by T.G. WINNING
The symbols, emblems and allegorical ceremonies of
the First Degree have each a meaning. Taken together these meanings
comprise the teaching of the Degree. Time is too brief for me to give
you complete explanations or even to mention all of them, but we believe
it will be profitable to you to have a few hints and suggestions,
especially as they will show that every detail of the Ritual is filled
with a definite significance which each Mason can learn if he applies
The Hoodwink represents that darkness in which an
uninitiated man stands as regards the Masonic life. For this reason it
is removed at the moment of enlightenment. Its removal suggests that we
do not make the great things of existence, such as goodness, truth and
beauty, but find them. They are always there. It is our blindness that
conceals them from us.
The Cable-tow is a symbol of all those external
restraints by which a man is controlled by others, or by forces outside
himself. If a man does not keep the law of his own free will he must be
forced to keep it by compulsion. The removal of the Cable-tow means that
when a man becomes the master of himself he will keep the law
instinctively, out of his own character, and not under compulsion.
The Lodge is a symbol of the world, more properly of
the world of Masonry. Initiation means birth, or a new birth, an
entrance into that world. This symbol means that in its scope and extent
Freemasonry is as wide as human nature and as broad as mankind, and that
as a spirit and ideal it permeates the whole life of every true Mason,
outside the Lodge as well as inside.
The Ceremony of Entrance, by which is meant all that
happens at the Inner Door, signifies birth or initiation and symbolises
the fact that a candidate is entering the world of Masonry, there to
live a new kind of life.
The Sharp Instrument means, among other things, that
there is but one real penalty for violation of the Obligations-the
penalty, that is, of the destructive consequences to a man's character
of being faithless to his vows, untrue to his word, disloyal to his
The Ceremony of Circumambulation is the name for the
ceremony of walking around the Lodge room, an allegorical act rich with
many meanings. One of the principal of these is that the Masonic life is
a progressive journey, from station to station of attainment, and that a
Mason will always be in search of more light.
An equally significant ceremony is that of
approaching the East. The last is the source of light, that station in
the heavens in which the sun appears when about to chase the darkness
away. Masons are sons of light, and therefore face the East.
The Altar is the most important article of furniture
in a Lodge room, and at the same time a symbol of that place which the
worship of God holds in Masonry-a place at the centre, around which all
The Obligations have in them many literal meanings
and as such are the foundations of our disciplinary law, but over and
above this they signify the nature and place of obligation in human
life. An obligation is a tie, a contract, a pledge, a promise, a vow, a
duty that is owed. In addition to the obligations we voluntarily assume,
there are many in which we stand naturally-obligations to God, to our
families, to employers or employees, to friends and neighbors. A
righteous man is one who can be depended upon to fulfill his obligations
to the best of his ability.
The Great Lights are the Volume of the Sacred Law,
the Square and the Compasses. As a Great Light the Volume of the Sacred
Law represents the will of God as man understands it. The Square is the
physical life of man under its human conditions. The Compasses signify
the moral and spritual life. If a man acts in obedience to the will of
God, according to the dictates of his conscience, he will he living in
the illumination of the Great Lights and cannot go astray.
The Lesser Lights are the Sun, the Moon and the
Master of the Lodge. The Sun is a symbol of the masculine, the active,
the aggressive. The Moon, of the feminine, the receptive, the gentle,
the non-resisting. When these two types of human action are maintained
in balance, mastership is the result.
The Words, Grips and Tokens are our means of
recognition by which, among strangers, we are able to prove others or
ourselves to he regular Master Masons in order to enter into fraternal
The Ceremony of Salutation, in which the candidate
salutes each station in turn, is, in addition to its function as a
portion of the ceremonies, also a symbol of a Mason's respect for and
obedience to all just and lawfully constituted authorities. The Old
Charges state this in a single sentence 'A Mason is a peaceable subject
to the Civil Powers, wherever he resides or works'.
The same significance is found in the Office of
Worshipful Master, who is a symbol as well as the executive officer of
the Lodge. As the sun rules the day, he rules and governs his Lodge; his
title, 'Worshipful', means that as the governor he is worthy of
reverence, respect and obedience; and he stands for just and lawfully
constituted authority everywhere.
The Apron is at once the emblem of purity and the
badge of a Mason. By purity is meant blamelessness, a loyal obedience to
the laws of the Craft and sincere goodwill to the Brethren. The badge of
a Mason signifies that Masons are workers and builders, not drones and
In the Ceremony of Destitution the candidate
discovers that he has nothing of a metallic character on his person.
This symbolism reverts to ancient times when men believed that the
planets determined human fate and controlled human passions. Men thought
that there was a metal by which each planet was itself controlled. In
ancient times candidates were compelled to leave all metals behind, lest
they bring into the assembly disturbing Planetary influences. While with
us this symbolism no longer has its astrological character, the old
point about keeping out disturbing influences remains. The candidate is
not to bring into the Lodge room his Passions or prejudices lest that
harmony which it is one of the chief concerns of Masonry to Sustain
shall be destroyed. The North-east Corner is traditionally the place
where the cornerstone of a building is laid; when the Apprentice is made
to stand there it is because he is the cornerstone of the future Craft.
What the Apprentices are today Masonry will become in the future.
The Working Tools represent those moral and spiritual
virtues, habits and forces by means of which a man is enabled to reshape
the crude and often stubborn materials of his own nature in order to
adjust himself to the needs and requirements of human society. If a man
has lived painlessly, carelessly, without aim or ideal, he must, if he
is to become a Mason, learn to systematize his life, must adopt a rule
of life as signified by the Twenty-four Inch Gauge. If he has traits of
temper, habits of speech, or defects of character that disturb or injure
others, and interfere with his taking his proper place in the
Brotherhood, as 'knots and excrescences' on a stone interfere with
putting it into its allotted place in the building, he must rid himself
of them. This is represented by the Mallet.
The Entered Apprentice is himself a symbol, one of
the noblest in the whole emblematic system of the Craft. He represents
Youth, typified by the rising sun. But beyond that he represents framed
youth, youth willing to submit itself to discipline and to seek
knowledge in order to learn the great Art of Life, which is the real
Royal art, and which itself is represented, embodied in, and interpreted
by all the Mysteries of Masonry.
It is by such voices and arts as these that the First
Degree gave its teaching to you as a Man and a beginning Mason. We
sincerely hope that these hints, these suggestions as to the meaning of
the symbols and emblems, will lead you to seek further for more light
upon them, not alone in order that you may become a well-trained Mason,
but also for their value to you as you lead your life outside the Lodge
Brother T. G. Winning PM Hawick Lodge No. 111.
Secretary Grand Lodge of Scotland