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Gary Kerkin
"...without neglecting the ordinary duties of your station endeavour to make a daily advancement in Masonic knowledge."


VW. Bro. Gary Kerkin is PM Lodge Piako No 160
PM Waikato Lodge of Research No 445
Past Grand Lecturer, Grand Lodge of New Zealand
Grand Lecturer (2009), Supreme Grand Royal Arch Chapter of New Zealand, Northern Division.

I have entitled this lecture “The Alternative Third Degree” because that is the form of the ritual practised by Lodge Piako No 160 in the New Zealand Constitution. The essential elements are, of course, the same in both forms of the Third Degree contained in our ritual book[i].



The Third Degree introduces a new element into the ceremonies a Candidate has thus far experienced.

The first two ceremonies are clearly rites. That is they follow a stipulated form with the various Brethren taking the part of instructors and the Candidate the part of a novice being introduced to concepts and teachings. The first is concerned with introducing the Candidate to a work ethic while the second introduces him to the concepts of higher learning: “the liberal arts and sciences”.

However, the Third Degree shifts. It is in three parts: the first and third are rites – in the forms used in the first two Degrees. But the second, the middle part, is a play – a morality play. The Candidate is told that he will be an active participant in a special part of the story that will be unfolded for him.

The Third Degree introduces the Candidate to the spirituality of Freemasonry.



An eminent Masonic historian wrote:

“Brethren, many of you will know that I travel vast distances in the course of my lecture duties and the further I go the more astonished I am to see how many Brethren believe, quite genuinely, that our masonic ritual came down straight from heaven, directly into the hands of King Solomon. They are all quite certain that it was in English, of course, because that is the only language they speak up there. They are equally sure that it was all engraved on two tablets of stone, so that, heaven forbid, not one single word should ever be altered; and most of them believe that King Solomon, in his own lodge, practised the same ritual as they do in theirs.”

This was Harry Carr writing of the rituals of our degrees[ii].

The earliest written evidence of a “degree” ritual is given in the Edinburgh Register House Manuscript which is dated 1696 and is headed “The form of giving the Mason Word” which Carr states is one way of saying it is the manner of initiating a Mason.

Carr writes:

“It begins with the ceremony which made an apprentice into an entered- apprentice (usually about three years after the beginning of his indentures) ….

“We are told that the candidate 'was put to his knees' and 'after a great many ceremonies to frighten him' (rough stuff, horse-play it you like; apparently they tried to scare the wits out of him [as an aside, W.Bro. Linton reports that his experience of the Third Degree in a Scottish Lodge is that the Candidate is subject to a real bouncing and jogging as he is being carried around]), he was made to take up the book and in that position he took the oath, and here is the earliest version of the mason's oath described as part of a whole ceremony.

“By god himself and you shall answer to god when you shall stand nakd before him, at the great day, you shall not reveal any pairt of what you shall hear or see at this time whither by word nor write nor put it in wryte at any time nor draw it with the point of a sword, or any other instrument upon the snow or sand, nor shall you speak of it but with an entered mason, so help you god.”

Carr notes that if you listened carefully you heard the earliest versions of the words 'Indite, carve, mark, engrave or otherwise them delineate'. He also points out that there was no penalty in the obligation, just a plain obligation of secrecy. He continues:

“After he had finished the obligation the youngster was taken out of the lodge by the last previous candidate, the last person who had been initiated before him. Outside the door of the lodge he was taught the sign, postures and words of entry (we do not know what they are until he comes back). He came back, took off his hat and made 'a ridiculous bow' and then he gave the words of entry, which included a greeting to the master and the brethren. It finished up with the words 'under no less pain than cutting of my throat' and there is a sort of footnote which says 'for you must make that sign when you say that'. This is the earliest appearance in any document of an entered apprentice's sign.”

Emphasising that this is a lodge of operative masons, Carr suggests that they would have been lucky if more than a dozen masons were present. The boy is taken to the Master who entrusts him, and then follows a catechism entitled “Some questions that masons use to put to those who have ye word before they will acknowledge them”.

“15 questions and answers, which must have been answered for the candidate; he had not had time to learn the answers. And that was the whole of the entered apprentice ceremony.”

The questions included such as “Are you a mason? How shall I know it? Where were you entered? What makes a true and perfect lodge? Where was the first lodge? Are there any lights in your lodge? Are there any jewels in your lodge?” Carr suggests this may be the first faint indications of Masonic Symbolism.

His indentures completed and having served another couple of years for board and wages, the apprentice would present himself for his second degree. Carr writes:

“He was 'put to his knees and took the oath anew'. It was the same oath that he had taken as an apprentice, omitting only three words. Then he was taken out of the lodge by the youngest master, and there he was taught the signs, posture and words of entry (we still do not know what they were). He came back and he gave what is called the 'master sign', but it is not described. …..Then he was brought up for the entrusting…..and the Master, on the five points of fellowship…. gave the word to the candidate. The five points in those days - foot to foot, knee to knee, heart to heart, hand to hand, ear to ear, that is how it was at its first appearance. No Hiramic legend and no frills only the FPOF and a word. But in this document the word is not mentioned.”

Carr says that two other Scottish documents – the Chetwode Crawley MS, dated about 1700, and the Kevan MS, dated about 1714 – both support the form outlined in the Register House MS. But, asks Carr, can they be trusted? Because all three violate an oath!  However, he says they are confirmed because the first minutes of a Lodge formed in the south of Scotland in 1702 show some of the ceremonial revealed in the three manuscripts, despite the first 10 pages of the minutes book having been destroyed because – horror of horrors – they contained the ritual. The last part of the ritual was on the top half of page 11 and the bottom half contained the first minutes, so that page was not destroyed.

The first hint of a Third Degree appears in a MS known as the Trinity College, Dublin, Manuscript, dated 1711, found among the papers of a famous Irish doctor and scientist, Sir Thomas Molyneux. Carr writes:

“This document is headed with a kind of Triple Tau, and underneath it the words 'Under no less a penalty'. This is followed by a set of eleven Q. and A. and we know straight away that something is wrong! We already have three perfect sets of fifteen questions, so eleven questions must be either bad memory or bad copying - something is wrong! The questions are perfectly normal, only not enough of them. Then after the eleven questions we would expect the writer to give a description of the whole or part of the ceremony but, instead of that, he gives a kind of catalogue of the Freemason's words and signs.”

He gives this sign … for the EA with the word B

“He gives 'knuckles, & sinues' as the sign for the 'fellow-craftsman', with the word 'Jachquin'. The 'Master's sign is the back bone' and for him (ie the MM) the writer gives the world's worst description of the FPOF. …..

“Squeese the Master by ye back bone, put your knee between his, & say Matchpin.

“That, Brethren, is our second version of the word of the third degree. We started with 'Mahabyn', and now 'Matchpin', horribly debased. Let me say now, loud and clear, nobody knows what the correct word was. It was probably Hebrew originally, but all the early versions are debased. We might work backwards, translating from the English, but we cannot be certain that our English words are correct. So, here in the Trinity College, Dublin, MS, we have, for the very first time, a document which has separate secrets for three separate degrees; the enterprentice, the fellowcraftsman and the master. It is not proof of three degrees in practice, but it does show that somebody was playing with this idea in 1711.” 

We can be reasonably certain that no formal Third Degree was obvious in the Lodges of Speculative Freemasons that formed the first Grand Lodge in 1717 because Anderson’s Constitutions published in 1723 refers only to Brothers, Fellowcrafts and Masters:

“No Brother can be a WARDEN until he has pass’d the part of a Fellow-Craft ; nor a MASTER until he has acted as a Warden, nor GRAND-WARDEN until he has been Master of a Lodge, nor GRAND MASTER unless he has been a Fellow-Craft before his Election…”

Carr writes that the next piece of evidence of a third degree appears in the first printed exposure in a London newspaper, The Flying Post. Written in 1723 the text is known as a 'Mason's Examination' and shows a much longer catechism and the text contained several pieces of rhyme one of which was of particular importance:

'An enter'd Mason I have been, Boaz and Jachin I have seen; A Fellow I was sworn most rare, And Know the Astler, Diamond, and Square: I know the Master's Part full well, As honest Maughbin will you tell.'

There are still two pillars for the EA, and the Masonic secrets are divided into three parts for three different categories of Masons. “The idea of three degrees is in the air.”

The Graham MS, dating from 1726 is described by Carr as

“…a fascinating text which begins with a catechism of some thirty Questions and Answers, followed by a collection of legends, mainly about biblical characters, each story with a kind of Masonic twist in its tall. One legend tells how three sons went to their father's grave. To try if they could find anything about him for to Lead them to the veritable secret which this famous preacher had They opened the grave finding nothing save the dead body all most consumed away ‘takeing a greip at a ffinger it came away so from Joynt to Joynt so to the wrest so to the Elbow so they Reared up the dead body and suported it setting ffoot to ffoot knee to knee Breast to breast Cheeck to cheeck and hand to back and cryed out help o ffather ... so one said here is yet marow in this bone and the second said but a dry bone and the third said it stinketh so they agreed for to give it a name as is known to free masonry to this day’ ...”

This is the earliest story of a raising in a Masonic context, apparently a fragment of the Hiramic legend, but the body referred to was that of Noah, not Hiram Abif. Carr continues:

“Another legend concerns 'Bazalliell', the wonderful craftsman who built the mobile Temple and the Ark of the Covenant for the Israelites during their wandering in the wilderness. The story goes that near to death, Bazalliell asked for a tombstone to be erected over his grave, with an inscription 'according to his diserveing' and that was done as follows:

“Here Lys the flowr of masonry superiour of many other companion to a king and to two princes a brother Here Lys the heart all secrets could conceal. Here lys the tongue that never did reveal.

“The last two lines could not have been more apt if they had been specially written for Hiram Abif; they are virtually a summary of the Hiramic legend.”

 Possibly the most fascinating evidence of ceremonies for three degrees is cited by Carr:

“In the records of the [London] Musical Society we read that on 22 December 1724 'Charles Cotton Esq'. was made a Mason by the said Grand Master' [ie His Grace The Duke of Richmond] in the Lodge at the Queen's Head. It could not be more regular than that. Then, on 18 February 1725 '. . . before We Founded This Society A Lodge was held ... In Order to Pass Charles Cotton Esq'. . . .' and because it was on the day the society was founded, we cannot be sure whether Cotton was passed FC in the Lodge or in the Musical Society. Three months later, on 12 May 1725 'Brother Charles Cotton Esqr. Broth'. Papillion Ball Were regularly passed Masters'.”

Finally, in this brief history of the development of the Third Degree, it is of interest to look at the introduction of the Hiramic Legend into Freemasonry.

According to Laurence Gardner in “The Shadow of Solomon” [iii] the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of England from 1719-22, French Clergyman Rev Jean Theophilus Desaguliers was responsible for introducing Hiram Abif to “the front line of Freemasonry”. A member of the Royal Society, he was a prominent philosophical scientist and the inventor of the planetarium. According to Gardner he also invented mythology. Prior to the emergence of Hiram, Noah was the principal character representing the construction industry. As Carr indicated Noah’s three sons (Shem, Ham and Japheth) exhumed his body in an attempt to discover a secret that had been buried with him. Trying to lift the body by a finger, it came away; the same thing happening when pulling at the wrist and elbow. They finally got the body out of the grave by means of a five-point hold. Gardner writes:

“The bizarre tale relates that one brother said, ‘Here is marrow in the bone.’ The other said, ‘But a dry bone’, at which they dubbed the event with the nonsensical word Mahabyn.”

Gardner comments that whatever the original purpose of this strange story, it lacked the key elements of a ‘good’ story and so further elements were added:

“… – those of betrayal, murder, martyrdom and revenge. With these additions, Desaguliers had a more exciting plot, but felt it necessary to change the central character in order to associate the tale with stonemasonry instead of Noah’s woodworking. Thus, the legend of Noah became the legend of Hiram Abif against a backdrop of the building of Solomon’s Temple.”

            It should be noted that Desaguliers was possibly influenced by Wren and Newton (Wren having founded the Royal Society, and Newton being one of its earliest members) who were both struck by the architecture and geometry of Solomon’s Temple and would have encouraged the development of a moral philosophy illustrated by the symbolism inherent in its design and construction.



Having had a brief look at the way the Third Degree arose let us now take a closer look at its structure and some of the implications.

In structure it is similar to the first two Degree ceremonies in that it has several elements, namely challenges and interrogations, an Obligation, elements of morality and a history of the way the morality was developed. However there is a stunning difference between it and the two previous degrees. In this Degree the candidate takes part in what can best be described as a morality play. 

Challenge and Interrogations

At his entry the Candidate is challenged by the Inner Guard. However, in the Alternative Third Degree ritual the Candidate has not yet received the pass grip and password and these are given for him by his Conductor. He is admitted on the points of the Compasses. He has already been introduced to the concept of the sweep of the points encompassing our life and actions, in the First Degree when he is introduced to the Three Great Lights. Now he starts his understanding of the implications of that by being told that the points encompassing his most vital organs is a symbolic reminder that the Third Degree encompasses the most important secrets and tenets of Freemasonry.

The first perambulation of the Lodge takes him back to his Initiation and he salutes the WM as EA, is interrogated by the JW about the secrets of an EA and salutes the SW as an EA.

The second perambulation recalls his Passing and he salutes the WM as a FC; salutes the JW as a FC; and is interrogated by the SW on the secrets of a FC.



After presentation by the SW he is instructed in the steps by which he must approach the East – and, although probably having noticed the way the pavement has been decorated is given his first real inkling that this Degree is in some way linked to death. He swears to 5 Obligations:

  1. To conceal and not reveal the secrets.

  2. To adhere to the principles of the square and compasses

  3. To obey signs.

  4. To answer summons.

  5. To uphold the Five Points of Fellowship –

  6. Friendship (hand).

    • Support (foot).

    • Needs (supplication posture).

    • Secrets (breast).

    • Honour (back).

He seals his pledge and is introduced to the next lesson on the compasses, namely that they now prescribe the limits within which he is work. One of the elements of the symbolism of the compasses is given to him, that it is an instrument which can inscribe a circle and it is that circle which sets our bounds. It is interesting to compare this with our physical situation. Were we to place ourselves in what appears to be a flat plane – sitting on a boat out of sight of land, for example – what would we observe? A circular horizon.

In the Alternative Degree he receives the PG & PW and retires to be prepared for his part in the play which is to come. He has, to this point, been dressed in a manner consistent with the first parts of his Initiation and Passing, representing a state of indigence with respect to Freemasonry.

I do not intend to dissect, or “unpack” all the Charges which are involved – they are worthy of their own individual study (and we would be here for the next week!), but it is probably useful to comment on some aspects and to remember the discussion earlier on the Hiramic legend and the mythology developed by or for Desaguliers.



            The exhortation sets the scene for the play. It comments, briefly, on the principles to which the Candidate was introduced in the first two Degrees. It then introduces the Candidate to the teachings which will emerge from the play in which he is about to play a principal role. 

THERE was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,

The earth, and every common sight,

To me did seem

Apparelled in celestial light,

The glory and the freshness of a dream.

It is not now as it hath been of yore;--

Turn wheresoe'er I may,

By night or day,

The things which I have seen I now can see no more.[iv]


Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:

The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star,

Hath had elsewhere its setting,

And cometh from afar:

Not in entire forgetfulness,

And not in utter nakedness,

But trailing clouds of glory do we come

From God, who is our home:

Heaven lies about us in our infancy!

Shades of the prison-house begin to close

Upon the growing Boy,

But He beholds the light, and whence it flows,

He sees it in his joy;

The Youth, who daily farther from the east

Must travel, still is Nature's Priest,

And by the vision splendid

Is on his way attended;

At length the Man perceives it die away,

And fade into the light of common day.[v]


At this stage the elements of the play that is about to unfold are outlined.



The candidate is then introduced to one of the great readings among the Charges in Freemasonry – the soliloquy on the approach of death from Ecclesiastes. In the Alternative Third Degree this is presented in segments by the Master and Wardens while the Candidate perambulates the Lodge under the control of the Deacons. If it is properly choreographed and orchestrated the performance lends a peculiar poignancy to the presentation. I recall that it had a stunning effect on me – it is one of the significant memories I have of my Raising.


The attacks and the attempts at escape

Now the Candidate is pulled into the Desaguliers mythology proper and taken through the attacks on Hiram Abif when he endeavours to leave the Temple grounds after the labours of the day. In turn he is accosted by workmen who attack him with:

  1. A Plumb Rule

  2. A Level

  3. A Maul

Charge prior to attempt to raise

While the Candidate is lying in the figurative grave he is told, and the Brethren attending are reminded, of the significance of fidelity to the trusts which have been imposed, the personal integrity required to sustain that fidelity, and the importance of perseverance in the face of adversity – which, of course, reinforces the lessons of the First Degree which are manifest in the Working Tools.


The Raising of the Candidate from the figurative grave has caused some consternation among certain fundamentalist religious groupings that see it as challenging the Resurrection. That it actually refers to a story about Noah seems to have no relevance to their thinking. As with Noah the Wardens and then the Master and Wardens try various methods.

  1. The EA grip.

  2. The FC grip.

  3. Five Points of Fellowship

You may note that the Master refers to “first word spoken at the grave” where “word” is singular.

The import of what has just taken place is described by the Master “…are raised from a figurative death to a reunion…” – the “intimations of immortality”.

 Charge after Raising

The Charge after Raising serves to reinforce the implication of emerging from the darkness of despair and ignorance and gives the Candidate an intimation of the Hope which he will be led to through Freemasonry “…to lift our eyes to that bright morning star, whose rising brings Peace and Tranquillity to the faithful …”


The Candidate is introduced to the Secrets of a Master Mason, invested with his apron and then informed that he now has certain obligations which pertain to his rank and what is required of him with regard to inferiors.

The Secrets, however, raise the interesting speculation about the “Word” – which, as we know, is in fact, two Words! Why or how did this arise?

Harry Carr covers it quite extensively in “The Freemason At Work” and it is worth quoting from it. From about the beginning of the 18th Century it appears only one Word was used but by 1725 there appeared to be four different versions. Carr says that there were two in manuscript and two in print. Before 1763, he writes, no fewer that eight versions had appeared in England alone. We have already been introduced to some of them. He writes[vi]:

“As examples of the debasement, Sloane gives the word(s) as Maha-Byn, half in one ear and half in the other; it was apparently used in those days as a test word, the first half requiring the answer ‘Byn’. Other versions were ‘matchpin’, 1711, and ‘Magbo and Boe’, 1725.

“It is generally agreed that the words were probably of Hebrew origin (in which case each of them would be a combination of two words, i.e., verb and noun); but from the time of their first appearance, either in MS or print, they were already so debased, through ignorance or carelessness, that it is impossible to say how they were written or pronounced in their original form.

“The various printed exposures of 1760, 1762 and later, which suggest that the word was pronounced differently by adherents of the rival Grand Lodges, i.e., that the ‘Moderns’ used a form ending in a CH, CK, or K sound, while the ‘Antients’ used a form which finished with an N sound. This would seem to be a generalisation that must be discounted, because there were three N versions in circa 1700, 1711 and 1723 respectively, decades before the ‘Antients’ Grand Lodge was founded. …

“Soon after the Lodge of Promulgation was erected (in 1809) to prepare the way for the union of the two Grand Lodges, this point came into question while dealing with the form of ‘Closing the Lodge in the Third Degree’, when the word is to be spoken aloud; but which word? It must have been a difficult problem, even for the distinguished members of that ‘Moderns’ body, partly because none of them could be certain that the form to which they were accustomed was correct, but also because it was necessary to make allowance for the form in use by the ‘Antients’. This predicament gave rise to a Resolution that they made on 16 February 1810, which is a model of wisdom and tolerance:

“…but that Masters of Lodges shall be informed that such of them as may be inclined to prefer another known method of communicating the s[sic.? secrets]in the closing ceremony will be at liberty to direct it so if they should think proper to do so. (AQC 23, p.42)

“….Many of us must have heard some of the extraordinary pronunciation give to those ‘Words’ in our present-day Lodges, and I am inclined to believe that the alternate forms were approved simply because nobody could be sure which of them, if any, was correct.”

 Traditional History

The Traditional History (both parts) spells out the Desaguliers mythology regarding the death of Hiram Abif and subsequent events which led to the capture and execution of the wayward craftsmen.

 Extended Secrets

The Extended Secrets introduces the new Master Mason to the signs he will encounter in Lodges, and even goes so far as to give him some idea of the variations he may encounter should he travel abroad in Masonic circles.

 Working Tools

The Working Tools reinforce the impacts of our life and actions and particularly the implications of the Compasses. Robert Cooper[vii] writes, however, that despite the fact they are a well-known symbol their Masonic importance may not be common knowledge.

“They symbolise the need for a Freemason to raise himself above material considerations; inescapable though these considerations are, they must be placed in their proper context and not over-indulged. More specifically, the compasses direct the attention towards three great Masonic attributes of virtue, morality and brotherly love.”

Cooper thinks the way of viewing the compasses might well have some connection with the manner in which stonemasons used them to make moral points, citing a verse about John Mordo (or Morrow), a French stonemason from Paris who worked on ecclesiastical buildings in Scotland in the late 14th and early 15th centuries. An inscription in Melrose Abbey at which he was the master mason is found with interlaced compasses. The Scottish spelling and words are a bit difficult(!) but a “translation” Cooper offers reads:

“So goes the compass evenly about

so truth and love you cannot doubt

remember your end quotes John Mordo”

Cooper says we should be careful not to read too much into these few lines, but to him it is clear that the compasses meant a lot more than just the working tool to this particular stonemason. He thinks the lines contain no reference to operative use but rather charge the reader to contemplate his mortality.


Tracing Board

The Tracing Board of the Third Degree is much less extensive that those of the First and Second Degrees, primarily because the “historical” material has been covered in the Traditional History.

As indicated above the Candidate probably gained an inkling on his entry to the Lodge in the first part of the ceremony that it is about death. And, indeed, being laid in a figurative grave, or, as in some Lodges a “grave” that is a little more than just figurative, reinforces this thought. And he has been told that he is to contemplate his own death. But, writes Cooper[viii], the Masonic symbol of the coffin does not represent death but is a reminder of it.

Cooper says that the skull and two crossed bones is one of the most misunderstood, or misused, Masonic symbols. He writes:

“The combination of skull and bones was a common feature on gravestones in Britain after the Reformations (1540 in England and 1559 in Scotland). As an emblem of mortality, it has long been used as a reminder of the inevitability of death and here too, within Freemasonry, it serves the same purpose in the same way as the coffin.”

He suggests that it may have some connection with the Edinburgh Register House MS ritual questions 12 and 13 which refer to a grave and a ‘bone box’. It is, he says, “… a very specific reminder of the untimely death of Hiram Abif and a general reminder of the ultimate end for us all.”


Final Charge

On the other hand the Final Charge carries as great significance as the Final Charges of the other two Degrees and in particular the Candidate is introduced to some very specific and important “obligations”. He finds he is to:

  • Correct the errors and irregularities of Brethren

  • Guard Brethren against a breach of fidelity

  • Improve morals and correct manners in all men

  • Recommend:

  • To inferiors: obedience and submission

  • To equals: courtesy and affability

  • To superiors: kindness and condescension

  • Inculcate universal benevolence

  • Offer a good example of conduct

  • Preserve sacred and inviolate the ancient Landmarks

  • Do not allow an infringement of rites or deviation of established usage and custom

  • Enforce the tenets of the Order by precept and example


[i] All references to ritual are to that of the Grand Lodge of New Zealand which was formed in 1890 from various Lodges which had been established under the English, Scottish and Irish Constitutions. When a ritual for the new Grand Lodge was written there was some dissension as to the form the Third Degree would take. As a direct result two forms of the ritual are included:  the “standard” form which is based on the English ritual; and an “alternative” form which based on the Scottish ritual. Lodges are free to select whichever form they prefer. It may be of interest to note that the four Constitutions co-exist to this day in New Zealand.

[ii] Harry Carr, “600 Hundred Years of  Craft Ritual”, (PGD, PM Quatuor Coronati Lodge No 2076)

[iii] Laurence Gardner, “The Shadow of Solomon”, Harper Element, 2005, ISBN-13 978-0-00-720761-9, ISBN-10 0-00-720761-1, P140.

[iv] William Wordsworth “Intimations of Immortality”, 1803-6, verse 1

[v] Ibid. Verse 5.

[vi] Harry Carr, “The Freemason at Work”, A. Lewis (Masonic Publishers) Ltd, ISBN 0 85318 126 8, p9.

[vii] Robert LD Cooper “Cracking the Freemasons Code”, Rider Books, Random House Publishing, 2006, p97

[viii] Robert LD Cooper, ibid p96.

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