The Masonic Trowel

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The meaning of the term

by W.B. Steve

You are now an Entered Apprentice. The first step in your journey to the Sublime Degree of a Master Mason has been taken.

Doubtless you found your initiation an experience you will never wish to forget. A Degree of Masonry is not an isolated experience, but an ever-enduring privilege. Always you may sit in your own lodge when open on the Entered Apprentice Degree; always you can return to observe, to participate in, and to study its ceremonies.

Doubtless you have an eager curiosity to learn more about this remarkable Degree before you receive that of Fellow Craft.

Perhaps its ceremonies seemed strange to you; its language fell on your ears with unaccustomed accents; and at its end, you may have been somewhat bewildered. It is our function to help you interpret it by giving you a brief explanation of the term "Entered Apprentice".

The builders of those remarkable structures in Europe and Great Britain, from six hundred to nine hundred years ago we call operative masons, because they were builders in the literal sense.

It was necessary for the Operative Masons to recruit new members to replace those lost through removal, accident, illness, or death. To do this, they used the apprenticeship system, which was in vogue in all crafts for many centuries.

The word "apprentice" means "learner" or beginner, one who is taking his first steps I mastering a trade, art or profession.

The operative apprentice was a boy, usually from ten to fifteen years of age. He was required to be sound in body, in order to do work requiring physical strength and endurance. He had to be of good habits, obedient and willing to learn, and of unquestioned reputation, and be well recommended by Masons already members of the craft.

When such a boy was chosen as an apprentice, he was called into the lodge where all the members could assure themselves of his mental, moral and physical qualifications. If they voted to receive him, he was given much information about the Craft, what it required of its members, something of its early history and tradition, and what his duties would be. He gave a solemn promise to obey his superiors, to work diligently, to observe the laws and rules and to keep the secrets.

After being thus obligated, he was bound over, or indentured, to one of the more experienced Master Masons. As a rule, he lived with this Master Mason, and from him, day by day, learned the methods and secrets of the trade. This apprenticeship lasted usually seven years.

After this young man had "gone to school" in this manner long enough to give assurance of his fitness to master the art and to become a acceptable member of the Society, his name was entered on the books of the Lodge and he was given a recognized place in the Craft organization and, because of this official entering of his name, he was given the title "Entered Apprentice". All those of the same degree of advancement constituted the rank or grade of Apprentice Masons.

It is difficult to appreciate the care our Operative Masonic forebears devoted to these learners. The Intender, as the Master Mason to whom the Apprentice was indentured was called, was obliged by law to teach him theory as well as practice. Not until the Apprentice, after many years, could prove his proficiency by meeting the most rigid tests of skill, was he permitted to advance to a higher rank in the Craft. Other Master Masons with whom he was set at work at the simpler tasks also were his teachers. He was given Moral instruction; his conduct was carefully scrutinized; many rules were laid down to control his manner of life. When we read the Old Charges and ancient documents that have come down to us, we are impressed by the amount of space devoted to apprentices. The Operative Masons knew that the Apprentice of today made the Master Mason of the future.

As time passed, therefore, there grew up about the rank and duties and regulations of the Apprentice an organized set of customs, ceremonies, rules, traditions, etc. These at last crystallized into a well-defined unit, which we may describe as the Operative Entered Apprentice Degree. When, after the Reformation, Operative Masonry was transformed into Speculative Masonry, the Entered Apprentice Degree was retained as one of the Degrees of the Speculative Lodge, modified, of course, to meet the needs of the Speculative Fraternity.

As an Entered Apprentice you are a learner, a beginner in Speculative Masonry. You have taken the first steps in the mastery of our art. And it is because you have this rank that certain things are expected of you.

First, you must learn certain portions of the Degree, so as to prove your proficiency in open Lodge. But you are to learn these parts not merely to pass this test; you should master them so thoroughly that they will remain with you throughout life, because you will have need of them many times in the future.

Second, you must learn the laws, rules, and regulations; by which, an Entered Apprentice is governed.

As you stood in the northeast corner of the Lodge during your initiation, you were taught a certain lesson concerning a cornerstone. The meaning of that lesson should now be clear to you.

You are a cornerstone of the Craft. The day will probably come when, into your hands, will fall your share of the responsibilities of the Lodge. You are a cornerstone on which the fraternity is being erected.

It is our hope and expectation that you will prove a solid foundation, true and tried, set foursquare on which our great Fraternity may safely build.

An Interpretation

The Masonic lodge room is represented in the Ritual as a symbol of the world. The particular form in which this symbol is cast harks back to early times when men believed the earth to be square and the sky a solid dome; but while this no longer represents our idea of the physical shape of the world, the significance remains the same.

The world thus represented is the world of Masonry; the Masonic career, from beginning to end, including all that lies in between. The west gate through which the candidate is ushered into Masonic life; the old life with all its accessories, has dropped from him completely. He now enters on a new life in a new world.

Masonry is systematic, well proportioned, balanced. Duties and work are supervised and regulated, controlled through laws written and unwritten, expressed through Landmarks, traditions, usages, Constitutions and By-laws, guided and directed through officers vested with power and authority; when he follows his guide and fears not what man can do, he expresses his trust in, and loyalty to, the Fraternity.

The new world is a lawful world in which caprice and arbitrariness have no part. It has a definite nature, is devoted to specified purposes, committed to well-defined aims and ideals. Its members cannot make it over to suit their own whims or to conform to their own purposes; they must make themselves over to conform to it's requirements. One should not become a Master Mason in order to become a lodge member; he should become a member in order to become a real Master Mason. Among the first requirements of the apprentice is that he shall offer himself as a rough stone to be shaped under Masonic laws and influences for a place in the temple of Masonry.

This world of Masonry is dedicated to Brotherhood. Unless the Apprentice is willing and qualified to lead the brotherly life he will never master the Royal Art. Unless he is willing, in all sincerity, to abide by his obligations and the laws, which define, regulate, and control the brotherly life, he will be out of harmony with the Fraternity, unable to find a foothold in the world he seeks to enter. All of our Ritual, symbols, emblems, allegories and ceremonies, in the richness and variety of their meaning, point in the same direction. Unless an Apprentice understands and accepts them, he will fail to comprehend Masonic teaching.

In his first degree, an Apprentice takes his first step into this, and leaves the darkness, destitution and helplessness of the profane world for the light and warmth of this new existence. This is the great meaning of this degree; it is not an idle formality, but a genuine experience, the beginning of a new career in which duties, rights and privileges are real. If a candidate is not to be an Apprentice in name only, he must stand ready to do the work upon his own nature that will make him a different man. Members are called craftsmen because they are workmen; Lodges are quarries because they are scenes of toil. Freemasonry offers no privileges or rewards except to those who earn them; it places Working Tools, not playthings, in the hands of its members.

To become a Mason is a solemn and serious undertaking.

Once the step is taken, it may well change the course of a man's life.

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Last modified: March 22, 2014