Interpretation of the 3rd Degree


An Interpretation of the Ritual of the Third Degree


You have been raised to the Sublime Degree of a Master Mason. It is indeed a “sublime” Degree, which a man may study for years without exhausting. Any interpretation must necessarily be a hint only; yet a hint may stimulate a man to reflect upon it for himself and to study it more thoroughly in the future.


In the First and Second Degrees you were surrounded by the symbols and emblems of architecture; in the Third degree you found a different order of symbolism, cast in the language of the soul – its life, its tragedy and its triumph. To recognize this is the first step in interpretation.


The second step is to recognize that the Third Degree has many meanings; it is not intended to be a lesson complete within itself, but rather a pointing out of paths, a new departure, a series of inspirations, like a great symphony, drama or picture to which one may evermore return to find new meanings, new beauties,
and new truths.


There are many interpretations of the Degree, but essentially it is a drama of the immortality of the soul, setting forth the truth that, while a man’s body withers away and perishes, the man himself perishes not.


That this is the meaning most generally adopted by the Craft, is shown by our habits of language; we say that a man is “initiated” an Entered Apprentice, “passed” to a Fellowcraft, and “raised” a Master Mason; by this it appears that it is the raising that most Masons have found at the center of the Master Mason’s Degree.


Evil in the form of tragedy is set forth in the drama of the Third Degree. Here is a good and wise man, a builder, working for others and giving others work, the highest we know, as it is dedicated wholly to God; a man who through no fault of his own experiences tragedy from friends and fellow Masons. Here is evil pure and unalloyed, a complete picture of human tragedy.


How did the Craft meet this tragedy? The first step was to impose the supreme penalty on those who had possessed the will to destroy and therefore had to be destroyed lest another tragedy follow. The greatest enemy man has makes war upon the good; to it no quarter can be given.


The second step was to discipline and to pardon those who acted not out of an evil will, but were misled through weakness. Forgiveness is possible if a man himself condemns the evil he has done, since in spite of his weakness, he retains his faith in the good.


The third step was to recover from the wreckage caused by the tragedy, whatever of value it has left undestroyed. Confusion had come upon the Craft, order was restored, and loyal Craftsmen took up the burdens dropped by the traitors. It is in the nature of such a tragedy that the good suffer for the evil of others and it is one of the prime duties of life that a man shall toil to undo the harm wrought by sin and crime, else in time the world would be destroyed by the evils that are done it in it.


But what of the victims of the Tragedy? Here is the profoundest and most difficult lesson of the drama – difficult to understand, difficult to believe if one has not been truly initiated into the realities of the spiritual life. Because the victim was a good man, his goodness rooted in an unvarying faith in God, that which destroyed him in one sense could not destroy him in another. The spirit in him rose above the reach of evil; by virtue of it he was raised from a dead level to a living perpendicular.


Let us imagine a genuinely good man who has been the victim of the most terrible of tragedies, one caused by the treachery of friends. This treachery has brought destruction upon the foundations of his life, his home, his reputation, and his ability to earn a livelihood. How can he be raised above the clutch of such circumstances? How can he emerge a happier man than before? By his spirit rising to the level of forgiveness, of resignation, of self-sacrifice, refusing to stoop to retaliation or to harbor bitterness. In such a spirit the truest happiness is found.


The secret of such a power is in the Third degree, symbolized by the Word. If that Word is lost, a man must search for it; if a man possesses that Word, he has the secret of the Masonic Art. To rise to the height of spiritual life is to stand on a level above the reach of tragedy or the powers of evil. To have the spirit rest in God, to have a sincere and unvarying faith in truth and goodness, is the inner secret of a Master Mason, and to teach this is the purpose of the Third Degree.

Symbols and Allegories of the Third Degree.


In your experience with the Ritual, you have learned that every phrase, event and other detail in the ceremonies of initiation is full of meaning. No item is merely for effect or ornament. In the Third Degree are the deepest secrets and profoundest teachings of our Fraternity. At this time we can give you but a few hints, in the hope that they might inspire you to study the degree for yourself.


The symbolism of the First and Second Degree centers around the art of architecture; their purpose is to teach you, in the First to be a builder of yourself; in the second, a builder of society. In the Third Degree, the symbolism takes another form. Although its background continues to be architecture, and its action takes place in and about a Temple, it is a spiritual symbolism of life and death. Its principle teaching is immortality.


Frequent references are made to King Solomon’s Temple. This great temple, reflecting majesty, magnitude and magnificence, after standing for 420 years, was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar of the Chaldees Its successor, erected by Zerubbabel, stood nearly 500 years, when it was reconstructed by Herod – The Temple of Herod – which was destroyed by the Romans under Titus. The Mosque of Omar, occupying the original site, has stood for twelve centuries. These thirty centuries have produced great changes but the foundations remain unmoved. Each stone, immense and artistic, may be identified by the private mark of the quarryman and still defies the ravages of time.


So with Masonry, its foundation, composed of the grandest principles ever communicated from God to man, stand unmoved. The temple of Freemasonry symbolizes the Temple of the Soul. Just as the Temple of King Solomon was then considered the finest ever erected by the hand of man, so the Great Architect intends that we shall develop the finest and most nearly perfect characters. As certain working tools were employed to erect that greatest of temporal buildings, so in Speculative Masonry we must choose as our working tools in life those moral lessons that build character. So may the rough ashlar, become in time, the perfect ashlar.


The working tools of the degree are all the implements of Masonry, but more especially the Trowel, by which we spread the cement of Brotherly Love. But Brotherly Love itself has its source and seat in the soul. To love a man above his sins, to cherish him in spite of his faults, to forgive him in all sincerity, to bear with him and to forbear, is possible only as we feel the influence of the spiritual, and have divested ourselves of selfishness.


The tragedy of Hiram Abiff is the climax of the degree. Next in importance, and in many ways equal in interest, is the allegorical Search For That Which Was Lost. This has a historical background. To the early Jewish people, a name was something peculiarly identified with a person, and held in reverence. Sometime it was secret, and substitute name was used in daily life.


All this appears in our ritual in the form of an allegory. A Word was possessed; a Word was lost.


Like all symbols, this means many things. One of its more profound meanings is that if a man has lost the ideals and standards of his youth, his character, his faith in truth and goodness, he must, if he is to live the Masonic life, go in search of that which was lost, and continue searching until he finds it.


You may wonder why the Ritual does not explain fully and clearly the meaning of this symbolism, why it leaves the candidate to find the meanings for himself. There are at least three reasons for this silence. First, lack of sufficient time. Second, the Masonic life grows by what we do for ourselves. Third, the method of the Ritual is to bring us into the presence of the greater truths of life knowing that their mere presence will have a deep influence over us; each man is left to work them out in detail according to his own needs.


Of the Emblems of the Third Degree, one after another is set before us, apparently in no given order, and each with only a hint of what it signifies. Yet each of them stands for some great idea or ideal. Each of them is a master truth.


In the Three Pillars we have the three great ideas – wisdom, strength, and beauty. The three steps remind us of how Youth, Manhood, and Old Age is each a unity in itself, each possessing its own duties and problems, each calling for its own philosophy. The Pot of Incense teaches that, of all forms of worship, to be pure and blameless in our inner lives is more acceptable to God than anything
else, because that which a man really is, is of vastly greater importance that that which he appears to be. The book of Constitutions is the emblem of law, and that our moral and spiritual character is grounded in law and order as much as is government and nature. It teaches that no man can live a satisfactory life who lives lawlessly.


The Sword pointing to the Naked Heart discovers that one of the most rigorous of these laws is justice, and that if a man be unjust in his heart, the inevitable results of injustice will find him out. The All-Seeing Eye shows that we live and move and have our being in God; that we are constantly in His Presence, wherever or whatever we are doing. The Anchor and Ark stand for that sense of security and stability of life grounded in truth and faith, without which sense there can be no happiness. The Forty-Seventh Problem of Euclid is an emblem of the arts and sciences; by them we are reminded that next to sinfulness, the most dangerous enemy of life is ignorance. In the Hour Glass we have the emblem of the fleeting quality of life. The Scythe reminds us that passing time will end our lives as well as our work, and if ever we are to become what we ought to be, we must not delay.

Masonic Etiquette and Conduct


The Charge of the Third Degree places much emphasis on the conduct of a Master Masons. It seems to assume that the newly made Master Mason is fully aware of the pitfalls into which he may stumble, for, it says he is authorized to correct the irregularities of his less informed brethren.


Much, however, remains to be gained my the new Master Mason in knowledge and appreciation of the practical aspects of our conduct, both in the lodge and afield, among strange or mixed company. But the first requisite must be one’s own conduct in lodge.


It might be well to remark here that one of the charges to which the master himself must assent before his installation enjoins him to be cautious in carriage and behavior, courteous to his Brethren and faithful to his lodge. This, then, is equally expected of each member – that the spirit of brotherly love and affection, by which we are bound together, will be exemplified in our conduct at all times.


The Master alone has been clothed with the responsibility of his office. It is, therefore, not only a matter of courtesy to obey his gavel, it is a serious Masonic offense to ignore or disobey it.


Common courtesy and good taste alike forbid joking or horseplay during the ceremonies. The great lessons of Masonry, which are taught by our ritual, should never be demeaned by levity or pranks. Likewise, neither the anteroom nor the lodge room is a proper location for the telling of off-color stories or practical jokes.


The Ancient Charges say that “you are to salute one another in a courteous manner, calling each other Brother, you shall call all Masons your fellows, or your brethren, and no other names.” Just as it is common courtesy to be accurate in speaking a brother’s name, so it is proper Masonic etiquette to address both officers, members, and visitors by their correct Masonic titles and addresses.


The proper address for Masters and Past Masters is “Worshipful” or in the case of the one presiding, “Worshipful Master”. In addressing other lodge officers, the form is “Brother Senior Warden” “Brother Junior Warden”, Brother Treasurer”, etc. The address used for a member is “Brother ________,” using his last name.


In introducing visitors, the form becomes “Worshipful John Smith, Master of ________ Lodge, No. _____, of (giving the location of that Lodge)” or “Brother _______, a member of Lodge No. ______, of _________________.”


Here the question arises “what does the member or visitor do on being introduced?” The answer is very simple, He rises to the introduction and remains standing until the brother or Master making the introduction indicates that he is to be seated.


A member or visitor wishing to address the lodge does so always through the Master. That is, he rises, gives the sign while addressing the Master “Worshipful Master,” then, keeping his remarks brief and to the point, speaks and sits down. Courtesy, here again, demands a due regard for one’s fellow members and for the truth of the proverb “Brevity is the soul of wit”.


The Legend of Hiram Abiff.


In the Sublime Degree you were doubtless impressed by the tragedy exemplified therein above all other features of its impressive ceremonies. As the Degree is the climax of initiation, so is that Tragedy the climax of the Degree. To understand and appreciate its richness of profound meaning might well be your ambition.


Since the drama is ritualistic, it is immaterial whether it be historical or not. The hero of this tragedy is a symbol of the human soul. If, therefore, you have been troubled with the thought that some of the events of this drama may not have happened, you may ease your mind. Even if not historically true, they are symbols of what occurs in the life of every man.


It is an inexcusable blunder to treat the drama as a mock tragedy, a serio-comedy. Savage peoples employ initiation ceremonies as an ordeal test of the nerve and courage of their young men, but Freemasonry is not savage. The exemplification of our ritualistic drama should be as sincere, as solemn, as earnest as a prayer before the Altar; he who takes it trivially or with perverted humor, betrays a shallowness of soul which shows him unfit to be a Mason.


Did you ask, while participating in that drama, why you were made to participate? Why you were not permitted to sit as a spectator? It was your drama, not another’s! No man can ever be a mere spectator of drama in his own soul. It was intended that your participation should prepare you to become a Master Mason by teaching you the secret of a Master Mason, by which your soul may rise above its internal enemies if you are to be a Mason in reality as well as in name. The real Master Mason is master of himself.


Did you ask why the three enemies came form his own circle, not from outside? The enemies most feared by the soul are always within: its own ignorance, passions and sins. As the Great Light reminds us, it is not that which kills the body that we need most to shun, but that which has power to destroy the spirit.


Another lesson of profound significance is that of fidelity. Even in the face of certain death as a result of refusal to betray his trust, this ancient Grand Master steadfastly guarded his secret. His standards admitted of no compromise with evil; principle was not sacrificed to expediency.


The most we can obtain from others are such hints and suggestions as these. Let the story of this tragedy be indelibly printed upon your mind; ponder upon it. When you are at grips with your enemies recall it and act according to the light you have found in it. Your inner self will give, in first hand experience, that which the drama gave in the form of Ritual, and you will be wiser and stronger for having the guidance the tragedy provides.


For the newer Mason we will touch upon a couple of topics in the remaining sections and direct you to the Lodge Officers, those who signed your petition, senior members of the Lodge , our Lodge by-Laws and the Digest of the Masonic Law of Florida for your more in depth learning and development in Masonry.



There are two sides to the question of visitation in regular lodges. We refer here to “regular” lodges, for no right of visitation extends to irregular or clandestine lodges, a subject which will be dealt with separately. There is the courtesy of the reception given the visitor by the lodge; there is also the courtesy of the guest visiting. On both sides, affability and brotherliness should prevail.


One of the landmarks of Freemasonry is the right of every Mason to visit and sit in every regular lodge, absent objection which should be made to the Master, and the Master’s decision to refuse the visitation which should be given to the visitor by the Master privately. In actual practice, the right of objection and refusal
is seldom exercised.


The right of visitation is also limited by the ability of the visitor to satisfy the condition of due examination and proof. The examination of a visitor must be made individually by a committee of three members. Remember, the sole purpose of the examination is to satisfy the members of the committee that the visitor is a Mason. Courtesy dictates here that the visitor be treated with the utmost tact and helpfulness. A potential affiliation with the lodge may be lost and a bother embittered if the examination turns into an obstacle rave for the visitor.


We call our own lodge our “home lodge”. Wherever we go, we retain a tie of sincere affection for it. But we can feel at home in any lodge if the members, in their welcome, and we, in our friendliness, bring it about. Thus, if the new Master Mason serves to examine, or if visiting, is examined, courtesy followed with kindness, will reap a harvest of friendship.


The Laws of Freemasonry.


Every Master Mason is obliged to abide by the laws, regulations and edicts of his Grand Lodge, the By-Laws of the particular Lodge of which he is a member, and to maintain and support the Landmarks and ancient usages and customs of the Fraternity.


The laws of Masonry, like the laws of nations, are both unwritten – the common law – and written. The written laws, based on the “General Regulations” and the “Old Charges”, are the Constitution and Ordinances of his own Grand Lodge, it regulations and edicts, and the By-Laws of his particular lodge. The ancient Landmarks are a part of the unwritten law.


The “General Regulations” as set forth in Anderson’s Constitutions of 1723”, have a curious history, into which it is not now necessary to go; suffice it that they were adopted shortly after the formation in 1717 of the Grand Lodge in London. The work was first published under the date of 1723. Unquestionably it embodied the laws of Masonry as they were then known to the members of the four old lodges, which formed the first London Grand Lodge, and hence have the authority of an antiquity much greater than their printed life of over two hundred years.


In general, it may be said that the “Old Charges” are concerned with the individual Brother, and his relations to his lodge and his Brethren; the General Regulations with the conduct of the Craft as a whole. The General Regulations permit their own alteration by Grand Lodges – the Old Charges do not.


Most civil laws are provided with measures of enforcement and penalties for infringement; Florida Masonic law knows but three penalties; reprimand, suspension and expulsion. These Masonic penalties for serious infractions of Masonic law may be inflicted after Masonic trials, but the punishment is usually made to fit the offense, and mercy is much more a part of Masonic law than of civil law. Infractions of Masonic law resulting in trial and punishment are rare, compared to the number of Masons, the vast majority of whom are so willing and anxious to obey the laws that “enforcement” is seldom required.


There is no complete uniformity in the Masonic law of the various Grand Jurisdictions. Different latitudes, different characteristics, and ideas have left their impress upon our Grand Lodges in the United States. In the majority of essentials, they are one; in some particulars that hold divergent views.


The “Ancient Landmarks” as we customarily call them, may be briefly defined as those fundamental laws of Masonry, which are not subject to change. Many Masons want to know what these landmarks are. The great Masonic student, Albert Gallatin Mackey, formulated a list of twenty-five which have been adopted by many Grand Lodges while others have adopted a different list. Here we ask that you consult the senior Brethren, the Florida Code of Masonic Conduct and research this information for your own development and learning. We may liken the Masonic landmarks to the fundamental principles of character building, which you will understand more fully as you advance in Masonry, but do not be disturbed if you cannot make a list of all those principles.


Grand Lodges write and adopt their Constitutions, Ordinances, and Codes while particular Lodges write and adopt their By-Laws, subject to the approval of the Grand Master and Grand Lodge of Jurisdiction. Grand Masters, formulate and issue edicts and make decisions; often these are later incorporated by the Grand Lodge into the written law of the jurisdiction. All of these together, except where they conflict (as some of the earlier “General Regulations” necessarily conflict with later enactments made to supercede them), form the legal structure of Freemasonry.


Irregular and Clandestine Lodges.


As the Worshipful Master is enjoined not to admit visitors without proof of their having been initiated in a regular lodge, so he is required to admit that no countenance should be given to any irregular lodge or to any person clandestinely initiated therein.


The new Master Mason may well wonder if irregular or clandestine lodges still exist. The answer is that they most certainly do. Wherever the genuine properly chartered lodge exists anywhere in the world, the non-recognized or spurious lodge may also exist.


Even recognized, legitimate Grand Lodges may, because of some violation of the requisites, have recognition withdrawn.


The Master Mason contemplating a trip nationally and internationally and anxious to visit legitimate lodges while avoiding the irregular, may ask where the information is kept of these regular lodges around the world. The solution of the problem lies in the publication available to every lodge. Generally entitled “List of Regular Lodges Masonic”, it is issued by the Grand Lodge of Florida and a copy is in our lodge.


Clandestine Masonry takes many forms, from outright fraud to well meaning imitation of our ceremonies. As indicated, recognition alone removes the bar against the visitation of an irregular lodge. It is a Masonic offense of the most serious nature to fraternize with or visit a clandestine lodge. Loss of one’s membership is too great a price to pay for a glimpse of what at best is still illegal and at worst a travesty on our ancient ceremonies.


The Duties, Rights, and Privileges of a Master Mason.


You will not find the duties, rights, and privileges of a Master Mason anywhere completely stated and numbered. They are scattered here and there, some in symbols, other in the form of customs, others in laws. Some are explicit, others are implied. A Master Mason’s first duty is obviously to live by and act consistently with
his obligation. Unless this is done he cannot perform his other duties, nor can he justly claim his rights and privileges. With this as a foundation, a number of those duties and rights can be discussed.


Full privileges of membership are established when he is raised to the sublime degree of a Master Mason, learned and preformed before the Lodge the catechism of each degree. Thereafter he has a right to voice in the administration of the affairs of the Lodge, to vote, hold office, and demit.


The Duties, Rights and Privileges of a Master Mason are numerous and trying to identify and explain them could take up every issue we print during 2009. It is recommended that you set with a senior member of the Lodge, the Master, a Past Master, one of several Past District Deputy Grand Masters in our Lodge or an elected Lodge officer and learn about your Duties, Rights and Privileges as a Master Mason.


You have the right to be taught the Art, History, Allegories, Symbols and Codes of the Craft. All that Freemasonry is, all that it means, all that it has to give or offer, belongs to every individual Mason in the same way and to the same extent as to all others. However onerous your duties may prove to be, or however rigidly your rights may at times appear to be regulated, such burdens sink into nothingness by comparison with this one privilege, that Freemasonry in all its height, breadth, length, and richness, belongs to you, to use and enjoy.