Is Freemasonry a Total Moral Philosophy?
What is Behind the Anomalies in our Second Tracing Board Lecture
By R.W.Bro JDF Black PDGM (UGLV)
What should we do about the errors of fact in our ritual?
There are so many of them that I have no doubt we have all at some time or other, confronted that question but I am equally confident we have not yet fully resolved it.
The lecture on The Second Degree Tracing Board is no exception.
Let me cite just some of the errors of fact, or at least areas of very high improbability that it contains.
There is no evidence in the Christian Bible that God said –
“In strength will I establish this mine house to stand firm forever”(1).
The nearest passage to that, is where God said to King David, concerning Solomon,
“He shall build me an house and I will ‘establish his throne forever”(2).
Now, Solomon knew this (3), so he started building the Temple as soon as possible after he ascended the throne.
He commenced the building in the fourth year of his reign and completed it in the
eleventh. It would seem reasonable for him to promote the speed with which he achieved this venture by calling the pillars BÉ and JÉ.(4),
using the word Boaz to mean ‘with alacrity'(5)
rather than the ‘in strength'(6) the interpretation used in the ritual,
and the word JÉ. to mean “he will establish”(5)(6).
Almost incidentally, Boaz was the great grandfather of David and
JÉ. was head of the 21st Course of High Priests at the time of King David(7),
but there is no indication that he had been reduced to the rank of an Assistant High Priest at the time the Temple was dedicated or that he was involved in the dedication ceremony.
It seems inconceivable that those pillars, located in such a prominent position, would have been used as “archives to masonry”, even supposing “constitutional rolls” requiring protection had existed at that time.
The pillars were topped with bowls (8), not spheres,
so they certainly did not represent the terrestrial and celestial globes.
The VSL portrays Jeptha, the renowned Gileaditish General as a ruthless character (9).Why does our ritual portray him as being of an appeasing character?
How can a stairway consisting of a variable number of steps, 3, 5, 7
or more, lead to a finite place, the middle chamber of the Temple?
We are told that the Craftsmen were paid in the middle chamber of the Temple.
We know that the middle chamber was upstairs(10) and that King Solomon took more than 7 years to build the Temple, so how long was it before the middle chamber was constructed?
Where did our ancient brethren go to receive their wages before then, or are we to believe
they were not paid until that time?
This is not an exhaustive list of the anomalies in that lecture, but the question is to determine what we should do about them. We could simply ignore them and pretend they do not exist or we could change our ritual to correct them, in other words, force the ritual to conform to what we believe to be a description of some features of King Solomon’s Temple. There is, however, a third option we could follow. We are told that ” Freemasonry is a system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.”
The purpose of an allegory is to conceal the true identity of an object from the casual observer whilst providing sufficient information to enable the careful student to identify it. An allegory may be defined as a situation in which the identity of an unnamed object is concealed under the description of another, named or nominated object. That definition is not particularly helpful, but if we turn it around to say that an allegory may be defined as a situation in which the description of a nominated object is changed to a greater or lesser degree so that it more precisely defines another, unnamed, object, we then have a tool not only to determine whether or not a particular segment of the ritual might conceal an allegory, it can also assist us in identifying the unnamed object. To achieve these ends, we need to examine the description of the named object as it appears in the ritual to see whether anomalies or discrepancies have been created due to changes having been made to the true description of the named object.
If so, we could assume we are dealing with an allegory.
The identity of the unnamed object involved in that allegory will be such that the anomalies and discrepancies that appear when the description is applied to the named object, cease to be so when applied to the new (unnamed) object.
We have certainly identified a number of anomalies when the description in that second degree tracing board lecture is applied to the nominated object, specific features of King Solomon’s Temple. Can we find a situation where those anomalies and discrepancies cease to be so when the description is applied to another object In other words, can we identify an allegory.
There is the suggestion of an answer to this question in the midst of the lecture when we come to realise the similarity between the manner in which the Fellowcrafts were purported to progress to receive their wages and the manner in which we progressed to the second degree.
Just as the workmen in the lecture were tested before and after ascending the winding staircase, so were we, the only difference being that we were tested in each case by the SW. That strongly suggests to me that we are the workmen. If so, it would seem natural to assume that the Temple we are building is the moral temple of our own lives. Let us examine whether the remainder of that Second Degree Tracing Board Lecture would support this proposition.
In terms of constructing our Temple on the foundation stone laid in the First Degree, it would seem most appropriate that we should first be faced by the two great pillars. It is here that we are made aware that we are the pillars that are to serve as “archives to Masonry by preserving the constitutional rolls of life”. In other words, we are all, in our own Temples, to be responsible for preserving the ‘Golden Rule’ –
to do unto others as we would that they should do unto us – and all other rules and regulations concerned with the dignity of human existence. It is in this context the Grand Geometrician of the Universe has granted each of us the authority to erect the Temple of our lives, not necessarily with alacrity, but certainly, in strength when he says to us
“In strength will I establish this Mine house to stand firm forever.”
The success with which we construct that Temple is up to us.
Essentially it depends on whether we are inspired by the light emanating from the terrestrial globe, representing the light of the pillar of fire that led the Children of Israel out of Egypt, or by the celestial globe, representing the pillar of cloud that proved darkness to Pharaoh and his followers when they attempted to overtake them. The light of knowledge, shows us the way forward, the other, the darkness of error and ignorance, obscures our path. It is up to us to ensure that the power of the light exceeds the power of the darkness. In building this Temple, we are to be our own priest, JÉ.., but, lest we get carried away with our own importance, the rank of JÉ. is reduced to that of Assistant High Priest.
Having negotiated the two great pillars, we arrive at the foot of the winding staircase of life.
In contrast to the First Degree Tracing Board Lecture, where Jacob’s ladder defines the direct route from earth to heaven, the winding staircase in this degree is emblematical of the unknown path we have to follow through life, each step revealing just a little further around the corner of the way ahead.
The test before we begin that ascent is designed to establish our resolve in the face of distracting trials and tribulations. The lecture requires us to “try all lenient means to appease” the source of those trials and tribulations but if that proves ineffectual, we, like Jeptha in his dealings with the Ephraimites, are to have “recourse to rigorous ones”, to ensure we do not allow evil to overcome good.
The Temple we each build is a unique structure and is based on our individual faith. It is not something that can be mass produced for us by others. I am fully convinced that is the reason our ceremonies are allegoric and not dogmatic. In no other way could a Hebrew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Christian, and any other person of monotheistic belief join together in the single aim of building their moral Temple to the Glory of the Grand Geometrician of the Universe, by whatever name they know Him.
The reference to the impossible stairway we are called on to ascend, consisting of a variable number of steps, 3, 5, 7 or more suggests that we are not building a physical structure but the moral structure of our lives. Specific reference to the number of those steps, either together or individually emphasise this view by alluding to different aspects of the Temple of our lives. In the first place they unite to signify the factors that are involved in control of the lodge, or, as the allegory in the Opening of the lodge (11) suggests, control of ourselves.
In this context, the 3 who rule the lodge signifies the head, the heart and the hand of each one of us, the 5 who hold the lodge incorporate the mediating influences of conscience and reason into our lives while the 7 or more that make it perfect allude to however many of the cardinal virtues we are able to embrace in our lives. So much for the moral Temple of our lives, but our building is not to finish there. Our Temple must extend to equip us for our everyday lives. In this sense, the 5 Noble Orders of Architecture represent our manual and physical development while the 7 Liberal Arts and Sciences represent our intellectual development.
When we arrive at the summit of the winding staircase of our lives, we will be called on to account for the way in which we have acted as custodians of the fundamental rights of all men and also for our administration of the Temple of our own lives of which we have been custodian for so many years. That assessment will determine the reward which we will receive from the Grand Geometrician of the Universe “without scruple or diffidence” from the great reliance we place on the integrity of His judgement tempered by His mercy.
In presenting this interpretation of the allegory of the Second Degree Tracing Board lecture, I make no apology for it being a very personal view. I do not, for a moment, suggest that it is a complete or definitive interpretation. It is merely my view of what I believe the ritual is attempting to convey to us. However, in terms of the definition of an allegory, I am convinced that there are far fewer anomalies, discrepancies and inconsistencies when the items described in the lecture are applied to the description of a man building the moral Temple of his life than when they are applied to the building of King Solomon’s Temple. Whether or not you agree with the interpretation I have placed on this lecture is immaterial, what is important is that we should all examine our ritual with care to find whether there are anomalies and discrepancies that could be construed to be concealing an allegory and then endeavour to interpret that allegory to our own satisfaction.
(1) /The Perfect Ceremonies of Craft Masonry/, (1887), Footnote on p79
The only accurate Biblical quote can be found in the UGLQ 1975 Ritual,
2nd degree, page 122.
(2) /Holy Bible/, 1 Chronicles, 17:12
(3) /Holy Bible/, 1 Kings, 5:5
(4) /Holy Bible/, 2 Chronicles, 3:17
(5) /The Peoples Bible Encyclopaedia/.
(6) /A Dictionary of Life in Bible Times/. (
(7) /Holy Bible/, 1 Chronicles, 24:17
(8) /Holy Bible/, 1 Kings, 7:41
(9) /Holy Bible/, Judges, 12:3 /et seq./
(10) /Holy Bible/, 1 Kings, 6:8
(11) ‘An Allegory in Freemasonry’, (2002), JDF Black, member of the UGLV
Grand Lecture Panel.
For some time I have been commenting on what I consider to be a general lack of knowledge by Master Masons as to WHY we perform the ceremonies as we do & WHAT the message may be within those ceremonies. This paper is presented by a Brother who has complimented us by sharing HIS opinion
with us and supported his findings and opinions in a very professional manner.
Brethren. This paper is certainly worth reading and studying by each of us in our own personal way & gleaning from it knowledge to assist us each in our own Spiritual Journey
Have a wonderful Day & God Bless