Vol. XXXIV No. 8 — August 1956

Raise the Stone

and in his hand
He took, the golden compasses, prepared
In God’s eternal store, to circumscribe
This universe and all created things:
One foot he centered, and the other turned
Round through the vast profundity obscure;
And said, Thus far extend, thus far thy bounds,
This be thy just circumference, O World!
Thus God the Heaven created, thus the Earth.

— John Milton, Paradise Lost

September 10, 1877, The Grand Orient of France changed its fundamental law of Freemasonry, in effect declaring that a belief in a Deity, while not interdicted, was not a necessity for one who would be a Freemason. It removed the V.S.L. from its altars, and from its ritual all words that indicated a belief in a Supreme Being as an integral part of Freemasonry.

In so doing, the Grand Orient explained, it had no intention of being anti-religious; it posed no objections to a religious belief predicated upon a conviction of the reality of a Great Architect of the Universe, but, desiring to make the liberty, equality, fraternity of French Masonry available to all, threw open its doors to good and true men, whether or not they were atheists, agnostics or believers in a Supreme Being.

This was not good enough for English speaking Freemasonry. Officially no poetic quotations were made, but the general feeling was that of Coleridge’s satirical:

Forth from his dark and lonely hiding place
(Potentious sight!) the owlet Atheism
Sailing on obscene wings athwart the noon
Drops his blue-fringed lids, and holds them close,
And, hooting at the glorious sun in heaven
Cries out, “Where is it?”

Grand lodges withdrew recognition from this group and now no grand lodge that is generally recognized as legitimate, recognizes the Grand Orient of France.

It is related that when Russia decided religion was not for the masses, one set of iron men destroyed a small church in the interior of that troubled country. They broke the windows, burned the Bibles and hymnals, destroyed the images, then turned to the priest and stated “We have destroyed all evidences of your God. He no longer exists and by this destruction we have proved it.”

The priest replied: "But you have left us the stars?”

It is not possible to remove the Great Architect of the Universe from Freemasonry by taking out of the ritual the references to Him, removing the V.S.L. from the altar and making the order available to atheists. Still “the stars” shine. If they be extinguished, no Freemasonry remains.

Logia is the title descriptive of a collection supposed to be of sayings of Jesus, discovered in Egypt by B. P. Grenfell and A. S. Hunt in 1897 and 1903. These were a small part of a great number of papyri bought by the Egyptian Exploration Fund from the ruins of Oxrhynchus, an early Christian center in Egypt.

It is not possible to say with authority that these “sayings” are actually from the mouth of the Man of Galilee, or were so stated to be by loving followers who believed that these words contained truths that He taught.

One of them is pure poetry:

Raise the stone and there thou shalt find me;
Cleave the wood and there am I.

These words also have a great, if hidden, Masonic significance; one that, all unknowing of that application, has been expressed by more than one poet; Shakespeare speaks of “sermons in stones” and also “Oh, wood devine”; and Sir William Watson, in The Unknown God, took the “saying” for his own when he wrote:

The God I know of, I shall ne’er
Know, though He dwells exceeding nigh.
Raise thou the stone and find me there,
Cleave thou the wood and there am I.

H. L. Haywood, in what is one of the most profound and lovely poems ever inspired by Freemasonry has written:

On grass and stone and flower and sod
Is written down by hand of God
The secrets of this Masonry;
Who has the hoodwink from his eyes
May in these common things surprise
The awful signs of Deity.

“The awful signs of Deity” may be found in Freemasonry concealed as well as revealed by those who will look for the stone to raise, the wood to cleave. . . .

Freemasonry has many obvious and direct references to a Supreme Being; a candidate is received with prayer; must declare in Whom he puts his trust; he kneels in devotion; there is an altar on which (in this country) lie the Old and New Testaments; many quotations from the Bible are in the ritual; the letter G shines in the East; of the Great Lights, one is dedicated to God, etc., etc.

But there are also many concealed references to the Great Architect; many “stones to raise,” much “wood to cleave” to find Him. No Grand Orient could remove all of these without leaving a vacuum; what would remain would not be Freemasonry, and it was a knowledge of this fact that led to the universal repudiation of an organization that attempted to alter the fundamental character of the Fraternity by substituting blank pages for the Book of Law and permitting initiates to believe or not in a Supreme Architect.

Universally a brother replies to the question "Are you a Master Mason?” in the same words. He may or may not recall Exodus 3:13-14. . . .

And Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? what shall I say unto them? And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM; and he said; thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.

But whether he recalls the statement, he knows the words and should recall their significance.

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A candidate for any of the three degrees of Symbolic Freemasonry circles the altar in the course of his initiation. The ritualistic explanation of this act is wholly devoid of its real significance. Circumambulation of a Masonic altar is invariably from East to West by way of South — clockwise — in imitation of the earliest primitives who thus circled their stone altars, on which burned a holy fire, in humble imitation of the only god they knew — the sun. The sun gave fight and heat. The sun grew their crops. The sun brought safety against man and beast. The sun seemed to them to travel from East to West by way of South. In their worship, they imitated the sun in his apparent motions. In Masonic initiations, candidates and those in charge of them still imitate the early sun god in traveling about an altar from East to West by way of South.

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The triangle was man’s earliest symbol for Deity, because it was the first closed figure — signifying neither beginning nor ending — which he could form. Doubtless he first made a triangle by laying three sticks together; it came into man’s consciousness long before that other symbol of Deity, the circle, made by “compasses” formed of a stick and a thong.

In Freemasonry the triangle is not only evident in fact but in the continuous emphasis upon the number three; three degrees, three principal officers, three steps on the master’s carpet, three circuits in the Master Mason Degree, three Great Lights, three Lesser Lights, three gates to the Temple, etc. Canongate Kilwinning, oldest Scottish lodge, still places its officers in a triangle. The Carmick Manuscript (1727), the only one of the “Old Charges” (Manuscript Rolls of Freemasonry) to have an illustration, pictures the lodge as a triangle.

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The Northeast Corner is important in Symbolic Freemasonry; cornerstones are laid there; a candidate there stands as a "cornerstone” of the Freemasonry that is to be. Northeast is half way between North, place of darkness and East, place of light; a place, therefore, of “beginning” — of starting anew.

The first words in the V.S.L. are “In the beginning, God. . . .”

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Much reference is made in the Master Mason Degree to the Sanctum Sanctorum, or Holy of Holies. It is not a religious significance that is there indicated; rather of a place of privacy and reflection in which the Master Architect could lay out his plans and draw his designs upon a trestleboard. But Master Masons cannot forget that there is also in Freemasonry a reference to the Tabernacle in the Wilderness, “an exact model of King Solomon’s Temple,” and in the Tabernacle was also a Holy of Holies, in which was the Ark of the Covenant. Here the High Priest, once a year, was permitted, in secrecy and alone, to utter the ineffable name of Deity. Here also shone the Shekinah, the heavenly light, indicating the actual presence of the Unseen God.

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Much is made in Freemasonry of the “East” as a source of light, and here light is not only illumination but knowledge. In all religions, the East has been the place towards which man looked for his hope of sight of Deity. It has been sung in song and told in poetry and story. When the candidate travels from West to East in search of light, it is not mere illumination for which he searches but for the lost word. Haywood’s beautiful “God’s Freemasonry” speaks of:

Here bird and plant and man and beast
Are seeking their Eternal East.

Which Eternal East is, symbolically, the Sanctum Sanctorum or Holy of Holies of the Master Mason Degree and in the Master Mason’s heart.

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The rough and perfect ashlars hold a concealed symbol of the Great Architect. The one is made from the other entirely by the process of taking away. To make a perfect ashlar from a rough ashlar the workman adds nothing to the stone; he only removes stone. He discovers within the rough ashlar the perfect ashlar. It was always within, requiring only the skill of the workman to bring it to sight. In the Great Light we are instructed that “The kingdom of heaven is within.” It is hardly possible to conceive of a “kingdom of heaven” no matter where it is, without a Heavenly Tenant. If the kingdom of heaven is not the habitation of a Supreme Being, what can it be conceived to be?

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The candidate goes in search of That Which Was Lost. He never finds it. He discovers a substitute. The “word” which was lost with the death of the master builder is obviously not a mere vocable, a syllable. If it were that and only that, it would have been as easy to invent a new word as to pronounce a substitute. But the “word” was that of which John wrote; “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”

From earliest history man has sung of a Golden Age when life was happy and perfect, when evil did not exist, a time now gone. The story of the Garden of Eden, of Paradise Lost, of the Wandering Jew, of the fairyland of children, and of the search for the Holy Grail are all examples of a hundred myths and legends of “that which was lost” for which the Master Mason goes in search. Remove it from Freemasonry and no Freemasonry remains.

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Freemasonry makes much of the science of geometry. “God is always geometrizing” has been declared by philosophers and poets, in one form or another, since the time of Plato. William Blake, old Biblical illustrator, pictured God as a geometrician holding compasses. William Preston, “father of the ritual,” has: “By it (geometry) we may discover the power, the wisdom and the goodness of the Great Artificer of the Universe.” It is not logically possible to have a law without a law giver, a plan without a planner, an effect without a cause. The human mind cannot conceive the one without the other. If, therefore, there is a universe, it must have had an artificer. A watch must have had a maker. An idea must have a thinker. Geometry demonstrates an idea, a fact, a plan. Then thinker, maker and planner are inevitable, and not to be removed from any consciousness, especially that of a Master Mason, by opening doors to non-thinkers or removing books from altars!

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Freemasonry teaches of a resurrection. That which was slain was raised. That which died, lived again. That which was buried, came again to life. The whole story of the master builder is a concealing legend of the certainty of immortality — and from whence can immortality come if not from a Great Architect?

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The Grand Orient of France, philosophers concede, was motivated only by what it considered to be liberal thought. But those thoughts were not lengthy or deep, since they stopped with the conviction that a change in ritual and the removal of a book could eradicate from Freemasonry its first, its greatest, its most important foundation.

It is here, then, that the Masonic significance of the supposed uncanonized saying of the Carpenter of Nazareth is to be found. Look behind the symbol for the real meaning. In Freemasonry as in the saying and in the words of the poets:

“Raise the stone and there thou shalt find me;
Cleave the wood, and there am I.”

Question Box

This column will attempt to answer questions about Freemasonry.

Why do brethren not pass between altar and East when lodge is at labor?

Brethren do not pass between the altar and the East in a Masonic lodge at labor (except in a degree) because the master is supposed to have the Great Lights constantly in view. In theory, at least, he draws inspiration from the altar to preside over the lodge and must not, therefore, be prevented from seeing it at any time.

The custom is but a pretty courtesy, but it is rooted in a fundamental conception of the Craft — that the altar is the center of Masonry, and that from it and from the Great Lights it bears, flow all that there is of Masonic inspiration and truth and light.

What is legal (or lawful) Masonic information?

Legal or lawful Masonic information can be obtained in three ways; “legal Masonic information” that A is a Mason is attained by sitting in lodge with him; when he is vouched for by someone with whom a brother has sat in lodge; when he passes an examination before a committee appointed by the master (or the grand master).

A letter from a friend introducing “Brother A” as a Mason is not legal Masonic information. The real Brother A may have lost the letter and it may be presented by a stranger. No brother is at liberty to accept an avouchment that a man is a Mason by talking over the telephone with one who knows him to be a Mason. Unless in his presence, and that of the man vouched for, no one can know that the Mr. A spoken of over the telephone is the Mr. A in mind.

Only by strict adherence to these principles can Masons be sure that no cowan or eavesdropper sits in their lodges.

The Masonic Service Association of North America