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To understand specifically why these issues were of importance to me, you have to understand why I did the research in the first place. Two years prior to giving the talk on Tracing Boards, I had given a talk at my Lodge on art and imagery in Masonry. While I was doing research on that, specifically reviewing the wonderful colour reproductions in Freemasonry A Journey Through Ritual and Symbol by W. Kirk McNulty,1 two groups of questions arose in my mind..

The first question group was, why the Third Degree Board is almost always on display, and why the First Degree Board, which to me is the most interesting, is only seen briefly during a typical meeting when we are going into the First Degree. Because we are in British Columbia we are obliged to do our business in the Third Degree, but that is really not much of an answer.

The real question is why that Board needs to be tucked away when we were not in the First Degree. The obvious answer, of course, is that in a functional basis there is no place to display all three Boards at the same time. There does not appear to be any particular ritual requirement for the lack of display of one Tracing Board or another. The only requirement is for a Tracing Board of the particular degree to be displayed specifically when the degree is being worked.

In the Canadian Ritual the Senior Deacon displays a Tracing Board and the working tools of each degree separately. First Degree, (pages 6 & 17); Second Degree (pages 15 & 16) and Third Degree (page 13). There is no requirement for the placing of the Tracing Board for the First Degree Tracing Board Lecture, rather the Candidate is taken to the Junior Warden Station and the Junior Warden delivers the lecture on the Tracing Board (page 38). Similarly, in the Second Degree, the Candidate is taken to the West, where the Senior Warden delivers the Tracing Board Lecture (page 70). In the Third Degree the Deacons conduct the Candidate to the Master Mason's Tracing Board and the Worshipful Master points out its features, which are limited to the ornaments of a Master Mason's Lodge i.e. the porch, the dormer and the square pavement (page 100).

I will be touching on certain issues regarding ritual, but this talk is not about Tracing Boards and the ritual; that is a somewhat separate topic which has been dealt with by VW Bro. Jim Bennie in a talk he delivered to the Vancouver Lodge of Education and Research about two years ago. I did not include a copy of his paper because it did not necessarily deal with some of the issues that I have raised, nor should I expect anyone else to deal with my singular concerns.

The second question group deals with something on the typical First Degree Tracing Board, that is on the "Jacob's Ladder," the images for the three cardinal virtues–that is, Faith, Hope and Charity–typically had a cross for faith. As I looked into the pictures of the early Tracing Boards, I realized that none of them had a cross for Faith; in fact, the cross did not appear in the Tracing Boards until the 1860s.

The question then raised was, if Freemasonry is inclusive not exclusive–that is, if it is designed to include all religions and not exclude any religion–why was the symbol of Faith a cross?

I must admit I pondered this for a long time because I knew that if I had gone to my Brethren and raised this issue the matter would have been resolved very quickly, as it was in fact when I did raise the issue, by simply pasting a large F over the cross. In some of the earliest Tracing Boards, Faith, Hope and Charity were represented with the capital letters "F", "H" and "C". But there was an intellectual, not just a religious, problem here, and that was figuring out why it was that Freemasonry was nondenominational, save and except the belief in a Supreme Being.

The Jacob's Ladder with the symbols being a cross for Faith, an anchor for Hope and a heart for Charity, has taken on a life of its own apart from its Tracing Board significance. It is one of the few pieces of Masonic symbolism, aside from the square and compasses (with or without the G) that is known worldwide. I've seen it in publications as far afield as an Argentinian Masonic magazine.

With that in mind when I first gave this talk, a great portion of it dealt with why religious topics were precluded from the Lodge hall, including any sign of one religion being better than another. I must touch on this briefly now, because the issue of the Lodge of Reconciliation and the Rituals that came from it is an important part of this talk. When the Lodge of Reconciliation was concluded, a number of compromises had been reached between the two Grand Lodges. For example, Deacons were to be admitted; there were to be yearly installations; there were to be no more painted aprons; the Craft Ritual was limited to three degrees; and in those three degrees there was to be no reference to any Christian religion.

The Royal Arch, which was a separate degree, could have reference to Christian religion, but the first three degrees were to have no external references to Christianity, and the reference to the Volume of Sacred Law would be limited to the Old Testament.