The Masonic Magazine on Freemasonry and Research into Freemasonry made by Freemasons
Masonic research papers
Bookmark and Share print page Masonic Music our widgets Masonic Newsletter books alerts news alerts rss news feed


Online Masonic Education Course

For the Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft and Master Mason

search site

logo Square Compasses

Developed by W.Bro. Kent Henderson
Dip. T., B. Ed., Grad. Cert. Ed., Grad. Dip. Ed., M. Ed, Diploma of Masonic Education (Sth. Aust.)
Past Junior Grand Deacon, A. F. & A. Masons of Victoria, Australia.


In Part 1 of this subject it was stated that speculative freemasonry emerged as a biblical exercise and when, at the turn of the 18th century re-arrangement of ritual and procedure was undertaken, obvious Christian references were either deleted or conveniently screened. The objective was to create a uniformity that would be acceptable to brethren of other faiths. The first step was for the "Moderns" to make such changes in their practice that were at variance with the "Antients" and that was done through the Lodge of Promulgation from 1809 to 1811. Those efforts were crowned with success when the union (of the two rival Grand Lodges) was effected in December 1813. Then followed the Lodge of Reconciliation which officially lasted from 1813 to 1816 but in 1827 a similar body was revived to deal with the Ceremonial for the Installation of Master in private lodges.

If is not uncommon for some brethren to think and speak of freemasonry as if it were a specific unified entity, but that was not the case then and is not so now, other than in the highest principles that are encouraged by its practice. It is a development from numerous forms, and variations continue in many jurisdictions. From the varieties of ritual and procedures that were in existence, the eventual agreed form adopted in England was still beset with quirks and idiosyncrasies that local custom had no intention of releasing; but even those practices at times suffered from the hands of "improvers" which sometimes resulted in items becoming isolated from the original context creating illogical problems for brethren who were to follow. In order to analyse modern items and to find basic reasons for their adoption it is necessary to look into the background, to return to whatever evidence may be found in manuscript material or the later published masonic exposures.

Just, Perfect and Regular

As an illustration of how easily something may change and its importance lost through carelessness, let us take the reply that is no uncommon when a Candidate is being questioned prior to being Passed to the Fellowcraft Degree:

Q. Where were you made a Mason?
A. In the body of a Lodge, just perfect and regular.

In that answer the essential comma between "just" and "perfect" is omitted and the masonic sense of the reply completely lost, not only for the Candidate but seemingly for his sponsors.

In the majority of early Catechisms, dating from the Edinburgh Register House MS in 1696, to the published ritual exposure Masonry Dissected in 1730, there is only slight variation in the description; it is either "a true and perfect lodge" or a "just and perfect lodge"; there is no mention of "regular". But by the time we get to William Preston's First lecture of Freemasonry published in 1775, but probably compiled earlier and rehearsed in his Grand Chapter of Harodim from 1772 onwards, we find those adjectives described in Section 1, Clause iii:

Where were you made a Mason?
In the body of a lodge, just, perfect, and regular.
What is a lodge of Masons?
Any number of Masons assembled for the purpose of explaining Masonry.
What makes a lodge just?
The Sacred Law unfolded. Because it is understood to contain the dictates of an unerring Being; it must therefore be considered the standard of truth and justice.
What makes it perfect?
The number seven (it then goes on to explain the liberal arts and sciences)...."three form a lodge, five hold a lodge, and seven of more make it perfect".
What makes a lodge regular?
The Charter, Warrant and Constitution.
It is worthy of mention here that Lodge Nos 2, 4, and 12 in the English Constitution do not have warrants, all being recorded as "Time Immemorial".

Irregular Steps.

With regard to the word "regular" - but this time applied to steps, the question is sometimes raised "Why does the Candidate have to take three awkward steps of different lengths when being guided from West to East on his first advance? But that was not always so. The earliest real evidence in that respect is to be found in an anonymous catechism published in A Mason's Confession, that has an attributed date of 1727, and states:

.....three chalk-lines being drawn on the floor, about an equal distance, as at A, B, C,....says the Master, "Come forward" coming over the first line with one foot, while he sets the other square off at A;...Coming over the second line with one foot, while he sets the other square off at B;....Coming over the third line with one foot, while he sets the other square off at C; he comes over the three lines setting his feet thrice in the form of a square.

The diagram in that book shows the steps were equal in length.

In later publications floor-drawings had much more detail and showed that the first step was designed for the Entered Apprentice Candidate where he knelt on the appropriate knee and took his Obligation. The second was for the Fellowcraft ceremony and the third

step for the Master Mason, with instructions regarding kneeling and Obligations.

Three District Knocks, published in 1760 describes what is understood to have been Antients ceremonial. After having been presented to the Junior and Senior Wardens and the Master, the Candidate is sent back to the West "to receive instructions" which are described as follows:

Q. What were the instructions that were given?
A. The Senior Warden taught me to take one Step upon the first Step of a right Angle oblong Square, with my left knee bare bent, my Body upright, my right Foot forming a Square, my naked Right hand upon the Holy Bible, with the Square and Compasses thereon, my Left hand supporting the same; where I took that solemn Obligation or Oath of a Mason.

In Pritchard's Masonry Dissected, published in 1730, we have:

Q. What did the Senior Warden do with you?
A. He presented me, and shew'd me how to walk (by three steps) to the Master.

That appeared before the Antients Grand Lodge was formed. We have no evidence that the three steps were irregular of different length, but the whole subject rests upon the word "regular" which is highlighted when the Candidate is conducted to the right of the Master after taking his Obligation. It is there he is shown how to take his "first regular step in freemasonry". Under close supervision from the Junior Deacon on his approach from the West to East he was prevented from inadvertently taking the regular step which is the one he will use for the rest of his masonic career.

The Three Great Lights.

When the three great though emblematical lights if freemasonry, have been explained to the Candidate his attention is then drawn to the three lesser lights situated in the East, South and West. That distinction in lights was no always so and it is of interest to read what was published in the Dialogue between Simon, a Town Mason, & Philip, a Travelling Mason; although having an attributed date of c. 1740 it may well have been derived from an earlier source. At that juncture it has this catechism:

Q. What did you see before you were made a Mason?
A. Nothing I understood.
Q. What did you see afterwards?
A. Three grand Lights.
Q. What do you call them?
A. The Sun, the Moon, and the Master.
Q. How do they Rule and Govern?
A. The Sun the Day, the Moon the Night, the Master the Lodge.
Q. Where stood the Master?
A. In the East.
Q. Why in the East?
A. To await the rising of the Sun to set the Men to their Work.
Q. Where stood the Wardens?
A. In the West?
Q. Why in the West?
A. To wait the Setting of the Sun, and to discharge the Men from their Labour.

In that snippet there is quite an element of the operative stonemason builder's dawn to dusk working day. The reference to the Sun and Moon may well have been inspired by the description in the Book of Genesis (chap. i, 16):

And God made two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night; he made stars also.

Later in that catechism in the Dialogue there is a return to the subject:

Q. You said you see three great Lights, did you see no other light?
A. Yes, one far surpassing Sun or Moon.
Q. What was that?
A. The Light of the Gospel.

In a period when Christian influence was abundant, that reference may well have meant The Gospel According to St. John. Many early manuscripts and publications have the following, or similar:

Q. From whence come you?
A. From the Holy Lodge of St. John.

As the Patronal Festivals of St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist were strictly observed in freemasonry.

Ornaments, Furniture and Jewels

It is quite a common custom for a brother, on completing the ceremony of the Third Degree, to receive a copy of the Working that is used in his lodge, but far too few have their attention drawn to the existence of the Lectures of the Three Degrees; it is a publication that would lead to a better understanding of what is contained in the Craft ritual. The Fifth Section of the First Lecture in that book has:

Q. Of what is the interior of a Freemason's Lodge composed?
A. Ornaments, Furniture and Jewels.
Q. Name the ornaments.
A. The Mosaic Pavement, the Blazing Star, and the Indented or Tessellated Border.
Q. Their situation?
A. The Mosaic Pavement is the beautiful flooring of the Lodge, the Blazing Star the glory in the centre; and the Indented or Tessellated Border the skirtwork around the same.

This is what Samuel Pritchard published:

Q. Have you any furniture in your Lodge?
A. Yes.
Q. What is it?
A. Mosaic Pavement, Blazing Star, and Indented Tarsel.
Q. What are they?
A. Mosaic Pavement, the Ground Floor of the Lodge, Blazing Star the Centre, and
Tarsel the Border around it.
In a Paper given to Quatuor Coronati Lodge in 1916 (AQC Vol 29, p307) on Tracing Boards, Bro. Dring wrote to Professor W. A. Craigie, Editor of the Oxford English

Dictionary, and published his reply which confirmed that the word Tarsel was actually a 15-16th century variant of Tassel.

Owing to the licence in spelling in the early masonic period, and the careless misuse of wording it is not difficult to see how "tessellated" became "tassellated"; yet the two are far apart, with the former, composed of tesserae "or regularly chequered" and the latter "adorned with tassels".

Masonry Dissected was the basis from which translations into French were mounted, and bearing in mind the natural aptitude those brethren have for embellishment, masonic ritual exposures which were published in France, or influenced by them from the mid-18th century onwards, carried descriptions or illustrations of floor-drawing which were the result of faulty interpretations.

Classic examples come from La Reception Mysterieuse 1738, in which the relative portion has:

The pavement of the Room is decorated with Mosaic work, the comet is in the centre, & the Room is carpeted all round with a brocade of gold.

Pritchard's "Blazing Star" became "the comet" and his "Border round about it" became a "brocade of gold". In the masonic ritual exposure Le Secret des Franc Macons, 1742, all three items were changed. Pritchard's "Mosaic Pavement" became "Mosaic Palace". "Blazing Star" became "Star-spangled canopy". "Indented Tarsel" became "Houpe dentellee".

The late Bro. Harry Carr, in Early French Exposures (p73) interprets "Houpe" as "tuft or Tassel" and "dentellee" as "toothed or indented". It is entirely due to faulty translations from English to French, and later from the reverse process that we see tassels on the four corners of some checkered carpets. The English ritual exposure Jachin and Boaz published in 1762 was a re-translation from French to English. In the portion after the Candidate has sealed his Obligation and been entrusted it has:

He is also learnt the Step, or how to advance to the Master upon the Drawing on the Floor, which in some lodges resembles the grand Building, termed a Mosaic Palace, and is described with the utmost exactness. They also draw other figures, one of which is called the Laced Tuft, and the Throne beset with stars...

Later in that catechism is the following:

Q. Had you any covering to your Lodge?
A. Yes, a cloudy canopy, or divers Colours, or the Clouds.

That item gave full influence for those brethren who decided to have ceilings of lodge rooms decorated with sky, clouds, stars and the sun and moon, to which the signs of the Zodiac were sometimes added as a border. Some attractive examples of that artistry are still seen in various Masonic Halls.

In an inventory, taken in 1771 by members of the Lodge of Refief (No. 42) which meets at Bury, Lancashsire, we find:

1 Carpet. 4 Brass letter, E. W. N. S. A Brass Sun, Moon and a letter G, etc. A Painted Square Pavement, and indented Tarsel. There is an example of the importance given to the indented border in the Minutes of Royal Sussex Lodge which met at Worthing in February 1823:

Order'd that Bro. Palmer be desired to add to the form of the Lodge an Indented Border forthwith.

In that sense, "the Lodge" meant the floor-drawing which in that period was either painted on oilcloth, or an early Tracing Board. But, probably it was an oilcloth because two years later in the records of the same lodge is "the present of a Tracing Board" which was obtainable from masonic equipment suppliers and was then becoming a standard feature. In two manuals, published in the U. S. A., The True Masonic Chart by Jeremy Cross (1824) and Illustrations of Masonry by Capt. William Morgan (1827), there are specific connecting of the Blazing Star with Christianity:

The ornaments of a Lodge are the Mosaic Pavement, the indented Tessel and the Blazing Star. The Mosaic Pavement is a representation of the ground floor of King Solomon's temple; the indented tessel that beautiful tesselated border, or skirting, which surrounds it; and the blazing star in the centre is commemorative of the Star which appeared to guide the wise men of the East to the place of our savior's nativity. The Mosaic pavement is emblematical of human life, chequered with good and evil; the beautiful border which surrounds it, those manifold blessings and comforts which surround us, and which we hope to enjoy by a faithful reliance on Divine Providence which is hieroglyphically represented by the Blazing Star in the centre.

Later in that section there is an explanation of the four Cardinal Virtues, Prudence, Temperance, Fortitude, and Justice, but no connection made between those and the tassels at the four corners of the indented border which is so often seen.

The earliest evidence available that shows the Houpe Dentellee or Tasselled Cord, but not as a border, is to be found in Catechisme des Franc-Macons published in 1744. It is depicted as an ornament at the head of the "Plan of the Apprentice Fellow's Lodge" as

that illustration is called. Again we are indebted to Harry Carr who ably researched these masonic exposures and published a collection of them, translated into English with a commentary on each, under the title Early French Exposures 1737-1751 (Quatuor Coronati Lodge, 1971). He drew attention (pp. 320-1) to this item which was described as the "Cordon de Veuve" or the "Widow's Cord" explaining that it was an addition to the coat of arms on the occasion of the death of an armigerous husband and in heraldry was known by that expression. Ingenuity played its part in bringing that item to a lodge floor- drawing, or Tracing Board, presumably on the grounds that all brethren in freemasonry are brothers of Hiram Abif who was a widow's son. Examples are still to be seen where crudely drawn tasselled cords surround drawings on lodge boards, and even on some Royal Arch banners.

Various designers in the late 1790's and early 1800's included tassels at the corners of a patterned border which surrounded the chequered pavement or carpet, as well as on Tracing Boards of that period. An early example is to be seen in John Cole's Illustrations of Masonry published in 1801. An interesting Tracing Board was lodged in the Provincial Grand Mater's room at Barnstaple, Devon. It has initial letters at the four corners, not tassels, P for Prudence, T for Temperance, F for Fortitude, but unfortunately the J for Juctice has hardly survived the test of time. That Tracing Board was originally with other lodge furniture in the Royal Cumberland Lodge at Bath, in Somerset,, and dates back to the late 18th century. It was sold in 1843 and how it came to Barnstaple was the subject of a Paper by Bro. Bruce Oliver printed in the Transactions of Quatuor Coronati Lodge (AQC Vol 55, pp. 109-133).

At the end of the Sixth Section of the Craft Lectures there is a Charge which includes the Cardinal Virtues:

May Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth, in conjunction with Temperance, Fortitude, Prudence, and Justice, distinguish Free and Accepted Masons till time shall be no more.

Furniture of the Lodge.

The Craft Lectures assert that the furniture of the lodge consists of "the Volume of the Sacred Law, the Compasses and the Square" as describes them as:

....the Scared Writings are to rule and govern our faith, on them we Obligate our Candidates for Freemasonry. So are the Compasses and Square, when united, to regulate our lives and actions.... The Sacred Volume is derived from God to main in general; the Compasses belong to the Grand Master in particular; and the Square to the whole Craft.

Q. Why the Sacred Volume from God to man in general?
A. Because the Almighty has been pleased to reveal more of his Divine Will in that Holy Book than he has by any other means.
Whilst "the Volume of the Sacred Law" now officially describes whatever is binding on the conscience of the Candidate, according to his faith, in the early period of organised Freemasonry it was unquestionably the Bible. Evidence is to hand that from 1396 onwards it was markedly Trinitarian as will be seen from the following examples, the first from Grand Lodge MS No 1 dated 1583, (phrased in modern language):

The might of the father in Heaven and the wisdom of the glorious Son through the grace and goodness of the Holy Ghost, that being three persons and one God, be with us at our beginning, and give us grace so as to govern us here in living that we may come to his bliss that never shall have ending. AMEN.

The conclusion to that Roll has:

These Charges that we have now rehearsed unto you and all others that belong to Masons ye shall keep, so help you God and your hallydome, and by this book in your hands unto your power. Amen so mote it be.

The second example is from the William Watson MS and is dated 1687 one hundred years later. Experts have classified this as "being at least second only in importance to the celebrated Cooke MS of early fifteenth century (Old Charges of British Freemasons W. J. Hughan, London 1895) it ends with:

These charges that we declared and recorded unto you ye shall well and truly keep to your power, so help you God and Holidome and by ye contents of this book.

Those examples place beyond doubt that "this book" implied the Bible; the use of the archaic word "halidom", however spelt, intended the obligation to be deemed a holy undertaking. But, yet another manuscript is worth quoting in this context as it supplies further detail and, as it is dated c1700, brings us near to the Premier Grand Lodge of 1717:

First you are to put the person who is to get the word, upon his knees; and after a great many ceremonies, to frighten him, you make him take up the Bible; and, laying his right hand upon it, you are to conjure him to Secrecy, by threatening, that, if he shall break his Oath; the Sun in the firmanent & all the Company there present, will be witness against him, which will be the occasion of his damnation. (Chetwode Crawley MS)

By the time we reach the Revd James Anderson's Constitutions of the Freemasons, published and officially adopted in 1723, when Freemasonry had opened its doors to men of other religions providing that such faith acknowledged a Supreme Being, we find under the section relating to Behaviour, sub-section 2:

....Therefore no private pique or quarrels must be brought within the Door or the Lodge, far less any quarrels about Religion, or Nations, or State policy, we being only, as Masons, of the Catholic Religion above mention'd; we being also of all Nations, Tongues, Kindreds, and Languages, and are resolved against all Politics, as what never yet conduc'd to the Welfare of the Lodge, nor ever will. This charge has always been strictly enjoin'd and observ'd; but especially since the Reformation in Britain, or the Dissent Secession of these Nations from the Communion of Rome. (1st Edn. 1723, p54). But in the 2nd Edition, published in 1738 (p144), under the sub-title "Concerning God and Religion" we read:

...In Antient Times the Christian Masons were charged to comply with Christian Usages of each Country where they travell'd or work'd; But Masonry being found in all Nations even of divers Religions, they are now only charged to adhere to that Religion in which all men agree (leaving each Brother to his own particular Opinions) that is, to be Good Men and True, or Men of Honour and Honesty, by whatever Names, Religions or Persuasions they may be distinguished;... thus Masonry is the Center of Union and the happy means of conciliating Persons that otherwise must have remain'd at a perpetual distance.

The position today is made abundantly clear and guidance is contained in the published Basic Principles of Grand Lodge Recognition in 1929:

That all initiates shall take their obligation on or in full view of the open Volume of the Sacred Law, by which is meant the revelation from above which is binding on the conscience of the particular individual who is being initiated.

Further clarification to that was agreed between the Grand Lodges of England, Ireland, and Scotland, in August 1938. It was subsequently published by each Grand Lodge as Aims and Relationships of the Craft and contained the following:

3. The first condition of admission into, and membership of, the Order is a belief in the Supreme Being. This is essential and admits of no compromise.

4. The Bible, referred to by Freemasons as the Volume of the Sacred Law, is always open in the Lodges. Every Candidate is required to take his Obligation on that book or on the Volume which is held by his particular creed to impart sanctity to an oath or promise taken upon it.

>From the established practice in the English Constitution the Square and Compasses rest upon the Bible at every meeeting, but in a multi-faith membership relative Holy Writings will rest alongside each other, eg, the Bible as whole for Christians, The Torah, or Old Testament for Jews, Koran for Muslims, Bhagvada Gita for Hindus, Zend Avesta for Parsees, and so on. Under the Grand Lodge of Israel three volumes are laid alongside each other on the Pedestal thus catering for the three religions prominent in that country. The Square and Compasses are placed upon that which is to be used for an Obligation. The Grand Master is from each religion in rotation.

It is the custom in many lodges for the Bible to be open at a particular section, according to the ceremony to be performed, and a relative extract read out to enlighten the brethren. Such a commendable practice can only add to the solemnity of the occasion.

Home Page | Alphabetical Index | What is New | Freemasons World News
Research Papers | Books online | Freemasons History | Symbolism & Rituals | Book Reviews
Saggi in Italiano | Essais en Langue Française | Monografias em Português | Planchas Masonicas en Español

| Sitemap | Privacy Policy | How to Contribute a Paper |

Masonic Newsletter   News Alerts Subscribe News by Email

RSS Feed   Facebook   Twitter   Google+

visitor/s currently on the page.