We use Tracing Boards during our ceremonies to educate candidates for Initiation, Passing and Raising and to illustrate important aspects of Freemasonry to the Brethren of the Lodge. Below is the narrative which does this during the Ceremony of Initiation.
Explanation of the First Degree Tracing Board
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The usages and customs among Freemasons have ever borne a near affinity to those of the ancient Egyptians. Their philosophers, unwilling to expose their mysteries to vulgar eyes, couched their systems of learning and polity under signs and hieroglyphical figures, which were communicated to their chief priests or Magi alone, who were bound by solemn oath to conceal them.
The system of Pythagoras was founded on a similar principle, as well as many others of more recent date.
Masonry, however, is not only the most ancient but the most honourable Society that ever existed, as there is not a character or emblem here depicted but serves to inculcate the principles of piety and virtue among all its genuine professors.
Let me first call your attention to the form of the Lodge which is a regular parallelepipedon, in length from East to West, in breadth between North and South, in depth from the surface of the earth to the centre, and even as high as the heavens.
The reason that a Freemason's Lodge is described of this vast extent is to show the universality in the science; likewise, a Mason's charity should know no bounds save those of prudence.
Our Lodges stand on holy ground, because the first Lodge was consecrated on account of three grand offerings thereon made, which met with Divine approbation.
First, the ready compliance of Abraham with the will of God in not refusing to offer up his son Isaac as a burnt sacrifice, when it pleased the Almighty to substitute a more agreeable victim in his stead.
Secondly, the many pious prayers and ejaculations of King David, which actually appeased the wrath of God, and stayed a pestilence which then raged among his people, owing to his inadvertently having had them numbered.
Thirdly, the many thanksgivings, oblations, burnt sacrifices, and costly offerings which Solomon, King of Israel, made at the completion, dedication and consecration of the Temple at Jerusalem to God's service.
Our Lodges are situated due East and West, because all places of Divine worship, as well as Masons'
regular, well-formed, constituted Lodges, are, or ought to be, so situated; for which we assign three Masonic
First, the Sun, the Glory of the Lord, rises in the East and sets in the West;
Second, learning originated in the East, and thence spread its benign influence to the West;
The third, last, and grand reason, The third, last, and grand reason :-
Whenever we contemplate on the works of the creation, how ready and cheerful ought we to be to adore the Almighty Creator, who has never left Himself without a living witness among men.
From the earliest period of time, we have been taught to believe in the existence of a Deity. We read of Abel bringing a more acceptable offering to the Lord than his brother Cain; of Enoch walking with God; of Noah being a just and upright man in his day and generation , and a teacher of righteousness; of Jacob wrestling with an angel, prevailing, and thereby obtaining a blessing for himself and posterity.
But we never hear or read of any place being set apart for the public solemnisation of Divine worship, until after the happy deliverance of the children of Israel from their Egyptian bondage, which it pleased the Almighty to effect with a high hand and an outstretched arm, under the conduct of His faithful servant Moses, according to a promise made to their forefather, Abraham, that He would make of his seed a great and mighty people, even as the stars in Heaven for number, and the sand of the sea for multitude.
And as they were about to possess the gate of their enemies, and inherit the promised land, the Almighty thought proper to reveal to them those three most excellent institutions, namely the Moral, Ceremonial and Judicial Laws.
And for the better solemnisation of Divine worship, as well as a receptacle for the Books and Tables of the Law, Moses caused a Tent or Tabernacle to be erected in the wilderness, which by God's especial command was situated due East and West, for Moses did everything according to a pattern shown him by the Lord on Mount Sinai.
This Tent or Tabernacle proved afterwards to be the ground-plan, in respect to situation, of that most magnificent Temple built at Jerusalem by that wise and mighty Prince, King Solomon, whose regal splendour and unparalleled lustre far transcend our ideas.
This is the third, last, and grand reason I as a Freemason give, why all places of Divine worship, as well as Masons' regular, well-formed, constituted Lodges are or ought to be so situated. which is too long to be entered upon now, is explained in the course of our Lectures, which I hope you will have many opportunities of hearing.
Our Lodges are supported by three great pillars. They are called Wisdom, Strength, and Beauty: Wisdom to contrive, Strength to support, and Beauty to adorn; Wisdom to conduct us in all our undertakings, Strength to support us under all our difficulties, and Beauty to adorn the inward man.
The Universe is the Temple of the Deity whom we serve; Wisdom, Strength, and Beauty are about His throne as pillars of His works, for His Wisdom is infinite, His Strength omnipotent, and Beauty shines through the whole of the creation in symmetry and order.
The heavens He has stretched forth as a canopy; the earth He has planted as His footstool; He crowns His Temple with Stars as with a diadem, and with His hands He extends the Power and Glory. The Sun and Moon are messengers of His will, and all His law is concord.
The three great Pillars supporting a Freemason's Lodge are emblematic of those Divine attributes, and
further represent Solomon King of Israel, Hiram King of Tyre, and Hiram Abif; Solomon King of Israel for his
Wisdom in building, completing and dedicating the Temple at Jerusalem to God's service; Hiram King of Tyre for his
Strength in supporting him with men and materials: and Hiram Abif, for his curious and masterly workmanship in
beautifying and adorning the same.
But as we have no noble orders in Architecture known by the names of Wisdom, Strength, and Beauty, we refer them to the three most celebrated, which are the Ionic, Doric and Corinthian.
The covering of a Masonic Lodge is a celestial canopy of divers colours even the
heavens. The way by which we, as Masons, hope to arrive there is by the assistance of a ladder, in Scripture called
Why was it called Jacob's ladder?
Rebecca, the beloved wife of Isaac, knowing by Divine inspiration that a peculiar blessing was vested in the soul of her husband, was desirous to obtain it for her favourite son Jacob, though by birthright it belonged to Esau her first-born.
Jacob had no sooner fraudulently obtained his father's blessing, than he was obliged to flee from the wrath of his brother, who in a moment of rage and disappointment had threatened to kill him.
Arid as he journeyed towards Padan-aram, in the land of Mesopotamia (where by his parents' strict command he was enjoined to go), being weary and benighted on a desert plain, he lay down to rest, taking the earth for his bed, a stone for his pillow, and the Canopy of Heaven for a covering.
He there in a vision saw a Ladder, the top of which reached to the Heavens, and the Angels of the Lord ascending and descending thereon.
It was then the Almighty entered into a solemn covenant with Jacob, that if he would abide by His laws, and keep His commandments, He would not only bring him again to his father's house in peace and prosperity, but would make of his seed a great and mighty people.
This was amply verified, for after a lapse of twenty years Jacob returned to his native country, was kindly received by his brother Esau, his favourite son Joseph was afterwards, by Pharaoh's appointment, made second man in Egypt, and the children of Israel, highly favoured by the Lord, became, in process of time, one of the greatest and most mighty Nations on the face of the earth. It is composed of many staves or rounds, which point out as many moral virtues, but three principal ones, which are Faith, Faith is the foundation of justice, the bond of amity, and the chief support of civil society. We live and walk by Faith. By it we have a continual acknowledgment of a Supreme Being. By Faith we have access to the Throne of grace, are justified, accepted, and finally received. A true and sincere Faith is the evidence of things not seen, but the substance of those hoped for. This well maintained and answered in our Masonic profession, will bring us to those blessed mansions, where we shall be eternally happy with God the Great Architect of the Universe. Hope, Hope is an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and enters into that within the veil. Then let a firm reliance on the Almighty's faithfulness animate our endeavours, and teach us to fix our desires within the limits of His most blessed promises. So shall success attend us. If we believe a thing impossible, our despondency may render it so, but he who perseveres in a just cause will ultimately overcome all difficulties. and Charity: Charity, lovely in itself, is the brightest ornament which can adorn our Masonic profession. It is the best test and surest proof of the sincerity of our religion. Benevolence, rendered by Heaven-born Charity, is an honour to the nation whence it springs, is nourished, and cherished. Happy is the man who has, sown in his breast, the seeds of benevolence; he envies not his neighbour, he believes not a tale reported to his prejudice, he forgives the injuries of men, and endeavours to blot them from his recollection. Then, Brethren, let us remember, that we are free and accepted Masons; ever ready to listen to him who craves our assistance; and from him who is in want, let us not withhold a liberal hand. So shall a heartfelt satisfaction reward our labours, and the produce of love and Charity will most assuredly follow.
Faith in the Great Architect of the Universe, Hope in salvation, And to be in Charity with all men.
It reaches to the Heavens, and rests on the Volume of the Sacred Law, because, by the doctrines contained in that Holy Book, we are taught to believe in the dispensations of Divine Providence, which belief strengthens our Faith, and enables us to ascend the first step; this Faith naturally creates in us a Hope of becoming partakers of the blessed promises therein recorded, which Hope enables us to ascend the second step; but the third and last being Charity, comprehends the whole, and the Mason who is possessed of this virtue in its most ample sense may justly be deemed to have attained the summit of his profession; figuratively speaking, an Ethereal Mansion, veiled from mortal eyes by the starry firmament, emblematically depicted here by seven stars, which have an allusion to as many regularly made Masons, without which number no Lodge is perfect, neither can any candidate be legally initiated into the Order.
The interior of a Freemasons' Lodge is composed of Ornaments, Furniture, and Jewels.
The Ornaments of the Lodge are the Mosaic pavement, the Blazing Star, and the Indented or Tessellated Border; the Mosaic pavement is the beautiful flooring of a Freemason's Lodge, the Blazing Star the glory in the centre, and the Indented or Tessellated Border, the skirtwork round the same.
Why was Mosaic work introduced into Freemasonry?
As the steps of man are trod in the various and uncertain incidents of life, and his days are variegated and chequered by a strange contrariety of events, his passage through this existence, though sometimes attended by prosperous circumstances, is often beset by a multitude of evils; hence is our Lodge furnished with Mosaic work, to point out the uncertainty of all things here on earth. Today we may travel in prosperity; tomorrow we may totter on the uneven path of weakness, temptation, and adversity. Then while such emblems are before us, we are morally instructed not to boast of anything, but to give heed to our ways, to walk uprightly and with humility before God, there being no station in life on which pride can with stability be founded; for though some are born to more elevated situations than others, yet, when in the grave, we are all on the level, death destroying all distinctions; and while our feet tread on this Mosaic work, let our ideas recur to the original whence we copy; let us, as good men and Masons, act as the dictates of reason prompt us, to practice charity, maintain harmony, and endeavour to live in unity and brotherly love. pavement may justly be deemed the beautiful flooring of a Freemasons' Lodge, by reason of its being variegated and chequered. This points out the diversity of objects which decorate and adorn the creation, the animate as well as the inanimate parts thereof.
The Blazing Star, or glory in the centre, refers us to the Sun, which enlightens the earth, and by its benign influence dispenses blessings to mankind in general.
The Indented or Tessellated Border refers us to the Planets, which in their various revolutions form a beautiful border or skirtwork round that grand luminary, the Sun, as the other does round that of a Freemasons' Lodge.
The Furniture of the Lodge consists of the Volume of the Sacred Law, the Compasses and Square; the Sacred Writings are to rule and govern our faith, on them we obligate our Candidates for Freemasonry; so are the Compasses and Square when united, to regulate our lives and actions.
The Sacred Volume is derived from God to man in general,
the Compasses belong to the Grand Master in particular, and the Square to the whole Craft.
The Jewels of the Lodge are three movable and three immovable. The Movable Jewels are the Square, Level and Plumb Rule. Among operative Masons,
The Square is to try, and adjust, rectangular corners of buildings, and assist in bringing rude matter into due form;
The Level to lay levels and prove horizontals;
The Plumb Rule to try, and adjust, uprights, while fixing them on their proper bases.
Among Free and Accepted Masons, The SquareThe Square teaches us to regulate our lives and actions according to the Masonic line and rule, and to harmonise our conduct in this life, so as to render us acceptable to that Divine Being from whom all goodness springs, and to whom we must give an account of all our actions. teaches morality, the Level The Level demonstrates that we are all sprung from the same stock, partakers of the same nature, and sharers in the same hope; and although distinctions among men are necessary to preserve subordination, yet ought no eminence of situation make us forget that we are Brothers; for he who is placed on the lowest spoke of fortune's wheel is equally entitled to our regard; as a time will come - and the wisest of us knows not how soon - when all distinctions, save those of goodness and virtue, shall cease, and Death, the grand leveller of all human greatness, reduce us to the same state. equality, and the Plumb Rule The infallible Plumb Rule, which, like Jacob's ladder, connects Heaven and Earth, is the criterion of rectitude and truth. It teaches us to walk justly and uprightly before God and man; neither turning to the right nor left from the paths of virtue. Not to be an enthusiast, persecutor, or slanderer of religion; neither bending towards avarice, injustice, malice, revenge, nor the envy and contempt of mankind, but giving up every selfish propensity which might injure others. To steer the bark of this life over the seas of passion, without quitting the helm of rectitude, is the highest perfection to which human nature can attain. And as the builder raises his column by the level and perpendicular, so ought every Mason to conduct himself towards this world; to observe a due medium between avarice and profusion; to hold the scales of justice with equal poise; to make his passions and prejudices coincide with the just line of his conduct; and in all his pursuits to have Eternity in view. justness and uprightness of life and actions.
They are called Movable Jewels, because they are worn by the Master and his Wardens, and transferable to their successors on nights of Installation. The Master is distinguished by the Square, the Senior Warden by the Level, and the Junior Warden by the Plumb Rule.
The Immovable Jewels are the Tracing Board, the Rough and Perfect Ashlars.
The Tracing Board is for the Master to lay lines and draw designs on; The Rough Ashlar for Entered Apprentice to work, mark, and indent on; The Perfect Ashlar for the experienced Craftsman to try, and adjust, his jewels on. They are called Immovable Jewels, because they lie open and immovable in the Lodge for the Brethren to moralise upon.
As the Tracing Board is for the Master to lay lines and draw designs on, the better to enable the Brethren to carry on the intended structure with regularity and propriety, so the Volume of the Sacred Law may justly be deemed to be the Spiritual Tracing Board of the Great Architect of the Universe, in which are laid down such Divine Laws and Moral Plans, that were we conversant therein, and adherent thereto, would bring us to an Ethereal Mansion not made with hands, eternal in the Heavens.
The Rough Ashlar is a stone, rough and unhewn as taken from the quarry, until, by the industry and ingenuity of the workman, it is modeled, wrought into due form, and rendered fit for the intended structure; this represents man in his infant or primitive state, rough and unpolished as that stone, until, by the kind care and attention of his parents or guardians, in giving him a liberal and virtuous education, his mind becomes cultivated, and he is thereby rendered a fit member of civilised society.
The Perfect Ashlar is a stone of a true die or square, fit only to be tried by the Square and Compasses; this represents man in the decline of years, after a regular, well-spent life in acts of piety and virtue, which can not otherwise be tried and approved than by the Square of God's Word and the Compasses of his own self-convincing conscience.
In all regular, well-formed, constituted Lodges, there is a point within a circle round which the Brethren cannot err; this circle is bounded between North and South by two grand parallel lines, one representing Moses, and the other King Solomon; on the upper part of this circle rests the Volume of the Sacred Law, supporting Jacob's ladder, the top of which reaches to the heavens; and were we as conversant in that Holy Book, and as adherent to the doctrines therein contained as those parallels were, it would bring us to Him who would not deceive us, neither will He suffer deception. In going round this circle, we must necessarily touch on both those parallel lines, likewise on the Sacred Volume; and while a Mason keeps himself thus circumscribed, he cannot err.
The word Lewis denotes strength, and is here depicted by certain pieces of metal dovetailed into a stone, forming a cramp, and when in combination with some mechanical powers, such as a system of pulleys, it enables the operative Mason to raise great weights to certain heights with little encumbrance, and to fix them on their proper bases. Lewis likewise denotes the son of a Mason; his duty to his aged parents is to bear the heat and burden of the day, which they, by reason of their age, ought to be exempt from; to assist them in time of need, and thereby render the close of their days happy and comfortable; his privilege for so doing is that of being made a Mason before any other person, however dignified.
Pendent to the corners of the Lodge are four tassels, meant to remind us of the four cardinal virtues, namely:
Temperance is that due restraint of the passion and affections, which renders
the body tame and governable, and relieves the mind from the allurements of vice.
This virtue ought to be the constant practice of every Mason, as he is thereby taught to avoid excess, or the contracting of any vicious or licentious habits, whereby he might, unwarily, be led to betray his trust, and be reminded of the penalty at one time contained in the Obligation. Fortitude, Fortitude is that noble and steady purport of the soul, which is equally distant from rashness and cowardice; it enables us to undergo any pain labour, danger, or difficulty, when thought necessary, or deemed prudentially expedient.
This virtue, like the former ought to be deeply impressed on the breast of every Mason, as a fence and security against any attempts which might be made, either by threats or violence, to extort from him any of those Masonic secrets he has so solemnly engaged himself to hail, conceal, and never improperly reveal; the illegal revealing of which might prove a torment to his mind, as the Compasses were emblematically to his body when extended to his naked left breast at the time of his Initiation. Prudence, Prudence teaches us to regulate our lives and actions according to the dictates of reason, and is that habit of mind whereby men wisely judge, and prudentially determine, all things relative to their temporal and eternal happiness.
This virtue ought to be the distinguishing characteristic of every Free and Accepted Mason, not only for the good regulation of his own life and actions, but as a pious example to the popular world who are not Masons, and ought to be nicely attended to in strange or mixed companies, never to let drop or slip the least Sign, Token, or Word, whereby any of our Masonic secrets might be illegally obtained; ever having in recollection that period of time when he was placed before the Worshipful Master in the East, left knee bare and bent, right foot formed in a square, body erect within the square, right hand on the Volume of the Sacred Law alluding to the Manual. and Justice, Justice is that station or boundary of right, by which we are taught to render to every man his just due, and that without distinction.
This virtue is not only consistent with the Divine and human Law, but is the standard and cement of civil society.
Without the exercise of this virtue, universal confusion would ensue, lawless force would overcome the principles of equity, and social intercourse no longer exist; and as Justice in a great measure constitutes the really good man, so it ought to be the invariable practice of every Free and Accepted Mason never to deviate from the minutest principles thereof, ever having in mind the time he was placed at the North East part of the Lodge, feet formed in a square body erect, when he received that excellent injunction from the Worshipful Master to be just and upright in all things; alluding to the Pedestal. the whole of which, tradition informs us, were constantly practiced by a great majority of our ancient Brethren.
The distinguishing characteristics of a good Freemason are
In reading the history of ancient Rome, we find that the Consul Marcellus intended to erect a Temple to be dedicated to Virtue and Honour;
but being prevented, at that time, from carrying his design into execution, he afterwards altered his plans, and erected two Temples, contiguous
to each other, so situated that the only avenue to the Temple of Honour was through that of Virtue; thereby leaving an elegant moral to posterity,
that Virtue is the only direct road to Honour.
Virtue is the highest exercise of, and improvement to, reason; the integrity, harmony, and just balance of affection; the health, strength, and beauty of the soul.
The perfection of Virtue is to give reason its full scope, to obey the authority of conscience with alacrity, to exercise the defensive talents with fortitude, the public with justice, the private with temperance, and all of them with prudence, that is, in a due proportion to each other, with a calm and diffusive beneficence; to love and adore God with an unrivaled and disinterested affection and to acquiesce in the dispensations of Divine providence with a cheerful resignation.
Every approach to this standard is a step towards perfection and happiness, and any deviation therefrom has a tendency to vice and to misery. Honour Honour may justly be defined to be the spirit and supererogation of Virtue; the true foundation of mutual faith and credit; and the real intercourse by which the business of life is transacted with safety and pleasure.
It implies the united sentiments of Virtue, Truth, and Justice, carried by a generous mind beyond those mere moral obligations which the laws require, or can punish the violation of.
True honour, though a different principle from religion, is that which produces the same effects. The lines of action although drawn from different parts, terminate in the same point. Religion embraces Virtue, as it is enjoined by the laws of God; Honour, as it is graceful and ornamental to human nature. The religious man fears, the man of Honour scorns, to do an ill action; the latter considers vice as something beneath him, the other as something which is offensive to the Divine Being.
A true man of Honour will not content himself with the literal discharge of the duties of a man and a citizen; he raises and dignifies them to magnanimity: he gives, when he may, with propriety refuse; and forgives, where he may with justice resent. The whole of his conduct is guided by the noblest sentiments of his own unvitiated heart, a true moral rectitude of the uniform rule of his actions and a just praise and approbation his due reward.and Mercy, Mercy is a refined virtue, and when possessed by the monarch, adds a lustre to every gem that adorns his crown; if by the warrior, it gives an unceasing freshness to the wreath that shades his brow.
It is the companion of true honour, and the ameliorator of justice, on whose bench, when enthroned, it interposes a shield of defence on behalf of the victim, impenetrable to the sword.
And as the vernal showers descend on the earth to refresh and invigorate the whole vegetable creation, so Mercy, acting on the heart when the vital fluids are condensed by rancour and revenge, by its exhilarating warmth returns nature to its source in purer streams.
It is the peculiar attribute of the Deity, on which the best and wisest of us must rest our hopes and dependence, for, at the final day of retribution, when arraigned at His bar, and the actions of this mortal life are unveiled to view, though His justice may demand the fiat, we hope and trust His Mercy will avert the doom. and may they ever be found in a Freemason's breast.