PS Review of Freemasonry

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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.

            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 each group.

            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 Mark Man.

            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 design.

            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:



1 Kings

5:8 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.

5:9 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.

5:10 So Hiram gave Solomon cedar trees and fir trees according to all his desire.

5:11 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 year.

5:13 And king Solomon raised a levy out of all Israel; and the levy was thirty thousand men.

5:14 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.

5:15 And Solomon had threescore and ten thousand that bare burdens and fourscore thousand hewers in the mountains,

It is not clear if the 30,000 of verse 13 is included in the 150,000 in verse 15.

5:16 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.

(i.e. 70,000 + 80,000 + 3,300 = 153,300)

2 Chronicles

2:2 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 oversee them.

(i.e. 70,000 + 80,000 + 3,600 = 153,600)



There 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 overseers.

            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 “Princes”.

            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.

He 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 revelation.


[i] All references to ritual are to that of the Advancement to the Mark Degree of the Supreme Grand Royal Arch Chapter of New Zealand.

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