The Masonic Trowel

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Masonry is an attitude to life. Its landmarks cannot be located precisely because they mark, or delimit, areas of conduct in action, apprehension in the mental world and assurance on the planes of the eternal. It accepts the ancient adage "as above, so below," but so vast is this subject that articles and essays only nibble at it; nothing but the leisurely flow of a book can elucidate, i.e. "shed light upon," its significance. Only in the river of organized discussion that a good book affords, can gold of truth be gleaned in satisfactory quantity. The "man of few words" is not the ideal teacher for the regular run of people. He is apt to be too condensed in expression, too crystallized in phrase for the ear of people whose attention is assaulted by a thousand distractions. His wisdom, dropping from his lips like nuggets, is more suited to devoted disciples who have forsaken all else to attend upon him. The tongue-tied man is too apt to speak in aphorisms that sound dogmatic in headings and sub-titles that are too concentrated a fare for ready absorption. But the speaker who can bear us along on a slow current of words, saying and repeating in a variety of ways his thoughts, he is the more effective teacher. So it is that only in books of generous proportions can we gather up the sense and feeling of so abstract a philosophy as Masonry propounds.

The great books on Masonry are in general agreement that the Craft is, either in fact or implication, an "overlay" of many civilizations. Wherever we dig we come upon layer after layer of preceding cultures. It contains traces of Mithraism, of Gnosticism, of the early mystic church and shows a benevolent face toward non-doctrinal and simple awareness of Deity. It is a deep boring through many strata of human concepts, but always in every layer it shows a sublimity of moral responsibility.

It is established that the most unusual characteristic of the early Freemasons was, as the name stresses, their freedom. Whereas in the matters of wages, conditions and travelling, the local workers were decidedly not free but rather in bondage to lords or civic governors, the Free-masons owed allegiance only to their Order, made their own terms and went where they wished. This could only be possible to men who were masters of their profession and members of a revered Society. They were Masters, "magistri," of building, of geology, of sculpture, painting and physics; not each in all these arts, but each in his own ability, and besides or because of his mastery of one or more of these great subjects, the individual master possessed a breadth of culture not available to the local workers, but rather kept exclusively for the aristocrary.

Though we speak of the Free-masons in the plural it is not as individuals we should think of them but always as an Order, this being supported by the fact that no individual names have been passed down to us, however admirable the work, and also by the fact that changes in style took place all over Europe, concurrently. They were wont to follow the banners of the Church when and where the great missionaries decided to build those majestic fanes, but the skill and science and beauty was not from the founding fathers, not from the monks, who sometimes claimed the honor (and it must be remembered that monks did most of the history- writing) but the product of intensive study in secret depositaries of teaching, in secluded centres such as Switzerland, the Pyrenees and the Piedmontese lakes provided, where books of priceless erudition enshrined the geometry of Egypt, the physics of Babylonia and the canons of proportion of Greece, since lost to the world by the tragedy of the Alexandrian holocaust and the book-burnings of the Middle Ages.

That the masters used Signs, Tokens and Oaths is quite understandable and from the earliest centuries of our era come allusions to "Solomon" and the "lion-grip." The one perhaps to refer to the source and centre of their Order, the other to recognize and honor each Brother. In guarding their secrets even to the death they preserved their freedom, for no man would gain those secrets from a master by any criminal coercion, it was useless to try, and, moreover would rebound on his head by the solid antagonism of the whole fraternity.

The characteristic of freedom which distinguished the old magistri is preserved in Masonry by the twin freedoms of religious preference and of the soul. Freedom of religious preference in demanding only the belief in an over-ruling consciousness which consequently ordains the triumph of righteousness, and freedom of the soul as a consequence, from the fetters of fear and the terrors of doubt.

Masonry, being Free or Speculative, we apply the forms of the tools to our morals, and it is just the "free man" who must do this. The bondman has it done for him!

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Last modified: March 22, 2014