An eminent sculptor was once asked:
How do you carve such beautiful statues?
It is the simplest thing in the world. I take a hammer and chisel and from a massive, shapeless rock, I knock off all the stone I do not want, and there is the statue.
It was there all the time.
In every Masonic Lodge room there is, or should be, the Rough Ashlar and the Perfect Ashlar. These two and the Trestle Board constitute our Movable Jewels. What is their significance? What do they have to do with Masonry?
In our monitorial work we are taught that the Rough Ashlar:
“is a stone as taken from the quarry in its rude and natural state”
and that the Perfect Ashlar
“is a stone made ready by the hands of the workman, to be adjusted by the working tools of the Fellow Craft.”
The Rough Ashlar was not a stone that was merely picked up somewhere.
It was a stone that has been selected. Some work was done upon it. It was apparently a good stone.
It was a stone that showed good prospects of being capable of being made into a Perfect Ashlar.
If it had not been a good stone, it would never have been cut out from the quarry.
So it is with our prospective member. He cannot be merely picked up somewhere.
He must be selected. Before he is ready to be initiated some work must be done upon him. He must stand certain basic tests. He must be apparently of good material.
He must be a man who shows good prospects of being capable of being made into a good Mason. If he had not been a good man, he should never have been proposed for membership.
Venus de Milo
IMAGE LINKED: wikimedia Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
The Venus de Milo – is an ancient Greek statue and one of the most famous works of ancient Greek sculpture. Initially it was attributed to the sculptor Praxiteles, but based on an inscription that was on its plinth, the statue is now thought to be the work of Alexandros of Antioch.
Created sometime between 130 and 100 BC, the statue is believed to depict Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty, although some scholars claim it is the sea-goddess Amphitrite, venerated on Milos.
In changing a Rough Ashlar into a Perfect Ashlar, the workman takes away and never adds to. He chips and chips. He cuts away the rough edges.
He removes the visible flaws, he does not create by chemical means or otherwise, a new material. He takes that which is already there and develops it into the Perfect Ashlar.
The stone from which the Venus de Milo was carved by an unknown sculptor of ancient times, lay since the beginning of time in the rocks of the Island Milo.
A common, unknown workman may have cut a hugh piece of marble from the quarry. But it took a master artisan to carve out the beautiful statue.
It took a good piece of marble and a skilled artist to produce the Venus de Milo.
Not many operators in Masonry can make a Perfect Ashlar. So there are not many perfect Masons in our Lodges. In our Ritualistic and other work, we can take away much of the roughness, remove the sharp points and obliterate the visible defects.
We can produce as good a Mason as there is within our power to produce. But the essential thing is to have a good material upon which to work.
This statement is applicable to all mankind, but to us as Symbolic Masons, it is pregnant with meaning, for, was not each one, at the commencement of his Masonic career, placed in the Northeast corner as an example stone, in the hope that the stone so placed would, in the fullness of time, be wrought into a thing of beauty acceptable to the builder?
What does the poet say of the stone?
Isn’t it strange that Princes and Kings
And clowns that caper in sawdust rings,
And common folks like you and me
Are builders for eternity?
Each is given a kit of tools,
A shapeless mass and a book of rules:
And each must make, ere life is flown;
A stumbling block or a stepping stone.
These are very true words. The kit of tools are those talents with which God has blessed us to enable us to fulfil our mission in life.
We are told in the Volume of the Sacred Law that one man received five talents, another, two talents, and yet another, only one talent, so that our duty is for each to discharge his allotted task to the best of his ability, and help those who have not been so well blessed as himself.
Thus each will be assisted in carving out the “Grand Design” of being happy and communicating happiness and thereby of being more “extensively serviceable to his fellow creatures.”
The shapeless mass is a man’s character, and each one of us is his own Architect, Builder and Material, and like our predecessors, the Operative Masons, we each must show our craftsmanship in working out a perfect “Ashlar” fit to be tried by the square of his own conscience.
The book of rules is the V.S.L. :
“That great light that will guide us to all truth, direct our steps in the path of happiness, and thus, point out the whole duty of man.”
Let us pause for a moment and earnestly ask ourselves, which are we making-stumbling block or a stepping stone?
If a man’s life is such that he cannot “join in the grand design of being happy and communicating happiness to others,” then he is a stumbling block, not only to himself, but to all those with whom he is associated.
If that man is a Freemason he should study the ritual and discover the inner meaning, so that he can learn to perfect his stone.
Let us trace whence comes this perfect stone. An ancient charge provides that a mould stone shall be given to a visiting Operative Mason to enable him to demonstrate his craftsmanship.
The stones were selected individual stones from the quarries to suit the requirement of the material building.
As Speculative Masons, we obtain our mould stones from the quarries of life.
Thus, when we receive an application for admission to our Lodge it is our duty to carefully scrutinize all the credentials of the applicant from every angle, so that only approved material is admitted to the Craft.
Freemasonry can and does improve good material, but it cannot make bad material good.
As with the Operative Mason, poor material would have endangered the material structure. So with us as Speculative Masons, a faulty Ashlar will endanger the Spiritual temple we are endeavouring to build.
Having found, by the strictest inquiry, that the applicant, or mould stone, is suitable, we have, by those inquiries, knocked off some of the irregularities which surrounded him, and after his initiation, he is represented as the “rough Ashlar,” that is, the stone is no longer the mould stone, but it is approximately a cube which still requires a considerable amount of “dressing” before the “perfect Ashlar” which is within it can be brought to light, and the candidate is given him to “knock off rough knobs and evanescence,” of his character.
Later on he finds that, although the common gavel and chisel are suitable for reducing the roughness they are not capable of achieving perfection.
As a Craftsman he receives another set of working tools, one of which is essential to perfection, namely, the square, and here he learns that it is only by continual grinding and many applications of the square that the stone can be brought to a true die, or cube.
In his capacity as a Craftsman and as a man of the world, he is continually coming into contact with his fellows and he learns to control his passions and to recognize the rights of others, with the result that the stone he is working upon, namely, his character, is gradually taking shape as a perfect Ashlar.
Later, he is called upon to hand his stone over to the Builder, who cuts a bevelled hole at the top, so that the stone can be attached to a lewis and be hoisted up ready to be placed on the base assigned to it by the Builder.
Thus, he is reminded that the rope, the lewis, and the crane represent the all sustaining power of God, and that if he has discharged his duty faithfully and in accordance with the precepts laid down in the V.S.L., he may rest assured that when his final summons comes he will find that the great Builder will have prepared a place for him in that “Great Spiritual Temple not made with hands eternal in the Heavens.”
Great Spiritual Temple not made with hands eternal in the Heavens.
Finally, let us consider this “perfect Ashlar” from a geometric point of view. Looking at the perfect “Ashlar,” as it stands in the Lodge we notice that it has six equal and exactly similar sides, and that no matter how it is placed down, on the level, it must stand on one of its faces and present a similar face to the observer, from any point of view.
It is the only geometrical body which requires no support from its fellows, but when placed in line with similar cubes, demands it own space, and lines up with the others on top, bottom and sides.
Source: Masonic World
Images and additional text relating to Venus de Milo added by The Square Magazine Article Compiler
Article by: James Fairbairn Smith
James Fairbairn Smith, editor-in-chief of Masonic World, editor Emeritus of the Detroit Masonic World.
Raised as a “Lewis” at the age of 18, in the lodge at Hawick, Scotland, in 1925, Bro. Smith has become one of the most respected of Masonic journalists.
He is a “mould stone” from the quarry of Masonic life.
Recent Articles: symbolism
Eight Schools of Freemasonry - Philosophy P1
For what does Masonry exist? What is the end and purpose of the order? - Roscoe Pound's Lectures on the Philosophy of Freemasonry (1915), is probably one of the most concise and worthy explanation as to the subject.
Eight Schools of Freemasonry - Introduction
Follow this series as examine the 'Eight Schools of Freemasonry' that have developed over the centuries since its founding in 1717. This month we outline the series and the Masonic Conception of Education.
The Secret Language of the Stone Masons
We know of Masons' Marks but lesser known are the 'argots' used by the artisans - in part 2 of a series on the social history of the Operative Masons we learn how the use of secret languages added to the mystery of the Guilds.
So mote it be
The phrase appears in the Regius Poem. It is customary in contemporary English to end prayers with a hearty “Amen,” a word meaning “So be it.” It is a Latin word derived from the Hebrew word - Short Talk Bulletin - Vol. V June, 1927, No.6
Egypt's 'Place of Truth' - The First Operative Stone Masons' Guild?
Was ancient Egypt's 'village of the artisans' the first operative stone masons' guild? And was their use of 'identity marks' a forerunner of the Mason's Marks of the cathedral builders of the Middle Ages? Read on for some possible answers…
The Pieces of Architecture and the Origin of Masonic Study
Discover the journey of the Apprentice – from Operative to Speculative. This journey has been carried out since the times of operative Freemasonry but today the initiate works in the construction of his inner temple.
The Builders' Rites - laying the foundations operatively and speculatively
The cornerstone (also ‘foundation’ or ‘setting’ stone) is the first stone to be set in the construction of the foundations of a building; every other stone is set in reference to this.
If Found on the Level
Applying the working tools to achieve our peculiar system of morality.
Euclid's 47th Proposition
We take an in-depth look at the 47th Proposition of the 1st Book of Euclid as part of the jewel of the Past Master.
The Cable Tow Unbound
The Cable Tow: Its Origins, Symbolism, & Significance for Freemasons - Unbinding the significance of the cable tow.
Who was Tubal-cain?
Who was Tubal-cain, a biblical figure; a smith, and master of metallurgy?
The Great Journey
We examine at one of the most impressive moments of the initiatory ceremony, a certain rite known as Circumambulation, and ask what is its meaning and purpose ?
On the Level
So, what is the Level? And why do we use it in Freemasonry?
The Pigpen Cipher
What is the mysterious pigpen or Masonic cipher that has been used for centuries to hide secrets and rituals?
The Story of the Royal Arch - The Mark Degree
Extracted from William Harvey's 'The Story of the Royal Arch' - Part 1 describes the Mark Degree, including the Working Tools.
Ashlars - Rough, Smooth - Story of a Stone
How we can apply the rough and smooth Ashlars with-in a masonic context
The Chamber of Reflection
A detailed look at the Chamber of Reflection: A Revitalized and Misunderstood Masonic Practice.
Faith, Hope & Charity
Exploring the origin and symbolism of Faith, Hope and Charity
The Noachite Legend and the Craft
What is it to be a true Noachidae, and what is the Noachite Legend and the Craft ?
In Masonic rituals, Jacob’s ladder is understood as a stairway, a passage from this world to the Heavens.
Meaning of the Acacia
What is the meaning of the Acacia and where did it originate ?
The Feasts of St John
What is the connection with the Feasts of St John and Freemasonry
Forget Me Not
The Forget-Me-Not and the Poppy - two symbols to remind us to 'never forget' those who died during the two World Wars.
The Two Pillars
Biblical history surrounding the two pillars that stood at the entrance to King Solomon's Temple
Judaism and Freemasonry
Is there a direct link between Judaism and Freemasonry?
The symbolism of the beehive in Masonry and its association with omphalos stones and the sacred feminine.
Corn Wine Oil
The Wages of an Entered Apprentice
The North East Corner
An explanation of the North East corner charge which explores beyond one meaning Charity - Extracted from William Harvey – the Complete Works
The Two Headed Eagle
Origins of The Two Headed Eagle, now associated with The Ancient & Accepted Scottish Rite
A Masonic Interpretation
A Masonic Interpretation of the Quran's First Two Chapters
Audi Vide Tace
The three Latin words -a good moto for the wise freemason
to be a better citizen of the world
share the square with two brothers
click image to open email app on mobile device
Masonic Aprons NFT
Each Tubal Cain Masonic Apron NFT JPEG includes a full size masonic apron and worldwide shipping