Firstly I will share with you the views of J.S.M. Ward on this subject.
The inner meaning of the carpet is the chequered way of life-the alterations of joy and sorrow, of good and evil, of day & night, which we all experience in the course of our lives. Indeed, it may be said to stand for all opposites.
But what probably strikes the initiate more than anything else about this carpet are the four tassels which are woven into the pattern at the four corners.
We are told that these represent the four cardinal virtues, but this is a late gloss (quite recent), probably invented towards the close of the eighteenth century, and there seems no particular reason why these should represent the four cardinal virtues more than the four elements, or any other particular four.
We find the true origin of these tassels, as of many more obscure points in our ritual, if we study the mediaeval methods employed by the Operative masons when laying out the ground for a new building. The Master Mason, or Architect, as we would call him today, commenced his work by striking the center of the piece of ground on which the building was to be erected, and from it he plotted out the square or rectangle on which the containing walls were subsequently to rise. To do so, he extended ropes from the center pin to the four angles, and pegged these down at the corners of the building; by the simple use of square and triangle he was able to check the four corners and ascertain if they were true. As the walls rose, from time to time a piece of wood was extended from the corner inwards, and a plumb line dropped down to make sure that the walls were perpendicular and the angle as true on its upper tiers as it was at the base. A dim remembrance of those corner plumb lines lingered on well into the middle of the nineteenth century in Speculative Masonry, for I have met several old provincial Brethren who remember seeing, not merely woven tassels on the carpet, but actual tassels hanging in the four corners of the Lodge room; and in the ritual used in the old days it is these hanging tassels to which the four cardinal virtues were guides to enable a man to maintain an upright life. Like many other old and interesting customs, these tassels seem to have disappeared, and we are left with a symbolic representation of the four ends of the ropes which crossed the ground plan of the building.
Comment Interestingly enough, I have seen these tassels both on the floor and in the corners of Lodge Rooms and simply thought that the Brethren had placed them on the floor for convenience. The paper presented above probably teaches us not to be so quick in finding solutions and digging a little deeper can be very beneficial.
Next are the views of W.L. Wilmshurst (one of my favourite authors) who states, there is more in the “square pavement for the high priest to walk on”, which is the original of the Lodge floor:
His paper is as follows: It is not merely the Jewish High Priest of centuries ago that is here referred to, but the individual member of the craft. For every Mason is intended to be the High Priest of his own personal Temple and to make it a place where he and the Deity may meet.
By the mere fact of being in this dualistic world every living being, whether a Mason or not, walks upon the square pavement of mingled good and evil in every action of his life, so that the floor cloth is the symbol of an elementary philosophical truth common to us all.
But for us, the words “walk upon” imply much more than that. They mean that he who aspires to be master of his fate and captain of his soul must walk upon these opposites in the sense of transcending and dominating them, of trampling upon his lower sense nature and keeping it beneath his feet in subjection and control. He must become able to rise above the motley of good and evil, to be superior and indifferent to the ups and downs of fortune, the attractions and fears governing ordinary men and swaying their thoughts and actions this way and that. His object is the development of his innate spiritual potencies, and it is impossible that these should develop so long as he is over-ruled by his material tendencies and the fluctuating emotions of pleasure and pain that they give birth to. It is by rising superior to these and attaining serenity and mental equilibrium under and circumstances in which, for the moment, he may be placed. That Mason truly “walks on” the chequered groundwork of existence and the conflicting tendencies of his more material nature.
Comment On occasion brethren have asked me why I make a point of not walking on the chequered pavement in my own lodge room. My answer stems around my feeling that to me it symbolically represents Holy Ground and I feel uncomfortable walking upon it. Having said that, I do not feel this discomfort when attending to the ritual of the lodge and the conferring of Degrees.
I have no idea how to advise Brethren who meet in a Temple where the entire floor has been carpeted in the form of a chequered pavement. Views on this would be very interesting and could be shared.
A little humour which should please my Scottish readers
The Origin of the Best Man.
He, of course, is the chap who remembers the ring, reads the telegrams, and generally helps the bridegroom at the wedding. According to Scottish Legend, however, his duties used to be much more demanding for it was customary for a man in love simply to kidnap and unceremoniously carry off the woman he had fallen for.
He would choose good friends to help him in the task- groomsmen- and the bravest of the lot became known as the “Best Man” The bride’s closest friends – bridesmaids- were supposed to help her defend herself against her abductors. No doubt they both lived happily ever after!!
Have a wonderful day & May God Bless You and Yours.