We want to thank Most Worshipful Brother Aldridge. PGM/Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of Quebec for this provocative Short Talk Bulletin. The ancient penalties in our obligations have been the source of much of the criticism leveled at Freemasonry. Most Worshipful Brother Aldridge deals with this criticism in a stimulating way.
The United Grand Lodge of England being in many respects the well-spring of modern day Masonry is a valuable source of inspiration, education and philosophy concerning what has come to be regarded as RECULAR FREEMASONRY. The recent decision by the United Grand Lodge of England, followed by a number of American Grand Lodges, to eliminate the Ancient Penalties from the obligation of each degree has caused much discussion within the Masonic Fraternity.
The purpose of this article is to discuss an alternative approach to the actual elimination of these Ancient Penalties.
Before proceeding further in this dissertation concerning the ANCIENT PENALTIES it needs to be pointed out that these penalties were not the brainchild of some distant Masonic ritualist. These or very similar variations of them were in use in England among the oaths taken by mariners during the 15th century and were also used in oaths assumed by those being admitted to the bar in London, England during the 16th century.
If Freemasonry has erred in the choice of these penalties it was in the reference to them as "ANCIENT PENALTIES" rather than what they really were--"ANCIENT SYMBOLIC PENALTIES". As Shakespeare's Hamlet said, "...ah there's the rub". These penalties were never included for the purpose of having an enforceable violent penalty. They were included simply as a symbolic representation of how seriously a postulant should view his oath.
Some would say if these are simply symbolic then remove them since they no longer mean anything. That is somewhat misleading because so much of what we have around us and which we hold so dear in this troublesollle world is recorded in symbols ot all kinds. Symbolism is part of life and cannot be cast aside. Mathematicians, geologists, in fact anyone whose discipline relies on the use of numbers or numeric expressions, relies on symbols as an everyday experience. The simple act, though not always simple, of driving a car depends on the use of symbols to arrive safely at the intended destination. The numbers on the speedometer are symbols, various designs on highway signs are symbols, the little knobs on the dashboard all have different symbols. They are there to ensure understanding regardless of the language of the operator. So it may be concluded that symbols are an effective means of communication to ensure accurate understanding regardless of language, education or intellect. In fact your ability to read this paper is based on your understanding of the symbols or letters used to express my thoughts.
"Oh yes", some may say ". . .but these are all symbols lacking any violent origin". That may not be entirely accurate either. Many symbols in use today depict a violent beginning and their design is intended to remind us of that hazard. So it may be concluded violent symbols are effective communication links to save us from harm. The simplest being the skull and crossbones as a symbol of life threatening danger and of course the modern nuclear era has spawned untold violent symbols especially designed to protect us from violent hazards.
Even the flags of many nations which certainly are revered and honored by their nationals, and displayed in their places of worship, use red as a symbol of the spilled blood which caused their nations to be born. The red poppy worn so reverently in memory of our soldiers who died in battles to defend our country is a symbol of the blood spilled in battle on Flanders Fields during World War One. The buttons on the sleeve of a man's jacket and the little slit under the buttons are symbols of the time a man's jacket unbuttoned all the way to the shoulder so that he might have easy use of his sword. The vent at the back of a man's jacket is a symbol of the time soldiers rode horseback. The vent allowed their jackets to fall on either side of the riders' legs and so keep his powder dry to more effectively kill his adversary. Quite a nice little symbol to carry around with us when dressed in our Sunday best.
Now to get back to our ANCIENT SYMBOLIC PENALTIES. Why on earth should we even consider relocating or removing them in the first place? "Oh because they are offensive to some religious leaders". That begs the question as to which religious leaders? Some of the greatest clergymen I have ever met, both the pragmatic and the scholarly, have been members of the Masonic Order. Not a single one of those extremely worldly wise reverend brothers ever dreamed of any part of the ceremony being offensive in any manner whatever, INCLUDING the penalties. Obviously no clergy outside of the craft should cause us any concern because they really don't understand the context of the ceremony or the part the penalties play in it. Now what does that leave us to contemplate? I believe it points out in the clearest possible terms that the Masonic Order is a true microcosm of the real world in which we live.
We have our own fair share of iconoclasts whose aim is to tear down rather than to build constructively.
However, their arguments are not too compelling if analyzed. They suggest that violence is an offense to God. Yet both Moses and Jesus had recourse to violence in defending what they believed was an affront to God. Notwithstanding that argument or counter-argument there is no violence in Masonry provided the penalties are described as ANCIENT SYMBOLIC PENALTIES. Anything less than that description is an offense to God and Masonry. It is not good enough to describe them as ANCIENT PENALTIES since that implies that they are exigible and therein we could be faulted from within and without this noble craft.
At a time when the Scandinavian Churches are seeing in Masonry no conflict with their profession of faith, where leading clerics of the Church of Rome are finding no incompatibility between Regular Freemasonry and their belief of Christianity and those who malign us the most are being found to be guilty of criminal and moral law breaking, we must be sure we stand by what we teach. We must continue to conduct the affairs of Masonry in a manner well beyond reproach.
We must not allow indiscriminate changes to be made. Once the start is made where do we stop? Would we consider dropping the investigations of potential candidates, would we discontinue the trial procedures, would we allow avowed atheists to become part of our fraternity, would we allow and tolerate plots or conspiracies of any kind? Certainly we would not do any of those things.
We are assembled to unify, in a God fearing brotherhood, wherein we can unite in spirit to treat all of God's children as family. We cannot do that effectively by allowing schisms to develop. We must be unified for the benefit, not solely for our Order, but to better serve mankind in whatever manner God leads us as individuals who have learned to recognize our duty to him and our Brother. There will always be room for change in administrative practices but we should not change that which has worked so well heretofore and for which there is no substantive reason to consider change!
"ED, now that I'm a Master Mason son, how am I really going to benefit from being a Mason?" asked the recently Raised Mason.
Ed, a Past Master and posting instructor, looked at the young man with sagacious understanding and wondered what life and Masonry had to offer him.
"Many people live in darkness, " Ed said, "never to find the light. They proudly wear their age as some kind of sacred vestment which the mere number of years has seemingly ordained upon them. These same people believe that the time spent traveling is more important than the distance traveled.
"Ecclesiastes expressed it this way, 'Better is a poor and wise youth than an old and foolish king.' In other words, it's not how long you live that counts, but rather what kind of life you live which matters. You'll benefit from Masonry because once you live and apply the teachings of our hallowed Craft, you'll discover that you'll have traveled a much greater distance in your life than. those who boast the highest number of years-or age-as their greatest achievement."
Ed continued, "Before joining this Fraternity, many men have had little or no moral instruction other than perhaps the Ten Commandments or values taught in the home. When Masonry came into their lives-and once they put their lives into Masonry-Masonry became for them a way where they could travel great distances on the paths of moral, intellectual, and spiritual advancement. Incidentally, have you ever reflected on the question propounded to you as an Entered Apprentice which asked, 'From whence came you?"'
"To be honest Ed, I memorized it for my proficiency but I'm not sure that I understand what it means."
"The question 'From whence came you? has several meanings," said Ed. "To answer your original question on how you'll benefit from .being a Mason, I'd like to ask you some questions. Based upon your answers, you'll know where you are, where you need to go, and whether you've really been traveling on the Masonic Path.
"Since you were Raised a Master Mason, have you practiced brotherly love, relief, and charity? Have you learned that true charity has nothing to do with money but alludes to the giving of yourself and the forgiving of your fellow brothers and sisters? When tempted to speak ill of someone else, and especially of another Mason, have you circumscribed your thoughts by the compass? Have you enriched your mind with the seven liberal arts and sciences? Have your endeavors been supported by wisdom, strength, and beauty? Have you gone to the aid of a distressed Brother, his widow and orphans? "Have you tried to penetrate the hidden meaning of our symbols?
"I have some things to work on," said the young Mason, while still pondering over the questions. "I'd like to hear more."
Ed continued, "Humanity is hoodwinked. In other words, humanity is for the most part in the dark. Envy, superstition, greed, hate, desire for power over others and the pursuit of materialism as the sole goal in life are the self-inflicted darkness to which people sentence themselves. Masonry is the sunshine which dispels the darkness and herein is the age-old purpose of our Order.
"As a Mason, your lineage is more glorious than the bloodlines of kings, potentates and Caesars. Your loins have been girded by that pure reminder to live an innocent and just life: the sheepskin. You've been armed with the working tools of life and Light to do battle in a world beset by darkness. And you've partaken of the fraternal spirit which even today, echoes the presence of King Solomon, Hiram Abiff, and other noble personages. You're in good keeping and in good company.
"Masonry is a force, eternal and vibrant, symbolized by the common gavel. When applied to our laudable undertakings, it produces a perfectly squared and polished stone, tried and true. This force should be applied to ourselves, our families, our countries and the world.
"Our rituals are unique and free of dogma; our symbols, ancient and sublime; our history, glorious. noble, inspiring, and uplifting. How fortunate-and blessed- are those men who can rightfully say, 'I am a Mason. Like the craftsman of old, I too am laboring to build a temple not made with human hands. Like my Brethren before me, I too have suffered hostile attacks made by the ignorant, the fanatical and the tyrannical. I have witnessed our Temples destroyed by ruthless barbarism and wars. Yet I labor onward. I have been accused of heresy; yet I'm a man of God, with God, and for God."
From whence came you...?
Published in the New Age Magazine (Scottish Rite Journal) Sept. 1986
This is the archetypal tracing board of the Entered Apprentice degree. The essential symbolism of the first degree is arranged in a columnar order:
The floor upon which everything rests in this painting is an alternative surface of black and white tiles. Masons call this the Mosaic Pavement, and it refers (among other things) to the realities of human existence, "checkered with good and evil."
Although the lower world is beset with duality, it is not left helpless in the face of it. On the floor (between "S" and "B") we see the blueprint of the Temple, and a ladder leading upward to the supernal world. It is Jacob's Ladder, and the "angels" on the ladder are the allegorical figures of Faith, Hope and Charity.
The two blocks of stone represent the Rough and Perfect Ashlars, symbolizing the undeveloped and developed man.
Note the symbolic Key suspended from the ladder at the point of Hope, who is classically represented with an anchor. It is one of the oldest symbols in Freemasonry, although some rituals no longer refer to it.
Finally, note the beautiful golden border around the image, This is a symbol called the Indented Skirting or Tesselated Border. William Preston defined it as "a striking emblem" exemplified "by Divine Wisdom concentrating into one mass the disjointed parts of the Creation and cementing the whole in union for general preservation and protection."
Notes by Shawn Eyer, P.M.
Academia Lodge No. 847
The tenets of Freemasonry are universal, however, the way in which they are presented to the profane, as he knocks on the doors of our temples, varies according to the ritual used at any particular temple. Although the lessons presented in these rituals may be similar, the way in which they are transmitted to the prospective initiate may be quite different from one area to another. Therefore, in order to acquaint the Brethren of our Grand Jurisdiction, the Grand Lodge of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons of British Columbia, with a piece of ritual widely practiced throughout the world, but absent here, I propose to expound on the Chamber of Reflection.
Most of the Brethren who received their initiations in Mexico, Central and South America, Europe, Middle East and Africa will be acquainted with the Chamber of Reflection. It is used in the first degree in the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, the French Rite, the Brazilian Rite and other rites derived from the ones just mentioned.The word chamber is an archaic term for room and the word reflection means, according to the Oxford Dictionary of Current English, Òreflecting or being reflected; reflected light or heat or colour or image; discredit or thing bringing discredit; reconsideration (or reflection); idea arising in the mind, comment (on or upon).Ó Albert G. Mackey in his Encyclopedia of Freemasonry explains that the Chamber of Reflection is:
...a small room adjoining the Lodge, in which, preparatory to initiation, the candidate is enclosed for the purpose of indulging in those serious meditations which its sombre appearance and the gloomy emblems with which it is furnished are calculated to produce. It is also used in some of the advanced degrees for a similar purpose
This small room or chamber, which does not necessarily adjoins the Lodge room, is dark, with the walls painted black, or, as in one case I saw, imitating a rocky underground cave. It contains the following: a simple rough wooden table on which we find: a human skull, usually on two crossbones, a chunk of bread, a pitcher with water, a cup with salt, a cup with sulphur, a lighted candle or lantern, an hourglass, paper, ink and pen, a wooden stool or chair painted on the wall: a rooster, a sickle, the acronym V.IT.R.I.O.L.(U.M.) and various sayings.
Before commenting on these symbols, let us follow a candidate's journey into the Chamber of Reflection on the day of his initiation. The profane, dressed in a black (or at least dark) suit and tie, is brought to the Lodge building by his sponsor. He must not meet any of the other Brethren. The Treasurer and the First Expert, an officer, who in the rituals we observe here would be equivalent to the Senior Steward, both dressed without any Masonic insignia, meet the candidate. The Treasurer collects the necessary fees and returns to the Lodge room. The Expert stays with the candidate, while the sponsor also goes into the Lodge room. The Expert blindfolds the candidate and introduces him into the Chamber of Reflection and gives him a piece of paper with questions that the candidate must answer. He also indicates to the candidate that he must also write on the paper his moral and philosophical testament. The Expert also instructs the candidate that when he has finished this task, he should ring a bell to manifest that he is ready to proceed with the rest of the initiation. He is also told that once the door is closed he should remove the hoodwink. Once our profane does that, he sees the chamber and the objects described earlier.
THE CHAMBERThe chamber reminds one's self of the caves where primitive men lived. In psychoanalysis, it is a symbol of regression. It is also a symbol of the maternal womb. The profane is regressing to a time of innocence and to a state in his mother's womb. When he emerges from the chamber, it shall be as if being born as a new man. Contrariwise, the cave can also be the symbol of a sepulchre, as the tombs of the ancients in biblical times. Thus, the chamber indicates, at the same time, a beginning and an end: the end of one's life as a profane, and the beginning of a new life as an initiate in search of light, truth and wisdom. This can also be interpreted as a form of resurrection. This motif of death and resurrection is mentioned in Plutarch's Immortality of the Soul thus:
The soul at the moment of death, goes through the same experiences as those who are initiated into the great mysteries.T he word and the act are similar: we say telentai (to die) and telestai (to be initiated) .
THE SKULLTogether with the crossbones, sickle and the hourglass, the skull naturally refers to mortality and is linked to the alchemical references also present in the Chamber. The alchemists aimed at transmuting base metals into silver and gold through the process of putrefaction. So must the profane transmute his nature, through a symbolical burial in the chamber, into a new transformed man in the form of an initiate. In alchemy this is called the great work. Indeed, man's refinement, transmutation and transformation from a brute base metal into gold requires great work! The skull in alchemy, named caput mortuum, is the epitome of decline and decay. The crossbones are usually tibias, the weight-bearing bones of the lower legs.
BREAD AND WATERThe chunk of bread and the pitch of water are symbols of simplicity, pointing to the future initiate how he should conduct his life. Bread is made of wheat, an element connected to the goddesses Isis and Demeter. Isis is the Egyptian mother goddess and also the goddess of the dead, again, two of the aspects of the Chamber of Reflection. Furthermore, according to the ancient description of an initiation into the Mysteries of Isis by Apuleus, the candidate was placed in a secluded cell and subsequently participated in a ceremony in which he had to overcome trials. Demeter was celebrated at the great festival at the Temple of Eleusis, which became known as the Eleusinian mysteries. The bread and water represent the elements necessary to life, but even though food and the material body are indispensable, they remind the candidate that the physical aspect should not be the main objective in one's existence. Moreover, these elements remind us of the biblical narrative regarding the prophet Elijah, who is also connected with these elements and a cave (see I Kings 17: 8-11). He established a school of prophets in a cavern on a mountain. Furthermore, Elijah after eating bread and water, climbed the mount of G-d, in the same way that our future initiate nourished by these symbols can withstand the trials ahead and climb his own mountain. Elijah, once on the mount, also heard G-d as the still small voice, just as our candidate should follow his inner voice throughout his life, as we can read in I Kings 19: 5-13.
ALCHEMICAL ELEMENTSThree of the alchemical elements used in the great work were sulphur, salt and mercury, all of which are present in the Chamber of Reflection. Sulphur is symbolical of the spirit, being a masculine principle, referring to enthusiasm and corresponding to the virtue of Faith. Salt is a symbol for wisdom, being considered neutral, as far as gender is concerned, referring to pondering (something the candidate does in the Chamber of Reflection) and corresponding to the virtue of Charity. Mercury appears as the rooster drawn on the wall of the Chamber of Reflection. This animal is connected to the deity Hermes, that is, Mercury. It is a feminine principle, referring to Vigilance and it also corresponds to Faith. As the rooster sings at dawn announcing the light of day, so it announces to our future initiate, the Light he may receive.
THE HOURGLASSThis object is a reminder of mortality. It also brings to mind that time runs fast, just as the sand runs through the hourglass. It also conveys the meaning that we should make good use of the time given us. Moreover, our candidate is reminded that therefore, he should write his answers and philosophical testament within the allotted time.
V.I.T.R.I.O.L.(U.M.)Vitriol is a sulphuric acid or a sulphate used in the alchemical operations of yore. This word is the origin of the adjective vitriolic, meaning caustic or hostile, referring to speech or criticism. However, in the esoteric sense, it is an acronym for the Latin phrase: Visita interioraterrae, rectificandoque, invenies occultum lapidem, which means: "visit the interior of the earth, and rectifying it, you will find the hidden stone." Some times this acronym appears with the addition of U.M. at the end, which means, veram medicinam, the true medicine. If one takes this advice metaphorically, the meaning conveyed is that, one must search within oneself, as the truth is hidden there, and this truth is the real solution to our problems. Again, a very appropriate acronym to be placed on the wall before the future initiate, while he has to write his philosophical testament.
PERSEVERANCE AND VIGILANCEIn some rites these two words are also placed on the wall. The word perseverance is placed under the hourglass, if one is not physically present but painted on the wall, while the word vigilance is placed under the figure of the rooster. These two words intimate to the candidate that he must possess these qualities in order to succeed in his Masonic life. The symbols, allusions, allegories and metaphors of the rituals are not plain. The Freemason must scrutinise them persistently in order to appreciate their richness and deep significance, and be vigilant that the lessons learned therefrom be not forgotten.
VARIOUS SAYINGSBesides the profusion of symbols in the Chamber of Reflection, as our candidate removes the hoodwink, he will read various sentences on the wall. Most often he will read the following sayings: If you think we will find out your defects, you will feel uncomfortable among us. If curiosity spurred you towards us, go away. If you are capable of deception, tremble, you will be found out. If you take notice of human differences, leave, we do not know them here. If your soul is fearful, do not proceed! If you persevere, you will be purified, you will overcome darkness, you will be enlightened.
In some rites, such as the Brazilian Rite, other sentences may be found on the wall, such as: Think of G-d, with humility. If you want to live well, think of death. Serve your country with devotion. Remember the great citizens who were Freemasons. Know thyself. If your heart is well intentioned, go on and you will have our support.
QUESTIONSAs mentioned earlier, our candidate was given a piece of paper with questions, which he must answer in order to proceed with the initiation.
PHILOSOPHICAL TESTAMENTThe answers to the questions asked of the candidate become the initial point towards the elaboration of his philosophical and moral testament. The philosophical testament provides a glimpse of the attitude and character of the future initiate and is unique to each individual. The candidate's true nature will be shown in his answers to the proposed questions as well as in his philosophical testament. On the other hand, it can also bring him discredit, depending on his answers. In the Chamber of Reflection, he has time to reconsider his request for admission in our Fraternity. If his motives are not pure as admonished by the writings on the wall, or if he is fearful and not courageous enough, then he might not be able to keep inviolate the secrets of Freemasonry. Furthermore, solitary in the Chamber of Reflection, our prospective initiate can ponder on thequestions presented to him, on his life, and future. Therefore, the reflection to which the title of this Chamber refers, is not just the pondering of the candidate, but primarily the reflection of his own inner being. This could bring him discredit in certain cases. Note that all the dictionary meanings of the word reflection invoked at the beginning of this exposition are represented in the Chamber and obey the same hierarchical order.
THE MIRRORIn another ritual of French origin, the Rectified Scottish Rite, during the first degree initiation, the concept of reflection expressed in the sense of giving back a likeness as in a mirror, is revealed in another way. At the moment the hoodwink is dropped from the candidate’s eyes and he sees for the first time the faces of his Brethren around him, the WM says: "It is not always before oneself, that one finds his enemies. That which is to be feared the most is many times behind oneself. Turn around!" When the candidate turns he sees himself in a mirror! This means that the enemy can be also within! Incidentally, the word mirror is in Latin speculum, deriving from the verb speculor, which means, to scrutinise. That is exactly what one does in the Chamber of Reflections, as he scrutinises himself and the symbols around him.
THE BRAZILIAN RITEIn the Brazilian Rite, the candidate in the Chamber of Reflection also receives another piece of paper that he must read. In it are found articles I and II of the Constitution of the jurisdiction, dealing with Freemasonry and its Principles. Moreover, he must also sign a declaration.
TRIALSAfter the candidate leaves the Chamber of Reflection, he is conducted into the Temple to be subjected to certain trials. Traditionally, the ancients and the alchemists believed that the universe was composed of four elements: earth, air, fire and water. Traditional initiatory societies,such as Freemasonry, have preserved this teaching. Furthermore, one of the marks of these esoteric initiatory organisations was a series of trials through which the candidate was subjected. The Chamber of Reflection, being a cave, becomes then, the first trial, that of the earth, and it is followed later by other trials, as it is made plain by the words of the ritual itself in the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite.
THE MAGIC FLUTEAs you can notice, Brethren, the rituals performed in the first degree in our Grand Jurisdiction are not similar to the ones I have been describing. To a Freemason only acquainted with the local rituals, the opera The Magic Flute by our Brother, W.A. Mozart is not as clearly intelligible as to those who have received their initiation in a Continental European rite or one derived from it. That opera was first performed at the Theater auf Der Wieden in Vienna on September 30, 1791 and it is in a certain way a re-enactment of a first-degree initiation with all its alchemical and Masonic allusions. The protagonists, Tamimo and Pamima are left alone in the darkness and required to keep a vow of silence. A scene at a vault, and tests of fire and water follows this.
CONCLUSIONEven without going beyond the scope of this exposition, and presenting the rest of the first degree ritual as performed in most countries of the world, you can imagine what an impression this initial part of the ritual makes on a candidate being ushered into our honourable institution. The Chamber of Reflection teaches, indeed, powerful lessons. True initiation is an individual internal process. Nobody can transform a man but himself. Others may guide and help, but ultimately, the individual alone is the only one who can perform the great work. The Chamber of Reflection truly epitomizes this process. It is my hope, that those of us, who have not experienced this ritual in our Masonic life, have at least derived some small benefit, although vicariously, from this allocution today.
Author:Bro. Helio L. Da Costa Jr.
Vancouver Grand Masonic Day, October 16, 1999
Masonry, the more it is examined, the more beautiful it becomes. This paper, however imperfect, is an attempt to explore the origin of the Perfect Cubit. May it induce others having more extensive means of information and time for elaborate research to accept the challenge. Admittedly, the existence of a "Perfect Cubit" has neither historical authority nor logical possibility to support it. It is commonly believed that the origin of Masonry took place at the building of Solomon's Temple and that King Solomon was the first Grand Master, and Hiram of Tyre and Hiram Abif were his Wardens .
Dr. James Anderson accepts this legend in the second edition of his "Constitutions"' when he says that King Solomon was Grand Master of all Masons at Jerusalem; Hiram, King of Tyre, was Grand Master at Tyre, and Hiram Abif, in Solomon's absence, filled the chair as Deputy Grand Master, and, in his presence was Senior Grand Warden.
Moreover, Reverend George Oliver in "Antiquities of Masonry said these periods occupy a space of three thousand years. They are selected for illustration, because it is generally believed that Masonry took its rise at the building of King Solomon's Temple.
It is said that Solomon recruited over one hundred and fifty thousand stone masons, hewers of timber, artificers of precious metals, laborers and overseers from all over the land, many speaking in strange tongues, making communication difficult. Chapter 2, Second Book of Chronicles relates how Solomon numbered all the strangers who were in the Land of Israel, after the numbering wherewith David, his father, had numbered them, and they were found an hundred and fifty thousand and three thousand of them to be bearers of burdens and fourscore thousand to be hewers in the mountain, and three thousand and six hundred overseers to set the people at work.
We must reflect on the monumental task that was Solomon's to meld such a huge body of workmen, sorting out their various talents and abilities, and organizing them into an effective and harmonious work force to commence building the Temple.
Yet, perhaps Solomon's greatest problem was the lack of a uniform measure of length by which the stones, timbers and other materials could be joined with accuracy. He spoke of the cubit, which was used as a measure of length by the Hebrews, Egyptians, and Babylonians, being the distance from the elbow to the extremity of the middle finger or approximately eighteen inches. Understandably, the cubit would vary by the physical size of the workman or overseer, and thus precluding the use of an exact measure. World Book Encyclopedia states that generally the cubit was the length of a man's forearm from his elbow to the tip of the middle finger. The cubit of the Ancient Egyptians was about 21 inches long. That of the Ancient Romans was 17.5 inches. The Jewish cubit was 22 inches
Coil in his Masonic Encyclopedia says the cubit was a measure used by the Hebrews, the exact length of which has been the subject of much uncertainty and dispute. The majority opinion is that it is the length of the forearm and hand from the elbow to the extremity of the middle finger or approximately 18 inches. The Egyptian Royal cubit was 20.67 inches; and the Roman Attic cubit was 17.57 inches.
Marsengill, Editor (The Philalethes Society) said, "According to Bishop Cumberland, the Hebrew cubit was 21 inches but according to all other authorities, it was approximately 18 inches. Two kinds of cubits were known: the Sacred (36 inches) and the Profane (18 inches). The measurements given in the Bible about Solomon's Temple are all based on the Profane or common cubit."
Mackey's Revised Encyclopedia refers to Hastings Dictionary of The Bible (page 967), "We have at present no means of ascertaining the exact dimensions of the Hebrews' ordinary and Royal cubits. The balance of evidence is certainly in favor of a fairly close approximation to the Egyptian system."
The Maryland Master Mason Handbook declares that it is of great interest that archaeological research has revealed that in Solomon's day there were three different cubits: a Land cubit which was used for plotting the layout of the Temple's courts and the surrounding terrace, which had a length of about 17.6 inches; a Building cubit used in the erection of buildings was about 14.4 inches; and a Gold cubit used in the construction of the gold and silver vessels and decorative work which was equal to about 10.8 inches. All these three are found to be multiples of the basic palm breadth of 3.6 inches which was used by the Babylonians and also the Hebrews.
Amid all of this confusion about a unit of measure, especially finding one which was uniform and dependable, it is claimed the Ancient workmen of the Temple fashioned a rope of human hair which was knotted at three, five, and seven cubits. The human hair was chosen because it was unaffected by heat or cold, and thus maintained a constant length. He called this, "The Perfect Cubit," which enabled the workmen to join the stones, timbers and other materials with accuracy.
Worshipful Brother Lawrence J. Chisholm, Worshipful Master of Joppa Lodge No. 35 in The District of Columbia, authored a weights and measure section of the Encyclopedia Britannica in 1976, in which he included these historical comments regarding the cubit.
''Although there is evidence that many early civilizations devised standards of measurements and some tools for measuring, the Egyptian cubit is generally recognized as having been the most ubiquitous standard of linear measurement in the very ancient world. Devised about 3000 B. C., it was based on the length of the arm from the elbow to the extended finger tips and was standardized by a royal master cubit of black granite, against which all the cubit sticks in use in Egypt were measured at regular intervals.
The royal cubit (20.62 inches, 524 millimeters) was subdivided in an extraordinarily complicated way. The basic subunit was the digit, doubtlessly a finger's breadth, of which there were 28 in the royal cubit. Four digits, equalled a palm, five a hand. Twelve digits, or three palms, equalled one small span. Fourteen digits, or one-half a cubit, equalled a large span. Sixteen digits or four palms, made one t'ser. Twenty digits, or five palms, were a small cubit.
The digit was in turn subdivided. The 141h digit on a cubit stick was marked off into 16 equal parts. The next digit was divided into 15 parts, and so on, to the 28th digit which was divided into two equal parts. Thus, measurement could be made to digit fractions with any denominator from 2 through 16. The smallest division, 1/16 of a digit, was equal to 1/148 part of a royal cubit.
The accuracy of the cubit stick is attested by the dimensions of the Great Pyramid of Gizeh; although thousands were employed in building it, its sides vary no more than 0.05 percent from the mean length of 9,069.45 inches (230.364 meters) about 4 1/2 inches in 755 feet"
In Oliver's Antiquities he said: "The structure thus begun, according to a plan given to Solomon by David, his father, upon the Arc of Alliance, every energy was used to render it a perfect specimen of art. Every stone, every piece of timber, was carved, marked, and numbered in the quarry and the forest; and nothing remained for the workmen at Jerusalem but to join the materials with precision, on a reference to the marks and numbers, This was effected without the use of' either axe, hammer, or metal tool; so that nothing was heard at Zion, save harmony and peace." It is a real testimonial to the Ancient Craftsmen that the parts could be so shaped at great distance and fit as they were intended. It is assumed this was due in part to the use of the perfect cubit.
Upon the significance of the three knots in the perfect Cubit . . . three, five and seven. Mackey in his history (Volume l) referred to the symbolic character of those sacred numbers in the teaching of the Ancient Art and Science . . . three, five, and seven. In the same spirit of symbolic reference, the steps of the winding stairs leading to the middle chamber were divided into a series of three, five, and seven.
At the onset of this paper, it was stated that the existence of a "Perfect Cubit" has no historical authority. Again, Mackey in Volume One (p. 9) states for a faithful and thorough inquiry of the history of Freemasonry, carefully separate the two periods into which it may be naturally divided,'
The Historic, and The Prehistoric.
The Historic is the period within which we have genuine documents in reference to the existence of the Order.
The Prehistoric is the period within which we have no such records and where we have to depend wholly upon legends and traditions.
In the preface of Mackey's History (Page VII) Robert Ingham Clegg reflected that Brother Mackey . . . pointed out that the very age of the Masonic institution had tended to confuse mere traditions or legends with the authentic truths of history, and he welcomed light from all directions but carefully applied critical standards to the source and standing of the information that came his way. By no means was he ready to reject a Masonic legend as fable.
It is left to the Masonic scholars and prominent historians to determine whether "The Perfect Cubit" is a Masonic legend or fable.
Author: Most Worshipful Brother Lloyd U. Jefferson, P.G.M.
Grand Lodge of Virginia A F & A M
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