The Masonic Trowel

... to spread the cement of brotherly love and affection, that cement which unites us into one sacred band or society of brothers, among whom no contention should ever exist, but that noble emulation of who can best work or best agree ...

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 A public lecture for non-Masonic audiences

Working tools in every age, are the hallmark which attest to the degree of skill attained by any society or nation. Over the millenniums of time, in more cases than not, only the working tools remain, long after the people have disappeared. Archeologists now unearth these tools and from them, they can with remarkable accuracy, reconstruct the civilization of that day.

The tools of the man designate his skills, his work, his knowledge and his dreams. We as Freemasons probably realize better than most, the significance of the tools found, for we can trace the achievements of the toolmakers by the tools they made and used. The simple evolution of the club for instance; to a stone axe, was a traumatic advance. The original club was a primitive weapon for offensive and defensive use; the axe or adze became a creative tool. Even the simplest tool extended the ability of the earliest craftsmen, to create images, carve canoes and shape stones for the builders use.

More elaborate tools brought more refinement to our civilization and these advances brought about writing; engraving; weaving; painting; sculpture. Then as the world hurtled into one cultural and industrial revolution after another - we found printing; architecture; mathematics; engineering; astronomy; navigation; and chemistry. All of these sciences are dependent upon the tools which enable man to execute the innate skills within himself.

At this point I would like to talk about the working tools of some distinct societies in this part of the world that we are familiar with; namely the Eskimo and coastal Indians. Let us imagine a trip back into their history, legends and workings.

While this in no way reflects on freemasonry, what I would like to show is, that each society when given specific aims to be achieved within their environment, develop and utilize certain tools that enable them to become the people that they are. Their tools are incorporated into the symbolism of their race. Let us consider the working tools that could be compared by their cultures to the working tools that we as Masons accept.

In our imagination, let us enter into the Eskimo Chiefs igloo. It is the meeting of the tribe, in, what to them is the Eskimo Grand Lodge. The Chief sits on a tremendous white bearskin and presents the working tools of his craft to the young men who have reached manhood.

The chief says -

"The working tools of a blood brother Eskimo, are, the polished runner; the glistening harpoon; and the humble snow knife. These instruments are not only practical tools in the every day life of Northern man, but through there proper use have become symbols of our race."

"The Polished Runner" is an instrument made use of by Eskimo families to take their goods from place to place, but we as brethren of the North visualize taking our worldly goods and knowledge to share with our brothers across the vast territories.

"The Glistening Harpoon" is the means of sustenance to our people but it can also show that we can strike the mind of man, with new thoughts, with new teaching and ever be the leaders in the minds of Northern man.

"The Humble Snow Knife" which in the hands of skilled craftsmen can erect an architecturally perfect dome from nature's simplest building material - snow. The deeper meaning is to never belittle the skills of others, but to utilize our own skills for the greatest comfort and survival of all mankind.

Next let us visit in the great wooden long house of a coastal Indian tribe. The their Chief sits on a raised split cedar plank and presents the young warriors with ancestral tools. As we sit in wonder in that smoke filled lodge we hear the Great Chief say -

"I present you with the working tools of the tribe; the "Obsidian Adze", the "Cedar Root Wedge" and the "Bone Needle."

With the Adze you are empowered to create the magnificent totems which are our heritage, to carve the big canoes which carry us across the waters to reach out to our brothers that we might share our knowledge with them and thus continue on the work of our ancestors.

"The Cedar Root Wedge" is a simple. tapered. tough cedar root, which was used since time began by our craftsmen to split the great cedar logs into the planks with which they built their lodges. It is a simple but effective tool in the hands of skilled craftsmen.

The moral of the wedge is that it illustrates the capability of splitting from the parent tree, a part, a plank, which when taken with others can he made into a new whole. The lesson is, that as you split from the parent tree you build and rebuild to form ever stronger ties with your heritage and your history.

"I now present you with "The Bone Needle." This tiny, insignificant needle was, for primitive man, often the difference between life and death. Cold and exposure kills men; the needle in the hands of women sewed his clothes, fashioned his tents, and was the tool of a thousand uses in every Indian encampment.

Handing the young brave a needle, the chief now says:

"Even as with this needle and sinew, skins may be sewn together to bring comfort to the members of the tribe; so in the sense of remembering our heritage and history, may you bind one Brother to another with the sinews of friendship".

The company of Freemasons is one of the oldest societies known to man and with this heritage let us be sure that the story of our work in this life lives on in the record of the working tools that we leave behind. Primitive man has come a long way from the stone axe to the computer; adapting, learning, progressing. This is the nature of man. Masons have come from the prehistory of rough ashlar buildings to gleaming skyscrapers. Let us never forget that the basis for our successful continuance is the square, the level and the compasses - shining brightly in the reflected light of the Grand Architect of The Universe.

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Last modified: March 22, 2014