Entered Apprentice

Wielding the Contemplative Gavel

(C) Patrick Slattery- 2012

(C) Patrick Slattery- 2012

We talk a lot about virtues in Masonry, and for good reason. As the school of positive psychology persuasively argues, human beings fulfill more of their potentials and dreams by focusing more of their attention and energy on their strengths and the good that they desire to do. Even so, there is folly in ignoring our weaknesses or our potentials for doing harm. It can also be true that we fool ourselves by hiding vices behind the masks of virtues, and that is often nowhere more tempting and troublesome than in those parts of our lives we label as “spiritual.” This article will chip away a little on such issues for those of us on a contemplative journey in Masonry.

These matters take us right back to the Entered Apprentice degree and the lesson about perfecting the rough ashlar, which requires that we be ready, willing, and able to identify our vices. Unfortunately, however, it isn’t always easy to discern our vices. As previously noted, sometimes we can convince ourselves that they are actually virtues. Compounding this potential for self-deception is the fact that we don’t always have conscious awareness of everything occurring in our psyches.

Furthermore, in one set of circumstances it may be virtuous to think and act in a particular way, while in another situation such thinking and behavior would be more an expression of our vices and superfluities. These are among the reasons why it may be useful to regard self-awareness as our first contemplative practice, the first virtue to employ and enhance. Scottish Rite Masons should recall that in the Fourth Degree, when we are told we are ascending “into the skies of spiritual knowledge,” we are given the Key to the Mysteries, which is further explained as the key of self-awareness (Know Thyself!).

Self-awareness and discernment demand, in part, that we ask ourselves, “Why? Why am I thinking what I’m thinking? Why am I doing what I’m doing?” In doing so, it’s helpful to not settle for the first answers that come up. We can probe more deeply and courageously by asking: “Why do I want what I want, which is to say, what are all my motives and my intentions? What could be the worst of them? What might I be most ashamed to admit?”

Examining, evaluating, and intentionally changing this inner tapestry — motives, intentions, vices, and virtues – is something we must do for ourselves, although others can be of assistance in different ways.  So I offer you some of the deceptive vices I and others have discovered in asking ourselves such questions, specifically with regard to our interests and efforts in contemplative practice. I’ll start with two basic ones, and then I’ll present several that involve those two in more complex ways. As you will no doubt see, all these vices can have countless intersections with each other.

Basic Vices for Contemplatives

Hypocrisy: choosing to appear more virtuous, principled, or adherent to some belief, value, or practice than I actually am, such as self-righteously criticizing others for vices that I also have.

Spiritual Pride: attitudes of arrogance, conceit, self-righteousness, or vanity based on the conviction that my beliefs, values, or practices make me superior to others in one or more ways.

More Complex Vices for Contemplatives

False Humility: denying my own worth, strengths, or accomplishments, or otherwise assuming an inauthentic appearance of being meek, lowly, or servile; a pretense often motivated by the fear of seeming prideful and therefore being judged as hypocritical.

Spiritual Materialism: shoring up my spiritual pride by collecting things as evidence to myself and others of being more sophisticated, advanced, or praiseworthy; such things may include artworks, books, concepts, historical knowledge, jargon, degrees, titles, honors, positions, vows, practices, spiritual experiences, ‘gurus,’ students, disciples, etc.

False Asceticism: adopting forms of austerity, abstinence, and fasting, or appearing to do so, for the purposes of seeming more holy, enlightened, or pious to myself or others.

False Benevolence: a pretense of being kinder, more caring, more compassionate, or more charitable than I am genuinely motivated to behave, in the attempt to totally conceal my actual hostility, selfishness, or even disinterestedness.

False Equanimity: giving the appearance of rarely if ever having strong reactions to or feelings about things, rarely if ever being stressed, worried, angry, hurt, passionate or even delighted; this is a psychosocial strategy that requires minimizing and compartmentalizing the emotional aspects of being because they are regarded as too dangerous.

Acedia: an air of apathy, ennui, or boredom with ordinary matters, as if I am simply beyond the mundane silliness that disturbs other people, while in fact I am avoiding coping with realities that disturb me in some way.

Romantic Bliss: a euphoric affectation of extreme positivity, optimism, happiness, or contentment worn as a mask over my feelings of dissatisfaction, disappointment,  pessimism, frustration, and hopelessness. The term 'romantic' is used in the sense of "marked by the imaginative or emotional appeal of what is heroic, adventurous, remote, mysterious, or idealized." (see Merriam-Webster.com)

Romantic Despair: a dramatic affectation of hopelessness, pointlessness, pessimism, or defeatism, involving a disaffection with life for failing to be congruent with my ideas about the way it should be; similar to acedia in its avoidance of actually trying to cope more effectively with life.

Romantic Rage: a bitter affectation of loathing, hatred, and ill will toward various aspects of life, including other people, for failing to match my ideas about how they should be; another vice of avoidance.

This is far from a complete list, but is perhaps a worthwhile starting place for anyone interested in contemplatively wielding the gavel. As we do so, we may discover other vices that are very common, including a self-loathing that keeps us stuck in negativity and at war with ourselves. Such self-loathing is often rooted in the fear that we cannot satisfy our idealized notions of perfection or of being acceptable and admirable to others. We may even mistakenly consider such desires as detestable in themselves.

Of course, as we discover vices in ourselves, we naturally ask what we can do about them. One fundamental answer is that it’s helpful to simply be more honest and accepting about what it means to be human, which in turns enables us to exercise more self-compassion and genuine self-nurturance. These inner developments naturally facilitate us becoming more authentically virtuous people, reflecting our healthy self-love in the ways we become more loving with others.

Finally, I want to avoid giving the impression that these processes are merely a formula of personal development that’s entirely within our conscious control. As we earlier considered, we don’t have immediate conscious access to everything in our souls. We will miscalculate, misunderstand, and make mistakes because, to some extent, we are always mysteries to ourselves. To acknowledge that fact is an important part of accepting our humanity. Ultimately, contemplative practices such as this are about penetrating into the deepest mysteries of our being with a sense of adventure, experiencing the joys of spiritual discovery and creativity. Wielding the gavel may thus become more of an ongoing artistic experiment than a painfully arduous labor toward an unattainable completion.




For more information on Bro. Chuck Dunning: CLICK HERE

Chuck Dunning has authored: Contemplative Masonry: Basic Applications of Mindfulness, Meditation, and Imagery for the Craft

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There's Work to Be Done

 HDRtist HDR - http://www.ohanaware.com/hdrtist/

By: Guest Contributor - Wor. David Tennison

In his book ‘But I Digress’ Dr. Jim Tresner responded to a Brother claiming that Jim was a ‘Masonic Expert’.  Jim stated that he was not a Masonic Expert.  In fact, he said, there is no such thing as a Masonic expert.  Then he took it back.  He said that there is one Masonic expert: You.  You are the expert.  Since masonry is an individual journey, you determine what it means to you.  This is what the Working Tools of the Entered Apprentice Degree mean to me.

The Working Tools of the Ritual may be mystical pictures of ineffable ideas, but to me they are foremost actual tools of wood and metal, without which no man can long continue to be a man.  They are used symbolically in the Ritual to represent all tools everywhere.  Tools belong to work and therefore belong to man in his capacity as a worker.  Tools are therefore not extraneous to man, detachable, accidental, or incidental, as if he could lay them down or take them up when he might fancy, but belong to what he is, and the tools in his hand belong as much to him as the teeth in his head.  Nowhere in nature is there a way for a pair of shoes to be made, or a suit of clothes to grow out of the back of a sheep, or for bread to bake itself.  It requires work, and therefore it requires tools.

The respect for labor itself and sympathy for the working classes are purely Masonic.  Masonry has made the working man and his associates the heroes of her principal legend, and the companion of kings.  Work should not be regarded as a curse but a blessing. To be able to work, to create something, whether it is a poem, a piston or a pot roast is a priceless privilege in which God allows us to participate in His creative nature.  All work is noble.  And every man has work to do in himself, upon his own soul and intellect.

The Entered Apprentice Degree is possibly my favorite degree.  A new world opened before me and the old world was left behind.  Groping in darkness as an Entered Apprentice, I was shown light, but only partially, in stages or degrees.  At every turn I was instructed. Dr. Mackey suggests that initiates into the old Schools of Mystery or Knowledge are not permitted to enter the inter-sanctum or shown the secrets until they had been purified, usually by water or fire.  He suggests that the Rule, Gavel and Apron are symbols of that purification.

I think that it is significant that I received the Working Tools of this Degree after I was given my Apron.  I was told, among other things, to “let its pure and spotless surface be to you an ever present reminder of a ‘purity of life and rectitude of conduct,’ a never ending argument for nobler deeds, for higher thoughts and purer actions.”  This signifies to me, that I am given a job, then given the tools.

The Twenty-four Inch Gauge is well explained in the ritual, but the significance of one point is sometimes overlooked. The Entered Apprentice is taught that he should rightly divide his time.  Time is a precious commodity.  There is no time to be wasted. There is no time to be idle. There is no time for waiting.

The implication is plain; I should be always ready to use my tools. Recall the words of Flavius to the workman in Julius Caesar, "Where is thy leather apron and thy rule? What does thou with thy best apparel on?" Freemasonry is not only for the lodge room but for life. Not to take the Twenty-four Inch Gauge into the world is to miss the practical application of Masonic labor and Masonic charity.

The origin of the word ‘gavel’ is unknown.  Dr. Albert Mackey proposed that it came from the German word for gable and when you look at it you can see that it resembles the gable end of a roof.  It is actually two tools: a hammer for crushing stone and a chisel for cutting stone.  The ridge of the chisel is parallel to the handle enabling the stone cutter to get into corners, align his strikes with existing marks and direct the chips of rock away for him.  It is a finishing tool that turns a rough stone into a finished stone.  Stone masons of old had the skill to fit stones so precisely that mortar was not needed.

As an Entered Apprentice, I am reminded of my “rough and imperfect” state and of the need to gain understanding of my imperfections and control of my passions. It is through honest reflection and work that I form the foundation and build my personal temple.

The famous sculptor and ardent Freemason, Gutzon Borglum, asked how he carved stone into beautiful statues, once said, "It is very simple. I merely knock away with hammer and chisel the stone I do not need and the statue is there – it was there all the time."

In the Great Light we read: "The kingdom of heaven is within you."  We are also taught that man is made in the image of God.  As Brother Borglum has so beautifully said, images are made by a process of taking away.  The perfection is already within.  All that is required is to remove the roughness, the imperfect, "divesting our minds and consciences of all the vices and superfluities of life" to show forth the perfect man and Mason within.  Thus the gavel becomes also a symbol for discovery.

Remember that it is a ‘common’ gavel. It is not the Master’s gavel.  It is not a badge of authority.  It is the gavel we hold ‘in common‘, tools of the mind which we all have.  I am to use mine only on me, to perfect a simple life.

The Common Gavel is an instrument of power, force and change.  But that force must be focused or it can result in destruction.  That is where the other tool of the Entered Apprentice comes in.  The 24 Inch Gage also represents Intellect.  It is used to measure and lay out his work, directing the change.

A vice is a practice, behavior, or habit generally considered immoral, depraved or degrading in the associated society.  In more minor usage it can refer to a fault, a negative character trait, defect or a bad or unhealthy habit.  All cultures and religions recognize vices as human failings.  The poet Dante Alighieri listed the following seven deadly vices in his work Inferno, associating them structurally as flaws in the soul’s inherent capacity for goodness as made in the Divine Image yet perverted by the Fall:  They are 1. Pride or vanity   2. Envy or jealousy   3. Wrath or anger   4. Sloth or laziness   5. Avarice or greed   6. Gluttony and   7. Lust

These ‘corruptions of the soul’ as Dante would put it, are a part of me and I suppose all of us.  They can appear without warning.  They seem to have a mind of their own and they can consume me.  And at times, I have been known to embrace them and take guilty pleasure in the damage they inflect.  Such is the attraction of vice.  They have ruined many great men.

But, if I am to be a mason, not just in name only; if I am initiated into manhood; if I am to learn to subdue my passions and improve myself, then I must recognize them and decide to remove them.  I must keep my common Gavel with me at all times.

I am reminded of the Serenity Prayer: God grand me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the Courage to change the things I can and the Wisdom to know the difference.  My Common Gavel gives me the courage to reconsider the way I react to the world around me.

I interpret superfluities of the mind and conscience as thoughts and feelings that are harmful to focus and purpose.  To me, they are like distracting noise.  Thoughts and feelings like worry, dread and anxiety.  To progress in our gentle craft, I must concentrate.  It requires honest reflection in order to attain a higher consciousness.  Only through thought and study can I hope to come to a fuller understanding of myself and the cosmos.  The common gavel keeps me focused. 

By learning to use these tools, I am then able to better use the tools in later degrees.  To better fit as a living stone for the Builder’s use. 

I recently heard a Brother state that the purpose of Masonry is to help a man answer this question, ‘Who am I…really?’  That is a good question.  It is my goal to answer that question.  A goal worthy of my finest efforts.




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David Tennison 32˚ KCCH is Worshipful Master of Guildhall Lodge #553 and Senior Warden of Guthrie Lodge #35, and is very active in the Blue Lodge, Scottish Rite, and York Rite Bodies, serving on degree teams of each.  He is the current Almoner and Past Venerable Master of the Guthrie Valley AASR.  In addition, David is a member of the Temple Knights, providing security in the temple, a tour guide and assisting the office with various duties during Scottish Rite reunions.

Three Types of Knowledge

St. Jerome in His Study- Albrecht Dürer. 1514

St. Jerome in His Study- Albrecht Dürer. 1514

When first initiated into the lodge as an Entered Apprentice, we state that we desire “Light in Masonry.” At the time, it may not be entirely evident what that light is. However, as we progress through our Masonic life, we learn that Light in Masonry is equivalent to knowledge, and in fact equivalent to certain kinds of knowledge. In the ancient Mystery School traditions, there were considered to be 3 primary types of knowledge, each one of which is exemplified by one of the three degrees of Masonry.

To us, in modern times, we tend to consider knowledge to be knowledge. No matter how you learn something, no matter how you feel you know something, it is all simply “knowledge.” This was not the case for the Ancients. In fact, the Greeks had multiple words that all could be translated as “knowledge,” but meant vastly different things. Those are what I would like to explore in this post. The Greco-Egyptian mystics and initiates into the Mysteries were astutely aware that different knowledge can be imparted in different ways, and that a person can learn different things better in different ways. For example, have you ever tried to learn calculus through meditation? Would you try to learn welding through charity? I feel very certain that it can’t be done. Each type of knowledge has a certain source inherent in it.

Episteme – Knowledge Through Craft – The Entered Apprentice

The first type of knowledge I’d like to explore is episteme (from Greek έπιστὴμη, pronounced eh-pee-STAY-may). This is what I will call, “knowledge through craft.” Episteme is knowledge that is gained through working with your hands, or practicing a craft, a hobby, a trade, etc. Although I do not intend to imply that any of these types of knowledge are lesser or greater than another, this type of knowledge would relate to the 1° – Entered Apprentice. In this first degree, we are taught to rectify our bodies and to improve the soma (from Greek σῶμα, SOH-mah), which is what Gnostic teachings call our physical body – and the anima (from Latin, AH-nee-mah), which is the base aspect of our soul that we share in common with all living creatures. We are taught to use the working tools of an Entered Apprentice to remove the “vices and superfluities” of our lives, in order to purify ourselves. It’s interesting to note that the 1° working tools (specifically the Gavel) are the only ones that we apply in a physical manner to ourselves. Whereas the tools of the 2° and 3° are applied in a more metaphorical manner (“admonishing” us or “reminding” us), the C∴G∴ is used directly to divest ourselves of vices and superfluities. This is yet another allusion to the knowledge of this degree being the kind that can only be gained by doing. It is through this “hands-on” knowledge that we can become more in touch with our physical selves, and with the physical aspect of our soul, in order to purify it.

Mathesis – Knowledge Through Thought – The Fellowcraft

Mathesis (μάθησις, MAH-thay-sis) is probably the closest of these three to our modern idea of knowledge. This is knowledge gained through thought and reason, knowledge such as mathematics (a word that shares a common etymological root with mathesis), science, philosophy, etc. The second degree of Freemasonry, that of Fellowcraft, is intensely concerned with this scientific knowledge. We are taught the seven liberal arts and sciences – some of which admittedly overlap a bit with the next type of knowledge – in order to raise our minds to a higher level. Through mathesis, we are able to improve the aspect of our soul called the psyche (from Greek ψυχή, p’soo-KHAY). The psyche is the part of our being centered in our brain – it is knowledge and reason, an aspect of our being that we do not share with the other creatures of the Earth – an aspect that makes us uniquely human.

Pathesis – Knowledge Through Emotion – The Master Mason

I will admit that, at first glance, “knowledge through emotion” is an odd thing to associate with the Master Mason, but it is the best term I could think of to describe this type of knowledge. Pathesis (from Greek πάθησις, PAH-thay-sis), is perhaps the purest form of knowledge, one that cannot be put into words. This form of knowledge is what the Greco-Egyptian mystery schools were centered around, and what we still focus on today in our Fraternity. As I’ve mused on before, there are certain truths that are so sublime that they cannot be put into words. The symbols of the degrees, the emotions of the degrees, the feelings you feel when you’re going through the degree – these things change you as a person. Perhaps you cannot quite explain how, or maybe even why, but you know deep inside yourself that they have changed you. You know something more about yourself, and in fact even about humanity and the Universe. This equates with the portion of the soul called the pneuma (from Greek πνεῦμα, p’NOO-mah), which is the “spirit” of the body – the portion we share with the Holy Spirit of the Godhead.

Gnosis – Bringing It All Together

I know I mentioned that there are only three types of knowledge that I’d like to explore today, and that is true. But Gnosis (from Greek γνῶσις, g’NOH-sis or NOH-sis) is the umbrella term used to refer to the three collectively. Gnosis as a more specific term, as used by the Gnostics, refers to the divine knowledge that we spend our entire lives searching for. Herein lies a very interesting connection with alchemical teachings. One of the key maxims in alchemy is “solve et coagula” – separate and combine. In practical alchemy, a material must be broken down into its basic parts before it can be purified and brought back together as a more perfect whole. The same aspect applies to us as men and Masons. The three degrees of Masonry teach us to separate our thoughts and, through doing so, to separate the very parts of our soul, in order to purify them on their own so that they may be recombined into a more perfect whole. Our entire lives are to be spent in the purification state – for truly we will not see ourselves brought together into a purified whole until we cross through to that Lodge Eternal. My charge to you, brethren, is to forever improve your craft and your hobbies; forever improve your mind through study; and forever improve your emotions through circumspection and compassion – in doing this, I promise you, you will purify the very essence of your soul.


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Baum, Julius. The Mysteries. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1955.

Walker, Benjamin. Gnosticism: its history and influence. Wellingborough, Northamptonshire: Aquarian Press, 1983.

Hermes Trismegistus. Corpus Hermeticum. Translated by G. R. S. Mead.

Sickels, Daniel. General Ahiman Rezon. 1968.