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The Multiple Meanings of the Cable-Tow

By Bro. Ron Craft, Senior Deacon

The candidate is introduced to the cable-tow while being prepared to receive the degrees in Freemasonry, but to some noteworthy brethren, the symbol was never clearly explained. The cable-tow has an outward meaning, which stems from the degrees of Masonry but is also part of our daily Masonic vernacular. The first meaning seems obvious to Masons, as all of us have seen the cable-tow in use and heard its purpose explained in a degree lecture, but we also tell each other not to go further than the length of it, meaning only to do what we can according to our ability. Is there a deeper or esoteric meaning to the cable-tow? A check of the many sources will yield a variety of answers, however, there are some common themes. One concise definition of the cable-tow is given by A.E. Waite, who says:

Most generally, the binding covenant of Masonry, and the length of the cable tow is the reasonable limit of obligation. In a particular sense the length signifies the extent of a Mason’s ability to attend meetings. The Cable Tow has another meaning in the first degree. (Waite, 1970, p. xiv)

The definition appears very simple, and could easily be accepted with little afterthought. I contend, however, that the cable-tow, like most Masonic symbols, has multiple meanings and our common use of the word merely conceals the inward meanings.

First, it is necessary to clear up one common misconception; is “cable-tow” an English word at all? A contemporary Masonic scholar, Henry Coil in his Masonic Encyclopedia defines cable-tow as “A heavy rope or hawser by which a mass, especially a ship, may be hauled, pulled, or towed” (Coil, 1996, p. 115). Albert Mackey, on the other hand says that a “cable tow is a rope or line for drawing or leading” and then writes that “The word is purely Masonic” (Mackey, 1929, pp. 168-169). If one is to search for the word “cable-tow” in either the Oxford or Webster’s dictionary he will find that there are zero results. Because cable-tow is not defined in the English language, it is unclear where Coil found his particular definition, but it appears that Mackey is correct, when he stated that the word is “purely Masonic.” Mackey also wrote that “cable-tow” may have derived from a similarly pronounced German word, however that is beyond the scope of this discussion. For now, we will stipulate that “cable-tow” appears to be strictly a Masonic word, created for a Masonic purpose.

Next, I would like to call attention to Waite’s definition where he noted that the cable-tow has another meaning in the Entered Apprentices degree. Here, Mackey expands on this point and says that:

In its first inception, the cable tow seems to have been used only as a physical means of controlling the candidate, and such an interpretation is still given in the Entered Apprentice’s Degree. But in the Second and Third Degrees a more modern symbolism has been introduced, and the cable tow is in these grades supposed to symbolize the covenant by which all Freemasons are tied, thus reminding us of the passage in Hosea (xi, 4), “I drew them with cords of a man, with bands of love.” (Mackey, 1929, pp. 168-69)

The Old Charges, exposures, and written rituals indicate that in England, Scotland and France, the cable-tow was used in the Apprentice or Entered Apprentice degree only, and it is likely that, for a time, ritual in the United States followed this same pattern. The appearance of the cable-tow in the second and third degrees possibly came about in the 1840’s with the meeting of the Baltimore Convention where it was defined as “the scope of a man’s reasonable ability” (Coil, 1996, p. 115). Therefore, if the cable-tow was traditionally used in the first degree only, it is here we can uncover some of its more esoteric meanings.

On the inward meaning of the cable-tow, Masonic writers have come to varied conclusions. Joseph Fort Newton believed that a rope or cable anciently represented a pledge, or a vow in which a man pledged his life. This pledge was used in earlier initiation societies as well as in the Bible. Newton cites 1 Kings 20:31,32 when the Syrian King was defeated in battle, his servants approached the victorious Israeli King “with ropes upon their heads,” in order to remind him about a pledge (Newton, 1969, p. 77). Newton further elaborates on the bond:

If a Lodge is a symbol of the world, and initiation is our birth into Masonry, the cable tow is not unlike the umbilical cord, uniting a child with his mother. When the umbilical cord is cut, it is replaced by a stronger, invisible bond between mother and child. The candidate is released from his cable tow at the altar following his obligation, and is bound to a stronger, invisible bond (Newton, 1969, p. 77).

Newton has beautifully laid out a symbolic meaning for the cable-tow, which rings true as being released from the cable-tow coincides with the moment that the initiate becomes a brother, instantly forming a bond with the men of his Lodge.

Albert Pike’s thoughts on the cable-tow do not fundamentally disagree with those of Newton. However, he expands on the definition by offering a view of the state of the man who is wearing the cable-tow. Pike writes:

The Cable-Tow, therefore, is the Hieroglyphic of a Pledge or Obligation, and it not only means the Candidate’s pledge and obligation, which, to become a Neophyte, he must take to the Order and to every individual Brother; but that, wearing it, he represents men and nations, all whose rights of property, liberty, conscience and life, and they themselves, chattels in the form of human creatures and peoples, are pledged to their masters, as an article of clothing or of furniture is to the pawnbroker (Pike, 2008, p. 280).

Pike’s definition is puzzling, so in order to understand his meaning, we must look to other writings. Pike was dissatisfied with the standard explanation concerning the length of the cable-tow, because in his opinion, it was supposed to bring a feeling of degradation to the candidate. According to Pike, the candidate represents a man deprived of light, knowledge of reason, of God, nature, or even himself and the cable-tow is a symbol of a man in bondage (Pike, 2008, pp. 98-99). When the cable-tow is lifted, the candidate receives light, both physically and symbolically, and he becomes bound to his brethren by a stronger obligation. As many veterans can attest, basic training works much the same way. You begin as a “pathetic recruit” but you leave with esoteric knowledge of the service, as well as a bond with the men and women of the uniform.

Like many Masonic symbols, the cable-tow has multiple meanings. However, they can be boiled down to length, obligation and reasonable limitations. The outward symbol is used in our degrees and our everyday communications. The inward and original meaning may be lost to time, as we will never know exactly why the cable-tow was selected. Masons like Newton and Pike, however, believed that the cable-tow was purposely and symbolically used in the initiation of an Entered Apprentice. Regardless, the symbol is worthy of your contemplation, particularly as students and mentors in the Craft.


Works Cited

Coil, H. W. (1996). Coil’s Masonic Encyclopedia. Richmond: Macoy Publishing & Masonic Supply CO., INC.

Mackey, A. G. (1929). Encyclopedia of Freemasonry and Kindred Sciences (Vol. I). Chicago: The Masonic History Company.

Newton, J. F. (1969). Short Talks on Masonry. Richmond: Macoy Publishing & Masonic Supply Company, INC.

Pike, A. (2008). Esoterika: The Symbolism of the Blue Degrees of Freemasonry. Washington D.C.: The Scottish Rite Reseach Society.

Waite, A. E. (1970). A New Encyclopaedia of Freemasonry. New York: Weathervane Books.




Building Greater Union Through Virtue

Remarks by Wor. Hamilton at the Wreath Laying Ceremony at Mount Vernon

Serving as Worshipful Master in the Lodge of Washington is truly humbling. As we gather here today to celebrate Illustrious Brother Washington’s 292nd birthday, I am reminded of the two centuries of Masonic ancestors who have completed the same ritual. As in any family, our chosen Masonic family is strengthened by our annual returns to tradition and ritual. Just as a family is reunited around a Thanksgiving table, Masons in Alexandria – Washington Lodge and the Grand Lodge of Virginia are reunited annually in our commitment to our obligations through honoring one of our greatest exemplars. On his birthday, we are reminded of Washington’s lifelong pursuit and significant sacrifice to create union, liberated from oppression and committed to equality. These Masonic ideals are our legacy and our mandate and we honor Washington’s memory through our commitment to them.

This year in particular, in this sacred place, I think about the special relationship that a 19-year-old French aristocrat forged with a 45-year-old revolutionary leader. The Marquie de Lafayette looked to Washington as a father figure, and on his return to the United States in 1824, the accounts of him kneeling and weeping before the sarcophagus of Washington underscore the depth and importance of this relationship. We empathize as we remember our own passed fathers, grandfathers, and Masonic brothers. We recognize that mourning is, in its own right, a celebration of light that once shown brightly. Lafayette said, “In my idea General Washington is the greatest man; for I look upon him as the most virtuous.” These sage words are a charge for us to also strive to emulate Washington’s virtue.

There is little doubt that 2024 will be a turbulent year in the United States and around the globe. We are challenged to draw upon the lessons we have learned in the Craft and Washington’s example of building greater union through virtue. We are challenged to subdue our passions and commit to understanding those perspectives that we question. We are challenged to be good Freemasons, brokering greater civility and ensuring the potential of the country Washington envisioned might be more closely achieved. As I lay a wreath today on behalf of Alexandria – Washington Lodge, in commemoration of this most esteemed Masonic family tradition, I do so in hope that we can be men who would make Washington proud and who might live into Lafayette’s assertion that, “Liberty consists in the freedom to do everything which injures no one else; hence the exercise of the natural rights of each man has no limits except those which assure to the other members of the society the enjoyment of the same rights.”

Symbolisms of the Level

By Bro. Adam Smartt, Senior Warden

We meet upon the Level, though from every station come,
The king from out his palace, and the poor man from his home;
For the one must leave his diadem outside the mason’s door,
And the other finds his true respect upon the chequered floor

                – MW Robert Morris. The Level and the Square.” 1854.

In perhaps his most well-known work, nineteenth century poet and Freemason Robert Morris lauded the symbolic importance of the three jewels worn by the stationed officers of a Craft lodge. Arguably only surpassed in Masonic prominence by the square and compasses, the plumb, level and square offer a similar admonishment in how we are to conduct ourselves as just and upright Masons. While the square and compasses offer an inward instruction to temper our passions, show reverent and faithful obedience to our Creator and always seek to act in a just and upright manner, the plumb, level and square offer guidance on how we are to act towards our fellow man, more especially if he be a Mason.

As the jewel of the Senior Warden, I’ve reflected on the tremendous duty that is commanded by the symbolic meaning of the level. As the Tiler protects the room of the Lodge from all cowans, eavesdroppers and uninvited interlopers, the level symbolically guards the body of the Lodge from everything that must remain without the door in order for peace and harmony to prevail within. By it, we are charged to leave behind all politics, piques and prejudices, divest ourselves of any rank, title and professional prestige we so often seek in external life, eschew the dogmatic divisions that have fractured societies from time immemorial, and thereby be enabled to truly embrace our brethren as equals.

In The Craft and Its Symbols, Allen Roberts notes the mild confusion many new Entered Apprentices may experience when they learn the plumb, level and square are defined as “immovable” jewels. Why, then, are they worn by those who are constantly standing and sitting during a meeting, to say nothing of the complex choreography of degree work? The short answer is that each is only ever worn by a specific officer, all of whom must be present for a lodge to open. Therefore, if a lodge is at labor you will always find the immovable jewels present. However, this is Freemasonry, so a short answer will never suffice.

Much like our working tools which have both operative and speculative uses, Roberts offers a second, more symbolic definition for what arguably makes the level “immovable.” He suggests that the guidance it offers and the lesson it imparts is of such great moral and Masonic importance, the level that is worn over our heart must also be symbolically deposited within it, and never removed.

Early in my Masonic career, I struggled with memorizing the vast array of titles and styles of address I would hear exchanged in the lodge room or, inducing even greater anxiety, when Grand Lodge Officers were present. Manners maketh man, after all. In nervously stealing furtive glances at regalia as someone approached or straining to overhear how another had addressed them, it seemed that all Masons are equal, but some are more equal than others. It was a kind Past Master – or perhaps one who had simply tired of my frequent inquiries – who quickly, correctly and charitably disabused me of the notion. “If you aren’t sure how to greet me,” he said, “you can never go wrong with ‘brother.’”

With all due respect our beautiful ritual, excellent lectures and the tomes of scholarly work that fill Masonic libraries, it was in that simple moment that I truly understood the meaning of the level.

Washington and Lafayette: The Impact of a Chosen Family

Installation Remarks by Worshipful Nelo Allen Hamilton, Jr., 162nd Worshipful Master of Alexandria–Washington Lodge No. 22, originally delivered on December 27, 2023 at the George Washington Masonic National Memorial:

First impressions are the foundation of our perceptions. Fair or not, the initial experience with an organization leaves a lasting impression and impacts engagement. As I enter the East, I have
reflected on my first impression of AW22. It has truly shaped who I am as a Mason.

When I first moved to Alexandria from Mississippi in 2017, I was in search of the sense of community I had known growing up. I reached out to AW and met with Right Worshipful Michael Bible at Buzz Bakery on Slaters Lane in January 2018. His prompt response and generous indulgence in my numerous questions made me feel welcome and more interested. He encouraged me – as we always do for prospects – to attend the dinners before the Stated Communications.

Days after my meeting with RW Bible, my father passed away suddenly. The shock to my family and the blur of activity surrounding an unexpected death left us all dazed. I remembered telling
RW Bible that I would attend the January Lodge dinner and sent an email with my regrets. Then Master, Right Worshipful Mark Underwood, whom I had not met at the time, immediately called, followed by RW Bible. Their sincere concern and affection toward someone they really didn’t know during the darkest of times left an indelible impression.

I came to two conclusions from these interactions. First, I wanted to be a part of an organization that helps men find connections that are meaningful. Second, once in, my Brethren were going to be my first call in all future tests in life.

We reside in an area marked by constant transience, amidst a world that, at times, seems to grow more isolated. The concept of a chosen family has gained prominence in today’s society, and I would argue that it is now more needed than ever.

We are fortunate that our lodge boasts a rich history from which we can draw inspiration and adapt it to the current time, and this next year is no exception. In 2024, we will begin to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Marquise de Lafayette’s return to the United States for his grand tour — an esteemed Brother and a cherished member of this Lodge, deeply intertwined with the legacy of our Illustrious Brother and Past Master, George Washington.

It is common knowledge that Lafayette regarded Washington as a father figure and Washington saw him as a son. When we consider their backgrounds, we find a Virginia farmer with little formal education and an aristocrat from one of the world’s most powerful nations. These two men, worlds apart in origin, forged not only a profound personal connection but a professional
partnership that reshaped history. We know that were it not for Lafayette’s pivotal role as a liaison between France and General Washington, the United States as we know it might not exist today; the war might not have been won.

What I find most beautiful in Freemasonry is its capacity to bring together men from diverse backgrounds — varied in socioeconomic status, race, orientation, religion, profession, and geographical origin — allowing them to sit in the Lodge and meet on the level. A group of men who leaves the chaos of the world at the door to work towards the betterment of themselves and society.

In our everyday lives, our paths might never cross with those of our Masonic Brethren, yet this institution grants us the privilege of forming those deep and meaningful bonds. Like Washington and Lafayette, I firmly believe that surrounding ourselves with individuals from diverse backgrounds enriches our lives, and as exemplified by these two extraordinary men, it can indeed change the world.

How often have we engaged in conversations with someone whose background differed from our own, only to have our perspectives expanded, our minds broadened, and our paradigms shifted? In a world that appears increasingly polarized and divided, Freemasonry stands as an opportunity to bring men together. In an election year where passions rise and external factors try to divide us, the need for this space is only grows.

My theme or tagline this year will Washington and Lafayette: The Impact of a Chosen Family.

I am truly humbled to stand here tonight. AW22 is a vibrant, energetic and talented lodge. A Lodge that is filled with men who are passionate about our Craft. We are blessed to have officers in line who have a vision of what Masonry means and the role it can play in the world. while establishing a strong foundation for this Lodge moving forward.

Let us embrace the teachings of our great fraternity, drawing inspiration from the past, and carry the torch of unity and understanding into the future. Together, living into the Constitutions and our obligations, we can transcend boundaries, enriching our lives and, in the spirit of Washington and Lafayette, contribute to a world that stands united in its diversity.

Brethren, I challenge you to be involved this year! If you are waiting for an invitation to get involved… this is it. Your unique perspectives matter, your input is critical to the operations and health of this lodge. Engage and, together, we will build a stronger AW22. A Lodge that not only relies on its rich past, but has firm hold on its vision for the future.

Wor. David Bella’s Remarks at Mount Vernon

Each year, our lodge hosts a wreath laying at the tomb of our Illustrious Brother and Past Master, George Washington, on the anniversary of his death on December 14, 1799. We have led this every year, rain or shine, for 224 years. Earlier today, Wor. David Bella gave the following remarks

This is the last major event in my tenure as Worshipful Master of the Lodge. We elect my successor tonight and words cannot express how much of an honor it is to be here speaking to you today, and to have been chosen to serve this year. Washington served many organizations and held many titles in his lifetime. General of the Armies: 2 other men served and achieved that rank. President of the United States: only 44 other men have served in that position. Worshipful Master of this Lodge: 161 and I am one of them. What an honor.

As many of you know, the Lodge lays a wreath every year in February in addition to today to celebrate Washington’s birthday. February 22nd is straightforward: we celebrate the birth of the father of our nation. Today isn’t so jovial. Today is a bit more somber and I believe more nuanced. So I was asking myself why we continue to be here every year, rain or shine.

Even after 224 years, I see several reasons why we continue to make this pilgrimage. I see the reasons as being highly Masonic.

The first is our commitment and bond to each other. This is a public demonstration and reinforcement of the concept of Brotherly Love. We are here for each other, even after 224 years.

The second is our commitment to honoring the past. Community institutions are built and maintained by titans like George Wasington. Without men like Washington and the other 159 Past

Masters, our Lodge, our community, and country would not be the same without them.

The third is the ritualistic nature of doing this year after year. This is what makes our communities strong. This shared experience throughout history binds generations together and keeps current ones engaged with one another. What a strong Lodge and institution we are to be here no matter what. Just think if we decided that it was too rainy or cold one year. Does that sound like a strong institution? Picking and choosing when we want to participate? We are strong because of our traditions. This is who we are. And I hope in 224 years from now, our distant successors will be here speaking of our most beloved and distinguished Brother. I know I will do my part.


Giving Tuesday – AW22 Foundation, Inc.

Brethren and Friends,

2023 has been a fantastic year for the Alexandria – Washington Lodge, No. 22, Foundation, Inc.

We held our first gala to celebrate George Washington’s Birthday and Virginia hosting the Conference of Grand Masters of North America. Former Governor and Brother Jim Gilmore truly made it a memorable evening with his keynote speech. It started the year off right! We completed our Charter Member Campaign, assisted the Lodge in honoring Alexandria Legend Marion Moon, and hosted our first Books and Breakfast event for Bro. Chris Ruli’s new book, The Whitehouse and the Freemasons.

We went into the year with a challenge from Wor. Bella to double the Foundation’s giving. We are just a $8,000 away from hitting our $50,000 goal. That is because of your generosity. Thank you. If you have the capacity for one more gift to round out 2023, we are hopeful of getting across Wor. Bella’s finish line before December 31. Visit our updated website and give by clicking the link below (and remember every gift helps!).

Click Here to Donate

The Foundation Board and the Lodge’s Stationed Officers enlisted the professional support of Executive Coach Karen Shrum to layout a thoughtful path forward. Mrs. Shrum donated her time and expertise to support the Foundation. We now have a defined plan for 2024 and strategic goals for five and ten years out. We are committed to the preservation of the Lodge’s collection and to spreading the Light of Masonry. However, we need you, our brothers and friends, Masons and non-Masons, to help us in our efforts.

On this Giving Tuesday, I ask that you help us wrap up 2023 by hitting our $50,000 goal and preparing us for a strong 2024. Thank you for your support. Thank you for getting the Lodge’s museum collection out into the world to educate and inspire. Thank you!

Wor. Nik Nikolov, PM
Foundation Chair

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

The AW22 Fellowcraft Tracing Board

Written by Bro. Robert Swanson, Lodge Education Officer

Last month we took a quick trip through the history & origins of Tracing Boards. We also introduced the three Tracing boards within the Lodge room of Alexandria-Washington 22 and provided a brief summation of the symbols to be found in the Entered Apprentice Tracing board. Let us now look more deeply into the Fellowcraft Tracing board and the symbols to be found within. If you see any other symbols of relevance or import, please share!

The Different Lessons Represented in the Fellowcraft Tracing Board

The Two Pillars, surmounted by the Globes – Celestial and terrestrial.

What is exquisite about this particular frame which can be seen in the Tracing board bottom right are actually the Two Pillars surmounted  by the Globes that exist in the AW-22 Lodge room as seen from the West-Gate whence the candidate enters the Lodge room. However, at AW22 when not enacting the FC Degree they are stationed around the Junior Warden’s station.

“Next, the doctrine of the Spheres as illustrated in the Sciences of Astronomy and Geography by the Globes of Celestial and Terrestrial”[i]

“the newly-obligated Fellow Craft is conducted to a site representing the porch of K-S-T. Thereupon, the first objects to which his attention is drawn are the Brazen Pillars, Jachin and Boaz, which are said to be representations of those that stood on the porch, flanking the entrance to the Temple. The word Jachin is said to denote establishment, and Boaz signifying strength. Taken together, they may be interpreted as “In strength shall this house be established.” [ii]

The Winding Staircase

“we are now about to make an ascent through a porch, by a flight of winding stairs, consisting of three, five and, seven steps, to a place representing the Middle Chamber of King Solomon’s Temple, there to receive instructions relative to the wages due, and the jewels of a Fellow Craft”[iii] “Symbolically, the Winding Staircase represents a journey- it implies motion, evolution and transformation. That the staircase winds is symbolic of the time, effort and dedication required of the Fellow Craft in his pursuit of knowledge”[iv]

“As a Fellow Craft, he has advanced another step, and as the degree is emblematic of youth, so it is here that the intellectual education of the candidate begins. And therefore, here, at the very spot which separates the porch from the sanctuary, where childhood ends and manhood begins, he finds stretching out before him a Winding Stair which invites him, as it were, to ascend, and which, as the symbol of discipline and instruction, teaches him that here must commence his Masonic labor – here he must enter upon those glorious though difficult researches, the end of which is to be the possession of Divine Truth.”[v]

The Middle Chamber of King Solomon’s Temple 

“This journey to the Middle Chamber, like many of the ceremonies of Freemasonry, is based upon one of the legends connected with the building of King Solomon’s Temple…On the evening of the sixth day those who had proved themselves worthy by a strict attention to their duties, were entrusted with certain mysterious words, signs, and grips, by  means of which they were enabled to work their way to the Middle Chamber of the Temple to receive their wages”[vi]

“The so-called Middle Chamber is believed to have been in fact the middle story, extending around the main building as far as the second floor extended, as was used, it is supposed, for the priests and their vessels…used in sacrificial and other ceremonies. For ritualistic purposes, the Middle Chamber is appropriated to the Fellow Crafts.”[vii]

The Five Orders of Architecture – Tuscan, Doric, Ionic, Corinthian, and Composite.

However only three are depicted in the painting: Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian.

“The ancient and original Orders of Architecture revered by Masons. Are no more than three – the Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian, which were invented by the Grecians”[viii]




The Five Senses

“The Five Senses of Human Nature, to-wit: Hearing, Seeing, Feeling, Smelling, and Tasting, come next in order-the first three of which are most revered by Masons, for reasons which must be apparent to every enlightened Craftsman”[ix]

Though the Lambskin apron is not discussed in the 2nd Degree in Masonry Albert Mackey makes a wonderful allusion to the 5 senses compared with how an Entered Apprentice wears their Apron.

Mackey notes than as an EA “we wear it with the flap raised, forming a “five cornered badge” which is an allusion to our five senses that we use in relation to this physical world. When we combine the triangular flap with the quadrangular portion below it, it symbolizes a connection between the soul and body.[x]

The Seven Liberal Arts and Sciences

“the Seven Liberal Arts and Sciences, to-wit: Grammar, Rhetoric, Logic, Arithmetic, Geometry, Music and Astronomy. Passing Over most of these, each of which affords a large field for the accomplished Scholar and Mason to dilate upon, we are arrested by the fifth Science, or Geometry, which treats of the powers and properties of Magnitudes in general, where length, breadth and thickness are concerned, from a point to a line, from a line to a superfice, and from a superfice to solid.”[xi]

The Mosaic Pavement

“The Mosaic Pavement is a representation of the ground floor of King Solomon’s Temple; the indented Tessel, of that beautiful border or skirting which surrounded it; and the Blazing Star is an emblem of Deity or an overruling Providence…The Mosaic Pavement is emblematical of human life, checkered with good and evil; the beautiful border which surrounds it, of the manifold blessings and comforts which surround us, and which we hope to enjoy by a faithful reliance on Divine Providence, which is hieroglyphically represented by the Blazing Star in the center”[xii]

The symbol of the sheaf of wheat or ear of Corn, suspended at or near a Water-ford

Orientation on the wall


The lessons of the Corn, Wine and Oil

“You have now arrived at the Middle Chamber where you are received and recorded a Fellow Craft. You are now entitled to wages, as such; which are, the Corn of nourishment, the Wine of refreshment, and the Oil of joy, which denote peace, harmony, and strength”[xiii]

“Corn, meaning “seed of a cereal plant”…was used to refer to oats, wheat, barley, and others generally”[xiv]

“Corn, Wine, and Oil are the Masonic elements of consecration. The adoption of these symbols is supported by the highest antiquity. Corn, Wine and Oil were the most important productions of Eastern counties; they constituted the wealth of the people, and were esteemed as the supports of life and the means of refreshment David enumerates them among the greatest blessings that we enjoy, and speaks of them as “wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine, and bread which strengtheneth mans heart” (Psalm civ.,15)”[xv]


[i] Presentation Volume Grand Lodge of A F & AM of the Commonwealth of Virginia page 80

[ii] Jamie Paul Lamb Approaching the Middle Chamber page 50

[iii] IBID page 69

[iv] Ibid page 69

[v] Mackey’s Encyclopedia Volume II page 1108

[vi] Mackey’s Encyclopedia Volume II page 665

[vii] Coils Masonic Encyclopedia page 416

[viii] Presentation Volume Grand Lodge of A F & AM of the Commonwealth of Virginia page 81

[ix] IBID 83

[x] Wilmshurst’s “Meaning of Masonry” Page 31

[xi] Presentation Volume Grand Lodge of A F & AM of the Commonwealth of Virginia page 82

[xii] Presentation Volume Grand Lodge of A F & AM of the Commonwealth of Virginia page 66

[xiii] Jamie Paul Lamb Approaching the Middle Chamber page 387

[xiv] Ibid page 388

[xv] Mackey’s Encyclopedia Volume I page 245

What is a Tracing Board?

Written by Bro. Robert Swanson, Lodge Education Officer

The Tracing Board

The genesis of the Tracing Board is at the heart of Freemasonry’s humble beginnings.  Before our structures and places of meeting became more permanent, lodges would meet in Taverns and other public places.

“so it was the practice to draw the lodge on the floor, that is, to mark it off on the floor with chalk or charcoal showing the various stations, representation of furniture , and symbols necessary to illustrate the lecture.”[i]

The symbolic drawings which once were drawn every meeting to “create” the lodge became works of art that evolved into the “Floor-Cloth” and then later became “Tracing Boards.”

What is a Tracing Board? According to Mackey a Tracing Board, otherwise known as Floor-Cloth[ii] is:

“A framework of board or canvas on which the emblems of any particular Degree are inscribed, for the assistance of the Master in giving a lecture. It is so called because formerly it was the custom to inscribe these designs on the floor of the Lodge-room in chalk, which were  wiped out when the Lodge was closed. It is the same as the Carpet or Tracing-Board” [iii] 

Brother Dimitar Gueorguiev Mavrov was commissioned in 2008 by the Brothers of AW-22 for the production of 3 Tracing boards, in accordance to traditions and customs of our Craft. In total the creation of these beautiful works of art by Brother Dimitar Mavrov took 9 months. However, in 2022 all three of the Tracing Boards were given improvements, and/or redesigns including additional “Masonic Symbols, Virtues and Knowledge.”[iv]

Entered Apprentice Tracing Board

“This tracing board is designed with the idea to ignite spiritual seekers in their quest for Knowledge and Light. The young apprentice will learn the symbols of the First Degree, building the foundation for further improvement. The Four Cardinal Virtues, the mysterious Ladder of Jacob, the lights and furniture of the Lodge, the Holy Saints John, and various tenets are shown.”[v] Designed on a Medium of “Oil on Canvas”[vi]



[i] Coil’s Masonic Encyclopedia page 119

[ii] Mackey’s Revised Encyclopedia of Freemasonry Volume 2 Page 1045

[iii] Mackey’s Revised Encyclopedia of Freemasonry Volume 1 Page 359

[iv] Mavrov-Tracing-Boards

[v] IBID

[vi] IBID


From the Archives: Witness Account of the 1871 Lodge Fire

From the Archives is a recurring series that highlights Alexandria-Washington Lodge’s archives and museum. Visitors are welcome to visit the museum during the memorial’s operating hours.

Written by Chris Ruli, Archives Committee

In the early morning of May 19, 1871, the townspeople of Alexandria awoke to the sounds of alarms. A fire erupted inside the city hall, which also served as a lodge space and museum operated by Alexandria-Washington Lodge No. 22 (AW22). The lodge’s members quickly arrived at the scene to help suppress the conflagration, which had spread to most of the building and threatened to destroy the entire lodge hall and museum – home to one of the earliest museums in the United States. They worked quickly to secure hundreds of priceless relics and documents on Freemasonry, politics, science, art, and popular culture. Although they were able to save a significant number of items, including the lodge’s proceedings and much of the Washingtoniana – the collection of memorabilia associated with George Washington, much of the museum’s natural science and art collection was lost. 

Six days later, on May 25, members assembled in a temporary lodge space to discuss their future. In lieu of the standard minutes usually recorded, the lodge’s secretary drafted a powerful recollection of the fire, written in compelling prose.The following is a full reproduction of his remarks, which provides readers with an emotional account of the May 19 fire and the lodge’s attempt to rescue their history from total destruction.

In sorrow the Craft assembled this Thursday evening (May 25th) in the hall of Andrew Jackson Lodge No. 120 owing to the destruction of their own time-honored hall by fire on the early morn. of May 19, 1871.

At an hour when nature’s calm repose gave a seeming safety,

To all the works of genius and skill that man had proudly built,

And lingering night her quiet vigils kept,

While the workmen in life’s busy scenes found refreshing rest,

And made slumbers’ soothing hours.


Fire’s dread alarm upon the midnight air was borne, 

Awakening, ere the time for rest expired, 

By nature’s laws allowed the slumbering craft who hurrying to the scene, 

Beheld with grief the mad carnival of rain the Fire King had made, 


Hope for a season, bright promise, gave for the safety of the temple, 

Bound to their hearts by a thousand ties, 

Whose very walls when danger threatened most, 

Bore silent witness to many a pleasant scene, 


But alas! In vain, 

Apprentice and fellow craft with master masons, 

In mighty efforts vied, their hall, to save!


For soon the towering spire, which for years, 

Had like a faithful guardian stood in proud majesty at the temple porch,

Sounding its own death knell at the hour of one, 

From its brazen thatch gave taken by its mighty fall, 


That the unchecked demon gathering new strength from the harm it had made, 

With ere long enwrap beneath its fiery arms all within their reach, 

Near and near still it’s heated breath, porch and temple approached, 

Which soon in burning shrouds helpless victims lay, 


With madly darking flames, 

The only lights for sepulcher, 

Which high to heaven ascends, 

As if in mockery of the feeble efforts of the craft to avert their doom,


Soon the blackened walls, like grim specters remained, 

Sad monuments of the joys and pleasures, 

The Craft had known within their honored hall,

Whose falled altars, the new born day, a silent language gave,


That in gloomy ancients words of sorrow spoke, 

To the heart of every brother that lingered there, 

As if loth to leave the mournful scene, 

Where once with kindred spirits they had happy been.


One ray of comfort they cherished then in that hour of gloom, 

The safety of all they prized beyond the temple they had lost, 

Whose value association gave, 

And whose loss the wealth of India could ne’er replace,


The charter, that bore the immortal name that was not “born to die,” 

The chair in which our first illustrious master sat, 

Crowned by a diadem of glory woven by a nation’s love, 

And letters of fraternal council by him to our fathers sent, 


Portraits of the honored dead, 

That adorned the temple walls, 

And objects held most dear,

were from destruction’s grasp,

By anxious daring brothers saved. 

To serve again as mementos of the past,

Valued once but two fold cherished now,

That they are linked in memory’s chain,

With objects forever lost. 


And soon we hope shall severe again,

That temple to adorn, 

Which willing hearts and active hands,

Shall build a glorious Phoenix, 


Magnificent in design, 

A fit monument to keep,

Alive the Glorious of the past,

That filled the fallen temple,

From whose ashes it shall arise.

Due to the building’s importance in local business and civic affairs, lodge members joined the town’s council and merchants to fundraise and immediately rebuild the hall. Adolf Cluss, a prominent local architect and Freemason, was selected to lead the project and rebuilt the edifice exactly as it stood before the incident with few notable exceptions. Cluss reinforced the hall’s interior with steel beams and stone to make it fireproof and worked with AW22 to build an expanded museum and lodge room. Alexandria-Washington occupied this space until 1945 when it moved over to the George Washington Masonic National Memorial.


From the Archives: Alexandria-Lodge 22 Plans George Washington’s Funeral

From the Archives is a recurring series that highlights Alexandria-Washington’s archives and museum. Visitors are welcome to visit the museum during the memorial’s operating hours.

Written by Chris Ruli and Aaron Habibipour

December 16 marks the 223rd anniversary of Alexandria Lodge’s meeting to announce the death of George Washington and plan for his funeral service. The lodge’s museum and archives is fortunate enough to have the original meeting minutes from the occasion.

Dr. Elisha Dick, the lodge’s Master, called for an Emergency meeting “for the purpose of taking into consideration and adopting certain measures relative to the burial of our late worthy Brother General George Washington.” Thirty-eight members of the lodge attended the meeting along with two visitors – Charles Lesebre of Fredericksburg Lodge 4 of Virginia, Washington’s mother lodge, and James Bacon of Philadelphia Lodge 7, Pennsylvania. In fact, the meeting became so noteworthy that the lodge’s secretary David Wilson Scott, embedded a note directly onto the center of the page for future reference: “Funeral Lodge called for the burial of Gen. G. Washington, 1st Master of this lodge No. 22.

Dick opened the meeting and “delivered a suitable address to the brethren on the occasion.” They then proceeded to discuss funeral arrangements with Alexandria Brooke Lodge 47, the other Masonic lodge that met in Alexandria at the time.

“No. 47 being convened on the occasion a committee  consisting of Bros Peterkin and Neale were appointed  to wait on them and inform them that No 22 were ready to receive their committee and jointly with them to adopt such measures as might appear most proper for carrying into effect the purposes for which our lodges were convened – a committee from lodge no 47 consisting of bro’s Jones and Bouge came in and agreed with lodge no 22 upon the manner in which the funeral should be conducted and then withdrew.”

The lodge then discussed plans for their upcoming St. John’s Day, which traditionally served as the lodge’s installation of officers. “Ordered that Bro’s Deneale, Ramsay, and Jamisson be appointed a committee to wait on Bro Davis and request him to deliver a discourse on St John’s Day and in case he should be engaged to preach a funeral sermon they are requested to wait on Bro Maffitt and request him to deliver a discourse on that day.”  

Dick then ordered that Peter Colton “wait on the Federal City Lodge and invite them to join in the funeral procession on Wednesday at Mount Vernon  at 12 O’clock if fair or on Thursday at the same hour and that the lodge pay him his expenses for going to and returning from the city.” The lodge referenced here is Federal Lodge 1 of the District of Columbia, then originally chartered as Federal Lodge 15 of Maryland, which participated in the US Capitol cornerstone ceremony together with Alexandria-Lodge and George Washington in September 1793.

The minutes conclude with orders that the deacons prepare the lodge’s equipment and “furnish spermaceti candles” for the funeral ceremony. Alexander McCormick, Federal Lodge’s Master, held one of the candles during the ceremony and kept it as his personal memento. The candle is now on display in the GWMNM’s Washington museum. The Secretary was also ordered to “take the case in which the [lodge’s] charter is deposited and have it repaired and new guilted in time for the procession the expense of which the lodge will pay.” The lodge concluded their business that night around 9 o’clock and gathered two days later at Mount Vernon to perform their solemn duty in Masonic tradition.

The record of the December 16th meeting provides valuable insights into the preparations made by Alexandria-Washington Lodge and other local lodges to prepare for Washington’s funeral. Due to the nature of their business, the meeting became one of most well attended and brethren seemed eager to lend their support or assistance in planning. This not only speaks to Washington’s legacy as a public figure but as a trusty and loyal brother.


From the Archives: AW22’s First Bylaws

From the Archives is a recurring series that highlights Alexandria-Washington’s archives and museum. Visitors are welcome to visit the museum during the memorial’s operating hours.

Alexandria-Washington Lodge, No. 22’s archives contain over 4,000 items related to the history of Freemasonry in Alexandria, Virginia, George Washington, and American history. One of the most important items in our collection is the lodge’s meeting ledgers, which begin in February 1783, during the lodge’s formation, and span well into the twenty-first century. The first set of rules governing the lodge, or bylaws, appears in the earliest meeting ledger. Let’s take a brief look back at the lodge’s first set of rules to better understand how early members conducted their activities and engaged with other Freemasons during this early period of American history.

In early 1783, Freemasons from Alexandria petitioned the Provincial Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania for a charter to establish a lodge in their town. Their request was granted on February 3 of that same year and they received a charter to work as Alexandria Lodge No. 39. To form a new lodge the members were required to draft up a set of bylaws, which were written into the secretary’s meeting ledger for reference. The bylaws contained twenty-one numbered articles that outlined lodge governance, fees, and membership duties. As the document’s preamble notes, the bylaws were intended “to prevent feuds, controversies, and illegal debates, and to promote the harmony and good order of the lodge.”

Bylaws Preamble

Bylaws Preamble

The first two articles determined the lodge’s meeting date and time. Members met “regularly on the Friday after the third Monday” each month. Evening meetings began promptly at 7 o’clock between March and September and 6 from October and February to account for daylight savings. Meetings are now scheduled for the second Thursday of each month.

Article three detailed the tiler’s duties. In addition to his responsibilities while a lodge is in session, the tiler distributed meeting notices and other correspondence around town. This duty often entrusted him with sensitive and important information concerning lodge affairs. While not explicitly mentioned in the bylaws, tilers often maintained the lodge’s meeting room, prepared refreshments, and ensured the space had enough firewood for winter meetings. Today, most of our communications are performed electronically through email, social media, and membership databases.

Article four required members to attend all meetings unless they provided an acceptable excuse. Common excuses included illness and travel. Members were fined 1 shilling, about $4-$5, for each unexcused absence, which the secretary tracked in his ledger. Members were required to pay any outstanding debts prior to each St John’s day in June and December. Fines were eventually phased out by the early nineteenth century.

Article seven prohibited members from “raising angry disputes” with each other. Fines increased in severity after multiple offenses. The first offense resulted in a vocal reprimand by the master and the second resulted in a 5 shilling fine. The fine doubled to ten shillings for the third instance and the offender was “solemnly excluded” from the meeting for the night and would only be admitted again after a formal apology. Similar fines were levied for inappropriate language (article eight) and improper dress (article nine).

Article eleven covered fees and regular payments owed to the lodge. Each member was required to pay 1 shilling each month towards the lodge’s operations, which they referred to in the bylaws as “the Fund.” The Secretary collected all monies during each meeting and transferred over to the Treasurer for his deposit. Prior to the Coinage Act of 1793, which officially designated the dollar as the national currency, states issued their own currency along with foreign currencies that remained in circulation. Therefore, the lodge’s affairs were often conducted in British and colonial state issued pounds, shillings, and dollars. Today, masons can remit their annual dues payment through electronic means, which do not require their attendance to meetings.

Article 11 Describes Fees Owed to the Lodge.

New membership is covered in article sixteen. Petitions required a single member to propose a candidate for membership. The lodge assigned two other members to “make inquiry into the merits, character, and circumstances of the candidate and report the succeeding lodge night.” Furthermore, the proposer paid the petition fee. “The brother who proposes (the candidate) shall at the same time deposit one dollar of his money (along with the petition) to ensure (the candidate’s) attendance.” This ensured that both the proposing member and candidate were serious with their intentions and financially invested in the process. Once approved, the candidate paid his initiation fee and the tiler received the petition fee – perhaps as regular payment for his duties in and outside of lodge. The candidate’s fee was returned if the lodge rejected his candidacy. The bylaws also note that if the lodge elected the candidate for membership but he later declined to proceed, the tiler would keep the dollar from the proposing brother. Today, candidates pay the petition and degree conferral fees.

Candidates paid four pounds and sixteen shillings to receive the three degrees of Freemasonry, which equates to around $835.00 in 2022, adjusted for inflation. That said, early salaries were much lower than today. A Virginia school teacher, for example, garnered around sixty to seventy pounds each year. If he sought membership to the lodge, he would spend 6-7 percent of his annual income for his initiation. Most citizens were self-employed and many worked as farmers, which garnered less than sixty pounds each year. Thus, the lodge’s membership was effectively composed of men from Alexandria’s upper-middle to upper class

Article 16 Covered the Petition Process.

Other articles covered lodge voting procedures, committee membership, and duties related to the Grand Lodge. The document ends with a list of signatures by the lodge’s earliest members, who by custom signed the book to affirm that they abide by the lodge’s rules. Articles were regularly updated, dropped, and added throughout the lodge’s history to adapt to changes in the fraternity, society, and the economy.

What do the first bylaws tell us about Alexandria lodge and Freemasonry? First, the lodge’s membership mostly consisted of upper-middle to upper class Alexandrians. Second, they took their membership seriously and imposed

fees and penalties for those who violated their obligations. Members were expected to attend each meeting, dress appropriately, and find ways to resolve conflict without devolving into anger or slander. Third, proposing a new candidate for membership required a financial commitment from the proposing brother. This ensured that both parties were serious about who would join the lodge. Fourth, members were obligated to invest into the lodge regularly, to ensure the lodge had funds to cover its expenses and distribute charity to deserving brethren and their families. These founding rules and principles enabled the lodge to proposer well into the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Brother Chris Ruli is a masonic researcher and historian who focuses on the history of Freemasonry. He is a member of Alexandria-Washington Lodge 22, Virginia and Federal Lodge 1 of Washington, D.C.