The principal idea of Freemasonry as a fraternal organization is to take a good man and make him a better man. A better person internally as well as externally, a better citizen of the community and country, a better spouse and parent to his or her children, a better friend and co-worker.
For the individual who seeks out the fraternity, for Freemasonry does not seek out members, this quality should already be inherent.
A persons first involvement with Freemasonry will be the degrees collectively known as Craft Masonry. This system of three degrees is sometimes called The Symbolic Degrees, The Lodge Degrees, and even the Blue Degrees.
Depending on the jurisdiction, the availability of the degrees worked may vary. The degrees worked are the Ancient & Accepted Scottish Rite from the 1st to the 33rd degree inclusive. In addition the Allied Degrees of Mark, Royal Ark Mariner, Excellent Master, Holy Royal Arch of Jerusalem, Knights Templar and Royal Order of Scotland are worked.
The History Of The Degrees
While there is much speculation as to the origins of Freemasonry it is generally regarded that it is an extension of the operative guilds of stonemasons who worked to build the many cathedrals of Europe. Upon the completion of the gothic cathedrals, the guilds began to accept speculative masons - that is to say men who were not operative in the craft.
Certainly Freemasonry having evolved from an operative to a speculative science and philosophy still utilizes the tools of the operative craft to illustrate universal truths and moral concepts. The square, compasses, level and trowel all have symbolic significance and the Master Mason will never look at them henceforth in the same light as he did prior to receiving the degrees.
The degrees of the Craft Lodge center on the building of King Solomon's Temple as outlined in the Book of Kings as found in the Old Testament, albeit with some poetic license in the person of Hiram Abiff.
The Three Degrees of Craft Masonry
Below is a brief examination of the three degrees and what the candidate for admission can expect to learn by partaking in them.
1st Entered Apprentice
The first degree of Craft Masonry, the Entered Apprentice Degree is symbolic of birth. The candidate in a state of darkness is brought into the lodge not knowing what will follow but trusting in his guide to lead him along the way in his quest for light (knowledge). While little of an historical sense is revealed to him, he is instructed about the inner workings and principles of the craft and during the Junior Warden's lecture is taught the antiquity of the society as well as the symbolism of King Solomon's Temple and its building, completion and dedication.
2nd Fellowcraft Degree
The second degree of Craft Masonry, the Fellowcraft Degree is symbolic of life. The candidate begins by proving that he is in possession of the lessons learned in the former degree. He is instructed in the advancement of the operative workmen of biblical and medieval times and how they were paid for their labors. The lecture presented by the Senior Warden furthers the Fellowcraft's understanding of the completion of King Solomon's Temple and the importance therein.
3rd Master Mason
The third degree of Craft Masonry, the Master Mason Degree is symbolic of death. Like the Fellowcraft degree the candidate begins by proving that he is in possession of the lessons learned in the former degree. He is taught the legend of Hiram Abiff the Grand Master of the Masons who built Solomon's Temple and how he was slain for not betraying the secret of a Master Mason. The candidate is then made to represent the fallen Master Mason as a lesson in preparing for the life that lies beyond this one. The lecture presented by the Master furthers the newly raised Master Mason's understanding of the legendary history, symbolism and inherent philosophies of Freemasonry.
Beyond The Craft Lodge there are additional degrees. A Master Mason will greatly benefit from the further instruction and fellowship offered by the Scottish Rite of Masonry.
1st Degree Tracing Board. Degree of the Entered Apprentice.
Tracing boards are painted or printed illustrations depicting the various emblems and symbols of Freemasonry. They can be used as teaching aids during the lectures that follow each of the Masonic Degrees, when an experienced member explains the various concepts of Freemasonry to new members. They can also be used by experienced members as self-reminders of the concepts they learned as they went through their initiations.
The Masonic tracing board took several decades to develop into its pictorial form. Initially a chalk drawing was made on the table or floor in the centre of the hired tavern room in which a Masonic Lodge met, the work being executed either by the Tyler or Worshipful Master. Evidence suggests that a simple boundary in the shape of a square, rectangle (or "double square"), or a cross was drawn first, with various Masonic symbols often of a geometric type (e.g., circle, pentagram, etc.) were drawn later, the former usually being drawn by the Tyler and the latter possibly by the Master. Later various symbolic objects, (such as a ladder, beehive, etc.,) were added and sometimes drawings were interchangeable with physical objects. At the end of the work a new member was often required to erase the drawing with a mop, as a demonstration of his obligation of secrecy.
Though the various Grand Lodges were then generally hostile to the creation of any physical representations of the Ritual and symbols of the Craft, the time-consuming business of redrawing the symbols at every meeting was gradually replaced by keeping a removable "floor cloth" to display the symbols, and of which different portions might be exposed according to the agenda . By the second half of the eighteenth century the Masonic symbols were being painted on a variety of removable materials ranging from small marble slabs to canvas, to give a more decorative and elaborate symbolic display. By the mid-nineteenth century tracing boards had become fairly common, and a variety of different forms and designs survive, some to be displayed on the floor and others vertically. Sets of three boards, corresponding to the three degrees, are now an accepted, though unofficial, part of Craft Freemasonry, and there are sometimes tracing boards in other degrees. As different Masonic jurisdictions established official, or standard, degree rituals the creation of new tracing boards by Freemasons waned and has since all but entirely disappeared in favour of standard designs.
1 Dring, E.H. (1916). "The Evolution and Development of the Tracing or Lodge Board". Ars Quatuor Coronatorum. Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076. 29: 243.
2 Dring, E.H. (1916). "The Evolution and Development of the Tracing or Lodge Board". Ars Quatuor Coronatorum. Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076. 29: 244.
3 Haunch, T.O. (1962). "Tracing Boards: Their Development and Designers". Ars Quatuor Coronatorum. Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076. 75: 24.
4 "Tracing Boards from St. Andrews Lodge No. 1817". Phoenixmasonry, Inc. Retrieved 2009-02-23.