Review of Freemasonry
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An Examination of the Fellow Craft Degree, with Some Proposals and a Polemic
by Bro. Jorge Sánchez
Evans Lodge, #524
Grand Lodge of Illinois, A.F.& A.M. , USA.

2nd degree tracing board



Upon my passing, as upon my initiation, I searched far and wide for information on the Fellow Craft[1] Degree.  I’d been quite impressed with the degree, especially with its second half, and wanted to know more.  Although I found much information as an Apprentice, I found far less as a Fellow Craft.  As I am just a Fellow Craft at this writing, and not a Master Mason, I lack the perspective of a Brother of the Third Degree, but I think it can be argued that the Fellow Craft Degree is the heart of Masonry and that all Brethren would be well served by renewed or continued study of this degree.  Just as the square is at the heart of the working tools of this degree, the Fellow Craft Degree is at the heart of Masonry, and the square is the heart of the degree itself.  After considering the degree and some of its meanings and implications at length, I offer some arguments regarding this degree in the hopes of encouraging renewed consideration and discussion of this degree.


Preparation, Repetition, and the Progressive Science.


As the Candidate is before the First Degree, the Brother Entered Apprentice must be prepared before the conferral of the Fellow Craft Degree.  In Illinois, the Brother Apprentice’s right arm, knee, and breast are naked, and his right foot is unshod.  Before the First, it is his left side that is so prepared.  Hoodwinked, the Brother Apprentice has a cable-tow about him again, but this time it is not a loose noose, but a symbol of obligation.  Additionally, the man to be passed wears an apron, showing him to be a Mason.

Why not have the Brother Apprentice simply receive the Second Degree normally clothed?    The hoodwink and cable-tow make sense: he is but an Apprentice; until he takes the obligation he has no right to see or know if a lodge of Fellow Crafts is the same in its arrangement or constitution as a Lodge of Apprentices, and the cable-tow seems appropriate symbolic preparation for the double bind of the Fellow Craft’s obligation.  These two preparations seem necessary; why, then, do we also prepare the Apprentice about to be passed to the degree of Fellow Craft as a mirror-image of a Candidate for initiation?

Freemasonry is a progressive science: our perambulations, the structure of degrees, the slow, deliberate, systematic, and gradual process of Masonic education illustrates this.  The Apprentice about to become a Fellow Craft must be prepared as the mirror-image of a Candidate because he is the mirror-image of a Candidate.  The Apprentice cannot and will not be made more a Mason in his passing, in the same way that a Candidate cannot be made less a Mason by not going through with his initiation.  By being made a mason and entered as an Apprentice, we each make an advancement we cannot regress from.  Although we may, later, become suspended for non-payment of dues or some other Masonic offense, we are still Masons.  Although an Apprentice is called Brother and, at least nominally, considered a mason, he is not finished.  He must live as a mason.  If he has taken the lessons of the Entered Apprentice Degree to heart and practices them in his life, then he has divested himself of the superfluous.  His weaker side, the side of us easily taken in by vices, has been strengthened by this divestment.  As Entered Apprentices ready to be passed as Fellow Crafts, we are ready to move focus from what we need to strengthen to what is already strong, hence the move from left to right.  We are ready for more light, we are candidates of a sort again, but we are also candidates of a completely different stripe.  The Apprentice must be prepared because he must be squared; our ritual preparations are a kind of squaring: a making sure that nothing superfluous is present, that what the Brother exhibits is proper, right, and square.

We are taught in this progressive science by the means of ritual, which are a set of actions and words repeated the same way every time.  To reinforce this idea of progression with repetition, we are prepared again in this peculiar fashion with a difference.  We are still progressing; we must still be prepared, differently prepared but prepared nonetheless.

We gain admission after a brief ceremony at the door recalling the one during our initiation, but different in a few significant ways: we are now wearing an apron, we are conducted to the door by a brother, not a friend, and we are asked not if we are of legal age and properly vouched for, but instead we are asked if we have made suitable proficiency in the preceding degree.

Brother Fellow Crafts are workmen; no longer Apprentices, they are proficient masons.  We do not need to prove that we are of legal age again, of course, and we need not be vouched for; we vouch for ourselves, and our work vouches for us.  Although Apprentices are passed to the degree of Fellow Craft almost as a matter of course, we should realize that this important difference between the First and Second Degrees.  No one else can vouch for our readiness for advancement; quite the opposite, in fact: only our proficiency can justify this advancement.


The Square: Reception, Obligation, and Due Form.


The square figures prominently in the Fellow Craft Degree; in many ways, it is the due form of the degree, as it figures so prominently in both the reception of the Apprentice about to be passed and in the obligation that makes him a Fellow Craft. In the Grand Lodge of Illinois’s Entered Apprentice Handbook, we learn that the square is a symbol of morality, truth, and honesty.

We are received on the angle of a square, and to some extent that is what each Fellowcraft is.  The angle of the square is the middle of the square itself; the angle being formed by an arm on each side; where they meet an angle of ninety degrees is formed, and this is the angle of a square. 

The square is not the sole concern of the Fellow Craft, even though he is tried by it.  The Worshipful Master wears it as his jewel, and in most jurisdictions, forms part of the Past Master’s jewel as well.

The connection of the square to both the Fellow Craft and the Worshipful Master is surprising; considering the wealth and consistency of Masonic triads, the square should be connected to the Senior Warden, since his corresponding pillar is that of strength, and both the Senior Warden and the pillar of Strength are the second elements in their respective triads.  Why then do we see the Fellow Craft and the Worshipful Master implicitly connected by the Square?

Ward tells us that the Worshipful Master’s apron is adorned with squares instead of rosettes, rosettes being symbols of the feminine divine aspect, and the square[2] being a symbol of the male divine aspect.  To some extent we might see that, in this context, the Worshipful Master is more associated with Strength, as he is uniquely and almost absolutely empowered to govern his lodge, and the Senior Warden who should most closely assist in that governance seems to be, in this context, more a counselor or assistant and thereby closer to the principle of Wisdom than that of Strength.  This may be a remnant, however faint and unclear, of the once two-degree practice of Freemasonry.  While I, as a Fellow Craft, cannot be sure of these speculations, I instead suggest that these connections and confusions are the possible starting points for other studies.

After passing, I was struck, again, by the number of triads, in Freemasonry, and how they matched up.  First, Second, Third: Birth, Life, Death; Youth, Adulthood, Old Age; Rough Ashlar, Perfect Ashlar, Trestleboard; Holy Bible, Square, and Compasses; Junior Warden, Senior Warden, and Worshipful Master.  The last of these triads is especially interesting when one considers their jewels: plumb, level, and square.  Considering how important the square is to the Fellow Craft Degree, one might expect the last two jewels to be switched, with the square being the middle jewel just as the Fellow Craft is the middle degree, but it is not.  Whoever determined the jewels of the three principal officers must have decided that the square was ultimately of the highest importance and gave it to the Master.


Working Tools, Winding Stairs, and the Middle Chamber.


After taking the obligation, the new Fellow Craft is given much instruction on the degree.  He is taught to wear his apron as a Fellow Craft, he is presented his working tools, and, after being restored to his comforts, he is taught regarding the wages and jewels of a Fellow Craft after ascending a winding staircase leading to the Middle Chamber of King Solomon’s Temple.  In all this we see, three, three, three, three.  Although the number three is prominent for the Entered Apprentice (Three Greater and three lesser lights, three movable and three immovable jewels, the three ornaments, supports, and principal officers of the lodge, etc.), its prominence is more striking in the Fellow Craft Degree, possibly because here, too, we see a continuous progression from what we learned as a new Apprentice, and possibly because it is less the overwhelming flood of information we receive in the second half of the First Degree.

In any case, we receive, after taking on the obligation of a Fellow Craft, the working tools of the degree, three in number: the plumb, square and level.  These working tools are meant to be placed in the pocket formed by the turned up left corner of the Fellow Craft’s apron.  The tools of the Apprentice are tools of preparation, but the Fellow Craft’s are tools of proof.  As Apprentices we are given the initial means to make ourselves better men, but as Fellow Crafts we are given, for the first time, tools to prove we are.  Hopefully, we can prove that we are no longer the newly-initiated rough ashlars we once were, and instead we are the perfect ashlars we have striven to be.

The winding stairs to the Middle Chamber are also made up of a triad: three steps, then five, then seven.  The middle set of these represents the five orders of architecture; being the middle of the triad, just as the Fellow Craft is among the degrees and the square is among the working tools, it deserves special attention. 

The Middle Chamber we Fellow Crafts are entitled to enter is, again, the middle place within a triad.  A Middle Chamber presumes an outer area and an inner chamber.  Adulthood, which all masons are in, is the middle chamber of life, and the place where we spend most our lives.

It is also where we begin to receive our wages; passing to the Fellow Craft degree is, in many ways, the first thing we earn in Masonry.  We are vouched, recommended, investigated, and reported on as petitioners and candidates.  Fellow Crafts, on the other hand, are passed because they have earned the right to be.


Final Thoughts on the Degree, Some Proposals, and a Polemic.


One of the most impressive things about the Fellowcraft Degree is how much of a completion it seems.  We know, now, of both Establishment and Strength, in it we who have learned to measure, lay out, and perféct are taught to try, square, and prove: although we are established as masons in the first degree, our Masonic cornerstones laid, it is not until the Fellowcraft Degree that we are judged, truly, upon our work.  We are tried justly, since Freemasonry is a system of morality, and we are passed to receive more light, but we are only passed if we prove to have already begun the practice of squaring our actions by the square of virtue.  Although the edifice is not done, our work has proved suitable, straight, and square; we are enjoined to choose one of the five orders of architecture, and we are told it does not matter which order we choose, but just that we choose one.

Although we only receive the fullness of truth in the Third Degree, the Second is where we spend our lives: working, hoping, our weaknesses shored up, but not completely, and asking the questions which, we hope, will lead us to the truth.  After all, every initiation into Masonry is an initiation into a philosophical system, making masons philosophers.  Although we may laugh at the pre-Socratic philosophers, who wondered if the world is essentially water or fire or air, their importance lies in their wondering what the world is made of.  Thus, cosmology was born.  For centuries, the ultimate end of philosophy was metaphysics, the study of what truly was and how it was. Beginning with Descartes and culminating with Kant, philosophers turned from metaphysics to epistemology ‑the study of how we know what we know and how we understand what is—as the ultimate end of philosophy.  In both the case of pre-Socratic philosophy and the epistemological turn, the importance lies less in the answers the philosophers formulated and more in the questions they asked to get to their answers.

So it is in Freemasonry.  Mackey’s Landmarks are valued as landmarks, but they are most useful when we consider the questions they answer and use them as points of departure for the discussion of the true nature of the Craft.  Whether the Masonic thinker is Mackey, Pike, Waite, Ward, or any of the other known (and sometimes unknown) thinkers and writers on our noble, gentle Craft, their work is often more valuable for the directions they point us in than the places they choose to take us.

And so it is with the Fellow Craft Degree.  The Entered Apprentice is entrusted with little: a sign, a grip, a word, and he is enjoined to keep what he has been given secret and to learn, to study, and to live the lessons of Masonry.  The Fellow Craft promises to conform to and abide by, to answer and obey, to aid and assist, to not cheat, wrong, nor defraud, and he is entrusted with more: not just one grip but two, not just a grip but a token, a token of the pass, a real grip, and a word; not just with tools of measurement and preparation but also with tools of trying and proof.  His obligation puts upon him responsibilities not given to an Apprentice.  Then why, in practice, is he given so little?  Fellow Crafts receive no real additional rights and no real additional responsibilities.  They should have something real, something within the business of the lodge, entrusted to them; some sort of work should be theirs; otherwise this Degree is something of a false step, a pointless barrier, a sham.

The Sublime Degree is where the Freemasonry endeavors to take us, and the Initiatory Degree is where we begin, where we receive our orientation in this microcosmic pursuit of Freemasonry.  The Second Degree is the degree of real work in the craft.  In light of this, it makes sense to make Fellow Craft the working degree of Masonry.  For a significant period in the Craft’s formative years, the bulk of masons were Fellow Crafts.  Maybe it should be so now.  In any event, we are a body of Masters now, but it may prove fruitful to emphasize the importance and centrality of the Fellow Craft degree by having our lodges meet more often on this degree.  The Fellow Craft degree, with the position and significance of its Great Lights, its particular emphasis on work, progression, and education, seems particularly appropriate for business meetings.



In his introduction to J. S. M. Ward’s Fellowcraft’s Handbook, Sir John A. Cockburn mentions that. in earlier times, “[i]n the Fellowship of the Craft lay the whole body of Masonry. An Apprentice was regarded as a brother but not as a member of the Lodge; while a Master Mason was merely, as we still state in the ritual, an experienced Craftsman selected to preside over the Lodge in the capacity of Master.”  Why is it not so now?  This quote implies that Fellow Crafts could vote, and, one can assume, even hold offices, although presumably to the exclusion of Junior and Senior Warden and certainly Worshipful Master.  Why is it not so now?  I know that, God willing and barring unforeseen delay, I will return my proficiency as a Fellow Craft in just over two weeks, and then will be raised to the Sublime Degree within a few weeks. But will I truly be ready to be raised?  I “have received light in Masonry but partially,” and, in some ways, that is enough for me now.  I would not mind staying a Fellow Craft for a good while longer, pondering the significances of the ritual and the teachings it imparts, and revisiting the First Degree both in private study and in witnessing and even participating in initiations.  Should I choose to do this, not only would I be “failing to advance,” but I would be keeping myself outside of the Lodge.  Although I realize that often it amounts to little more than bill-paying and minutes-reading, I long to take part in the business of the lodge.

I despise the use of “profane” to describe non-masons, but how is a Fellow Craft or an Entered Apprentice any less a profane, or more a mason, if we are not allowed to participate in the business of the Craft?  Is there any good reason that Entered Apprentices should be barred from business meetings?  Any good reason why Fellow Crafts cannot speak in such a meeting, or perhaps vote, or perhaps even hold offices?  I think I could work reasonably well as a steward, and I think an Entered Apprentice might as well.  What better way to make masons students of the Craft than by allowing them to participate more fully in the business of the lodge from their first moment as an Entered Apprentice?

When I took my obligation as a Fellow Craft, I noticed that it referred several times to a “lodge of Fellow Crafts”.  I know that, due to the structure and conventions of the contemporary Craft, that I will never be summoned by a lodge of Fellowcrafts.  Perhaps there’s a reason why the constituent obligations within the greater obligation of a Fellow Craft are there.  I believe that everything in the Fellow Craft’s obligation is there for a reason, and that there is wisdom in its composition.  If the obligation is what makes us Fellow Crafts, perhaps we should take it as not just what binds us to the Fraternity but as a guide for precisely what Fellow Crafts can do.

A valid concern would be advancement, or lack thereof.  What good is a Craft full of Apprentices, someone might ask.  Not much good, I’d answer, but what good is a Craft full of Masters in name only?  And a Craft full of its Fellows, what good would that be, another might ask.  What else are we now?  All of us are initiated, but how many of us are truly Masters?  Might we not benefit if, in practice as well as in other symbolic ways, we lingered and thought and worked and even transacted business upon the Degree of Fellow Craft?

Men aspire to the East now as ever; a lodge, unless it suffers from an absolute decimation of active membership, which is a common enough problem but not one within the scope of this essay, will always have brothers willing to work to get there.  If the Degree of Master Mason was reserved to those who are about to take up the jewel and office of Junior Warden, or at the very least to those who had spent some time as Masons working and truly proving our mastery of the Craft, wouldn’t that invest that degree, which I have heard referred to solemnly and reverently as the “culmination,” “apex,” and “peak,” of Craft Masonry with the value due the degree?  I do not doubt that it is all these things and more; I look forward to the night of my raising after which I will, God willing, be able to call myself a “Master” for many years.  But less than three months ago I wasn’t even a Mason!  Will I be ready to be a Master in two weeks?  I revere the Degree of Master Mason; how reverent, though, can I feel about something I will achieve with, if I wish, little effort and as a foregone conclusion?   Yet I will have to become a Master Mason if I truly wish to participate in my lodge.  And yet, I feel unworthy.  If I could spend a year, perhaps, active in the lodge, serving on committees, voting, even taking up an office, would I feel quite so unprepared for a degree which we refer to as “Sublime”?  Likely not.  And, again, I would be learning and working all the while, just as the Fellow Craft degree enjoins.

Another objection raised would center around the conferral of the Third Degree: if you have Fellow Crafts holding a variety of offices, what happens when one of them is raised?  You might have no Stewards, or no Deacons for the degree work.  The assumption of offices by Brethren other than their official holders is not unusual now during degree work; lodges use proxies and more experienced stand-ins all the time for conferring degrees.  So many of our current office holders, pushed to become Master Masons quickly by their Brethren to become Masters, have not been Masons long enough to become proficient in the Work.  Having Fellow Crafts eligible for and serving in various offices presents no significant impediment, and I cannot see much reason for forbidding it.  Indeed, it might help Masons become better Masons and proficient in the Work.

Although graduation from a college or university is not compulsory, many students do so every semester.  Notices of deadlines for application are posted, but rarely is there much problem.  People want to advance; by increasing the rights and responsibilities of the Fellow Craft and the Entered Apprentice we would not be holding anyone back.  In fact, we might just be moving the Craft forward, closer to the East, closer to its ideal: a progressive science in which a man is not advanced until he has made suitable proficiency in the preceding degree.

After all, aren’t we all Fellow Crafts, having received light in Masonry but partially?  Do any of us have the fullness of light?  I do not suggest that we should do away with the Third Degree, but perhaps we should amplify the role Fellow Crafts can play in our lodges and maybe even increase the time masons are required to be Fellow Crafts.

[1] It’s important to note that the Grand Lodge of Illinois refers to the Second Degree as “Fellowcraft.”  Although “Fellowcraft” is a common and accepted usage, I feel that “Fellow Craft” helps emphasize not only the history of the degree but also the idea that Brothers of the Second Degree are, in fact, Fellows of the Craft.

[2] The Square, in this case, is called a “T-square” in the United States, and looks like an upside-down tau cross, a traditional symbol not only of the sun but also the male generative principle.


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