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The Latin assis was a board or plank; in the diminutive form, assula, it meant a small board, like a shingle, or a chip. In this con-nection it is interesting to note that our "axle" and' "axis" were derived from it. In early English this became asheler and was used to denote a stone in the rough as it came from the quarries. The Operative Masons called such a stone a "rough ashlar," and when it had been shaped and finished for its place in the wall they called it a "perfect ashlar." An Apprentice is a rough ashlar, because unfinished, whereas a Master Mason is a perfect ashlar, because he has been shaped for his place in the organization of the Craft.

- Source: 100 Words in Masonry


Speculative Masons use the ashlar in two forms: one rough, just as it came from the quarry, representing Man in his ignorant, uncultivated state; and the other, finely finished and ready for its place in the building, represents Man, educated and refined.

- Source: Pocket Lexicon of Freemasonry


Rough and Perfect Ashlar

The publication of a number of Minute Books of old Lodges since it was written calls for a revision of the paragraph on ASHLAR, on page 107. In one of his memoranda on the building of St. Paul s, Sir Christopher Wren shows by the context that as the word was there and then used an ashlar was a stone, ready-dressed from the quarries (costing about $5.00 in our money), for use in walls ; and that a "perpend asheler" was one with polished ends each of which would lie in a surface of the wall ; in that case a "rough" ashlar was not a formless mass of rock, but was a stone ready for use, no surface of which would appear in the building walls; it was unfinished in the sense of unpolished. In other records, of which only a few have been found, a "perpend" ashlar was of stone cut with a key in it so as to interlock with a second stone cut correspondingly.

It is doubtful if the Symbolic Ashlars were widely used among the earliest Lodges; on the other hand they are mentioned in Lodge inventories often enough to make it certain that at least a few of the old Lodges used them ; and since records were so meagerly kept it is possible that their use may have been more common than has been believed. On April 11, 1754, Old Dundee Lodge in Wapping, London, "Resolved that A New Perpend Ashlar Inlaid with Devices of Masonry Valued at £2 12s. 6d. be purchased. " The word ''new'' proves that the Lodge had used an Ashlar before 1754, perhaps for many years before; the word "devices" duggests long years of symbolic use.

It is obvious that the Ashlars as referred to in the above were not like our own Perfect and Imperfect Ashlars. It is certain that our use of them did not originate in America ; there are no known data to show when or where they originated, but it is reasonable to suppose that Webb received them from Preston, or else from English Brethren in person who knew the Work in Preston's period. Operative Masons doubtless used the word in more than one sense, depending on time and place ; and no rule can be based on their Practice.

The Speculative Masons after 1717, as shown above, must have used "Perfect Ashlar" in the sense of "Perpend Ashlar"; nevertheless the general purpose of the symbolism has been the same throughout - a reminder to the Candidate that he is to think of himself as if he were a building stone and that he will be expected to polish himself in manners and character in order to find a place in the finished Work of Masonry. The contrast between the Rough Ashlar and the Perfect Ashlar is not as between one man and another man, thereby generating a snobbish sense of superiority; but as between what a man is at one stage of his own self-development and what he is at another stage.

In Sir Christopher Wren's use of "ashlar" (he was member of Lodge of Antiquity) the stone had a dimension of 1 x 1 x 2 feet; and many building records, some of them very old, mention similar dimensions; certainly, the "perpend" or "perfect" ashlar almost never was a cube, because there are few places in a wall where a cube will serve. Because in our own symbolism the Perfect Ashlar is a cube, a number of commentators on symbolism have drawn out of it pages of speculation on the properties of the cube, and on esoteric meanings they believe those properties to possess; the weight possessed by those theorizing is proportionate to the knowledge and intelligence of the commentator; but in any event these cubic interpretations do not have the authority of Masonic history behind them.

NOTE: During the many years of building and re-building at Westminster Abbey the clerk of the works kept a detailed account of money expended, money received, wages, etc. These records, still in existence, are called Fabric Rolls. In the Fabric Roll for 1253 the word "asselers" occurs many times, and means dressed stones, or ashlars. A "perpens" or "parpens," or "perpent-stone" was "a through stone," presumably because it was so cut that each end was flush with a face of the wall. It proves that "perpend ashlar" was not a "perfect ashlar" in the present sense of being a cube.

- Source: Mackey's Encyclopedia of Freemasonry

The Ashlars

Author Unknown

We are told that the Ashlars lie open in the lodge for the brethren to moralize on. Did you ever see a brother comtemplating the Ashlars and trying to derive some moral benefit from them? For the most part they are quickly referred to and just as quickly forgotten.

The Ashlar is the freestone as it comes from the quarry. The Rough Ashlar is the stone in its rude and natural state and is emblamatic of man in his natural state - ignorant, uncultivated and vicious. But when education has exerted it's wholesome influence in expanding his intellect, restraining his passions and purifying his life, he then is represented by the Perfect Ashlar which, under the skillful hands of workman, has been smoothed and squared and fitted for its place in the building.

However, you will observe that the Rough Ashlar in a Masonic Lodge is not in its rude or natural state. It has been squared in a fashion, partially smoothed and has apparent strength and solidarity. It possesses all the qualities that could make it a perfect stone for use in the construction of the Temple, but it needs the hands and skill of the perfect Craftsman to bring about that result.

It represents the candidate for membership in a Masonic Lodge. Such an applicant is not in his rude or natural state, neither ignorant, uncultivated or vicious. Masonry does not accept men of such qualifications. The applicant by education and perseverance has fitted himself as a respectable man in his community, assuming full responsibility as a citizen, a churchman and a member of his family. There is a vast number of men in every community possessing such qualifications who are not members of a Masonic Lodge, and may never have the desire to associate themselves with the Ancient Craft.

A man judges Masonry by the actions and manner of living of those he knows are members of the Order, but knows little or nothing of its teachings or objectives in the building of character. In that sense, he is in the crude state of the rough ashlar, possessing all the qualities or perfect material, but lacking the polish that comes from a continued study and practice of the great teachings of Masonry. Membership in a lodge does not make a man a Mason. He must apply his abilities to improving all in him that falls short of that high standard set by Masonry in character and citizen building. If he is satisfied with being a Master Mason in name only, he loses the benefits of further advancement and improvement offered by membership in the Order. In other words, he falls far short of anything that might be termed the Perfect Ashlar.

The Perfect Ashlar is for the more expert Craftsman to try and adjust his jewels on. In ancient times, with crude tools that would not even be used in this age, workmen of great skill and experience produced material for the construction of the Temple having such perfection that each piece fitted perfectly into its place without adjustment or correction. Time was not one of the essential factors; perfection was the goal.

To keep this state of perfection in absolute balance, a standard must have been set whereby the workmen could constantly test their tools to know that continued wear and use had not changed the measurements; even in the slightest degree. Did they have a Perfect Ashlar on which to make such a test?

We are told that the Perfect Ashlar is for the more expert workmen to "try" and adjust their tools on. In Masonry, we are the workmen, whether we be active or inactive, workers or drones. What are our "jewels", our most prized possession? If we have absorbed any of the teachings Masonry, the building of character and a Christian way of life are two of the many jewels that should constantly be before us. And in the building of that state of perfection to which we attain, what Perfect Ashlar have we that we might go to and "try" the tools with which we have been working, to know that they are still of fine quality and in perfect condition for the job that lies before us. In every Masonic Lodge there rests on the Altar in the centre of the room the V.O.T.S.L. It is the solid foundation upon which Masonry in our lives is built. It never changes. Civilizations may come and go, but the Book of Books remains the same, adaptable to all conditions and manner of men, in good times and bad, in peace or war, a guide for mankind.

How often do we consult this Guide to try and adjust the jewels which are ours and which may need to be altered to get them back to that state of perfection which we as Masons should endeavor at all times to hold as our standard way of life?

I am afraid that in this busy world of today, we neglect this practice. Therefore, as we think of the Ashlars and try to do a little moralizing, let us forget, even for a brief period, the material things in our lives, and direct our thoughts to the more important duty of contemplating our own defects and shortcomings, and adjusting our way of life and bringing it more in harmony with that standard given us by the Great Creator in the V.O.T.S.L.

The Ashlars are not just two pieces of stone. They represent what we have been and what we hope to be. It is up to each individual Mason to pass his own judgment on himself and to adjust his jewels accordingly, so that when the time comes and he lays down his tools and makes the final journey to the Grand Lodge Above, he may leave behind a reputation as a wise counsellor, a pillar of strength and stability, a Perfect Ashlar on which younger Masons may test the correctness and value of their own contribution to the Masonic order.

- Source: Unknown


By Bro. F.C. Higgins, New York

Our lodge is in every respect a symbolic workshop, furnished with all the tools belonging to the different grades of workmen, and with a trestleboard upon which are set forth the day's designs and the material upon which the labor of the brethren is to be expended.

This symbolic material consists of the two ashlars, emblematic of the crude material and the finished product, which are placed plainly enough on view in New York lodges, but absent or almost unknown except to students in many other states. The oblong stones and nondescript slabs sometimes seen are noteworthy evidence that the age-old significance of the "cubical stone," which has played such a prominent role in the mythology and mysticism of the past, has almost run to oblivion in the modern craft. These stones should really be perfect cubes. The symbolism of the working tools is completely lost the moment such proportions are lost sight of or ignored. The ancient Hebrews had their own version of the great "number philosophy," which lent sanctity and expressiveness to the number 12. First of all, it was the number of their Twelve Tribes, who were doubtless a symbolical enrolment of all the heads of families under the zodiacal sign of the month in which they were born. It is certainly significant that the patriarchal system was founded upon this number, and later on many other dispositions were made that showed a particular reverence for the Chaldean plan of the universe based upon 12 signs. As one cube possesses six sides each of which is a perfect square, a number of remarkable mathematical and geometrical symbolisms were established based upon the fact that all the numbers, from one to 12 added together produce 78. This number is also the sum of 3 times "26," the numerical value of the "Great and Sacred Name of Jehovah" (JHVH).

As each cube possesses 12 edges, the combined number require a 24-inch rule to symbolize their total outline. The breaking into different mathematical combinations of this supreme number, each significant of some one of the great ruling phenomena of nature, was seen in the symbolism of the use of an operative Mason's gavel in the dressing of building stones.

The grand old mystery name of our Creator, called the Tetragrammaton (Greek for "four-letter name") had as its root the three letters J, H, and V, which as numbers were 10, 5, and 6, or 21, the sum of the added numbers 1 to 6 represented by a single cube.

This fact was made the basis of a curious legend, ought by the wise old rabbis into that marvelous compilation called the Talmud, from which more than a little of our Masonic material has been derived.

The story is of the Patriarch Enoch (Hanok, father Methuseleh), whose name means "the initiator," 10, all accounts agree, lived 365 years, or a "year of years." A remarkable book attributed to him is often alluded to by the Hebrew commentators and early Christian "Fathers"; but no trace of it was ever found until in the last century it turned up in Abyssinia. It has been translated out of that strange African dialect into many tongues. The so-called Book of Enoch contains a remarkable recital of astronomical science as known to the ancients, told entirely in allegorical form, while the history of the Children of Israel is prophesied ( ?) under the allegorical simile of the remarkable doings of a singularly intelligent flock of sheep which which build a house for their shepherd, the whole reading very much like a children's fairy tale.

The Talmudic legend of Enoch represents him as greatly disturbed at the news of the impending world Deluge," for fear the Name of God should be lost. He accordingly caused it to be inscribed upon a triangular plate of gold, and affixed it to a cubical stone, for the safe keeping of which he caused a series of nine arched vaults to be constructed, one beneath another, at the foot of Mt. Moriah (the holy mountain of the Jews, as Mt. Meru was of the Hindus). The rains came and the flood descended, and so washed the mud and silt over the site that it became completely obliterated.

Centuries later, when King David was moved "to build an house unto the Lord," and actually set his workmen to dig the foundations thereof, the latter discovered the vaults, and descending therein brought to light the long-buried stone.

Tradition also has it that the material of this stone was agate, which would at once connect it with the Hermetic philosophy; for agate, above all, was sacred to Hermes and Thoth or David. The latter, having been a warlike monarch, was not permitted to achieve that which he had begun and so bequeathed the cubical stone to his son Solomon, who made use of it as the cornerstone of the Temple.

The imagery of this is plain enough in the fact that, not in a written or engraved inscription, but in the mathematical proportions of the cube itself, was to be found that wonderful Name which is, as it were, the foundation of the universe, of which man is a fleshly epitome and the Temple on Mt. Moriah a symbolic one.

By knowing the use of the working tools of an E. A. the initiate might begin his labor of hewing and shaping the brute matter at his feet into stones fit for the builders' use; but when he had accomplished his task he was apprised that the symmetry and order it represented in its finished shape was "God": not a god whom he created, but a God whom his patient labor had revealed.

The cube itself was an age-old symbol of the spiritual Man, as set forth in the Mahabarata of ancient India:

A portion of Mine own Self, transformed in the world of life into an immortal Spirit, draweth round itself the senses of which the Mind, is the Sixth, veiled in Matter.

Therefore we find the cube present in all the ancient mythologies, which were but racial cloaks for one and the same wisdom religion, understood by the priests of all countries alike as a symbol of the sixth sign of the zodiac, the characters portraying the great Mother of Wisdom and her divine son Man.

It is the task of the apprentice to break through the shell of matter and liberate the Divine Word that dwells within by opening his own spiritual perceptions to the light of the Logos. As the priceless statues of Phidias and Praxiteles were once shapeless masses of unmeaning stone and the Parthenon a sea-worn crag, until gavel and gage, mallet and chisel, in the hand of inspiration had performed their tasks, so has always been the lesson of the cube in its unshapen and shapen forms to the apprentice Mason.

Source: The Builder December 1916


By Bro. H. A. Kingsbury, Massachusetts

Kingsbury, Harold A.; born, Westfield, Mass., August 27, 1882; graduate in Chemical Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston, Mass., 1907; graduate in Law, National University, Washington, D. C., 1910; graduate in Patent Law, George Washington University, Washington, D. C., 1911; Member of Bar of District of Columbia; Member of Bar of Supreme Court of United States; Assistant Examiner U.S. Patent Office, 1908-1912; at present, Assistant Patent Counsel, The New Departure Mfg. Co., Bristol, Connecticut; Washington Centennial Lodge No. 14, Washington, D. C.; Mount Vernon Chapter No. 3, Washington, D. C.; Scottish Rite Bodies, 4d to 18d, Springfield, Mass.; 19d to 32d, Massachusetts Consistory, Boston, Mass.

IN the case of many of the symbols used in Masonry it almost seems as though the ritual writers must have followed the rule, "The importance to be given a symbol in the ritual should be inversely proportional to the real importance of that symbol." Particularly does this rule seem to have been applied to the case of one of the Jewels of the Lodge--the Perfect Ashlar or Perfect stone Cube. For this symbol, though casually dismissed with but two or three brief sentences in the monitorial instructions, is, in reality, of very considerable importance and interest and deserving of the careful attention of the Mason.

The Perfect Ashlar is one of a group of three Jewels. Thus the symbol calls the Mason's attention to one more of the many (not less than twenty) references, in Craft Masonry, to the number Three - the most significant of all the numbers (unless it be Seven) held in veneration in nearly every ancient system of religious philosophy, and even having, in some of those systems, notably that of Plato, the importance of a symbol of Deity.

Stone, the material of the Perfect Ashlar, was considered of great importance in many of the ancient religions and, indeed, in some was worshiped. Stone worship existed among the early American races. There is good reason for believing that the Peruvians worshiped stones, as the protectors of their crops. The Greeks originally used unhewn stones to represent their deities. The Thebans represented the god Bacchus by a stone. In the Kaaba at Mecca is a stone, Hajar al Aswad, which was worshiped by the ancient Arabians and which present-day Mohammedans regard with veneration. The Druids represented their gods by stones.

Stone is so evidently the symbol of Permanency, Faith and Trust that it seems almost unnecessary to cite examples here. But any one familiar with his New Testament will recall the incident of the giving of the name Cephas, or Peter, meaning a stone, to simon, who stood for the permanency, faith and truth of the Early Christian Church, and will recall that Christ said, "Thou art Peter and on this rock I will build my Church."

The cubical form of-the Perfect Ashlar serves to further identify it as the symbol of Permanency, Faith and Truth as the Cube, from the time of the Ancients has had this significance. We have an example of it in Revelations (XXI, 16) where the New Jerusalem is described as having its length, breadth and thickness equal, each to the other, giving, of course, a cubical form to the city.

The fact that Masonry uses a hewn, rather than an unhewn stone, for symbolizing Truth, furnishes an interesting example of the ways in which the introduction of (comparatively) self-evident conceptions derived from Operative Masonry has worked, in some instances, curious changes in the more abstruse symbolistic systems which Masonry has, apparently, inherited from the Hebrews and the Egyptians. That is, in the Masonic system, following at this point suggestions from Operative Masonry, the hewn and perfect condition of the Perfect Ashlar is understood to emphasize and make yet stronger the symbol's reference to Truth, whereas in the symbolistic systems of the Hebrews and the Egyptians a rough, unhewn cubical stone was considered to symbolize Truth and a perfect, hewn stone was understood to symbolize Falsehood.

However interesting and important the various other symbolic significances of the Cube may be, the symbolic suggestion that perhaps most concerns the Mason of today, and particularly the American Mason of today, is this:--The Cube is the symbol of the state and it is placed in the Masonic Lodge to constantly remind the Mason, of the State, or political structure, of which he forms a part, and to recall him to those duties which he, a citizen, owes to that State.

If one views a cube with his eyes slightly above the top of it, and opposite one of its vertical edges, he will find that, as indicated in the figure, there are three faces visible, and three invisible, to him. The three visible faces symbolize the three departments of the State, the Legislative, which makes the laws, the Judicial which interprets them, and the Executive which executes them. The three invisible faces symbolize the invisible soul of the State, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. As these three invisible faces are necessary to complete and make stable the Cube so are Liberty, Equality and Fraternity necessary to complete and make stable the State.

The Perfect Ashlar, in its character of a symbol of the State, represents an ideal to be striven for--the perfect State has not yet been finally developed. But, upon his first entrance into Masonry, the Mason is presented with Working Tools with which to shape and to gauge his work--the Gavel, symbolizing Force, and the Gauge, symbolizing Rule or Law. And the Perfect Ashlar reminds the Mason that his entered apprentice's Working Tools are given him to use and that it is for him, a citizen, to apply them, using Force, properly held in restraint by Rule or Law, to, so far as in him lies, make his ashlar a Perfect Ashlar and his state a perfect State.

- Source: The Builder April 1917


The rough Ashlar and the Trestleboard seem to have been symbols in Ancient Craft Masonry at least from the beginning of the Grand Lodge period (1717). They are illustrated on the earliest of the old tracing-boards which have come down to us.

Just when or how the Perfect Ashlar came into our symbolism is another matter, and not as simple as it appears.

In 1731 one Samuel Prichard, who denominated himself as a “Life Member of a Constituted Lodge” wrote and published “Masonry Dissected,” the first of a long series of exposes of Freemasonry. In it is this curious dialogue, purporting to be held between the Entered Apprentice during his initiation, and some initiating officer:

Q. “Have you any Jewels in your Lodge?”

A. “Yes.”

Q. “How Many?”

A. “Six, three movable and three immovable.”

Q. “What are the movable Jewels?”

A. “Square, Level and Plumb Rule.”

Q. “What are their uses?”

A. “Square, to down true and right lines; Level, to try all Horizontals; and Plumb Rule, to try all Uprights.”

Q. “What are the immovable Jewels?”

A. “Tarsel Board, Rough Ashlar and Broached Thurnel.”

Q. “What are their uses?”

A. “A Tarsel Board for the Master to draw his designs upon, Rough Ashlar for the Fellow-Craft to try their Jewels upon, and the Broached Thurnel for the entered Apprentice to learn to work upon.”

The learned Dr. Oliver, most prolific of the early writers on Freemasonry, to whose industry if not to whose accuracy Freemasonry owes a great debt, unwittingly muddied the waters of antiquity in which this Broached Thurnel was apparently immersed! He confused it with the Rough Ashlar, stating that the two were the same.

Old tracing-Boards of the entered Apprentice Degree disclose what we readily recognize as the Trestle-Board, although in those days it was known as “Tarsel!” Adjacent to it is what is plainly a Rough Ashlar. Immediately next is a drawing of a cube, surmounted by a pyramid - a cubical stone with a pyramidal apex.

Early French tracing-boards display the “pierre-cubique,” of cubical stone.

Modern tracing-boards show the Perfect Ashlar (not the rough Ashlar, as Oliver had it) in place of the Broached Thurnel, or cubical stone with pyramid atop.

Mackey quotes Parker’s “Glossary of Terms in Architecture” as follows:

“Broach or broche is an old English term for spire, still in use in Leicestershire, where it is said to denote a spire springing from the tower without any intervening parapet. Thurnel is from the old French, “tournelle,” a turret or little tower. The Broached Thurnel, then, was the Spired Turret. It was a model on which Apprentices might learn the principles of their art because it presented to them, in its various outlines, the forms of the square and the triangle, the cube and the pyramid.”

Modern authorities dispute this. G.W. Speth finds that Broach, in Scotland means to rough-hew. Thurnel, he states, is a chisel with which to rough-hew, rather than a model of a spired turret on which an Apprentice might learn to work. But, he inquires, what then becomes of the pyramid on the cube, displayed on the old tracing- boards? Moreover, the Scotch use “boast” as an alternate word for “broach,” and “boasted ashlar” can be found in modern dictionaries, meaning chiseled with an irregular surface.

As a matter of fact, no one really “knows” just what our ancient brethren meant by Broached Thurnel; what we do know is that somewhere in the early formative period of the modern ritual, Broached Thurnel gave way to Perfect Ashlar.

But it did not necessarily do so because of the presence on the tracing-board of a Rough Ashlar. No less an authority than R.W. Charles C. Hunt, Librarian and Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of Iowa, presents the “Perpend Ashlar” as its probable progenitor. A Perpend Ashlar - the word has many variations, such as parpen, parpend, parpent, parpine, parpin, parping - is a dressed stone which passes completely through a wall from one side to the other, having two smooth, vertical faces. This perpenstone. or bonder, or bondstone, is the same as the Parping Ashlar of Glocestershire - a stone which passes through a wall and shows a fair face on either side.

In the “True Masonic Chart” published by R.W. Jeremy L. Cross in 1820, appear pictures of the Rough and Perfect Ashlars, showing them substantially as we know them today. It is noteworthy that the stones illustrated are more than twice as long as wide and high, which seems to bear out the idea that the Perfect Ashlar, at least, was once the Perpend Ashlar.

Before examining the symbolism of the Ashlars it is illuminating to read at least one passage from the Great Light:

“And the king commanded, and they brought great stones, and costly stones, and hewed stones, to lay the foundation of the house. “And Solomon’s builders and Hiram’s builders did hew them, and the stonesquarers; so they prepared timber and stones to build the house.” (I Kings, V 16-17)

There is a distinction between builders and stone squarers - while those who cut and squared the stone and those who built, both hewed, yet they were distinct in functions. It is also interesting to observe the classification “great”, “costly” and “hewed.”

“Great” of course refers to size. The larger the stone, the harder it was to cut from the quarry, the more difficult to transport, and therefore, the more expensive. But “costly” may also refer to the expense of hewing. Then, as now, the more truly and carefully a stone was hewed and smoothed, squared and polished, the more time was required and therefore, the more “costly” the stone became.

Few symbols seem more obvious, at least in their simpler aspects.

Rough Ashlar, man in his untutored state;

Perfect Ashler, man educated, refined, with mind filled light. It is this symbolism which Brother J.W. Lawrence evidently had in mind when he wrote:

“The Perfect Ashlar, as a symbol, is the summum bonum of Freemasonry. That is to say, everything else in Masonry leads up to it. The V. of S.L. describes it, the checkered pavement illustrates it, the Great Architect no less than the Grand Geometrian desire it, and are satisfied with nothing less. When the craft has fashioned the Perfect Ashlar, it has nothing else to do.”

With part of which all can agree; if some think that there yet remains building to be done, after the Ashlars are hewn to perfection, we may still make our own the thought that the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge Above wants only perfection in the spiritual stones for the “House Not Made With Hands.”

But the symbolism can be carried further. In this subject “Introduction to Freemasonry” reads:

“The common Gavel, which breaks off the corners of rough stones, the better to fit them for the builders use, joins the Rough and Perfect Ashlars in a hidden symbol of the Order at once beautiful and tender. The famous sculptor and ardent Freemason, Gutzon Borglum, when asked how he carved stone into beautiful statues, once said: ‘it is very simple. I merely knock away with a hammer and chisel the stone I do not need, and the statue is there - It Was There All of the Time.’” “In the Great Light We read: ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is Within You.’ We are also there taught that man is made in the image of God. As Brother Borglum has so beautifully said, images are made by a process of taking away. The perfection is already within. All that is required is to remove the roughness and excrescences, ‘Divesting our Hearts and Consciences of the Vices and Superfluities of life’ to show forth the perfect man and Mason within.”

Albert Pike, always original, thought the interpretation of the Rough and Perfect Ashlars, as given in our Ancient craft monitors and ritualistic instruction, to be superficial. He found another meaning:

“The Rough Ashlar is the people, as a mass, rude and unorganized. The Perfect Ashlar, cubical stone, symbol of perfection, is the State, the rulers deriving their powers from the consent of the governed; the constitution and laws speaking the will of the people; the government, harmonious, symmetrical, efficient - its powers properly distributed and duly adjusted in equilibrium.”

Any brother is privileged to extend symbolism in new directions as far as he wishes; if his reading of a symbol is to him satisfactory teaching of a truth, it is a good reading. But the rough and Perfect Ashlars are sufficiently inclusive of the many truths-within the grasp of the average individual, without extending the interpretation to such vast conceptions as the people and the state. Even Pike, great interpreter of symbols though he was, never contended that the original symbolism of the Ashlars, as developed from operative practice by the early Speculatives, was of a political nature.

Hunt’s reading of the Perfect Ashlar, as the successor to the Perpend Ashlar, is most beautiful. In “Some Thoughts on Masonic Symbolism” he suggests:

“We call it the Perfect Ashlar, but we must remember that it is perfected only because it is completely adapted to the purpose for which it was made, namely; to exactly fit into its place in the building, and act as a binder for other stones.

“In order that it may do this, it must possess certain attributes and through these attributes we are reminded ‘of that state of perfection at which we hope to arrive by a virtuous education, our own endeavors and the blessing of god.’ It has two faces to be exposed, and both must be absolutely upright. It does not have one standard for the world and another for the home; the same face, square and true, is presented both to the world and the Lodge, and it teaches that we should not have one code of morals for one place and another for another, but that right is the same wherever we are and under whatever circumstance we may be placed.”

The making of a Perfect Ashlar from a Rough Ashlar requires skill, tools and a plan. Without any of the three the Ashlar cannot be made perfect.

Skills to use the tools means education to wield Chisel and Mallet - education to use the talents God gave us in whatever walk of life we may be called.

Tools must the workman have, for empty hands cannot chip away hard stone; tools must the Speculative Craftsman have. for an empty mind cannot wear away the resistance of our complicated life. Speculative tools are honor and probity, energy and resource, courage and common sense and the like virtues, the generation of which forms character. Most especially must the operative workman have a plan to which to hew. His mind must see both dimension and form, otherwise his tools will cut aimlessly, and his Ashlar will be askew, not square, fit only for the waste pile or the curiosity shop. So must the Speculative workman have a plan to which to fit his Perfect Ashlar of character . . . an ambition, a goal for which to strive, some hope in the future towards which he can stretch eager hands, bending every energy to accomplish.

Considered thus, the Rough and Perfect Ashlars become symbols of greater interest than appear on only a casual inspection. One interpretation is, perhaps, as satisfactory as another - it is one of the great beauties of symbolism that interpretations can differ widely and yet all be true, and all fit with each other. As one writer puts it:

“Most symbols have many interpretations. These do not contradict but amplify each other. Thus, the square is a symbol of perfection, of honor, and honestly, of good work. These are all different, and yet allied. The square is not a symbol of wrong, or evil, or meanness, or disease. Ten different men may read ten different meanings into a square and yet each meaning fits with, and belongs to, the other meanings . . . all these meanings are right. When all men know all the meanings, the need for Freemasonry will have passed away.” (“Foreign Countries”)

Read the symbolism of the Ashlars as we choose, from the simplest conception to the most profound, the though remains; even as the cornerstone of a temple must be a perfect ashlar, so are these symbols cornerstones of our Speculative Science, the more beautiful and important that learned men have found in them so many and such beautiful lessons.

- Source: Short Talk Bulletin - Aug. 1933

Masonic Service Association of North America © 2008 Stephen Dafoe

The Lodge Room
Masonic Magazine
Templar History
Stephen Dafoe

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