THE APPROACH TO FREEMASONRY (Part II)
by W.Bro. R.A.L. HARLAND, P.M. Lodge No. 1679, President of the Circle.
"Through wisdom is an house builded; and by understanding it is established." (Proverbs xxiv, 3)
The problems of continuity are among the most baffling of those which beset the Masonic student. It is quite certain, as W. Bro. Culham intimates, that before the Grand Lodge formation in 1717 the Second Degree in its present form did not exist, and the compilation of the ceremony of Passing, belongs to that nebulous transitional period during which the ancient principles of our mystical science were reduced to the familiar trigradal system. It is also the fact that at one time and in some Lodges the work now comprising the Degree of Mark Master Mason constituted part of the Second Degree, as it still does in Scotland, and was in a similar position in relation to the Second Degree as the Royal Arch is as the extension and completion of the Third Degree. By the Act of Union between the two Grand Lodges of English Masons in 1813, it was solemnly declared that "pure Ancient Masonry" consisted of "three Degrees only, including the Royal Arch", the Mark work being thus eliminated by the consent of both sections of the Craft in England. In 1856 an attempt was made to restore the Mark to the Craft Degrees, but this was ruled out by the United Grand Lodge of England on the grounds that to do so would infringe the express terms of the Act of Union and the Constitutions which every Master of a Lodge is pledged to observe. The merits of the Mark Degree are so high that the regret of many Brethren is not surprising: moreover, the Mark work retains the dramatic elements which are lacking in the Second Degree, for which much can be justifiably urged. Nevertheless, the Mark Degree continues to flourish under its own Constitution and is readily available to any Brother who desires to further his Masonic education.
The ceremony by which the Second Degree is conferred is called "passing" because it relates to the midway phase of personal experience through which every aspirant must inevitably pass before he can attain that ultimate Degree of spiritual development envisaged by the Craft system. Were we true to our symbolism and not hampered by the exigencies of space and expense, we should not confer this Degree in the same room or upon the same floor level as that in which the First Degree was conducted. We should go upstairs to an "upper chamber" made ready as a Fellowcraft Lodge, and we should proceed there, as our Hebrew forbears did, by a winding staircase: "They went up with winding stairs into the middle chamber "(I Kings, vi, 8). But we must not overlook the fact that it is the human mind or soul, which is the "middle chamber" actually signified, since it stands midway between things sensible and things spiritual, and is therefore to be treated as the intermediate "holy place" to be passed through before the final "holy of holies" is reached where everything is transcended. In our Lodges we secure the idea of ascending to progressively higher levels by ceremonially "opening" from one Degree to another and exhibiting in each the appropriate Tracing Board.
We constitute ourselves as a Fellowcraft Lodge by the prescribed ritual in which the Lodge is declared "opened on the Square", and for the Speculative Mason that simple builder's tool takes on a philosophical value. It is a square composed of two arms joined at a right angle, one arm being horizontal, and the other vertical. Thus when one arm is laid on the ground the other stands erect, pointing upwards; those two arms then becoming a similitude of the right relationship between body and soul when we are engaged in the labour signified by the Second Degree. In other words, the bodily energies represented by the horizontal should subside into repose, while the higher faculties of mind and soul, represented by the upright arm should become active in aspiration. It should be noted that every Brother present in the Lodge is required to "prove" himself a Mason in this Degree, which means he must demonstrate by a ceremonial gesture that for the work in hand his outward and inward energies stand in the relationship which is symbolised by arms of the Square.
Appropriate to the task of the Fellowcraftsman are the Working Tools which are, as W. Bro. Culham rightly says, closely related, or more precisely organically associated with each other. It is interesting to note that if we take the tools separately they form themselves into a regular geometrical progression from a single line (the vertical Plumb-rule); two lines, vertical and horizontal, at a right angle (the Square); and three lines, forming two right angles (the Level). If these tools be arranged in such a way so that the four right angles do not meet at the centre but away from it, they produce a superrice (symbol of the perfect ashlar). We should reflect well that this symbolism is likewise linked with the "white stone" which the Scripture promises to him who overcometh, and which in our Craft system is signified by the "perfect ashlar" which in the Lodge "lies open and immovable" a veritable sermon in stone.
I commend to members of the Circle this further contribution by W.Bro. Culham to our Transactions, and would like to express to him once again my personal thanks and those of the Governing Council for his instructive paper.
R. A. L. Harland, President.
THE APPROACH TO FREEMASONRY (Part II)
by W.Bro. G.A. Culham,, M.B.E., P.M.,
Lodge Haven of Peace, No. 4385,
Dar es Salaam, Tanganyika
There is difficulty in writing about the Fellow Craft's Degree as an entirely distinct entity. None of us can escape the consciousness that the Second Degree is very much a continuation of the First - an extension of it, in fact. We do not know what led up to the separation, or how it was made, and we know only a little more as to what happened to the Second Degree itself when, in the same decade, the Third came to be generally separated. It is obvious, however, that the interest and importance of the Second Degree considerably suffered by its separation from an inferior degree and later by the shedding of part of its most interesting material to a superior degree.
THE SECOND DEGREE, THEN AND NOW
There is one marked difference between the old operative fellow, or fellow craft, and the speculative Fellow Craft. The operative had taken a big step as a man and as a mason when, from being an entered apprentice he became a fellow, for he was now a fully fledged member of the community and could work as a master whenever opportunity came his way, because he was already of the master's grade. And in speculative masonry, too, early in the eighteenth century, an exact parallel could be drawn, for once there were conferred upon the Apprentice the privileges of the Second Degree he had all the qualification needed to become Master of his lodge and an officer of high rank in the Order. But with the passage of the years this altered.
The "Antients" emphasized the importance of the masonic grade of Master Mason; they insisted that the Fellow Craft must become a Master Mason before he could qualify to be the Master of a lodge, and that he could not assume that office until he had passed through an esoteric ceremony of Installation, with which qualification he could then rise to any rank in the Order.
In the lodges of the so-called "Moderns" the Fellow Craft still remained the fully qualified mason, for Masters and Grand Officers could be drawn from his grade; but with the reconciliation between the two bodies in 1813 the Fellow Craft finally lost his earlier importance. The ceremony of the Fellow Craft Degree was probably still further depleted in the course of effecting a peaceful compromise between the two bodies, with the consequence that today we regard the Fellow Craft as having achieved little more than a midway position in freemasonry, superior in status to that of an Entered Apprentice, but definitely inferior to that of the Master Mason, to which he hopes shortly to attain. His ceremony has certainly carried further the ideas and philosophies to which he was introduced at his Initiation, but, apart from that, it has been little more than a stepping-stone from the experience of one Initiation to the even richer experience of another yet to come.
Evidence still remains to us of the significance attaching to the Second Degree in early days. The Fellow Crafts tools, undoubtedly the most important of all the speculative's tools, were a Master's tools, and they still provide the jewels of the Master and his two Wardens respectively, while it is to be noted that the tools now associated with the Master Mason's Degree did not come into use until after the union of 1813. The stress laid upon the five points of fellowship in the Third Degree has obviously been borrowed from the Second. The necessary preparation of the Master Elect for his high office is conducted (in English lodges) in the Fellow Craft's lodge, and not in the Master Mason's. There can be no doubt, then, that originally the Fellow Craft's Degree was one of supreme importance, and of this, fortunately, there still survive many traces.
'Craft' one of the medieval words inherited by freemasonry was originally a common Teutonic word (kraft) meaning 'power' and 'strength'. In England, and in England alone, it developed in the thirteenth century a second meaning, the one which freemasons associate with it - 'art,' 'dexterity,' 'skill,' or 'cunning' of hand or mind. The poet Chaucer speaks of 'crafty people,' meaning skilful, clever, and, sometimes, merely sensible people. (The use of the word 'craft' to mean 'trickery,' 'deceit,' 'artifice,' etc., came in course of time, and we are not concerned with it.) 'Craft' came naturally in due course to mean a 'skilled trade' or 'occupation.' Our early seventeenth-century Authorized Version of the Bible, telling the story of the Apostle Paul's arrival at Corinth, says that he stayed with a certain family "because he was of the same craft, ... for by their occupation they were tent makers." (Acts xviii, 3.)
It is easy to see how 'craft' came to mean a trade mystery, a guild, and a brotherhood, or fraternity. The early merchant guilds developed in course of time into craft guilds, and the guild of this kind came to be known as a 'craft' in which sense the word came down to freemasonry, probably through the London Company of Masons. It is applied particularly to the first three degrees, known as the symbolic degrees.
'FELLOW' AND 'FELLOW CRAFT'
The craftsman obviously is one who practises a craft. Among freemasons he is one who has been passed to the Second Degree. In the old days a mason was 'crafted' by being made a Fellow Craft. In the Lodge of Dunblane, in the year 1720, a Brother was said to be "duly passed from the square to the compass" - that is, from an Entered Apprentice to a Fellow of Craft. There is an old term 'crafts- master', he was a man highly skilled in his craft, into which, in all likelihood, he was born.
We derive the word 'fellow' from an old Norse word felage, meaning 'partnership,' and implying equality and friendly association. The Regius Poem repeatedly speaks of a mason as a 'fellow,' and many other of the Old Charges use the term, sometimes in the form 'Masters and Fellows.' A 'fellow' in those days was a member of a fraternity such as a guild. The fellows of a guild laid down their money and assumed obligations jointly with one another. There we have the essence of the word 'fellow.' Today, with the meaning of 'member of a fraternity or society,' we have 'Fellow of a College.' Often guilds were known as fellowships. Freemasonry itself was, and is, known as a fellowship. In the lodge at Alnwick the masons constituted a fellowship, its members being Masters and Fellows. Elias Ashmole in 1682 described himself as "the Senior fellow" among the masons gathered at the lodge in the London Company of Masons. It is obvious, therefore, that in the 1600's the English word for one enjoying full membership of the masonic fraternity was 'fellow.'
English masons might never have known the 'Fellow Craft' but for an importation from Scotland. It is at any rate possible that they saw it for the first time in the Constitutions of 1723, when, under the heading "of Masters, Wardens, Fellows and Apprentices," the text speaks of an Apprentice being "made a Brother and then a Fellow-Craft in due time," and later states that no Brother can be a Warden until he passed the part of a Fellow Craft, and that the Grand Master is to be a Fellow Craft before his election.
The Constitutions used three words all meaning the same thing - Fellow, Craftsman and Fellow Craft - and by the introduction of the last of these, a Scots term, they transformed the old English 'Fellow' into a 'Fellow Craft,' for, although possibly the English freemason first met the word in 1723, it had in the course of only a couple of years or so given its names to the Second Degree. 'Fellow Craft' was the term used in the lodges of Aberdeen (Anderson's home city) and elsewhere in Scotland, and had the same, or much the same, meaning as Master Mason during the seventeenth century. The Schaw Statutes and early Scots minutes used the term 'Fellow of Craft,' and we learn from it that a Fellow Craft is simply a fellow, or equal member, of a skilled craft or companionship.
THE WINDING STAIRCASE AND THE MIDDLE CHAMBER
The lecture on the second Tracing Board tells us that in King Solomon's Temple was a winding staircase, which led to the middle chamber in which the Fellow Crafts were paid their wages. Their ascent to the middle chamber was opposed by the Junior Warden who demanded from them certain tokens. We read of this peculiar construction of the Temple in I Kings vi, 8: The door for the middle chamber was in the right side of the house: and they went up with (by) winding stairs into the middle chamber, and out of the middle into the third. The Revised Version speaks of chambers (plural) and calls them "middle side-chambers." There has been argument as to whether the customary tracing- board accurately depicts the winding staircase, as apparently it should spring from the south, whereas they often show it as appearing to spring from the north. W.J. Songhurst throws light on the subject by saying that the stations of the three principal officers were in early Continental boards marked by three closed doors, East, West and South, conveying the idea that behind these doors were Inner Guards empowered to admit or refuse admission. The Biblical passage quoted says that the winding staircase is on the right side of the house, and in I Kings, vii, 38, the word 'right' is seen to have the meaning of 'south.' The spectator in Holy Writ is therefore considered as looking towards the East with the South on his right hand, and this is the position illustrated in so many of the Tracing Boards (but not in a new and beautiful design, which is the work of Edgar Lee, of the Royal Lancashire Lodge, No. 116, Colne, Lancashire).
The winding staircase has suggested some elaborate symbolism, Here, for instance, is what Carl H. Claudy says:
It requires more courage to face the unknown than the known. A straight stair, a ladder, hides neither secret nor mystery at its top. But the stairs which wind hide each step from the climber; which is just around the comer is unknown. The winding stairs of life lead us to we know not what; for some of us a Middle Chamber of fame and fortune; for others one of pain and frustration. The Angel of Death may stand with drawn sword on the very next step for any of us. Yet man climbs.
This is preferable to a symbolism based upon the letters of the Hebrew alphabet in accordance with the enigmatic teaching of the Kabballa, of which nonsense the less said the better.
Learned authors such as Donald A. Mackenzie, in The Migration of Symbols, believe that the cross, the swastika, the spiral, the cardinal points, and the sun-wise direction of movement are all closely related in the ancient religions. Consequently, we may reasonably impute special significance to Solomon's choice of a winding staircase to conduct privileged worshippers from the ground floor to the middle chamber.
Masons are familiar with descriptions of the porchway pillars of King Solomon's Temple, based upon the Biblical accounts and supported by the words of the trusty historian Josephus, who, we are reminded by J.T. Thorp, was well acquainted with Herod's temple, which was a copy of Solomon's. Josephus wrote in Greek, and the following description of the pillars is from a translation made by Professor William Whitson. Josephus tells us that Hiram
made two pillars, whose outside were of brass ... There was cast with each of their chapiters lilywork, that stood upon the pillars, and it was elevated five cubits, round about which there was net-work interwoven with small palms, made of brass, and covered the lily-work. To this also were hung two hundred pomegranates, in two rows. The one of these pillars he set at the entrance of the porch, on the right hand, and called it Jachin; and the other on the left hand, and called it Boaz ... He also made ten large round brass vessels, which were the levers ... and he set five of the levers on the left side of the Temple, which was on that side towards the north wind, and as many on the right side, towards the south.
Professor Whitson helps us to understand which was the left and which the right pillar. Approaching the Temple from the east gates of the Courts (remembering that the Holy Place of the Temple was in the west) one would of course arrive at the east entrance to the Temple. Here were the two pillars. On the right, as the worshipper entered, was one called Boaz, and on the left the one called Jachin, the former being to the north-east of the entrance and the latter to the south-east. It thus follows that when we think of these pillars as being 'left' or 'right' we are mentally seeing them from the standpoint of the worshipper departing from the east entrance and not arriving at it.
The Jewish kings that succeeded Solomon were crowned at the foot of one of these pillars. Each pillar may possibly have borne its name inscribed on it, so that the approaching worshipper would read the name in the form of a sentence, "He in Whom strength is, may he establish (this house)." We know that two pillars that once stood at the Cathedral of Wurzburg, Germany, bore the same names.
Other commentators, among them the Rev. C.J. Ball, emphasize that the pillars were, in fact, symbols of the Diety, and corresponded to the stone pillar which Jacob set up and poured oil upon as an offering, their names being designations of Jehovah. Others, still, have suggested that what masons regard as the left-hand pillar expresses the physical power of generation - in other words, it was a symbol of creation; whereas the right-hand one expressed the spiritual power of regeneration - in other words, salvation.
Hebrew scholars have long argued as to the precise meaning of the names given to these pillars. They agree that the name of the left-hand pillar means 'in it (Him) is strength.' According to the Rev. Morris Rosenbaum, its first syllable implies that the house of God is the embodiment of religious strength and the source of the nation's temporal power; and the second syllable that 'in God is all strength,' somewhat analogous to the Divine name denoted by the Hebrew word shaddai, Almighty. The pillar was named after Boaz, the great-grandfather of David, whom freemasons know as a prince and ruler in Israel; he died a century before the days of Solomon, and was not so much a prince or ruler as a farmer of Bethel.
The above authority explains that 'Jachin' the name given to the right-hand pillar, means 'he will establish' or 'he will make firm.' The name itself, said to be of the Assistant High Priest, is given in the Bible, but no mention is made of a High Priest or any assistant as helping in the dedication of the Temple.
The alleged reason for casting these great pillars in hollow form - that they should serve as archives to masonry - does not carry conviction. Such massive castings could hardly have been more inconvenient for the purpose, and the whole suggestion is not of ancient origin.
LODGE FURNITURE OF THE EARLY NINETEENTH CENTURY
In some American lodges the Candidate is called upon to ascend an actual winding staircase, but we do not think that this is necessarily an example of American 'extra-illustrating,' because it is quite likely that the idea came from some of the eighteenth century English lodges. We learn something from the story of the Bath furniture and how it came to Barnstaple, unfolded by Bruce W. Oliver in A.O.C. Freemasons' Hall in York Street, Bath, built by three Bath lodges and opened by H.R.H. Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex, in 1819, housed some magnificent masonic furniture that had been specially designed and built. For two days before the consecration of the hall, upward of two thousand persons, chiefly ladies, paid for admission to view it and its contents. But the hall and equipment had cost so much that serious financial difficulties ensued, and ultimately the hall was sold by auction in 1842, and the furniture was offered "in one lot by way of chance ... tickets 21s. each or five for 5 pounds," as a result of which a person who had previously become the legal owner won the prize! He soon afterwards sold the furniture to the Loyal Lodge (now No. 251) Barnstaple, for one hundred guineas. Among the handsome furniture and other articles included in the list of effects of the Loyal Lodge are two quite unique pieces - the 'winding staircase' and the 'middle chamber' - and the following descriptions of them came from Bruce W. Oliver's account in A.O.C. vol. 1 vii, in which volume appear many illustrations of these and other fine pieces (see Plate xxiii).
Winding Staircase. This rises five steps, in each of which is set the appropriate letter in brass. With its wreathed strings and handrails it is an excellent example of the crafty of the joiner. The stairs rise to a height of 3ft. 1in. and if used in conjunction with the 'Middle Chamber' would raise the top of that structure to the rather astonishing height of 12ft. 7in.
The Middle Chamber. This is generally accepted as having been used in connection with the "winding staircase" in the Second Degree, but the symbol in the floor and again in the ceiling suggests its possible use in the Royal Arch. It is a typical '18th century Temple,' octagonal in plan, measuring 4ft. 7in. across, the total height being 9ft. 6in. The floor or platform, rises one step and has a chequered pavement radiating from the centre where a letter 'G' is enclosed by the 'Shield of David' within a circle. This feature is reproduced in the ceiling. The dome is constructed in canvas supported by eight slender pillars of Doric character; the dome is painted with anthemion (honeysuckle or other flower) ornament and surmounted by a large gilt ball as a finial.
We are introduced to the tradition of Tubal Cain in the Old MS. Charges, and we learn more of that personage in the Second Degree. Tubal Cain had a place in the ritual as far back as 1743, but the interpretation put upon his name was not known in masonry until many years later. That interpretation has led to a great deal of controversy, which has revealed many facts, but ends apparently in the agreement that we do not know how the name was derived or what it properly means.
Apart from the reference in the Old Charges the ritual seems to have gone for information to the Geneva Bible (issued in 1560). where, in a marginal note, 'tubal' is explained as meaning 'borne,' brought,' or 'worldly' and 'cain' as 'possession.' Thus 'Tubal Cain,' by the simple process of putting the two meanings together, is interpreted as 'worldly possession.' There was a fundamental error in this interpretation, for the scholars were assuming that the primeval language was Hebrew, quite a common assumption in olden days, but one which we now know to be untenable. A simpler interpretation would be 'Tubal the Smith,' because the word 'cain' is not a part of his name, but an indication of his occupation - namely, a smith or artificer. The Authorized Version of the Bible says that Tubal Cain was an instructor of every artificer in brass and iron. Scholars today, however, say that a more accurate translation than 'instructor' would be 'whetter' or 'sharpener,' and the Revised Version says that he was the forger of every cutting instrument of brass and iron, and explains in a marginal reference that 'brass' may be 'copper.' Josephus, the Jewish historian, says that Tubal Cain invented brass here, again, it is thought that 'brass' is 'bronze' or a 'kind of copper' from which could be made cutting tools and weapons.
Briefly it may be said that Tubal Cain was a blacksmith and, in particular, an armourer, and it is not beyond possibility that there may be confusion between his name and that of Vulcan, or Vulcanus, the ancient fire-god, the protector of workers in metals, and a forger of shields and weapons. It has been hinted that Tubal Cain was identical with a primitive fire-diety known to an ancient Altiac people who apparently were among the earliest metal-workers in the world.
W.W. Covey Crump has suggested that Jabal, Jubal and Tubal Cain, brothers, sons of one and the same father, may have been mythical demigods, who, it is asserted, prophesied great catastrophes and recorded their prophecies on two pillars, as to which there is a tradition that once upon a time, somewhere east of the Mediterranean certain inscriptions on stone and baked clay had been discovered so prehistoric as to be deemed antediluvian in origin.
There is a further suggestion that there was a nomadic tribe, the Kenites, travelling tinkers or gypsies, whose name was formed from the word 'cain'; and there are those who have hazarded the opinion that Tubal Cain is not an individual but rather a figure representing an early race living in a district south- east of the Caspian Sea many thousands of years ago, a race which might well have been concerned in the very early use of metallic iron.
We can afford to smile at an old book, Sir John Ferne's Blazon of Gentrie (1586) which apparently found an easy task in assigning heraldic arms to many Biblical characters, including Tubal Cain, who is fitted up with "sable, a hammer argent, crowned or." Sir John had a simple job with Tubal!
THE LETTER 'G'
In English lodges the letter 'G' is found in the centre of the ceiling, and is on every Second Degree Tracing Board. In American lodges it is on or near the Master's chair. In other English-speaking lodges also it usually has a place, but is there represented by a triangle containing the Hebrew name for God.
The absence of the letter 'G' in the appointments of foreign lodges is a key to much of the misunderstanding surrounding the symbol. A moment's thought will show that 'G' can be the initial letter of the word 'God' only in English and in a very few other languages - all of Saxon or Gothic origin. In no ancient language could 'G' mean 'God.'
It is reasonably certain that the letter was not used in English lodges as meaning 'God' until late in the eighteenth century, although it was a feature of lodges quite early in the eighteenth, and possible during the seventeenth centuries.
Dr. W. Wynn Westcott has said the present masonic interpretation of the letter 'G' is foolish. Dr. Oliver took the symbol without question as referring to the Great Architect of the Universe. But an earlier writer, William Hutchinson, "a man and a mason, whose head and heart went in unison, whose life was blameless, and whose memory is still fondly regarded by freemasons," says in his Spirit of Masonry (published in 1775 with the special sanction of Grand Lodge) that the name of God is only part of the masonic import of the letter: this significant letter, he says, "denotes Geometry, which to Artificers is the science by which all their labours are calculated and formed; and to Masons, contains the determination, definition and proof of the order, beauty, and wonderful wisdom of the power of God in His creation."
How far back the letter 'G' was used as a symbol for geometry can only be guessed at, but we are told that Ptolemy's Geography, in an edition printed at Strasburg in 1525, contains an ornamental margin which includes a pillar, a small part of the spring of the arch above it, with foliage, cherub and fluting decoration. On the base, in a panel, are the square and compasses with, in the centre, the letter 'G' believed to stand for Geometry." In view of the date of this - 1525 - Mackey's statement that the letter 'G' is a modern symbol, which can be traced back to the word 'God,' and not to 'Geometry,' is not convincing.
The Continental masons who inscribed the name of God, or Jehovah, in Hebrew letters within the triangle, and displayed this in their lodges - as we do today in the Royal Arch Chapter - were harking back to an ecclesiastical custom of the sixteenth century.
The majority of masonic writers believe that the letter 'G' refers to Geometry, and the old catechisms also point that way. Here is a catechism printed in 1730:
Q. Why was you made a Fellow-Craft? A. For the sake of the letter G. Q. What does that G denote? A. Geometry or the Fifth Science.
And here is another version of this same catechism:
Q. Why was you made a Mason? A. For the sake of the letter G. Q. What does it signify? A. GEOMETRY. Q. Why GEOMETRY? A. Because it is the Root and foundation of all Arts and Sciences.
In the course of the eighteenth century there was much ritual-making leading to great diversity between various workings. Take, for example the following catechism (slight variations of it are known), printed in an expose of 1766:
Q. Why was you made a Fellow-Craft? A. For the sake of the letter G, which is enclosed in a Great Light (the Blazing Star). Q. What does the G denote? A. Glory, Grandeur and Geometry, or the fifth Science - Glory for God, Grandeur for the Master of the Lodge and Geometry for the Brothers.
In some lodges, if we are to draw conclusions from an expose of 1730, the letter 'G' was given a definitely Christian significance:
Q. When you came into the middle, what did you see? A. The Resemblance of the letter G. Q. Who doth that G denote? A. One that's greater than you. Q. Who's greater than I, that am a Free and Accepted Mason, the Master of a Lodge? A. The Grand Architect and Contriver of the Universe, or He that was taken up to the Top of the Pinnacle of the Holy Temple.
In the days when the above was published the letter 'G' was a symbol of the Fellow Craft lodge. In May 1742 two freemasons who had got themselves into trouble with Grand Lodge organized a procession of mock-masons, and from a newspaper report of the day we learn that the letter 'G' then signified geometry, or the fifth science, for the sake of which "all Fellow-Crafts are made. This letter G is the essence of the Fellow-Craft's lodge." (So closely identified was the letter 'G' with the Fellow- Craft that we find him referred to as "a letter-G man".)
The same newspaper report tells us that when the lodge was raised from the First to the Second Degree a square was placed in the centre of the blazing star, so that Brethren could tell in which degree the lodge was working. From this fact John T. Thorp draws certain conclusions in a paper contributed to the Merseyside Association for Masonic Research (1924-25). "It so happens," he remarks, "that the old 'gallows' square is one original form of the Hebrew ghimel, the Hebrew character in the roof, and also of the Greek gamma, both of which correspond to our English letter G; this fact may thus account for the gradual substitution of the letter G for the square."
A sound old masonic writer once said that much of what has been written concerning the letter 'G' in freemasonry is far more imaginative than useful. A wise view is that God himself and Geometry have much in common, and that today we may regard the symbol as standing for each and both of them. Then we shall not be far wrong when we teach the Fellow Craft that the letter 'G' denotes God who is the Grand Geometrician of the Universe. We can quote great authorities. Sir Thomas Browne in Religio Medial (1643) said, "God is like a skilful geometrician." Plato, four centuries B.C., said that God is a geometer - that is, one versed in geometry, a geometrician. Bertrand Russell, in our own day, says that the influence of geometry upon philosophy has been profound, and that mathematical objects, which are eternal and not in time, can be conceived as God's thoughts.
Milton, writing in the middle of the seventeenth century, must have seen God as the Supreme Geometer when, in his Paradise Lost, Book vii, he composed these remarkable lines:
Then stayed the fervid wheels, and in his hand He took the golden compasses, prepared In God's eternal store, to circumscribe This Universe, and all created things. One foot he centred, and the other turned Round through the vast profundity obscure, And said, 'Thus far extend, thus far thy bounds, This be thy just circumference, O World!
Freemasons know two squares: one is the square angle, the other the implement.
The geometric square is defined in our ritual as an angle of 90 degrees, or the fourth part of a circle. This means that, by cutting a circle into four equal parts (quadrants) by means of two lines intersecting each other at the centre, each of the four angles so formed is of 90 degrees - that is, each of them is a right angle, a square angle.
The implement known as a square has two arms of wood or metal united in the form of a right angle, and is used in setting out and testing work. The square is one of the most important tools used by creative craftsmen, notably workers in stone, wood, and metal, and its use is closely associated with that of the line. the level, and the plumb-rule. It is of great antiquity. It night be thought that the ancient peoples would not know the geometrical principles on which the square is constructed. That might possibly be so, although it is most unlikely; but as a matter of fact a reasonably accurate square can be made in a minute or so by any sensible person wholly ignorant of geometrical principles. Once the craftsman had a straight edge, whether of wood or stone, that was reasonably true, he could quickly make a square good enough for his purpose. He would first fasten the two arms together, but not quite tightly; then he would try the result by putting the square on the prepared edge and scribing a line roughly at right angles. Next he would turn the square over from right to left, or vice versa, and scribe another fine starting from the same point as before. Then the variation between the two lines would indicate the amount of inaccuracy, enabling him to adjust the implement and try again.
There was nothing to prevent the early craftsman from availing himself of the square, and there is plenty of evidence to show that he did do so. Nearly 1500 B.C. there was made at Thebes (the great Egyptian city beside the Nile) a drawing in which a carpenter's square is clearly illustrated. In the tomb of Tut-ankh-amen was found a symbol made of plate gold in the form of a draughtsman's T- square.
We know that the word 'square' as meaning 'honest' and 'straightforward' goes back thousands of years, just as the compasses and the level are referred to in Chinese writings of a period reaching from the twenty-fourth to the seventh centuries before Christ. Nearly five hundred years before Christ, Confucius was using some such phrase as 'transgressing the limits of the square,' and two hundred years later a follower of his, Mencius, taught that all men must apply the square and compasses, the level and the marking-line figuratively to their lives, if they would walk in the straight and even paths of wisdom and keep themselves within the bounds of honour and virtue. Simonides, a Greek poet of the sixth century before Christ, speaks of a man being 'square as to his feet, his hands and his mind,' a comparison which is echoed by Aristotle, who lived in the fourth century before Christ. Right through the intervening literature up to the present day we find writers using the square and other geometric tools as object lessons, and it is easy to appreciate how the same square came to be adopted by freemasons as the symbol of morality.
LEVELS AND PLUMB-RULES
Levels and plumb-rules are closely related. In each of the time-honoured patterns a line is caused to hang dead vertically by means of a weight or bob. The bottom face, or edge, of the level is at right angles to the line, and indicates horizontals, while the sides of the plumb-rule are parallel with the line, and indicate verticals. (Similarly, a spirit-level may be at the same time a plumb-rule.) The freemason is taught that the purpose of the level is to lay levels and prove horizontals, and that of the plumb-rule to try and adjust uprights, while fixing them on their proper bases. 'Try and adjust,' not 'Try to adjust,' for the word 'try' here is used in the old sense of testing.
Symbolically, the level teaches equality and the plumb-rule justice and uprightness of life and actions. The fifth section of the 1st Lecture explains that the level demonstrates that we have all sprung from the same stock and are partakers of the same nature and sharers in the same hope, while the plumb- rule, the criterion of rectitude and truth, teaches us to walk justly and uprightly before God and man.
At Pompeii (destroyed A.D. 79) a table was discovered bearing the representation of a skull, level, and wheel, the whole being interpreted as meaning that death is the great leveller. (In the South of France levels have been found carved upon old coffins.) Both level and plumb-rule were in use by masons thousands of years ago, were figured on Roman and many other tombs, and are the subject of significant Biblical references. In the Book of Amos vii, 7-8, we are told that "... the Lord stood upon a wall made by a plumb-line, with a plumb-line in his hand ... Then said the Lord, Behold, I will set a plumb-line in the midst of my people Israel." The second Book of Kings speaks of the Lord stretching over Jerusalem a line and a plummet. In Isaiah xxviii, 16-17, we read:
Therefore thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste. Judgment also will I lay to the line, and righteousness to the plummet.
A reference of interest to the Royal Arch mason is the Book of Zechariah iv, 9-10: "The hands of Zerubbabel have laid a foundation of this house ... they shall rejoice, and shall see the plummet in the hand of Zerubbabel."
The balance is an old masonic emblem, but the close relationship between it and the level is seldom recognized, although to the Romans the craftsman's level was libelia or libra, both words meaning 'balance' and their word for 'levelling' also meant 'weighing.' The balance is the symbol of justice and impartiality, and the figure, too, of man's merits and demerits, one weighed against the other, as also of the things of the soul in one, pan outweighing all the things of earth loaded into the other one.
It is worth while noting how Gwyllim in his Heraldy, printed in 1611, refers to the level in symbolic terms, to which in all probability the framers of our rituals and access. Speaking of the level and plumb-rule, he says:
This instrument is the type of equity and uprightness in all our actions, which are to be leulled and rectified by the Rule of Reason and Iustice. For the plummet euer fals right, howsoeuer it be held, and what euer betide a vertuous man, his actions and conscience will be vncorrupt and vncontroulable.
The old Latin tag "ad amussim" ('by the plumb-line or by the rule') will particularly interest the Royal Arch Mason, since one dictionary adds to the, meaning 'correct in every particular.' The teaching of the level and plumb-rule is closely associated with the proper conduct of life. We are taught square conduct, level, steps, and upright intentions. The old masonic writer William Preston spoke of "meeting on the square and parting on the level," which has been altered by our American Brethren to "meeting on the level and parting on the square" and to which they have added "and acting by the plumb."