True Secrets of Freemasonry

Those who become Freemasons only for the sake of finding out the secret of the order, run a very great risk of growing old under the trowel without ever realizing their purpose. Yet there is a secret, but it is so inviolable that it has never been confided or whispered to anyone. Those who stop at the outward crust of things imagine that the secret consists in words, in signs, or that the main point of it is to be found only in reaching the highest degree. This is a mistaken view: the man who guesses the secret of Freemasonry, and to know it you must guess it, reaches that point only through long attendance in the lodges, through deep thinking, comparison, and deduction.

He would not trust that secret to his best friend in Freemasonry, because he is aware that if his friend has not found it out, he could not make any use of it after it had been whispered in his ear. No, he keeps his peace, and the secret remains a secret.

Giovanni Giacomo Casanova, Memoirs, Volume 2a, Paris, p. 33

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Tools of a Mason

As an Entered Apprentice, we are presented the working tools of that degree; the 24” gauge and the common gavel. We are told the 24” gauge reminds us there is a time for everything, and the common gavel is to be used, symbolically it is hoped, to remove the rough and superfluous parts of our rough ashlars, by removing the vices and superfluities of life.

As Fellowcrafts, we are presented with the square, the level, and the plumb, reminding us to square our actions by the square of virtue, to walk uprightly in our several stations before g-d and man, and by the level, that we are traveling upon that level of time toward that undiscovered country.

As Masters, we are presented with the Trowel, to use to spread the cement of brotherly love and affection.

These are the working tools as presented in the State of California, though in other jurisdictions there may also be presented the pencil and the chisel. As speculative Masons, we are taught to make use of these tools for more noble and glorious purposes than our operative early brothers did, the erection of a spiritual house, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.

In this vein, we are presented with a rough ashlar and with a perfect ashlar. The rough ashlar represents a stone as taken from the quarry, in its rough and “natural” state, before being prepared for the architect’s use. This ashlar represents the individual brother, who, through the use of the tools of Freemasonry, he is to work at smoothing.

Of course, we are to add that stone, as time passes, perfecting the walls through using the tools of the Fellowcraft, leveling our walls so they are plumb and square. Of course, we use the trowel of the master to spread the cement with unites these stone into one common mass.

This is the great work on which we are embarked. And yet… there seems to be something missing. Of course, we have dropped the chisel, which is used with the common gavel to shape the ashlar in favor of simply the common gavel, with its wedge shaped head to chip off the rough and superfluous parts of the stone.

What then, of the perpend ashlar, or what is called the broached thurnel? In early masonry, there did not appear to be a perfect ashlar, and certainly not in the first degree, where it does not make sense to appear. In the first degree, the candidate is taught to begin the work, not finish it, because the candidate in the first degree is the rough ashlar.

The rough Ashlar and the Trestleboard seem to have been symbols in Ancient Craft Masonry at least from the beginning of the Grand Lodge period (1717). They are illustrated on the earliest of the old tracing-boards which have come down to us. Just when or how the Perfect Ashlar came into our symbolism is another matter, and not as simple as it appears. In 1731 one Samuel Prichard, who denominated himself as a “Life Member of a Constituted Lodge” wrote and published “Masonry Dissected,” the first of a long series of exposes of Freemasonry. In it is this curious dialogue, purporting to be held between the Entered Apprentice during his initiation, and some initiating officer:

Q. “Have you any Jewels in your Lodge?”

A. “Yes.”

Q.“How Many?”

A.“Six, three movable and three immovable.”

Q.“What are the movable Jewels?”

A.“Square, Level and Plumb Rule.”

Q.“What are their uses?”

A.“Square, to down true and right lines; Level, to try all Horizontals; and Plumb Rule, to try all Uprights.”

Q. “What are the immovable Jewels?”

A. “Tarsel Board, Rough Ashlar and Broached Thurnel.”

Q. “What are their uses?”

A. “A Tarsel Board for the Master to draw his designs upon, Rough Ashlar for the Fellow-Craft to try their Jewels upon, and the Broached Thurnel for the entered Apprentice to learn to work upon.”

“Broach or broche is an old English term for spire, still in use in Leicestershire, where it is said to denote a spire springing from the tower without any intervening parapet. Thurnel is from the old French, “tournelle,” a turret or little tower. The Broached Thurnel, then, was the Spired Turret. It was a model on which Apprentices might learn the principles of their art because it presented to them, in its various outlines, the forms of the square and the triangle, the cube and the pyramid.”

A Perpend Ashlar - the word has many variations, such as parpen, parpend, parpent, parpine, parpin, parping - is a dressed stone which passes completely through a wall from one side to the other, having two smooth, vertical faces. This perpenstone. or bonder, or bondstone, is the same as the Parping Ashlar of Glocestershire - a stone which passes through a wall and shows a fair face on either side.(1)

Why did we drop the perpend ashlar or the broached thurnel from the ritual in favor of a rough and a smooth ashlar? There are many things that have been changed over time. Perhaps the perpend ashlar was dropped when we created the third degree in the early 18th century?

There are other changes in ritual. For instance, I am told in some rituals, the candidate is actually handed a chisel and a hammer, and told to have a go at a rough ashlar with them, to teach him the difficulty a mason endures in breaking off the rough and superfluous parts of his own rough ashlar… a rough ashlar that looks a lot like a broached thurnel, though it is not so described.

The ritual is what it is, timeless and unchanging… except where we correct it. We now have the rough and perfect ashlars in the first degree, though as long as we do not forget our history. So let us not forget the broached thurnel, and that it was replaced by the Perfect Ashlar.

May the blessing of heaven rest upon us and all regular masons, may brotherly love prevail, and every moral and social virtue, cement us.

(1) SHORT TALK BULLETIN - Vol.XI August, 1933 No.8, Author Unknown


giovanni lombardo said...

The broached Turnel is not in the Temple, and on purpose: it pertains to the spiritual development of each Brother, his true secret, which cannot be shown to anybody.
Nevertheless, there is a reminder in EA's apron, the flap being upward. The apron urges them to what they are to become.

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