There is not support in the history, Landmarks, rules, regulations, or teachings for the theory that Freemasonry uses symbols to hide, conceal, or disguise its teachings, as if they were a species of puzzle pictures or conundrums. They are used for the purpose of saying something; they are never used for the purpose of not saying it. If a stranger stops to ask directions, the man of whom he asks it may put his reply in words, or may point with his finger; if he uses the sign instead of the words it is not because he has taken a sudden whim to refuse the request, or to make a mystery of it. There are circumstances under which a sign or a symbol can speak even more clearly than words; if an American soldier in a French village inquires his way, the villager will point rather than speak because the soldier does not know the French language. There are some 200 symbols, emblems, allegories, signs, and ceremonies in the Three Degrees; not one of them is for the purpose of concealing anything, or mystifying anybody, but they are there for the opposite purpose of making clear, of making plain, of showing, of stating, of saying.
1. The Lodge. A Lodge is a body of men so organized that they move and work together as if many men had but one body. The Operative Freemasons were under necessity to work together as a body because they were engaged on the same task, at the same time, under one supervision. They knew that nowhere, nor under any circumstances, could a public building be erected if each man worked alone; nor was it a mystery that they had a Room for themselves, because they had to think together, decide together, know their places and designs together, and to receive at one time instructions for their labor. Insofar as the,. were a body of men of flesh-and-blood, working together because it was impossible to work alone, we also in Speculative Freemasonry are a body of flesh-and-blood men in an actual and literal body, and not in any abstract or unreal sense, because ours is the same Lodge as theirs. If we say that it is a symbolic Lodge it is not because we have turned the Lodge itself into a symbol, but because we as Speculative Masons do not make the same use of it that Operative Masons did. In one sense it is impossible to put this meaning into words, because to possess it fully and for himself a man must enter into it, and become a member, and learn it by experience; in another sense it is not difficult to put it into words, though they would fall short; if expressed in words the meaning of the Lodge when symbolically used would be expressed in some such fashion as:
"A Masonic Lodge was a body of men. The men formed a body in order to do their work in architecture. Craftsmen could not act adversely or independently of each other when constructing a building. This necessity for working as a body was true of Operative Masons; it is also true of any men engaged in any work. To be in association, to act collectively, for many men to be as if they were one man, is everywhere necessary in work. If you cannot sustain yourself, or give your family the food, housing, furniture, clothing, and medicine which they must have in order to live, if to have those things is for you a question of life or death, then you must be able to work together with other men, to be in association with them, to cooperate with them, to go through the days with them peaceably and harmoniously, to be in a brotherhood with them, to lodge with them, because not otherwise can you continue to work, and without work you will cease to be.
"If any man thinks that he can be a lone wolf, if he believes that brotherhood, and fraternalism, and friendliness are Utopian ideals and luxuries of sentiment or unreal dreams, he is a moron or a fool. The brotherhood of men in work is not a dream but a stark reality, not a vision but a necessity, for without it any man would starve to death and peoples would perish. Freemasonry does not hold brotherhood, which is membership in a body of men at work, before us as a desirable but remote ideal, hanging in the skies of some unattainable future, but knows it to be a necessity, and not only a necessity but one which may even be for some men a cruel necessity, because it is an iron law of things. We are not Brothers because we hope to be but because we already are; we are not Brothers because we desire to be, but because we must be."
The Lodge itself is the form taken by brotherhood in Freemasonry, so is it also Masonic sociability. Masonic fraternalism, Masonic association, is not a frame-work or background, is not an opportunity or occasion, but is itself what these things are, in substance as well as in form it is unlike any other body of men, certainly it is not to be confused with collectivism, socialism, or communism, which are either economic or political forms of association. It is not consistent with individualism if by individualism is meant that competition in which men prey upon each other; but it is consistent with competition if by competition is meant that emulation of who best can work and best agree.
2. Working Tools. They are the tools, implements, engines, devices, and instruments by which things are made and measured, manufactured and produced. If a man cannot live without houses, food, clothing, schools, governments, medicine, arts, then he cannot live without tools because nowhere in nature or in man do these things come ready-made. In life there is such a variety of species of plants and animals that a biologist can scarcely even catalog them, and the mind faints as it tries to envisage how many of them have lived in the past but live no more, and will live in the future but live not yet; but nowhere in that fathomless fertility is there a way for a pair of shoes to be made, or a suit of clothes to grow out of the back of a sheep, or for meat to bake itself. "Wherever anything is at all, Matter is there," and it has within it as many ways for species of things to exist as life has for things to live, but in the whole of it it has no way for locomotives, or houses, or automobiles to come into existence by themselves. Man also has within his own potentiality a variety as illimitable as Life or as Matter but unlike Life men do not come in species, and unlike Matter one man is never replaceable by another, and if there are now two billion men and women in the world no two are alike, not even remotely so, and each one is as absolutely and uniquely himself as if he were the only man in being; for all that, men do not come into being already able to read, or write, or speak, or work - no infant ever born has been a farmer, or a merchant, or a doctor, or a teacher, or an architect to begin with; as far as he himself is concerned man is as helpless to make or produce the very things without which he cannot continue to be as is either Life or Matter; he must have tools to make or to produce those things or he will perish - the statement of that fact could be neither spoken or even written without the use of instruments and devices.
Tools are therefore not extraneous to man, detachable, accidental, or incidental, as if he could lay them down or take them up when he might fancy, but belong to what he is, and the tools in his hand belong as much to him as the teeth in his head. If a man becomes so superior in some dream of himself that he becomes "too good for himself," and dislikes to lay his own hands on his own body, and is so superior that he despises his own eyes, or nose, or stomach, or feet he is insane; he is equally irrational if he becomes childish enough to consider himself superior to the use of tools, or that he is socially above them, or that because of his caste he must not soil his white hands on them, for that way starvation lies.
The Working Tools of the Ritual are these same actual tools of wood and metal, without which no man can long continue to be a man. They are not mystical pictures of ineffable ideas. The Gauge is an ordinary measuring stick, with inches marked upon it, and not a "symbol" of some metaphysical mystery in the nature of time. The Gavel is not a "symbol" of "Moses' hammer," nor of any occult or esoteric doctrine, but is a heavy iron tool, with a square head on one side for pounding stone and an edge on the other side for cutting it. The Trowel is not "a picture of the Mystic Tie," it has no remotest connection with the Mystic Tie, and any Operative Freemason who ever lived would have laughed at such notions, but is the literal tool for spreading or pointing mortar, and plaster, and cement. These are used symbolically in the Ritual not in the sense that they are explained away, or in the sense that they are turned into something other than themselves, but in the sense that, while in Operative Freemasonry they were used by builders, in Speculative Freemasonry they are not only used by builders but also represent all tools everywhere, of every kind. They belong to work, and belong to its necessity, and therefore belong to man in his capacity as a worker, and also, in an equal necessity, they belong to Freemasonry's philosophy of work. In that philosophy they are the doctrine, "If thou wouldst be a man thou must be a user of tools, therefore learn to use them." And the Ceremony of Presentation of the Tools to an Apprentice is an acted-out statement of that doctrine; "If thou, young man, feel thyself to be superior to the use of tools, if thou art one who refuses to lift the stone because thou shouldest have to stoop in order to lift it, thou art not qualified to be one of us. No youth is worthy to be a Candidate for Manhood unless he is proud to accept his own kit of tools, and is willing to toil for his seven years in learning to use them."
3. The Altar. If anything in any Lodge Room appears to be remote from daily work, from the plow in the soil, from the ax in the tree, from the gavel on the stone, it is the altar. It may be remote in appearance, it is not so in reality. It is not a theological altar, but a craft altar. On it lies not a book of theology, but the Book of the Law; also lying on it, and with equal sanctity, are the Square and Compasses, the emblem of the Craft of Masonry. In the Operative Lodge Room it was the place where the Apprentice came both to stand and to kneel when he gave his promise to obey the Rules and Regulations, and put himself in pledge as a guarantee of his promise. He gave his oath, which was his reputation as a man, that he would learn his trade thoroughly, could be depended on to be at his own place where his work called him, that his fellows could rely on him not to fail them; that he would never leave them in the lurch, and that he would be a good citizen under the Government of his Craft.
In the nature of things a man who cannot be depended on can have no place in work. It is impossible to police every man; it is impossible to have a Master of Masons to supervise each individual Mason as it would be to give each workman anywhere else a private foreman, or to assign him a private instructor to show him at each turn what to do and how to do it. He must supervise himself, must give himself his own orders, and instructions, he must inspect himself, and judge himself, and govern himself, he must do so or he cannot work, because there is in the nature of things no way possible to do such things for him. He is in an obligation, and a stern one, whether it is painful to him or not, and he is under an oath, whether he likes it or not. The Altar means that he is in that obligation and under that oath if he is a Mason; it also means that he is equally so if he is a farmer, or a doctor, or a miner, or a clerk, or a teacher, it matters not what. He has his own Craft, whatever he is, his own Square and Compasses; his Craft has its own laws, rules, and regulations, its own Book of Constitutions. The Volume of the Law and the Square and Compasses are not in the center of the Lodge Room because of any peculiarity of Masonry, but because they are also necessarily there, in any other Lodge Room, in any other body of workmen, because no form of work can go on without them.
4. The Square and Compasses. In the Middle Ages each craft and gild used a trade-mark, hall-mark, emblem, or device as if it were a flag, to identify itself, and since so few men could read or write the quarters of a town, a market, a shop, a hall was always marked by a picture or by a statue or by a carving, and even as late as the end of the Eighteenth Century inns and taverns continued to be called by the pictures on their signs-thus, the Goose and Gridiron Alehouse was so named because its sign was a picture of Apollo's swan and lyre. The Square and Compasses were the device or sign or emblem which everywhere stood for the Craft of architecture, or Freemasonry - it even appears in churches, and cathedrals in, "the Mason's window." As used on the altar in their capacity of Great Lights, along with the Volume of the Law, they are therefore not used in their capacity of Working Tools (or, rather, of working instruments) but as an emblem of the Craft of Freemasonry. The Craft as a whole, its work and its laws, is the great light for every Apprentice; it is that which he is to see, it is that by which he is to see, and his schooling and his training will be to throw light on every detail of his work in the Craft; and it is in that Craft, and to that Craft that he stands in obligation and takes his oath. This means that when the Candidate is admitted to membership, whole or partial, as he is by his act of taking the obligation, it is not into work at large that he is admitted, but into the particular kind of work which is done by builders; it is not merely into a Lodge that he is admitted though he becomes a member of one, but into the Craft; henceforth he will be a craftsman under the aegis of the Square and Compasses.
Does any Candidate for training in work enter a craft? He does. This fact, if a man stops to think it through, is one of the most surprising, one of the profoundest of facts, and it is a mystery why it is so seldom seen. There is no such thing as "work at wholesale," or "work at large," or "mere work"; any work, any kind or form of it, invariably and necessarily is divided into crafts, and always an apprentice, or beginner, is admitted into "this particular work." It is a mountainously large fact about man, and ought to be studied as one of the major subjects in both economics and sociology. It not only means that for each and every man in the world, of any language or color, work is the only means by which he can sustain himself, it also means that work itself everywhere is in a number of species or forms - in our Masonic nomenclature, it is divided into crafts; which is to say, it is divided into trades, callings, arts, professions, and is so necessarily and universally, and any youth who enters work must enter it through the doors of one of those crafts, and unless he is willing to learn the duties and techniques of some given craft he can never become a worker. The Apprentice knocking at the Inner Door of the Masonic Lodge is the complete, the perfect picture of the apprentice anywhere; he must find some particular Lodge, and knock on some particular door, and enter some particular craft.
'We men and women are born into a world which is not a welter, and still less a chaos, but one which has, as it were, an anatomy of its own. If ever the earth itself was void and without form it must have been a very long time ago, because no traces remain of that condition of flux, for the earth as a whole is so accurate in its motions that we set our watches by it, and day and night, and the months, and the seasons are equally regular; even the weather would be predictable down to the last detail if we knew enough about it. Nor are animals and plants less ordered; they are born into kinds, families, species, and varieties. Is man equally predictable? It can be predicted that men will always decide some things for themselves, and perhaps decide them wrong headedly; it also can be predicted that men will be active in some things and will always have shelters or houses of some sort, food, heat, clothing, medicine, schooling. furniture, belongings and many other things; to have these things men will always have to set up a correspondence between the kinds of things which they used and the kinds of species of material things, animals, and plants which they will find in the world outside.
It is therefore a combination of the nature of man with the nature of the world which predestines us for all time to come to divide our work into crafts, because a craft is nothing other than a form of work made necessary by a man's having a need of a certain kind, and the world having in it materials of a certain kind by which, and by which alone, that need can be satisfied. It is for this reason that no babe is born into a blank world, which he can later carve up to suit himself, or into a virginal world which he can make over to suit himself, but is born into a world of farmers, teachers, masons, sailors, huntsmen, writers, clergymen, doctors, etc., etc. Our world is a world of crafts; we did not make it that way, we did not design it to be that way, we had no choice about it, it is that way forever and by virtue of its own nature, whether we like it or not. Therefore there are in the world a number of great ways of work always going on, in every century, in every country, and they will never cease, the way of work by which we have food, the way by which we have housing, by which we have medicine, by which we have the arts, and so on forth - it is because this is true that we say that a man "enters work," or is "in work," or is "out of work"; and it is for the same reason that a man could no more invent a new form of work than he could invent a new color for the spectrum.
The Masonic picture of a youth who stands
erect on his own feet to face the craft which he has chosen and
who submits himself to it under a pledge in which is the life-or-death
principle, is, we Masons assert a true and sound and complete
picture of every youth in the world. For any boy to stay out of
work is a certain road to ruin. For any boy to suppose he can
enter work in general, and no form of work in particular, and
on his own terms, is folly because it is impossible. He was born
to be a man, and just because he is a man he must enter a craft,
what craft it is for his own wisdom to decide, and he must there
train and educate himself for it.
Back to The Newly-Made Mason [ Previous ] [ Next ]