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The Master Mason Tracing Board

The Third Painting by Mavrov is the Master Mason Tracing Board, like the Entered Apprentice and Fellowcraft it has a Plethora of Symbolic meaning which we shall now investigate.

The Trowel

Seen in the middle left of Mavro’s work depicted below. No discourse on the Trowel can be had without first noting the iconic George Washington Trowel kept in the archives of Alexandria-Washington 22 Lodge. This Trowel was used by Brother George in the laying of the corner stone of the Capitol Building and many other iconic and significant American buildings.
The Working Tools “Of a Master Mason are all the implements of Masonry indiscriminately, more especially the Trowel. The Trowel is an instrument used by operative Masons to spread the cement which unites a building into one common mass or whole; but it is used symbolically for the far more noble and glorious purpose of spreading the cement of brotherly Love and Affection, which unities us into one sacred band or society of friends and Brothers – a Temple of living stones, among whom no contention should ever exist, save that noble contention, or rather emulation, of who can best work and best agree.”

“The Trowel does become the chief Working Tool of the Master Mason. He is taught to use it differently than his operative brethren. Instead of spreading cement, the Master Mason uses it symbolically to spread Brotherly Love and Affection. By doing this the Mystic Tie of Freemasonry becomes more binding. Its members are truly united into a Temple of Living Stones.”

Put simply, we as Masons should be examples among our neighbors, friends and loved ones on how to unite everyone by what we have in common, not what separates us. As such we should hold ourselves and each other to a higher standard, so we can strive to achieve that noble goal.

The story about the beautiful Virgin, weeping over a Broken column, and Time
Seen in the top right side of Mavrov’s painting.

“Time, Patience, and Perseverance will accomplish all things, you are told. These are three of the virtues stressed in all training courses for leadership today…These virtues are emblematically represented by a monument of a beautiful Virgin, weeping over a broken column. She holds a sprig of acacia in her right hand, an urn in her left. A book rests upon a broken column. A winged man, representing time, holds the virgin’s hair.

“It is impossible to say exactly at what period the idea of the Monument in the Third Degree was first introduced into the Symbolism of Freemasonry…The Monument adopted in the American System, consists of a weeping virgin, holding in one hand a sprig of Acacia and in the other an urn; before her is a broken column, on which rests a copy of Book of the Constitutions, while Time behind her is attempting to disentangle the ringlets of her hair. The explanation of these symbols will be found in their proper places in this work”

The Pot of Incense
Located on the top left Corner of the MM Tracing Board

“Is an emblem of a Pure Heart, which is always an acceptable sacrifice to Deity; and as it glows with fervent heat, so should our hearts continually glow with gratitude to the great and beneficent Author of our existence, for the manifold blessings And comforts we enjoy”

“The use of incense as a part of the Divine worship was common to all the nations of antiquity. Among the Hebrews, the Egyptians, and the Hindus it seems to have been used for no other purposes; but the Persians burnt it also before the King…It has in Freemasonry a similar signification; and hence the Pot of Incense has been adopted as a symbol of the Third Degree, typifying the pure heart from which prayers and aspirations arise, as incense does from the pot or incensorium.”

The Beehive
Located on the bottom left of the painting.

“Is an emblem of Industry, and recommends the practice of that virtue to all created beings, from the highest Seraph in heaven to the lowest reptile of the dust. It teaches us that as we came into the world rational and intelligent beings, so we should ever be industrious ones, never sitting down contented while our fellow creatures around us are in want, when it is in our power to relieve them without inconvenience to ourselves.”

“Because the Bee is such an energetic insect, never appearing to rest from sunup to sundown, the bee and, hence, the beehive have long been symbols of industry or work. In former times, when more work had to be done by hand and every large piece of construction had to be carried on by great numbers of men, they seemed at a distance to be going and coming as bees”

The Book of Constitutions, guarded by the Tiler’s Sword
Found in the bottom right of the painting.

“Reminds us that we should ever be watchful and guarded in our words and actions, particularly when before the enemies of Masonry; ever bearing in remembrance those truly Masonic virtues, silence and circumspection.”

I understand this not just to mean that we should be guarded in giving up the secrets of Freemasonry, but also being circumspect in our own behaviors and speech when in front of Brothers and those who are not Masons. After all, we are representatives of Freemasonry, and represent our Craft, our Lodge and our Grand Lodge when we interact with others.

“The Tiler’s Sword is symbolic of a need in the days when this instrument was the principle means of offense or defense. It may have been used during the days of the operative masons to protect the secrets of the master builder…To Speculative Masons, the Tiler’s Sword should act as a reminder of moral lessons/ It should admonish all of us to “set a guard at the entrance of our thoughts, to place a watch on the door of our lips and to post a sentinel at the avenue of our actions, thereby excluding every unqualified and unworthy thought, word, and deed, and preserving the consciences void of offense toward god and towards man.

“The book of Constitutions, mentioned earlier, is not a symbol of secrecy. It contains the laws of Masonry. It is published for all to read.”

The Sword, pointing to a naked heart
Located just above the central frame of the All-seeing Eye.

“When a Sword Pointing to a Naked Heart was added to the ritual is uncertain. It is referred to as a symbol of Justice. It pointedly reminds us that God will reward us according to what we do in this life. But we know the rewards – the justice – will be tempered with mercy and understanding.”

“Thomas Smith Webb says that “the sword pointing to the naked heart demonstrates that justice will, sooner or later, overtake us”

The All-seeing Eye

Located in the center of the tracing board, this symbol above all others (minus likely the Square and Compasses) is one of the most recognizable Masonic Symbol. I do like the added touch that it is ensconced within the celestial bodies above.

“This is naturally a symbol of watchfulness, having the connotation both of solicitude and detection. Thus, it has been the idea of assurance to the good and true, but vengeance to the evil. Hence it is a symbol of omnipresence and watchfulness of the Supreme Being…It is a very old symbol and was used by the Egyptians to represent Osiris. In Preston’s Lecture of the Master Mason degree, the following appears: “The Sword, pointing to a Naked Heart, demonstrates that justice will sooner or later overtake us; and, although our thoughts, words, and actions may be hidden from the eyes of man, yet that All-Seeing Eye, whom the Sun, Moon, and Stars obey, and under whose watchful care, even the Comets perform their stupendous revolutions, pervades the inmost recesses of the human Heart, and will reward us according to our merits.” Preston’s lecture is the oldest Masonic doctrine Freemasons have regarding the All-Seeing Eye, though we do have other sentiments expressed by others in the Craft.

The Forty-Seventh problem of Euclid
Located on center left of the painting.

“Was an invention of our ancient friend and Brother, Pythagoras, who, in his travels through Asia, Africa, and Europe, was initiated into several orders of Priesthood, and raised to the sublime degree of Master Mason. This wise Philosopher enriched his mind abundantly in a general knowledge of things, more especially in Geometry or Masonry. On this subject he drew out many problems and theorems; and among the most distinguished he originated this, when, in the joy of his heart, he exclaimed, – Eureka, – meaning – I have found it-; and upon the discovery, is said to have sacrificed a hecatomb.”

“It is said that when Pythagoras discovered this problem, he sacrificed a hundred oxen, Why? As a mathematical theorem it is of no more importance or interest than fifty or seventy-five others in Euclid; and of much less than most of them. The explanation is a simple one. He styled it “a great symbol.” Mathematical theorems are not ordinarily symbols. He never styled any other theorem a symbol, great or small. A circle, a triangle, a square, a cube are symbols, but I do not know that any other problem has ever been so styled…Only one which represented the numbers 3, 4, 5 was a symbol for him. Its symbolism consisted in its representation of these Numbers, and he called it a symbol, and used it as such, because he could, by means of it, express to adepts, and entrust to his pupils some great philosophical or religious truth or creed, by the use of the measures 3 and 4, and the sum of which is the always sacred number 7.”

The Meaning of the Esoteric Death

Can be seen in several different sections of the painting, and so we can break them up as such.

Setting Maul, Spade and the Coffin;
Found on the right-hand side just above the Sword and Constitutions image.

“These emblems force upon us the solemn thought of Death, which without revelation is dark and gloomy; but the Master Mason is suddenly revived by the ever green and ever living Sprig of Faith in the merits of the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, which strengthens him with confidence and composure to look forward to a glorious immortality beyond the grave.”

The symbols of the Hourglass
Located at the top right corner of the painting.

“An emblem of the passage of time or the brevity of life, and for the purpose, better than a clock, for one can see the sand slowly but steadily wasting away. It is one of the 8 hieroglyphical emblems which came into lectures late in the 18th century. Being coupled with the Scythe, it makes a most impressive symbol, the certainty of death.”

“As a Masonic Symbol it is of comparatively modern date, but the use of the hour-glass as an emblem of the passage of time is older than our oldest known rituals.”


While this same image shows time and the weeping virgin, if you look closely enough time is holding the Scythe.

“The Scythe, too, is ritualistically a gloomy instrument, and you were told it is an emblem of time. It is interesting to note that the Hour Glass and Scythe were not symbols employed by Operative Masons. They are, in fact, of comparatively recent origins… The Scythe too is a symbol of Time. It is also a symbol of Learning, and of Immortality.”

The Sprig of Acacia

“The Sprig of Acacia symbolizes Faith- faith in the immortality of man, faith in the promises made by God in His Volume of the Sacred Law.”

“There is some difficulty in retracing the symbolic use of Acacia, though certain it is that some evergreen has been used for many years, possibly centuries, as a symbol of immortality or of a resurrection.”

Anchor and Ark

Are emblems of a well-grounded hope and well-spent life. They are emblematic of that Divine Ark which safely wafts us over this tempestuous sea of troubles, and that Anchor which shall safely moor us in a peaceful harbor, where the wicked cease from troubling and where the weary shall find rest.”

“The Ark pictured in the ritual of Freemasonry is a representation of Noah. Masonically, it symbolizes the passing of the spirit of man from this life to one that is better and everlasting… Those who spent their lives in the service of their God, their country, and their fellow man could hope, and expect, to be safely wafted “Over this tempestuous sea of troubles.”

Brothers, I certainly feel this Symbol is one we should take to heart, ever being servants of our community and country and to the Supreme Architect. Temporal awards may or may not abound, but the rewards to be found in that Temple, not made with hands, eternal in the heavens surely will be worth our labors in the quarries of this life.

  • AW22 Website “History of the Silver Trowel”
  • Grand Lodge of Virginia Ancient, Free & Accepted Masons Presentation Volume Page 88
  • The Craft and its Symbols by Allen E. Roberts Page 65
  • IBID page 67
  • Mackey’s Encyclopedia Volume II page 677
  • Grand Lodge of Virginia Ancient, Free & Accepted Masons Presentation Volume Page 92
  • Mackey’s Encyclopedia Volume I page 477
  • Grand Lodge of Virginia Ancient, Free & Accepted Masons Presentation Volume Page 93
  • Coil’s Encyclopedia page 90
  • Grand Lodge of Virginia Ancient, Free & Accepted Masons Presentation Volume Page 94
  • The Craft and its Symbols by Allen E. Roberts Page 73
  • IBID page 74
  • IBID page 76
  • Mackey’s Encyclopedia Volume II page 1001
  • Coil’s Encyclopedia page 27
  • Grand Lodge of Virginia Ancient, Free & Accepted Masons Presentation Volume Page 95 and 96
  • Albert Pike’s Esoterika page 192
  • Grand Lodge of Virginia Ancient, Free & Accepted Masons Presentation Volume Page 97
  • Coil’s Encyclopedia page 314
  • Mackey’s Encyclopedia Volume I page 466
  • The Craft and its Symbols by Allen E. Roberts Page 79
  • The Craft and its Symbols by Allen E. Roberts Page 80
  • Coil’s Encyclopedia page 2
  • Grand Lodge of Virginia Ancient, Free & Accepted Masons Presentation Volume Page 95
  • The Craft and its Symbols by Allen E. Roberts Page 76

Freemasonry: A Modern Community Institution

By Bro. David Bella, Senior Warden

I watched HBO’s, The Wire, for the first time in 2018. What I loved about the show was its ability to depict the realism of our society. What made the show special was its ability to accurately depict the experiences of the forgotten in our society and demonstrate how their lives affect the larger society. I remember thinking that it was remarkable how the show tied the drug dealer’s experience on the corner to the politician having to decide between tough policy choices at city hall.

I finished the show again a few weeks ago and came away from this viewing with an even greater appreciation of the show because I was able to understand that it was really about how individuals are confined to the institutions they belong to. Each season highlights dysfunctional institutions-the drug trade in season one, the dying stevedores union in season two, the Baltimore political machine in season three, the public school system in season four and the local newspaper in season five. Each institution is uniquely different, but all fall prey to similar problems-individual egos, societal pressures, changing environments, corruption, and most importantly systematic limitations. I think the most important lesson of the show is that just because an institution is set up to serve a specific purpose, it might fall short if not watched carefully. It got me thinking about an institution that I belong to: Freemasonry.

Masonry has been an American institution before America became America. It has hierarchies, norms, goals, and principles just like any other institution. It also has its problems, such as: dwindling membership, poor retention, political infighting, poorly managed programs, etc. How do we become less dysfunctional and more effective at accomplishing our goal of making good men better? In the following paragraphs I lay out several systematic changes that I believe could improve our performance.

How do you become a Master Mason? By being a Fellowcraft first.

Master Masons don’t become Master Masons by simply going through a Master Masons degree. There is a process of educating, coaching, question answering, motivating, supporting, and showing up that is required by another individual to move a brother through the degrees. If our job is to make masons, isn’t mentoring how we do it?

At the finality of the Master Mason degree, each brother is given the Presentation Volume-a book that lays out Virginia Freemasonry’s history, degree work, ceremonies, and mentoring. Before looking at the graph below, rank those categories in ascending order based on how many pages you think the book dedicates to each section.

Mentoring is the second largest category at almost thirty percent. Obviously, the craft thinks that mentoring is important enough to dedicate almost a third of its seminal text to mentoring new members. But outside of pages in a text, what is the craft systematically doing to foster good mentorship? I would venture to guess that we are not dedicating anywhere near thirty percent of our efforts to bettering our mentoring abilities.

We have lodges dedicated to our history. Schools on degree work and ceremonies. I propose we have at least one statewide mentoring summit every year, similar to what college fraternities are increasingly doing. The summit should focus on three areas: mentoring new masons, mentoring as a lodge officer, and mentoring as a past master. Each of these areas would have unique methods, techniques, and programs but would all concretely contribute to mentoring good men and making them better. I also believe that it would be a wonderful selling point for potential members because it would be a tangible event that would signal that the craft places an emphasis on mentoring and development while also equipping experienced masons with a wonderful leadership skill.

I believe that an increased focus on mentorship would result in better member retention; it would deliver a higher quality product to men going through the degrees which would result in better retention and more involvement. This increased buy-in would ward off some of our problems: more member involvement would result in not only more vibrant lodges, it would also result in high quality members.

“Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality”-Warren Bennis

The District Deputy Grand Master (DDGM) role is designed to be an impactful part of our organization. He is responsible for communicating the Grand Master’s message and theme to each masonic district. A regular mason may be lucky to see the Grand Master once or twice a year. A District Deputy, however, is able to interface more frequently with local masons throughout the year because of his proximity to the membership. Unfortunately, I believe that due to the fact that their terms are limited to one year, DDGMs are largely symbolic in nature and have little systemic impact on local lodges and districts.

I believe that the DDGM role should be a three year progressive line that starts with the District Education Officer position, followed by the District Membership Officer position, and culminates in being appointed as the District Deputy Grand Master. Incoming Grand Senior Wardens would make the appointments instead of waiting until they become the incoming Grand Master.

This would have four benefits. One, it gives each potential DDGM important training and forces them to focus on two of our most important focus areas. It would create a consistency of purpose among all DDGMs by forcing each to incorporate  education and membership into their goals as DDGM. Two, it would enable the brother who occupies the office of Grand Senior Warden and then Deputy Grand Master to evaluate how effective their subordinate would be as a DDGM. Is their potential pick doing a good job? Is he conducting good programs and making an impact on his local lodges? If not, the Grand Officer has time to make a change. Three, it removes the assumption that the DDGM office is a ceremonial one. To get the esteemed job of DDGM,  a potential brother would have to roll up his sleeves and earn it by conducting programs and adding value to his district’s lodges. Finally, it gives the brethren of the district time to get to know the eventual DDGM. Only incredibly active masons in the district know next year’s DDGM if the pick is from outside of their own lodge. A three year commitment would allow the eventual DDGM to get to know the brethren of the district and vice versa.

This structural change would ensure that we are driving toward better education and membership services and remove the ceremonial nature of the DDGM office. I believe that this would result in better prepared masonic leaders.

“What’s measured, improves”-Peter Drucker

Is lodge x better than lodge y? Maybe, but how would we prove it? We use the Hillman award and the District Deputy’s Official Visit Checklist to evaluate lodge health, but the data collected in these forums never gets collected and aggregated to glean insight. Maybe someone in Richmond does all sorts of analysis that us normal masons don’t get to see, but I doubt it. I recommend the Grand Lodge come up with a set of simple metrics that are used to measure lodge health and publish the rankings at Grand Annual Communications.

I believe that three metrics should be steadfast year to year, and two metrics should be introduced by the new Grand Master based on his priorities. The three core metrics should be yearly membership increase, dollar per member, and how many of the three lectures can be given by a lodge member. This would enable masonic leadership to be able to measure membership health, financial health, and ritual health.

  • Membership increase can be calculated by:



  • $ per member can be calculated by:


  • How many of the three lectures can be given by a lodge member? The answer could either be none of the three, one of three, two of three, or three of three.


Ignoring the two Grand Master measures, suppose we have this data:

To weigh each measure equally, we must normalize the data by doing a simple calculation where Zi=(Xi-min(X)) / (max(X)-min(X))

We are now able to see that Lodge A is the healthiest of the three lodges and that Lodge B is struggling in comparison to the other two. What an easy, insightful approach that requires only  four data points. This approach could easily expand if the Grand Master wanted to add his own measures.

OK, now that we have this data, what do we do about it? I think individual lodges deserve to know how well they are performing in relation to their neighbors. Publishing the list allows for public praise…..and public admonishment. Who in the world wants to be the Master of a lodge that is at the bottom of the list? And if you were, wouldn’t you do everything in your power to get out of the basement? This data would also allow the Grand Lodge to put resources toward getting those lodges off the bottom of the list through various means like sending Grand Lodge Membership Committee Members to those lodges for improvement seminars or asking accomplished masons in the area to start helping build the lodge back up.

Going back to The Wire, one of the things that is shown is that all institutions “juke the stats” so we need to be vigilant about unintended consequences of using metrics to assess performance. Though they can be misleading, “stats” are imperative to continuous improvement and diagnosing institutional problems. We must implement some tracking mechanism to diagnose and measure our progress , because without measures we will never know if we are getting better or worse. The simple measures I highlighted above should be used as building blocks by the Grand Lodge to assess lodge health, learn from high performing lodges, and assist struggling lodges to rebound.

I’ll conclude by saying that I believe Masonry is still a relevant institution that has a critical role to play in our community. With slight tweaks like the ones I presented above to our historic craft, I believe we could reverse the negative trends I highlighted.

But as I learned from The Wire, if institutions do not ask tough questions and refuse to take bold action in order to live up to their founding principles, they tend to sink into mediocrity, or worse

At the time of writing, David Bella serves as the Senior Warden of Alexandria-Washington Lodge No. 22 where he is a Life Member in Perpetuity. He is involved in various local appendant bodies and takes great pride in being a member of the Alexandria community. The views outlined in this article are those of the author and do not represent those of Alexandria-Washington Lodge No. 22 or the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge,  A.F. &A.M. of the Commonwealth of Virginia.