The Master Mason’s Handbook

The Third Degree in Freemasonry is termed the Sublime Degree and the title is truly justified. Even in its exoteric aspect its simple, yet dramatic, power must leave a lasting impression on the mind of every Cand.


But its esoteric meaning contains some of the most profound spiritual instruction which it is possible to obtain today.

Even the average man, who entered The Craft with little realisation of its real antiquity and with the solemnity of this, its greatest degree.

In its directness and apparent simplicity rests its tremendous power.

The exoteric and esoteric are interwoven in such a wonderful way that it is almost impossible to separate the one from the other, and the longer it is studied the more we realise the profound and ancient wisdom concealed therein.

Indeed, it is probable that we shall never master all that lies hidden in this degree till we in very truth pass through that reality of which it is a allegory.

The two degrees which have gone before, great and beautiful though they be are but the training and preparation for the message which the Third Degree holds in almost every line of the ritual.

Here at length we learn the true purpose of Freemasonry. It is not merely a system of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols, but a great adventure, a search after that which was lost; in other words, the Mystic Quest, the craving of the Soul to comprehend the nature of God and to achieve union with Him.

Different men vary greatly; to some the most profound teachings appeal, while to others simpler and more direct instruction is all they crave.

But there is hardly a man who has not, at some time or other, amid the turmoil and distraction of this material world, felt a strange and unaccountable longing for knowledge as to why he was ever sent here, whence he came, and whither he is wending.

At such times he feels like a wanderer in a strange land, who has almost forgotten his native country, because he left it so long ago, but yet vaguely realises that he is an exile, and dimly craves for some message from that home which he knew of yore.

This is the voice of the Divine Spark in man calling out for union with the Source of its being, and at such times the Third Degree carries with it a message which till then, perhaps, the brother had not realized.

The true secrets are lost, but we are told how and where we shall find them. The gateway of death opens the way to the point within the circle, where the longing spirit will find peace in the arms of the Father of All.

Thus it will be seen that the Third Degree strikes a more solemn note than even that of death itself, and I have endeavoured in this little book to convey in outline form some part at least of this sublime message.

As in my previous books, I freely confess that I have not covered the whole ground. Not only would it be impossible to do so in a book of this size, but in so doing I should have defeated one of my principal objects in writing namely, to inspire others to study for themselves and endeavour to find in our ceremonies further and deeper meanings.

The success of the earlier books shows clearly that my efforts have not been in vain, and that the brethren are more than anxious to fathom the inner meaning of the ceremonies we all love so well.

This book completes the series dealing with the meaning of the three craft degrees, but their popularity has convinced me that the experiment of producing a small and inexpensive handbook has been completely justified.

I have therefore been encouraged to write further volumes, and the next of the series will be an outline history of Freemasonry “from time Immemorial”.

Chapter 1 – Questions and Password

Those of our Brethren who have read the previous two books of this series will not need much help in understanding the significance of the questions which are put to the Candidate before being raised.

Practically every question has been dealt with in detail in the previous books; the majority of them are taken from incidents in the Lectures and Tracing Board, and since the latter was explained at some length we shall not now detain our readers long.


The manner of preparation for the Second Degree stressed the masculine side, which is characteristic of it.

The admission on a square indicated that the Candidate had profited by the moral training received in the First Degree, and that his conduct had always been on the square.

There is, however a deep esoteric meaning in the apparent platitude that it is the fourth part of a circle.

Among all the ancient nations the circle is a symbol of God the Infinite, Whose name we discovered in the Second Degree in the Middle Chamber, where we learnt that it consisted of four letters.

Thus the Candidate was admitted on one letter of the Mystic Name, and if the four squares are united with the circle in a peculiar way they form the cosmic cross, emblem of matter, within the circle of the Infinite.

We have in the last book considered at such length what is implied by the words “Hidden mysteries of nature and science”, that we need here only refer our readers to that section, wherein we saw that in former times these hidden mysteries undoubtedly referred to certain occult powers, which would be dangerous if acquired by a man who had not proved himself to be of the highest moral character.

The “wages” we receive consist of the power to comprehend the nature of God, Who resides in the Middle Chamber of the Soul of every Mason.

The Fellowcraft receives his wages without scruple or diffidence because the Spiritual benefit he receives from Freemasonry is in exact proportion to his desire, and ability, to comprehend its inner meaning.

He cannot receive either more or less than he has earned, for if he has not understood the profound lesson of the Divinity within him, naturally he cannot benefit therefrom.

His employers are the Divine Trinity, of Whom Justice is one of the outstanding attributes. God could not be unjust and remain God.

This conception is almost a platitude, but the average man, while realising that God will not withhold any reward earned, is at times apt to assume that because God is love He will reward us more than we deserve.

This is clearly a mistake, for God could not be partial without ceasing to be God, therefore the Fellowcraft receives exactly the Spiritual wages he has earned, and neither more nor less, but some fellowcrafts will nevertheless obtain a greater reward than others, because spiritually they have earned it.

The significance of the names of the pillars was explained in the last book, but in view of the nature of the Third Degree it seems advisable to point out once more that their secret Kabbalistic meaning is;

(1) Being fortified by every moral virtue,
(2) you are now properly prepared,
(3) to undergo that last and greatest trial which fits you to become a Master Mason.

Thus we see that even the words of the preceding degrees lead up to this, the last and greatest.

As in the former case, the remark of the W.M. that he will put other questions if desired indicates the possibility of members of the Lodge asking questions based on the Lectures of the Second Degree, or even on the Tracing Board.

It is, indeed, a pity that this right is practically never exercised. For example, a particularly appropriate question would be “What was the name of the man who cast the two great pillars?”

As it is, the Candidate in a dramatic way represents the closing incidents in the life of this great man, whose importance till then he has hardly had any opportunity of realising.

Having answered these test questions, the Candidate is again entrusted with a password, etc., to enable him to enter the Lodge after it has been raised to the Third Degree during this temporary absence.

We have in the previous book explained that the raising of a Lodge should alter the vibrations of those present by a process well recognised in the ceremonies of Magic, and, to enable the Candidate quickly to become in tune with these higher spiritual vibrations, a word of “power” is given him, which in a moment places him on the same plane as the other members of the Lodge.

This word he has to give, not only outside the door of the Lodge, but also immediately before his presentation by the S.W. as “Properly prepared to be raised to the Third Degree”.

It is only after this has been done that the real ceremony of the Third Degree, so far as the Candidate is concerned, begins, and therefore that the full force of the vibrations of the Master Masons come into play.

The password itself is of the greatest significance, more especially when combined with the password leading from the First to the Second Degree. At one time the passwords were reversed. T.C. being the word leading to the Second, and Sh… . the word leading to the Third.

This is still the case in those foreign Grand Lodges, such as the Dutch and the French, which derive from us before 1740, when the words were altered owing to certain un-authorised revelations.

This alteration was one of the just grievances which brought about the secession of the so-called “Ancients”, who charged Grand Lodge with altering the Ancient Landmarks.

When the Irish followed our example they continued the prohibition of the introduction of metals until the Third Degree, which is a logical procedure, for clearly you have no right to bring them into Lodge until you have been symbolically introduced to the first artificer in that material.

As the words now stand they convey the following spiritual lesson: – the Fellowcraft is one who finds the simple necessities of life, such as corn and wine, sufficient for his requirements.

They are plenty to the spiritually minded man, whose soul becomes clogged and hampered by the acquisition of worldly possessions and since it is hard for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, immediately the Candidate has symbolically received worldly possessions he is slain.

Tubal Cain conveys the lesson that Worldly Possessions in themselves bring death to the soul and prevent its upward progress.

To-day, the river of death connected with the password leading to the Second Degree has largely lost its significance, whereas when it was a password leading to the Third, it was in itself a fine allegory.

We must remember that Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress” was well known and widely read at the beginning of the 18th Century, and those who were re-organising our rituals at that time could not have been blind to the similarity of the allegory hidden in the word Sh. and the account by Bunyan of Christian’s fording the river of death on the way to the Holy City.

The change of about 1740 destroyed this allegory, and its survival in the Tracing Board is now merely one of those numerous footnotes which, to the careful student, are invaluable indications of the various transformations though which our ritual has passed during the course of years.

Nevertheless, I do not regret the change, as I think the present spiritual lesson is even finer than the former one, but the other arrangement was more logical.

Firstly, from the practical point of view the Fellowcraft required the use of metal tools to perform his operative tasks, and in the process of his work acquired Worldly Possessions, in contradiction to the Entered Apprentice, who did only rough work and received only maintenance: i.e., corn, wine, and oil.

Secondly, from the symbolical standpoint the sequence was also more logical, for the Fellowcraft, having acquired wealth by means of his skill, was brought to the river of death, and passed through it in the Third Degree.

According to Bro. Sanderson, in his “Examination of the Masonic Ritual”, the actual translation of the Hebrew word Sh. is an “ear of corn, or a fall of water” – hence the manner in which it is depicted in a Fellowcraft’s Lodge – while the word Tubal Cain in Hebrew means only a blacksmith, though another word similarly pronounced means acquisition. Hence, as he points out, “an allegorical title has, in translating the Old Testament, been mistaken for the name of an actual person, for the name itself means ‘A worker in Metals’.”

Therefore the connection with Hiram Abiff is obvious. Bro. Sanderson, quoting from the “Secret Discipline”, by S. L. Knapp, says, “In a work on ancient ecclesiastical history the following occurs, ‘By a singular plasus linguae the moderns have substituted Tubal Cain in the Third Degree for tymboxein-to be entombed’.”

While I am unable to say whether Knapp is justified in this statement, it is quite probable that this password, and indeed all the passwords are comparatively modern substitutes, taken from the Bible to replace ancient words of power whose full meaning was lost and whose form in consequence had become corrupt and unintelligible.  

The Greek word tymboxein would be peculiarly suitable for a password leading to the Third Degree, in view of its meaning, and mediaeval magical ceremonies are full of corrupt Greek words indiscriminately mingled with equally corrupt Hebrew and Arabic.

There is, therefore, nothing intrinsically improbable in the suggestion that this ancient Greek word was the original from which Tubal Cain has been evolved.

We know as a fact that large pieces of Biblical history were imported wholesale into our rituals in the 18th Century, and what is more likely than that an unintelligible work, already so corrupt as not even to be recognisable as Greek, should be amended into a well-known Biblical character?

However, the word as it stands, because of its Hebrew meaning of acquisition, can correctly be translated as Worldly Possessions, while as meaning an artificer in metals it clearly refers to Hiram Abiff, who made the two pillars, and whom the Candidate is to represent.

Thus, following this line of interpretation, we perceive that the Candidate really represents Hiram Abiff when he enters the Lodge, although under the disguised title conveyed by the password.

In dealing with these passwords I have endeavoured to show that there are meanings within meanings, and the same is true of practically every important incident in the whole ceremony.

In a book of this size it is obviously impossible to attempt to give all of these meanings, and even if one did the result would be to befog the young reader and so prevent him from getting a clear and connected interpretation of the ceremony.

It is for this reason that, in the main, I am concentrating on one line of interpretation, but I have thought it desirable in this section to give a hint to more advanced students, so that they can follow up similar lines of investigation for themselves.


In English and Scotch workings there is no cable tow around the Candidate in preparation for the Third Degree, but in the Irish working it is wound once around his neck, in the Second Degree twice, and the First three times.

If we regard the cable tow as symbolising those things which hamper a man’s spiritual progress, the gradual unwinding of it as used in Irish workings becomes of great significance.

This interpretation implies that the Candidate is hampered in Body, Soul and Spirit in the First Degree, whereas by the time he has reached this point in the Third Degree the Body and Soul have triumphed over the sins which peculiarly assail them, and in that stage symbolised by the Degree itself the Spirit has only to triumph over Spiritual sins, such as Spiritual Pride.

With this exception the manner of preparation is the same in all these British workings, and indicates that the Candidate is now about to consecrate both sides of his nature, active and passive, creative and preservative, etc., to the service of the Most High.

The explanation already given in the previous books of the various details, such as being slip shod, holds here, and a brief glance at the other volumes will render it unnecessary for me to take up valuable space therewith in this third book.

The Candidate is then brought to the Lodge door and gives the knocks of a Fellowcraft (1|2).

These knocks indicate that Soul and Body are in union, but the Spirit is still out of contact whereas the proper knocks of a Master Mason (2|1) indicates that the Spirit dominates the Soul and is in union with it, the body having fallen away into significance.

It will be remembered that in the first book of this series I pointed out that the three separate knocks of an Entered Apprentice symbolise that in the uninitiated man, Body, Soul and Spirit are all at variance.

Meanwhile the Lodge has been raised to a Third Degree by a ceremony whose profound significance demands consideration in a separate chapter.

continue reading next chapter
Chapter 2 - The Opening

Article by: J. S. M. Ward

John Sebastian Marlow Ward (22 December 1885 – 1949) was an English author who published widely on the subject of Freemasonry and esotericism.

He was born in what is now Belize. In 1908 he graduated from the University of Cambridge with honours in history, following in the footsteps of his father, Herbert Ward who had also studied in history before entering the priesthood in the Anglican Church, as his father had done before him.

John Ward became a prolific and sometimes controversial writer on a wide variety of topics.  He made contributions to the history of Freemasonry and other secret societies.

He was also a psychic medium or spiritualist, a prominent churchman and is still seen by some as a mystic and modern-day prophet.

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The Master Mason's Handbook

Chapters 9 & 10 The Closing Finally, even if a man can never fathom the full meaning of the third degree, yet there is no man worthy of the name who has passed through that third degree but will certainly have learnt one important lesson, namely, how to die, and thereby will be the better man.

The Master Mason's Handbook

Chapter 8 - The Tracing Board - The next part of the narrative is incorporated in most English workings with the Tracing Board. The most interesting feature is the description of the grave. It is obvious that peculiar stress is laid on the centre, even in the present form of our ritual, because of the way in which the measurements are given.

The Master Mason's Handbook P7

Chapter 7 - The Legend - After the ceremonial investiture of the Candidate the W.M. continues the narrative of the traditional history. At least this is the case in most English workings, but in some Scotch workings the whole story is told first, and subsequently the Candidate and the other brethren act the chief parts. Perhaps one of the most important points to realise is the correct meaning of the name Hiram Abiff .

The Master Mason's Handbook P6

Chapter 6 - The Badge - On his re-entering the Lodge, the candidate is presented and in due course invested with the badge of a Master Mason by the S.W. The Badge itself, however, is full of symbolic meaning….

The Master Mason's Handbook P5

Chapter 5 - The Secrets. Having thus been brought into the place of light the Candidate is given not the genuine secrets, but only substituted ones. This fact must often have puzzled the Candidate. The practical reason given in the ritual, though perfectly intelligible to a Royal Arch mason (Companion) , cannot be the real one.

The Master Mason's Handbook P4

Chapter 4 - The Exhortation The opening part of the exhortation gives a convenient summary of the previous degrees and quite clearly indicates that the first inner meaning of the series is Birth, Life which is of course educational and preparatory for its sequel, and Death.

The Master Mason's Handbook P3

Chapter 3 - The Symbolical Journeys; We have seen in the previous books that the square and compasses are united on the pedestal in such a way as to form the Vesica Piscis, the emblem of the female principle, and the symbol of birth and rebirth. Hence symbolically the Candidate passes through the Vesica Piscis.

The Master Mason's Handbook P2

Chapter 2 - The Opening; a brief explanation of the teaching of the third degree as contained in the symbols by J.S.M Ward

The Master Mason's Handbook P1

Chapter 1 - Questions and Password; a brief explanation of the teaching of the third degree as contained in the symbols by J.S.M Ward

The Fellowcraft's Handbook P6

Chapter 6 - Closing Second Degree Ceremony; a brief explanation of the teaching of the second degree as contained in the symbols in the closing part of the ceremony by J.S.M Ward

The Fellowcraft's Handbook P5

Chapter 5 - The Second Degree Tracing Board; a brief explanation of the teaching of the second degree as contained in the picture of the tracing board according to the ancient mysteries by J.S.M Ward

The Fellowcraft's Handbook P4

Chapter 4 - Conclusion of the Ceremony; a brief explanation of the North East Corner and the Charge according to the ancient mysteries by J.S.M Ward

The Fellowcraft's Handbook P3

Chapter 3 - The signs and tokens; an explanation of the signs and tokens symbolism of the fellowcraft according to the ancient mysteries by J.S.M Ward

The Fellowcraft's Handbook P2

Chapter 2 - Preliminary Steps an explanation of the perambulation and advancement to the east by the winding staircase by J.S.M Ward

The Fellowcraft's Handbook P1

Chapter 1 - Preparation, past word and opening ceremony - The questions which are put to the candidate are really a test of the lectures, which today, unfortunately, are hardly ever given in open Lodge.

The Pentacle and the Letter G

In the centre of the ceiling in every well-decorated Lodge room there should be a pentacle having within it the letter 'G'.

The Entered Apprentices Handbook P7

Chapter 7 - The candidate receives the charge, the first significant point is the phrase "Ancient, no doubt it is, as having subsisted from time immemorial".

The Entered Apprentices Handbook P6

Chapter 6 - Having taken the first regular step the Candidate is given the Sign. This he is told refers to the Penalty of his Obligation, and no doubt it does, but it also seems to refer to something much more startling.

The Entered Apprentices Handbook P5

Chapter 5 - In all the ancient mysteries a candidate obligation was exacted to secure the secret teachings given in these mysteries which disclosed an inner meaning.

The Entered Apprentices Handbook P4

Chapter 4 - The candidate's admission into the lodge, is received on a sharp instrument. This signifies many things, one idea lying within the other.

The Entered Apprentices Handbook P3

Chapter 3 - the Candidate being prepared by the Tyler. What we now have is a system by which the parts which have to be bare are made bare.

The Entered Apprentices Handbook P2

Chapter 2 - The Tyler or Outer Guard. The first thing that greets the eyes of the aspirant to our Order standing in front of the door with a drawn sword in his hand.

The Entered Apprentices Handbook P1

Chapter 1 - An interpretation of the first degree, the meaning of the preparation, symbolism, ritual and signs. Chapter 1, The opening of the First Degree

The Higher Degrees' Handbook

Brief historical overview; Extract from The Higher Degrees ' Handbook by JSM Ward

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