SHORT TALK BULLETIN - Vol.X July, 1932 No.7

by: Unknown

Often confused, the trestle-board and the tracing-board are actually alike only in the similarity of their names.
In the Master Mason’s Degree we hear, “The three steps usually delineated upon the Master’s Carpet, are, etc.” “What is this Master’s Carpet?” is often asked by the newly-raised Mason. He is in a good Lodge the Master of which can give him an intelligent answer!
Among our movable jewels the trestle-board is mentioned and described last, and with elaboration, but the Entered Apprentice looks long, and often in vain, for a piece of furniture which bears any resemblance to the trestle-board shown on the screen, or pointed out on the chart by the Deacon’s rod.
We learn that Hiram Abif entered the Sanctum Sanctorum at high twelve to offer his devotions to Deity, and to draw his designs upon the “trestle-board.” On that day when he was found missing there was a holiday in the half-finished Temple, because there were no designs on the trestle-board by which the workmen could proceed. But except in the ritual of the Entered Apprentice Degree, no explanation is given in the Lodge as to what a trestle-board may be.
Therefore it is somewhat confusing to find that the Lodge notice of meetings is sometimes called a Trestle-board and still more so when some Masonic speaker refers to the Great Lights as “The Trestle- board.”
The tracing-board is a child on the Master’s carpet, which is a descendant of operative designs drawn upon the ground, or on the floors of the buildings used by operative builders for meeting purposes, and during construction hours as what we would term an architect’s office.
Early operative builders plans, drawn upon floor or earth, were erased and destroyed as soon as used. When Lodges changed from operative to Speculative, the custom of drawing designs upon the Lodge floor was continued; the “designs” for the Speculative Lodge, of course, were the emblems and symbols for the construction of the Speculative Temple of Character.
From their position such plans became known as Carpets the Master’s Carpet, of course was the design made upon the Lodge room floor during the Master’s Degree.

Such carpets were drawn with chalk or charcoal. It was the duty of the youngest Entered Apprentice to erase this Carpet after the meeting, using a mop and pail for the purpose. Doubtless this use of chalk and charcoal first suggested to our ritualistic fathers the availability of these materials as symbols. Incidentally, how did it “not” occur to some good brother of the olden days to make a symbol of that mop and pail!
Later it became evident that as no real Masonic secrets were drawn on the Carpet, the essentials of the institution were not disclosed by leaving them where the profane might see them. For convenience, the several symbols of the degrees were then painted on cloth and laid upon the floor; true Carpets now. Still later these Carpets were held erect on easels; in America the chart - in England the Tracing- board - is still a commonplace of Lodge furniture, although the more convenient and beautiful lantern slide is often used in this country where finances and electric light permit.
Old Tracing-boards (charts) are already objects of interest to Masonic antiquarians, and those early ones which follow almost exactly the illustrations in Jeremy Cross’ “True Masonic Chart” (1820) are increasingly valuable as the years go by. Charts or Tracing-boards have performed a most valuable service; together with the printed monitors or manuals, they have kept a reasonable uniformity in the exoteric part of American work, thus making for a unity which is sometimes difficult for the newly made Mason to discover when he compares the esoteric work of one Jurisdiction with that of another.
The trestle-board is so entirely different from the tracing-board that it is difficult to understand how so earnest a student as Oliver confounded them. Such mistakes made the most prolific of Masonic writers somewhat doubted as an authority.
“Trestle” comes from an old Scotch word, “trest,” meaning a supporting framework. Carpenters use trestles, or “saw horses,” to support boards to be sawed or planed. A board across two trestles provided a natural and easy way to display plans. Hence the name trestle-board; a board supported by trestles, on which plans were shown or made.
Mackey observes: “The trestle-board is at least two hundred years old; it is found in Pritchard’s “Masonry Dissected,” earliest of the exposes of Masonic Ritual. Here it is called “trestle-board,” but the object is he same, although the spelling of its name is different.
Symbols differ in relative importance according to the truths they conceal. Eagle and flag are both symbols of American ideals, but the flag is far the greater symbol of the two. The eagle is the American symbol of liberty - the flag, not only of liberty, but also of government of, for and by the people; of equality of opportunity; of free thought; of the nation as a whole. If one disagrees with Mackey and considers the tracing-board a symbol, it is, at most, one of teaching and learning; the trestle-board, on the contrary, has a symbolic content comparable in Freemasonry to that of the flag of the nation.
From the meanest hut to the mightiest Cathedral, never a building was not first an idea in some man’s mind. Never a pile of masonry of any pretensions but first a series of drawings, designs, plans. From Mt. St. Albans, newest of the glorious Cathedrals erected to the Most High, to Strassburg, Rheims, Canterbury, Cologne and Notre Dame, all were first drawn upon the trestle-board. Every bridge, every battleship, every engineering work, every dam, tunnel, monument, canal, tower erected by man must first be drawn upon paper with pencil and rule; with square and compasses.
The ancient builders erected Cathedrals by following the designs upon the Master’s trestle-board. Where he indicated stone, stone was laid. Where he drew a flying buttress, stone took wings. Where he showed a tower, a spire pointed to the vault. Where he indicated carvings, stone lace appeared.
Speculative Freemasons build not of stone, but with character. We erect not Cathedrals, but the “House Not Made With Hands.” Our trestle-board, “spiritual, Moral and Masonic” as the ritual has it, is as important in character building as the plans and designs laid down by the Master on the trestle-board by which the operative workman builds his temporal building.
The trestle-board of the Speculative Mason, so we are told by the ritual, is to be found in “the great books of nature and revelation.” Mackey considers that the Volume of the Sacred Law as the real trestle-board of Speculative Freemasonry. He Says:
“The trestle-board is then the symbol of the natural and moral law. Like every other symbol of the Order, it is universal and tolerant in its application; and while, as Christian Masons, we cling with unfaltering integrity to the explanation which makes the scriptures of both dispensations our trestle-board, we permit Jewish and Mohammedan brethren to content themselves with the books of the Old Testament or Koran. Masonry does not interfere with the peculiar form or development of any one’s religious faith. All that it asks is that the interpretation of the symbol shall be in accordance to what each one supposes to be the revealed will of the Creator. But so rigidly is it that the symbol shall be preserved and, in some rational way, interpreted, that it peremptorily excludes the atheist from its communion, because, believing in no Supreme Being - no Divine Architect - he must necessarily be without a spiritual trestle-board on which the designs of that Being may be inscribed for his direction.”
Modern scholars amplify Mackey’s dictum rather than quarrel with it. The ritual speaks of the great books of nature and revelation, and by “revelation” the Speculative Freemason understands the Volume of Sacred Law. But the great book of nature must not be forgotten when considering just what is and what is not the trestle-board of Freemasonry.
For Nature is the source of all knowledge. Without the “The great Book of Nature” to read, man could not learn, no matter what his power of reasoning and insight might be. All science comes from observation of nature. In the last analysis, all knowledge is science, therefore all knowledge comes from observation of nature. This is true of the abstract as of the concrete. Philosophy, ethics, standards of conduct and the like, are not products of natural evolution, but created by men’s minds. They are the flowers of natural philosophy. Few blossoms spring directly from the earth; the flowers grow upon the stalk which come from the ground. Indirectly, all that is beautiful in orchid, rose and violet came from the earth in which the roots of the plant find sustenance. So flowers of the mind are traceable back to observations of nature; had there been no nature to contemplate, man could not have imagined a philosophy to account for it.
Therefore modern Masonic scholarship thinks of the Speculative trestle-board as “both” nature - and by inference, all knowledge. all philosophy, all wisdom and learning; wherever dispersed and however made available - and the Volume of Sacred Law, the “revelation” of the ritual.
All great symbols have more than one meaning. Consider again the Flag of our country, which means no one essential part- liberty or equality or freedom to worship as we wish - but all these and many more besides. The trestle-board is a symbol with more than one meaning - aye, more meanings than “nature and revelation.” As each ancient builder had his own trestle-board, on which he drew the designs from which the workman produced in stone the dream in his mind, so each Mason has his own private trestle board, on which he draws the design by which he erects his House No Made With Hands. He may draw it of any one of many designs - he may choose a spiritual Doric, Ionic or Corinthian. He may make his edifice beautiful, useful or merely ornamental. But draw “some” design he must, else he cannot build. And the Freemason who builds not, what kind of a Freemason is he?SHORT TALK BULLETIN - Vol.X June, 1932 No.6

by: Unknown

"An emblem of innocence and the badge of a mason; more ancient than the Golden Fleece or Roman Eagle, more honorable that the Star and Garter, or any other order that can be conferred upon you at this or any future period, by any King, Prince, Potentate, or any other person, except he be a Mason. "

In these few words Freemasonry expresses the honor she pays to this symbol of the Ancient Craft.
The Order of the Golden Fleece was founded by Philip, Duke of Burgundy, in 1429.
The Roman Eagle was Rome’s symbol and ensign of power and might a hundred years before Christ.
The Order of the Star was created by John II of France in the middle of the Fourteenth Century.
The Order of the Garter was founded by Edward III of England in 1349 for himself and twenty-five Knights of the Garter.
That the Masonic Apron is more ancient than these is a provable fact. In averring that it is more honorable, the premise "when worthily worn " is understood. The Apron is "more honorable than the Star and Garter " when all that it teaches is exemplified in the life of the wearer.
Essentially the Masonic Apron is the badge of honorable labor. The right to wear it is given only to tried and tested men. Much has been written on these meanings of the symbol, but more has been devoted to trying to read into its modern shape and size - wholly fortuitous and an accident of convenience - a so-called "higher symbolism " which no matter how beautiful it may be, has no real connection with its "Masonic " significance.
So many well-intentioned brethren read into the Masonic Apron meanings invented out of whole cloth, that any attempt to put in a few words the essential facts about this familiar symbol of the Fraternity, either by what is said or left unsaid, is certain to meet with some opposition!
It is not possible to "prove " that George Washington did "not " throw a silver coin across the Rappahannock, or that he did "not " cut down a cherry tree with his little hatchet. Yet historians believe both stories apocryphal.
It is not possible to "prove " that no intentional symbolism was intended when the present square or oblong shape of the Masonic Apron was adopted (within the last hundred and fifty years), nor that the conventionalized triangular flap in "not " an allusion to the Forty- seventh Problem and the earliest symbol of Deity (triangle), nor that the combination of the four and three corners does not refer to the Pythagorean "perfect number " seven. But hard-headed historians, who accept nothing without evidence and think more of evidence than of inspirational discourses, do not believe our ancient brethren had in mind any such symbolism as many scientific writers have stated.
The view-point of the Masonic student is that enough real and ancient symbolism is in the apron, enough sanctity in its age, enough mystery in its descent, to make unnecessary any recourse to geometrical astronomical, astrological or other explanations for shape and angles which old gravings and documents plainly show to be a wholly modern conventionalizing of what in the builder’s art was a wholly utilitarian garget.
As Freemasons use it the apron is more than a mere descendant of a protecting garment of other clothing, just as Freemasons are more than descendants of the builders of the late Middle Ages. If we accept the Comancine theory (and no one has disproved it) we have a right to consider ourselves at least collaterally descended from the "Collegia " of ancient Rome. If we accept the evidence of sign and symbol, truth and doctrine, arcane and hidden mystery; Freemasonry is the modern repository of a hundred remains of as many ancient mysteries, religions and philosophies.
As the apron of all sorts, sizes and colors was an article of sacred investure in many of these, so is it in ours. What is truly important is the apron itself; what is less important is its size and shape, its method of wearing. Material and color are symbolic, but a Freemasons may be - and has been many - "properly clothed " with a handkerchief tucked about his middle, and it is common practice to make presentation aprons, most elaborately designed and embellished, without using leather at all, let alone lambskin.
Mackey believed color and material to be of paramount importance, and inveighed as vigorously as his gentle spirit would permit against decorations, tassels, paintings, embroideries, etc. Most Grand Lodges follow the great authority as far as the Craft is concerned, but relax strict requirements as to size, shape, color and material for lodge officers and Grand Lodge officers. Even so meticulous a Grand Lodge as New Jersey, for instance, which prescribe size and shape and absence of decoration, does admit the deep purple edge for Grand Lodge officers.
It is a far cry from the "lambskin or white leather apron " of the Entered Apprentice, to such an eye-filling garget as is worn by the grand Master of Masons in Massachusetts - an apron so heavily encrusted with gold leaf, gold lace, gold thread, etc., that the garment must be worn on a belt, carried flat in a case, weighs about ten pounds, and can be made successfully only by one firm and that abroad!
At least as many particular lodges cloth their officers in embroidered and decorated aprons, as those which do not. The Past Master’s apron bearing a pair of compasses on the arc of a quadrant, may be found at all prices in any Masonic regalia catalogue. So if, as Mackey contended, only the plain white leather apron is truly correct, those who go contrary to his dictum have at least the respectability of numbers and long custom.
Universal Masonic experience proves the apron to be among the most important of those symbols which teach the Masonic doctrine. The Apprentice receives it through the Rite of Investure during his first degree, when he is taught to wear it in a special manner. The brother appearing for his Fellowcraft Degree is clothed with it worn as an Apprentice; later he learns a new way to wear it. Finally, as a Master Mason, he learns how such Craftsmen should wear the "badge of a Mason. "
That various Jurisdictions are at odds on what is here correct is less important than it seems. Many teach that the Master Mason should wear his apron with corner tucked up, as a symbol that he is the "Master, " and does not need to use the tools of a Fellowcraft, but instead, directs the work. As many more teach that the Fellowcraft wears his apron with corner up, as a symbol that he is not yet a "Master, " and therefore does not have a right to wear the apron full spread, as a Master Mason should! Into what is "really " correct this paper cannot go; Jeremy Cross, in earlier editions of his "True Masonic Chart " shows a picture of a Master Mason wearing his apron with the corner tucked up.
What is universal, and important, is that all three - Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft and Master Mason - do wear their aprons in different ways. All are Masons, hence wear the badge of a Mason; one has progressed further than another, and therefore wears his apron differently as a sign that he has learned more.
Incidentally, it may be noted that aprons seldom are, but always should be, worn on the outside of the coat, not hidden beneath it. Alas, comfort and convenience - and, in urban lodges, the evening dress of officers and some members - have led to the careless habit of wearing the apron not in full view, as a badge of honor and of service, but concealed, as if it were a matter of small moment. The use of the apron is very old - far older than as a garment to protect the clothing of the operative craftsmen, or to provide him with a convenient receptacle in which to keep his tools.
Girdles. or aprons, were part of the clothing of the Priests of Israel. Candidates for the mysteries of Mithras in Persia were invested with aprons. The ancient Japanese used aprons in religious worship. Oliver, noted Masonic scholar of the last century, no longer followed as a historian but venerated for his research and his Masonic industry, says of the apron:
"The apron appears to have been, in ancient times, an honorary badge of distinction. In the Jewish economy, none but the superior orders of the priesthood were permitted to adorn themselves with ornamented girdles, which were made of blue, purple and crimson; decorated with gold upon a ground of fine white linen; while the inferior priests wore only white. The Indian, the Persian, the Jewish, the Ethiopian and the Egyptian aprons, though equally superb, all bore a character distinct from each other. Some were plain white, others striped with blue, purple and crimson; some were of wrought gold, others adorned and decorated with superb tassels and fringes.
"In a word, though the "principal honor " of the apron may consist in its reference to innocence of conduct and purity of heart, yet it certainly appears through all ages to have been a most exalted badge of distinction. In primitive times it was rather an ecclesiastical than a civil decoration, although in some cases the pron was elevated to great superiority as a national trophy. The Royal Standard of Persia was originally "an apron " in form and dimensions. At this day, it is connected with ecclesiastical honors; for the chief dignitaries of the Christian church, wherever a legitimate establishment, with the necessary degrees of rank and subordination, is formed, are invested with aprons as a peculiar badge of distinction; which is a collateral proof of the fact that Freemasonry was originally incorporated with the various systems of Divine Worship used by every people in the ancient world. Freemasonry retains the symbol or shadow; it cannot have renounced the reality or substance. "
Mackey’s dictum about the color and the material of the Masonic apron, if as often honored in the breach as in the observance, bears rereading. The great Masonic scholar said:
The color of a Freemason’s apron should be pure unspotted white. This color has, in all ages and countries, been esteemed an emblem of innocence and purity. It was with this reference that a portion of the vestments of the Jewish priesthood was directed to be white. In the Ancient Mysteries the candidate was always clothed in white. "The priests of the Romans, " says Festus, "were accustomed to wear white garments when they sacrificed. " In the Scandinavian Rites it has been seen that the shield presented to the candidate was white. The Druids changed the color of the garment presented to their initiates with each degree; white, however, was the color appropriate to the last, or degree of perfection. And it was, according to their ritual, intended to teach the aspirant that none were admitted to the honor but such as were cleansed from all impurities both of body and mind. "In the early ages of the Christian church a white garment was always placed upon the catechumen who had been newly baptized, to denote that he had been cleansed from his former sins, and was henceforth to lead a life of purity. Hence, it was presented to him with this solemn charge:

"Receive the white and undefiled garment, and produce it unspotted before the tribunal of our Lord, Jesus Christ,that you may obtain eternal life. "

"From these instances we learn that white apparel was anciently used as an emblem of purity, and for this reason the color has been preserved in the apron of the Freemason.
"A Freemason’s apron must be made of Lambskin. No other substance, such as linen, silk or satin could be substituted without entirely destroying the emblematical character of the apron, for the material of the Freemason’s apron constitutes one of the most important symbols of his profession. The lamb has always been considered as an appropriate emblem of innocence. Hence, we are taught, in the ritual of the First Degree, that "by the lambskin, the Mason is reminded of the purity of life and rectitude of conduct which is so essentially necessary to his gaining admission into the Celestial Lodge above, where the Supreme Architect of the Universe forever presides. "
Words grow and change in meaning with the years; a familiar example is the word "profane " which Masons use in its ancient sense, meaning "one not initiated " or "one outside the Temple. " In common usage, profane means blasphemous. So has the word "innocence " changed in meaning. Originally it connoted "to do no hurt. " Now it means lack of knowledge of evil - as an innocent child; the presence of virginity - as an innocent girl; also, the state of being free from guilt of any act contrary to law, human or Divine.
"An Emblem of Innocence " is not, Masonically, "an emblem of ignorance. " Rather do we use the original meaning of the word, and make of the apron an emblem of one who does no injury to others. This symbolism is carried out both by the color and material; white has always been the color of purity, and the lamb has always been a symbol of harmlessness and gentleness. Haywood says:
"The innocence of a Mason is his gentleness, chivalrous determination to do no moral evil to any person, man or woman, or babe; his patient forbearance of the crudeness and ignorance of men, his charitable forgiveness of his brethren when they willfully or unconsciously do him evil; his dedication to a spiritual knighthood in behalf of the value and virtues of humanity by which alone man rises above the brutes and the world is carried forward on the upward way. "
The lambskin apron presented to the initiate during his entered Apprentice Degree should be for all his life a very precious possession; the outward and visible symbol of an inward and spiritual tie. Many, perhaps most, Masons leave their original aprons safely at home, and wear the cotton drill substitutes provided by many lodges for their members. But here again the outward and evident drill apron is but the symbol of the presentation lambskin symbol; the symbol kept safely against the day when, at long last, the members of a lodge can do no more for their brother but lay him away under its protecting and comforting folds.
Truly he has been a real Mason, in the best sense of that great word, who has worn his lambskin apron during his manhood "with pleasure to himself, and honor to the Fraternity. "

Within the Master’s reach in every Lodge is some table, stand, pedestal or other structure on which he may lay his papers. Often this is considered the trestle-board because upon it the Master draws the design for the meeting. Any brother has a right to read into any symbol his own interpretation; for those to whom this conception is sufficient, it is good enough. But it seems rather a reduction of the great level of the little. A light house is, indeed, a house with a light, but he who sees but the house and the light, but fails to visualize those lost ones who by it find their way; who cannot see the ships kept in safety by its ceaseless admonition that this way lies danger; who cannot behold it as a symbol as well as a structure, misses its beauty. Those who see only the pedestal which supports the Master’s plans as a Speculative Trestle-board miss the higher meaning of the symbol.
Lodge notices are not infrequently called trestle-boards, since on them the Master draws the design for the coming work, and sends them out to the Craftsmen. This too, seems belittling of the symbol, unless the brethren are led to see that so denominating the monthly notice is but a play on words, and not a teaching.
A Freemason’s trestle-board, his own combination of what he may learn from man and nature, from the Book of Revelation on the Altar, and the designs in his own heart, is a great and pregnant symbol. It is worthy of many hours of pondering; a Masonic teaching to be loved and lived. Who makes of it less misses something that is beautiful in Freemasonry.

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