What condition is your Ashlar in?
The title was meant to elicit a chuckle, but seriously though; We talk about the rough and perfect Ashlar in a metaphorical or spiritual sense, but often pay little attention to the symbol that is right in front of the WM. So, what are we talking about?
The basics: A rough and perfect ashlar are stones which symbolize Man’s moral and spiritual life.
The Axiom: Cutting stone to uniform shapes and sizes requires the skill and experience of a true craftsman with many years of experience.
In Freemasonry, there are 2 forms of ashlars. First let’s start with what Freemasonry teaches us on the surface…again no pun intended.
The Rough Ashlar
In operative Freemasonry, the rough ashlar represents a rough, unprepared or undressed stone. In speculative Freemasonry, a rough ashlar is an allegory to the uninitiated Freemason prior to his discovering enlightenment.
The Perfect Ashlar
Operatively, the Perfect ashlar represents the dressed stone (after it has been made uniform and smoothed) by use of the working tools, the common gavel, (mallet) and chisel. (The chisel may be found in English Freemasonry, but is not used in the United States as a Freemason symbol.)
Only after the stone has been dressed by an experienced stonemason, can it be suitable to be placed into the architectural structure or building.
Speculatively, a Perfect Ashlar is an allegory to a Freemason who, through Masonic education, works to achieve an upstanding life and diligently strives to obtain enlightenment.
Rough and Perfect Ashlars
The lesson to be learned is that by means of education and the acquirement of knowledge, a man improves the state of his spiritual and moral being.
Like man, each Rough Ashlar begins as an imperfect stone. With education, cultivation and brotherly love, man is shaped into a being which has been tried by the square of virtue and encircled by the compasses of his boundaries, given to us by our Creator.
Rough and Perfect Ashlar: Fitted for The Builder’s Use
In ancient times, quarried stone which could be easily shaped into desired configurations, was called “freestone”. Typical freestones are limestone and sandstone.
Then, as now, only after refining and smoothing these rough stones into their desired shape, were the stonemasons able to “fit them for the builder’s use”.
As the Freemason “smoothes” his rough edges, internally and externally; he becomes a better man and, therefore, a better Freemason.
Once a man has perfected his ashlar to the best of his ability, as Brothers to all mankind, it is his duty to help others become better men and better Freemasons.
Rough and Perfect Ashlar – The Potential
All rough ashlars must have within them, the potential to be made into a perfect ashlar.
The stone must be made of sound material and have a minimum of character flaws which may cause it to weaken the edifice (building). It must be capable of being worked into a perfect stone. Therefore, candidates for the degrees are asked many questions as to their
qualifications and character about why they wish to become Freemasons.
The candidate must have the potential to both serve and support the Fraternity. He must be carefully inspected, just as each Rough Ashlar is inspected for quality to be able to “fit” him into Freemasonry’s tenets and goals, which are compatible to God’s laws.
An imperfect stone may be made perfect, however major flaws are difficult to overcome and when assembled into a structure, the entire structure can be weakened from its improper use. This is as true of men as it is of stones.
Further Esoteric Considerations of the rough and perfect Ashlar
In our lectures, we are presented with, and likened to, two of our Moveable Jewels, the Rough Ashlar and the Perfect Ashlar. The Rough Ashlar is described as “a stone as taken from the quarry in its rude and natural state.” It symbolizes every one of us, as natural, imperfect men.
The Perfect Ashlar, by contrast, is explained as “a stone made by the hands of the workman to be adjusted by the Working Tools of the Fellow Craft.” It symbolizes a state of perfection theoretically achieved by the Master Mason, realistically achieved by few men.
After our Initiation, we are placed, as a building stone in the traditional position for cornerstone placement by Operative Masons- the North- East corner. This is symbolic of our Masonic “birth,” and has a further allusion as to our relative exposure to Masonic Light: partly in the Light of the East, and partly in the darkness of the North, but at this stage, still mostly in the dark.
Typical of Masonic symbolism, this is a relatively clear, almost self- explanatory, almost obvious allegory; even more typical, however, is that there is more meaning, if we wish to explore this symbol further.
What is the actual meaning of this perfection, which we symbolize by, essentially, a polished rock? How does it manifest? Where can it be found?
At this point, a brief explanation of the Hebrew alphabet as used in mysticism may be necessary for those not familiar with some of its more curious characteristics:
First, the aleph-bet is descended from a hieroglyphic alphabet. Each letter name is a word, and each has its obvious word meaning. Kabalistically, each letter also has a hidden meaning.
According to the “Sefer Yetsirah,” (the Book of Formation, one of the oldest Kabalistic texts) unlike modern languages, which use their characters only to form words for written and oral communication, the Hebrew alphabet is considered to be alive. Not alive in the sense of a living or dead language, but alive in the sense that each character represents a living component “spark” of Spirit/matter, and any combination in the form of a word, or phrase to be a representation of an actual creation composed of that Spirit/matter.
Think of this alphabet as an ancient, Hebrew, spiritual Periodic Table of the Elements, and Hebrew words as a sort of spiritual molecular chain.
Stone, and finished stone , is an ancient symbol of perfection, common to many Mystery systems. Two of the systems worth discussing that rely on this symbol heavily are Kabala and Alchemy, both of which, arguably, have contributed to our own Masonic Tradition.
Kabala has several variants, including the traditional Hebrew system, and the so-called Hermetic system, which combines large portions of the traditional system with other disciplines such as Astrology, Alchemy, Tarot, etc.
Esoteric Alchemy is a tradition that uses chemical allegory to “transmute base metals into Gold,” in the same way we, as Masons, use stone- working allegory to “build the Temple.”
In Hebrew, the word for stone is “e-ben”, spelled Aleph-Beth-Nun in Hebrew characters, the equivalent of ABN in English. This word for stone implies building stone in a finished state, or, a Perfect Ashlar. Or literally “Building Stone” or “Build with Stone”
The word ‘abn’ has some peculiar attributes when submitted to the process of esoteric analysis:
-The first two letters, Aleph and Beth, taken together spell ‘ab’ = “Father”.
Do we know any other Hebrew words that start with “ab” from our ritual?
REF: Encyclopedia Of Freemasonry And Its Kindred Sciences, Volume 1: A-C
-The last two letters, Beth and Nun, spell ‘b-n’ = “Son”.
The implication of this word, when taken in this sense as a symbol of perfection, is the unification of the father, ‘ab, and the son, ben. In many Christian mystical systems, this is how Christ’s words,” The Father and I are one,” are interpreted. It implies unobstructed conscious union of the human spirit with G-d and the realization of their Identity as a unified whole.
Most importantly, understand that this state of union with Divinity is not something we work to achieve; it is already established, we work to discover it through education, expansion of intellect, and subduing of passions.
Further analysis may be made of this word by an analytical technique known as Notarikon. Notarikon is the art of reading a Hebrew word, not as a communicative sound or symbol, but as graphic statements of interacting principles. Letters are read as words and /or phrases, combining the traditional hidden meanings of the Hebrew letters, which are strung together in order in the form of an equation. The meanings, both exoteric and esoteric, of the letters for ABN are as follows:
Exoteric: “ox” or “bull.”
Esoteric: pure power and force, mastery, the Ain Soph Aur of the Kabbalists, the Limitless Light or L.V.X. of the Hermetists, or G-d as Pure Pressure and Force.
Esoteric: manifestation, establishment, internalization, form, body, to embrace or to pair.
Exoteric: as a verb, “to propagate” or “to reproduce.”
Esoteric: potentiality, display, and implementation.
When the hidden meanings of these letters are combined into the word for stone, this analysis gives us several similar conclusions:
-The Life Force paired with its display
-A compacted formulation of potentiality
-Principle interiorized for purpose
All these give the same basic message as the first analysis- the realization of the Divine captured within man and man as individualized, unified, physical emanations of Deity.
Again, not the establishment of this state, but a realization of its necessary pre-existence.
In Alchemical texts, and in some European Masonic Tradition, there appears another peculiar word: V.I.T.R.I.O.L.. Exoterically, when written as a word in lowercase, vitriol is chemical slang for sulphuric acid, or Sulphur salts, which, curiously enough, are used in Operative Masonry for preparing a stone surface for a smooth application of aggregate or stucco.
Written in capitals, each letter punctuated by periods, this word takes on a much deeper significance. It is an acronym for the Latin phrase:
“Visita Interiora Terrae Rectificando Invenies Occultum Lapidem.”
Translation: Visit the Interior of the Earth, and by Rectifying (i.e. purifying) you will find the Hidden Stone.
The meaning of “Earth” here is of Masonic interest. It requires us to make use of the Hermetic axiom, “That which is Above is as that which is Below, and that which is Below is as that which is Above.”
Simply put, the Universe is arranged in such a way that there is always a correspondence between the laws and phenomena of the various planes of Being and Life.
In this case, the Lodge Room, or Temple, represents the planet Earth, macrocosmically. A quick look at the Old Testament account of the Temple “furniture” will affirm this to the more contemplative- minded, and a thoughtful look at a modern Lodge Room and Ritual will yield some of the same results.
Microcosmically, the Lodge Room represents us, individually: in proportion, in symbolism, as a microcosm of the Earth. This is the Earth we are encouraged to “visit,” our interior center. This interior center is the human heart, or the Point within the Circle, and at this center, we find and purify the “hidden Stone”; the ABN of the Kabbalists, the Philosopher’s Stone of the Alchemists, and the Perfect Ashlar of Freemasonry.
Additionally, Alchemy gives a technique, veiled in allegory, for this discovery and purification of the stone. While the language of this discipline is incredibly rich in symbolism, it can be very hard to follow, and is made even more confusing by its mixture of chemical and astronomical terms. In Alchemical texts, we can variously read, “Integrate Gold and Silver, by the use of Mercury,” “The Sun and the Moon, with the aid of Mercury,” and “Salt and Sulphur, dissolved with the Universal Solvent.” All refer to the conscious act of perfection by internally reconciling Duality- balancing Dark with Light, Female with Male, Negative with Positive, Inertia with Fury. Regardless of terminology, all result in the discovery of the “hidden stone.” One of the beauties of our esoteric Masonic system is that all these allegories and symbols, from Kabbalistic, Hermetic, and Alchemical systems, can be found in all three of our Degrees, by “those who have ears to hear.”
At the lintel of the entrance to the Temple of Apollo at Delphi were inscribed the words,
“Gnothi Seauton”- Know Thyself.
This working and polishing of the Rough Ashlar to achieve the state of the Perfect Ashlar is an internal process of self- discovery and knowledge.
By discovering the True Self, we come to an understanding of our Creator, where He dwells, and what He desires. We learn of our true relationship with Deity- one of Unity, as co- creators within the plan on His Trestle- Board; and of Unity with our fellow man, and through this discovery, we learn to act accordingly towards G-d, each other, and ourselves.
The following poem, written by Mary Brooks Picken, entitled, “Thimblefuls of Friendliness” was written in 1924, and, perhaps says it, best.
“Thimblefuls of Friendliness”
“Isn’t it strange that Princes and Kings
And clowns that caper in sawdust rings,
And just plain folks like you and me,
Are builders for Eternity?
To each is given a bag of tools,
A shapeless mass and a book of rules,
And each must make ere life is flown,
A stumbling block, or a stepping stone.”
Esoteric Consideration of the Perfect Ashlar – David D. Mavity, MM
- Posted by William Arnold
- On November 2, 2017
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