Freemason, Masonic, Masonry, Scottish Rite

The Line

In other Jurisdictions, there are various Working Tools of the Degrees that we do not use in our Ritual. The Chisel is added to the Common Gavel and the Twenty-four Inch Gauge in the First Degree, these are the tools of “Preparation”; the Second Degree is still the Square, Level and Plumb, these are the tools of “Proof”; the Third Degree working tools are the Skirret, Pencil and Compasses, the tools of “Plan”.

I will save the discussion of the symbolism of these working tools for another time, what I want to talk about today is the “Line.” The Line is not a tool, it is the product of some of these tools, specifically the Plumb, Skirret, Pencil and Compasses.

The Plumb Line is well-known, it instructs us to live our lives according to that upright line demonstrating rectitude of conduct. As the Fellowcraft Working Tools Lecture tells us, “The plumb admonishes us to walk uprightly in our several stations before God and man.”

In the Masonic Graveside Service, the Worshipful Master says, “Let us so regulate our lives by the line of faithfulness, rectitude and truth, that in the evening of our days we may be found worthy to be called from labor to refreshment, and be well prepared for translation from the terrestrial to the celestial Lodge to join the fraternity of the Spirits of just men made perfect.”

The other key reference to the Line in our Ritual or Lectures is in the Installation Ceremony for the Worshipful Master. When installing a newly elected Worshipful Master, the installing officer references several items: The Holy Writings, the Great Light in Masonry; The Square; The Compasses; The Rule. These are all familiar, but then he says this to the new Worshipful Master, “The Line teaches us the criterion of moral rectitude, to avoid dissimulation in conversation and action, and to direct our steps to the path which leads to immortality.” Where does this line come from and what is our use of it in Speculative Freemasonry?

The Skirret is better known today as a Chalk Line. It is used to lay a center line from which all other measurements are taken. It must be accurate and unmoving; any deviation can cause irreparable harm to the rest of the structure. This line symbolizes the line we must draw to help us keep our promises and obligations: to stay with the Plan. To stay on the Straight and Narrow. In today’s world of moral ambiguity and laxness, this line will be not just a guide, but also a lifeline.

So, what do the Pencil and Compasses have to do with the Line we have been discussing? The Pencil is used by the Master to draw the designs upon the Trestle-board for the Craft to go about their labors. For the Lodge, the Worshipful Master is responsible to “set the Craft at labor” using the designs he has laid out on the Trestle-board. The pencil is symbolically used to communicate and describe the work to be done. The Master draws his lines upon the trestle-board; but with a difference from the Line laid down by the Skirret. The Master can use the Compasses, with the Pencil, based on his Wisdom to inscribe arcs, circles and other designs to make the structure Stronger and more Beautiful. In our lectures we learn how Geometry allows us to go from a Point to a Line, from a Line to a Surface, and from a Surface to a Solid. We describe Geometry as the first and most noble of sciences, “it is the basis on which the superstructure of Masonry is erected.”

As individual Masons, we also use these tools to lay out the plans for our own actions. We learn in the Northeast Corner Lecture, that the edifice we as Speculative Masons are building is our own Moral and Upright life. We are using the tools and symbols of the Craft to build ourselves as better men better fathers and fonder husbands.

The Pencil is used for more than drawing on the Trestle-board. We use it to learn, to teach and to communicate. What is the truth of what you learn, teach and communicate? “The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on and neither all your piety nor wit can lure it back to cancel half a line, nor all your tears wash away a word of it.” The Pencil should be a reminder to us to communicate in love and forbearance in keeping with our vocation as Master Masons.

The Pencil allows the architect to draft a plan for a building or to give instruction to the craftsmen. The Great Architect of the Universe laid His plans upon the Eternal Trestle-board for us to follow. We must interpret and understand His plan for the details of the design for our lives and we will be judged by our adherence to His plan. We need good light in order to read His plan; we find that light in the Great Light of Freemasonry, the Holy Writings.

Let us consider how we use these tools to draw the Line of conduct that we should follow and the example we should give those less informed. Stay on the Line, stick with the Plan.

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What is Masonry?

What is Masonry? Masonry is a beautiful system of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.

If Masonry is a beautiful system of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols, are you truly a Mason if you have never looked deeper at the allegory and symbols of the Craft?

What are we to do to gain further light? What is the light we are seeking? If I ask this of most of my brethren, they will say that it is the light of knowledge, the gnosis, Fiat Lux. If the statement above is true, none of these answers is correct.

The light we are seeking is Morality. Not just any Morality, but the Peculiar (distinctive) Morality of Freemasonry. This Morality is spelled out in some ways in the words of the Ritual; it includes Brotherly Love, Morality, Relief, Truth, Temperance Fortitude Prudence and Justice. But the true emanations of the light we seek are veiled, we see through a glass darkly. We must peel pack the layers, we must study and interpret the symbols of Masonry to attain the true light.

I will caution you, this is a lifetime pursuit. As we grow, the symbols will reveal new insights; our ideas of their meanings will change as we see more clearly and as we grow as men and Masons. Not only the symbols, but the Ritual itself will provide great light if we will but listen to the words and think upon their meaning.

Why do we approach the East upright? Why do service to Almighty God and a distressed worthy Brother occupy the same 8 hours on the 24-inch Gauge? At what degree are the Compasses properly extended? A study of these and all other areas of our Ritual will illuminate our ignorance and bring us closer to the light.

I often say that our Ritual is written for purpose; not a word is wasted or out of place. It is our job to listen and use active thinking to ponder the ideals set forth in our various lectures to tear the veil to the truths behind the allegory.

What is masonry? What should it be? Are you a Mason in your heart, or only a member of the Lodge?

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The Compasses

 

“Freemasonry takes good men and makes them better.” We have all heard that for our entire Masonic careers, I have always focused on the ways that Masonry helped me to deal with those around me.

As Entered Apprentices we are taught the lessons of the Three Great Lights of Freemasonry: The Holy Bible, Square and Compasses. The Holy Bible is given us as the Rule and Guide for our faith and practice, the Square to square our actions and the Compasses to circumscribe our desires and keep our passions within due bounds.

The Holy Bible tells us how the Supreme Architect of the Universe deals with us. The Square teaches us how we are to deal with other men. I never gave the Compasses much thought. I understood that they were to help us to curtail our worldy passions, but I never delved into the spiritual meaning behind the third of the Great Lights. While visiting a lodge recently, a Brother gave a short talk on the Compasses and it was like light added to the coming light. I had to take a whole new look at the Compasses; the Compasses teach us how to deal with ourselves.

I searched several sources and found some fascinating and varied thoughts about the Compasses from different Masonic Scholars. Even though the writers do not agree on everything, most agree with Arthur Edward Waite’s description in A New Encyclopaedia of Freemasonry, “…the Compasses are perhaps the most spiritual of all the working tools: it is found everywhere in Craft Masonry, and is also in other degrees.” (Waite, p xv) Before I began this study, I would have considered the Holy Bible would have been seen as the most spiritual of the Three Great Lights. After all, it is The Great Architect of the Universe‘s revealed Light to us, his children. As I have learned, this is not the case. The Holy Bible is given to us, we do not necessarily need to do anything other than receive it, and use it as our guide. All men, not just Freemasons can receive the Light provided by this most holy of books. The Compasses, on the other hand, require us to take action. We must use the Compasses to put bounds on ourselves, not let our passions rule us, but to use Reason in our actions.

In The Craft and its Symbols, Roberts tells us that, “The Compasses symbolizes spirituality. It is interesting to note that the Compasses are symbolically hidden when you are first brought to light in Masonry. This signifies that man is hoodwinked by the senses and must grope his way, slowly from the darkness of ignorance to the light of truth. As the square cannot be corrected without a circle circumscribed by the compasses, man cannot find Divine truth outside the circle of law and love.

The most spiritual of all the working tools of Freemasonry is the Compasses. As an Entered Apprentice you are taught a valuable lesson. The Compasses should remind you to “circumscribe your desires and keep your desires within due bounds.” And you are not to confine these duties to your brethren alone, but to all men.” (Roberts, Ch. 3, P 33)

As we can see, the Compasses are a vital tool for us to use, in conjunction with the other Great Lights and the Working Tools, to improve ourselves in Freemasonry. “The square is a reminder to walk uprightly, and not turn aside into the inviting paths of error. Passing from the square to the compasses is a reminder to rise above the level of the mundane and climb the skies of spiritual and philosophical knowledge.” (de Hoyas p141)

As we delve deeper into the symbolism of the Compasses, we can see more esoteric meanings. The Compasses are symbolic of that soul, given us by the TGAOTU, but not just a passive soul; the living soul of Man, with the Divine spark given us by our Creator.

The Compasses interlaced with the Square are the symbol of the Spirit of the Soul, its functional energy or Fire. Of itself, the soul would be a mere inert passivity, a negative quantity unbalanced by a positive opposite. Its active properties are the product of the union of itself with its underlying and inspiring Divine basis, as modified the good or evil tendencies of the soul itself. God “breathed into man the breath of his life and man became–no longer a soul, which he was previously–but a living (energizing) soul.” This product, or fiery energy of the soul is the Spirit of man (a good or evil force accordingly as he shapes it) and is symbolized by what has always been known as the Fire Triangle (with apex upward and base downward), which symbol is approximately reproduces in the Compasses.
To summarize: the three Greater Lights emblematize the inextricably interwoven triadic groundwork of man’s being; (1) the Divine Word or Substance as its foundation; (2) a passive soul emanated therefrom; (3) and active spirit or energizing capacity generated in the soul as the result of the interaction of the former two. Man himself therefore (viewed apart from the temporal body now clothing him) is a triadic unit, rooted in and proceeding from the basic Divine substance.
Observe that in the First Degree the points of the Compasses are hidden by the square. In the Second Degree, one point is disclosed. In the Third Degree both are exhibited. The implication is that as the Candidate progresses, the inertia and negativity of the soul become increasingly transmuted and superseded by the positive energy and activity of the Spirit. The Fire Triangle gradually assumes preponderance over the Water Triangle, signifying that the aspirant becomes a more vividly living and spiritually conscious being than he was at first. (Wilmshurst, Ch. III, P113.)

Another way of looking at the Compasses is that they give us a grounding point; we place one point at our Center and use it to help us to draw limitations. The center point is our true self, from which we should not deviate. The circle made by the other point of the Compasses as we travel through life can never be separated from our center. Worshipful Brother J. S. M. Ward, a controversial author and spiritualist illuminates this point in his book, The Master Mason’s Handbook.

The Compasses, moreover, are the instruments with which geometrical figures are created, and more especially the Circle.  By means of two circles the triangle, emblem of the triune nature of God is produced, while the Circle itself is the emblem of Eternity and therefore of Spirit. A point within the circle forms the symbol for the Hindu conception of the Supreme Being, Paramatma, whence we have come and whither we shall all ultimately return. At the centre of the circle rests all knowledge; there shall we find every lost secret. Now such a figure can only be drawn with the help of the Compasses, and in drawing it the following significant symbolical act takes place. One point of the Compass rests at the centre, and the other makes the circle of the Infinite. No matter how far the legs of the Compass be extended, or how large the Circle, the fact remains that one leg is always at the centre. Thus the Compasses, while they travel through infinity, are at the same time never separated from the centre, and from that point cannot err. This instrument may therefore be considered as standing for the Divine Spark in Man, in all its manifestations. One of these is conscience; but the Divine Spark has many attributes and names.
But the Divine Spark within us is never really separated from the Great and All-Pervading Spirit. It is still part of it, though its glory is dimmed by the veil of flesh. Therefore, just as one arm of the compasses ever rests on the centre, no matter how far the other leg travels; so however far we may travel from God, and however long and hard may be the journey, the Divine Spark within us can never be  truly  separated from Him, or err from that Centre.  Thus the point of the Compasses at the centre of the circle may be considered to be the Spirit, the head of the Compasses the Soul, and the point on the circumference the body. (Ward)

I find it comforting to know that we can never truly be separated from our Creator, that small bit of Divinity breathed into Adam by God and transmitted to us all will keep us in contact with the GAOTU.

We see every day the vices of Man on full display, through some of the vile things that are called entertainment, through ways that men treat other men with no respect, and some men do not even show themselves the respect that they are due as children of God. Men are celebrated for being foul-mouthed, for showing deviancy in their personal lives; women are celebrated as single mothers because the men that fathered their children refuse to care for their own offspring. The lessons of the Three Great Lights are more vital now than ever before, we as Masons must not keep these Lights under a bushel. We must shine these lights in our communities, in our places of work and within our families. As WB Bruno says in his Sunday Masonic News, “Be careful how you live. You may be the only Mason some people will ever meet.”  We are instructed that Brotherly Love, Morality and Relief, the three greatest Tenets of Freemasonry are contained between the points of the Compasses when properly extended.

As in Operative Freemasonry, the compasses are used for the measurement of the architect’s plans, and to enable him to give those just proportions which will ensure beauty as well as stability to his work; so, in Speculative Freemasonry, is this important implement symbolic of that even tenor of deportment, that true standard of rectitude which alone can bestow happiness here and felicity hereafter.

Hence are the compasses the most prominent emblem of virtue, the true and only, measure of a Freemason’s life and conduct. As the Bible gives us light on our duties to God, and the square illustrates our duties to our neighborhood and Brother, so the compasses give that additional light which is to instruct us in the duty we owe to ourselves-the great, imperative duty of circumscribing our passions, and keeping our desires within due bounds. “It is ordained,” says the philosophic Burke, “in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate passions cannot be free; their passions forge their fetters.” Those Brethren who delight to trace our emblems to an astronomical origin, find in the compasses a symbol of the sun, the circular pivot representing the body of the luminary, and the diverging legs his rays. (Mackey)

As we lay our plans upon the Trestleboard of our lives, we need to use the Compasses to set bounds on our desires and passions. Let us not be as the profane world, letting our emotions and passions rule our conduct. Let our oaths and our working tools forge our futures with the illumination of the Three Great Lights.

 

Bibliography

De Hoyas, A. Scottish Rite Ritual and Monitor, 2nd Ed. The Supreme Council, 33°, Southern Jurisdiction, 2009.

Mackey, A., Encyclopedia of Freemasonry and its Kindred Sciences, New York, N.Y., The Masonic History Company, 1914.

Roberts, A. The Craft and its Symbols, Richmond, VA, Macoy Publishing, 1974.

Waite, A. E. A New Encyclopaedia of Freemasonry. New York, University Books, 1970.

Ward, J.S.M., The Master Mason’s Handbook,

Wilmshurst, W.L. The Meaning of Masonry, New York, Bell Publishing, 1980

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Reinventing Freemasonry

It seems like we spend an inordinate amount of time “reinventing Freemasonry.” I do not mean that we are changing the Ancient Landmarks or the Ritual, I am referring to the endless programs that we have launched over the years to do everything from improving Lodge meetings and panning to Lodge Renewal and membership retention.

As I developed curriculum for the Masonic Leadership Conference I found so many resources from the past that matched what we need today it was amazing. I discovered a program on Membership Management in the old Masonic Lodge building that was excellent and I have used portions of it for the conference materials. This material would have been discarded if I did not rescue it.

I have read Builder Magazine articles from the 1800s and early 1900s where they discussed some of the same issues that we talk about regarding our Lodges today.

My point is, let’s stick with the basics and try doing Freemasonry. It works every time it is tried.

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What come you here to do?

The second question we ask Entered Apprentice Masons is, “What come you here to do?” Most of us remember the answer, “To learn to subdue my passions and improve myself in Freemasonry.” This is quite a statement. It demonstrates that, when we petitioned a Lodge for the Degrees of Freemasonry, we recognized that there were things about ourselves that we needed to improve. It is said that the first step towards recovery (improvement) is recognizing that you have a problem. I would hazard a guess that most of us did not fully understand the magnitude of the change that Freemasonry can make in us, if we will work within her precepts and doctrine. I confess that I did not completely understand the journey on which I was embarking when I asked my Father-in-Law for a Petition. Yes, I came of my own free will and accord, but I did not have a lot of knowledge of the Craft, I just knew that my Wife’s Father was a Mason and he was a good man and I wanted to be like him.

There are some important lessons to be learned by this simple question and answer: Q: What come you here to do?” A: “To learn to subdue my passions and improve myself in Freemasonry.” First, we come, we are not brought, it is our choice and we enter into this of our own volition. No one can force us to become Masons, and, if they did, we would not properly learn the lessons of Initiation.

Second, we come to learn. To say ‘Masonic Education’ is redundant; Freemasonry IS education. Every step of our journey from profane candidate to the Sublime Degree of Master Mason and beyond involves learning lessons that should dramatically change our lives and our perspectives on how we treat each other, ourselves and our God.  We should never stop learning as long as we can study the writings of great Masons, listen to lectures in the degrees or attend a Lodge Meeting. I have had Mason’s in their 80’s and 90’s attend Masonic Education events; they never want to stop learning.

Third, we come to learn to “subdue our passions.” What passions? Ambition, avarice, lust, anger, envy, hatred, malevolence, intolerance, revenge. These are the passions that infest the heart of Man; against which Masonry has always warred. One of the lessons that we learn is that we cannot overcome these passions without the aid and support from on high; only through the grace and help of God can we ever hope to overcome these passions.

Fourth, we come to “improve myself”, we do not come to ‘Perfect’ ourselves. The best and greatest Freemason is not perfect, because it is not possible for any man to be perfect. Pike tells us that when we achieve the Degree and title of Master Mason, we should have attained the ability to use our Moral Sense and Reason to have Habitual mastery of our passions. This does not mean we will never err, it means that our normal disposition does not include the lower passions. We can usually control ourselves, and when we do not, we quickly recognize our faults and seek redress with anyone we have offended.

Fifth and lastly, we seek to improve ourselves through Freemasonry. Freemasonry, as an heir to the Ancient Mysteries, is uniquely suited to this purpose. We cannot lose sight of the fact that Freemasonry is an Initiatic fraternity, which is designed to strip bare the old man to build a new man in his place. The white lambskin apron symbolizes this purity of soul that we seek to achieve. How does Freemasonry help us to improve ourselves? By systematically tearing down our old convictions and teaching us lessons of conduct and understanding whose roots are as ancient as our Race. While we perform our Rituals in a Corporate manner, the lessons are intensely personal and can only be achieved by us as individuals, opening our conscious to the teaching of the Ages. For some, this understanding will be evident on the night they are Raised to the sublime Degree of a Master Mason; for most of us this is a long journey that can last a lifetime, for we are always in need of more improvement. No man can impart the true secret of Freemasonry; we must all find this for ourselves.

What come you here to do? To learn to subdue my passions and to improve myself in Freemasonry.

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Members or Masons?

One day classes, rushing through degrees, no mentoring program; it seems like modern Freemasonry is dedicated on getting as many men in the Fraternity as possible, not just the best men that are willing and capable of understanding the true philosophy of the Craft and our Rituals. When a man petitions a Lodge, do we ensure he understands that this is not a “men’s club?’ Do we sit down with him and answer his questions? His wife’s questions? Do we at least give him the Pre-Initiation book from the Lodge System of Masonic Education? I know that many consider the term Masonic Education to mean stale, boring talks about a portion of the ritual read in monotone in a Lodge Meeting. Masonic Education begins with the Brother that answers the question, “What does it take to become a Mason?” Our entire reason for existing as an organization is to educate men to become Masons. We do this through a series of three Initiations.

Are we truly educating a candidate if he is Initiated, Passed two weeks later and Raised to “The Sublime Degree of Master Mason” two weeks after that? Just how sublime do you think his experience is with this compressed timeline of such momentous events? He can repeat the catechism, but probably cannot explain what any of it means. We have made a member, but not necessarily a Mason. I can tell you from experience that this does not make a man a Mason. Yes, he has a dues card, yes he knows (or thinks he knows) the “secrets” of a Master Mason, yes, he can sit Lodge and visit other Lodges. But can he describe the ways in which Masonry changed his life? Ours is an initiatic order; all ancient initiatic orders were established to teach great truths and to enable men to change and grow in all aspects of their lives and their understanding of the true nature of Man and God.

If our rituals and ceremonies do not affect this kind of change in our candidates, they would be better off joining Kiwanis or the Rotary Club. Mason’s are not appointed, they are evolved. It is my desire to see our Lodge helping men to become Masons, not just Members.

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