'While this is not as familiar to Masons as the preceding words, it should come into more popular use because it is the technical name to describe an important element in the ceremony of initiation. Calceare was the Latin for shoe, calceatus meant shod. When united with the prefix dis, meaning apart, or asunder, our discalceate was originated, the obvious meaning of which is the removal of one's shoes, as suggested in the familiar Bible passage, "Put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground." The ceremonial removal of the shoes is properly called the "rite of discalceation."
- Source: 100 Words in Masonry
Articles On Discalceation On This Page
DISCALCEATION, RITE OF
The ceremony of taking off the shoes, as a token of respect, whenever we are on or about to approach holy ground. It is referred to in Exodus (iii, 5), where the angel of the Lord, at the burning bush, exclaims to Moses: "Draw not nigh hither; put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground." It is again mentioned in Joshua (v, 15), in the following words: "And the captain of the Lord's host said unto Joshua, Loose thy shoe from off thy foot; for the place whereon thou standest is holy." And lastly, it is alluded to in the injunction given in Eeclesiastes (v, 1): "Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God." The Rite, in fact, always was, and still is, used among the Jews and other Oriental nations when entering their temples and other sacred edifices. It does not seem to have been derived from the command given to Moses; but rather to have existed as a religious custom from time immemorial, and to have been borrowed, as Mede supposes, by the Gentiles, through tradition, from the patriarchs. The direction of Pythagoras to his disciples was in these words in Greek: Avvroonos AVf KQL TpoKvMeL that is, in English, Offer sacrifice and worship with they shoes off. Justin Martyr says that those who came to worship in the sanctuaries and temples of the Gentiles were commanded by their priests to put off their shoes. Drusius, in his votes on the Book of Joshua, says that among most of the Eastern nations it was a pious duty to tread the pavement of the temple w ith unshod feet. Maimonides, the great expounder of the Jewish aw, asserts (in the Beth Habbechirah, chapter vii) that "it was not lawful for a man to come into the mountain of God's house with his shoes on his feet, or with his staff, or in his working garments, or with dust on his feet." Rabbi Solomon, commenting on the command in Leviticus (xix, 30), "Ye shall reverence my sanctuary," makes the same remark in relation to this custom. On this subject, Oliver (Historical Landmarks ii, 471) observes: "Now the act of going with naked feet was always considered a token of humility and reverence, and the priests, in the temple worship, always officiated with feet uncovered, although it was frequently injurious to their health." Mede quotes Zago Zaba, an Ethiopian bishop, who was ambassador from David, King of Abyssini, to John III. of Portugal, as saying: "We are not permitted to enter the church except barefooted." The Mohammedans, when about to perform their devotions, always leave their slippers at the door of the mosque. The Druids practiced the same custom whenever they celebrated their sacred rites; and the ancient Peruvians are said always to have left their shoes at the porch when they entered the magnificent temple consecrated to the worship of the sun. Adam Clarke (Commentary on Elodus) thinks that the custom of worshiping the Deity barefooted, was so general among all nations of antiquity, that he assigns it as one of his thirteen proofs that the whole human race have been derived from one family. Finally, Bishop Patrick, speaking of the origin of this Rite, says, in his Commentaries: "Moses did not give the first beginning to this Rite, but it was derived from the patriarchs before him, and transmitted to future times from that ancient, general tradition; for we find no command in the law of Moses or the priests performing the service of the temple without shoes, but it is certain they did so from immemorial custom; and so do the Mohammedans and other nations at this day."
- Source: Mackey's Encyclopedia of Freemasonry
THE RITE OF DISCALCEATION
A candidate for initiation into a Masonic Lodge often finds odd those
requirements which he must fulfill in order to do as have all good
brothers and fellows who have gone this way before. Indeed, that
preparation often remains a puzzle to him, since the ritualistic
explanation is only partial. Not only does the newly made brother,
bewildered by the new world into which he is thrust, investigate
further to ascertain if all was told him which might have been; to
learn a still further meaning to the ceremony and symbol which the
passage in Ruth purports to make plain.
Those who read the fourth chapter of the immortal Book of Ruth will
note especially the seventh and eight verses:
“Now this was the manner in former times in Israel concerning
redeeming and concerning changing, for to confirm all things; a man
plucked off his shoe, and gave it to his neighbor; and this was a
testimony in Israel.
“Therefore the kinsman said unto Boaz, Buy it for Thee. So he drew
off his shoe.”
“Redeeming” here means the taking back or recovery of land or
property pledged for a debt;
“changing” refers to the transfer of ownership. As both were then,
as now, matters of importance, it is evident that the plucking off of
the shoe, as a pledge of honor and fair dealing, was of equal
importance, comparable with our swearing to our signatures to
documents before a Notary Public.
Note that “to confirm all things a man plucked off his shoe. . .” not
Taking off one and handing it to him with whom a covenant was made
was a symbol of sincerity.Removing “both” shoes signified quite
These are separate and distinct symbols - in Freemasonry both are
used - and it is wise to distinguish between the two, not to miss the
beautiful implications of entering that place which is holy with both
The Rite of Discalceation - from the Latin, “discalceatus,” meaning
“unshod” - is world wide. Freemasonry’s ritual of the entered
Apprentice Degree refers to the passage in Ruth. In the Master’s
Degree the reference is not verbal but an act which differs in
meaning from that in the first degree.
In all probability Freemasonry takes this symbol from other sources
than the Old Testament; obviously any system of teaching which is the
result of the coming together of a thousand faiths, philosophies,
rites, religions, guilds and associations, must have received so
common a symbol from more than one source, although the Great Light
does contain it. In the Old Testament are several passages which
make removal of shoes quite a different gesture than that described
in the passage from Ruth.
Exodus (III:5) states: “Draw not nigh hither; put off thy shoes off
thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.”
In Joshua (V:15) we find: “And the Captain of the Lord’s Host said
unto Joshua, Loose thy shoe from off thy foot; for the place whereon
thou standest is holy.”
Ecclesiastes (V:1) reads: “Keep thy foot when thou goest to the
house of God.”
The association of the removal of footwear when treading holy ground
is a fairly obvious symbol. Sandals or other footgear were used to
protect, not the ground, but the feet, both from injury and from
filth. To wear such protections in holy places, by inference stated
that the holy place was harmful to feet, or was dirty! It is similar
in thought-content to the world wide custom of men removing the hat
in church. The Knight removed his helmet in the presence of those he
did not fear. He was safe in church; the removal of his protection
against a blow was his acknowledgment that in a sanctuary not even an
enemy would assail him.
We know the custom was wide spread, not confined to Israel; from many
sources. Thus, Pythagoras instructed his disciples to “offer
sacrifices with thy shoes off.” In all the eastern religious
edifices the worshipper removes his shoes in order not to defile the
temple with that which touches the profane earth. Maimonides,
expounder of ancient Jewish law, says: “It was not lawful for a man
to come into the mountain of God’s home with his shoes on his feet,
or with his staff, or in his working garments, or with dust on his
feet.” The custom was found in Ethiopia, ancient Peru, the England
of the Druids. Adam Clark thought the custom so general in the
nations of antiquity that he quoted it as one of the thirteen proofs
that the whole human race descended from one family.
The Rite of discalceation becomes the more beautiful as we progress
through the degrees. At first it is only a voluntary testimony of
sincere and truthful intentions; later it is an act of humility,
signifying that he who removes his shoes knows that he enters that
which must not be defiled by anything unworthy.
The word “humility” must be strictly construed that it be not
confused with its derivative, “humiliation.”
He who is “humble” but acknowledges supremacy in another, or the
greatness of a power or principle; he who is “humiliated” is made to
feel unworthy, not in reverence to that which is greater than he, but
for the personal aggrandizement of the humiliator. A man removes his
hat upon entering a home, in the presence of women, or in a church,
not as a symbol of humility, but of reverence. The worshipper
removes his shoes on entering a holy place for the same reason.. He
who walks “neither barefoot nor shod” offers mute testimony - even
though, as yet uninstructed, he knows it not - that he is sincere.
Who walks with both feet bare, signifies that he treads upon that
which is hallowed.
Freemasonry does not stress in words this meaning of the Rite of
Discalceation for very good reasons; throughout our system the
explanation of our rites concerns always the simplest aspect. The
fathers of our ritual were far too wise in the ways of the hearts of
men to teach the abstruse first, and go then to the east. Rather did
they begin with that which is elementary; then, very often , our
ritual leaves the initiate to search further for himself, if he will.
It is Freemasonry’s recognition that man values most that for which
he has to labor.
But it is the less stressed meaning of the Rite which is of the
greater importance. He is the better Freemason and the happier who
digs for himself in the “rubbish of the Temple” to uncover that which
is gloriously buried there.
Is proof necessary, that behind the tiled door of any open Lodge is a
holy place? here it is!
Freemasons teach that the Great Light is “dedicated to God, as the
inestimable gift of God to men for the rule and guide of his faith .
In the Great Light we read (Matthew XVIII:20) “For where two or three
are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them.”
Every Masonic Lodge is opened and closed in the name of God.
According to his promise, therefore, no Lodge meets without the Great
Architect being “in the midst of them.”
Consequently, the Lodge is Holy Ground.
This being so, it may well be asked why all Freemasons do to remove
their shoes when entering Lodge?
“Once a Freemason, always a Freemason.” No Lodge member is required
to repeat the obligations he once assumed, on every occasion at which
he is present when a degree is being conferred. But it is well
understood that the obligation is binding upon him for life. Every
time he follows the old, old words in his mind, he re-obligates
himself. Whenever he sees a candidate initiated, consciously or
unconsciously he himself is again initiated. Having once been taught
that a candidate is prepared in a certain way because of a certain
meaning in that preparation, it is unnecessary to inconvenience him
every time he comes to Lodge. If he is again so prepared, in his
heart, he fulfills all the outward requirements.
While the promise and the fulfillment “makes” the Lodge holy ground,
it is “kept” holy only if those who form it and conduct it, so revere
it. Stone Masons erect a Temple to God, ministers dedicate it and
worshippers consecrate it; but a desecrating hand, as in war, may
unroof it, use it as a stables, or make of it a shambles.
Mackey beautifully put the thought of the consecration holiness of a
“The Rite of Discalceation is a symbol of reverence. It signifies,
in the language of symbolism, that the spot which is about to be
approached in this humble and reverential manner is consecrated to
some holy purpose. Of all the degrees of Freemasonry, the third
degree is the most important and sublime. The solemn lessons which
it teaches, the sacred scene which it represents, and the impressive
ceremonies with which it is conducted, are all calculated to inspire
the mind with feelings of awe and reverence.
"Into the holy of holies of the Temple, when the Ark of the Covenant
had been deposited in its appropriate place, and the Shekinah was
hovering over it, the high priest alone, and on only one day in the
whole year, was permitted, after the most careful purification, to
enter with bare feet and to pronounce, with fearful veneration, the
tetragammaton or omnific word.
“And into the Master Mason’s Lodge - this holy of holies of the
Masonic Temple, where the solemn truths of death and immortality are
inculcated - the aspirant on entering should purify his heart from
every contamination, and remember, with a due sense of their symbolic
application, those words that once broke upon the astonished ears of
the old patriarch: ‘Put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the
place whereon thou standest is holy ground.’”
Holiness is not a thing, but an idea. So far as we know, the beasts
of the field reverence no place as holy, for they have no
consciousness of God. The sacred words of the Great Light are holy
to us for what they teach and mean; because of whence they came. The
paper, the leather and the ink which form a Bible are no more holy
than the same materials formed into a telephone directory. The
stones of which a church is built, the wood from which the pulpit is
carved, the metal from which the cross is made are only the familiar
stones, trees and minerals used by men for a thousand purposes. The
cotton and the dye which form the Star and Stripes are but the fruit
Book, Temple and Flag are holy to us because of our reverence for the
ideas for which they stand. They are holy to us because we make them
holy, keep them holy, think of them as holy and cherish them as holy.
So must it be with our Lodges. What is a Lodge? A certain number of
brethren; a charter or warrant; the Three Great Lights - and an
underlying idea, a faith, a belief, a Mystic Tie never seen of men
but the stronger for its intangibility. To many the Lodge is the
room in the Temple in which brethren meet; walls of stone or wood or
plaster; floor of carpet or linoleum; some seats; an Altar . . .and
yet, by common consent of all who believe in the power of the spirit
which consecrates when the Lodge is formed, holy because of what it
The worshipper in eastern lands removes his shoes before he enters
his temple as a symbol that he knows his flesh needs no protection
from that which it will there touch; a symbol that he brings not
within its precincts any filth which might defile it.
The Master Mason, symbolically removing his shoes before entering his
Lodge, knows that here he will find that holiness which is in the
promise of God unto David, the holiness of the Book on the Altar, the
very presence of the Great Architect, through whom the Lodge receives
the greatest of His Blessing to man - friendship. But also does he
symbolically remove his shoes that he may carry nothing “of mineral
or metallic nature” (earth is mineral) into the Lodge to defile it,
Men can - and some do - defile their Lodges. He who brings within
evil or contentious thoughts of his brethren, defiles it. In more
than one Jurisdiction in the world the brethren are asked at every
meeting if there be any not at peace with their brethren. If such
there are, they are required to retire and return not, until their
differences are reconciled, literally carrying out the instructions:
“Therefore if thou brings thy gift to the Altar, and there
rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee;
“Leave there thy gift before the Altar, and go thy way; first be
reconciled to thy brother, and then come offer thy gift.: (Matthew
The Mason who comes to Lodge to get something from it, rather than to
give something to it, may defile it by that selfish attitude. Men
get from Freemasonry by giving.
border=0 cellpadding=0 cellspacing=0He who brings pride of place and power to his Lodge, and serves only
for the empty honor of title or jewel, defiles that which is holy as
surely as did those money changers whom the Great Teacher drove from
He who assumes to work in his Lodge, but labors carelessly, in a
slovenly manner, to the desecration of ceremonies ancient when his
ancestors were not yet born, defiles his Lodge by his tacit
assumptions that his convenience is of greater importance than the
teachings of Freemasonry.
Alas, that so many symbolically wear shoes in the holy place, by the
simple process of thinking little of it, attending it seldom,
regarding it but as a club or association of men who meet together to
pass the time away! Such brethren may indeed have been entered,
passed and raised; but, uninspired, uninterested and unhelped, they
leave, seldom or never to return. To such as these the Lodge cannot
be holy; therefore charitable thought would argue that their failures
Luckily for us all, the majority of Freemasons who are constant
attendants at Lodge - the brethren who do the work, carry the load,
attend to the charity, form the committees, put on the degrees, go on
foot and out of their way to help, aid and assist - the brethren, in
other words, who work for and are content with a Master’s Wages -
these “do” keep the Lodge holy; these “do” think of the Three Great
Lights upon the Altar as the Sanctum Sanctorum; these “do,” indeed,
put off their shoes from off their feet, in humble and thankful
knowledge that the place in which they stand in holy ground.