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 ...

[What is Freemasonry] [Leadership Development] [Education] [Masonic Talks] [Masonic Magazines Online]
Articles] [Masonic Books Online] [E-Books] [Library Of All Articles] [Masonic Blogs] [Links]
What is New] [Feedback]

 Masonic quotes by Brothers

Search Website For

Add To Favorites

Help Me Maintain OUR Website!!!!!!

List of Contributors

PDF This File

Print This Page

Email This Site To ...


by Keith F. Walker
from: South Dakota Lodge of Masonic Research, Masonic Papers, Volume 4 – 2002, Pages 25 – 37.

The following are partial transcriptions of lectures that appeared in Albert Mackey’s Masonic Ritualist and have been compiled here.

Lecture on the First Degree

Lecture on the Second Degree

Lecture on the Third Degree

A Lecture on the First Degree

The First Degree, or that of the Entered Apprentice, is intended in its symbolic signification to furnish a representation of youth just entering on the struggles, the trials, and duties of an earthly and responsible existence.  On his first admission into the Lodge, the candidate is reminded of the weak and helpless state of man on his entrance into the world; unprepared for the exigencies of the present, ignorant of the vicissitudes of the future, and dependent for his safety and very existence on that God in whom alone, in all trials and difficulties, is there any sure and abiding trust.

And as the youth is prepared by a useful and virtuous education for his journey through life, so the apprentice obtains in this Degree those first instructions whereon to erect his future moral and Masonic Edifice.  He now receives the elementary details of that universal language in which hereafter he is to converse with his brethren of all natures, so as to understand and be understood by Masons of every tongue and dialect under the sun.

He is directed to take, as a staff and scrip for his journey, a knowledge of all the virtues that expand the heart and dignify the soul.  Secrecy, obedience, humility, trust in God, purity of conscience, economy of time, are all inculcated by symbolic ceremonies too impressive in their character to be forgotten.  And, lastly, as charity the chief corner stone of all the Masonic virtues, the beauty and holiness of the attribute are depicted in emblematic modes which no spoken language could equal.

The Degree of the Apprentice is, in short, one of probation and preparation for a more advanced position, and more exalted privileges and duties.

In the symbolic science of Masonry, the LODGE is often represented as a symbol of life.  In this case, Lodge labor becomes the symbol of the labor of life, its duties, trials, and temptations, and the Mason is the type of the laborer and actor in that life.  The lodge, is then, at the time of the reception of an Entered Apprentice, a symbol of the world, and the initiation is a type of new life upon which the candidate is about to enter.

There he stands without our portals, on the threshold of this new Masonic life, in darkness, helplessness, and ignorance.  Having been wandering amid the errors and covered over with the pollutions of the outer and profane world, he comes inquiringly to our doors, seeking the new birth, and asking a withdrawal of the veil which conceals divine truth from his uninitiated sight.  And here, as Moses at the burning bush, the solemn admonition is given, “Put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.”

There is much analogy between the preparation of the candidate in Masonry and the preparation for entering the temple, as practiced among the ancient Israelites.  The Talmudic treatise entitled “Beracoth” prescribes the regulation in these words:  “No man shall enter into the Lord’s house with his staff [an offensive weapon], nor with his outer garments, nor with shoes on his feet, nor with money in his purse.”

In the Ancient Mysteries the aspirant was always kept for a certain period of time in a condition of darkness.  Hence darkness became a symbol of initiation.  Applied to Masonic symbolism, it is intended to remind the candidate of his ignorance, which Masonry is to enlighten; of his evil nature, which Masonry is to purify; of the world in whose obscurity he has been wandering, and from which Masonry is to rescue him.

Ceremonial Preparations surround him, all of a significant character, to indicate to him that some great change is about to take place in his moral and intellectual condition.  There is to be, not simply a change for the future, but also an extinction of the past; for initiation is, as it were, a death to the world and a resurrection to a new life.

In the ancient initiations the candidate was never permitted to enter on the threshold of the Temple or Sacred Cavern in which the ceremonies were to be conducted, until by the most solemn warning he had been impressed with the necessity of caution, secrecy and fortitude.

By the symbolism of the Shock of Entrance, the world is left behind.  It is a symbol of the disruption of the candidate from the ties of the world, and its introduction into the life of Masonry.  It is the symbol of the agonies of the first death and the throes of the new birth.

As Masons we are taught never to commence any great or important undertaking, without first invoking the blessing of Deity.  At the initiation of a candidate it is, therefore, usual to make use of a Prayer.  A belief in God constitutes the sole creed of a Mason – at least, the only creed that he is required to profess.

The Rites of Circumambulation is the name given to that observance in all the religious ceremonies of antiquity, which consisted in a procession around the altar or some sacred object.  Thus, in Greece, the priests and the people, when engaged in their sacrificial rites, always walked three times around the altar while singing a sacred hymn.  Macrobius tells us that this ceremony has a reference to the motion of the heavenly bodies.  Hence, in making this procession around the altar, great care was taken to move in imitation of the apparent course of the sun.

The Lodge represents the world; the three principal officers represent the sun in his three principal positions: At rising, at meridian, and at setting.  The Circumambulation, therefore, alludes to the apparent course of the solar orb, through these points, around the world.

During the Circumambulation Psalm 133 is read.  The great teaching of this Psalm is brotherly love, that virtue which is the most prominent tenet of the Masonic order.  It is felt that Psalm 133 is intended to represent the exultation of the Priests and Levites returning from the captivity at Babylon and again united in the service of God in the Sanctuary.

Fault has been found with the Rite of Masonry because it perpetuates the error of furnishing the Temple of Solomon with three gates…one at the south, one at the west, and one at the east.  While in truth there was but one gate to the Temple, and that was in the porch at the east end.

It is not pretended, that because Masonry has adopted the temple at Jerusalem as the groundwork or elementary form of all its symbols, a Lodge is therefore ever expected, except in a symbolic sense, to be a representation of the Temple.  On the contrary, the very situation of a Lodge is the exact reverse of that of the Temple.  The entrance of the former is at the west, that of the latter was at the east.  The most holy place in a Lodge is its eastern end, that of the Temple was its western extremity.

The Circumambulation and the three supposed gates are symbolic of the progress of every man in his journey in search of truth, the great object of all Masonic labor, and of the embarrassments and obstructions that he must meet with in that search.

The duty of an Entered Apprentice is embraced by the virtues of Silence and Secrecy.

In all the Ancient Mysteries, the same reluctance to commit the esoteric instructions of the Hierophants to writing is apparent and hence the secret knowledge taught in their initiations was preserved in symbols, the true meaning of which was closely concealed from the profane.

The material Light which sprung forth at the fiat (order) of the Grand Architect, which darkness and chaos were dispersed, has ever been, in Masonry, a favorite symbol of that intellectual illumination which it is the object of the order to create in the minds of its disciples.  This mental illumination – this Spiritual Light, which, after his new birth, is the first demand of the candidate, is but another name for Divine Truth – the Truth of God and the soul – which constitute the chief design of all Masonic teachings.

back to top

A Lecture on the Second Degree

The symbolism of the Second Degree essentially differs from that of the First.  If the First Degree was typically of the period of youth, the Second is emblematic of the stage of manhood.  Here new duties and increased obligations to their performance press upon the individual.  The lessons of wisdom and virtue which he has received in youth, are now to produce their active fruits; the talent which was lent, is now to be returned with usury (interest).  Hence, as the Fellow Craft’s Degree is intended to represent this thinking and working period of life, it necessarily assumes a more important position in the Masonic scale, and is invested with a more dignified ritual, and a more extensive series of instructions.  Here it is that the preparatory lessons which were obtained in the First Degree are to be enlarged and enforced.

Man was not intended for physical labor only.  There are more exalted tasks to which the possession of mind has called him.  Endowed by his Creator with the possession of reason and intellect, it is his duty, and should be his pleasure, to direct the vigor and energy of his manhood to the cultivation of his reasoning faculties and the improvement of his intellectual powers.

Hence, the Fellow Craft’s Degree, as a type of this state of manhood, is particularly devoted to science.  The mind of the recipient is fixed, by the nature of its ritual, upon the wonders of nature and art.  The attention is particularly directed to the Liberal Arts and Sciences, with whose principles the candidate is charged to become familiar, that he may be enabled to occupy with honor to himself, and with profit to his fellow creatures, his allotted place in the great structure of human society.

Masonry, in its character as an Operative art, is familiar to every one.  As such, it is engaged in the application of the rules of architecture to the construction of public edifices.  It, of course, abounds in the use of technical terms, and makes use of implements and materials which are unique to itself.  It is the popular theory, that the Operative Masons were the founders of the system of Speculative Masonry, in which they applied the language and ideas of their art of building to a spiritual and religious sense.  Hence, Speculative Masonry is nothing more or less, in this aspect, than a symbolization of Operative Masonry.

The theory is, that at first Operative Masonry existed simply as an art of building.  Then the Operative Masons, with the assistance of learned and pious men, invented the speculative science, or Freemasonry, and then each became an integral part of one undivided system.  However, there was never a time when every Operative Mason, without exception, was acquainted with or initiated into the speculative science.  Even now there are thousands of skilled stone-masons who know nothing of the symbolic meaning of the implements they employ; but Operative Masonry was at first, and is even now, the skeleton upon which was strung the nerves and muscles of the living system of Free and Speculative Masonry.

Speculative Masonry, now known as Freemasonry, is, therefore, the scientific application and the religious consecration of the rules and principles, the technical language and the implements and the materials, of Operative Masonry to the worship of God as the Great Architect of the Universe, and to the purification of the heart and the inculcation of the dogmas of a religious philosophy.  And, as the original union of the operative and speculative branches of the system is traditionally supposed to have taken place at the building of the Temple at Jerusalem by King Solomon, more attention is paid in the symbolism of that edifice than to any other.

Although the legend of the Winding Stairs forms an important tradition of ancient Craft Masonry, the only allusion to it in scripture is to be found in a single verse in the sixth chapter of the First Book of Kings, and is, in these words” “The door for the middle chamber was in the right side of the house; and they went up with winding stairs into the middle chamber, and out of the middle into the third.”  Out of this slender material has been constructed an allegory, which, if properly considered in its symbolic relations, will be found to be of surpassing beauty.  But it is only as a symbol that we can regard this whole tradition, for the historical facts and the legend, as it is rehearsed in the Second Degree of Masonry, is anything more than a magnificent philosophical myth.

In the investigation of the true meaning of every Masonic symbol and allegory, we must be governed by the single principle that the whole design of Freemasonry as a speculative science is the investigation of divine truth.  To this great object everything is subsidiary.  The Mason is, from the moment of his initiation as an Entered Apprentice, to the time at which he receives the full fruition of Masonic light, an investigator – a laborer in the quarry and the temple – whose reward is to be truth, and all the ceremonies and traditions of the order tend to this ultimate design.

Hence, there is in Speculative Masonry always a progress, symbolized by its unique ceremonies of initiation.  There is an advancement from a lower to a higher state – from darkness to light - from death to life – from error to truth.  The candidate is always ascending; he is never stationary; never goes back; but each step he takes brings him to some new mental illumination – to the knowledge of some more elevated doctrine.  The teaching of the Divine Master is, in respect to this continual progress, the teaching of Masonry – “No man having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of heaven -” and similar to this is the precept of Pythagoras: “When traveling, turn not back, for if you do, the furies will accompany you.”

The Apprentice, having entered within the Porch of the Temple, has begun his Masonic life.  But the First Degree in Masonry, like the lesser mysteries of the ancient systems of initiation, is only a preparation and purification for something higher.  The Entered Apprentice is the child of Masonry.  The lessons which he receives are simply intended to cleanse the heart and prepare the recipient for that mental illumination which is to be given in the succeeding Degrees.

As a Fellow Craft, he has advanced another step, and as the Degree is emblematic of youth, so it is here that the intellectual education of the candidate begins.  And therefore, here, at the very spot which separates the Porch from the Sanctuary, where childhood ends and manhood begins, he finds stretching out before him a Winding Stair which invites him, as it were, to ascend, and which, as the symbol of discipline and instruction, teaches him that here must commence his Masonic labor.

The Winding Stairs begin after the candidate has passed within the Porch and between the Pillars of Strength and Establishment, as a significant symbol to teach him that as soon as he had passed beyond the years of irrational childhood, and commenced his entrance into manly life, the laborious task of self-improvement is the first duty that is placed before him.

The candidate, then, in the Second Degree of Masonry, represents a man starting forth on the journey of life, with the great task before him of self-improvement.  For the faithful performance of this task, a reward is promised, which reward consists in the development of all his intellectual faculties, the moral and spiritual elevation of his character, and the acquisition of truth and knowledge.  Now, the attainment of this moral and intellectual condition supposes an elevation of character, an ascent from a lower to a higher life, and a passage of toil and difficulty, through rudimentary instruction, to the full fruition of Wisdom.

This is therefore beautiful symbolized by the Winding Stairs, at whose foot the aspirant stands ready to climb the toilsome step, while at its top is placed “that hieroglyphic light” as the emblem of Divine Truth.  The candidate, easer for the reward of truth is set before him, begins at once the toilsome ascent.  At each division he pauses to gather instruction from the symbolism which these divisions present to his attention.

At the first pause, which he makes, he is instructed in the organization of the Order.  The reference to the organization of Masonic institution is intended to remind the aspirant of the union of men in society and the development of the social state out of the state of nature.  He is thus reminded of the blessings which arise from civilization, and the fruits of virtue and knowledge which are derived from that condition.

Advancing, the candidate is invited to contemplate another series of instructions.  The Human Senses, as the appropriate channels through which we receive all our ideas of perception, and which, therefore, constitute the most important sources of our knowledge, are here referred to as a symbol of intellectual cultivation.

Architecture, as the most important of the arts which conduce to the comfort of mankind, is also alluded to here, not simply because it is so closely connected with the operative institution of Masonry, but also as the type of all other useful arts.  In his second pause, the aspirant is therefore reminded of the necessity of cultivating practical knowledge.

In his third pause, he arrives at that point in which the whole circle of human science is to be explained.  Symbols are in themselves arbitrary and of conventional significance.  Masonry is an institution of the olden time; and this selection of the Liberal Arts and Sciences as a symbol of the completion of human learning is one of the most pregnant evidences that we have of its antiquity.

In the seventh century, and for a long time afterward, the circle of instruction to which all the learning of the most eminent schools and the most distinguished philosophers was confined to the liberal arts and sciences, and consisted of two branches, the Trivium and the Quadrivium.  The Trivium included grammar, rhetoric, and logic; and the Quadrivium comprehended arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy.

The Seven Heads were supposed to include universal knowledge.  He who was master of these was thought to have no need of a preceptor to explain any books or to solve any questions which lay within the compass of human reason; the knowledge of the Trivium having furnished him with the key to all language, and that of the Quadrivium having opened to him the secret laws of nature.

The candidate, having reached this point, is now supposed to have accomplished the task upon which he has entered – he has reached the last step, and is now ready to receive the full fruition of human learning.

So far, we are able to comprehend the true symbolism of the Winding Stairs.  They represent the progress of an inquiring mind with the toils and labors of intellectual cultivation and study, and the preparatory acquisition of all human science, as a preliminary step to the attainment of divine truth, which it must be remembered is always symbolized in Masonry by the Word.

But we are not yet done.  It will be remembered that a reward was promised for all this toilsome ascent of the Winding Stairs.  Now, what are the wages of a Speculative Mason?  Not money, nor wine, nor oil.  All these are but symbols.  His wages are truth, ot that approximation to it which will be most appropriate to the Degree into which he has been initiated.

It is one of the most beautiful, but at the same time most abstruse (mysterious), doctrines of the science of Masonic symbolism, that the Mason is ever to be in search of truth, but is never to find it.  And this is intended to teach the humiliating lesson, that the knowledge of the nature of God and man’s relation to Him, which knowledge constitutes Divine Truth, can never be acquired in this life.  It is only when the portals of the grave open to us, and give us entrance into a more perfect life, that this knowledge is to be attained.

The Middle Chamber is, therefore, symbolic of life, where only the symbol of the Word can be given, where only the truth is to be reached by approximation, and yet where we are to learn that that truth will consist in perfect knowledge of the Grand Architect of the Universe.  This is the reward of the inquiring Mason; in this consists the Wages of a Fellow Craft: he is directed to the truth, but must travel farther and ascend still higher to attain it.

back to top

A Lecture on the Third Degree

If the First Degree is intended as a representation of youth, and the Second of manhood, the Third, or Master Mason, is emblematic of old age, with its trials, its sufferings and its final termination in death.  The time of toiling is over, the opportunity to learn has passed away; the spiritual temple that we all have been striving to erect in our hearts is now nearly completed, and the wearied workman awaits only the word of the Grand Master of the Universe, to call him from the labors of earth to the eternal refreshments of Heaven.  Hence, this is by far the most solemn and impressive of the degrees of Masonry; and it has, in consequence of the profound truths which it inculcates, been distinguished by the craft as the “sublime” Degree.

As an Entered Apprentice, the Mason was taught those elementary instructions which were to fit him for further advancement in his profession, just as the youth is supplied with that rudimentary education which is to prepare him for entering on the active duties of life.  As a Fellow Craft, the Mason is directed to continue his investigation in the science of the institution, and to labor diligently in the tasks it prescribes, just as the man is required to enlarge his mind by the acquisition of new ideas, and to extend his usefulness to his fellow creatures.  But, as a Mason, the Mason is taught the last, most important, and the most necessary of truths, that having been faithful to all his trusts. He is at last to die, and to receive the rewards of his fidelity.

It was the single object of all the ancient rites and mysteries practiced in the very bosom of pagan darkness, shinning as a solitary beacon in all that surrounding gloom, and cheering the philosopher in his wearing pilgrimage of life, to teach the immortality of the soul.  This is still the great design of the Third Degree of Masonry.  This is the scope and aim of its ritual.

The Master Mason represents man, when young, manhood, old age, and life itself have passed away as fleeting shadows, yet raised from the grave of iniquity, and quickened into another and a better existence.  By its legend and all its ritual, it is implied that we have been redeemed from death of sin and the sepulcher of pollution.

The important design of the Third Lecture is to symbolize the great doctrines of the resurrection of the body and the immortality of the soul.  The lecture is divided into three sections.

The Compasses are particularly consecrated to this degree, because within their extreme points, when properly extended, are symbolically said to be enclosed the principal tenets of our profession, and hence the moral application of the compasses, in the Third Degree, is to those precious Jewels of a Master Mason: friendship, morality, and brotherly love.

The second section of this Degree recites the legend on which the Degree is founded.  The idea of the legend was undoubtedly borrowed from the Ancient Mysteries, where the lesson was the same as that now conveyed here.

Again is the lesson taught here, as it was in the First Degree, that a Mason should enter upon no great and important labor without first invoking the blessing of Deity.  But the symbolism here is still further extended, and the candidate, representing one who is about to enter upon the pilgrimage of life, and all its dangers and temptations, first is supposed to lay down upon his trestle board the designs for labor, of honest ambition, or of virtuous pleasure upon which he is about to enter, and then to invoke the protection and blessing of the Grand Architect of the Universe upon his future career.  For the temple builder, Hiram Abiff, is, in the Masonic system, the symbol of humanity developed here and in the life to come; and as the temple is the visible symbol of the world, its architect becomes the mythical symbol of man, the dweller and worker in the world, and his progress by the gates is the allegory of man’s pilgrimage through youth, manhood and old age, to the final triumph death and the grave.

The number 12 was celebrated as a mystical number in the ancient systems of sun-worship, of which it has already been said that Masonry is a philosophical development.  The number there referred to the twelve signs of the Zodiac, and in those Masonic rites in which Hiram is made the symbol of the sun, the twelve Fellow Craft refer to the twelve signs in which alone the sun is to be sought for.  But in the York Rite this symbolism is lost, because Hiram there represents man, and not the sun.  but the ancient number has still been preserved.

Portal says the number twelve was a perfect and complete number.  The number 13 indicated the commencement of a new course of life, and thence it became the emblem of death.  The number twelve has always been considered as a sacred number.

Joppa, which the Hebrews called Japho, and is now known as Jaffa, was and is a sea port town and harbor on the coast of Palestine, about forty miles in “a westerly direction” from Jerusalem.  At the same time of the building of the temple it was the only sea-port possessed by the Israelites, and was therefore the point through which all passage out of or into the country was affected.

The small hill near Mount Moriah can be clearly identified by the most convincing analogies as being no other than Mount Calvary.  Thus Mount Calvary was a small hill; it was situated in a westerly direction from the Temple, and near Mount Moriah; it was on the direct road from Jerusalem to Joppa, and is thus the very spot where a weary brother, traveling on that road, would find it convenient to sit down and refresh himself; it was outside of the gate of the Temple; and lastly, there were several caves, or clefts in the rocks, in the neighborhood, one of which, it will be remembered, was, subsequently used as the sepulcher of our Lord.

The sprig of acacia is an important symbol in Freemasonry.  The plant is known to botanists as the “acacia vera” of Tournefort and the “mimosa nilotica” of Linnaeus.  It is an evergreen that grows in great abundance in the vicinity of Jerusalem.  It’s always esteemed as a sacred tree by the Israelites.  The tabernacle and the furniture, with the Ark of the Covenant, were made out of it, and it was consecrated from among the other trees of the forest, to sacred purposes.

As a symbol, it received, among the ancients, three interpretations:

  1. In consequence of its incorruptible and evergreen nature, it was readily adapted as a symbol of the    immortality of the soul.
  2. In allusion to the derivation of its name, among Greeks, from a word which signifies “freedom from sin,” it was also adopted as a symbol of innocence.
  3. Like all the other sacred plants, such as the myrtle, the mistletoe, and the lotus, which were used in the ancient mysteries, it became a symbol of initiation.

The three interpretations combined teach us, by the use of this one symbol, that in the initiation of life and earth, of which the initiation in the third degree is simply emblematic, innocence must for a time lie in the grave – at length, however, to be called by the Grand Master of all things to immortality.

There is a Masonic tradition, that the Jewel of an Ancient Grand Master – and the one therefore always worn by Hiram – was the Square and Compasses, with the letter “G” between.  The letter “G” is merely a modern substitution for the Hebrew letter “yod,” which was the initial of Jehovah, the Tetragrammaton, and therefore constantly used as a symbol of Deity.

The Five-Pointed Star has been adopted, in very recent times, as a Masonic Symbol.  Differing, as it does, entirely from the Blazing Star, which in the First Degree refers to Divine Providence, it is consecrated, in the Third Degree, as a symbol of the Five Points of Fellowship.

Among the Jews, as, indeed, among all other civilized nations, it was considered not only an act to decency and humanity, but a religious obligation, to bury and pay honors to the dead.  The bier was followed by mourners, who poured out the anguish of their hearts in lamentable wails, and who rehearsed the virtues of the departed, and expressed the sorrow of the survivors.

The Mosaic Law which related to defilement by dead bodies, rendered it necessary that none should be buried near sacred places, nor even within the limits of cities, except in the case of kings and very distinguished men.  The strictness of the religious code against pollution would however, forbid that even these should be interred in the neighborhood of a temple or sanctuary.

As far as the era of Abraham, sepulchral monuments are mentioned.  The ancient Arabians erected a heap of stones over the dead; but as among the Hebrews such a heap was an indication that the body beneath had been stoned to death, the latter nation, therefore, confined their monuments to a single stone, which it was usual carefully to hew and to ornament with inscriptions.

Although among the early Jews the burning of the body was esteemed disgraceful, the sentiment of the people was subsequently changed, and to burn the body with aromatic spices, and deposit the ashes in an urn, was considered, in the days of King Solomon, as a distinguished manor.

back to top

[What is Freemasonry] [Leadership Development] [Education] [Masonic Talks] [Masonic Magazines Online]
Articles] [Masonic Books Online] [E-Books] [Library Of All Articles] [Masonic Blogs] [Links]
What is New] [Feedback]

This site is not an official site of any recognized Masonic body in the United States or elsewhere.
It is for informational purposes only and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinion
of Freemasonry, nor webmaster nor those of any other regular Masonic body other than those stated.

DEAD LINKS & Reproduction | Legal Disclaimer | Regarding Copyrights

Last modified: March 22, 2014