The Ancient Liberal Arts in Freemasonry

The Apprentice Mason is the child of the Mason, which has the purpose to clean his heart and prepare himself for mental illumination to be revealed in the next degrees. The Fellowcraft, advanced one more step into the temple where childhood ends and manhood, begins.

One of the symbols that bring our attention to the Fellowcraft tracing board is the winding stairs, and it’s a symbol of self-improvement because the Fellowcraft’s destiny is not to stand still, but to ascend until reaches the summit where wisdom awaits for him.

The total number of steps in the winding stair is fifteen, and not by coincidence, but because is divided by the Pythagorean principle of perfection into three sections; three, five and seven.

The first three steps represent the tools of the Fellowcraft, the plumb, the level and the square, the three lights of the temple and the three theological virtues of the Fellowcraft (wisdom, strength and beauty), these steps will cultivate the moral of the Freemason before being introduced into the practical knowledge.

The consecutive five steps represent the five orders of the architecture:

Doricdebex: union”,

JonicJo phi: beauty”,

CorinthianCheved: greatness”,

TuscanTheopath: workship, straight”, and

CompositeChilliah: Perfection”

Which represents the evolution of the senses from the wood of the Tuscan column to the beauty and symmetry of the Composite column and the subjects of study of every Felowcraft:

Intelligence, righteousness, courage, prudence and philanthropy. But, the detailed analyses of these two segments are not the main subject of this work.

Martianus Minneus Felix Capell
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The last seven steps of the winding stairs; to understand the meaning of the last seven steps of the winding stairs we should take a look into history.

Martianus Minneus Felix Capella, or just Capella, was a native of Madaura, from the Roman province of Africa (fl. C 410-420) now Souk Ahras in Algeria, and is considered the founder of the Trivium and Quadrivium categories of medieval education.

His single encyclopedic work is known as “De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii” (On the Marriage of Philology and Mercury), or the “Satyricon”. This story starts when Mercury asks Apollo an advice to find a suitable wife and Apollo advises him to marry a young lady called Philology.

The seven liberal arts appear at the moment of the wedding that took place in front of the Gods, demigods and philosophers, and handmaids, presented by Mercury to his wife were introduced to present their disciplines to the wedding guests.

The handmaids are seven sisters that represent the seven liberal arts. And the marriage between Mercury and Philology represents the union of eloquence and learning, the arts of the trivium and the quadrivium.

Grammar teaching from the 10th-century
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The first muse to be introduced was Grammar, she introduced herself as “Grammatice, because a line is called grammé and letter are called grammata… and my duty in the early stages was to read and write correctly, but now there’s the added duty of understanding and criticizing knowledgeably”.

Watching back to history, the study of grammar began with the sophist in the V century B.C and was carried forward by Plato and extent by Aristotle.

In the early stages, the grammar was similar to our contemporary study known as linguistics since was limited to studying the sounds and the formation of words and syllables and the changes.

The grammar represents the who, what, why, when and how of the understanding and knowledge.

The path of freemasonry is full of symbolism, deep knowledge hidden in plain sight surrounded by plenty of histories and philosophy that may confuse the mason during his learning, that’s why is so important to study, and learn the grammar rules and forms to decipher the light offered by the freemasonry knowledge.

Socrates once told “to be able to instruct, to learn deference, and to be able to speak with authority, the enlightened human must concern himself with the very basic study of communication. That is the study of the grammar”.

As for me, I still struggle every day now not only with English and Spanish grammar but now with Hungarian grammar, that’s a real challenge since my goal is to be able to connect with my fellow brothers, my Hungarian family and the beautiful history of this country and the Hungarian freemason rite, I will keep devastating my brute stone.

Dialectic teaching from the 10th-century
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The second muse presented in Capella’s book was Dialectic “a woman whose weapons are complex and knotty utterances. Without her, nothing follows, and likewise, nothing stands in opposition”. Any resemblance with any contemporaneous woman is pure coincidence.

Dialectics is a term used to describe the method of a philosophical argument, this method allows the analytical reasoning to view an issue from multiple perspectives to pursue the truth as long as there are questions and conflicts.

As explained by Capella, this discipline is divided into four parts. The first part consists in considering the proper senses of words considering their substance, quality, quantity, relation, place, time, attitude, and how many oppositions there are.

The second part investigates what is a noun, and a verb and the result of combining these. The next part studies the propositions, which are affirmative, and negative and how are related to each other.

The last part consists of the syllogism, a conclusion from two premises, the major premise, the general statement, that shares something with a second, and the minor premise, a specific statement that in turn leads to the most logical conclusion.

As freemasons, and men of the society, the use of the dialectical method allows us to analyse the new ideas and link them to previous pieces of knowledge to obtain a deeper understanding of the new knowledge.

Rhetoric teaching from the 10th-century
IMAGE:  the square magazine Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

The next muse is Rhetoric; Rhetoric’s duty was to speak appropriately to persuade the hearer of the subject proposed.

To archive this goal, the Rhetoric is divided into five parts. The first part is the matter or invention which is the search of all possible issues and arguments, this is followed by the arrangement which is not more than put in the proper order of the searched matters.

The third part is diction which consists in choosing the proper words properly or figuratively and arranging them for traditional usage.

The fourth part is the memory followed by the delivery, this last one includes not only saying the words but the proper way to do it, the control of the voice, movement and gesture according to the importance of the matter and the words chosen.

The knowledge under our celestial roof is deep and not always easy to understand at any level of our path to the Orient, the freemasonry tradition consists to deliver the knowledge from mouth to the ear of the recipients, and because of these factors, the rhetoric method is so important to make to the recipient more understandable all the information is receiving.

Geometry teaching from the 10th-century
IMAGE:  the square magazine Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Geometry is the four of the muses presented by Capella. Speak about geometry in freemasonry can take an entire conference, or congress just about geometry since we, as mesons apprentices of Hiram Abbif base if not all of our symbology, almost all of them in geometrical figures, construction tools, numbers, measures and symmetry, from the square and the compass to the Metatron’s star, from the age of each degree to the composition of the winding stairs.

Geometry is concerned with the size, shape and relative positions and properties of each figure in the space and all the philosophical meaning we can give to them. In her words “there’s no portion of the earth surface that I could not describe from memory for example, “The shape of the earth is not flat, as some suppose who imagine it to be like a disc… Rather it is rounded, even spherical”.

This book is from the 5th century B.C and there are still people claiming the earth is flat. But well, keep moving in our matters. 

Arithmetic teaching from the 10th-century
IMAGE:  the square magazine Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

The Arithmetic muse is referred to all elementary aspects of the theory of numbers and the art of mensuration.

The ancient Greeks recognized the division of arithmetic into two subjects, the arithmology, which studies the mystical properties of the numbers; and proper arithmetic which is the rigid mathematical discipline.

We as freemasons have the duty two study both arithmetic disciplines since in our workshop every single step not only has a very strict measurement but also a hidden mathematical meaning, like the example of the number of stairs in the winding stairs or the exact measure of our apron.

Also, we see in our everyday prophan life, that everything around us is related to numbers, doesn’t matter your occupation, and numbers rule our lives.

Astronomy teaching from the 10th-century
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The antepenultimate of the muses is Astronomy, the muse that draws constellations with her compass.

In our lodge we have a lot of representations of astronomy, at the entrance, the earth globe and the celestial globe, our roof is decorated with stars, and all zodiac constellations on it, and each side of the Worshipful Master, the sun the moon and a five-point start representing Venus.

Ancient Greeks believed that Venus was a star and appears in the east representing our journey to the horizon where learning originated. Just like this vagal example, there are a lot of mysteries full of knowledge in our lodge related to Astronomy.

Harmony teaching from the 10th-century
IMAGE:  the square magazine Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Harmony is where the beginning of our today’s journey ends, the last bridesmaid presented by Capella, on her right-hand holds a shield with a circular shape that contains many concentric circles and it’s embroidered with striking figures and in her left-hand holds small models of all theatrical instruments.

We define harmony as the combination of simultaneous musical sounds to produce chords and chord progression resulting in a pleasing effect. However, harmony does not apply just to music, since our universe moves in small waves of energy that in an entropic march create a harmonic flow.

As musicians must understand what the other musicians are doing to play as a group in harmony, we, as humans and as freemasons in our lodge must work together daily to produce the same result.

Like the entropy theory, being harmonic doesn’t mean being silent or agreeing with everyone on everything, but understanding the purpose of each action, and agreeing or disagreeing without being disagreeable.

That means, as explained by Capella, that to create Harmony, we have first to learn and understand the knowledge that the other muses have for us.

“In true liberal education…the essential activity of the student is to relate the facts learned into a unified, organic whole, to assimilate them as…the rose assimilates food from the soil and increases in size, vitality, and beauty.”

The Trivium: The Liberal Arts of Logic, Grammar, and Rhetoric



Article by: Chacón-Lozsán Francisco

Chacón became a freemasonry in 2014 at the Renacimiento (Rebirth) Lodge Nr 222.  

Then for three years he learned the mysteries of the first degree there in the Orient of Barquisimeto - Venezuela before traveling to the capital (Caracas) where he was received to continue my freemasonry journey at the Lodges Libertad Española (Spanish Liberty) Nr 101 and Lautaro Nr 197, in 2017.

Because of the political situation in Venezuela, Chacón migrated to Budapest-Hungary, here the Brothers received him with open arms and he could continue his works in the Lodge Nyugati Kapu (West gate) Nr 10 and earned his Third degree in 2023.

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