Our first step into Freemasonry was our Initiation as an Entered
Apprentice. Although we may not have fully appreciated the import of the Degree
we know that we have embarked on something that is important – although what
it might be has yet to be revealed to us. Even the word “degree” is curious
because it has connotations which are familiar to society at large, but the
Masonic use would not be apparent or understood by the wider world which would
expect it to mean a grade or a level, a unit of temperature or angle, or an
academic rank or qualification. In the sense we use it, it means one of the
first words I used at the start – a “step” – which is consistent with
the dictionary meaning of a grade or level.
We will have, however, appreciated the
symbolism of the term “Apprentice” as meaning a person who is undergoing
training for a trade or a craft (with, or without a capital C).
Our second step was the Passing to the Fellow
Craft Degree. If we have picked up the important lesson of the First Degree –
which is to say the development of a work ethic (based on accuracy, labour and
perseverance) – then we will understand that the objective of this Degree is
to advance our knowledge so that we can support that work ethic with
understanding and fairness. What we probably didn’t appreciate was that the
Fellow Craft was a tradesman – out of his indentures and allowed to practise
his trade without supervision. The symbolism with regard to a trade or guild is
clear. The symbolism with regard to Freemasonry is by no means as clear and
probably to most of us it represented a step on the way to the Third Degree in
which we were introduced to the spirituality of Freemasonry. Indeed, we are told
that, when, following our obligation, we are instructed to observe the Square
and Compasses with one point of the latter shown and one point still hidden.
What will not have been clear is how or where
the Master Mason Degree fits in (other than a discussion of spirituality)
because as a grade, or rank, it does not seem to have a place in the figurative
scheme of trainee and “graduate” and, as the by-now Third Degree Mason
knows, it offers him the promise of becoming Master of a Lodge, but does not
make him one. Nor does it guarantee it!
None of the Degrees explain the relationship
between apprentice and tradesman. They do not appear to offer the symbolism that
might have been obvious had the Initiate entered an operative lodge – that is,
when he was finally out of his indentures he would be expected to play his role
in training apprentices. We do not imply this – indeed, we imply that the
Fellow Craft, far from being a tradesman, is still in training (something like a
journeyman – out of his indentures but not yet allowed to work without
supervision), and has some distance yet to go to achieve his fulfilment. Our
allegories do not spell out for us clearly the relationship between apprentice
and tradesman – the Second Degree mentions the payment received by each (the
apprentice receiving corn, oil and wine; the tradesman receiving money), but it
does not discuss any other matters regarding the workforce, its hierarchy and
management. Nor is there any mention of the criteria of selection applicable to
We now know that the Third Degree was an
afterthought – that at the time the first speculative lodges were formed there
were only two degrees in Freemasonry – those of Entered Apprentice and Fellow
of the Craft, mirroring the structure in an operative lodge. The difference
between a lodge of operatives and one of speculatives was, of course, that an
apprenticeship in the former could take between 5 and 7 years to accomplish
while that in the latter could be accommodated in a matter of weeks or months.
The Third Degree showed up some years after the Premier Grand Lodge of London
was formed in 1717, although there is some evidence to suggest that the form of
a Third Degree had been around very early in the 18th century.
Clearly some questions were left begging,
even after the introduction of the Third Degree. Why does a lodge take the form
it does, with a Master and two Wardens? Whose responsibility is the education
and training of the Apprentices? What is the role of the Fellow Craft? Why
cannot a Master Mason automatically assume the Master’s chair? Indeed, what
were the lost secrets, or, more importantly, why did the death of just one man
cause them to be lost?
The Mark Degree is the first step in
providing answers to those questions.
If the operative masons existed at the time
of the construction of King Solomon’s Temple then they must have been
organised into a manageable workforce. How many were there? What management
structure was involved? Who were the craftsmen? Who were the labourers? How were
they trained? How were they tested? How were they paid? Who controlled the
manner of payment? Was the manner of payment as outlined in the Tracing Board of
the Second Degree? How or where were the workmen paid before the middle chamber
of the Temple was constructed? Did the workmen from the quarry have to journey
to the Temple to be paid?
The Mark Degree answers these questions and
in doing so extends both the First and Second Degrees of Craft Freemasonry.
The scene of the Degree is the quarry which
provided the stones for the building. The Candidate for Advancement is
introduced as being a Fellow Craft who seeks to be Advanced so that he may be
able to preside over a Lodge of Operative Masons. He is informed that every
Fellow Craft (or journeyman, or tradesman) has to have a “mark” – a sign
by which his work could be recognized as being his and his alone. He is also
told that each workman had to present his mark at the Senior Warden’s Wicket
(a curious word originating in Middle English and taking various meanings
including: a window, or opening; a turnstile; a small door or gate –
especially inside a larger one) and that he will be instructed how to do so
because “… these parts of the ceremony are usually omitted in the Fellow
Craft Degree …” He is taken through a brief ceremony in which the Registrar
records his mark. He has been told that he can select his own mark and what form
it should take, with at least one exception, but pragmatic considerations will
have left the actual selection up to the Registrar. The Worshipful Mark Master
compliments him on his choice and instructs him how to present the token of a
At this time the Candidate is probably not
aware (unless, of course, he has particularly gifted perception!) that he has
just been admitted to another grade in Freemasonry, even though he has been told
just that. He is taken to present his “sign manual” at the wicket at which
he is confronted with two openings – one distinguished by a square, the other
by a triangle. He is instructed to use the former but he is probably unaware
that he is using a symbol for the Fellow Craft, or tradesman, while the other is
a symbol for a Mark Master Mason (even though he has just been told that, too).
The Obligation builds on those he has already
taken in his progress through Freemasonry, insisting that he honour the secrets
he has already been entrusted with and is about to receive. In addition it
enjoins him to honour another Brother’s mark and to assist him when it proves
necessary, if within his means and resources, and then introduces him to another
two obligations: to pay the wages of the workers when presiding as a Warden in
an Operative Lodge; and to reward merit and ability when presiding as Master.
This is a direct extension of the work ethic defined in the First Degree: that
industry based on accuracy, labour and perseverance deserves payment as reward;
and that merit and ability require special recognition. He does not yet know it,
but this foreshadows some lessons he will pick up in the ceremony.
The Candidate will probably already
appreciate that the First and Second Degrees are rites – that is to say
ceremonies which follow formal, prescribed procedures. He will have appreciated
it more when he encountered the play in which he was the central character –
in the Third Degree – a player who was not given a script in order to prepare
for his performance. He may or may not have contemplated the implication of
allowing himself to take in part in such a production unprepared: that it was a
measure of his trust in those who introduced him into Freemasonry – that they
were not going to humiliate him, or otherwise embarrass him. He must surely have
wondered if he had heard any stories involving goats! But then, he already had
the experience of the two previous Degrees to sustain his feelings that all
would be well. And had he not been blindfolded in the first ceremony! Now he is,
once more, to be a central player – again unschooled in his role.
That the play is to be about “work” in
some form can be in no doubt. He is told that; he is clothed like a workman; and
he is to carry a stone of a peculiar shape. He must have wondered about the
shape – it is certainly not like those his companions are carrying: it has
some straight edges, and some of the corners are square. But one side is
definitely not straight. If he has any knowledge of geometry and arches he will
recognize it as a keystone, but at this stage it has no particular meaning. On
the other hand the other two stones are regular right prisms – straight sides
and square corners. He is brought back into the chapter room, except it has been
rearranged from the configuration he recognizes from a Craft Lodge. There are
three people sitting at chairs and pedestals in the centre of the room, backs to
the centre. If he listens carefully he will deduce that these are Overseers who
were stationed at gates – not of the Temple, as he learned in the Third
Degree, but of the quarry – for the purpose of inspecting the work of the
Fellow Crafts. His conductor explains who they are to the first Overseer and the
Candidate observes for the first time the method by which the quality of the
work was controlled. The Overseer examines the stone presented to him for
soundness – by striking it three times with a mallet and listening to it: the
rubric of our ceremony details the knocks by the Conductor as those of the
Fellow Craft Degree, reinforcing the impression that this ceremony is an
extension of the Second Degree; and it tells the Overseer that the three blows
he strikes the stone with should be similar. I doubt that the Overseers would
have used the knocks of the Second Degree if they were required to strike the
stone three times – they would have endeavoured to strike it along its three
axes and listen to see if they could detect any imperfections from the sound.
Possibly, if the Fellow Craft knocks are to be used they should be used three
times on each of the non-opposing surfaces. I am informed that in some Chapters
the first two Overseers are, indeed, testing for soundness, but the Master
Overseer is affixing the Mark of approval. This, however, strikes me as being
out of context and sequence. The Master Overseer would still have to check the
soundness of the stone. The Overseer also examines the surface finish and the
squareness of the edges and corners, declaring it to be fair work and square
work, and he compares it with his plans and instructions. He passes the first
two stones presented to him and gives the Conductors a password. The stones have
passed the test derived from the work ethic of the First Degree – accuracy,
labour and perseverance. The latter because, undoubtedly, the fine finish is a
result of repeated and extended endeavour.
Then the Candidate runs up against a barrier.
It does not take great genius to ascertain that his stone is different from the
other two – and clearly the Overseer thinks so too. It is not all square and
rectangular and he does not have plans to which it conforms. So what is he to
do? He cannot accept it and yet recognizes that it is the result of superior
workmanship. So he allows the Candidate to follow the other two, but does not
give him a password. The reaction repeating at the next Overseer, the Candidate
with his peculiar stone is eventually conducted to the Master Overseer who far
from recognizing the workmanship can apparently only see that, because he has no
plans or instructions for such a stone, the craftsman has idled away his time on
a flight of fancy.
At this time a perceptive candidate will be
starting to wonder about what he has just witnessed. He has been presented with
a stone to carry which is nothing like the cube and rectangular prism his
conductors are carrying. Why? He will wonder. Then when his stone is presented
to the three overseers, although they have plans for the other two stones, they
have no such plans for his stone. Why? He will wonder. He may be wondering if he
is being deliberately made a fool of. But that would not ring true with his past
experience in Masonic rituals. He may begin to wonder if there isn’t a wider
meaning than just quality control of the work. He probably won’t pick it up,
because it is by no means obvious, but he has just been introduced to an
extension of the lessons of the Fellow Craft Degree – that more than just a
work ethic is required if a design is to be realised. That intelligence,
perception, and understanding are all integral parts of design and bringing it
to fruition. And he has also been reintroduced to another of the lessons of The
Second Degree – justice and fairness. The Junior and Senior Overseers
attempted to be fair by recognizing the quality of the work, even though it did
not conform to their plans and instructions. On the other hand the Master
Overseer could see no merit in the work whatsoever merely because he could find
no reference to it in his instructions. Unfairly and unjustly he condemned it
without endeavouring to ascertain its value. Which we know, of course, from the
luxury of 20-20 hindsight!
In this sense this Degree doesn’t just
“follow” the Fellow Craft Degree – it encompasses both the First and
Second Degrees, expanding and using the lessons taught in each.
But there is yet another lesson to be
amplified namely honesty and integrity, and the importance of recognizing
genuine errors. The Candidate is accused of attempting to gain the wages of a
Mark Master without being entitled to them.
What happens, in fact, is that he, along with
his conductors are brought to the Senior Warden’s Wicket to collect their pay.
But he has only been there once and was instructed to put his hand through a
hole. He did not however take careful note which one! While approaching he
observes every other person present – Mark Master Masons all, he being the
only Mark Man – put his hand into the one hole designated with a triangle. Not
having yet achieved the experience to tell him which, for him, is right and
wrong, he puts his hand in the same hole – and is immediately detected as an
impostor because he uses the wrong manual sign. An easy enough mistake to make
– and a genuine one, because there is no attempt on his part to defraud the
lodge. In many ways it is a reflection on some of our Masonic practices. How
often do we make a conscious attempt to mentor or further enlighten our
candidates? Do we not rely on a sort of mental osmosis to educate him beyond the
rituals of the Degrees? For example I have noticed that never do we instruct
candidates how to act in the closing of the lodge into which they have just been
inducted. After they have been welcomed and congratulated by the Master, we tell
them where to sit and invite them to participate in the closing ceremony. They
are not instructed as to what to do and they have to rely on observation and, if
they are lucky, whispered instructions from whoever is sitting next to them.
And thus it is with our Candidate in the Mark
Degree. When did we inform him that he had to be careful as to which hole he put
his hand in?
His Conductor is adamant that he is not an
impostor – he has worked with him, has observed the quality of his work, and
he has been ordered to instruct him in the presentation of his work. The
Worshipful Mark Master accepts that he has made a genuine mistake but he hedges
his acceptance and orders him to return to the quarry. His integrity is still in
doubt, and that doubt hangs over him like a shadow.
At this point the actions in the Lodge
deviate from the story which is told in the Lecture. The work in the Temple is
at a standstill because the keystone has not yet arrived. We have a difficulty
here because the action is still in the quarry, but the dialogue appears to
place us in the Temple. We have to presume this because there is a discussion
with the Worshipful Mark Master taking the role of Hiram Abiff. The Lecture
tells us that the Master Overseer from the quarry is sent for and, subsequently,
the Mark Man who prepared the stone. A diligent search is called for which is
carried out – but in the quarry, not the Temple. This is sort of like an
ancient Star Trek! After searching, the fortunate Mark Man unearths his stone
and is told that he will be Advanced to the Degree of Mark Master Mason as a
result. But he is not told that he is being Advanced in the stead of the Master
Overseer who, according to the Lecture, has been deposed as punishment for his
carelessness in losing some of his plans and instructions and his lack of
ability in perceiving the use of such a curious stone and its part in the
In the story this is made quite clear and the
implication is that not only does the importance of the work ethic of the First
Degree apply but elements of the Second Degree also come into play: intellect
– to enable an understanding of the design and its intent; fairness – to
ensure that credit is given for resourcefulness and ability; justice – that
all sides are listened to and adjudged appropriately; integrity – that honesty
should prevail whenever doubts arise.
In the story of the Lecture the Candidate learns that the intelligent and
perceptive Mark Man is rewarded by replacing the deposed Master Overseer in
approbation of his ability and intellect. Indeed, some Chapters take this to
heart and sit the newly made Mark Master Mason in the Master Overseer’s chair
for the closing of the lodge.
These lessons are reinforced when the
Candidate is presented with the Working Tools and is told “… we are by these
tools reminded of the moral advantages of discipline and education …”
The Lecture offers the Candidate a
fascinating insight into the workings of a modern lodge: the answers to some of
the questions I posed earlier (Why does a lodge take the form it does? Whose
responsibility is the education and training of the Apprentices? How large was
the workforce? What management structure was involved? Who were the craftsmen?
Who were the labourers? How were they trained? How were they tested? How were
they paid? Who controlled the manner of payment?).
There is some doubt as to the actual number
of workmen – a study of the books of Kings and Chronicles shows some small
variations and a decided difference to the number stated in the Lecture:
And Hiram sent to Solomon, saying, I have considered the things which thou
sentest to me for: and I will do all thy desire concerning timber of cedar, and
concerning timber of fir.
My servants shall bring them down from Lebanon unto the sea: and I will convey
them by sea in floats unto the place that thou shalt appoint me, and will cause
them to be discharged there, and thou shalt receive them: and thou shalt
accomplish my desire, in giving food for my household.
So Hiram gave Solomon cedar trees and fir trees according to all his desire.
And Solomon gave Hiram twenty thousand measures of wheat for food to his
household, and twenty measures of pure oil: thus gave Solomon to Hiram year by
And king Solomon raised a levy out of all Israel; and the levy was thirty
And he sent them to Lebanon ten thousand a month by courses: a month they were
in Lebanon, and two months at home: and Adoniram was over the levy.
And Solomon had threescore and ten thousand that bare burdens and fourscore
thousand hewers in the mountains,
is not clear if the 30,000 of verse 13 is included in the 150,000 in verse 15.
Besides the chief of Solomon’s officers which were over the work, three
thousand and three hundred which ruled over the people that wrought the work.
70,000 + 80,000 + 3,300 = 153,300)
And Solomon told out threescore and ten thousand men to bear burdens, and
fourscore thousand to hew in the mountain, and three thousand and six hundred to
70,000 + 80,000 + 3,600 = 153,600)
is no mention of the levy.
The Lecture is adamant: 80,000 + 30,000 +
3,300 = 113,300. And, it says, the work force was comprised of Entered
Apprentices and Fellow Crafts and that it was the latter that supervised the
work of the former and taught them their business. In other words the Fellow
Crafts were responsible for the training of the Apprentices – as would have
been the case in trades or craft guilds and, of course, lodges of operative
masons. Although it is not clear that common labourers were employed, verse 5:15
of 1 Kings, which refers to hewers and to those that “bare burdens” could
imply that, at least in our terms, it is the apprentices who carried out most of
the common labour. That they were paid, according to the Lecture of the Tracing
Board in the Second Degree, in food could also suggest that, and the records of
the middle ages indicate that indentured labourers were supported with food,
accommodation and clothing by their masters. The truth is probably somewhere in
between the two. Certainly payment of the Entered Apprentices is not mentioned
in the Mark Degree other than that it was, indirectly, the responsibility of the
The Lecture informs the Candidate that the
Entered Apprentices and Fellow Craft were formed into Lodges with three
overseers placed over them to control them and details the precise job
description for the overseers: to know each of his workers; to examine or
scrutinize their work; and to pay them for their labours. The word
“menatzchim” may be of interest. I cannot find it in an English dictionary;
it may well be in a Hebrew dictionary (which is beyond my skills); I cannot find
it in the King James Version of the Old Testament but it is cited in
Anderson’s Constitutions, with references to Hebrew words in the 1723 version,
and as follows in the 1734 (American) version:
In 1 Kings v. 16. they are call'd Harodim, Rulers or Provosts assisting King Solomon, who were set over the Work, and their Number there is only 3,300 : But 2 Chron. ii. 18. they are called Menatzchim, Overseers and Comforters of the People in Working, and in Number 3,600.
The earlier version also makes mention of
So, the Candidate is given to understand that
a lodge of operative masons would consist of 100 apprentices and tradesmen and
would be supervised by three Mark Master Masons.
is also informed that these latter were formed into lodges of 33 with three of
their number appointed by the Grand Master to supervise their activity and to
ensure that they received their wages. He now knows why a lodge of speculative
masons has a Master and two Wardens, and he knows that the Wardens supervised
the payment of both Fellow Crafts and Mark Master Masons. By implication every
Fellow Craft is also a Mark Man.
The remainder of the Lecture, which is one of
the more extensive charges in Freemasonry, continues on to explain some of the
background of the various symbolisms and secrets, and to detail the allegory
behind the play in which the Candidate was the central character.
He now has the background which should enable
him to understand the full import of the relationship between Entered Apprentice
and Fellow Craft; the way in which the workforce engaged in building the temple
was organized and managed; and the importance placed on the lessons of the First
and Second Degrees.
He is about to embark on a remarkable
All references to ritual are to that of the Advancement to the Mark Degree of
the Supreme Grand Royal Arch Chapter of New Zealand.