MASONRY AND ITS SYMBOLS
Harold W. Percival
Meaning of the preliminaries. A free man. Recommendation. Preparations in the heart and for initiation. The divestment. The hoodwink. The fourfold cable-tow. The candidate is the conscious self in the body. Travels. The sharp instrument. Instructions. The pledge. The three great lights and the lesser lights. What the candidate learns about these symbols. Signs, grips and words. The symbol of the lambskin. The scene of poverty. The Mason as an upright man. His working tools. Declaration of the Apprentice. The signs and their meanings. The Word. The four virtues. The six jewels. The Ground Floor of King Solomon’s Temple. Purpose of the symbols and ceremonies.
Before one can become a Freemason he must be a free man. A slave cannot be a Mason. In a wider sense he must not be a slave to lust and avarice. He must be sufficiently free to choose of his own free will and accord, that is, not be bound down by base desires or blind to the facts of life. To become a Freemason the candidate must be recommended as to character. He must be in some measure a searcher into the mysteries of life. He must desire more light and be in search of it.
The first preparation is to be made in his heart. He appoints himself to be a Mason and prepares himself by having an honest, clean heart. When a Mason meets with such a man, he will, believing that the other will be a good member, bring the conversation on subjects which will lead the candidate to express his desire to seek admission into a lodge. After the application is made, investigated and recommended, the candidate will be prepared for admission. After he is admitted there is a further preparation for initiation in the anteroom of the lodge.
He is there divested of his clothing. That ceremony stands for the removal of the things that hold him to the outer world, such as possessions and indications of station and rank. It means that he is separated from the past, so that he can enter on a new course. When he is stripped it will appear that he is a man, not a woman. A hoodwink or blind is put over his eyes, so that he feels he is in darkness, without light, and cannot find his way. Then the thing he most desires is light.
A rope, a cable-tow—it should be a rope of four strands—is put around him. It symbolizes the bond by which all Apprentices, Craftsmen and Masons have been entered, initiated, passed and raised into the light of Masonry. The cable-tow stands for the umbilical cord by which all bodies are prepared for birth. It stands for the senses of sight, hearing, taste and smell by which the candidate (the conscious self in the body) is held after birth, which bind him to nature and lead him in darkness. It stands for Masonry which brings him out of the physical world of darkness into the Light. The cable-tow stands for the tie that binds, into a brotherhood of whatever kind. The cable-tow also is the line on the breath-form that binds one to Masonry, to destiny, to rebirth and re-existence.
He begins his work and his travels naked, in darkness, tied to humanity and its common failings. He feels the touch of a sharp instrument; his flesh is pricked to remind him of the torture to which it may put him, and that he must nevertheless persevere with the work to which he will dedicate himself. He is instructed in the conduct of life, always with his work as the end in view. He calls on God, his Triune Self, to witness his obligation and gives his pledge to preserve himself inviolate to the work. To continue his work he needs more light, and he declares that that which he most desires is light. The symbolical hoodwink or blind is removed and he is brought to light. At birth into the world the cord is severed. Likewise when the Apprentice is brought to the light, which is the new tie, the cable-tow is removed. Then he is told that the Bible, the square and the compass, on which he has taken his obligation and to which he has dedicated himself, represent the three great Lights. The three lighted candles, he is told, represent the three lesser lights: the sun, the moon and the Master of the Lodge.
If the Apprentice keeps his obligation, and does the work, he learns, by these symbols, as he advances, that he receives the Word of God, the Light of lights, through his Knower. He learns that as the compass describes a line equally distant throughout from the point around which it is drawn, so the mind, according to its light, keeps the passions and desires in bounds which are measured by reason and are of equal distance from the rightness, the center. He learns that as the square is used to draw and prove all straight lines, to make two lines at right angles to one another and to unite horizontals with perpendiculars, so by himself as the Doer all feelings and desires are made straight, are put in the right relation to each other and are united with each other.
He will learn, after he is raised, that the three great Lights are verily symbols of the three parts of his Triune Self; that the Bible, or sacred writings, which is symbolic of his Knower, which is Gnosis, is the source through which he must get Light; and that instead of the points of the compass being under the square they must be over it for him to get that Light, that is to say, Rightness, the right point, and Reason, the left point, of the compass, must set bounds to feeling, the right line, and to desire, the left line of the square.
He will learn that there are connected with him, at present, only two of the great lights, the Bible and the Compass; that the points of the square are above the compass; that is to say, his feeling and desire are not controlled by his Rightness and Reason, and that the third Light, the square, is dark, that is, the Light does not reach his feeling-and-desire. The third Light was shut out at the destruction of the first temple; it is potential only and will not be an actual Light until the temple is rebuilt.
The three lesser lights, the sun, the moon and the Master of the Lodge symbolize the body, feeling-and-desire, and their minds. The lodge is the human body. The light for the body, that is nature, is the sun. The moon reflects sunlight. The moon is feeling, on which are reflected the objects of nature by the body, which is personalized nature and is the servant of outside nature. The third light is the Master or desire, and he ought to endeavor to rule and govern his lodge, that is, the body. The body-mind should be used to govern the body and its four senses; the feeling-mind should govern itself, and the desire-mind as the Master should govern itself in the coordination of the feelings and the control of the body.
The Apprentice, as he advances, receives the signs, grips and words, by which he can prove himself or another, in the light or in the dark, and among those not Masons, according to the degree of his light in Masonry. He learns to walk as a Mason should, on the square.
He receives a lambskin, or white apron, a symbol of his physical body. He who wears the lambskin as a badge of a Mason is thereby continually reminded of that purity of life and conduct which is necessary. The apron clothes the pelvic region and is a symbol that that should be kept clean. It refers to sex and food. As he grows in knowledge he should preserve the body not in innocence, but in purity. When he is able to wear the apron as a Master Mason should, the flap which may be an equilateral or a right-angled triangle, hangs over the square with the corners down. The apron as a square symbolizes the four elements of nature working in the fourfold body through its four systems and the four senses. The triangular flap stands for the three parts of the Triune Self, and the three minds as substitutes for the Triune Self. They are above the body or not entirely in the body in the case of the Apprentice, and within the body or fully embodied in the case of the Master.
When asked to contribute to a worthy cause the Apprentice finds he is penniless, unable to do so, naked and an object of charity. This is a reminder to aid those whom he finds in life and who are in need of help. The scene should make him feel that he is nothing more or less than what he is as a man; that he should be judged by what he is and not be valued in terms of dress, possessions, a title, or money.
He is then allowed to reclothe himself; he puts on his apron and is taken before the Master of the Lodge who directs him to stand at his right hand and tells him that he is now an upright man, a Mason, and charges him ever to walk and act as such. As a Mason, he must have working tools. He is given the working tools of an Apprentice which are the twenty-four inch gauge and common gavel.
The gauge is the symbol of masculinity. It has to do not only with the hours but with the span of life. The gauge is the rule of life and the rule of right. The first third is for the Apprentice when he should, as the masonic ritual has it, remember his Creator in the days of his youth. This is the service of God, by not wasting the creative power. Thereby he fits himself to follow his masonic work in the second degree as a Fellow Craft. He then is rebuilding his body, the temple not made with hands. The last third is for the Master Mason who is refreshed by the conserved power and is a master builder.
The gavel is said to be an instrument which operative masons use to break off the superfluous corners of rough stones to fit them for the builder’s use, but with the speculative Mason the gavel stands for the force of desire which should be used with the gauge, or rule of right, to remove inherited inclinations and vices, so that each life of the Mason may be shaped into and become a living stone, a perfect ashler, in the final temple of the Triune Self. His first life, that in which he becomes an Apprentice, is said to be a corner stone, from which a super-structure of an immortal physical body is expected to rise.
The Apprentice declares that he has come into Masonry to learn to subdue his passions and improve himself in Masonry. It is the profession of his purpose. He is asked how he will know himself to be or how he may be known to be a Mason, and he declares that he will do it by certain signs, a token, a word and the perfect points of his entrance.
The signs, he says, are right angles, horizontals and perpendiculars, which must be parallel. These signs mean more than how he shall step or hold his hands or pose his body.
The right angles mean the squaring of his feeling (one line) with his desire (the other line) in all actions.
The horizontals mean the equal balancing of his feeling and of his desire.
The perpendiculars mean that his feeling and desire are raised to uprightness from lowness.
The token is a grip. It means that he must hold his feeling and his desire with a firm grip, and it also means that feeling and desire should grip each other in the same degree and prove each other.
A word is the one used in the Apprentice degree, and is a symbol. Lines make letters, and letters a word. Four letters are needed to make The Word. The Apprentice can supply only one letter, that letter is A and is made of two lines, feeling and desire. The Word is found by the Royal Arch Mason.
The perfect points of the Apprentice’s entrance are four. They are the four cardinal virtues: temperance is habitual self-restraint or control of one’s passionate impulses and appetites; fortitude means constant courage, patience and endurance without fear of danger; prudence means skill in right thinking and in the performance of right action; and justice is knowledge of the rights of oneself and others, and in thinking and acting in accordance with that knowledge.
The candidate learns about the jewels. There are six jewels, three movable, which are the rough ashler, the perfect ashler, and the trestle-board. The rough ashler is the symbol of the present, imperfect physical body; the perfect ashler is the symbol of the physical body after it has been perfected, and the trestle-board the symbol of the breath-form, on which the designs of the building are drawn. These three jewels are called movable because they perish after each life or are carried from life to life. The immovable jewels are the square, the level and the plumb. The square symbolizes desire, the level feeling and the plumb the pattern of the perfect body which is on the breath-form. These three are called immovable, because they are of the Triune Self and do not die.
The First Degree, that of Entered Apprentice, relates to the initiation of himself as Doer of feeling-and-desire. This is done on the Ground Floor of Solomon’s Temple, that is, in the pelvic region. The Apprentice first prepares himself in his heart, then he is prepared for initiation by being separated from his past. After he has traveled, has been brought to light, has received some information about the three greater Lights by means of the three lesser lights, has received his white apron, is clothed again and has seen the blazing star, he is given the working tools of an Entered Apprentice and then makes certain declarations. All of the symbols and ceremonies are intended to impress upon him what to do with his desires and the use of his desire-mind, feeling-mind, and body-mind in his conduct towards himself, his brothers, and his God.
Copyright 1980 by The Word Foundation, Inc.