The Masonic Trowel

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You have now had conferred upon you the First and Second Degrees of Ancient Craft Masonry.  And while you have yet to reach the climax of your journey in the Sublime Degree of a Master Mason, already you have discovered that Freemasonry has a certain teaching of its own, and to expound on this is one of the principal functions of the Ritual.

You have likewise discovered that Masonry's method of teaching is unlike that of the schools.  Instead of employing teachers and textbooks and lessons in didactic form, expounding its teaching in words, Freemasonry uses Ritual, symbol, and allegory.  This is not as easy to follow as the schoolroom method, but has this great advantage; it makes a Mason study and learn for himself, forces him to search out the truth, compels him to take the initiative, so that the very act of learning is of educational value.  The purpose of secrecy is not to keep a candidate in the dark, but to stimulate him to seek the light; the symbols and emblems do not conceal the teaching, they reveal it, but in such a manner that a man must find it for himself.  Only when a man finds truth for himself is it likely to remain a permanent possession.

A few interpretations of Masonic teachings can only suggest what you will find by your own efforts, how you will find it, and where.  Necessarily there can be no exhaustive exposition of Masonic truth, because in its nature it is something each man must discover for himself.

Freemasonry is devoted to Brotherhood, exists to furnish opportunities to its members to enjoy it not only for its own sake but as a means to something beyond.  Brotherhood rests on a religious basis; we are all brothers because God is the Father of us all; therefore religion is one of the foundations of Masonry.

Masonry is  dedicated to God, the Great Architect of the Universe.  An altar at the center of every Lodge room bears the Holy Bible open upon it.  Lodges begin and end their meetings with prayer.  When Freemasonry obligates a candidate he must be upon his knees.  Petitioners must believe in God.  All this is genuine religion, not a formal religiousness; it is sincerely held and scrupulously upheld, and without this basic the Craft would wither and die like a tree with roots destroyed.

But this religion of Masonry, like all its teachings, is not set forth in written creeds; the Mason must come upon it for himself, and put it in such form as will satisfy his own mind, leaving others to do likewise.  This is Masonic tolerance, one of the prime principles of the Craft, and protected by the Old Charge which forbids all sectarian discussion in our assemblies.

Masonry teaches the necessity of morality, requiring its member to be good men and true, righteous when tried by the Square, upright when tried by the Plumb, their passions kept in due bounds by the Compass; just in their dealings with their fellows, patient with the erring, charitable, honorable.  A candidate must possess such a character as indicated to be qualified for admittance, and a Mason must persevere in it to retain his right to membership.

Through the agency of the Lodge and of the Grand Lodge each of us gives support to the charities maintained by both.  Also each of us should privately extend a helping hand in relief of an unfortunate brother, or of his dependents.  Masonry does not advocate a charity carried to the limits of fanaticism; it is limited by the extent of ability and opportunity, and we are not asked to give relief to the injury of ourselves or hardship to our families.

Another of Masonry's great teachings is Equity, symbolized by the Level.  This does not represent that doctrine which would erase all distinctions.  There are no duplicates in Nature.  Equity is, rather, the principle that we owe good will, charity, tolerance, and truthfulness equally to all, and that within our Fraternity all men travel the same road of initiation, take the same obligations, pay the same dues, and have the same duties, rights and privileges.

The Mason is a good citizen, loyal to his government and just to his country, conducting himself as a wise and moral man, remembering in all things that he has in his keeping the good name of his Fraternity.

These teachings are bound together in an organic unity by the nature and needs of the Brotherhood for the sake of which the whole system of the Craft exists.  To endure through all vicissitudes, and to satisfy our natures, Brotherhood must have a spiritual basis, hence the importance of our conception of religion.  Brotherhood requires that men must be held together by unbreakable ties, hence the necessity for morality, which is a name for the forces that bind us together in ethical relations.  Differences in beliefs and opinions must not rupture these bonds, hence the need for tolerance.  Men cannot easily come together except when they have the same rights and privileges, hence the necessity of equality.  They cannot work together unless all understand the work to be done, hence the need of enlightenment.  They will not be drawn together unless they are filled with that spirit of good will which necessarily expresses itself in charity and relief.  And Brotherhood cannot exist except in a nation which admits of it, hence the need for Masons to be good citizens.  Through all the teachings of Masonry run these principles which lead back to the conception and practice of Brotherhood; from the conception all teachings emerge, to it all come in the end.  Gain a clear understanding of that and you will have that secret by which all else is made plain.

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You have been raised to the Sublime Degree of a Master Mason.  It is indeed a "sublime" Degree, which a man may study for years without exhausting.

Any interpretation must necessarily be a hint only; yet a hint may stimulated man to reflect upon it for himself and to study it more thoroughly in the future.

In the First and Second Degrees you were surrounded by the symbols and emblems of architecture; in the Third Degree you found a different order of symbolism, cast in the language of the soul--its life, its tragedy and its triumph.  To recognize this is the first step in interpretation.

The second step is to recognize that the Third Degree has many meanings; it is not intended to be a lesson, complete within itself, but rather a pointing out of paths, a new department, a series of inspiration, like a great symphony, drama or picture to which one may evermore return to find new meanings, new beauties and new truths.

There are many interpretations of the Degree; but essentially .it is a drama of immortality of the soul, setting forth the truth that while a man's body withers away and perishes, the man, himself, perishes not.

That this is the meaning most generally adopted by the Craft is shown by our habits of language; we say that a man is "initiated", an Entered Apprentice; "passed", a Fellow Craft; and "raised", a Master Mason.  By this it appears that it is the raising that most Masons have found at the center of the Master Mason's Degree.

Evil in the form of tragedy is set forth in the drama of the Third Degree.  Here is a good and wise man, a builder, working for others and giving others work, the highest we know, as it is dedicated wholly to God; a man who through no fault of . his own experiences tragedy from friends and fellow Masons.  Here is evil pure and unhallowed, a complete picture of human tragedy.

How did the craft meet this tragedy?  The first step was to impose the supreme penalty on those who had possessed the will to destroy and therefore had to be destroyed lest another tragedy follow.  The greatest enemy man has makes war upon the good; to it no quarter can be given

The next step was to discipline and to pardon those who acted not out of an evil will, but through weakness were misled.  Forgiveness is possible if a man himself condemns the evil he has done, since in spite of his weakness he retains his faith in the good.

The next step was to recover from the wreckage caused by the tragedy whatever of value it had left undestroyed.  Confusion had come upon the Craft; order was restored.  Loyal Craftsmen took up the burdens dropped by the traitors.  It is in the nature of such a tragedy that the good suffer for the evil of others and it is one of the prime duties of life that a man shall toil to undo the harm wrought by sin and crime, else in time the world would be destroyed by the evils that are done in it.

But what of the victim of the Tragedy.  Here is the profoundest and most difficult lesson of the drama--difficult to understand, difficult to believe if one has not been truly initiated into the realities of the spiritual life.  Because the victim was a good man, his goodness rooted in an unvarying faith in God, that which destroyed him in one sense could not destroy him in another.  The spirit in him rose above the reach of evil; by virtue of it he was raised from a dead level to a living perpendicular.

Let us imagine a genuinely good man who has been the victim of the most terrible of tragedies, one caused by the treachery of friends.  This treachery has brought destruction upon the foundation of his life, his home, his reputation, his ability to earn a livelihood.  How can he be raised above the clutch of such circumstances?  How can he emerge a happier man than before?  By his spirit rising to the level of forgiveness, of resignation, of self-sacrifice, refusing to stoop to retaliation or to harbor bitterness.  In such a spirit the truest happiness is found.

The secret of such a power is in the Third Degree, symbolized by the Word.  If that Word is lost a man must search for it' if a man possesses that word he has the secret of the Masonic Art.  To rise to the height of spiritual life is to stand on a level above the reach of tragedy or the powers of evil.  To have the spirit rest in God, to have a sincere and unvarying faith in truth and goodness, is the inner secret of a Master Mason, to teach which is the purpose of the Third Degree.

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In your experience with the Ritual and your meetings with us, you have learned that every phase, event, and other detail in the ceremonies of initiation is full of meaning.  No item is merely for effect or ornament.  In the Third Degree are the deepest secrets and profoundest teachings of our Fraternity.  At this time we can give you but a hint, in the hope that it may inspire you to study the Degree for yourself.

The symbolism of the First and Second Degrees centers around the art of architecture; Their purpose is to teach you, in the First Degree to be a builder of yourself; in the Second Degree to be a builder of society.  In the Third Degree the symbolism takes another form.  Although its background continues to be architecture, and its actions take place in and about a Temple, it is a spiritual symbolism of life and death, and its principal teaching is immortality.

Frequent references are made to King Solomon's Temple.

This great temple reflecting majesty, magnitude, and magnificence, after standing for 420 years, was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar of the Chaldees.  Its successor, erected by Zerubbabel, stood nearly 500 years, when it was reconstructed by Herod-- The Temple of Herod--which was destroyed by the Romans under Titus.  The Mosque of Omar, occupying the original site, has stood for twelve centuries.  These thirty centuries have produced great changes but the foundations remain unmoved.  Each stone, immense and artistic, may be identified by the private mark of the quarryman and still defies the ravages of time.

So with Masonry, its foundation, composed of the grandest principles ever communicated from God to man, stand unmoved.  The Temple of Freemasonry symbolizes the Temple of the Soul.  Just as the Temple of King Solomon was then considered the finest ever erected by the hand of man, so the Great Architect intends that we shall develop the finest and most nearly perfect characters.  As certain working tools were employed to-erect that greatest of temporal buildings, so in Speculative Masonry we must choose as our working tools in life those moral lessons that build character.  So may the rough ashlar become in time the perfect ashlar.

The Working Tools of the Degrees are all the implements of Masonry, but more especially the Trowel, by which we spread the cement of Brotherly Love.  But Brotherly Love itself has its source and seat in the soul.  To love a man above his sins, to cherish him in spite of his faults, to forgive him in all sincerity, to bear with him and to forbear, is possible only as we feel the influence of the spiritual, and have divested ourselves of selfishness.

The Tragedy of Hiram Abif is the climax of the Degree.  Next in importance, and in many ways equal in interest, is the allegorical Search For That Which Was Lost.  This has an historical background.  To the early Jewish people a name was something peculiarly identified with a person, and held in reverence.  Sometimes it was secret and a substitute was used in daily life.  All this appears in our Ritual in the form of an allegory.  A Word was possessed; a Word was lost.

Like all symbols, this means many things.  One of its profounder meanings is that if a man has lost the ideals and standards of his youth, his character, his faith in truth and goodness, he must, if he is to live the Masonic life, go in search of that which was lost, and continue searching until he finds it.

You may wonder why the Ritual does not explain fully and clearly the meaning of this symbolism, why it leaves the candidate to find the meaning for himself.  There are at least three reasons for this silence, apparently so strange.  First, lack of sufficient time.  Second, the Masonic life grows by what we do for ourselves, infinitely more than by what others do for us.  The Ritual presupposes that we are grown men, not boys in school, and that each of us does his own thinking.  Third, the method of the Ritual is to bring us into the presence of the greater truths of life knowing that their mere presence will have a deep influence over us; each man is left to work them out in detail according to his own needs.

Of the Emblems of the Third Degree, one after another is set before us, apparently in no given order, and each with only a hint of what it signifies.  Yet each of them stands for some great idea or ideal.  Each of them is a master truth.

In the three Pillars we have the three great ideas-Wisdom, Strength and Beauty.  The three steps remind us of how Youth, Manhood, and Old Age is a unity in itself, each possessing its own duties and problems, each calling for its own philosophy.  The Pot of Incense teaches that, of all forms of worship, to be pure and blameless in our inner lives is more acceptable to God than anything else, because that which a man really is, is of vastly greater importance than that which he appears to be.  The Book of Constitution is the emblem of law, and that our moral and spiritual character is grounded in law and order as much as is government or nature.  It teaches that no man can live a satisfactory life who lives lawlessly.

The sword Pointing to a Naked Heart discovers that one of the most rigorous of these laws is justice, and that if a man be unjust in his heart, the inevitable results of injustice will find him out.  The All Seeing Eye shows that we live and move and have our being in God; that we are constantly in His Presence, wherever or whatever we are doing.

The Anchor and the Ark stand for that sense of security and stability of life grounded in truth and faith, without which sense there can be no happiness.  The Forty-seventh Problem of Euclid is an emblem of the arts and sciences; by them we are reminded that next to sinfulness the most dangerous enemy of life is ignorance.  In the Hour Glass we have the emblem of the fleeting quality of life.  The Scythe reminds us that passing time will end our lives as well as our work, and if ever we are to become what we ought to be, we must not delay.

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You will not find the duties, rights, and privileges of a Master Mason anywhere completely stated and numbered.  They are scattered here and there, some in symbols, others in the form of customs, others in laws.  Some are explicit, others are implied.

A Master Mason's first duty is obviously to live by and act consistently with his obligation.  Unless this is done he cannot perform his other duties, nor can he justly claim his rights and privileges.  With this as a foundation, a number of those duties and rights can be discussed in detail.

Full privileges of membership are established when he is raised to the sublime degree of a Master Mason.  Thereafter he has a right to a voice in the administration of the affairs of the Lodge, to vote, hold office, and demit.

It is a Master Mason's duty, legal and moral, to pay his share of the financial costs of the Fraternity, promptly and ungrudgingly.

He has the right to petition for affiliation under various circumstances in accordance with the provisions of the Code.

Visiting in Lodges in which he does not hold membership is both a right and a privilege, though not a duty. it is a right in the sense that he may seek admittance into any regular Lodge; it is a privilege in the sense that his admission into that Lodge is contingent upon his being vouched for, or examined, if necessary, and being permitted to enter by the Worshipful Master.  If a Mason is not permitted to enter some Lodge at a certain time, the fact does not cancel his right to seek to visit it at another time or to seek to visit any other Lodge.  The right to attempt to visit is indisputable.

Masonic relief, within its proper limitations, is a privilege to be valued, on the one hand, and a responsibility to be recognized, on the other.  The rite of Destitution in the First Degree provides an object lesson that should never be forgotten, and the obligation of the Third Degree contains a still broader definition of the requirements of Masonic relief.

Every affiliated Master Mason has the right to Masonic burial.  In practice his family has the right of requesting this honor.  This right is of more importance than may at first appear.  If without giving cause a Lodge refused to give Masonic burial, the community might naturally infer something reprehensible, known only to the Lodge, and both his name and family would suffer accordingly.

Among the most important of his rights, though exercised under unhappy conditions, is his right of trial by his peers, under regulated conditions, with freedom to present evidence.  This assures him that no Lodge can degrade him without a fair trial.  Neither his Lodge, nor any officer or member, can remove him through malice or spite, nor can he be made to suffer the penalties of Masonry through idle gossip or hearsay.

If he is brought to trial in his own Lodge on charges of unmasonic conduct and found guilty, he has the right of appeal to the Grand Lodge.  This right is his guaranty against possible injustice, more particularly against local prejudice or spiteful persecution by some private enemy.

A Master Mason's rights and privileges are to be described in principle and in spirit rather than in detail.  Beyond all specific duties, rights and privileges exists a region in which a11 are mingled together; the whole domain of Masonry's teachings, her ritual and symbols, her history, her ideals of jurisprudence, her philosophy, her literature, the whole Royal Art.  It is his right to be taught that Art and to have it in its fullness, none of it being reserved for a privileged few.  It is his to enjoy all the privileges it offers to the spirit, the mind, the heart.  All that Freemasonry is, all that it means, all that it has to give or to offer, belongs to every individual Mason in the same way and to the same extent as to all others.  However onerous your duties may prove to be, or however rigidly your rights may at times appear to be regulated, such burdens sink into nothingness by comparison with this one privilege, that Freemasonry in all her height, and breadth, and length, and richness belongs to you to use and enjoy. 

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Ecclesiastes, Chapter 12: 1-7

"Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth,
while the evil days come not nor the years draw nigh,
when thou shalt say I have no pleasure in them."

The lesson here conveyed: Think who made you and for what purpose you were made. Reflect, that a sentient being, you were molded by the hand of God and to him made responsible for the proper use of the faculties with which you have been endowed, for the proper employment of the years, and the acceptance of the opportunities offered during the period of active, vigorous manhood.

"While the evil day come not, nor the years draw nigh,
when thou shalt say I have no pleasure in them."

The grievance of old age, the days of sorrow, the years of pain, when the natural decay of the faculties brings the "ills that flesh is heir to" and ushers in the years of mental and physical decrepitude, when there is no longer any pleasure in life.

"While the Sun, or the light, or the Moon,
or the Stars be not darkended,
nor the clouds return after the rain."

And as the Ecclesiastic continues the imagery, picturing the abiding and increasing infirmities of age, defer not the duties of life to intend accomplishment.

"In the days when the keepers of the house shall tremble,
"And the strong men shall bow themselves"

When the hands and arms that guard and protect this tenement of clay are palsied with old age and we are no longer firm and erect.

"And the grinders cease because they are few,
And those that look out of the windows be darkened.
And the doors shall be shut in the streets."

The teeth now few in number and the eyes which are the windows through which the soul of man looks out are now curtained by the shadow of declining years. The ears lose their activities in old age.

"When the sound of the grinders is low,
And he shall rise up at the voice of the birds,
And all the daughters of music shall be bought low.

The pressing of food upon the toothless gums; The soundness of slumber no longer his, the old man sleeps lightly and rises from restless couch at the crowing of the cock at dawn; The daughters of music are the organs of speech.

"Also, when they sall be afraid of that which is high,
and fear shall be in the way.
And the almond tree shall floursh,
And the grasshopper shall be a burden,
and desire shall fail."

When the dizziness of old age prevents the mounting to high places; The silver hair of old age; no longer able to sustain the lightest weight and sensual desire no longer occurs.

"Because man goeth to his long home,
And the mourners go about the streets"

That undiscovered country from whose bourne no traveler returns; Those who sorrow at his death.

"Or even the silver chord be loosed,
or the golden bow be broken.
Or the pitcher be broken at the fountain,
or the wheel broken at the cistern."

The golden bowl, the head, the silver chord, the spinal column which supports it. Golden and Silver denote the preciousness of man's life and nature. The wheel the heart, the pitcher the great vessels which pour blood into the arterial system.

"Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was,
and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it."

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approval, commendation or praise; a  formal or official act of approval

Brute creation

animals at their birth; anything non-human in its infancy


comes apart from; separates into distinct parts; divides; to part or split especially along a natural line or division


a decline of mental faculties associated with old age; a state or period of senile decay marked by decline of mental poise and alertness


ambitious rivalry; ambition or desire to equal or excel others in achievement


an authoritative decree, sanction or order; a command or act of will that creates  something without, or as if without, further effort; an arbitrary decree or order


100 oxen or cattle (in ancient Greece a public sacrifice of 100 oxen to the gods in thanks for some great discovery, event or victory)


stain; soak; drench


a warning, order, direction or instruction


an order of angels; one of the 6-winged angels standing in the presence of God


theoretical rather than practical; involving, or based on, intellectual questioning and curiosity; marked by meditating or pondering on a subject


lofty, grand or exalted in thought; expression or manner; of outstanding spiritual, intellectual or moral worth; tending to inspire awe


enthusiasm; diligence; eagerness and great interest in pursuit of something



a secret vote by balls and cubes or in writing


not recognized by the Grand Lodge


a Lodge chartered by, or under dispensation from, a Grand Lodge


a document, bearing the seal of a Lodge and attested to by the Secretary, terminating membership

Fraternal Intercourse

activities that promote fraternalism in constituent Lodges or Masonic Youth Orders and are not prohibited by this Code

In Good Standing

when dues are current

Masonic Association

a group of Masons with common employment or profession and with a membership of not less than 25 Master Masons of this jurisdiction; in good standing

Masonic Clothing

white aprons

Masonic Intercourse

any communication involving the esoteric or secret portion of the ritual

Masonic Organizations

any group, chapter, order, club, association or organization requiring Masonic affiliation as a prerequisite to membership, except Masonic Lodges

Masonic Regalia

aprons, jewels, implements and hats appropriate to one's station or office

Masonic Youth Orders

International Order of the Rainbow for Girls

International Order of Job's Daughters

International Order of DeMolay


a call issued by the Secretary, by order of the Lodge or Master, or by other competent authority to attend or perform as specified

Summons an imperative order issued by the Master, and attested to by the Secretary, or by other competent authority, to appear as specified; a trial summons is one issued for the purpose of answering Masonic charges

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Last modified: March 22, 2014