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Article # 279
Message of the Traditional History First Part

Author: W.Bro.V.Prithviraman P.A.G.D of C.,P.Dy.R.G.M    Posted on: Tuesday, December 2, 2014
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Message of the Traditional History First Part                          

Freemasonry has declared itself as a peculiar system of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols. An allegory is a short story that has deeply hidden truths. The message that is veiled in an allegory and those illustrated by symbols need not be a single one. In Masonry one allegory has many messages to convey and they are revealed according to the vision and viewpoint of the seer. Traditional history first part is a perfect example of this.

The story in short is that three impatient fellow crafts wanted to know the secrets of the third degree and they decided to get them from our Master Hiram Abif and they were prepared to use violence if necessary to get those secrets. They posted themselves at the south, north and east entrances of the temple respectively, waiting for our Master’s arrival. Our Master Hiram Abif having done his duty for the day was attempting to leave the temple by the south entrance at the high hour of 12’O clock. There he was encountered by the first ruffian who demanded the secrets of the third degree. Our master being true to his obligation, refused to reveal the secrets and the ruffian being armed with a plumb-rule aimed a violent blow at our Master’s fore head. The blow missed the target but just glanced our Master’s right temple. The force though not damaging made our Master to lose a little balance and sink a little on his left leg from which he managed to recover. The south entrance being blocked by the first ruffian, our Master ventured to leave by the north entrance where he was encountered by the second ruffian who made similar demands like the first ruffian. Our Master gave him the same reply as earlier. Being armed with a level and being angered by our Master’s refusal to reveal the secrets, he struck a violent blow on our Master’s left temple, which made our Master to hit the ground on the right knee. Staggering and bleeding our Mater attempted to leave through the east entrance where the third ruffian was waiting and the refusal by our Master to reveal the secrets resulted in the ruffian striking a lethal blow on the fore head with a heavy mallet. The blow was so fatal that our Master was laid on the grave.

When the 1st ruffian struck, the damage or injury to our Master was only minimal.

When the 2nd ruffian struck the damage was severe.

When the 3rd ruffian struck the blow was fatal and our Master was laid to the grave.

This varying degree of injury has to be noted and it has to be correlated with the later part of the article. 


The message this allegory conveys is quiet obvious that a Mason should not disclose the Masonic secrets improperly even if it would cost him his life. Well, secrecy regarding Masonry could have been very important for the organisation and valued upon at the time when Freemasonry was founded which was many centuries ago. There were times in history when there was no freedom for the common man to think or speak. Thinkers and philosophers were considered as criminals and were given very severe punishments. Hence secrecy could have been a need of the hour for Freemasonry then. Under present circumstance secrecy does not have the same need as it had in the earlier days. Today there is freedom of speech, freedom of religion and the liberty to think. All about Freemasonry, including the signs, passwords etc are all available in the internet. It is now accessible to anybody who wants to know. Therefore a question arises at to whether the present situation implies that the above story of sacrificing one’s life to preserve the secrets of Freemasonry has become redundant. If it has become redundant then this story need not be told during every raising ceremony. Well, it may appear that our obligation to the secrecy aspect of Freemasonry has lost its significance but the story is not redundant because it has other message to convey.


The virtue of honouring one’s promises as shown by our Master Hiram Abif is the message to be picked up from this allegory. In life, we make a number of assurances to our family members, promises in our business and professional activities and we make various commitments in our social life. Every transaction, every deal in our business is a promise to be fulfilled and this is the why the wordings in our currency notes say ‘I promise to pay the bearer the sum of Rs.—.’ The virtue of honouring one’s promise as told in the story when often heard would strengthen the determination we have to fulfill our commitments even in adverse situations.


This allegory also conveys the message that when unworthy persons, persons who are not fit and proper, persons not having good report are admitted into Freemasonry like the three ruffians, it will be detrimental to the organisation and harmful to the members.


This allegory has more to convey. Seen from a philosophical view point, this story can never become redundant for it has hidden messages that will have value as long as human race exist. In fact it illustrates the way the human being functions. The three ruffians represent ‘THOUGHT DESIRE AND ACTION’, Hiram Abif represents a ‘HUMAN BEING’ and the temple represents the limited ‘WORDLY LIFE’. Just as Hiram Abif is unable to leave the temple being blocked by the three ruffians, we human beings are unable to free ourselves from the limitations of this worldly life being blocked by the ruffians thought, desire and action. Our lives are filled with the pair of opposites like joy and sorrow, pain and pleasure, success and failure, birth and death etc. In the Presentation of Grand Lodge Certificate address, it mentions that the chequered design on the floor of our temple symbolically represents the pair of opposites. We are unable to liberate ourselves from the chequered existence surrounding us.


Through our five sense organs we come into contact with this world and the objects of the world. Once a contact is made, a thought arises in the mind regarding the object. The thought is the first ruffian who has arrived. He strikes us but the damage is only minimal. The thought about that object leads us to the desire to possess the object or to experience the object. The second ruffian has arrived hitting us in the form of desire causing more damage to us then the first ruffian. When we succumb to the desire action is born. Action is the third ruffian who works to fulfill the desire. When he strikes the blow is fatal and we are brought to the ground meaning that we die one day having led our life to be beaten constantly by these three ruffians thought, desire and action. We are caught, prisoned, conditioned and bonded by these three ruffians. The story highlights that we are slaves to the three ruffians called thought, desire and action and we die unable to free ourselves from the chequered existence.

The manner of freeing oneself from the three ruffians is revealed in the Charge to Brethren portion. Hiram Abif is lying in the grave symbolizing a human being beaten to death by the three ruffians thought, desire and action. The Junior Warden attempts to lift Hiram Abif by the Entered Apprentice Grip but fails to lift him out of the grave. The Entered Apprentice Grip represents the first degree. The first degree awakens the ignorant Mason and preaches him moral values so that he becomes free of every baneful and malignant passion. The first degree attempts to purify the mind of the Entered Apprentice Mason and by it make him fit to receive the divine knowledge and truth. The failure of the Junior Warden to lift our Master Hiram Abif from the grave indicates that living a moral life is not sufficient to liberate us from our chequered existence and the birth and death cycle.


Then the Senior Warden attempts to lift Hiram Abif from the grave by the Fellow Craft grip and he also fails. The Fellow Craft represents the second degree. The second degree instructs a Fellow Craft to study the liberal arts and sciences and extend his research into the hidden mysteries of Nature and Science. Essentially the second degree is about gaining knowledge. The failure of the Senior Warden to lift our Master Hiram Abif from the grave indicates that knowledge alone will not be sufficient to free us from our chequered existence and the birth and death cycle.


With the Junior and Senior wardens both failing, the Master raises him by the five points of fellowship assisted by the two wardens. The five points of fellowship are,


Hand to hand        - I greet you as a brother

Foot to Foot           - I will support you in your laudable undertakings

Knee to knee         - The posture will remind me of your wants

Breast to Breast     - I will keep your lawful secrets as that of my own

Hand over Back -I will support your character in your absence and                                                                                 in your presence


In the above communication, the well fare of the other person alone is considered. There is no selfish interest at all in these five points of fellowship. The communicator’s personal wants are absent. The moral of the story is that when a person loses his selfish attitude and lives for the welfare of his fellow creatures, he even transcends death. One who has shed his selfish ego, loses his limited nature also. He becomes unlimited. He becomes a free person, free of all forms of conditions and bondages that we experience in this world. He becomes one with the existence. The individual has merged with the totality. The part has joined the whole. He has become immortal. This is what is meant by climbing the Jacobs ladder to reach the throne of God.


This story illustrates the ultimate goal a human being should have and the means of achieving it is by living a moral life as preached in the first degree, by gaining divine knowledge as instructed in the second degree and finally losing one’s ego and selfishness.

We may wonder whether it is possible to live in this manner. Well, history has shown us that there were many noble souls who lived like this. Gautham Buddha, Jesus Christ, the numerous saints of the east, the rishis and munis of our country are all examples, who have shown the world that it is possible to live in this manner. Such noble persons who had lived in recent years that come to my mind are Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Theresa.


We all know that Mahatma Gandhi the father of our nation sacrificed his entire life for the freedom of this country without expecting anything in return. Some of his political decisions may be subject to debate but nobody can question the integrity and unselfish nature of Mahatma Gandhi. He had no personal wants or desire at all expect the welfare and freedom for the people of this country. His wants were minimal and all that he needed was a piece of cloth around his waist. Because Gandhiji was unselfish and pure he had the divine power in him. The canons and guns of the mighty British Empire could not stand before him. They had to withdraw. Such is the power of purity. Such is the power of truth. Such is the nature of divine power.


Gandhiji followed the three Grand Principles of Freemasonry – Brotherly love, Relief and Truth. Gandhiji wanted our country to be secular and he wanted Brotherly love to exist between people of different religions. He wanted relief for the people of India from foreign rule. He was a staunch believer of Truth and lived accordingly. He lived a life of morals and virtues which is the requisite of the first degree.  We know that he had acquired divine knowledge through the study of our scriptures like the Bagavath Gita, Ramayana, the Vedas and the Upanishads. The objective of the second degree is fulfilled. We also know that he lived only for the welfare of his people without having any personal wants or desires as indicated in the five points of fellowship, satisfying the requirements of the third degree. In fact Gandhiji has lived exactly like the way the rituals have prescribed. He is a perfect example of a true Mason. 


Another example is Mother Theresa. Though she was born in Yugoslavia she came to India to serve the needy. She never considered about caste, creed or color while coming to India. She served the sick and neglected poor people all her life without expecting any personal gains. Mother Theresa had a home for the sick in Calcutta and it was situated next to a kali temple. The temple priests did not like the home being established close to the temple. They disliked the Mother for this but this feeling changed after the following incident. One of the priests of the temple became seriously ill due to a contagious disease. No person was willing to go near him and take care of him. He was left alone to decay and die. Hearing this, Mother Theresa went to the dying person, carried him in her arms and took him to her home. When Mother Theresa took him in her arms, she had no I feeling at all. She did not think of her health, she did not think of the deadly contagious disease. For her ‘my body notion’ was absent. Only love and compassion was prevalent in her. This incident touched the other priests and the head priest said ‘I have been worshiping the Kali idol for thirty years and only now I am seeing her in person’.


It is said that.

The one who kills others for his own survival is an animal.

The one who lives and let others live is a human being.

The one who scarifies his life for the welfare of his fellow creatures is a divine being.  

Hence Mother Theresa was seen as Goddess Kali.  


Brethren, this allegory at the organization level indicates not to admit unworthy people into Masonry, at the worldly level it says to honour our commitments and promises in life, and in the philosophical level it reminds us of the ruffians, the chequered existence and the manner of freeing ourselves from it.


The greatness of our ritual is that one allegory conveys different messages ranging from a simple moral virtue to the ultimate truth.




The Author is a P.M of Lodge Jyothi, Salem.He is a Masonic Scholar and prolific writer.He has presented Papers on Freemasonry in numerous Masonic Seminars and Retreats. This paper was well received at the Masonic Retreat held in Yelagiri and organized by Sri Brahadeeswara Lodge (No.150)

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