Each Degree within Freemasonry is steeped in symbolism and lessons of morality; there’s a lifetime’s worth of material contained within the first three Degrees alone. If one was to skim the surface and collect only those teachings that lie so plainly at the surface, they would improve as a person.
The interesting thing about Freemasonry, however, is the nuance. Through the ages, our Brethren have been able to find meaning where, perhaps, it was never intended. This has served to enhance what was already there (and what already existed has been rife with untold value to the Craft) and further build upon our foundation. This post intends to touch upon three things — the first is one of those subtle observations; the last two are much more widely known. Previously, I’ve spoken on the Precious Jewels of a Freemason. Within this post, I hope to share the thoughts and reflections of other Masons on those moments that occur just after Preparation and also just prior to Reception.
Early on, the candidate is Prepared and finds themselves waiting at a door. What value could something so ordinary as a door provide? Those jurisdictions which have a catechism to recite always discuss Preparation, mention the knock, and they go into detail on how a candidate enters the lodge room. They do not discuss what the Door might represent.
In my travels across this vast internet, I happened upon a paper, The Deeper Meaning of the Entered Apprentice Degree, written by W. Bro. Rob Lund. The paper is very insightful, and one of the concepts that is presented is that of the Door as a symbol.
From “a convenient room”, the Candidate is led to the door of the Lodge, which is tyled, seeking admission. This symbolizes that he “meets with opposition”, and cannot gain admission without his guide. In other words, on turning from the world without to the world within, his first discovery is to find his way blocked by the door of the Lodge. In some Lodges outside of Canada, the candidate himself must provide the three knocks. This is much more meaningful, as it symbolizes the candidate seeking admission.
The door of the Lodge symbolizes an obstructive element (within himself). The Candidate is to recognize that any opposition to his own spiritual advancement must be overcome by some help and guidance. The habitual thought-processes, prejudices, and preconceived ideas become obstructions to the perception of things of the world within. We erect and “tyle” our own door, and block our own light, and eventually, on seeking to turn to the Light, find ourselves confronted by darkness and opposition of our own creation. Furthermore, he cannot enter without permission from the Master.
The Door represents those barriers — of our own design — that we’ve spent a lifetime erecting. If we expect to advance any further, it’s incumbent upon us to take an active role in removing those obstructions — whatever they may be. The Door is a symbol of initiation, and once the candidate has passed through it, he has entered a new state of being. Before gaining admission, however, the candidate must knock.
As W. Bro. Lund stated before, the knock is a very important juncture within the Degree. It’s the first real action taken by the candidate — a decision point. The candidate may choose to proceed, or he may decide to walk away. Either way, the candidate forges his own choice. This moment is also an allusion to Matthew 7:7.
Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.
The first entrance into the Lodge makes reference to the cardinal virtues. That’s well-known, and it seems such a sufficient answer that we don’t typically look for any further explanation. If you read An Encyclopædia of Freemasonry and its Kindred Sciences by Bro. Albert Mackey, he gives some insights into the Perfect Points of Entrance.
In the earliest lectures of the eighteenth century these were called Principal Points. The designation of them as Perfect Points of Entrance was of a later date. They are described both in the English and the American systems. Their specific names, and their allusion to the four cardinal virtues, are the same in both; but the verbal explanations differ, although not substantially. They are so called because they refer to four important points of the initiation. The Guttural refers to the entrance upon the penal responsibilities; the Pectoral, to the entrance into the Lodge; the Manual, to the entrance on the Covenant; and the Pedal, to the entrance on the instructions in the northeast.
Elsewhere in his book, he breaks each down further.
Temperance — Guttural
One of the four cardinal virtues; the practice of which is inculcated in the first degree. The Freemason who properly appreciates the secrets which he has solemnly promised never to reveal, will not, by yielding to the unrestrained call of appetite, permit reason and judgment to lose their seats and subject himself, by the indulgence in habits of excess, to discover that which should be concealed, and thus merit and receive the scorn and detestation of his Brethren. And lest any Brother should forget the danger to which he is exposed in the unguarded hours of dissipation, the virtue of temperance is wisely impressed upon is memory, lay its reference to one of the most solemn portions of the ceremony of initiation. Some Freemasons, very properly condemning the vice of intemperance and abhorring its effects, have been unwisely led to confound temperance with total abstinence in a Masonic application, and resolutions have sometimes been proposed in Grand Lodges which declare the use of stimulating liquors in any quantity a Masonic offense. But the law of Freemasonry authorizes no such regulation. It leaves to every man the indulgence of his own tastes within due limits, and demands not abstinence, but only moderation and temperance, in anything not actually wrongs.
Prior to reading this, I had never heard anyone state that Temperance is practiced to help guard against the breaking of one’s obligation, but it’s a sensible response. More than that, I believe that Temperance is reflected in the Common Gavel. It helps one to regulate himself against his vices. It is the aid of Prudence.
Bro. Mackey’s words on banning alcohol are an interesting aside.
Fortitude — Pectoral
One of the four cardinal virtues, whose excellencies are dilated on in the first degree. It not only instructs the worthy Freemason to bear the ills of life with becoming resignation, “taking up arms against a sea of trouble,” but, by its intimate connection with a portion of our ceremonies, it teaches him to let no dangers shake, no pains dissolve the inviolable fidelity he owes to the trusts reposed in him. Or, in the words of the old Prestonian lecture, it is “a fence or security against any attack that might be made upon him by force or otherwise, to extort from him any of our Royal Secrets.”
Spence, in his Polymetis […], when describing the moral virtues, says of Fortitude: “She may be easily known by her erect air and military dress, the spear she rests on with one hand, and the sword which she holds in the other. She has a globe under her feet; I suppose to shows that the Romans, by means of this virtue, were to subdue the whole world.”
Fortitude is the virtue that charges us to “weather the storm,” so to speak. It emboldens us to take not the easiest or most convenient path — but rather to take the best path or the right path — even when it may be more arduous.
Prudence — Manual
This is one of the four cardinal virtues, the practice of which is inculcated upon the Entered Apprentice. Preston first introduced it into the Degree as referring to what was then, and long before had been called the Four Principal Signs, but which are now known as the Perfect Points of Entrance. Preston’s eulogium on prudence differs from that used in the lectures of the United States of America, which was composed by Webb. It is in these words: “Prudence is the true guide to human understanding, and consists in judging and determining with propriety what is to be said or done upon all our occasions, what dangers we should endeavor to avoid, and how to act in all our difficulties.” Webb’s definition, which is much better, may be found in all the Monitors. The Masonic reference of prudence to the manual point reminds us of the classic method of representing her in statues with a rule or measure in her hand.
Prudence aids us in determining how to govern the use of our time. Additionally, we use this virtue to discern what we can and cannot discuss outside of the Lodge.
If Prudence is our decision-making faculty, Temperance serves as a guard, and Fortitude is the resolve to see it through.
Justice — Pedal
One of the four cardinal virtues, the practice of which is inculcated in the first degree. The Mason who remembers how emphatically he has been charged to preserve an upright position in all his dealings with mankind, should never fail to act justly to himself, to his brethren, and to the world. This is the corner-stone on which alone he can expect “to erect a superstructure alike honorable to himself and to the Fraternity.” In iconology, Justice is usually represented as a matron with bandaged eyes, holding in one hand a sword and in the other a pair of scales at equipoise. But in Masonry the true symbol of Justice, as illustrated in the first degree, is the feet firmly planted on the ground, and the body upright.
Of the cardinal virtues, Justice feels a bit out of place. It seems to exist outside of the other three, but its lessons are no less important. Without an understanding of how to be just, it would be very difficult to develop a moral compass.
This was an expanded (and too-brief) view of a very small slice of our ritual.
The candidate must make the decision to proceed and face change. He must confront himself and work toward effecting a positive change within his character — a life-long endeavor. The work is difficult, but the rewards can never be over-stated.