Interpretation of the 1st Degree


The Entered Apprentice; The Meaning of the Term

You are now an Entered Apprentice. The first step in your journey to the Sublime Degree of a Master Mason has been taken. Doubtless you found your initiation an experience you will never wish to forget. A Degree of Masonry is not an isolated experience, but an ever-enduring privilege. Always you may sit in your own lodge when open on the Entered Apprentice Degree; always you can return to observe, to participate in, and to study its ceremonies.

Doubtless you have an eager curiosity to learn more about this remarkable Degree before you receive that of Fellow Craft. Perhaps its ceremonies seemed
strange to you; its language fell on your ears with unaccustomed accents; and at its end, you may have been somewhat bewildered. It is our function to help you interpret it by giving you a brief explanation of the term “Entered Apprentice”.

The builders of those remarkable structures in Europe and Great Britain, from six hundred to nine hundred years ago we call operative masons, because they were builders in the literal sense.


It was necessary for the Operative Masons to recruit new members to replace those lost through removal, accident, illness, or death. To do this, they used the apprenticeship system, which was in vogue in all
crafts for many centuries.

The word “apprentice” means “learner” or beginner, one who is taking his first steps in mastering a trade, art or profession. The operative apprentice was a boy, usually from ten to fifteen years of age. He was required to be sound in body, in order to do work requiring physical strength and endurance. He had to be of good habits, obedient and willing to learn, and of unquestioned reputation, and be well recommended by Masons already members of the craft.

When such a boy was chosen as an apprentice, he was called into the lodge where all the members could assure themselves of his mental, moral and physical qualifications. If they voted to receive him, he was given much information about the Craft, what it required of its members, something of its early history and tradition, and what his duties would be. He gave a solemn promise to obey his superiors, to work diligently, to observe the laws and rules and to keep the secrets.

After being thus obligated, he was bound over, or indentured, to one of the more experienced Master Masons. As a rule, he lived with this Master Mason, and
from him, day by day, learned the methods and secrets of the trade. This apprenticeship lasted usually seven years.

After this young man had “gone to school” in this manner long enough to give assurance of his fitness to master the art and to become a acceptable member of the Society, his name was entered on the books of the Lodge and he was given a recognized place in the Craft organization and, because of this official entering of his name, he was given the title “Entered Apprentice”. All those of the same degree of advancement constituted the rank or grade of Apprentice Masons.

It is difficult to appreciate the care our Operative Masonic forebears devoted to these learners. The Intender, as the Master Mason to whom the Apprentice was indentured was called, was obliged by law to teach him theory as well as practice. Not until the Apprentice, after many years, could prove his proficiency by meeting the most rigid tests of skill, was he permitted to advance to a higher rank in the Craft. Other Master Masons with whom he was set at work at the simpler tasks also were his teachers. He was given Moral instruction; his conduct was carefully scrutinized; many rules were laid down to control his manner of life.


When we read the Old Charges and ancient documents that have come down to us, we are impressed by the amount of space devoted to apprentices. The Operative Masons knew the future.

 As time passed, there grew up about the rank and duties and regulations of the Apprentice an organized set of customs, ceremonies, rules, traditions, etc. These at last crystallized into a well-defined unit, which we may describe as the Operative Entered Apprentice Degree. When, after the Reformation, Operative Masonry was transformed into Speculative Masonry, the Entered Apprentice Degree was retained as one of the Degrees of the Speculative Lodge, modified, of course, to meet the needs of the Speculative Fraternity.

As an Entered Apprentice you are a learner, a beginner in Speculative Masonry. You have taken the first steps in the mastery of our art. And it is because you have this rank that certain things are expected of you.

First, you must learn certain portions of the Degree, so as to prove your proficiency in open Lodge. But you are to learn these parts not merely to pass this test; you should master them so thoroughly that they will remain with you throughout life, because you will have need of them many times in the future.

Second, you must learn the laws, rules, and regulations; by which, an Entered Apprentice is governed.


As you stand in the northeast corner of the Lodge during your initiation, you are taught a certain lesson concerning a cornerstone. The meaning of that lesson should now be clear to you. You are a cornerstone of the Craft. The day will probably come when, into your hands, will fall your share of the responsibilities of the Lodge. You are a cornerstone on which the fraternity is being erected. It is our hope and expectation that you will prove a solid foundation, true and tried, set four square on which our great Fraternity may safely build.

The Entered Apprentice; An Interpretation

The Masonic lodge room is represented in the Ritual as a symbol of the world. The particular form in which this symbol is cast harks back to early times when men believed the earth to be square and the sky a solid dome; but while this no longer represents our idea of the physical shape of the world, the significance remains the same.

The world thus represented is the world of Masonry; the Masonic career, from beginning to end, all that lies between. The West gate through which the candidate is ushered into Masonic life; the old life with all its accessories, has dropped from him completely. He now enters on a new life in a new world.

Masonry is systematic, well proportioned, balanced. Duties and work are supervised and regulated, controlled through laws written and unwritten, expressed through Landmarks, traditions, usages, Constitutions and By-laws, guided and directed through officers vested with power and authority; when he follows his guide and fears not what man can do, he expresses his trust in, and loyalty to, the Fraternity.

The new world is a lawful world in which caprice and arbitrariness have no part. It has a definite nature, is devoted to specified purposes, committed to well-defined aims and ideals. Its members cannot make it over to suit their own whims or to conform to their own purposes; they must make themselves over to conform to it’s requirements.


One should not become a Master Mason in order to become a lodge member; he should become a member in order to become a real Master Mason.

Among the first requirements of the apprentice is that he shall offer himself as a rough stone to be shaped under Masonic laws and influences for a place in the
temple of Masonry.


This world of Masonry is dedicated to Brotherhood. Unless the Apprentice is willing and qualified to lead the brotherly life he will never master the Royal Art. Unless he is willing, in all sincerity, to abide by his obligations and the laws, which define, regulate, and control the brotherly life, he will be out of harmony with the Fraternity, unable to find a foothold in the world he seeks to enter. All of our Ritual, symbols, emblems, allegories and ceremonies, in the richness and variety of their meaning, point in the same direction. Unless an Apprentice understands and accepts them, he will fail to comprehend Masonic teaching.

In his first degree, an Apprentice takes his first step into this, and leaves the darkness, destitution and helplessness of the profane world for the light and warmth of this new existence. This is the great meaning of this degree; it is not an idle formality, but a genuine experience, the beginning of a new career in which duties, rights and privileges are real. If a candidate is not to be an Apprentice in name only, he must stand ready to do the work upon his own nature that will make him a different man.

Members are called Craftsman because they are workmen; Lodges are quarries because they are scenes of toil. Freemasonry offers no privileges or rewards except to those who earn them; it places Working Tools, not playthings, in the hands of its members.

To become a Mason is a solemn and serious undertaking. Once the step is taken, it may well change the course of a man’s life.

The Holy Saints John; To Whom All Lodges Are Dedicated.

You will recall that the Lecture states “Lodges were anciently dedicated to King Solomon, as it is said that he was our first, Most Excellent Grand Master. Lodges, at the present time, are dedicated to Saint John the Baptist, and Saint John the Evangelist, who were two eminent patrons of Masonry…” Except in the following passage concerning the two parallel lines, no further reference appears in the Lectures.

However, in our ceremonies of Dedication and of Constitution, the reference is amplified and, to some degree, explained. In the ceremony of Dedication the Grand Master, dedicating a Masonic Hall, says, “… Sacred things were both consecrated and dedicated, while profane things were only dedicated…” Churches were consecrated to the worship of God, but dedicated to or placed under special patronage of some particular saint.

“While we consecrate our Lodges to the honor and glory of God, we dedicate them to the memory of the Holy Saints John; and the building itself is dedicated to Freemasonry, Virtue and Universal Benevolence.”

Biblically, John the Baptist was the son of the Jewish priest Zacharias, and Elizabeth, cousin of Mary. A zealous judge of morality, his life, built on the strength of faith, sustained to his martyred death, is an example of the unshaken firmness in the right and in his inflexibility to God.

The festival of St. John the Baptist is held on June 24th, and is widely celebrated by lodges, some of which mark a chain of observance uninterrupted for many years. In England, Scotland and Ireland, there were, in 1717, at the beginning of the first Grand Lodge, a large number of lodges and Masons known as St. Johns Masons. As the first Grand Lodge of England was formed on St. John the Baptist Day in 1717 so were subsequent annual meetings held on that day.


Less widely celebrated, perhaps because its observance falls on December 27th, is the festival of St. John the Evangelist, the author of the Epistles bearing his name. His constant admonitions to the cultivation of brotherly love, and the mysticism of his vision, undoubtedly led to his inclusion and union with John the Baptist as the Holy Saints John. With regularity becoming established, the patron saints of Masonry have become enshrined in the memory of every Mason.

The Tenets; Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth.

The principal tenets of Freemasonry are Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth. It is necessary not to overlook the word “principal”, for it signifies that, while our fraternity lays the greatest emphasis on these three teachings, yet there are others which must not be overlooked.

By a “tenet” of Freemasonry is meant some teaching so obviously true, so universally accepted, that we believe it without question. Examples lie everywhere about us. Good health is better than illness; a truthful man is more dependable that a liar; it is better to save money than to waste it; an industrious man is more useful than an idle one; education is to be preferred to ignorance. These are but a few of the countless examples of teachings that no intelligent man can possibly question. Everybody takes them for granted. They are Tenets.


Freemasonry considers Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth to be teachings of this kind, true in the sense that no man can question them; they are obvious, selfproving, and axiomatic. It is not uncommon for men to consider Brotherly Love, while highly desirable, as not practicable, and therefore but a vision, to be dreamed of but never possessed. It is challenging for Freemasonry to call these “tenets” thus stating that they are plainly and obviously and necessarily true. Unless you grasp this, and see that the teachings of Freemasonry are self evident
realities, not visionary ideals, you will never understand Masonic teachings. For Freemasonry does not tell us that the principles of Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth ought to be true, that it would be better for us all if they were true – it tells us that they are true. They are tremendous realities in human life, and it is as impossible
to question their validity as to question the ground under our feet, or the sun over our heads. Our Question is not whether to believe them or not, but what are we
going to do with them?


Love places the highest possible valuation on another person. A man’s mother or father, his wife or sweetheart, his children, his intimate friends, he values not for advantages he may gain from them, not for their usefulness, but each one in his own person and for his own sake. We work for such persons, we make sacrifices for them, we delight to be with them; that in detail and practice, is what is meant by love.

What then, is Brotherly Love? Manifestly, it means that we place on another man the highest possible valuation as a friend, a companion, an associate, a neighbor. “By the exercise of Brotherly Love, we are taught to regard the whole human species as one family.” We do not ask that, from our relationship, we shall achieve any selfish gain. Our relationship with a brother is its own justification, its own reward. Brotherly Love is one of the supreme values without which life is lonely, unhappy, and ugly. This is not a hope or dream, but a fact. Freemasonry builds on that fact, provides opportunity for us to have such fellowship, encourages us to understand and to practice it, and to make it one of the laws of our existence, one of our Principal Tenets. Relief is one of the forms of charity. We often think of charity as relief from poverty. To care for the helpless or unemployed is deemed usually a responsibility resting on the public. As a rule, the public discharges that responsibility through some form of organized charity financed by general subscriptions or out of public funds.

Our conception of relief is broader and deeper than this. We fully recognize the emergency demands made by physical and economic distress; but we likewise understand that the cashing of a check is not necessarily a complete solution of the difficulty. There sometimes enters the problem of readjustment, of rehabilitation, of keeping the family together, of children’s education, and various other matters vital to the welfare of those concerned and through the whole process, there is the need for spiritual comfort, for the assurance of a sincere and continuing interest and friendship, which is the real translation of our principal tenet: Brotherly Love.

Masonic relief takes it for granted that any man, no matter how industrious and frugal he may be, through sudden misfortunes, or conditions over which he has no control, may be in temporary need of a helping hand. To extend it is not what is generally described as charity, but is one of the inevitable acts of Brotherhood. Any conception of Brotherhood must include this willingness to give necessary aid. Therefore, Relief, Masonically understood, is a tenet.

Truth, the last of the Principal Tenets, is meant something more than the search for truths in the intellectual sense, though that is included. “Truth is a divine attribute and the foundation of every virtue. To be good and true is the first lesson we are taught in Masonry.” In any permanent Brotherhood, members must be truthful in character and habits, dependable, men of honor, on whom we can rely to be faithful fellows and loyal friends. Truth is a vital requirement if a brotherhood is to endure and we, therefore, accept it as such.

Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth are the principal Tenets of Masonry. There are other tenets, also – Teachings so obvious that argument is never necessary to sustain them. With this in mind, we urge you to ponder the teachings of the craft as you progress from Degree to Degree. You may not find them novel, but novelty is unimportant in the light of the knowledge that the truths upon which Freemasonry is founded are eternal. The freshness of immortality is on them because they never die; in them is a ceaseless inspiration and an inexhaustible appeal. They are tenets of Freemasonry because always and every where they have been tenets of successful human life.

Masonry and Citizenship; The Charge.

In the charge of the Entered Apprentice Degree, you are enjoined to be exemplary in the discharge of your duties as a citizen by never proposing or countenancing any act which may have a tendency to subvert the peace and good order of society, by paying due obedience to the laws under whose protection you live, and by never losing sight of the allegiance due to your country.

In some parts of the world, men of many nationalities belong to the same lodge. Many of our members retain membership in lodges in England, Scotland, or elsewhere. Citizenship in another country is not, of itself, a bar to membership in our great fraternity.

Loyalty to one’s country, and loyalty to one’s lodge are never in opposition to each other. We expect the individual Mason to work at the duties of citizenship, making himself available for service to his community, state and nation. Only through this can the privileges which we enjoy as Masons and as men be saved for our children’s children.

As religious differences exist between men, so do political differences show in partisan politics. No proposal advanced in political debate is without its adherents
and dissenters. No individual, striving for political preferment, is without his supporters and opponents. That such differences may be eliminated from Lodges, discussion of political issues and candidates, as well as religious issues, is prohibited by our ancient law.

Man little realizes the power for good of precept and example and one active citizen has an influence on the deeds of others far beyond his own acquaintance. It is hoped that you will be, through Masonry, a better citizen.

Symbols of the Entered Apprentice.

The symbols, emblems and allegorical ceremonies of the First Degree each have a meaning and comprise a large part of the teachings of the degree. Our time is too brief to give you complete explanations, but we believe it will be profitable for you to have a few suggestions, especially as they will show that every detail of the ritual is filled with a definite significance.


The language of symbols is as universal as man. In fact, language itself is an illustration of the uses of symbols to transfer ideas from man to man.

We may divide symbols into two classes – natural and artificial, though sometime the dividing line between them is very vague, and in may cases the same symbols is used in both classes. By a natural symbol we mean one in which the nature of the thing itself conveys an idea and is independent of any other language, either spoken or written. An artificial symbol is one to which an arbitrary meaning has been assigned by common agreement.

In general we may say that the letters of the alphabet and words formed from them are artificial symbols, and the level as it conveys the idea of equality is a natural one.

The hoodwink represents the darkness in which the uninitiated stand as regards Masonry. It is removed at the moment of enlightenment, suggesting that we do not create the great things in life, such as goodness, truth and beauty, but find them. They always exist, regardless of the blindness of any individual.

The ancient significance of the cable tow is uncertain, and evidence of this is found in the widely divergent interpretations one may read in the literature of Masonry. However, without stating in detail the reasons, we regard the assumption of the cable tow in advance of each of the degrees as a symbol of the voluntary and complete acceptance of and pledged compliance with whatever Masonry may have in store; and the subsequent release after taking the obligation indicates this symbol is no longer needed, since the candidate has assumed the definite and irrevocable pledge of the degree.

Concerning the penalty it suggests it may also be regarded as a physical symbol of the spiritual penalty, which naturally and inevitably follows the violation of moral obligations. If a man does not keep the law of his own free will, he must be compelled to keep it. The removal of the Cable Tow signifies that when a man becomes a master of himself, he will keep the law instinctively.

The Ceremony of Entrance signifies birth or initiation, and symbolizes the fact that you are entering a new world, that of Masonry.

The Reception typifies the one real penalty for violation of the Obligation: The destructive consequences to a man’s nature through the failure to be true to his vows.

The Rite of Circumambulation is Masonry’s name for the ceremony in which you are conducted around the lodge room, an allegorical act rich with many meanings. One of these is that the Masonic life is a progressive journey, from station to station of attainment, and that a Mason should continually search for more light.

An equally significant ceremony is that of Approaching the East. The East is the source of light; that station in the heavens in which the sun appears to dispel the darkness. Masons are Sons of Light; therefore, we face the East. The Altar is a symbol of the spiritual heart of Masonry.

The Obligations have a literal meaning and as such are the foundations of our disciplinary law, but above this, they signify the nature and place of obligation in human life. An obligation is a tie, a contract, a pledge, a promise, a vow, a duty; in addition to the obligations we voluntarily assumes, there many under which we stand naturally – obligations to God, to our country, to our families, to employers or employees, to friends and fellow citizens.

The Great Lights of Masonry are the Holy Bible, the Square, and the Compass. As a Great Light, the Holy Bible represents the Sacred Book of the Law, and is a symbol of man’s acknowledgement of and his relation to Deity.

The Square is an emblem of virtue. It is an instrument of architecture that has been used throughout the ages, and our ancient Brethren who wrought in Operative Masonry could not have erected the superb Temple, which immortalized the name of King Solomon, without the use of this instrument.

The Compass was employed in operative Masonry for the accurate measurement of the architect’s plans ands to enable him to give just proportions which would ensure stability and beauty. In Speculative Masonry, it is an equally important implement symbolic of that true standard of rectitude of living which alone can insure beauty and stability in life. The Compass signifies the duty which we owe to ourselves. We might also properly regard the Compass as excluding beyond its circle that which is harmful or unworthy.

The word and grip are our means of recognition by which, among stranger’s we are able to prove others or ourselves regular Masons in order to enter into Fraternal relationships.

The Rite of Salutation, in which the candidate salutes the Master, is not only a test of his ability to give proper due guard and sign, but it is his recognition of the authority of the Master. It is also a symbol of a mason’s respect for and obedience to all just and duly constituted authorities. The Old Charges state this in a single sentence: “A Mason is a peaceable subject to the Civil Powers, wherever he resides or works.”

The Master is a symbol as well as the executive officer of the Lodge. As the Sun rules the day, he should endeavor to rule and govern his lodge.

The Apron is at once an emblem of purity and the badge of a Mason. By purity is meant clean thinking and clean living, a loyal obedience to the laws of the craft, and sincere good will to the Brethren; the badge of a Mason signifies that Masons are workers and builders, not drones and destructionists.

The symbolism of the rite of destitution reverts to those ancient times when men believed that the planets determined human fate and controlled human passions, and that there was a metal by which each planet itself was controlled. In ancient initiations candidates were compelled to leave all metals behind, lest they bring into the assembly disturbing planetary influences. While with us this symbolism no longer has an astrological character, the old point about excluding disturbing influences remains; the candidate is not to bring into the Lodge room his passions or prejudices lest that harmony, which is one of the chief concerns of Masonry, be destroyed.

There is another and more obvious significance in this Rite of Destitution; that of the obligation of every Mason to recognize and alleviate, so far as his resources reasonably permit, the distress of his fellowmen; and we are reminded that this obligation rests with even greater weight upon us when the one in distress is a Masonic brother.

The Northeast Corner is traditionally the place where the cornerstone of a building is laid. The Apprentice is, therefore, so placed to receive his first instruction on which to build his moral and Masonic edifice.

The Operative Mason would have been helpless without his Working Tools. Without them there would have been no magnificent cathedrals, no superb Temple of Solomon; even the craft itself would have been nonexistent, and the world today infinitely poorer.

Nowhere in Masonry do we find the impact of symbolism more significant than in its application to the Working Tools. Without them, Speculative Masonry would be but an empty shell of formalism, if indeed, it managed to exist at all. While they do contain the whole philosophy of Masonry, the various Working Tools allocated to the three degrees by their very presence declare there is constructive work to be done, and by there nature indicate the direction this work is to take.

The Entered Apprentice is himself a symbol, one of the noblest in the emblematic system of the Craft. He represents youth, typified by the rising sun; trained youth, youth willing to submit itself to discipline and to seek knowledge in order to learn the great art of life, represented and interpreted by all the mysteries of Masonry.

It is by such voices and arts as all these, that our magnificent First Degree gave its teachings to you as a man and an Entered Apprentice. It is sincerely hoped that these suggestions as to the meaning of these symbols and emblems will lead you to seek further light, not only that you may become a well trained Mason, but also to their value to your life outside the Lodge room.

Masonry and The Sacred Law; The Holy Writings.

The Holy Writings occupy the central place in our lodges. At installation, the installing Officer admonishes the newly appointed Chaplain as follows:

“That Holy Book which adorns our sacred altar is the great light in Masonry and forever sheds its benignant rays upon every lawful assemblage of Free and Accepted Masons.”

So you are charged to regard the Volume of the Sacred Law as the great light in your profession, to consider it as the unerring standard of truth and justice; and to regulate your actions by the divine precepts it contains.

Constant reference is made to this theme of man governed by the laws of his Creator just as our lodges are governed in homage, to the Deity, by the virtues of Temperance, Fortitude, Prudence, and Justice.

These virtues point out an ideal, which leads us to welcome as applicants, men of every sect and creed which glorifies the Great Architect of the Universe. Thus, the divisions, which might otherwise separate man from man, are done away with in Masonry. The Word of God may come through the New or Old Testament, the Talmud, the Koran, and each, in particular areas of the world, is used as the Great Light. In the United States, the Old and New Testaments are used together.

As the atheist is ineligible to be received as a Candidate, so a lodge or Grand Lodge which dispenses with the Holy Writings is deemed irregular and unlawful, and no recognition may be extended to it.

To you, therefore, we must impart that respect and toleration which we feel for all religions and our undying resistance to any force, either clerical or political, which would destroy our religious freedom and substitute the tyranny of dogma, either of the Church or the State.