Part 2 – The Symbology of the First Degree

Part 2 – The Symbology of the 1st Degree
Novus Veteris Lodge #864
Alan Gatlin, Orator

Familiarity is not always our friend when it comes to “seeing” (SLIDE 2) the deeper meanings in the world around us or even with ourselves. While we are appropriately encouraged to experience the Degree work in the Lodge, how often do we enter into our Lodge room unencumbered from the distraction of the part we are playing or from the general disturbances of life? Other lectures have discussed how the opening of a Lodge (SLIDE 3) creates a sacred space where we are invited to escape those outside intrusions that would take us away from experiencing the moment at hand. We can overcome these distractions and encumbrances by reminding ourselves that for these few minutes that the Lodge is open we are given a respite from the cares of the world and invited to dwell in the Light that Masonry offers (SLIDE 4).

One of the themes of the 1st Degree is the introduction to the candidate and invitation to dwell in Masonic Light. He is prepared to receive, for the first time Light, not just from the opening of his eyes, but also from the opening of his mind to all that is around him. It has been mentioned before, this is again, our invitation to renew our commitment to also receive the Light offered by Masonry along with the candidate.

The explanation of the working tools of this degree is one of the initial steps in this formative process. What our ancient brethren understood and that we have only again re-discovered is that Light has mass and the ability to alter and change matter that is exposed to it as exemplified by a laser (SLIDE 5). A laser is a light of one color focused and amplified to produce a beam that is both intense and powerful, able to cut, weld, and even vaporize that which it meets, even stone. It may even be said that this level of intensity also has the ability to purify as well as destroy. Light has a dual existence of both a wave and particle, often at the same time making it a versatile and complex form and a tool in itself. Exposing ourselves to the Light of Masonry CAN change us, purifying and/or destroying those parts of our being that are not conducive or are counterproductive to our being a better man. This Light is presented symbolically and is connected to the first working tool presented to the candidate, the common gavel (SLIDE 6). Per our instruction, the gavel (Light) chips away the rough and superfluous parts of the stone of our heart and mind much as the gavel does the same to the mason’s stone (SLIDE 7). While this association between the effects of the application of Light and the use of the gavel is not directly made, the implication is one of the first for the new Mason to consider and meditate upon. As each tool is added, the complexity of and application using the tools becomes more layered with subtle tenders and meaning that will take more than this lifetime to explore.

The next working tool is an example of this multilayered approach, the 24-inch gage (SLIDE 8). While our direct teaching is that this is an instrument used by operative masons to measure and lay out their work, while we as Free and Accepted Masons are taught to make use of it for a more noble and glorious purpose of dividing our time. We are further instructed to make use of our time in 3 divisions. One for our service to Deity and a distressed worthy brother, a part for our usual vocations, and the last for refreshment and repose. My brothers, I hope you have had better success with this division of time than I have! The term “Life Balance” (SLIDE 9) has been one of the keynotes of modern management and psychology yet it something Ithat is seemingly possible for the majority of men during their working lives to find. Even when we were more an agrarian based society, the farmer worked until the tasks were completed, especially during times of planting and harvest. We then are faced with the remake of this aspired goal of Life Balance into a Life Compromise. When we cannot consciously obtain balance, then we can choose to allocate our time in accordance with a plan that has intentional periods of focus on one of these three areas with a corresponding fall back to restore that balance. If work “demands” more than the allocated period to the loss of family time, then a refocus on family must occur at some point to bring back balance and harmony. The failure in balances comes when we react, unaware of the consequences of seeking the overall balance, and fall into sickness from exhaustion, poor performance at work from lack of dedicated time, or personal failure to perform our service to Deity or our Brothers. When taken as a whole, be it a day or week, month, year, or lifetime; how have we or will we “balance out” and reconcile one of the only shared currency we all have, our time? The gage reminds us and provides the measure to act in a way different than the world around us. While modern psychology has “rediscovered” the need for balance in life, ancient masons understood this need and were called to practice these areas into a balanced, productive and satisfying life.

Another point of note is that the 24-hour day was divided into three segments. Again per Mackey, the number three (SLIDE 10) was significant in most societies of the ancient world. The Chinese said that the numbers begin at 1 and are made perfect at 3, and hence denote the multiplicity of any object by repeating the character which stands for it three times (a reference to our 3×3 clap?) Pythagoreans called it the perfect harmony. In Plato it represented the image of the Supreme Being. Within Masonry how many “3” do we find? It ranges from the Greater and Lesser Lights, The Steps, The Pillars and many more. A division of three is deeply embedded into our Masonic belief systems and when taken together denotes a call to balance.

Delving deeper into these divisions of the gage, Mackey reminds us that the number 8, the division of each of the three sections, was esteemed as the first cube (SIDE 11). Being formed by 2x2x2 and was held sacred by the Pythagoreans and signified friendship, prudence, counsel, and justice. Are these attributes also not one of the basic themes of a balanced life? It also was made to represent the primitive law of nature which supposes the equality of all men, another tenant of Masonry.

There is another consideration that we should examine. While the gage represents a linear perspective, we also practice Masonry in a circular perspective. The Rite of Circumambulation (SLIDE 12) is in itself an area of study and deeper meaning. One aspect of this is the position of the Three Pillars forming an equilateral triangle, each with an angle of 60 degrees or what is known as a sextile (SLIDE 13) when taken in aspect. The candidate then rotates through each of these stations much as the planets rotate around the sun forming additional angles and aspects along the way. But there is one general division I wish to focus; that of a trine. When we view the 360 degrees of a circle as a whole and divide it into 3 segments we are presented with 3 equal divisions of 120 degrees each which in aspect is known as a trine. The Sextile and Trine are both considered positive and benevolent with the Trine one of the most powerful.

The classical astrological meaning of a trine (SLIDE 14) is that where the powers involved are in harmony, such that they stimulate one another to increased activity and mutual success. Hence, both sides of the trine are enriched by the aspect(s) between them. The closer the trine is to 120°, the stronger the aspect is, and the more it enhances the planets involved for the positive. The Master representing the Sun (SLIDE 15) is our basic drive and strength, our masculine nature. The Senior Warden represents the Moon (SLIDE 16) and our longing and feminine nature, While the (SLIDE 17) Junior Warden is our curiosity and messaging. Consider those role using these attributes. The agreement to who can best serve and best agree between the Pillars is a key component of a successful and meaningful Lodge. As well, this application is really no different when we examine the 3 aspects or divisions of our own lives and how we spend the currency of our time. Overall harmony is not achieved when our three segments are out of this 120-degree overall alignment. How we act, counterbalance, and position our existence determines the direction of this universal alignment and our road to a happier and more productive life.

On each visit to the Lodge, I urge you to accept the challenge to make these minutes together a sacred time and place. Open your eyes and heart to the symbolic representations that make up our Masonic Work (SLIDE 18). And finally, renew those sacred obligations we each made at the altar to become that Man and Mason we desire.

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