While many of the secrets of Freemasonry remain closely guarded and are only revealed to those who join the fraternity, there are many elements of the secret society that have become public knowledge in recent times.
In many ways, this increase in knowledge of those outside Freemasonry has helped to dispel some of the more bizarre conspiracy theories that are bandied about regarding the Masonic movement and have grounded expectations in truth rather than speculation.
One element of Freemasonry that has caused controversy in the past is the use of tools within the fraternity. Many have speculated why particular tools are used and have offered interesting theories, most of which are off the mark.
In this post, we will look at the tools that are used within Masonic lodges across the world, and more specifically, the tools used by Master Masons. We will also offer an explanation why these tools are used, as well as an indication of how one gets to become a Master Mason.
What are the Masonic tools?
Within Freemasonry, there are three degrees: Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft, and Master Mason. At some point in a Mason’s journey, tools are used to educate them essential life lessons regarding morality, as well as how Masonic values should be implemented in their contributions to society.
Related: Degrees Of Freemasonry
The tools help Masons to establish a moral and spiritual compass, and are a way of understanding some of the deeper and more complicated allegories that are expressed in Masonic teachings. The implements are most commonly referred to as working tools.
Commonly in Freemasonry, there are nine working tools, each of which is categorized depending upon the degree of Freemasonry in which they are used. As with many elements of modern Freemasonry, the tools have an important symbolic meaning, and are usually utilized to express a specific point about the brother’s journey through life.
The Entered Apprentice’s tools
As has been revealed, the first degree of Freemasonry is Entered Apprentice. The three tools used in the first degree are:
- The twenty-four-inch gauge
- The common gavel
- The chisel
In the first degree, Masons learn the importance of dividing their days into three parts. They should understand the importance of splitting their time between serving the supreme being, serving their neighbors, and serving themselves.
The common gavel has important symbolic meaning in the first degree, as it highlights the importance of eradicating vices and warding off desires. This is a vital lesson taught to Masons as it helps them focus on serving others instead of themselves.
The chisel symbolizes the importance of toning our brains through the endless quest for knowledge, another vitally important element of Masonic teachings. As can we can learn from the example of the first degree, Masonic tools are used in lodges to explain the fundamental teachings of Freemasonry.
The Fellowcraft’s tools
Once the fundamental teachings of Freemasonry have been articulated to Masons in the first degree, the implements utilized in the second degree continue the important Masonic teachings. The tools of the second degree are:
- The square
- The level
- The plumb
The Fellowcraft’s tools are also known as the implements of proof. The square itself is a vital symbol of Freemasonry, and as a tool it is a constant reminder to Masons that their actions should be virtuous and aligned with the Masonic principles.
Equally as important, the level is the symbol of equality among all brothers. In a broader sense, equality in Freemasonry means that all brothers will be judged by the same parameters, and their daily actions must reflect their quest for equality. Finally, the plumb is symbolic of integrity. It reminds Masons of the need to be just and honest in their daily practice. As you can see, the tools of the second degree serve as a reminder to Masons to live by the virtuous moral code of the fraternity.
The Master Mason’s tools
Now that we’ve briefly introduced the tools used in the first and second degrees of Freemasonry, we’ve now arrived at the focus of our post: the Master Mason’s tools. In the fraternity, the Master Mason’s tools are commonly referred to as the tools of plan, and are:
- The Skirret
- The Pencil
- The compasses
The tools of the Master Mason are shrouded in historical significance, as they were tools used by the stonemasons of the past. The skirret was used to draw a perfect line on the ground to mark the foundation of a structure.
In modern day Freemasonry, the skirret symbolizes the Masonic line of conduct that Masons must follow in pursuit of what they call ‘the volume of the sacred law’. Masons believe that to be square, level, and upright, a brother must first be straight, and the skirret symbolizes this fact.
So, what do Freemasons mean by being straight? It’s in reference to our dealings with the Grand Architect of the Universe, or Supreme Being. In order to please the Supreme Being, Masons should opt for the straight path through life and avoid being led astray.
One of the fundamental values of Freemasonry is teaching brothers not to lead a life plagued by sin and distraction, so the importance of living a straight life ensures they avoid deviating from their virtuous path and live a life free from vice.
Masons believe that the straight path leads to the desired goal in life that is articulated by the fraternity. The Master Mason uses the skirret to articulate this message and remind Masons that they should keep on the straight and narrow to avoid controversy in life.
Following on from the skirret, the next tool of a Master Mason is the pencil. Like the skirret, the pencil was a standard tool used by stonemasons in the past and has taken on an important symbolic meaning within Freemasonry today.
Stonemasons would use a pencil to visualize their creation and to articulate how the building should be constructed. The workmen would then use the plans in order to complete the structure.
In Freemasonry today, the Supreme Being is the artist who draws the plans for his workmen to follow. The workmen are Masons who seek to follow the designs of the Supreme Being and live the life that is set out for them.
Through the use of the pencil, the Master Mason teaches that on judgment day, Masons will be judged according to the conformity of the plan. So the pencil is representative of the judgment that will be passed by the Supreme Being, and is a constant reminder to Freemasons to live a life that is virtuous and that abides to Masonic morals and values.
Within this teaching, Masons have the autonomy to derive meaning from the detailed design of life. The Master Mason presents a dichotomy of good and evil to make this point and ushers fellow Masons on the path toward light.
The third tool of the Master Mason is perhaps the most widely recognized symbol of Freemasonry: the compasses. It is used to remind Masons of the limits of good and evil, according to the impartial justice of the Supreme Being.
For Masons, the compasses represent one of the most important teachings of the fraternity. The tool reminds brothers that obeying the Masonic standard is rewarded by the Supreme Being, while indiscretions are punished.
This simple moral code is used as a foundation for many of the other teachings of Freemasonry, as Masons are reminded that any actions they take in life will be judged, and they should act accordingly.
It is also a reminder to practice restraint in life and not to embark upon practices that disrupt the moral standard of the lodge. Masons are taught the value of restraint as a way of protecting their moral compass and living a life to the high moral standards expected within Freemasonry.
How do you become a Master Mason?
The Master Mason is tasked with being a moral authority over the other brothers within their lodge, although equality is maintained throughout. In order to become a Master Mason, brothers must commit to their lodge and Freemasonry more generally and prove the importance of the Masonic teachings in their lives.
As has been mentioned, in order to become a Master Mason, a brother must complete the first two degrees of Freemasonry. This process can take months or even years and is part of the vital process of becoming an enlightened brother.
Conclusion: the tools of a Master Mason
As has been explored, there are nine tools of Freemasonry, each of which has a symbolic meaning that has been derived from the middle age stonemasons.
As is the case with much of Freemasonry today, the symbolic meaning behind the tools is actually more significant than the tools themselves, and they are used within lodges to remind Masons of the values and the moral code they’re expected to live by.
The tools of a Master Mason are accessed by Masons who reach the third degree and are also known as tools of proof. As this is the highest degree of traditional Freemasonry, the tools revealed in third degree carry perhaps the most significant messages.