I will be the first to admit, school is kicking my butt this semester. Unfortunately, since school is my highest priority at this time, other things tend to get pushed to the wayside. This does not mean that I will be posting here any less, it just may mean that the day of the week a new article gets posted may become a little erratic. Just wanted to give the heads up, since I know many of you check only Tuesday or Wednesday.
I wanted to talk this week about the working tools of a speculative Mason. First, a history lesson. Freemasonry takes many of its ideas and traditions from the occupation it was based on: masonry. The words to differentiate the two are speculative and operative. The people who lay bricks and do stone work for a living are usually referred to as “operative or stone” masons. Those who are in a fraternity and attend Lodge are called “speculative or Free” Masons. So, theoretically, you could be a Masonic mason. Also note that many people capitalize the fraternity member, but don’t capitalize the union member; this makes deciding which group someone is talking about online much simpler. There’s a lot more to the story on how these two are related, but that’s for another day.
Like many jobs out there, masons have their own set of tools, although I’d imagine they’ve changed quite a bit over the years. Freemasonry, also, has its own set of tools for their work; which are based on some of the traditional tools stone masons once used. One of the only straightforward things in Masonry is, the tools used for Masonic work, are called “working tools”. There are three working tools associated with each Blue Lodge degree, for a total of nine (ish). Many of the working tools are associated with an office in Blue Lodge, which you can read more about here.
Entered Apprentice: 2 or 3 tools
24 inch gauge
A gauge is just another word for ruler. The 24 inch ones are the kind that you usually now made out of metal, often used for drafting plans in stone masonry. During the speculative degree, the canidate learns that each number represents an hour in their day, which they are taught to divide into three separate, but equal parts: “eight hours for the service of God and a distressed worthy Brother, eight for our usual vocations and eight for refreshment and sleep.” T and I have had more than one discussion about what part of our lives fit into that, especially family. We decided that a lot can fit under the service of God umbrella.
Anyone who’s seen Law & Order knows what a gavel is. Here however, it refers to a type of hammer rather than an instrument to gain order in a court room. There are lots of different looking gavels out there, but the common gavel has a part of it that comes to a point, used in stone masonry for cutting the edges off of bricks and stones. In speculative Masonry, the candidate is taught that the gavel is used by Freemasons “for the more noble and glorious purpose of divesting our hearts and consciences of the vices and superfluities of life.”
For those joining Lodges in the UK, the chisel is added to the Entered Apprentice degree. For the majority of Lodges in the US, this is left out. The stone mason uses the chisel to remove flaws from, and beautify a stone or gem, showing its inner beauty. During the degree work, the Masonic candidate is taught something similar: the importance of discipline and education in one’s life. “Just as the brilliance of the diamond is revealed by the skillful use of the chisel, so too will the beauties of the human mind be revealed through knowledge”
Fellowcraft: 3 tools
Chances are, you’ve seen a square as well; it’s a ruler with a 90 degree angle. In operative masonry, it is used to make clean corners and work, and to help make sure that everything is well, square. The canidate for the FC degree in Freemasonry , its taught that the tool is to help “square your actions” or to “act upon the square”; that is, to make your virtues and morals shape your actions . This is one of the symbols most widely associated with Freemasonry, and with its simple shape, and simple but powerful lesson, it is easy to see why.
The level is the second working tool of the Fellowcraft degree. Again, you’ve probably come across one before. Operative masons and others use a level to test the horizontals of an object, to make sure that it is smooth, even, or, well, level. In speculative Masonry, the lessons for the level differ a bit depening on where you are. In some jurisdictions, it’s taught that the level is a reminder that “that we come from the same
place, share in the same goal, and will eventually be judged by the same immutable law.” In others, the level is used as a symbol of equality among brethren in the Lodge. Still others teach that the level is a reminder that time has no preference for anyone, “And for each and all, time will lead us to that undiscovered country from whose bourne no traveler returns”. Hard to pick just one of those lessons. I can’t imagine that any Lodge teaches all three. Also, please know that within Freemasonry, the level symbol used appears much different from the level you may use to hang a picture in your living room.
Okay, so, I had to look this one up. The third working tool of the Fellowcraft degree is a plumb, often called a plumb line in both forms of masonry. Apparently operative masonry also calls it a plumb bob. Think of it like a level for vertical things; it tells you how vertical something is (or isn’t); it can also be used to test perpendiculars. The lesson of the plumb line is for the canidate to be reminded to live a life that is upright, honest and just. “As an Insecure building must eventually fall, so he whose life is not supported by an upright course of conduct can no longer sustain a worthy reputation and must soon sink beneath the estimation of every good and virtous man.”
Master Mason: 1 or 3 tools
It’s not, as I once thought, a fancy pie server. An operative mason will use a trowel to spread cement between layers of brick. In some jurisdictions, this is taught as the only working tool for a Master Mason; in others the three below are used instead. Where it is taught, the trowel is used to, “spread the cement of brotherly love and affection; that cement which unites us into one sacred band or society of friends and brothers.”
You know it, you love it, the pencil. Obviously used by operative masons for marking down any number of things. But what can this seemingly innocuous item teach us? That everything we do, good or bad, is being written down by God, and that on the day that you stand before him, all of these deeds will be lain before you, and you will be judged. A less ominous lesson teaches that a Mason “must give an account of his actions and conduct through his mortal life,” to God.
Another one I had to look up, and to be honest, I could not find a reference that wasn’t speculative Masonry anywhere. It kind of looks like a spool of string on a stick. The stick is stuck in the ground, and the string, which is covered in chalk is unwound. The string could then be used to draw a nice straight line on the ground, to mark where a foundation or other part of a building may go. The skirrit reminds the Master Mason candidate of the straight and narrow path ahead of him that he will follow. “Regardless of what colour our volume of the sacred law is, we must ensure that we do not wander from the goal of perfection that we have set”.
The other oft seen symbol of masonry. As I’m sure you know from elementary school, stone masons use compasses to draw circles. It can also be used to draft, measure distance, and even navigate. The lesson of the compass lies within its two moveable legs. As the compass can only open so wide, so are there boundaries of everything. “The Compasses, in defining limits and proportions, teach us the limits of
good and evil as laid down by the Great Architect.” Using proportion and balance in your work and life, can bring about stability and beauty in both.
If you would like to learn more in depth about the working tools, I highly recommend an adaptation of an esoteric lecture given by a brother in Canada, simply called The Working Tools of a Mason. Also, if you would ever like to own or gift a set of working tools, they are sold in various places. I am quite particular to this set, but try and find out which tools the jurisdiction uses!
As always, please contact me here, or at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or comments you may have. Have a wonderful weekend!