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Freemasonry - Its Hidden Meaning

by George H. Steinmetz

A spiritual interpretation of the esoteric work of the Masonic lodge, analyzes the lectures and symbols of the three degrees. (1948)

Chapter 8 - Fellow-Craft

Preface - Foreword - Chapter 1 - Chapter 2 - Chapter 3 - Chapter 4 - Chapter 5 - Chapter 6 - Chapter 7 - Chapter 8 - Chapter 9 - Chapter 10 - Chapter 11 - Chapter 12

"Thus he shewed me: and, behold, the Lord stood upon a wall made by a plumb-line, with a plumb-line in his hand. And the Lord said unto me, Amos, what seest thou? And I said, A plumb-line. Then said the Lord, Behold, I will set a plumb-line in the midst of my people Israel; I will not again pass by them any more."

-Amos VII; 7-8

AS IN the preceding degree, we should continue to carefully analyze words whereby we may arrive at the exact meaning intended. "FELLOW" - "Companion or associate; one of the same kind, or in the same position with others-an equal. "CRAFT" - in the sense used - is a contraction of "CRAFTSMAN," who is defined as "one who practices a certain trade, especially a skilled and artistically inclined worker."

In the light of the foregoing, a "FELLOWCRAFT" may be defined as "a companion or associate of others in the same position, practising a certain trade, and being especially skilled and artistically inclined."

One who has not learned the spiritual meaning of the degree of Entered Apprentice, and applied the knowledge in his daily life, has not attained to a level of spiritual consciousness where he may comprehend the lesson of the degree of "Fellow-craft" and benefit therefrom. In the language of the Lodge, he has "NOT made suitable proficiency in the preceding degree."

In commenting on the Mysteries is discussed the emphasis which was placed on the necessity of "making suitable proficiency in the preceding degree" before the neophyte could advance. Here a similarity is discovered. In addition to the questions asked in the preceding degree, the interrogator demands to know if the candidate has made the necessary progress. In early times, when all business was transacted in the Entered Apprentice Lodge and Apprentices might attend those meetings, an Apprentice might rema in in that degree for a year before being "passed." Thus he learned the workings of the Lodge, became acquainted with its peculiar language and such of the symbology as he could understand. He truly made "suitable proficiency." Our modern Lodge might well return to such practice. It is true that such procedure might result in less "MEMBERS" but, inversely, the order might thereby make" more "MASONS," which is the avowed intent.

The Scripture quoted in this degree was not taken from the Bible merely by chance because it mentions a plumb-line, one of the working tools of a Fellow-craft. As in all things Masonic, there is a definite reason for this particular passage of Scripture. It may be more understandable if we quote from another translation, rather than the King James version which is used in the Lodge.

In 1853 Rabbi Isaac Leeser, feeling the need for a direct translation of the Old Testament from the original Hebrew to English, for the benefit of the many Jews who no longer could read Hebrew, completed such a work. This passage is hereafter quoted from his translation, together with his comments on the meaning of the passage. "Thus he shewed me: and behold the Lord was standing upon a wall (made) by a plumb-line, and in his hand was a plumb-line. And the Lord said unto me, what dost thou see, Amos? And I said a plumb-line. Then said the Lord, behold, I will set a plumb-line in the midst of my people Israel; I will not farther indulge them anymore."

Leeser's comments: "Meaning as a builder erects his wall straight by the plummet, so shall Israel be dealt with after the strict line of justice, with no longer indulgence for their crimes. No farther indulge them, more specific than pass by them anymore, or overlook their transgressions."

The Entered Apprentice degree is material. Instructions on the psychical plane not having as yet been received, the Apprentice cannot be held wholly accountable for his conduct. He is granted a, certain amount of "indulgence," and some of his errors of both commission and omission are "passed by" or overlooked. Now a definite change is to take place. He is given additional instruction and information, intellectual reasons which his mind can weigh and either accept or reject. He will be PERSONALLY ACCOU NTABLE for his future actions in the light of his newly acquired knowledge. Therefore he will be dealt with by the "strict line of justice." His sins will not be overlooked. "I will not again pass by them anymore."

Even the preparation of the second degree is symbolical. While the first degree pertains to the development of the physical man, the second deals with a different side of his nature, the psychical. The candidate enters this degree, as far as the inner man is concerned, in the "same condition" as in the preceding degree. Not satisfied with the light, or knowledge, he has so far obtained, "of his own free will and accord," he gives the "knock" which will cause the door to be opened for him to begin his jou rney for "further light" in Freemasonry. We have agreed that "Masonry is religion." We have learned that religion is "the recognition of man's relation to a divine superhuman power to whom obedience and reverence is due," as well as "effort of man to attain the goodness of God." By emphasizing this definition of religion we impress our minds with what we are ACTUALLY REQUESTING when we say we wish "LIGHT."

The candidate is received, as stated in the ritual, to symbolize the complete union of the physical with the psychical. The physical is typified by the "horizontal line" of the still incomplete triangle, whereas the psychical is symbolized by the "perpendicular." When the horizontal is perfectly "level" and the perpendicular is "plumb," the resultant meeting is a true "right-angle." They meet upon the square.

Whenever one observes the "square and compasses" and discovers that one point of the compasses is elevated above the square, he should remember that Masonry is a progressive science. MORE is implied than is told. This position of the compasses indicates NOT so much the negative fact told the candidate as the positive fact that he HAS recovered partial light and the spiritual is actually coming to the fore, that he no longer is wholly concerned with the material.

The candidate is asked a question at a certain point in the initiation, and a specific reply is given for him. The real answer, concealed within that answer, is a desire to go from the material things pertaining to the Entered Apprentice to those things psychical to be learned in the degree of Fellow-craft.

As we are told in the Bible, Jachin is one of the pillars of the Temple of Solomon. It denotes Universal Law. No progress can be made on any plane of existence except it be in accordance with the Universal Law. The candidate is "entering the Temple." As an Entered Apprentice he gained admission by "personal choice"; now he is confronted with the fact that "personal choice" is not enough, it must also be in conformity to LAW. It must be regular.

In the twelfth chapter of judges is related an historical happening which is also highly allegorical, and the word Shibboleth plays a prominent part in that allegory. In a deeper sense it is so used in this degree, but that explanation would entail Biblical interpretation and we are not here attempting such a pretentious work.

We have a modern expression used to indicate the utter lack of harmony between oneself and another when our thinking is so far apart that there is no common meeting ground. We say, "We do not speak the same language." So it is with "Shibboleth." It is more than a word; it is in one word the expression of an existing condition. One NOT a "Fellow-craft," in the fullest meaning of the term, can immediately be detected for he "cannot frame to pronounce it aright." His thinking is so foreign that, to emphasize our meaning with the modern expression, "he does not speak the same language."

The ancient Hebrew Priest in conferring the blessing, extended his right hand, palm downward, over the heads of the congregation. He held his left hand partially aloft. The left hand aloft signified he was RECEIVING the blessing from God, the right hand outstretched that he was PASSING the blessing on to the congregation. It must be taken into consideration that the Hebrew Priest, unlike the Roman Catholic Priest, was NEVER claimed to be THE REPRESENTATIVE OF GOD ON EARTH. He was only the intermediary b etween God and the Children of Israel, the "go-between." When the locale of the Fellow-craft degree is recalled, it may be helpful to our explanation if we refer to the Priest as the MIDDLE-man.

This is the psychic degree. The ancients taught that mind was the result of the entrance of the spiritual into the material. The Scripture used in the Entered Apprentice degree states: "There the Lord commanded the blessing, even life for ever more." This blessing was symbolically received by the one hand and conferred with the other. To have "life for ever more" necessitates knowledge, and the duty of the intellect is to gather and assay that knowledge.

Attention is especially directed to the consistency with which the candidate's position, the Square and Compasses, the apron and the working tools, all harmoniously reveal the one great Truth in this degree. The Square is of the utmost importance to the Fellow-craft and, IN ANY MANNER MADE USE OF WHATEVER, it signifies the same perfect union of the physical and psychical later discussed in connection with the working tools.

No longer "a bearer of burdens," the Fellow-craft need not wear his apron to protect his clothing. He has departed from the material; he no longer need bear burdens. The candidate represents man rising, in the process of evolution, from the level where he was dependent on the brute-force of his physical body, to the use of his mind. Mind being creative, he may now, to the extent of his knowledge, create his own conditions. He wears his apron in a manner to symbolize this fact.

All aprons seen in Lodges are not properly made - some are slightly oblong. The correct specifications would call for a perfect square of approximately fourteen inches, surmounted by a triangle whose base is the exact length of one side of the apron and whose apex forms a ninety degree angle. When the flap is turned down it should appear as a triangle within a square. This symbolizes the spiritual within the material. Hereby man begins the evolution which will eventually end in his assuming the likeness of his Creator. Thus the symbology of the apron repeats and verifies that of the Square and Compasses.

Modern educators stress the fact that in teaching in the classroom the results are largely dependent upon "the approach to the subject." They explain that different subjects must be approached in different manners. This is equally true in Masonry. The Apprentice degree is material, that of the Fellow-craft is mental. It is logical that the subjects should be approached differently. One does not approach the psychical in the same manner as he approaches the material; they are on two separate planes of ex istence. As we have seen, "one does not even speak the same language" on these two planes. Furthermore, just as the ancients claimed the left side of man was the weaker and the right side the stronger and more important, so is the material of less import to man's life than his psychical existence.

Now for "a more noble and glorious" explanation of the working tools than is given in the "rational explanation": Man is a triune being composed of Body, Soul and Spirit. The plumb typifies the Soul, and is used to "erect perpendiculars." So it symbolizes the upward aspirations of the Soul toward God. The body is that "level" which "stretches along the level of time." In the perfect man we are building the soul, or plumb, must be joined to the body, or level, by a right angle triangle, for the juncture of the two lines must form a "perfect square."

Another emphasis regarding the working tools of a Fellow-craft in contradistinction to those of the Apprentice is that the latter are preparatory tools. The TWENTY-FOUR INCH GAUGE and the COMMON GAVEL are used by "operative masons" AT THE QUARRIES to PREPARE stones. "The Rough Ashlar is a stone as taken from the quarry in its rude and natural state. The Perfect Ashlar is a stone made ready by the hands of the workman to be adjusted by the working tools of the FELLOWCRAFT." The "Rough Ashlar" is measured w ith the "twenty-four inch gauge"; its rough corners are broken off with blows from the "common gavel"; and as the "Perfect Ashlar" it is sent from the quarries to the building site of the Temple where the "Fellow-craft, with his tools, the "plumb, the square and the level, adjusts it into the structure.

Reviewing the discussion of the Apprentice's tools, we find the "common gavel" is used to "divest our hearts and consciences of all the vices and superfluities of life, thereby fitting our MINDS as living stones * * *." Thus is seen the "Rough Ashlar" in transition to the "Perfect Ashlar" - not two stones but one, and that stone is the individual.

In the proficiency examination the Fellow-craft is not asked if he is a Mason. This question is differently phrased, and his answer is significant. A square is an angle of ninety degrees or a "perfect angle," and it is consistent that a Fellow-craft should refer to it. Since the second degree deals with the psychical, and as it is the purpose of the Fellow-craft to unite the physical with the psychical in the perfect union, the degree of his attainment may be measured, or he "may be tried," by the perfec t right angle. Hence the square is not only one of the principal working tools of his profession but is the logical instrument whereby to measure his progress.

As viewed from a material standpoint the symbology is exact. A ninety degree angle may be obtained by using a square. It may also be made with the two other tools of the Fellow-craft. Using the "level" to lay a horizontal, and the "plumb" to erect a perpendicular, a perfect angle is formed. Phenomena that are true can be demonstrated by trial and error; and the necessary tools to test and prove his findings are furnished the Fellow-craft in the "level" and the "plumb." He may use them to demonstrate the truth of the "square."

Freemasonry Contents

  1. By Way of Introduction
  2. Masonry - Religion
  3. Mental Science
  4. Evolution
  5. The Secret Doctrine
  6. Entered Apprentice
  7. Entered Apprentice Lecture
  8. Fellow Craft
  9. Middle Chamber Lecture
  10. Master Mason
  11. The Great Moral Lesson
  12. Master Mason Lecture

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