Commentaries on the Opening
Gvill Lodge of Research N° 82, Tel Aviv
Masonic rituals must be studied on three
levels: first, the plain meaning of the text, which we might designate as the
exoteric meaning of the ritual; second, through the symbolic meaning of the
terms and objects appearing in the text, and third, the esoteric level, whose
understanding requires the previous study of the allegories and allusions to
mystical and esoteric traditions that find expression in our rituals.
As in all studies of symbolism, the
interpretations that I shall advance are not canonical. They are my personal
opinions, based on my understanding and knowledge, and every brother is free
to search and reach his own interpretations, which may not coincide with mine.
What follows should be taken as a compass, and not an anchor.
The Opening Ritual I shall examine is
the English Emulation Ritual, which is widely available in print, so no
secrecy violation is involved. Other opening rituals being worked by various
Grand Lodges may have superficial differences, but their fundamental purpose
is always the same. I have included some remarks about other rituals when
Strictly speaking, the lodge is not
opened or closed during its periodic assemblies. What is opened and closed is
its work. In other languages, Spanish for instance, this is explicit: “Se
abren los trabajos…” (The works are opened).
The Opening Ritual, despite being so
simple when compared with the rituals of Initiation, Passing and Raising,
holds important philosophical teachings, not always fully understood.
The first question that should be asked,
concerning this ritual, is why is it necessary? The meeting, after all, is
like the session of a company board, or a panel in a symposium. In such
events, the chairman proceeds to open the meeting directly, by his authority,
without following any special ritual. The Master of the lodge would certainly
be capable of saying “The lodge is open”, strike a blow with the mallet and
start with the order of the day.
The explanations that follow will prove,
I hope, the need for the Opening Ritual, and the difference between a Lodge
assembly and any other kind of session. Masons assemble in order to work, and
Masonic work is essentially symbolic and philosophic.
The opening ritual marks the transition
from the profane to the consecrated world. This transition is required in
order to carry out the Masonic work. The lodge – the college of Masons – works
within the lodge room, a place that was consecrated with a special ceremony,
that is, it became a sacred environment. The lodge works in this sacred place,
and also in sacred time, as we will see later. The entire Opening ceremony is
designed to impress on the brethren the fact that they are entering a
different place and time, not a continuation of their daily occupations.
The first sentence pronounced by the
Worshipful Master is “Brethren, assist me to open the lodge”. This is an
important point, and here, at the very beginning of the ceremony, we realize
that this meeting is different from any other assembly, because the Master
cannot act alone, he must receive the assistance of the brethren assembled in
order to open the proceedings. Masonic work is a joint operation of all the
Masons assembled. Only with their assistance can the Master open the work of
the lodge, which will be performed through the interaction of all the brethren
The first duty of the Masons assembled
for work is to make sure that they are secluded, so that no intruders can
interfere with their labor. This is not only for the sake of secrecy, to keep
confidential the trade secrets of the Masons, or to avoid the ceremony
becoming the target of ridicule by ignorant folks, but also for esoteric
reasons. All the Masons assembled are “Initiates”, having passed through the
Initiation ceremony; this confers on them a special quality, they have been
symbolically purified, and by opening their eyes to the light of Masonry they
have been freed from the darkness of ignorance prevailing in the profane
world. We must isolate ourselves from external influences, so that we may
better appreciate the light of Masonry.
The lodge must be protected from the
outside darkness, and this requires the lodge room to be “covered”, i.e.
tiled. The word tiled comes from the Latin verb “tego” which means exactly
that: to cover, to hide from sight. We know the legend according to which the
Masons assembled in a room under a tiled roof, and the Tyler’s job was to
remove a tile to see if any cowan (non-Mason) was approaching, and then
replace the tile – tiling the Lodge.
In French, the Tyler is called “Couvrer”,
that is, “Coverer”. To cover is not only to hide, but also to protect, to
afford protection and security.
Since the presence of a possible
intruder would spoil the spiritual purity of the assembled Initiates, the
second question posed by the Master is to make sure that all present are
This is verified not by asking each one
of the Brothers if he is a Mason, but by observing his behavior. He must show
by signs that he is indeed a Mason. In another ritual
the Senior Warden is asked whether he is a Mason, and his reply is: “My
Brethren recognize me as such”. And how is he recognized? By signs, tokens and
words, that is, by the way he behaves, how he relates to other men, and the
way he speaks. Senior Masons can often recognize each other, even without
making any overt sign to identify themselves; there is something in their
demeanor, their thoughtful speech that is recognizable by their peers.
Note that the words used by the Master
are “to stand to order”, and this is composed of three elements: the position
of the hands, of the feet, and the movement made discharging the sign.
Therefore, no such sign is possible when walking or sitting down.
Making the EA sign at the opening of the
lodge reminds all the brethren that, when speaking, reason (the head) and not
passion (the heart) must govern their words.
Masonic signs in general make frequent
use of the square. The square and rectitude are symbolically connected.
“Square work” is correct work, as exemplified in the Mark Degree.
“Order” is an important word in Masonic
vocabulary. One of the mottoes of the Scottish Rite is “Ordo ab Chao” – Order
out of chaos. In fact, throughout the ladder of Masonic degrees brethren are
enjoined to follow a specific order in their actions and words. Ordering our
thoughts is how we train our mind to be agile and productive.
Order, the fact that the world, the
universe, has order and laws, and is not in chaos, is a proof of the existence
of a guiding hand, which Masons designate as the Great Architect of the
Universe. This aspect of the Deity is not a particular Masonic symbol since
non-Masonic, ancient illustrations show God holding compasses to measure the
In some rituals, brethren walk about the
lodge following straight lines and turning 90 degrees at the corners. This is
known as “squaring the lodge”. This is another expression of keeping order in
The Master now conducts a dialog with
the Wardens concerning the number of Officers in the lodge, stressing the
number three, repeated, to the point of affirming that there are three
assistant officers “besides the Tyler”, in other words, they are four, but the
sacred triad must be honored. Something similar was adopted by the Grand Lodge
of England at the time of the Union (1813), when the Holy Royal Arch had to be
included within the Grand Lodge framework. In order to preserve the fiction
that Freemasonry consists of only three degrees, the Royal Arch was included
as a completion of the third degree.
It is notable that the seven Officers
mentioned in the Ritual are divided into three principal and four assistant
ones. This reminds us of the trivium and quadrivium of liberal
arts studies in medieval universities. Seven is a deeply symbolic number. An
entire chapter could be written about its many aspects. Being the sum of three
and four, which symbolically represent the spiritual (three – triangle) and
the material (four – square) world, seven represents the entire creation,
which explains why God created the universe in seven days. Seven appears in
the days of the week, the planets in ancient astronomy (and astrology), muses,
virtues, sins, blessings and many other instances.
The choice of seven for the number of
officers is intentional. To keep the number down to seven, other officers of
great importance in the operation of the lodge, such as the Secretary,
Treasurer, Director of Ceremonies and Chaplain are ignored.
A long dialog now describes the position
of each of the seven Officers and their duties. Some writers have drawn the
floor of the lodge with the location of the officers and have concluded that
they can be connected with lines forming a hexagram, or Solomon’s Seal, which
is supposed to hold magical powers.
The positions of the seven officers are
fixed, the same that the planets circle the sun in fixed orbits. In fact, the
various officers can be related to the various planets. The lodge’s relation
to astronomy is also reflected in the globes on top of the J and B columns.
One globe represents the earth and the other represents the heavens, sometimes
by an armillary sphere.
A final remark on seven: this is the
minimum number of Masons who can open a lodge for Masonic work.
The Master of the lodge represents the
source of light, the sun. This finds material expression in some rituals,
where the tapers around the altar are lit with fire brought from the Master’s
The Master now proclaims that the lodge
is duly formed and invokes the protection of the GAOTU. A three-part final
goal, that the work begun in order be continued in peace and closed in
harmony, reminds the Brethren that proper respect and tolerance must be
maintained throughout the meeting.
In many rituals, a symbolic pyramid or
dome is formed over the head of the officer opening the VSL. This is a
symbolic focus for the spiritual force originating from the VSL, which spreads
out from this point, assisting the Brothers assembled throughout the lodge
meeting. Since no such force can come out of the closed VSL, no pyramid is
formed at the end of the work, when closing the lodge.
As mentioned above, the meeting is
carried out in a symbolic time. In another ritual (see the note below) this is
specified: the lodge is opened at midday and closed at midnight.
Noon is the hour when, in theory, the
sun is over the meridian, sunlight falls directly down, creating no shadows.
Thus, it is appropriate for Masonic work, in full light, without shadows.
Masons are known as “Sons of the Light”. In some rituals the three principal
Officers of the lodge (WM, SW and JW) are called the “lights” of the lodge.
Midnight, on the other hand, marks the end of one
day and the beginning of the next. Completing the daily work, the Brethren
exit the sacred time to reenter the profane world at 0 hours, symbolically
beginning a new count of time, a renewal, a kind of rebirth that replays the
Working from noon to midnight also
signifies that Masons are ready to work day and night. You are a Mason at all
times of day and night. Once a Mason, always a Mason.
The Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite craft