III. Symbolism of the Entered Apprentice Degree-Continued
By Bro. C. P. Boon, San Antonio – Texas Freemason Magazine, June 1920
(Author of Trestle-Board and Working Tools of Symbolic Freemasonry)
INITIATION – A term used by the Romans to designate admission into the mysteries of their sacred and secret rites. It is derived from the word “initia” which signifies the first principles of a science. It is now as it has been for countless ages, employed as a symbol of the birth and endless development of the human mind and soul. The Entered Apprentice degree represents birth and the preparatory stage of life, or in other words, youth.
PREPARATION – Great care was taken of the personal condition of every Israelite who entered the Temple for divine worship, and they were instructed that no man should go into the Temple with his staff, nor with shoes on his feet, nor with outer garments, nor with money tied up in his purse. Dr. Mackey says the preparation of the candidate for initiation is entirely symbolic. It varies in the different degrees, and therefore the symbolism varies with it, and cannot be altered, abridged, or added to in any of its details, without affecting the esoteric design. Bro. Gage says the apprentice in the moral science should give up the rags of his own righteousness and also all precious metals, symbolical of worldly wealth and distinction, and all baser metals, symbolical of offense and defense, in order that he may realize his dependence upon moral forces only. He should be clad in a garment signifying that he comes with pure intentions to learn the noble art and profit by its lessons.
THE LODGE – There are three definitions of a lodge. 1st. It is a place where Freemasons meet. 2nd. It is the assembly or organized body of Freemasons duly congregated for labor or for business: 3rd. It symbolically represents the world. Its covering is the clouded canopy or starry decked heavens, the abode of those who do the will of the Grand Architect. It is furnished with the theological ladder, which reaches from earth to heaven, and is illuminated as is the world, by the refulgent rays of the sun, symbolically represented in his rising in the east, his meridian height in the south, and his setting in the west. This meaning was more manifest at the period when Freemasonry is supposed to have had its origin, for the then known world living around the shores of the Mediterranean Sea was literally of the form of an “oblong square.” If the lodge symbolizes the world, and the Mason symbolizes man, it follows that initiation must symbolize the introduction of the individual into the world or the birth of a child. It was so regarded in the ancient systems of initiation and is now so understood by Masonic scholars everywhere.
CABLE TOW – A cable tow is a rope or line for drawing or leading. The word is purely Masonic. In its first inception, the cable tow seems to have been used only as a physical means of controlling or binding anyone. It has however, a deeper symbolism. It represents those forces and Influences which have conducted not only the individual, but the race out of a condition of ignorance and darkness into one of light and knowledge. This symbolical meaning of the cable tow seems to have been accepted in all of the ancient systems of initiation. The length of a cabletow is three miles. But the Baltimore Convention in 1842 defined it to mean the scope of a man’s reasonable ability. Tradition informs us that for certain crimes committed in ancient times, the penalty was death, and the body buried in the sea three miles out from the shore. That was considered outside the jurisdiction of the country in which he lived, and was a cable tow’s length.
METAL TOOLS – We are told in the scripture that the Temple was “built of stone made ready before it was brought thither, so that there was neither hammer, nor axe, nor tool of iron heard in the house while it was in building.” (I Kings vi. 7) It is a well authenticated historical fact that the Jews, not to mention other ancient peoples, believed that an iron tool was polluting to an altar to Deity. Hence, in the days of Moses the laws prescribed that in erecting an altar of stone to Jehovah no iron tool should be employed upon it. The work of erecting the Temple therefore went on noiselessly, but with speed and perfection. Masonry has adopted this as a symbol of the peace and harmony which should reign in a Lodge, itself a type of the world, and the erection and adornment of the moral and spiritual temple in which we are engaged, that of human character, and of which Solomon’s was typical, is not characterized by the clang of noisy tools. About true character-building there is nothing of bluster and show; it is a silent, noiseless process. It also teaches us that the Temple was a type of the kingdom of God, and that the souls of men are to be prepared here, for that place of blessedness, so the stones must all be squared, and fitted here for their place in the New Jerusalem.
PRAYER – Freemasonry is a religious institution, and hence its regulations inculcate prayer “as a proper tribute of gratitude.” The custom of commencing and ending labor with prayer was adopted at an early period by the Operative Freemasons of England. Their Lodges were opened at sunrise, the Master taking his station in the East and the brethren forming a half circle around him, and received his instructions. At sunset they again assembled after labor, prayer was offered, and their wages paid to them. Bro. Riviere says we are taught that a Mason should never enter upon any great or laudable undertaking without invoking the aid of Almighty God. In the light of that lesson, prayer becomes a duty as well as the privilege of every Mason. How few understand the nature and effects of prayer. Prayer that has become merely a bed-time custom is not prayer; it is an incantation to sooth the conscience or satisfy the demands of a habit formed in more innocent and unsophisticated days. The object and effect of prayer are to bring the soul into conscious harmony with the all-wise Father, whose laws are true and just and righteous altogether. “Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire,” so says the old song. If that be true, how earnestly should the compasses be used to circumscribe our desires, so that no unrighteous, no unworthy, no covetous, no licentious prayer insult the Father whose All-Seeing Eye looks into the innermost recesses of our being. Prayer reveals a man to himself. For what do you pray, on what do you meditate, what thought do you ponder over and keep in your heart? Be sure that it will find expression in your outer life, for “the within is ceaselessly becoming the without.”
SECRECY – Is one of the first lessons we learn in Masonry. Bro. Riviere says this great virtue is necessary in our order so that Mason’s will appreciate the lessons taught. As a secret shared between two people binds them together, so the secrets of our fraternity bind the Brethren together. Anything taught you that is a profound secret makes a greater impression upon the mind. If our teachings of beautiful truths were scattered broadcast through the world, they would become commonplace; so they are taught under secrecy, only to those deemed worthy to receive and practice them.
UPRIGHT – The Upright Posture of the Apprentice is a symbol of upright conduct. Bro. Street says in Eastern countries the inferior approaches the superior, the servant the master, the subject the sovereign, in an abased or groveling manner, oftentimes with the face averted as though it were insolence to look directly upon the august presence. Not so in Masonry; the candidate is taught to stand erect and walk upright as a man should. Nothing adds more to a man’s self-respect and strength of character than to walk erect, holding the head well up and looking the world and every man squarely in the face. Freemasonry teaches that all men are and of right ought to be free, that, therefore, no man should abuse or humiliate himself before another. But this manly erect attitude which the candidate is taught to assume, has the same symbolism as the plumb; it teaches that we should always walk upright in our several stations before God and man.
BIBLE – The Bible is properly called a greater light of Masonry, for from the center of the Lodge it pours forth upon the East, the West, and the South it’s refulgent rays of Divine Truth. The Bible is used among Masons as the symbol of the will of God, however it may be expressed, and therefore, whatever to any people expresses that will may be used as a substitute for the Bible in a Masonic Lodge. Thus, in a Lodge consisting entirely of Hebrews, the Old Testament alone may be placed upon the altar. The Turkish Masons make use of the Koran. Whether it be the Gospels to the Christian, the Pentateuch to the Israelite, the Koran to the Mussulman, or the Vedas to the Brahman, it everywhere Masonically conveys the same idea-that of the symbolism of the Divine Will revealed to man. One of the most important things brought to the attention of the Entered Apprentice is the Holy Bible, and he is instructed that it, alone, was to be the rule and guide to his faith and practice. At each succeeding step in this advancement he is reminded that it would guide him to all truth, direct his path to the Temple of Happiness, and point out to him the whole duty of man. And now while we are making a study of the symbols and doctrines of Freemasonry, I want to impress it upon the mind of every young Mason, in the most lasting and substantial manner possible, that the Holy Bible contains the mind of GOD, the state of Man, the plan of Salvation, the doom of Sinners, and the happiness of Believers. Its doctrines are holy, its precepts are binding, its histories are true, and its decisions are immutable. Read it to the wise, believe it to be safe, and practice it to be holy. It will furnish light to guide you, strength to support you, and comfort to cheer you. It is the traveler’s map, the pilgrim’s staff, the pilot’s compass, the Mason’s light, and the Christian’s Charter. Through it Heaven is opened, Paradise is restored, and the gates of hell are disclosed. The Messiah is its grand subject, our good its design, and the Glory of GOD its end, Read it slowly, frequently, prayerfully. If you will obey its precepts, it will be to you a river of pleasure, a mine of wealth, and a paradise of glory. It is furnished you in life to prepare for the judgment, and as you, choose, so shall your destiny be, in prosperity or adversity.
APRON – There is no one of the symbols of Speculative Masonry more important in its teachings, or more interesting in its history, than the lambskin, or white leather apron. Commencing its lessons at an early period in the Mason’s progress, it is impressed upon his memory as the first gift which he receives, the first symbol which is explained to him, and the first tangible evidence which he possesses of his admission into the Fraternity.
We find the most satisfactory evidence that the use of the apron, or some equivalent mode of investiture as a mystic symbol, was common to all the nations of the earth from the earliest periods. For a further description and explanation of the Apron, I refer the student to the beautiful article written by Bro. Geo. W. Tyler and printed in the January, 1920, number of Texas Freemason. It is the best, and every Mason ought to read it.
UNTEMPERED MORTAR – In the lecture used in the early part of the present century, the apprentices at the Temple were said to wear their aprons in a peculiar manner characteristic of that class that they might preserve their garments from being defiled by “untempered mortar.” This is mortar which has not been properly mixed for use, and it thus becomes a symbol of passions and appetites not duly restrained. Hence the Speculative Apprentice was made to wear his apron in that peculiar manner to teach him that he should not allow his soul to be defiled by the “untempered mortar of unruly passions” and that he should never do anything, or be engaged in any business, that he could not, consistently, ask the blessing of God upon it. TEMPERED MORTAR – In ancient times when Masonry was strictly an operative institution, the Masons mixed the lime and sand, and put it in large heaps, then covered it over with a heavy coating of sand, and let it remain in that condition for six months or more, in order to temper it, so that all the little particles of lime would slack; this was called good, or tempered mortar. The symbolic reference to tempered mortar is that you should never recommend any person to a participation in our privileges unless you are satisfied, and have strong reasons to believe that he will reflect honor and credit on our noble order; in other words, he is tempered mortar.
NORTH – The north is generally called a place of darkness. The sun in his progress through the ecliptic never reaches farther than 23 deg. 28 min. north of the equator. A wall being erected on any part of the earth farther north than that, will therefore, at meridian receive the rays of the sun only on its south side, while the north will be entirely in shadow at the hour of meridian. The use of the north as a symbol of darkness is found with the present interpretation, in the early rituals of the last century. It is a portion of the old sun worship, of which we find so many relics in Gnosticism. The east was the place of the sun’s daily birth, and hence highly revered.
NORTH-EAST CORNER – From the most ancient times it has been the custom of builders to lay with ceremonies the cornerstone of important edifices, in the northeast corner. In the important ceremony which refers to the northeast comer of the Lodge, the candidate becomes as one who is, to all outward appearance, a perfect and upright man and Mason, the representative of a spiritual corner-stone, on which he is to erect his future moral and Masonic edifice. This symbolic reference of the corner-stone of a material edifice to a Mason when, at his first initiation, he commences the moral and intellectual task of erecting a spiritual temple in his heart, is beautifully sustained when we look at all the qualities that are required to constitute a “well-tried, true and trusty” corner-stone. The squareness of its surface, emblematic of morality; its cubical form, emblematic of firmness and stability of character; and the peculiar finish and fineness of the material, emblematic of virtue and holiness, show that the ceremony of the north-east comer of the Lodge was undoubtedly intended to portray, in the consecrated language of symbolism, the necessity of integrity and stability of conduct, of truthfulness and uprightness of character, and of purity and holiness of life.
It may be that some of us were not as good and upright, when we represented that spiritual cornerstone, as we ought to have been, and the Good Book tells us that none of us is absolutely pure, no not one. But we can if we will, from that time on, erect our spiritual building so that it will be accepted by The Great Architect of the Universe.