Museum of Freemasonry - Masonic Library
It has always been my contention that Masonic Education ceases , only too often, with the repetition of the ritual. There is a wealth of interesting facts, stories, theories and conjecture concerning who , why and what our Masonic origins are just waiting to be explored or even added to.

According to the great Masonic writer Albert Mackey,  the Second Degree of Freemasonry in all rites is that of the “Fellowcraft”, the title actually meaning ‘Fellow Worker’, thus showing the origin  of the title from an operative institution.  Masonic writers appear to agree that prior to the formation of the first Grand Lodge in 1717 only two degrees were worked, and these consisted of a series of questions and answers.

That only two degrees existed, certainly appears to be proven by the fact that the ancient charges say,” No Brother can be made a Warden until he has passed the part of a Fellowcraft”, and further state “no Brother, however skilled in the Craft, was called a Master Mason until he had been elected to the chair of the Lodge”.  Also the Regius Poem of 1390 and the Cooke Manuscript of 1420 A. D.  both say in part:  “And he gave them a charge that they should call each  other  Fellow and no otherwise because they were all of one Craft”.

Today the explanation of our Second Degree Tracing Board tells us that a vast number of Artificers were employed in the building of King Solomon’s Temple,  and that they consisted of Entered Apprentices and Fellowcrafts.

There are many parts of our present day ritual which bear out the fact that the Second Degree was at one time a most important one - in fact,  an essential qualification for the Master’s chair.

Today the Second Degree is undoubtedly treated with a lack of the respect to which it is justly entitled.  How often have we heard it referred to as just a step between the First and the Third Degrees ?  Indeed, I must be honest and admit that I have so regarded it in the past, but since compiling this paper I have come to realise that this degree is as important now as it was in ancient times.

The simplicity of, and the symbolic teachings contained in this degree make it a pleasure to  study and analyse.

A careless and casual observation of this degree is apt to create an impression in the mind of the candidate that it is only of secondary importance  in our system of character development.  The fact is,  however,  that it is the richest of all degrees in practical suggestions and teachings.

When we were initiated into the Fraternity  we were informed that by education we would become members of a regularly organised society.  A few moments later we were charged to study such of the Liberal Arts and Sciences  as lay within the compass of our attainment.  On a further occasion, we were told that the liberal arts and sciences were seven in number - namely, Grammar, Rhetoric, Logic, Arithmetic, Geometry, Music and

Astronomy and, having previously studied Moral Truth and Virtue, we were then permitted to extend our researches  into the hidden mysteries of Nature and Science.

I venture to suggest that a comparatively small percentage of our present - day Brethren have gone through such a course of education , and that our Brethren of some 200 years ago, when freemasonry was revised  and recognised, were just as ignorant of these matters as we ourselves are today.

Can we find a period in history when they were in vogue, when our brethren actually studied  the seven Liberal Arts and Sciences ?  If we study the history of medieval universities, we find that they were called universities because they were supposed to teach all the then known knowledge.  What then did they teach ?

We find that during the four years of the undergraduate course the students had to study the “Trivium of Arts”  that is , grammar, rhetoric and logic.  Thy were granted the degree of Bachelor of Arts.  They continued their education by studying the “Quadrivium of Sciences”  that is, arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy.  When they had learned these sufficiently they were granted the degree  of Master of Arts and Sciences.

Do you not think our ritual qualifications for degrees to-day are closely allied to  the ideals of the medieval university ?  Our initiation could correspond to the undergraduate course; we are expected to study moral truth - grammar, rhetoric and logic.  When we have made sufficient progress in these we are granted a degree in arts and we are told that we may now extend our researches into the hidden mysteries of Nature and Sciences - arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy.

It would, therefore, appear that by the time we have reached the Second Degree we should have completed all the education expected of us in the various charges - surely an indication of the importance of this Degree.

When we have analysed the three degrees, we find that legends constitute a considerable and very important part of our ritual.  Without them, the most valuable portions as a scientific system would cease to exist.  It is, therefore, necessary that we should accept these legends as they are- as Mackey puts it, a mental representation of the truth - and in particular, this evening, the legend of the winding stairs.

This legend is based on the first book of Kings, chapter 6, verse 8 : “The door for the middle chamber was in the right side of the house ; and they went up with winding stairs into the middle chamber, and out of the middle into the third”.

“Out of this slender material”, Dr. Mackey says,  “has been constructed an allegory which, if properly considered  in it’s symbolic relations, will be found to be of surpassing beauty.”

The lesson which this legend teaches is not hard to discover.  Freemasonry is a speculative science which has for it’s object the investigation of Divine Truth. The candidate is in search of more light,  and as all the ceremonies denote a progress from a lower to a higher state, he is always progressing.  This fundamental symbolism is found in each degree.

The legend of the Winding Stairs symbolises the ascent of man from ignorance to knowledge, from darkness to light.

Again to quote Mackey:  “It is then as a symbol only that we must study this beautiful legend of the winding Stair.  If we attempt to adopt it as an historical fact, the absurdity of it’s details stares us in the face and wise men will wonder at our credulity”.

There is no doubt, however, that the Brother who succeeds in climbing the winding stairs will receive his reward.  And what are the rewards or  wages of a Fellowcraft ?

The wages of a Fellowcraft are to be learned.  Firstly, he learns that he must earn those wages, step by step, till he reaches the middle chamber of truth.

There he learns that his work is valued as naught if it has not been conducted in consecration  and trust in God.  He learns that the means by which he enters this chamber of truth has been in accordance with the Divine Plan.

In this chamber of truth he learns that his wages have not been honestly earned if he has not used his best efforts to aid a worthy Brother in need.  Here he learns that to aid a Brother is not merely the giving of money for immediate use; but that he has sought the opportunity to assist in love and kindness, and to say an encouraging word at the right time - for words are often more beneficial and comforting than money or other material relief.

In this chamber of truth the Fellowcraft learns that he must not allow the habit of selfishness to prevent him from relieving a Brother.

But the great personal benefit which he learns is that he is part of a great company of Brothers, and whether he is at home or abroad , a Brother is at hand, that there is always an open door for him to enter and earn the wages of a Fellowcraft and that he cannot “Lose his Job” as a Fellowcraft in any part of the world.

Yet, Brethren, despite these truths which we are supposed to have learned before we progress to the Third Degree, I am afraid there are some Brethren who, when the opportunity presents itself to put these lessons into effect - even just to give a kindly word of encouragement to a distressed Brother - immediately become “unemployed” as far as Fellowcraft work is concerned.   Surely a degree which teaches such wonderful  and worthwhile principles can never be regarded  as unimportant and just a step between Degrees.

It has often been stated that the three degrees of Freemasonry represent the three stages of man - birth, life and death.

A few moments’ thought on this statement would make it appear to be a correct one. The First Degree may certainly represent birth because it is perhaps the most impressive to the candidate.  A whole new concept is born within him, and completely new horizons are opened before him.  In this degree he is taught  that until he gains in knowledge he is only to prepare the materials.  Truly he may be said to be in his Masonic infancy.   That the Third degree deals with the close of life , is well known to us all.

The second Degree, therefore, would appear to represent that most important part of man’s existence - his working life.  Realising this, can we possibly consider this degree as being “ just a Second” ?

I have heard the Fellowcraft Degree described as the “Builders Degree” .  This is certainly correct, because in this degree the candidate learns the use of the Square, the Level  and the Plumb Rule, which are essentially building tools.  He learns that he should accept every opportunity to make the best use of the materials he has inherited, to erect a worthy personal edifice.  He learns that, adorn it outwardly as he will, the life of the

edifice will be determined by the inner material used and the solidity of it’s foundations.

His moral work must prove true - it must be square work.  If it is not so, then, as he will surely find out later, it will be rejected.

A degree which insists upon the construction of a personal temple, perfect in every way, surely can never be regarded as secondary in importance.

As we are all aware, the Working Tools of the Craft teach in each degree, useful and instructive lessons.  In the first degree the 24’ Gauge , the Common Gavel and the Chisel are most appropriate  because the initiate is learning  to prepare the stone for the building.  They are the simplest tools possible.

In the Master Mason’s Degree the Skirrett, the Pencil and the Compasses are again appropriate because by them the brother has graduated beyond a builder, when measuring, drawing and designing are his allotted tasks.

Now let us consider the Working Tools of the Second Degree - The Square, Level and Plumb-rule.

The Square: What a wealth of meaning and symbolism this word contains for the Freemason who cares to take the time to study it !  We would find it most difficult, for example, to say just how many times this word is mentioned in our three degrees.  The explanation that it is used to try and to adjust rectangular corners of buildings, coupled with the demand that we should so harmonise our conduct in life as to render us acceptable to the Divine Being, leaves no doubt in our minds regarding the importance of this symbol.

I doubt any other word in the English language  brings to mind so many fine attributes as does the word “Square”. The New Imperial Reference Dictionary gives amongst it’s many meanings the following :  An instrument for drawing or measuring right angles;  forming a right angle; true; honest; just; to adjust; to regulate.

With such a wealth of meaning, this word must commend itself  to our attention - so much so that I am sure that a complete paper could be prepared on this one important instrument alone.

In the First Degree the candidate represented a stone, rough and unhewn as from the quarries, until by instruction and assistance he is brought to the form of the rough ashlar.  This is further smoothed and adorned by the application of the chisel, and is now ready to be tried in the second degree by  the square.  Having been trued by this important tool,  he is now ready to take his place in the great brotherhood  composed of men who have been perfected by the same instrument.

The Level : In building the Level has the most important of uses;  in freemasonry it is a symbol of equality.

One of the chief glories of Freemasonry is that it levels all barriers which intervene between individuals, and brings together on a plane of common equality persons of the most diverse opinions,  occupations and interests.  It unites in common work and common objective the good and true of all pursuits, opinions and languages.  Here, upon the level, the rich, the poor, the high, the low remember that we are all created by the same Almighty Parent and brought into this world for our mutual aid,  protection

and support.  Truly this symbolic tool teaches to the candidate, and to us all, one of the greatest lessons.

The Plumb-line:  The Plumb-line is a small instrument.  It consists of string of any length with a weight attached to one end. It is used to test uprights.  This small Plumb-line is always true to the law of gravity;  it is infallible to the centre of the earth.

In the Old Testament the Prophet sees the Plumb-line set among the people of Israel by the Lord.  He sees the test to which the people must put themselves if they would live uprightly according to the Plumb-line the Lord set among His people.

Freemasonry sets among the Brethren a Plumb-line which demands a high standard.  The Plumb-line of Freemasonry, briefly expressed, is a just  and upright life.

The questions we should put to ourselves at all times, and especially when we hear this symbolic tool  explained in the Second Degree, are;  “Are we living by the Plumb-line of Freemasonry ?”  “Are we always ready to relieve the distressed ?”.  These are duties incumbent upon everyone, but especially on Freemasons, who should be bound

together by an indissoluble bond of fraternal affection.  These duties should be to us a labour of love as well as duties.

With such beautiful and impressive teachings inculcated  in this, the Second Degree, surely it must demand a higher ranking in our thoughts than it often does.

Brethren, do you not think it is significant and perhaps indicative of the importance of this degree that these three Working Tools  - the Square, the level and the Plumb are worn as Jewels to designate  the three rulers of the Lodge, The Worshipful Master and the Wardens ?  They also mark their respective pedestals.

It is unnecessary, I know. To point out that in the Installation ceremony the Third Degree plays a comparatively small part, and that the most important part of the ceremony, the obliging of the W.M. elect, is performed in the Second Degree.

Time will not permit a lengthy discussion of the fact that in this Degree the candidate becomes the Perfect Ashlar - a stone of true die or square. What greater compliment could be paid to a candidate than to represent such a stone ?  Nor can an analysis of the final charge, with it’s emphasis on geometry and correct deportment  be undertaken in the time at our disposal.

An examination of the beautiful lessons concealed in those words, Brotherly love, Relief and Truth, which the candidate gives as an answer to one of the questions before being Passed, would likewise involve considerable time, but each of these once again impress upon us the importance of the Fellowcraft Degree.

In conclusion, Worshipful Master , I point out that the great lessons to be learn4ed from this Degree, and which I believe should manifest themselves in him who is an upright man and a Freemason, are integrity, uprightness, sacrificial goodwill and Brotherly helpfulness.

The confusions begin when dealing with fractional men - men who are one thing by day and another by night; one in church and another in business;  one at work and another at recreation;  one at home and another in Lodge.  The man who stands the test of time and stress  is the man who is a unit.

In the construction of our great buildings the ideal is to have the Plumb-line right along the side of the wall from the top to the bottom. The structure of society “To stand firm for Ever”  requires that each person or stone is on the Plumb;  then it follows that each person or stone must be on the Plumb with respect to each other - an integrated society built on the inherent worth of the individual members, each supporting the other and the whole standing as a unit.

When a building or character is absolutely upright,  all the power of gravitation helps to keep it that way.  When a building or character begins to lean, all the force of gravity helps it to collapse.  When the record of life is finished, a man is remembered with affection in exact proportion to the amount of useful service he has rendered to his Brother men inside and outside Freemasonry.  Apart from this, he may be remembered with respect and admiration - perhaps with awe - but never with affection.

To build a character in which integrity, uprightness and Brotherly helpfulness are moulded, is a task worthy of our greatest and most worthy endeavours.

Brethren,  I close by quoting a poem which, I feel , is most appropriate to this important Degree.

I watched them tearing a building down,
A gang of workmen in a busy town;
With a “Ho, heave Ho,” and a lusty yell,
They swung a beam and the side walls fell.
I said to the foreman: “Are these men skilled
And the type you would hire if you had to build ?”
He laughed and answered: “Why, no indeed;
Common labour is all I need;
For I can wreck in a day or two
What the builders have taken years to do.”
So I thought as I went on my way:
Which of these two roles am I to play ?
Am I a builder who works with care,
Measuring my work with Plumb, Level and Square ?
Or am I a wrecker about the town,
Content with the task of tearing down.

Worshipful Master & Brethren, thank for your attention.

By W Bro  J T Robertson,
read to the Research Lodge of Otago, No. 161 (NZ)
on July 31st. , 1963.