who tries to masquerade as a Mason; not having learned the work, but stating that he has in order to gain admittance. An eavesdropper is one who tries to steal the secrets of our Craft.)

Why is a lodge always opened with a prayer?

No lodge can be opened or closed without a prayer which is offered by the Chaplain. The wording of these prayers attempt to avoid sectarianism in the lodge. Following Amen, each member responds with the words "So Mote It Be", meaning "So May It Ever Be".

What are the Rights of a Master Mason?

These consist of Masonic Relief, Masonic Visitation, and Masonic Burial.

Masonic Relief

Masonic Relief may be applied for by any Brother — either to his own Lodge or to an individual Master Mason. In every case, the individual has the right to determine the worthiness of the request and whether such aid can be granted without material injury to his own family.

Relief is a voluntary function of both the Lodge and the individual. The Brother requesting relief has no vested interest in the Lodge or claim upon any individual Master Mason. If a Brother happens to become destitute while in a strange city, he can apply for assistance to a local Board of Relief or through the Masonic Relief Association of the United States or Canada. They will contact a local Lodge and explain the situation to one of the officers.


The constant responsibility of a Master Mason is to preserve the reputation of the fraternity unsullied. Leading a good life is the best means of carrying through our individual responsibility to our Lodge and our Craft. The conduct of each Master Mason is strictly his own responsibility — he should choose the course which will bring credit to himself and honour to the fraternity.

Lodge Attendance

Every Master Mason has a moral obligation to be loyal to the Lodge which gave him Masonic light and all the benefits which came with it. This should be your inducement to attend Lodge as often as possible and to join in the fellowship which makes up FreeMasonry.

The Responsibility of Balloting

Only Master Masons who are members of the Lodge conducting the vote have a right to ballot. (In a lodge under the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of Texas, any Grand Lodge of Texas Master Mason is permitted to vote.) No member present can be excused from balloting on any question before the Lodge, except by a vote of the Lodge, and only when good cause is shown. No member is permitted to retire from the Lodge to avoid casting his ballot.

The right to secrecy of the ballot is guaranteed by Masonic law, and custom allows each member to have perfect freedom in balloting on petitioners. No Brother has to disclose how he voted, and no Brother should inquire into how another Brother voted on a particular candidate. Remember the charge from the Worshipful Master "Look well to your ballot and vote for the good of Masonry".

The Responsibility to Examine Visitors

This responsibility belongs to the Lodge itself and is delegated by the Worshipful Master to a committee of Brethren who are to satisfy themselves that the visitor is a Master Mason in good standing and a member of a regular (recognized) lodge. The Worshipful Master may call upon any member of the Lodge to serve on this committee.

The Responsibility of Vouchers on Petitioners

Before endorsing the petition of anyone for initiation, you should take the time to discuss Masonry with the applicant. You should determine why he wishes to become a Mason and what he expects and explain to him what Masonry may expect of him.

The Investigating Committee should explain much of the latter to him, but you yourself should be satisfied with his understanding and know that he is of good moral character and the signing of the petition should be a source of great pleasure for you.

The Financial Responsibilities of a Mason

These are twofold. First, a member is expected to pay his Lodge dues. Second, it is hoped that a Mason will voluntary support both Masonic and non-Masonic charities as well as distressed worthy brethren.

By paying dues, the Brother carries his share of the expense incurred by the Lodge. In voluntary support, he must determine the extent of his participation, measuring the need against his ability.


When Does a Candidate become a member of the Lodge?

A candidate becomes a member of the fraternity after being raised to the sublime degree of a Master Mason. He becomes a member of the Lodge after he has signed the Constitution and By-laws of the Lodge. Termination of membership occurs in one of four ways — demit, suspension, expulsion, or death. [In Pennsylvania a candidate is considered to have become a member of the Lodge when he is made a Mason or initiated.]

A demit can be applied for if one is currently a paid-up member and in good standing. One can transfer to another Lodge if he has a demit from his current Lodge. One can also hold membership in more than one Lodge (once again, Illinois rules). A member can be suspended for Non-Payment of Dues (NPD) or for unmasonic conduct. If suspended NPD, he may apply for reinstatement at any time by paying the dues for the year of non-payment plus the current year (he must get a demit for any intervening years). [Again PA differs. If suspended for NPD, a member may, within one year of his suspension, be restored to membership after payment of the year's dues by a vote of two-thirds of the members present at a stated meeting of the Lodge on a resolution for restoration which was offered at a previous stated meeting and held over a Masonic month. After this period has elapsed, all action must be through the Grand Master's office]. If suspended for unmasonic conduct, a petition must be made through the proper Masonic channels.

How does a Member Enter or Retire from a Lodge?

First of all, a Brother should be present before Lodge opens to join in the fellowship. If circumstances prevent this, notify the Tyler upon arrival and he will take care of the proper procedures for entry. When the Master gives permission to enter, approach the altar, give the due-guard and signs for the degree in which the Lodge is open, and then be seated.

Deportment while in Lodge

A Brother's deportment while the Lodge is open is governed by good taste. Any action which disrupts the business of the Lodge, such as engaging in private discussions, should be avoided.

Discussions in the Lodge are always a healthy sign and promote the interests of the Lodge — if properly conducted. If one wishes to speak, he should rise, give the due-guard and signs for the degree in which the Lodge is open, and, after being recognized, make his remarks, then sit. The rules of propriety should require refraining from mentioning personalities or disturbing the peace, harmony, and good order of the Lodge. Religion, partisan politics, and any other subject which might disrupt the peace and harmony of the Lodge should not be discussed in the open Lodge.

Masonic Law

Every Lodge is governed by the Grand Lodge in its Masonic jurisdiction and must adhere to the regulations of that Grand Lodge. These regulations are discussed at the Annual (and in some jurisdictions, Pennsylvania included, Quarterly) Grand Lodge communication(s), and amendments or alterations are made if passed by the required vote. Questions involving Masonic Law should be resolved by the Worshipful Master. Interpretations in Masonic Law are issued by the Grand Master, often using Area and District Deputy Grand Masters here in Illinois. (In PA Grand Masters' decisions as issued are added to the Digest of Decisions, a copy of which is in every Subordinate Lodge, via printed amendments.)


Why is it called "The Sublime Degree"?

It is called this not only for the solemnity of the ceremony, but also for the profound lesson of wisdom it teaches. This degree symbolizes the great lessons of the resurrection of the body and the immortality of the soul.

The Master Mason Degree differs in many ways from the previous two degrees. Many of the symbols are the same, but they are interpreted differently. In other degrees, the Lodge is a symbol of the world in which we live — trying to sustain life, striving to obtain knowledge, and, through wisdom, to become virtuous.

In this degree, the Lodge becomes a representation of the Sanctum Sanctorum or Holy of Holies of Solomon's great Temple at Jerusalem. This magnificent structure was a symbol of Heaven to the Hebrew people. Supposedly, Solomon built it as the dwelling place of Jehovah that he might be in the midst of his people Israel. The Hebrew law of cleanliness was strictly enforced and nothing earthy or unclean was permitted to enter the Temple. When one attains the Sublime Degree of a Master Mason, you receive this most valuable lesson and truth — that having been faithful to your trust, you must at last die in order to attain the ultimate reward of your fidelity. This teaches immortality of the soul.

In this state of life, man is represented to have died and then is raised from the grave to another and better place. Thus, the ceremonies of the degree lead to the inevitable conclusion that youth, properly directed, leads to an honourable and virtuous maturity and that, regulated by morality, faith, and Justice, life will be rewarded in its closing hours by the prospect of eternal bliss and immortality.

We hope that these lessons and meanings will lead to new and undiscovered inspirations each time they are studied.

What is the Significance of the Third Degree?

The significance can best be understood when we compare it to the EA and FC degrees. In the first two degrees, architecture was the theme of the symbols. The symbols in the Master Mason Degree refer to life, its tragedy, and its ultimate triumph if we lead virtuous lives. In other words, the symbols of this degree deal with the spiritual part of man's life. Resurrection and immortality are both significant lessons in this degree. What are the Symbols of the Master Mason Degree?

They include:

Preparation — Reception — Obligation

Signs, Tokens, & Words The Five Points of Fellowship
The Working Tools The Lion of the Tribe of Judah
The Legend of Hiram The Lost Word
The Three Grand Masters The Setting Maul
The Temple of Solomon The Sprig of Acacia
The Symbolism of the Temple The All-Seeing Eye
The Three Ruffians  



The preparation of the candidate reminds him of several things. First, through special clothing, he is reminded that he is to be humble. He is also taught that his obligations become more extensive and binding each time he advances. Finally, he is reminded that he is able to attain many of his desires only with the assistance given him by a friend or brother.


In the reception at the door, the candidate is reminded that all of the lessons of FreeMasonry must be implanted in the heart if they are to serve a useful purpose and become a part of his way of life, and that he should practice them daily.


The obligation is the heart of the degree. By taking the obligation, the candidate obtains the privileges, the rights, and the benefits of the Masonic institution. He must know and understand the significance of the obligation if he is to abide by it.

Signs, Tokens, and Words

These are very important because they provide modes of recognition. Also, each sign, token, and word has a symbolic meaning which serves to enrich the mind and improve our lives as Masons.

The Working Tools

The Working Tools of a Master Mason are all of the instruments of masonry. The trowel is especially assigned to this degree whereby the Master Mason is taught to use the Trowel to cement ties between Masons and to spread brotherly love.

The Legend of Hiram

Hiram Abif, the skilled artificer, was the son of a widow of the tribe of Naphtali. The earlier accounts of Hiram are recorded on the First Book of Kings, chapter 7, verses 13 and 14. His coming to work on the great Temple at Jerusalem, is mentioned in a letter written to King Solomon by Hiram, the King of Tyre, and recorded in II Chronicles, chapter 2, verses 13 and 14. The word Abif means "his father" or "my father". He was regarded as the father of all the workmen on the Temple. By portraying Hiram Abif, the magnificent lessons of fidelity are taught.

The Three Grand Masters

Three names mentioned often in our ritual are: Solomon, King of Israel; Hiram, King of Tyre; and Hiram Abif, the Widow's son.

The Temple of Solomon

This magnificent structure was located on Mount Moriah, at Jerusalem. It was near the place where Abraham was about to offer up his son Isaac. The site was purchased by David, King of Israel, for it was here that the hand of the Destroying Angel was stayed after David had repented.

The Temple was begun around 1012 B.C. and finished eight years later, around 1004 B.C. It was about 400 years after the people of Israel came out of Egypt as a band of refugees. The people lost their sense of spiritual direction and destiny, so their Temple was destroyed in the year 586 B.C. by Nebuchadnezzar.

The Symbolism of the Temple

The symbol of the temple for each of us is founded upon the idea that man himself is a living temple where the Supreme Being resides. FreeMasonry tries to undertake the task of helping each of its members to build a more stately mansion within them selves where the Supreme Being can reside. We should remember that we are a symbolic temple and that we should work toward the same type of perfection in our own temple as that sought for in the Temple at Jerusalem. Our individual temples are mental, physical, and spiritual, and our work on these temples should not be inferior.

The Three Ruffians

There are many symbolic explanations for the appearance of these three in our ritualistic work. Their attempt to obtain the secrets not rightfully theirs and the dire circumstances of their acts are symbolic of many life circumstances.

The Ruffians are also symbols of the passions of the candidate which he has come here to subdue.

The Five Points of Fellowship

These five points are symbolized by the Pentalpha or five- pointed star. In the center of the five-pointed star, two clasped hands are usually displayed.

The five points of fellowship symbolize to Masons that both fidelity and readiness to aid each other are to be found in the Craft as well as in our everyday lives.

The Lion of the Tribe of Judah

The lion has always been the symbol of might and royalty. It was the sign of the tribe of Judah, because this was the royal tribe of the Hebrew Nation. All Kings of Judah were, therefore, called the Lion of the Tribe of Judah. This was also one of the titles of King Solomon.

The Lost Word

The Masonic search for the Word symbolizes the search for knowledge. We must always search diligently for knowledge and never permit prejudice, passions, or conflicts of interest to hinder us in our search. We must keep our minds open to receiving knowledge from any source. Thus Masons are devoted to freedom of thought, of speech, and of action.

The Setting Maul

This was a wooden instrument used by operative masons to set polished stone firmly into the wall. The maul has been shown to be a symbol of destruction from prehistoric times and is shown many times in mythology.

The Sprig of Acacia

Hebrew people used to plant a sprig of acacia at the head of a grave for two purposes — to mark the location of the grave and to show their belief in immortality. Because of its evergreen nature, they believed it to be an emblem of both immortality and innocence.

The All-Seeing Eye

This is a very old symbol of Deity. In Psalm 121 it says "He that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep". Thus the idea that God watches over men is symbolized by the All-Seeing Eye to demonstrate that God is ever-present and ever-watchful. Every FreeMason should keep in mind that the things we do before man and the things we do in secret will be recorded by the All-Seeing Eye and will bear witness for or against us at Judgement time.

What does "To Travel in Foreign Countries" mean to speculative Masons?

The ultimate goal of our ancient Operative Brethren was to become masters so they might possess secrets and knowledge which would enable them to practice the art of the builder no matter where they traveled, even in foreign countries. Foreign countries. as used in FreeMasonry, is a symbolic place and is not meant to refer to specific geographical location. FreeMasonry itself is a foreign country to every new member. If he is to travel in it, if he is to earn a Master's wages, he must learn its language, understand its customs, and study its history. He must become a part of it to fully appreciate and enjoy its privileges and pleasures.

Being a Master Mason gives him the right to travel in foreign countries in FreeMasonry.

What are the Wages of a Master Mason?

The wages of a speculative Mason come from within, as he is concerned with the moral rather than the physical labour. The intangibles of love, friendship, respect, opportunity, happy labour, and association are the wages of a Master Mason who earns them. Not all do earn their wages which is why the Senior Warden, in the opening of the Lodge declares "to pay the Craft their wages, if any be due".

What is meant by the term "The Raising of a Candidate"?

The Third Degree, or Master Mason Degree, is the climax of Symbolic FreeMasonry, yet being "raised to the Sublime Degree of a Master Mason" is often misunderstood. Symbolically it represents resurrection after death, and our Masonic faith in the immortality of the soul. If a man sees the action in the degree as simply that of a drama, then he has failed to grasp the fundamental meaning and purpose of FreeMasonry.

Following are some of the lessons taught by this degree: The degree delves into the deepest recesses of man's nature. While it leads the initiate into the Sanctum Sanctorum of the Temple, it also probes into the Holy of Holies of his heart. As a whole, the degree is symbolic of that old age by Wisdom during which we may enjoy the happy reflections consequent on a well spent life, and die in the hope of immortality. It teaches no creed, no dogma, no religion; only that there is a hope of immortality.

Source: "History of Masonry", by George Thornburgh based upon "The Ritual of Operative FreeMasons", by Thomas Carr


The Ahiman Rezon was first printed in Philadelphia in 1783. It is one of the earliest constitutions for Masons in the United States. It was voted on and approved at the communication of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania on Nov. 22, 1781. I believe this document defines much of what Masonry stands for today and would like to begin discussions on it.

Section I. Concerning GOD and RELIGION

Whoever, from love of knowledge, interest, or curiosity, desires to be a Mason, is to know that, as his foundation and great cornerstone, he is to believe firmly in the ETERNAL GOD, and to pay that worship which is due to him, as the great Architect and Governor of the universe. A Mason is also obliged, by his tenure, to observe the moral law, as a true Noachida (Sons of Noah; the first name for FreeMasons.); and if he rightly understands the royal art, he cannot tread in the irreligious paths of the unhappy libertine, the deist, or stupid atheist; nor, in any case, act against the great inward light of his own conscience.

He will likewise shun the gross errors of bigotry and superstition, making a due use of his own reason, according to that liberty wherewith a Mason is made free. For although, in ancient times, the Christian Mason were CHARGED to comply with the Christian usages of the countries where they sojourned or worked (being found in all nations, and of diverse religions and persuasions) yet it is now thought most expedient that the brethren in general should only be CHARGED to adhere to the essentials of religion in which all men agree; leaving each brother to his own private judgment, as to particular modes and forms. Whence it follows, that all Masons are to be good men and true — men of honour and honesty, by whatever religious names or persuasions distinguished; always following that golden precept of "doing unto all men as (upon a change of conditions) they would that all men should do unto them." Thus, since Masons, by their tenure, must agree in the three great articles of NOAH, Masonry becomes the center of union among the brethren, and the happy means of conciliating, and cementing into one body, those who might otherwise have remained at a perpetual distance, thereby strengthening and not weakening the divine obligations of RELIGION and LOVE!

Section II. Concerning Government and the Civil Magistrate.

Whoever would be a true Mason is further to know that, by the rules of his art, his obligations as a subject and citizen will not be relaxed but enforced. He is to be a lover of quiet, peaceable and obedient to the civil powers, which yield him protection, and are set over him where he resides or works; so far as they infringe not the limited bounds of reason and religion. Nor can a real craftsman ever be concerned in plots against the state, or be disrespectful to the magistracy; because the welfare of his country is his peculiar care.

But if any brother, by forgetting for a time the rules of his craft, and listening to evil councils, should unhappily fall into a contrary conduct, he is not to be countenanced in his crimes or rebellion against the state; but he forfeits all benefits of the Lodge, and his fellows would refuse to associate or converse with him in private, while he continues in his crimes; that neither offence nor umbrage may be given to lawful government. But such a person is still considered as a Mason, his character as such being indefeasible; and hopes are to be entertained, that the rules of the craft may again prevail with him over every evil council and device that may have led him astray. From this quiet and meek temper of true Masons, and their constant desire to adorn the countries where they reside with all useful arts, crafts and improvements, they have been, from the earliest ages, encouraged and protected by the wisest rulers of states and commonwealths, who have likewise thought it an honor to have their names enrolled among the fraternity. And thus Masonry having always flourished most in the most flourishing and peaceable times of every country, and having often suffered in a particular manner through the calamitous effects of war, bloodshed and devastation, the craftsmen are therefore the more strongly engaged to act agreeable to the rules of their art, in following peace and love, as far as possible, with all men.

Section III. Concerning private Qualities and Duties.

In regard to HIMSELF, whoever would be a Mason should know how to practice all the private virtues. He should avoid all manner of intemperance or excess, which might obstruct his performance of the laudable duties of his craft, or lead him into crimes which would reflect dishonor upon the ancient fraternity. He is to be industrious in his profession, and true to the Lord and Master he serves. He is to labor justly, and not to eat any man's bread for nought; but to pay truly for his meat and drink. What leisure his labor allows, he is to employ in studying the arts and sciences with a diligent mind, that he may the better perform all his duties (as aforesaid) to his Creator, his country, his neighbor and himself. For in a few words, — "to walk humbly in the sight of God, to do justice and love mercy," are the true indispensable characteristics of a real free and accepted Mason.

For the better attainment of these shining qualities, he is to seek and acquire, as far as possible, the virtues of patience, meekness, self-denial, forbearance and the like, which give him the command over himself, and enable him to govern his own family with affection, dignity and prudence; at the same time checking every disposition injurious to the world, and promoting that love and service, which brethren, of the same Lodge or household, owe to each other. Therefore, to afford succor to the distressed, to divide our bread with the industrious poor, and to put the misguided traveller into the way, are qualities inherent in the craft, and suitable to its dignity. But though a Mason is never to shut his ear unkindly to the complaints of any of the human species; yet when a brother is oppressed or suffers, he is in a more peculiar manner called to open his whole soul in love and compassion to him, and to relieve without prejudice, according to his capacity.

It is further necessary that all who would be true Masons should learn to abstain from all malice and slander, evil speaking, backbiting, unmannerly, scornful, provoking, reproachful and ungodly language; and that he should know how to obey those who are set over him on account of their superior qualifications as Masons, however inferior they may be in worldly rank or station. For although Masonry divests no man of his temporal honors, or titles, but on the contrary highly respects them, yet, in the Lodge, preeminence of virtue and knowledge in the royal art is considered as the true fountain of all nobility, rule and government.

The last quality and virtue which I shall mention, as absolutely requisite in those who would be Masons, is that of SECRECY; which indeed, from its importance, ought to have held the first place in this chapter, if it had not been intended to treat of it more fully, as a conclusion of the whole.

So GREAT stress is laid upon this particular quality or virtue, that it is enforced among Masons under the strongest penalties and obligations; nor, in their esteem, is any man to be counted wise, who is void of intellectual strength and ability sufficient to cover and conceal such HONEST SECRETS as are committed to him, as well as his own more serious affairs. Both sacred and profane history teacheth us that numerous virtuous attempts have failed of their intended scope and end, through defect of secret concealment.

The ancient philosophers and wise men (the Princes of whom were Masons) were so fully persuaded of the great virtue of SECRECY, that it was the first lesson which they taught their pupils and followers. Thus, in the school of Pythagoras, we find it was a rule that every novitiate was to be silent for a time, and refrain from speaking, unless when a question was asked; to the end that the valuable secrets which he had to communicate might be the better preserved and valued. Lycurgus made a perpetual law, obliging every man to keep secret whatever was committed to him, unless it were to injury of the state. And Cato, the Roman Censor, told his friend, that of three things (if ever he happened to be guilty) he always repented, viz. — 1st. If he divulged a secret; 2nd. If he went on water, when he might stay on dry land; and 3rd. If he suffered a day to pass without doing (or endeavouring to do) some GOOD. We also read that the Persian law punished the betraying of a secret more grievously than any other common crime.

Nor is the virtue of SECRECY recommended only by the wisest heathen philosophers and lawgivers; but likewise by the fathers of the church, and by inspired writers and lawgivers. St. Ambrose places the patient gift of Silence among the principal foundations of virtue; and the wise King SOLOMON deems the man unworthy to reign or have any rule over others, who cannot command himself, and keep his own secrets. A discoverer of secrets he deems infamous and a traitor; but him that conceals them he accounts a faithful brother. "A talebearer," says he, "revealeth secrets; but he that is of a faithful spirit concealeth them, Discover not a secret to another, lest he that heareth it put thee to shame, and thine infamy turn not away. He that keepeth his tongue, keepeth his own soul."To the same purpose, in the book of Ecclesiasticus chap. xxvii we meet with the following beautiful passages, worthy to be for ever recorded in the hearts of all Masons.

"Whosoever discovereth secrets, loseth his credit, and shall never find a friend to his mind. Love thy friend, and be faithful unto him; but if thou betwrayest his secrets, follow no more after him: For as a man hath destroyed his enemy, so hast thou lost the love of thy neighbour: As one that letteth a bird go out of his hand, so hast thou let thy neighbour go, and shall not get him again. Follow after him no more, for he is too far off; he is as a roe escaped out of the snare. As for a wound, it may be bound up; and after reviling there may be reconcilement: but he that betwrayeth secrets is without hope."